In this chapter, Lewis will draw conclusions about the universe itself, based on the reality of the Law of Human Nature.
In this chapter, Lewis will complete his “argument from morality”—the idea that the existence of a universal moral law proves the existence of some kind of moral God.
There are two basic ways of conceiving of the universe: the materialist view and the religious view. Materialism proposes that “matter and time just happen to exist, and always have existed; nobody knows why.” The religious view maintains that the universe was created by a conscious being—a being with a plan for what the universe should be. For as long as there have been people, both the religious and materialist views have been in existence.
Lewis divides human thought into two distinct viewpoints—religious and materialist. Notably he doesn’t address the many religious traditions (for example, ancient Greek mythology) that offer no explicit explanation for how matter was created from nothing—and therefore, by Lewis’s own definition, are materialist.
In modern times, the materialist view of the universe is usually scientific. Lewis argues that science, at the most basic level, is about observing the tangible world and recording how things behave. The question of why the world exists is not itself a scientific matter; even if science reached the point where it could describe every single object in the universe, it would be no nearer to answering such a question. There is one subject that science can’t study fully—humanity. Scientific studies of humanity cannot, for example, explain why people obey moral laws; they can only record how people follow moral laws.
Science, Lewis argues, can study the material components of the universe, but it cannot offer an explanation for why the universe exists in the first place. Lewis’s point is that religion and philosophy study the abstract question of why humans do things, while science measures the concrete, material world.
The fact that humans feel an innate desire to obey moral laws tells us a lot about the universe. Science cannot explain whether or not there is a being that created and controls the universe. However, if there were such a being, that being could only makes its presence known to humans through non-material means, because any material evidence of the being’s existence could be “explained away” by science. The only way for an all-powerful being to make its presence known to humanity would be through non-material means. And, as Lewis has discussed, human beings do feel the presence of a powerful, non-material being, thanks to the Law of Human Nature. The fact that all humans feel a sense of Right and Wrong indicates that there is a powerful being, whose existence cannot be explained in scientific ways.
In this section, Lewis proposes that there is an all-powerful being (not necessarily a Christian God), and then asks how this being would reveal itself to humanity. Lewis argues that the being could not reveal itself in any material way, because science would “swoop in” and offer a material explanation for the phenomenon in question. The only way for a nonmaterial being to reveal itself to humans would be through a nonmaterial, ordered system—and Lewis argues that this “system” is morality.
It might be objected that Lewis is making a huge conceptual “leap” here. But Lewis hasn’t yet shown that there is a God—he’s merely shown that there must be “something” that directs the universe and reveals itself to human beings through moral law. In the following chapters, Lewis will explore whether “we can find out anything more about” this being.
Lewis has outlined the “argument from morality,” one of the classic Christian proofs of the existence of God. However, Lewis is careful to note that he hasn’t yet demonstrated the existence of a Christian God (and, in fact, he never really does).
There are some other views of the universe, in addition to the Religious and Materialist views; for example, there is a kind of “in-between” view called the Life-Force philosophy, practiced by thinkers such as Henri Bergson and George Bernard Shaw. The principle of the Life-Force view is that humans evolved from earlier life forms in Earth, due to the “striving” and “purposiveness” of a powerful Life-Force. The question is, does this ”Life-Force” have a mind or not? If believers of the Life-Force view say that the Life-Force being does have a mind, then their view is really just the Religious view. If believers says that the Life-Force doesn’t have a mind, then their view is just the Materialist view, since it doesn’t make sense to say that a mindless being “strives” for anything.
Lewis ends the chapter with a footnote—in recent decades, some thinkers have begun to subscribe to a belief that Lewis calls the “Life-Force Philosophy.” The problem with such a philosophy, as Lewis sees it, is that it’s inconsistent: the all-powerful being who creates the world, according to such a philosophy, is both conscious and unconscious—and therefore, both a being and a nonbeing. Lewis seems to have a special dislike of this “Life-Force” philosophy, and criticizes it in other works as well.
The appeal of the Life-Force view is that it’s not consistent—the Life-Force offers people all the spiritual sustenance of a religious God, but also the moral laxness of science. A believer of the Life-Force view can, in short, feel all the religious thrill of a beautiful day, without any of the guilt that usually accompanies religious belief. Lewis concludes, “Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?”
Thinkers turned to the Life-Force Philosophy because they like religious ecstasy but don’t want to do the hard work of believing in a religious God with rules and expectations. Later on, Lewis will analyze what this “hard work” consists of.