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Saturday, March 27, 2004

Miracles Part IVa

In the last section of the book Miracles by C.S. Lewis (chapters 14-17) Lewis begins with a discussion of the "Grand Miracle", the Incarnation. Lewis views it is as the grand miracle since "if the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the Earth - the very thing that the whole story has been about." He then goes on to argue for the truth of the Incarnation not on the basis of historical evidence for it or on its probability following Hume's arguments, but rather on its "fitness" with the "whole mass of our knowledge. The credibility will depend on the extent to which the doctrine, if accepted, can illuminate that whole mass."

Lewis then goes on to argue that the Incarnation fits with our knowledge of natures patterns, which include the composite nature of man (man is both rational and physical), the patterns of descent and reascent (in nature as with seeds and in death), selectiveness (in nature from the single planet we know of with life to the single rational species on that planet), and vicariousness (from the dependence living creatures have on one another to both the kindness and gratitude that self sacrifice brings and the exploitation and oppression).

Lewis' discussion of the composite nature of man in this section is one of my favorite passages in the Lewis cannon. In it he reduces the argument for the composite nature of man into two easily observable facts: "(a) That men make coarse jokes, and (b) That they feel the dead to be uncanny." To the first Lewis remarks how strange it is that an animal would find its own "animality" either objectionable or humorous. Unless there were not a dichotomous principal at work it is hard to see how it could have developed in a purely naturalistic world. Lewis sees it as a "mark of the two not being 'at home' together." To the second Lewis replies that only a being that sees an unnatural division between the spiritual (ghosts) and the physical (the corpse) would detest the division. Naturalism has no explanation for these facts, offering only primitive superstitions and taboos, "as if these themselves were not obviously results of the thing to be explained."

As for the other three patterns, contrary to other religions the doctrine of the Incarnation neither treats natures patterns as absolutely good (nature religions and life-force worship) nor as purely an evil (Buddhism and higher forms of Hinduism) to be escaped. Rather, the Incarnation takes a more neutral stance and affirms that even those patterns "which are evil in the world of selfishness and necessity are good in the world of love and understanding." Here again, you can see Lewis' Platonic conceptions at work where the patterns of nature are the patterns of heaven "played in a very minor key". Although Christianity is neutral regarding nature's patterns as is appropriate when treating nature as a created thing (a brother to mankind, not its mother), Christianity therefore provides an explanation for its depravity in mankind's sin through free will. Finally, in discussing the incarnation Lewis reflects on the dual nature of death, both as Satan's weapon and God's medicine for man in the God-man's descent and reascent and his vicarious sacrifice.

In the end Lewis views the incarnation as a doctrine that "digs beneath the surface, works through the rest of our knowledge by unexpected channels, harmonises best with our deepest apprehensions and our 'second thoughts'".

Here are the first few installments of this very long review.
C.S. Lewis on Miracles
Miracles Part II
Miracles Part IIIa
Miracles Part IIIb

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