C.S. Lewis According to the New Atheists

Richard Dawkins The God Delusion“A common argument, attributed among others to C. S. Lewis (who should have known better), states that, since Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, he must have been either right or else insane or a liar: ‘Mad, Bad or God’. Or, with artless alliteration, ‘Lunatic, Liar or Lord’. The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal. But even if that evidence were good, the trilemma on offer would be ludicrously inadequate. A fourth possibility, almost too obvious to need mentioning, is that Jesus was honestly mistaken. Plenty of people are.” Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 95.

“While some religious apology is magnificent in its limited way—one might cite Pascal—and some of it is dreary and absurd—here one cannot avoid naming C. S. Lewis….” Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great, 7.

Christopher Hitchens God_is_not_great book“I am not choosing a straw man here: Lewis is the main chosen propaganda vehicle for Christianity in our time. And nor am I accepting his rather wild supernatural categories, such as devil and demon. Least of all do I accept his reasoning, which is so pathetic as to defy description and which takes his two false alternatives as exclusive antitheses, and then uses them to fashion a crude non sequitur (“Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”). However, I do credit him with honesty and with some courage. Either the Gospels are in some sense literal truth, or the whole thing is essentially a fraud and perhaps an immoral one at that.” Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great, 119-120.

Nick Trakakis God Beyond Belief“The struggle to maintain religious faith in the face of personal tragedy is depicted with great poignancy in C.S. Lewis’ classic A Grief Observed….” Nick Trakakis, The God Beyond Belief, 41. Trakakis also uses A Grief Observed for one of the epigraphs.

On Sam Harris’ blog, he links this article, David Skeel, “Après Lewis,” Wall Street Journal, really a look at apologetics today. Harris critiques Lewis’ trilemma in this op-ed arguing that Francis Collins is a dangerous scientist. There is also a long discussion about reading Lewis in Louise M. Antony’s Philosophers Without Gods (Marvin Belzer, “Mere Strangers,” ch. 8).


About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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11 Responses to C.S. Lewis According to the New Atheists

  1. robstroud says:

    As Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). No wonder atheists such as these rage against an effective witness and disciple of the Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    My Lenten reading largely consisted of a very interesting little book by a philosophical monk, Dom [Kenneth] Illtyd Trethowan (1907-93, and an undergraduate at Brasenose around the time Lewis was getting started on his academic life), Mysticism and Theology: an essay in Christian metaphysics (1975), the first half of which seemed not unlike Mere Christianity over again from a different angle, and the second half of which includes explicit engagement with, for example, Wittgenstein, and all of which he notes is indebted to the work in his published Brown University lectures, Absolute Value: a study in Christian theism (1970) and The Absolute and the Atonement (1971) – neither of which I have read. The only work of his I have found online is a scan of Certainty, Philosophical and Theological (Dacre Press, 1948) in the Internet Archive, and I have not read it yet, either. He seems very Inklings-compatible, but I have no idea what, if any, contact he may have had with any of them. (He also engages with the very Inklings-aware E.L. Mascall in Mysticism and Theology.)

    It is also worth mentioning that an edition of The ‘Great War’ of Owen Barfield and C.S. Lewis: 
Philosophical Writings, 1927 – 1930 is now finally available, edited by Norbert Feinendegen and Arend Smilde. I have not read it yet, but it should shed a lot of light on the movement of the arrogant, self-confident atheist Lewis to the apologist unconvincingly patronized by these recent and contemporary arrogant, self-confident (if the samples above are representative) atheists.


    • What I was looking for and just really threw these quotes up, was where atheists actually broke down Lewis’ argument. I couldn’t find it. To be fair, the New Atheists are really cultural critics, not philosophers. But so was Lewis.
      I have the new copy of the Great War, but haven’t gone through it. To be honest the letters I read were pretty tough. So hopefully some context helps.


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Interesting! What you say about the atheists and the absence or their analyses and detailed critiques make me think of King Lear (II.iv), “I will do such things,–
        What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
        The terrors of the earth.”
        I wonder how much use Norbert Feinendegen’s published dissertation might be in analyzing Lewis’s argument? I have only read Arend Smilde’s review of it (only available in Dutch) and the dissertation itself is as yet only available in German…


        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          “absence or”>”absence of”!


        • I think it is that sort of thing that makes people call the New Atheists ‘fundamentalists.” I think that gives fundamentalists a bad name, though. The point of fundamentalists is not that they don’t back up their ideas or face facts; they face facts and back up their ideas based on a certain approach to Scripture. In the case of the new Atheists, there is a rhythm. There is much good writing (Dennett and Hitchins) and much good controversy (Hitchens and Dawkins) and someone very beautiful (Sam Harris). But the critical rhythm is such that they don’t need to actually address the issues of their opponents: they wipe them clean with critical swipes.


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