Boy’s Philosophy According to C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis once called atheism a boy’s philosophy, saying that there was nothing to it. He said that it was too simplistic, and that real world concerns, adult concerns, were complicated and so required complex answers to meet them adequately.
Although Lewis starts out with a massive misunderstanding of atheism, which is odd since he claims to have once been one, by mistaking it for a philosophy. If Lewis could have gotten past his theistic bias to think objectively about what atheism actually entailed, he wouldn’t have had such a problem with a non-philosophy. 
Furthermore, Lewis makes another grave error by assuming complex problems always need sophisticated answers. This is not true. The universe is vastly complex, but physics ultimately provides simple theories to make an advancing cosmogony practical. It’s only after billions of years of entropy does the universe get more chaotic, more complex. Initially, however, it seems that the universe may have started out simply–from the simplest state possible–nothing. 
Of course Lewis was right–atheism is simple. It consists of simply a rejection of the theistic claim. That’s all there is to it. But it is not an equivalent belief system rivaling the complexity (or rather convoluted nature) of Christian theology.
But this also depicts the dishonesty of the Christian apologist, yes even C.S. Lewis, as he erects a straw man of atheism, which he then pawns off as an actual portrait of what atheism is. And Christians buy into too, because he tells them he’s been there, done that, but there’s nothing to write home about. Indeed, this “I once was an atheist” badge is proudly worn by many religious apologists. The Christian apologists Josh McDowel, Lee Strobel, and the Rabbi David Wolpe (among many others) all claim to have been atheists too. But when I listen to them talk about atheism it becomes abundantly clear that they never were truly atheists. Nonbelievers maybe, but not atheists. They never jumped into the secular waters, they just dipped their little toes in and quickly retracted from a shiver and the terror of the deep. 
What they were, in my opinion, was merely pseudo-atheists, i.e. Christians who experience a moment of doubt which lingers when their rational minds get the better of them, only to lose out again to the temptation of religious certainty and the promise of ultimate answers. If Lewis’ work depicts anything… it is a man in search for absolute truths, just think of his preoccupation with absolute morality for example, for which he spent the better part of his life searching for in the confines of Christian theology. A futile endeavor if there ever was one, but at least he accomplished some great works.
C.S. Lewis is considered one of the all time best Christian apologists, but I can only consider him a mediocre philosopher at best. His objectivity was inevitably obscured by his desire to have ultimate answers, and Christianity promised him these answers in abundance–that’s when Lewis stopped doubting–stopped questioning–and stopped being a great thinker.
That said, I do admire his writing immensely, especially his fiction work. Along with J.R.R. Tolkien he is a master of displaced myth. I’ve read nearly everything C.S. Lewis has ever written being especially fond of the Chronicles of Narnia, the Space Trilogy, Till We Have Faces, and The Abolition of Man). Even though I’ll never be half the writer he was, I still wonder, what would he have been capable of writing if he would have climbed out of the confines of his theological box and truly embraced skepticism? Would he have still been called ‘the Apostle of the Skeptics’ or would he have simply transcended the skepticism and found some of the answers he was looking for? I guess we’ll never know.


  1. Well we sort of do know what Lewis would have been like as an atheist – Lewis was a skeptic and atheist before he was a Christian. As was Chesterton. In fact most great apologists were. I was a skeptic and agnostic before I was a Christian (and I might add, a much more convincing one than many I encounter today šŸ™‚ ).

    That is why I understand what Lewis is saying here. It is no accident that even now the overwhelming majority of atheists are young men – such a state provides one with the illusion of control, self-sufficiency, and immortality that is neccesary to maintain a healthy atheism.

    And it doesn’t hurt that it gives one greater freedom to score babes, which I consider a much greater motivating factor for adhering to atheism than any young male atheist will ever let on.

  2. Two things: One, Dishonest Jack is one of those who thinks his arguments are bolstered when he mentions his agnosticism. He’s an idiot. Two, C.S. Lewis’ fiction may be fine writing, but philosophical writing is distinctly different. When he wades into those waters, he is way over his head. Indeed, when I first read something of his about miracles, what really struck me was just how poorly it was written.

  3. “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” -Paul

    Or as Covey might say, you have climbed high, but on the wrong ladder.

  4. Does non-philosophy go against human nature? Does not every person ask why: Why do we know things? Why are we here? Why does this person behave in this way that is wrong? Why do I think that is wrong? Why am I happy today, but sad tomorrow? Why am I afraid of this thing, and not that? Why are there humans here, and not there?
    If philosophy is, and I quote from the Oxford dictionary, “The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.”, then is non-philosophy just not asking questions about life? Is it possible to not ask those questions? Or perhaps you mean it as “we ask the questions, but do not expect answers”? In that sense is non-philosophy simply a refusal to engage in the search for answers to these life questions? Or is it a position wherein no such questions exist? I can’t fathom that, but perhaps it is so.
    And actually, if part of your critique of Lewis is this: “His objectivity was inevitably obscured by his desire to have ultimate answers, and Christianity promised him these answers in abundanceā€“thatā€™s when Lewis stopped doubtingā€“stopped questioningā€“and stopped being a great thinker.” then doesn’t that make your non-philosophy concept moot? If it is believed that Christianity provides the ultimate answers and that is what stopped Lewis from questioning, then it could also be argued that he only questioned these “philosophical questions” in a way that made him a great thinker while he was an Atheist. And that could suggest that Atheism does involve philosophy per the above definition, even if to some extent the search for answers is more a search for non-answers or a search to disprove answers. (Yes, I know that goes against your passive definition of atheism, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)
    To add another definition of philosophy: “A theory or attitude held by a person or organization that acts as a guiding principle for behavior”. Given that definition, which I believe is the philosophy Mr. Lewis was referring to, then atheism actually is a philosophy. It’s the philosophy (attitude or theory) of, as you put it on your Atheism Defined page, “the ā€˜absenceā€™ of a certain type of belief, not the presence of an equivalent belief.”
    I truthfully respect your rights to defend your philosophy, or non-philosophy if that’s what you prefer to call it, against “Mere Christianity”, but I feel as though your argument that C. S. Lewis does not understand Atheism is misinformed. Given the definitions I’ve quoted above, surely it is clear that the term “philosophy” as used by Lewis, is meant to be more a reflection of the second definition than the first. And I believe we can agree that atheism is a theory or attitude, even if it is not a “study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence”. You’ll note I took care to use the same dictionary that you called “The final authority on the English language” so as not to mislead.
    My only other concern in regards to this article/critique is this. If your definition page contains both “positive atheism” and “negative atheism”, and you argue that “according to the Oxford Dictionary… both meanings are encompassed within the single term Atheism.”, then certainly you can meet Lewis halfway and at least agree that he may have been a “Positive Atheist” per your definition. I’ll quote the definition specific to “Positive Atheism” here: “the position that there is no available, substantive evidence for the existence of any God or gods, and thereby rejects theism.” In truth that seems to me, as I read Lewis’ books and learn more about him, to be a fitting definition for his pre-Christian life. He wasn’t lacking in belief but actively rejecting theism. And since you made a point to put both definitions on equal footing, I believe it is going a bit far to suggest he simply was wearing the badge of a former Atheist.
    And surely you cannot (as implied by the lack of substantial “evidence” provided for his un-atheism in this article) label a man based on one comment from the book. Why not discuss the questions Lewis asked to get to the point where he called Atheism a boys’ philosophy? Why not expound upon the logic trail he followed from that point onward? Or the content of his other writings? As when the public cries out against the media who takes one minute from a two-hour interview and twists it to suit their purposes, so must I make a fuss here. Perhaps you have other proof that Lewis was afraid of the apparently “deep” waters of secular life, but if you aren’t going to paint the full picture, why bring the paints out in the first place?

    1. The C.S. Lewis quote I have in mind here is from book 2 of Mere Christianity.

      2. The Invasion
      Very well then, atheism is too simple. And I will tell you another view that is also too simple. It is the view I call Christianity-and-water, the view which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right-leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption. Both these are boys’ philosophies.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s