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4.6 out of 5 stars
C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason
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A fine little book clearly explaining and refining an "argument from reason" as it emerged in the thought of C.S. Lewis. Lewis certainly believed that his argument pointed toward a transcendent God in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Reppert is careful to distinguish what the argument is about given the modern distinction between naturalism, physicalism, and materialism.

Naturalism is about *explanations*. It says that everything we experience within the physical universe, including our ability to reason, must have a physical explanation. Physicalism is an ontological claim, that there is nothing besides the physical, including our reason, in the universe. Materialism, on the other hand, says that everything in the universe must take origin from the physical universe, but allows that what might spring forth from the physical might not be logically reducible to the physical. The physical might, somehow, induce something non-physical.

Reppert carefully shows that the argument from reason is an argument against naturalism (and so physicalism) but it does not preclude materialism. He crafts the argument from different angles and shows that reason would not be possible if naturalistic explanations were true. Reppert does sympathize with Lewis' belief that this points, or is evidence of, God's existence. He points out that while the presence of rationality is not inconsistent with materialism, it is more difficult to explain its reliability without reference to a presumed reliable source. That, in turn, points to a Christian-style God. Other alternatives are possible but always leave metaphysical issues dangling. But all of this is secondary to Reppert's primary aim, to illustrate the power of the argument from reason as a refutation of naturalism.

Not very long, concise, well written. If you come away with nothing else, you will at least understand what the argument from reason is all about.
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on October 15, 2017
Victor Reppert wrote this book in 2003. My impression is that the title is primarily a marketing decision. It is intended to call to mind the title of Daniel Dennett’s criticism of theism in his Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. Dennett thought Darwinism was “dangerous” to theism because it suggests the possibility that material things can have purely natural, or material, origins.

Reppert also also invokes C.S. Lewis, to balance the philosophical firepower but also to suggest that the so-called “argument from reason” is dangerous to anti-theism (or “materialism,” or “naturalism”) in the same way. Reppert is suggesting that the very process of deliberating on the truth of naturalism and super-naturalism undermines the materialist position. Reppert draws out C.S. Lewis’s take on the subject from his (Lewis’s) book Miracles, in particular its revised form following Lewis’s famous debate on the subject with Elizabeth Anscombe.

Let’s start with this. It is often argued that the very fact of order in the universe implies the existence of an order-Giver. All of science presupposes the existence of this order. In fact, science would be impossible without it. Science assumes that there are constant and measurable forces acting upon physical things in predictable ways. The undeniable order of the universe has huge implications for the question whether or not God is. As C.S. Lewis wrote:

"Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator."

It has often been argued that Christianity provided the intellectual foundation for all of science, including its breakout in the early Enlightenment with Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and so on. Christianity provided this foundation because Christians envisioned a God of order, who created material reality in a state of order.

If there is no God, however, then all of reality consists of matter in motion. A person who believes there is no God is a materialist; a naturalist; an anti-theist or atheist; one who rejects metaphysics. This is the dominant view of reality in our culture, and the point of view people necessarily adopt when they shrug the shoulders and ask “who knows” when considering the proposition that God is.

If all of reality is natural reality, how does that vision of reality explain the obvious order of the universe? The short answer, for theists, is that it doesn’t. Materialism depends on the existence of that order, but cannot explain it.

Now with that background, we can go a step forward with these ideas, and consider the “argument from reason,” as it is stated in its usual philosophical formulation, or, as Reppert (and I) prefer, “the argument from rational inference.”

The basic idea is this. We develop our ideas about the truth of materialism, or theism, or anything else, for that matter, by making logical inferences. One observation leads us to another logically. We say it’s “logical” because we say one inference causes the next. That causation is at the heart of the order of the universe. Our reasons for our beliefs – and our reasons for everything – are based on a sometimes complex series of inferences, from observations to ideas to ideas. That progression is not random.

The argument from rational inferences serves not just to support theism but to negate materialism. Materialism is self-defeating because it requires refutation of the very argument it attempts to advance.

It goes like this. First, a belief is not rationally inferred if it can be fully explained by non-rational causes. A non-rational cause includes any cause that is not the product of thought. So B can follow A naturally and in accordance with the natural order of the universe, but not be “rational” because it is not the product of rational thought.

If materialism is true, then all beliefs can be fully explained by nonrational causes. It rests on the determinist principle that one’s thoughts are the products of a seemingly infinite (but actually finite) number of movements of matter according to natural forces, from the largest galaxy to the smallest nearly imperceptible spark in the brain. One’s thought at any moment is the result of physical causes and effects, only.

If materialism is true, then no belief is arrived at from causes other than physical ones. They are determined mechanistically; not rationally inferred. A person’s beliefs are not formed by a series of rational inferences, but instead by the particular combination of material particles in motion to the moment the belief is formed. That person’s belief is formed purely by mechanistic processes, not by rational inferences.

On one level this just sounds like a reiteration of the notion that the appearance of logic and order within natural reality implies an ordering Entity. But it also applies to our individual consciousness. The existence of rational inferences experienced subjectively would appear to be among the most basic of our beliefs about reality. To deny them runs counter to our very sense of subjective directedness – the “aboutness” of our consciousness, its intentionality. How can we exist as meat machines and organic calculators, when we have this deep intuition that inside our minds we make rational inferences from observation to idea, or idea to idea? We employ rational inferences even to discern the truth or falsity of the proposition that rational inferences explain reality.

The materialist explanation of reality rejects that proposition, and therefore must itself be rejected. The proposition (that people explain reality through a series of rational inferences) is supported not only by subjective conscious experience, but by the logical connections extant in the physical world around us. Those logical connections are the same kind of logical connections we make internally; rationally. The conclusion is that there is a rational, thought-connection between events in the physical world. We live inside the mind of God.

“Fideism” is the idea that our belief is based on faith alone; that science, philosophy, and rational thought in general are irrelevant to faith. People rightly scoff at the fideist’s justification for belief. Faith should be based on natural revelation, including but not limited to supernatural revelation. These are matters which present to our reason.

And yet, the usual method of persuasion to materialism is that we’re to accept on faith that materialism explains or will explain everything, and so if there’s anything not yet explained materialistically, we’re to nonetheless remain faithful to materialism. This is “promissory materialism;” a priori commitment to the anti-metaphysical proposition. This might be called scientific fideism. It must be rejected for the same reason as Christian fideism.

So what’s so dangerous about the argument from rational inferences? It jeopardizes the coherence of the naturalist worldview. Whether you’re a committed materialist, or just a materialist by default, the very reasoning by which we arrive at truth calls that naturalistic or materialistic worldview into question. According to C.S. Lewis and Reppert:

"If we explain reason naturalistically we shall end up explaining it away, that is, explaining it in such a way that it cannot serve as a foundation for the natural sciences that are themselves the foundation for naturalism."
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on July 26, 2005
This book was short, engaging and accessible. C.S. Lewis is an intriguing figure and by taking some of his arguments as a launching point, Reppert adds interest to the main task of the book, which is a discussion of the Argument from Reason (AfR). A brief sketch of the AfR: We form beliefs through rational inference. If materialism is true, all beliefs have non-rational root causes. Therefore no belief could be rationally inferred and materialism is false. There is a fair amount to unpack here, and Reppert analyzes a number of strands which underly the argument, and responds to some objections. He concludes there is ongoing merit to considering the argument. The book is rounded out by a discussion of the larger context of the debate between theism and naturalism.

In my opinion, the one underlying strand of the AfR which has "bite" is the argument from intentionality. The book's primary focus on reason and rational inference doesn't add much in my view. Investigations in cognitive science and neuroscience on humans and animals seem to be slowly but steadily gaining traction on the problem of how reasoning and language can be built up from more primitive intentional interaction with the environment. What is not well explained is how conscious intentionality gets bootstrapped from components which themselves lack it.
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on July 7, 2014
There was always something at the back of my mind that bothered me about naturalism, and after reading Reppert's wonderful, insightful book, I've has my thought about naturalism confirmed. Reppert lays down C S Lewis' argument as a foundation and build on it in a language the lay person can grasp. He deals with objections in a clear and concise manner. I'm now following him on the Dangerous Idea blogspot.
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on September 21, 2016
I had suspicion, but now I'm certain that the argument from reason is really rock solid. Enough philosophical in-depth analysis, but also easy enough for a layman to read.
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on June 25, 2009
I found this to be a great defense of C.S. Lewis's argument against naturalism. To state briefly, Lewis' argument is that naturalism is self-refuting because it denies the very reasoning capacities that are needed to conclude that naturalism is true. How does it do this? In short, it collapses all reasoning into mere Cause and Effect, denying Ground-Consequent reasoning. Every state in the universe, including mental states, is just a result of the previous state and so forth. Person A votes for Barack Obama because of all the physical matter interactions in her brain and her environment, relegating rational inference to being only a smokescreen hiding these true physicalist explanations. What if Person A states that she is voting for Obama because she thinks his healthcare plan will greatly reduce unnecessary suffering in America? She may be thinking to herself, if I vote for Obama, then suffering will decrease. At hearing this the naturalist would have to jump up and look to evolutionary genetics, sociological theory, and the other `soft sciences' for clues to the real explanation. The decision was perhaps due to her genes and/or environment. This in turn breaks down to the purely physical interactions of the `hard sciences,' which turn from psychological explanations to purely physical ones. `She grew up in a very liberal Democratic area and her parents are Democrats' turns to `These neurons in her brain fire when she thinks of Obama...` The chain of cause and effect, like a long line of dominoes, has been falling since the Big Bang ensuring from the beginning of the universe that she'd support Obama.

You can see the problem now for the naturalist who holds to a set of metaphysical beliefs such as, 1) The physical order is causally closed. 2) atheism, etc. Under the naturalist's own schema though, these beliefs cannot be held up. Any rational justification could be debunked just as he debunked the Obama supporter above.

Theism can account for both Cause-Effect and Ground-Consequent relationships. Being created in the image of God we are endowed with reason. Person A could really be supporting Obama at bottom because of her rational beliefs. If one is to contend against her belief, one must do so on the Ground-Consequent level, as is usually (or perhaps one should say 'hopefully') done in political debate. They must either show that her reasoning is invalid or unsound. If this argument is correct than basic explanations must include reasons as well as what Reppert calls, "the blind operation of nature obeying the laws of nature." (Pg. 53)

Now that this argument is stated and expounded a bit I will move onto Elizabeth's Anscombe's criticism. There is obviously more to Reppert's book than this but I want to touch only upon what I think to be the most significant/interesting ideas.

One significant criticism Anscombe employs is what Reppert calls a "paradigm case argument." She basically asks why one should take Lewis seriously if they are a naturalist since if naturalism is true then Lewis's distinctions between valid and invalid reasoning would be meaningless. By asking, what if all our reasoning is invalid is really to ask a meaningless question because in the naturalist paradigm such ideas of `true' and `false' are defined differently than the definitions Lewis used. In essence such people are playing a different language game. It would be like if a believer in Descartes' Evil Deceiver tried to convince someone not of that belief that everything they believed was false. There would be communication difficulties to say the least.
Reppert gets around this by claiming that as a skeptical threat argument, the paradigm case objection would be valid, but if one changes the argument to a more modest argument to the best explanation then one gets around this objection. Rational inference must be assumed to exist for any discussion to take place. This conflicts with naturalism because under naturalism reason explanations are always reduced to physical explanations which are nonrational. Therefore, naturalism should be rejected as false.

Anscombe's last line of attack claims that reason-explanations are noncausal. Lewis is quite correct here to object. If Person A votes for Obama because he gives him warm feelings inside than that shows that her claimed rational reasons for supporting him are if not untrue in themselves, then untrue when it comes to her own decision-making. A person cannot be thought of as rational unless their rational claims are causal over and against what is happening psychologically. Reppert states, "For example, if a prosecutor were to believe that the defendant was guilty on the basis of DNA evidence, what would we think of him if it turned out that he hated the defendant so much that he would believe in his guilt regardless of the DNA evidence?" (Pg. 64)

I would go onto Reppert's six arguments from reason but I am tired and I frankly do not have a sufficient understanding of the philosophy of mind to consider them critically. After reading most of Lewis' works and Reppert's defense of him, I am confident that this argument is sound. Now, I am curious about what the `other side' would say in response the Argument from Reason.
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on June 20, 2016
The argument from reason against naturalism is presented from several perspectives. This relatively short book introduces the argument well and is warmly recommended.
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on November 17, 2003
Good concise introduction and overview to the theistic Argument from Reason, set in context of its most famous 20th century defender, C. S. Lewis.
Dr. Reppert begins by covering the history of Lewis' use of the argument, with particular emphasis on how Lewis developed it (in the 2nd edition of _Miracles: A Preliminary Study_) in response to criticisms. (Some of the first chapters are an apology, not so much for the AfR, as for Lewis being a useful philosophical resource for scholars other than popular apologists.)
Having developed, in parallel, a variety of standard critical (and uncritical!) responses to Lewis' AfR, Dr. Reppert then traces the idea through its more modern developments by recent philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga and William Hasker, although Reppert provides a generous spread of other commenters as well, both pro and con. From these developments, Reppert derives and presents six 'Best Explanation' variations of the AfR (along with some other varieties which don't receive his critical approval); and then (somewhat like Lewis himself) proceeds to field some expected initial ripostes.
One interesting feature, is Dr. Reppert's relatively widespread use of publicly available internet articles published. Visitors and members of the Secular Web (aka infidels.org), for instance, may be pleased to see some of this site's materials made use of in CSLDI (not always in an oppositional manner, either.)
Ironically, I think the Argument from Reason (especially Lewis' version, with some tweaks not strictly covered by Dr. Reppert) ends up being a lot more dangerous than the results of this book would indicate. The colorful title notwithstanding, Reppert doesn't really present the argument (any variety of it) as being nearly as 'threatening' to atheism, as atheists (Daniel Dennett, for instance, from whose book the title is borrowed) have commonly presented Darwin's ideas being threatening to supernaturalistic theism.
On the other hand, this may help the book be more readable by opponents, as Dr. Reppert routinely minimizes claims for the argument (properly so, too, as far as he goes with it). Plus, he's certainly far more polite and charitable to his opponents than Dennett. Readers who insist on a deductive use of the argument, however, should find another book (such as Lewis' _Miracles: A Preliminary Study_ itself).
Meanwhile, this book is broad enough in scope, and yet short enough in length, to be a good choice for use in various college courses; especially as a springboard for discussion, and to help bring students more up-to-date on a promising field of apologetic work.
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on July 6, 2016
5 stars
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on March 30, 2014
Victor Reppert is an underrated philosopher in academia that needs to be noticed a bit more.

After reading this book I'm convinced that this is a solid argument in favor of Theism. The beginning of the book starts everything off with a bit of an introduction to C.S Lewis' arguments for God.

Reppert notes "Lewis was a thinker with what I believe to be outstanding philosophical instincts. And if he was in error in his thinking, there was usually a little more method in his madness than what would appear to someone who just gives a "refutation" to the error and leaves it at that. And this, I think, is a real test of a great thinker."

I agree, and I think Reppert was spot on when he said that great thinkers are the ones that make us think harder for ourselves, not thinkers who do our thinking for us.

C.S Lewis left us with a gem that I don't think was taken care of by fellow Theist Elizabeth Anscombe.

1) No belief is rationally inferred if it can be fully explained in terms of nonrational causes

2) If materialism is true, then all beliefs can be fully explained in terms of nonrational causes.

3) Therefore, if materialism is true, then no belief is rationally inferred

4) If any thesis entails the conclusion that no belief is rationally inferred, then it should be rejected and its denial accepted.

5) Therefore materialism should be rejected and its denial accepted.


Reppert then goes on to show how all of the relevant elements of reasoning are prima facie difficult to fit within the framework of philosophical naturalism.

He starts off with the argument from intentionality and uses this gem from C.S Lewis that basically asks if it makes sense to say that one physical state is about another state.

"We are compelled to admit between the thoughts of a terrestrial astronomer and the behavior of matter several light-years away that particular relation we call truth. But this relation has no meaning at all if we try to make it exist between the matter of the star and the astromer's brain, considered as a lump of matter. The brain may be in all sorts of relations to the star no doubt: it is in a spatial relation, and a time relation, and a quantitative relation. But to talk of one bit of matter being true about another bit of matter seems to me to be nonsense.

Exactly, it is the 'aboutness' that supports Lewis' reasoning here,

The argument of truth is brought up with the famous quote from Patricia Churchland in which speaks about 'truth whatever that is, takes the hindmost.' followed by the argument from mental causation. This syllogism was given as an example

1) All men are moral

2) Socrates is a man

3) Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

I'm inclined to agree with Reppert here with respect to the fact that if rational inference is to be possible, it must be the case that someone can come to believe that 3) is true in virtue of one's being in the state of entertaining and accepting 1), entertaining and accepting 2), and that those two states cause the thinker to reach a state of accepting 3).

The last three topics Reppert brings up are the argument from the psychological relevance of logical laws, the argument from unity of consciousness that we see brought up often by philosopher William Hasker, and lastly the Evolutionary argument against Naturalism that we've seen from Alvin Plantinga. This last one is important because it has relevance to whether or not we can trust our cognitive faculties if materialism is true, well I don't see any reason that we should, in fact I think if we concede materialism along with the blind watchmaker evolution it leads to a bit of global skepticism, in a sort of Cartesian way.

Anyways, this is a great book in which I highly recommend and I hope it will get the positive attention that it deserves!
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