Considering the C.S. Lewis spilled milk quote

I still haven’t gotten around to my next intended post, but in the meantime, I’ve seen this CS Lewis quote come up again…

Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.

I’ve only seen this quoted twice: Once by an old friend, and more recently by someone who fancied himself an intellectual. I don’t have time to examine and refute it in much detail, so this brief take on it will have to suffice.

Pretty convincing argument, isn’t it?
No, it isn’t. Like most apologetics arguments, this one will only appear convincing to those who already believe in god. A good way of criticising such an argument, is to look at it objectively. Approach it as an atheist would, but not just any atheist, as one who has never heard about any god, and ask yourself: What alternative to natural processes does this argument propose?

The argument posits that without a designer, thoughts can not be trusted. That’s a non sequitur. But not just any non sequitur… The conclusion and the premise have no relation to each other whatsoever. It’s not just that the conclusion does not follow (as per the definition of a non sequitur), but rather there is no logic between the two statements, nothing. (Normally non sequiturs contain two statements where the conclusion doesn’t follow, but can be correlated somehow, even if that correlation is spurious, so they are simply a matter of a conclusion  being leapt to without evidence. This however, is two totally unrelated statements.)

To fabricate a connection between the two statements, the idea is backed up by a nonsensical argument about spilled milk, which tries to claim that natural processes can’t produce the complexity of the world as we know it. Hello, straw man, I see you. The fact is, everything appearing out of nothing is not what atheism is about, but it is what theism is all about. We are expected to accept, without evidence, that all of this, the world and everything else, with its complexity beyond our comprehension, was created by a god, without any evidence of that god at all. That’s what theists would have us believe – that a creator, a being capable of creating everything that there is, just waved his hand and created it all out of nothing. Then question that nonsense, and we are presented with nonsensical arguments like this one.

This argument, despite the reputation of CS Lewis as someone who argued using logic and reason, is nothing more than a bunch of logical fallacies strung together to support each other. To summarise:

  1. The statement is a long non sequitur. (Conclusion does not follow from premise.)
  2. It’s backed up with a comparison that sets up a straw man (an oversimplification of the processes of nature).
  3. The straw man facilitates an argument from irreducible complexity.
  4. Finally, the statement ends where it began. In other words, it’s begging the question.

There is no real argument there. No reason is provided to believe in any god, besides the assumption that this god exists. Thus it indirectly proposes belief in god as the reason for the belief in god. The argument only appears convincing to someone who reads it if they already assume that god exists. Thus it tells a believer what they want to believe, and it seems convincing because it supports their confirmation bias.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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6 Responses to Considering the C.S. Lewis spilled milk quote

  1. Great article! Well said!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. bbnewsab says:

    Jerome, here you can read more about the topic you brought up in this blog post:
    http://vridar.org/2016/04/04/trivial-fallacies-of-a-hostile-anti-mythicist/

    For example, I quote: [There is a] fundamental difference between data, information and evidence. Data is raw fact, stuff; information is what we have when we give meaning to that stuff, so letters on a page can carry information for us; evidence is what we get when we apply that information to certain questions.

    Woos and believers in an imaginary divine friend up in Heaven don’t know the difference between data, information and evidence. The notion or belief that data (whatever their quality) also can be treated as evidence/proof is, in your words, Jerome, a non-sequitur statement.

    BTW can you help me by explaining the difference between evidence and proof? In my native tongue, Swedish, we use the same word (“bevis”) when we translate these two English nouns.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerome says:

      That’s a difficult question. I think evidence is anything that suggests some hypothesis may be true. Proof removes all doubt. So they are almost the same thing.

      Like

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