God and the Reach of Reason. C.S. Lewis, David Hume, and Bertrand Russell.
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (...), 2008. 243p. Paperback. In this book Erik Wielenberg offers C.S. Lewis's views on religion and brings in Hume's and Bertrand Russell's ideas in order to set up a problem, to which he gives what he thinks would be Lewis's responses, followed by his own assessment of those responses. For instance, he presents Hume's views on the problem of evil and his view that 'it is never reasonable to believe that a miracle has occurred on the basis of religious testimony alone' (p. 146). Wielenberg then considers how Lewis would respond and eventually argues that he has no adequate answer to the most difficult version of the problem of evil. In the case of Russell, Wielenberg presents Russell's view that God can be good only if he conforms his actions to a moral law of which he is not the author (p. 65) and then critically discusses whether Lewis has an adequate response. He concludes that Lewis does not. Why, according to Lewis, would God allow his creatures to suffer even though he wants there to be no suffering? Wielenberg lists Lewis's three reasons for pain, by which he means suffering. First, pain can cause us to 'recognize our moral shortcomings' (p. 29). Wielenberg quotes Lewis who writes, 'God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world' (p. 30). When we do wrong and are caught we suffer the consequences and become aware of our moral shortcomings. Second, Lewis thinks that God allows us to suffer in order to become aware that we are looking for happiness in the wrong places, in earthly things rather than in a relationship with God (cf., p. 30). For some, it is only when the stock market crashes or the banks foreclose on their homes that they come to realize that there are more important things in life. Finally, for Lewis, the best sort of life is one where we freely choose to be in relationship with God. According to Wielenberg, Lewis thinks we freely choose such a relationship only if we choose it for its own sake and know that we do. For Lewis, in order to know that we choose a relationship with God for its own sake, we must choose the relationship in pain, as Abraham does when he chooses to sacrifice Isaac because he believes God commands it (cf., pp. 32-33). If we do not choose the relationship in pain, how can we know that we do not choose it for the pleasure it brings or the pain it relieves? (...) God and the Reach of Reason is an enjoyable and informative read. Lewis scholars will have to decide whether it accurately represents his views and arguments. Wielenberg's presentation of what he takes to be the views and arguments is extremely clear, and his criticisms of them fair and charitable. There are not a lot of new ideas offered by Wielenberg on the problem of evil, the argument about miracles, or the three arguments from morality, reason, and Joy. But the objections he offers are sound. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a critical interpretation and assessment of C.S. Lewis's views on religion.' (BRUCE RUSSELL).