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C.S. Lewis and the Either-Or Fallacy

by Nathaniel Bluedorn

Letter from Carter Askren

Hi. A professor of critical thinking was telling me that C.S. Lewis’ comment to the effect of, “either Jesus was who he said he was or he was a liar or a lunatic,” is a false dichotomy and therefore illogical. I disagree, but can’t really articulate why. Liar or lunatic do seem like reasonable possibilities, but I suppose one could try to make the argument that C.S Lewis was mistaken and that could be another possibility. If false dichotomy is the presentation of conclusions that may not necessarily be all of the possible conclusions, then perhaps that was what the professor was trying to argue? I disagree with the idea that Jesus was mistaken, but I was trying to understand how someone might argue that such a statement from Jesus was illogical. And then, of course, we can remember that we are to be “fools for Christ” and that may mean standing by a position even when it is not popular—or “logical.” Thank you for your help.

Carter,

In “Mere Christianity” C.S. Lewis says, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

When interpreting what someone ways – like C.S. Lewis – it is best to interpret them in the best possible light. It is likely that Lewis understood that an alternative to “liar or lunatic” was “mistaken.” Lewis’ likely intention in this paragraph from “Mere Christianity” was to point out that this third alternative, “Jesus was a wise but mistaken human being,” is not reasonable given that Jesus claimed to be God. Lewis wasn’t committing an “either-or” fallacy because he addresses the alternatives, and rejects them. An either-or fallacy ignores the alternatives.

Copyright December 13, 2007, all rights reserved. 9972 views


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