CS Lewis on why evil does not disprove a good God

And, of course, that raises a very big question If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling ‘whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?’ But then that threw me back into another difficulty.

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless -I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.


A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless. There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of every thing, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war. I personally think that next to Christianity Dualism is the manliest and most sensible creed on the market. But it has a catch in it.

The two powers, or spirits, or gods–the good one and the bad one–are supposed to be quite independent. They both existed from all eternity. Neither of them made the other, neither of them has any more right than the other to call itself God. Each presumably thinks it is good and thinks the other bad. One of them likes hatred and cruelty, the other likes love and mercy, and each backs its own view. Now what do we mean when we call one of them the Good Power and the other the Bad Power? Either we are merely saying that we happen to prefer the one to the other–like preferring beer to cider–or else we are saying that, whatever the two powers think about it, and whichever we humans, at the moment, happen to like, one of them is actually wrong, actually mistaken, in regarding itself as good. Now if we mean merely that we happen to prefer the first, then we must give up talking about good and evil at all. For good means what you ought to prefer quite regardless of what you happen to like at any given moment. If ‘being good’ meant simply joining the side you happened to fancy, for no real reason, then good would not deserve to be called good. So we must mean that one of the two powers is actually wrong and the other actually right.

But the moment you say that, you are putting into the universe a third thing in addition to the two Powers: some law or standard or rule of good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform to. But since the two powers are judged by this standard, then this standard, or the Being who made this standard, is farther back and higher up–than either of them, and He will be the real God. In fact, what we meant by calling them good and bad turns out to be that one of them is in a right relation to the real ultimate God and the other in a wrong relation to Him.

The same point can be made in a different way. If Dualism is true, then the bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake. But in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life people are cruel for one of two reasons–either because they are sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it–money, or power, or safety. But pleasure, money, power, and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that the people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong, way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong–only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him. In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled. We called sadism a sexual perversion; but you must first have the idea of a normal sexuality before you can talk of its being perverted; and you can see which is the perversion, because you can explain the perverted from the normal, and cannot explain the normal from the perverted. It follows that this Bad Power, who is supposed to be on an equal footing with the Good Power, and to love badness in the same way as the Good Power loves goodness, is a mere bogy. In order to be bad he must have good things to want and then to pursue in the wrong way: he must have impulses which were originally good in order to be able to pervert them. But if he is bad he cannot supply himself either with good things to desire or with good impulses to pervert. He must be getting both from the Good Power. And if so, then he is not independent. He is part of the Good Power’s world. he was made either by the Good Power or by some power above them both.

Put it more simply still. To be bad, he must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now beg to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things-resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work.

But I freely admit that real Christianity (as distinct from Christianity-and-water) goes much nearer to Dualism than people think. One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe–a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.

Update: See what Pope Benedict recently had to say about the origins of good and evil, touching on dualism, in this catechesis on original sin. (12/4/08)


~ by Rob on June 18, 2008.

6 Responses to “CS Lewis on why evil does not disprove a good God”

  1. Ha! Interestingly, I was reading this exact passage in “Mere Christianity” the other night. I’ve never disbelieved in God, and I’d only heard semi-thought-out vague objections from atheists. Typically they sounded to me more like “If I believed in God, I wouldn’t be able to do anything fun.” So hearing Lewis’s atheistic reasoning (particularly without evasion, invective, or rant that I have come to expect) was enlightening. For those who like audio as much as text, http://www.PeterKreeft.com has several talks on Lewis’s views and writings. They’re free mp3 downloads – no strings attached.

  2. But sir, if doing bad is simply a corruption of good and wickedness is the pursuit of good in the wrong way, then where does one receive this knowledge of good and evil? Not from God because if you pose him (her, they, it) as the arbiter of what is good then the question simply recedes to, “where did God get his knowledge from?”. This is not a simple re-hash of the classic reply to the cosmological argument, rather, if we need to ask where we get our innate sense of good, it is perfectly reasonable to stop at: us.

    • I don’t see how you make that leap if God is the final resting point as a Maximally Greatest Being and is the standard .. good simply flows from His nature and He is without beginning our end … a necessary being that has always existed.

  3. As you say, we do have an innate sense of the good. And we know it within ourselves. We do not need a supposedly divinely inspired text or Guru to know it.

    But we did not make it, or else it would be arbitrary. We might well have created a Good that stipulated that honor should be rendered to cowards. Or that slaughter of innocents be praiseworthy. But we recoil from such notions, and rightly so, because we intuitively recognize them as Not Good. Good could never have been any other way than it is. Good simply is. Put another way: it exists prior to us, or better, independent of us.

  4. God is NOT the “arbiter of good”, and that was not the point, Nathan imposed his view on the text. God is the standard of good, God IS Good. So it is NOT perfectly reasonable to stop at us since we are the created and God is the Creator.

  5. God did not create evil. Everything God made is good. God created the possibility of evil, in that he created us with the freedom to choose. We actualize it through our moral choices. A world in which humans could not make moral choices is a world without humans. Love is an action word. It takes choice. We choose to love. God wanted us to be able to choose to love him freely, that’s why we have free will. No free will = no humans. If we had no free will there would be just a world full of puppets with God pulling the strings. What we see today is spoiled goodness, as C.S. Lewis says. Every evil act human beings commit can be traced back to ourselves, not God. I’m created in God’s image, meaning, I can make choices as God makes choices. I can love as God love’s. I can have “self-talk” as God has self talk (in the Trinity). I’m 3 things in one (mind, body, soul) as God is 3 things in one (the Trinity is a paradox, not a contradiction. Contradiction = 1+1+1 = 1, that does not work. However, a Paradox = 1x1x1=1, that works perfectly). I’m responsible for every bad thing that I’ve done (knowingly done), and need to accept the fact that I sin. Every human, at bottom, knows who they really are at heart…and so does God. Everyone will be held accountable. The thing we need to realize is that there’s a way out of it all. The only person in history to ever give an accurate account of what sin really is was Jesus. Mat-15:19 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” And don’t be fooled, Jesus existed. It is foolish to think he did not, and it also contradicts history. And, Jesus was not simply a great moral teacher. To quote C.S. Lewis, “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 was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the 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.” Finally “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else…C.S. Lewis (the great)

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