Lewis' trilemma

C. S. Lewis. From Wikipedia

I recently wrote in my blog in spanish (El Chapín Escéptico) about the stupidity of creationism against evolutionism. I expected a lot of hate mail which (unfortunately?) did not materialize. I did get a comment from a christian reader recommending me to read C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.

I did research the author and found this argument of his which does not make much sense to me. It is called "Lewis' Trilemma" although Lewis wasn't really the first to postulate it. It is often summarized as "Lunatic, Liar, Lord" and here is an early version:

"Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable." ("Rabbi" John Duncan, 1796-1870).

The logical structure is as follows:

(P) Jesus claimed to be God

(Q) One of the following must be true:

Lunatic: Jesus was not God but believed he was

Liar: Jesus did not believe he was God but spoke as if he did

Lord: Jesus was God

(C) From these premises it is argued that: if Jesus was not God, he was either not great or not moral.

(Just for fun, a fourth L has been proposed, Legend, by, amongst others, my favorite bible geed, Bart Ehrman).

So far so good. Although it may be argued that there is a straw man or a false premise embedded in this argument (did Jesus really claim to be God? Did he exist at all?) the argument looks good so far.

What I utterly fail to see is where this proves that Jesus was divine, which seems to be Lewis' point. In his words:

"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 patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God." (Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, London: Collins, 1952, p54-56).

There is a "leap of faith" that does not come from logic in this argument and there is not a shred of evidence. If this is the kind of apology for religion that I am being directed to read, I think I will be quite safe if I skip it and read Richard Dawkins' latest book instead!

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