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A Chat With Mr. Enlightenment

I’ve been off here and there on the internet, as I’m wont to do. Lately I ran across a little mess that I had to poke my nose into. I ended up getting into a discussion with a certain atheist (I almost hesitate to call him that: not that he isn’t an atheist, but that his behavior is so regrettable that I don’t want to insult the many articulate, thoughtful, and reasonable atheists I know by putting him and them in the same category).  To make a long story short the discussion came down to me asking him for evidence that naturalism is true. He responded with something along the lines of “300 years of scientific progress.” I kindly asked him to explain what he meant by that, and what exactly scientific progress had to do with philosophical naturalism, and he merely rattled off as many scientific fields as he could think of. “Biology, geology, chemistry, physics” etc. When I asked him, again, for a specific argument he merely replied with “e=mc2”.

I never did get a straight answer out of him, but it reminded me of a passage from C.S. Lewis’s first published novel The Pilgrim’s Regress. The book is purely allegorical, following after the example of The Pilgrim’s Progress by describing the journey of a man named John from his home in the land of Puritania to the wild lands of various human philosophies, customs, and fads before finally returning home again. The particular passage I’m thinking of came soon after John left Puritania when he was picked up by a nice old fat man on a cart by the name of Mr. Enlightenment. John left Puritania in search of a beautiful island that he experienced visions of back home. All his life he’s been taught about the Landlord (who represents God) by Stewards (who are essentially pastors and priests). Mr. Enlightenment soon strikes up a conversation with John.

“‘And where might you come from, my fine lad?’ said Mr. Enlightenment

‘From Puritania, sir,’ said John.

‘A good place to leave, eh?’

‘I am so glad you think that,’ cried John. ‘I was afraid—‘

‘I hope I am a man of the world,’ said Mr. Enlightenment. ‘Any young fellow who is anxious to better himself may depend on finding sympathy and support in me. Puritania! Why, I suppose you have been brought up to be afraid of the Landlord.’

‘Well, I must admit I sometimes do feel rather nervous.’

‘You may make your mind easy, my boy. There is no such person.’

‘There is no Landlord?’

‘There is absolutely no such thing–I might even say no such entity–in existence. There never has been and never will be.’

‘And this is absolutely certain?’ cried John; for a great hope was rising in his heart.

‘Absolutely certain. Look at me, young man. I ask you–do I look as if I was easily taken in?’

‘Oh, no,’ said John hastily. ‘I was just wondering, though. I mean–how did they all come to think there was such a person?’

‘The Landlord is an invention of those Stewards. All made up to keep the rest of us under their thumb: and of course the Stewards are hand in glove with the police. They are a shrewd lot, those Stewards. They know which side their bread is buttered on, all right. Clever fellows. Damn me, I can’t help admiring them.’

‘But do you mean that the Stewards don’t believe it themselves?’

‘I dare say they do. It is just the sort of cock and bull story they would believe. They are simple old souls most of them–just like children. They have no knowledge of modern science and they would believe anything they were told.’

 John was silent for a few minutes. Then he began again:

‘But how do you know there is no Landlord?’

‘Christopher Columbus, Galileo, the earth is round, invention of printing, gunpowder!’ exclaimed Mr. Enlightenment in such a loud voice that the pony shied.

‘I beg your pardon,’ said John.

‘Eh?’ said Mr. Enlightenment.

‘I didn’t quite understand,’ said John.”

Mr. Enlightenment’s “answer” to John’s question was something so ridiculous I’d never imagined I’d find an actual human being making it. Rattling off a series of unrelated scientific achievements tells us nothing about the existence of God, or the veracity of philosophical naturalism. Yet here I found it thrown at me in an actual discussion.

As I’ve said before, science and Christianity (theism in general, actually) get along perfectly well philosophically. I will never understand why science is used as an argument against it. It brings to my mind Mr. Enlightenment’s closing words to John on the subject:

“When you have had a scientific training you will find that you can be quite certain about all sorts of things which now seem to you only probable.”