Mere Christianity’s Arguments in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

A few years back I read The Chronicles of Narnia aloud to my oldest two sons (we read them in the right order). The third-born is now 5 years old, and it’s his turn. The older boys are listening in, and we’re doing our best to keep them from revealing story-spoilers. I’m also trying to read Planet Narnia alongside the Chronicles, in the hope that Michael Ward will help me see more than I ever have before. He has me reading more attentively, and there’s a lot to which to attend.

In the first dialogue the children have with the Professor, Lewis presents him making sophisticated yet simple logical arguments. Remember the famous “liar, lunatic, or Lord” argument from Mere Christianity? That will make its appearance below, along with another that’s probably in either Mere Christianity or Miracles but I haven’t gone back to check. This second argument responds to the the idea that non-repeatable events are impossible, therefore the Bible’s miracles didn’t happen (so Hume, Strauss, Troeltsch, Ehrman, et al.). Along with this usually comes a challenge to the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

Lewis equips children and others who might read neither Mere Christianity nor Miracles to counter Troeltsch’s way of doing history, to credit eyewitness testimony, and to think through the liar, lunatic, or Lord question in this little dialogue between the Professor, Peter, and Susan regarding Lucy’s tale that she has entered Narnia:

Then Susan pulled herself together and said, ‘But Edmund said they had only been pretending.’

‘That is a point,’ said the Professor, ‘which certainly deserves consideration; very careful consideration. For instance–if you will excuse me for asking the question–does your experience lead you to regard your brother or your sister as the more reliable? I mean, which is the more truthful?’

‘That’s just the funny thing about it, sir,’ said Peter. ‘Up till now, I’d have said Lucy every time.’

‘And what do you think, my dear?’ said the Professor, turning to Susan.

‘Well,’ said Susan, ‘in general, I’d say the same as Peter, but this couldn’t be true–all this about the wood and the Faun.’

‘That is more than I know,’ said the Professor, ‘and a charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed.’

‘We were afraid it mightn’t even be lying,’ said Susan; ‘we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy.’

‘Madness, you mean?’ said the Professor quite cooly. ‘Oh, you can make your minds easy about that. One has only to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad.’

‘But then,’ said Susan, and stopped. She had never dreamed that a grown-up would talk like the Professor and didn’t know what to think.

‘Logic!’ said the Professor half to himself. ‘Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.’

Susan looked at him very hard and was quite sure from the expression on his face that he was not making fun of them.

‘But how could it be true, sir?’ said Peter.

‘Why do you say that?’ asked the Professor.

‘Well, for one thing,’ said Peter, ‘if it was real why doesn’t everyone find this country every time they go to the wardrobe? I mean, there was nothing there when we looked; even Lucy didn’t pretend there was.’

‘What has that to do with it?’ said the Professor.

‘Well, sir, if things are real, they’re there all the time.’

‘Are they?’ said the Professor; and Peter did not know quite what to say.

One of the problems with excerpts is that the power of the broader story with all its characterization and depth cannot accompany a snippet. The dialogue continues, and of course Lucy’s tale turns out to be true. Shortly all the children are in Narnia.

If you haven’t read these books, I’d encourage you to fill that void in your happiness and read them for yourself.