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20976Misquoting C.S. Lewis

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  • David Bratman
    Jan 7, 2010
      This post is not actually a theological argument, though it comes out of
      one. I'm telling you about it to make a non-sectarian point about using
      sources correctly, and the source happens to be C.S. Lewis. He wasn't
      literally misquoted, but taken so out of context so that he might as well
      have been.

      In my occasional capacity as an explainer of Christian theology to
      bewildered atheists - don't laugh; as a reader of almost everything Lewis
      wrote, I am much better informed on Christian beliefs than most of my fellow
      non-believers are, including some who write best-selling books on the
      subject - I have been having an e-mail discussion about God's omniscience.

      My correspondent believes that if God has omniscient knowledge of your
      future actions, that negates free will. He argues that God is not, in fact,
      omniscient, and that if He tells you what you are going to do, all you have
      to do is just not do it.

      In support of his claim that God is not omniscient, he quoted C.S. Lewis as
      saying that God "does not know your action till you have done it."

      This surprised me. I doubted my correspondent had read Lewis, and it
      doesn't sound to me in comport with Lewis's beliefs.

      So I Googled the phrase, and found it comes from _Mere Christianity_ (Bk 4,
      ch. 3, next-to-last paragraph), and that in context it means the exact
      opposite of the conclusions my correspondent drew from it. It's part of an
      argument that God exists outside of time - an argument I had been making
      without remembering that I learned it from Lewis - and sees all actions at
      once, in an eternal "Now." The full sentence is, "In a sense, He does not
      know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you
      have done it is already 'Now' for Him." (If that doesn't make sense, read
      the rest of the paragraph: as always, whether you agree with him or not,
      Lewis is perfectly lucid.)

      I suspect that my correspondent picked the Lewis line up from somebody else
      who had carefully clipped it out of context to make it sound the opposite of
      what it meant.

      This was an educational little experience.
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