Re: Misquoting C.S. Lewis
David, I’m familiar with the same issue and point of debate. I’ve run into it many times in many conversations, though I haven’t ever heard Lewis misquoted in this way. For those who are interested (and this is not intended as theological argument, either :), Lewis makes similar statements in The Discarded Image and The Screwtape Letters. He obviously considered it an an important point.
From The Discarded Image:
“Eternity is quite distinct from perpetuity, from mere endless continuance in time. Perpetuity is only the attainment of an endless series of moments, each lost as soon as it is attained. Eternity is the actual and timeless fruition of illimitable life. Time, even endless time, is only an image, almost a parody, of that plenitude; a hopeless attempt to compensate for the transitoriness of its ‘presents’ by infinitely multiplying them. […] And God is eternal, not perpetual. Strictly speaking, He never foresees; He simply sees. Your ‘future’ is only an area […] of His infinite Now […] I am none the less free to act as I choose in the future because God, in that future (His present) watches me acting.”
From The Screwtape Letters:
“But you must remember that [Man] takes Time for an ultimate reality. He supposes that [God], like himself, sees some things as present, remembers others as past, and anticipates others as future. […] If you tried to explain to him that men’s prayers today are one of the innumerable coordinates with which [He] harmonises the weather of tomorrow, he would reply that then [God] always knew men were going to make those prayers and, if so, they did not pray freely but were predestined to do so. And he would add that the weather on a given day can be traced back through its causes to the original creation of matter itself – so that the whole thing, both on the human and on the material side, is given “from the word go.” What he ought to say, of course, is obvious to us; that the problem of adapting the particular weather to the particular prayers is merely the appearance, at two points in his temporal mode of perception, of the total problem of adapting the whole spiritual universe to the whole corporeal universe; that creation in its entirety operates at every point of space and time, or rather that their kind of consciousness forces them to encounter the whole, self-consistent creative act as a series of successive events. Why that creative act leaves room for their free will is the problem of problems. […] How it does so is no problem at all; for [God] does not foresee the humans making their free contributions in a future, but sees them doing so in His unbounded Now. And obviously to watch a man doing something is not to make him do it.” (letter #27)
And just for fun, for another take on the same point (viz., that foreknowledge need not foreclose free will), see Book III (ll. 114-119) of Milton’s Paradise Lost:
“As if Predestination over-rul’d
This will, dispos’d by absolute Decree
Or high foreknowledge; they themselves decreed
Their own revolt, not I: if I foreknew,
Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault,
Which had no less prov’d certain unforeknown.”
From: David Bratman <dbratman@...>
Sent: Thu, January 7, 2010 3:22:02 PM
Subject: [mythsoc] Misquoting C.S. Lewis
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
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.