According to “Goodreads” Lewis’s book on miracles (Miracles: A preliminary study, Geoffrey Bles, 1947) has had 507 reviews. A study guide to the book by the C.S. Lewis Foundation (2001) states that “Lewis’ lucid, generous minded and comprehensive apologetic for miracles is, in its own way, no less compelling than Mere Christianity in the case it makes for the overall rationality of the Christian faith. Perhaps even more striking than its careful arguments for why the Naturalistic picture of reality is insufficient to describe reality as a whole, is the unusually transparent window it offers us as to what ‘the glorious resurrection of the new humanity’ might be like.”
To begin with Lewis notes that “…the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience” (11)…. This book is intended as a preliminary to historical inquiry…. Those who assume that miracles cannot happen are merely wasting their time by looking into the texts: we know in advance what results they will find for they have begun by begging the question” (13).
After outlining the scope of the book in chapter 1, Lewis examines the nature of the naturalist and the supernaturalist positions in chapter 2(15-22); Lewis uses the word miracle to refer to a supernatural power interfering with nature.
In chapter 3 Lewis notes the self-contradiction of the naturalist (23-31), a contention debated and criticized by Elizabeth Anscombe. The argument of Anscombe regarding naturalism is carefully analyzed in a book by Victor Reppert called “C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In defense of the argument from reason” (InterVarsity Press, 2003). “C.S. Lewis’s dangerous idea is the idea that if we explain reason naturalistically we shall end up explaining it away, that is, explaining it in such a way that it cannot serve as a foundation for the natural sciences that are themselves the foundation for naturalism” (128).
Naturalism claims “that the natural world is all there is and there are no supernatural beings (Reppert, 46). “On the mechanistic view of the world, material particles can, through evolution, further the survival of the organism and the species” (Reppert, 47). “Anscombe’s contention was that Lewis conflated all nonrational causes with rational causes” (Reppert, 56). Reppert discusses the issue that had arisen between Lewis and Anscombe and concludes tht rationalists “must accept the idea that at least some beliefs are inferred from other beliefs,” and if they do “their position rules out the possibility of rational inference” which would “provide a very powerful reason to reject naturalism” (Reppert, 57). Ripper updates his argument in chapter 3 of C.S. Lewis as philosopher: truth, goodness and beauty, edited by David Baggett, Gary R. Habermas and Jerry L. Walls (2008, 53-67) and concludes “A naturalistic view of the universe, according to which there is nothing inexistence that is not in a particular time and a particular place, is hard-pressed to reconcile with the fact that some truths that we know are not only true in this world, but in all possible worlds” (67).
Lewis’s Chapter 4, “Nature and supernature” (33-42) and chapter 5, “A further difficulty in naturalism (43-48)” deal with the “problem of reason,” which is central to Lewis’s argument. Lewis concludes the chapter with “But logical thinking—Reasoning—had to be the pivot of the argument became, af all the claims which the human mind puts forward, the claim of Reasoning to be valid is the only one which the Naturalis cannot deny without (philosophically speaking) cutting his own throat. You cannot, as we saw, prove that there are no proofs…. That is, you can do so without running into falt self-contradiction and nonsense” (41).
Chapter 6, “Answers to misgivings (49-54),” notes that because the Supernatural is so near and obvious (as he says, a daily and hourly experience) it is a miracle that human rationality observes it at all.
Chapter 7 (55-65) is on “red herrings,” arguments thrown in like “miracles are contrary to the laws of nature” without specifying just what those are. Things may be impossible unless they are overruled by something beyond nature (57).
“Miracle and the laws of nature” (67-75) is the title of chapter 8; Lewis first outlines the three views of the Laws of Nature that have been held: 1) they are mere observable brute facts, with no rhyme or reason to them; 2) they are applications of the law of averages; 3) they are “necessary” truths. According to Lewis “A miracle is emphatically not an event without cause or without results. Its cause is the activity of God; its results follow according ot Natural law” (73).
Chapter 9 (77-81), while “not strictly necessary” reflects on immortality and how Christians, who are Supernaturalists, really see God (80).
Chapter 10, “Horrid Red Things” (83-97) is built on an imaginary story of a little girl who was told by her mother that she would die if she took too many tablets of aspirin. The child knew it was poisonous because it had “horrid red things” in side it (87). The result is that “thinking may be sound where the images that accompany it are fake” (ibid). We interpret Christian doctrines metaphorically (95) because we most often cannot make some things apparent literally.
“Christianity and ‘Religion’” (Chapter 11, pages 9-114) reflects on how the opponent of “religion” is Christianity (101) because “the normal instinctive guess of the human mind, not utterly wrong, but needing correction” (102). People dabbling in religion may find Him.
Chapter 12, “The propriety of miracles” (115-120) takes us from a form of rudimentary belief to the mind of God, a great gap. Mixed in is a great story—the Gospel.
Lewis claims in Chapter 13, “On probability” (121-130) that most stories about miraculous events are probably false (121). However, people would probably accept the most ludicrous “improbable ‘natural’ explanations”
In Chapter 14, “The Grand Miracle” (131-158), Lewis calls the Incarnation the doctrine which, “if accepted, can illuminate and integrate the whole mass” (133). It informs four other principles:
- The composite nature of man
- The pattern of descent and re-ascension
- Selectiveness: “Man is in fact the only rational creature in this spatio-temporal Nature” (147).
- Vicariousness: “[it] is the very idiom of the reality He has create, His death can become ours” (157)
In “Miracles of the Old Creation” (Chapter 15, 159-170) and the New Creation (Chapter 16, 171-195) Lewis notes that biblical miracles are quite different than mythological ones because “they show invasion by a Power which is not alien” (159). The miracles of Christ are of several kinds (161):
- Miracles of fertility “Every year God makes a little corn into much corn” (164)
- Miracles of healing “The magic is not in the medicine but in the patient’s body” (168)
- Miracles of destruction (the withering of the fig tree)
- Miracles of dominion over the inorganic (stilling a storm; walking on water)
- Miracles of reversal (resurrection and immortality)
- Miracles of perfecting or glorification (the transfiguration)
“[The Christian’s] God is the God of corn and oil and wine. He is the glad Creator. He has become Himself incarnate” (194).
In his Epilogue (197-204) Lewis notes that “We all have Naturalism in our bones and conversion does not at once work the infection out of our system” (197) We have probably not seen miracles because “God does not shake miracles into Nture at random as if form a pepper-caster” (201).
Then follows Appendix A. On the words Spirit and Spiritual (205-210) Lewis discusses 5 speal meanings of the words; Appendix B. On ‘Special Providences’ (211-216) “’Providence’ and Natural causation are not alternatives; both determine every event because both are one” (214); and finally an Index (217-220).
God in the dock: Essays on theology and ethics. Edited by Walter Hooper (Eerdmans, 1970) has a chapter (2, pp. 25-37) called “miracles,” which is the title of a sermon by Lewis first preached in St. Jude, London in 1942 and later appeared in their Gazette, as well as still later in The Guardian. Lewis points out that “Whatever experiences we may have, we shall not regard them as miraculous if we already hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural” (25). Such a belief cannot be proved or disproved by experience and “No doubt most stories of miracles are unreliable; but then, as anyone can see by reading the papers, so are most stories of all events. Each story must be taken on its merits: what one must not do is to rule out the supernatural as the one impossible explanation” (27). Lewis says that modern people seem to dislike miracles but “If a miracle means that which must simply be accepted, the unanswerable actuality which gives no account of itself but simply is, then the universe is one great miracle” (36). The chapter on miracles is again republished in a collection by Lesley Walmsley (chapter 13 in C.S. Lewis essay collections, (HarperCollins, 201, pp. 107-117).
The joyful Christian: 127 readings from C.S. Lewis was compiled by William Griffin, (Macmillan Publishing Co, 1970) and contains four Of Lewis’s writings on miracles: 1) Miracles and the Laws of Nature; 2) Miracles of Fertility; 3) Miracles of Healing and 4) Miracles of Destruction.
Readings for meditation and reflection was edited by Walter Hooper. (Harper Collins, 1992) was republished in 2008. It contains 81 essays by Lewis and one of them is called “Belief in miracles” (54-55) and is taken from the first chapter of Lewis’s book on miracles.
David Baggett, Gary R. Habermas and Jerry L. Walls, edited a book called C.S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty (IVP Academic, 2008). Chapter 13, “Lewis’s Miracles and Mathematical Elegance” is by Russell W. Howell and explores that question if Lewis’s philosophical framework was compatible with the notion of miraculous events. They suggest “a very close connection: mathematical elegance poses problems for naturalism—problems that connect with Lewis’s own ideas of beauty” (211). Lewis had taken Anscombe’s criticisms seriously and rewritten a chapter of Miracles as a result. His reply was called The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism” and was published in 1960. The authors conclude that “Whatever being in God’s image exactly entails, it seems to include a rational and aesthetic capacity reflective of his that enables humans to understand and admire his creation” (236).
Lyle W. Dorsett’s book, A love observed: Joy Davidman’s life and marriage to C.S. Lewis. (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1983) includes a chapter called “Miracles, pain, peace (1953-1960). Joy, riddled with cancer in her bones had a miracle happen when she responded and Lewis noted “My wife’s condition…has improved, if not miraculously (but who knows?) at any rate wonderfully” (128-129 Lewis, quoted in Dorsett). She remained in reasonable health for some time but cancer returned and she died in 1960.
In Bruce L. Edwards’ monumental four volume work on Lewis, Victor Reppert has a chapter (153-181) called “Miracles: C.S. Lewis’s Critique of Naturalism.” (See C.S. Lewis: Life, works and legacy. Volume 3: Apologist, philosopher, & theological, Praeger 2007) Reppert discusses Lewis’s arguments on miracles and the criticisms to it, particularly Anscombe’s famous case, as well as some other rather famous opponents of Lewis. Reppert maintains that those who disregard any miraculous event “use a principle of methodological naturalism” and presuppose that mothering can happen that would involve the supernatural (155). He also explains the tenants that evolutionists hole and the hole in Lewis’s argument than led to Anscombe’s rejection of it. Reppert examines Lewis’s original postulates and also those of Anscombe, then turns to Lewis’s revision of a chapter in Miracles that deals with naturalism. The arguments about intentionality, psychological relevance and reason are philosophical and develop into complex arguments. However “I [Reppert] conclude…that the argument from reason is unrefuted and constitutes a substantial reason for preferring a theistic understanding of the universe to a naturalistic one” (178).
Glaspey, Terry W. 1996. The spiritual legacy of C.S. Lewis. Nashville TN: Cumberland House Publishing.
“Lewis helps us see that the rejection of the miraculous is a matter of choice rather than evidence” (88). Lewis rejects naturalism “because it undermindes the validity of thought itself, and …because it provides no basis for the moral sentiment that we universally hold” (89).
Lindskoog, Kathryn Ann. 1973. C.S. Lewis: Mere Christian. Foreword by Dr. Clyde S. Kilby . Glendale, CA: Regal Books Division, G/L Publications.
In her chapter on miracles (117-131), Lindskoog first examines the “problem” of miracles by asking several questions: 1) Is there a supernature? 2) What is a miracle? 3) Are miracles possible; 4) Are miracles probable? and 5) Are miracles proper? That is, “our sense of fitness related to historical evidence” (123). Part two of the chapter examines the meaning miracles: 1) the miracle of Jesus’ coming; the miracles Jesus worked; and the miracle of the new life. Finally, the reader is exhorted to “be on guard” because few people believe in miracles and only if we are “special places in spiritual history are we apt to see miracles for ourselves” (130).
Purtill, Richard L. 2004 . C.S. Lewis’s case for the Christian faith. San Francisco: Harper&Row.
In chapter 5, “Miracles and History,” Purtill notes that Lewis considered a miracle as a violation of natural law so that the intervention must have come by a power outside of nature (86). He concludes: “If we admit the full reality of Christ’s miracles…our inescapable conclusion must be the divinity of Christ, in a full sense: Christ as God the Son, coequal and coeternal with the Father” (98-99).
Schriftman, Jacob. 2008. The C.S. Lewis book on the Bible: What the greatest Christian writer thought about the greatest book. Moonrise.
In chapter 14 Schriftman asks: What Kind of God Would Work Miracles? We learn that God is a personal being and that world is real, so miracles occur in nature because “If ordinary Nature did not exist, neither could extraordinary (miraculous) events exist in that Nature” (132).
Schakel, Peter J. and Charles A. Huttar, eds. 1991. Word and story in C.S. Lewis. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press.
Chapter 5, “Sanctifying the literal: Images and incarnation in Miracles” is by Thomas Werge (76-85) opens his chapter by saying “Yet his [Lewis’s] argument [on miracles] relies not so much on formal logic and analysis as on the affirmation of images, imagery and the imagination as ways of knowing” (76). Despite this claim, most of the arguments against Lewis on miracles are about his logic. Werge sees Lewis as most outraged against the overly spiritualizing and gnostic vision (79). “For Lewis, images inhere both in language and in our nature as experiencing imaginary beings. They immerge from and point to analogies of the mind and imagination about the world (80). “While reason and logic may approximate the paradox of the Incarnation, only faith and imagination can directly apprehend its salvific mystery and be moved by the dramatic images from which that mystery cannot be separated” (84). For Lewis the ultimate miracle is the concreteness that comes into our vision, providing reality to the story.
Walsh, Milton. 2008. Second Friends: C.S. Lewis and Ronald Knox in Conversation. With a foreword by Walter Hooper. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Both “Lewis and Knox steered a course between two opposite extremes: materials who claim that miracles are impossible and magicians who claim they are everywhere, provided you know how to conjure them” (136). The two great miracles were the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Jesus. Walsh quotes Lewis by noting that miracles by God subsequently follow the rules of nature: its wine intoxicates, its pregnancy gives new life and its bread can be ingested (114).
“C. S. Lewis and Ronald Knox were two of the most popular authors of Christian apologetics in the twentieth century … and for many years they were neighbors in Oxford. In Second Friends, Milton Walsh delves into their writings and compares their views on a variety of compelling topics, such as the existence of God, the divinity of Christ, the problem of suffering, miracles, the way of Love, the role of religion in society, prayer, and more. They both bring to the conversation a passionate love of truth, clarity of thought, and a wonderful wit.
White, Roger, Judith Wolfe and Brendan Wolfe, eds. 2015. C.S. Lewis and his circle: Essays and memoirs from the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society. NY: Oxford University Press.
Chapter 2 “C.S. Lewis’s rewrite of Chapter III of Miracles” by Elizabeth Anscombe, is based on a talk she gave that was recorded at Oxford. It is highly argumentive and (for me), difficult to follow, using as it does, one part of Lewis’s argument about the nature of miracles.
Wielenberg, Erik J. 2008. God and the reach of reason: C.S. Lewis, David Hume, and Bertrand Russell. Cambridge University Press.
3) Miracles: 3.1 Introduction; 3.2 Debating Miracles in the Eighteenth Century; 3.3 A Preliminary Skirmish; 3.4 Hume’s Main Assault; 3.5 Lewis’s Counterattack; 3.6 The Fitness of the Incarnation; 3.7 Lewis’s Mitigated Victory and the Trilemma; 3.8 Conclusion.