Arguments for and against the existence of God, Gods, and the supernatural realm have a long history in philosophy, religion, and even in science. Of course, part of the reason arguments for the existence of God rarely convince atheists and arguments against the existence of God rarely convince theists is that almost all of the arguments have a simple refutation. Some of these arguments may contain unstated premises or assumptions about the way the world works. Years of arguing with friends have taught me that arguing about God’s existence rarely yields anything but animosity. However, being aware of the philosophical tradition behind arguments about God’s existence can be very helpful in coming to terms with one’s own beliefs. In this series of articles, I’ve looked at several arguments for and against God’s existence. You can find some of the other articles by clicking this link. In this article, I’ll take a look at the Cosmological Argument for God’s existence.
C.S. Lewis and the Lord, Liar, or Lunatic Argument
C.S. Lewis is perhaps one of the most beloved theologians because of his accessible writing. He developed numerous arguments for Christianity and God’s existence, and one of the most famous of these is his Lord, Liar, or Lunatic argument. This argument is not explicitly an argument for the existence of God and is instead an argument for Christianity because it argues that Jesus was God. The argument is premised thusly:
Many people insist that Jesus was a good person whom they respect but that he was not God. A person who is claiming to be God is either lying, crazy, or telling the truth. However, a liar is not a person worthy of respect and all other indications point toward Jesus being very honest. Jesus could be crazy, but there are no examples of him behaving like a crazy person and again, a lunatic is not someone who is worthy of respect. Therefore, Jesus must have been telling the truth about being God.
The argument preys upon the common claim of nonchristians that they respect Jesus but that he was not god. Thus this argument cannot be used with people who do not claim that Jesus was a good person.
Refutations of the Lord, Liar, or Lunatic Argument
The primary problem with the Lord, Liar, or Lunatic argument is that it is an overly simplistic false trichotomy. There are many alternative explanations for the claim that Jesus was God found in the Christian Bible other than the “liar” or “lunatic” explanation. These include:
1. Jesus may never have existed.
2. Jesus’s follower wrote the Bible. They, therefore, may have misquoted him or falsely attributed words to him.
3. If Jesus were a lunatic, this would by no means preclude him being a good person worthy of respect. Many great people throughout history have made crazy claims or struggled with mental illness; therefore, if Jesus were a crazy man who believed he was God, he could still be a good man.
4. Perhaps Jesus was in fact lying about being God, but only in an effort to spread his message of love and peace. This would be a justifiable white lie and Jesus might still be a good man worthy of respect.