The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
“The professor totally knows about Narnia or he wouldn’t be saying this weird stuff, Mom.”
“Yep. Just wait until The Magician’s Nephew.”
“I thought so.”
We last left off with Susan and Peter, the two oldest children, finally bringing their youngest siblings’ problems to the guy who is ostensibly in charge of them all: “the old Professor.” The Professor’s name is Digory Kirke, but that isn’t important in this book; it’s his title that shows which archetype he is that is of real importance. This wise old teacher, who holds the extra hierarchy cards of being both male and older, is supposed to be trusted as an authority. Preferably, without question.
God help him if he ever met Little Bit.
Peter and Susan are worried about Lucy, and can’t seem to stem the emotional outbursts of their very distraught sister. Lucy claims that her fantasy world is real, and speaks with such certainty that they can’t help but wonder if something is mentally wrong with her. If they were hoping for comfort, sympathy, or even help from the Professor, they’re in for disappointment.
First the Professor tells the children that accusing their sister of being untruthful when she is usually truthful is wrong of them. Never mind that she is talking about visiting another world and suspending the passage of time. The Professor discounts the possibility Lucy is telling a lie since she is a truthful person. The logic goes: Truthful people don’t tell lies. Lucy is a truthful person. Therefore Lucy does not tell lies. Of course this is based on a false premise and can be easily turned on its head. Example: All people are capable of lies. Lucy is a person. Lucy is capable of lies.
The Professor continues: “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.”
First off, the Professor says it’s obvious that Lucy is not mad, but obvious in what way? Isn’t she extremely emotionally upset? Isn’t she unreasonably demanding the laws of physics were suspended for her? When someone’s entire mood and sense of reality has changed, isn’t that’s a red flag for mental stress or psychosis? If not, what would be?
Secondly, I know the author is attempting to explain Christianity to children, and belief in the supernatural is required, but let’s not slaughter logic on the way to faith, shall we? Lewis is no stranger to trilemmas. His most famous in Mere Christianity was the assertion that Jesus Chris was either a lunatic, liar, or Lord. This falls under the false dilemma fallacy, or the fallacy of false choice. Many other options are available. For example, Christ is also a legend or a lie, keeping with the alliteration. As for Lucy’s options, she could be in mental distress, forced to lie against her will, testing her world, or any number of things. Sorry, professor, there are way more than three possibilities, and many are more reasonable than that of the world’s physics being completely upended.
Of course the main fallacy here is the argument from ignorance: just because they cannot prove Narnia is not true they should accept it as true. Or in the words of Hermione Granger, when prompted by Xenophilius to prove something didn’t exist:
“I’m sorry, but that’s completely ridiculous! […] I mean, you could claim that anything’s real if the only basis for believing in it is that nobody’s proved it doesn’t exist!” J. K. Rowling could make a fantastical world without sacrificing critical thinking. Of course she didn’t have the same agenda to spread Christianity to children as Lewis did.
The Professor performs special pleading where the young skeptics are told to accept an exception to the rules of nature in this one case for no discernable reason. Later we will learn the Professor had been to Narnia himself. The fact he does not admit this up front is a disingenuous omission.
The philosophic burden of proof requires Lucy to substantiate her claim with evidence. (Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, as the saying goes. And, according to Hitchens Razor, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”) She fails in this basic first step from the beginning when the older children test her claim by opening the wardrobe and knocking on the back panel to prove it is solid. So at this point the other children are under no such obligation to believe her after this. Yet the professor expects belief in her claims as common decency¾as if the children have a moral responsibility to believe her.
Belief without evidence is ridiculously presented as essential to good character. (Peter even apologizes for not believing Lucy later and it is assumed he was in the wrong for failure to believe as opposed to wise for his caution.) I have so many issues with this, but of course magic is real in the story so the ends (getting to enjoy the magic) justify the means (botched logic).
Then the Professor starts telling them that having other worlds hidden “all over the place” is “probable.” No, it’s possible, but not probable. Does this professor own a dictionary? When the children push back against this idea, the Professor seems to get angry that his authority is being questioned and looks at them with “a very sharp expression,” tells them to mind their own business, and dismisses them abruptly. The next paragraph describes the children avoiding the “alarming” subject entirely with Lucy, and not dealing with it at all. That sounds like a super healthy response.
Of course this is a fairytale, so all the Professor’s pseudo-logic works out. And I love that magic is real in this world, but I caution against teaching faulty logic to children, treating disbelief as sin, and making faith in the unsubstantiated a sign of good character. In the real world, which fables like this are supposed to help children navigate, these things would lead to disaster. It wouldn’t turn out well if a child grows up to buy their first home, sight unseen, based off the word of a salesperson who uses their authority to convince the buyer to purchase without evidence of the home being structurally sound. This method does not work in most situations like choosing a college, a life partner, a religion, a career, or any other blessed thing. But I digress.
The next thing we know all four children are in the wardrobe and in Narnia. Now the story gets interesting.
(To be continued…)
Guest post by Alexis Record. Her analysis of the Chronicles of Narnia is posted one episode every month. Stay tuned!