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“”In this case, there are other possibilities which Lewis does not effectively eliminate. For example, perhaps Jesus was simply mistaken or that we don’t have an accurate record of what he truly said — if, indeed, he even existed.
The Lewis Trilemma is a bullshit argument invented c. 1844 by preacher Mark Hopkins (published 1846 in Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity) and popularized by Christian apologist C.S. Lewis on BBC radio, hence the name of the trilemma. The argument is also known as "liar, lunatic, or Lord," referring to the three possible parts of the trilemma.
|I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ...Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.|
This can be summed up as:
- Due to the law of non-contradiction, Jesus was either correct or incorrect in his claim of divinity. He also either believed or did not believe he was divine.
- Therefore, Jesus either:
- Jesus spoke out against liars, so he was not a liar.
- Jesus did not show any other signs of being deranged, being a great moral teacher, so he was not a lunatic.
- Therefore, Jesus was God.
The argument holds a few hidden premises beyond the classical laws of logic. These hidden premises include:
- Jesus existed.
- The Gospels are an accurate record of Jesus' life and teachings.
- Hypocrisy is impossible.
All of these secret premises can be challenged, and the last one is simply refuted. Anyone with any non-zero amount of social activity has tons of experience of hypocrisy in their lifetimes. Even young children can remember cases where they or someone else was hypocritical.
There are also more problems with the argument beyond these alone. Step 4 in the argument can be challenged, as Jesus may have had that one delusion of false belief of auto-divinity but was otherwise okay, much like how Isaac Newton was an alchemist and tried to find messages in the Bible but otherwise made great contributions to science. Due to the subjective nature of morality, one could disagree with the claim of Jesus being a great moral teacher. A great deal of Christian morality is about inducing guilt and reducing self respect. The teachings of Jesus have been used to try and justify widely divergent belief systems like Christian communism, Christian economics and Liberation theology. The teachings of Jesus were used to try and justify the Spanish Inquisition and various other persecutions of those considered heretical by a range of different Christian orthodoxies. How the moral teachings of Jesus are interpreted has a great deal to to with how later Christians developed what is in the New Testament.
In Lewis' specific version of the trilemma, it is not apparent how Jesus would not have been a great moral teacher simply because he falsely believed himself to be God and for no other reason. This blends with the above paragraph: Newton practiced the pseudoscience of alchemy, yet that did not make his contributions to actual science any less valuable.
The true essence of the argument is that Lewis, in reading the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, simply had the subjective opinion that it did not seem like they could have come from anyone but God, and the rest of the argument is mere window dressing around that core.
A version of the trilemma appears in his fiction book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in the Narnia series. After Lucy visits Narnia and tells the other three children, they dismiss her story. The owner of the house at which they are staying, however, argues that since Lucy is neither dishonest nor insane, her story must be true. This shows both the absurdity of the argument, and the disingenuity in employing it (the man had already visited Narnia, and thus this argument wasn't his true reason for believing Lucy, just as Christians have other reasons for believing in Christianity).
 Potential for a tetralemma
- Our fourth, ignored possibility - of Jesus not knowing he is God - also shows up. It isn't enough to refute the trilemma (beyond turning it into a "tetralemma," and is little more than a trivium due to the confusing implications which nobody, either theist or atheist, has really explored in depth. Anyhow, that possibility isn't part of the established story and no one has made the claim (that we know of).
 See also
- ↑ Lord, Liar, or Lunatic: C.S. Lewis and the Jesus Trilemma
- ↑ I.e., a liar.
- ↑ I.e., everybody over age three except for good ol' Jack, whose literature indicates he has not talked to any actual humans for years.
- ↑ Christian Morality: Hostile to the Individual and Society
- ↑ The Myth of Christian Morality
- ↑ Just a dilemma with four conflicting possibilities, much like a trilemma has three or an ordinary dilemma two.