Arguments and Eggs

Compare these three writers and their use of the humble egg. First, there is C.S Lewis whose use of the egg is found in his famous liar, lunatic, Lord argument. If a man claims to be God but isn’t, then he is either a lunatic or a liar. According to Lewis, a lunatic is the kind of person who says he is a poached egg:

“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 patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Quite why the poached egg is the choice of the insane, I don’t know. In ancient cultures the egg symbolized fertility and new life not the diminishing of mental capacities. What is it about the soft, plump poached egg that endears Lewis to its association with loosing one’s marbles?

Less well known but just as funny is Peter van Inwagen’s self-referential poached egg quip:

“some philosophers seem to think we’re something like a computer program… I’m a lot more like a poached egg or a waterfall or a hydraulic jack than I am like a computer program; one should therefore take the thesis that I’m a computer program less seriously than one would take the thesis that I’m a poached egg, and that’s not very seriously.” (“A Materialist Ontology of the Human Person”).

Oddly, lots of people think of their mind like a computer. The computational theory of the mind remains popular even though the argumentative odds are stacked against it.

Here’s a final one from a neighbor of mine, George Bernard Shaw (I grew up within walking distance of Shaw’s Corner in Hertfordshire. I walked past his house when I went to the pub, The Brocket Arms):

Although I cannot lay an egg, I am a very good judge of omelettes

This is actually an argument and not merely a slur. Think about what Shaw means here: You don’t have to be able to lay eggs to tell a good omelette. We could do with some of that wisdom at the moment. Lots of people argue that you can’t judge what I’ve done unless “you’ve been in my shoes.”

So, there we have it: arguments and eggs.

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.