I know that there is a line by CS Lewis where he is talking about secular atheists have to try to forget their philosophy in order to find joy in life. The line goes something like...

"But insofar as... you go from having a good time to having a great time... you must remember that love is merely a chemical reaction."

There might also be a part about his wife, and how his love for her was nothing but a chemicial reaction if we presume that the secularist worldview is correct.

If someone could give me the quote along with perhaps a reference to where it came from I would be very grateful.


3 Answers 3


There's this passage on page 76 of Present Concerns:

You can't, except in the lowest animal sense, be in love with a girl if you know (and keep on remembering) that all the beauties both of her person and of her character are a momentary and accidental pattern produced by the collision of atoms, and that your own response to them is only a sort of psychic phosphorescence arising from the behaviour of your genes. You can’t go on getting any very serious pleasure from music if you know and remember that its air of significance is pure illusion, that you like it only because your nervous system is irrationally conditioned to like it. You may still, in the lowest sense, have a ‘good time’; but just in so far as it becomes very good, just in so far as it ever threatens to push you on from cold sensuality into real warmth and enthusiasm and joy, so afar you will be forced to feel the hopeless disharmony between your own emotions and the universe in which you really live.

This is quoted by Tim Keller on page 141 of The Reason for God.


A search on quite a few of Lewis' works did not yield anything with the phrase "chemical reaction" in it. Additionally, searches for "love" and "chemical" revealed nothing as well.

However, Lewis is quoted this, which is along the same vein:

We can be certain that, in this life at any rate, thought is intimately connected to the brain. The theory that thought therefore is merely a movement of the brain is, in my opinion, nonsense, for if so, the theory itself would merely be a movement, an event among atoms, which may have speed and direction, but of which it would be meaningless to use the words "true" and "false."

It is reprinted in many places.1 2 3 It is very likely legitimately Lewis' words and was first said, not written, in a sermon in 1944, which was later transposed and published in a work titled Transposition and other addresses.4 According to one source, The Weight of Glory was the American version of that work.5 An actual copy of this sermon does not seem to exist online. But the consistency among quoters and the volume of those quoting leads to a reasonable conclusion that Lewis did indeed say these words.

The quote above seems to contain the essence of what you remember, which is that thoughts and emotions are more than chemical reactions, or 'movements in the brain'.

In general, there are many persons, past and present, that have posited and challenged the notion that "love is a chemical reaction". As you should expect, the idea was first forwarded by naturalists and has since been resoundingly rejected by many Christian theologians because of the implications on Christian theology.6

  1. C. S. Lewis's List: The Ten Books That Influenced Him Most
  2. A Philosophical Walking Tour with C.S. Lewis: Why it Did Not Include Rome
  3. A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis
  4. C.S. Lewis: Apologist, philosopher, and theologian
  5. Lewis as Preacher – A 75th Anniversary Reflection - cslewis.com
  6. Love the chemical reaction - Encyclopedia of Human Thermodynamics, Human Chemistry, and Human Physics

I've done another search of all of C. S. Lewis's works that are available on Google Books, and this particular phrasing does not appear. However, perhaps this quote from the materialist antagonist of That Hideous Strength approaches what you recall:

"Before going on," said Frost, "I must ask you to be strictly objective. Resentment and fear are both chemical phenomena. Our reactions to one another are chemical phenomena. Social relations are chemical relations. [...] A circle bound together by subjective feelings of mutual confidence and liking would be useless. Those, as I have said, are chemical phenomena. [...] Friendship is a chemical phenomenon; so is hatred. [...] much of what you mistook for your thought was merely a by-product of your blood and nervous tissues."

Lewis's point here, of course, is to debunk this way of thinking; he clearly rejects it.

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