The Magicians Twin: C. S. Lewis, Scientism, and the Future

C. S. Lewis passed away 49 years ago yesterday (November 22, 1963).  His death was little noticed here in the states, as it happened to coincide with a startling event: The assassination of John F. Kennedy.  However of the two men, Lewis’s legacy has proved startlingly vital compared to Kennedy’s.

The above video is a 30 minute mini-documentary that takes a short but sweet look at what C. S. Lewis thought about the impending rise of a cultural elite of scientists who wielded huge power, not merely over public policy, but over humanity itself.  This was a topic he dwelt upon often.

George Orwell foreshadowed the rise of technology and it’s ability to suppress man in 1984.

Aldous Huxley chronicled in Brave New World the possibility of technology so vastly changing our conception of good and evil, resulting in all “births” being done in decanted batches of humans, to the point that people are utterly appalled by the unintended consequences (pregnancy) of the hedonistic, sex-infused consumer lifestyles the blithely exist in.

Heck Jonathan Swift Mocked it in the dehumanized idiots of Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels (one of my all time favorite books).

But it was Lewis who so clearly demarcated the danger of Scientism.

In The Abolition of Man he wrote about what happens when one man (or group of men) attempts to step “beyond good and evil” and shape mankind as he (0r they) see fit, how

They are, rather, not men (in the old sense) at all. They are, if you like, men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what `Humanity’ shall henceforth mean. `Good’ and `bad’, applied to them, are words without content: for it is from them that the content of these words is henceforward to be derived. Nor is their difficulty factitious, “We might suppose that it was possible to say ‘After all, most of us want more or less the same things—food and drink and sexual intercourse, amusement, art, science, and the longest possible life for individuals and for the species. Let them simply say, This is what we happen to like, and go on to condition men in the way most likely to produce it. Where’s the trouble?’  But this will not answer. In the first place, it is false that we all really like the same things. But even if we did, what motive is to impel the Conditioners to scorn delights and live laborious days in order that we, and posterity, may have what we like? Their duty? But that is only the Tao, which they may decide to impose on us, but which cannot be valid for them. If they accept it, then they are no longer the makers of conscience but still its subjects, and their final conquest over Nature has not really happened. The preservation of the species? But why should the species be preserved? One of the questions before them is whether this feeling for posterity (they know well how it is produced) shall be continued or not. However far they go back, or down, they can find no ground to stand on. Every motive they try to act on becomes at once petitio. It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao [i.e., the objective moral reality], they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.

What Scientism Isn’t

Scientism does not mean that science is bad itself.  Far from it.  Science is a tool, and a very useful tool at that.  It is not “at war with religion”, and in fact, it was that ‘ol time religion that allowed for the rise of science.  Many of the most famous scientists have been Catholics, many of them clergy, from the founder of Genetics (Mendel), to the fellow who proposed the Big Bang (Lemaître) (an in fact, many still look to the big bang, now accepted almost dogmatically, as proof of the necessity and existence of God, as in the recent documentary, Cosmic Origins).

No, rather, “scientism” means this tendency we have to treat science as those in years past treated magic.  We even mirror this in our “Science Fiction” when a character travels back in time and is haled as a wizard with strange powers for devices we today take utterly for granted.  It assumes science is “outside” of the “philosophical” or “theological” realm(s) of morality, and that it should be able to do what it does however it sees fit, notion of morality be damned.  Scientism treats as infallible the notion of “progress” that never stops to question even what Progress means.

Scientism in Other Works by C. S. Lewis

Lewis turned again and again to this theme in many of his works, including the “prequel” to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in a book entitled The Magicians Nephew, from whence the above documentary takes its name.

C. S. Lewis Space trilogy Perelandra ScientismOther works include The Abolition of Man (cited above), and Lewis’ Space Trilogyparticularly the third book in that series, That Hideous Strength (which, by the way, if you’ve never read this series, BUY IT AND READ IT!  It is phenomenal.  I’ll do a write up on it later, but suffice it to say, it’s presented as a fictionalized account of a “true story” that involved, if my guess is correct, J. R. R. Tolkien, who in the character of Ransom travels first to Mars (“Malacandra” in the first book, Out Of The Silent Planet), where he meets three seperate races who have never experienced “the Fall” that humanity suffered “in the beginning,” and then to Venus (“Perelandra” in the second book of the same name), where he is actually there to stop the fall on that planet.  A constant companion in the first two of these books is a rather corpulent fellow named Weston who becomes down-right demonically frightening by the middle of Perelandra.

What drives Weston in the first two books, and the society N.I.C.E. (the “National Institute for Coordinated Experiments”) in the third, is this headlong plummet into “progress at all costs” that threatens to take away all that is genuinely human at the wishes of a few who have the power to do so.  And this power is represented in their unique understanding and mastery over science: ergo, Scientism.  The control of a few over the many, and not just the many but what it means to be a part of the many — what it means to be human.

Scientism Today…

Scientism is becoming the prevailing notion of our modern culture, celebrated and championed by “the New Atheists” certainly, but even regular folks who think that, for instance, even though adult stem cells have actually solved dozens of problems and have shown themselves to be as pluri-potent as all get-out, we ought never-the-less to continue sacrificing embryonic children in the name of progress.

We ought to be wary of scientism, but not of science qua science.  True science will never contradiction true reason or true faith.  As Bl. John Paul II said,

?”Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” – Fides et Ratio

Watch the documentary.  Read the books.  And then weigh in on this issue, which promises to become exceedingly important as the years progress.


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