C.S. Lewis

Footsteps on the beach
Footsteps on the beach, sunrise shot.

Phillip E. Johnson: Men Must Endure Their Going Hence

 Editor’s note: Phillip E. Johnson, Berkeley law professor and author of Darwin on Trial and other books, died on November 2. In days to come, Evolution News will share remembrances from Fellows of Discovery Institute. John Mark Reynolds blogs at Patheos where this was originally published. Men must endureTheir going hence, even as their coming hither;Ripeness is all.* So says the noble Edgar in King Lear about the death Read More ›

c-s-lewis-wikipedia
CS Lewis from Wikipedia Commons

C.S. Lewis and the Religion of Science

In the previous century, the language wars were fought over adverbs; at issue was discipline of thought and speech. How many thousands of readers of The Elements of Style felt that mixture of shame and delight when they read what Strunk and White had to say about “hopefully”? “This once-useful adverb meaning ‘with hope’ has been distorted and is now widely used to mean ‘I hope.’ Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly.”

Oh, for the good old days.

To be sure, Orwell was there to remind us about the dangers of newspeak. But as the century ground to its weary end, the Communists were in worldwide retreat, and it seemed as though words were returning to their proper meanings.

How shocking these last few years have been. Suddenly, pronouns and possessive adjectives are on everyone’s minds. “To each their own” is ubiquitous. Today one takes a stand by using the constructions we found so cumbersome in the 1980s, “he or she” and “his or her.” Whence this strife over words? What are its deep roots? How is sanity to be defended amid these battles?

Michael D. Aeschliman’s The Restoration of Man: C. S. Lewis and the Continuing Case against Scientism, an updated edition of a work first published in 1983, has the answers.

There is a double surprise in store for Aeschliman’s readers. It is alarming to learn how the rise and growth of a scientific culture has been linked with the most blatant subjectivism. It is a joy to be introduced to the “great central tradition” of witnesses to the true meaning of words and defenders of human reason, a tradition culminating in a man here fittingly characterized as its “trustee,” the redoubtable “Jack” Lewis.

As to the first, in The Restoration of Man, Aeschliman ably chronicles how the culture associated with the new science of the 17th century began poorly and became worse. It was four long centuries ago, after all, that Francis Bacon declared, “There is nothing sound in the notions of logic and physics: neither substance, nor quality, nor action and passion, nor being itself are good notions; much less heavy, lightdenserarewet, dry, generationcorruptionattraction, repulsionelementmatterform, and so on; all fanciful and ill defined.” And just three years later, Galileo followed up with “I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on are no more than mere names so far as the object in which we place them is concerned, and that they reside only in the consciousness.” The new science began with an assault on the human race’s immemorial habit of expressing its experience of the world in ordinary language. On Bacon’s and Galileo’s principle, even a statement as simple as “The brown horse ate the red apple” would need to be called into question.

In the intervening centuries, the rejection of what we know to be the case through seeing and touching has become more and more troubling and perplexing. Darwin, for one, mused in his notebooks that thought might best be understood to be a “secretion of the brain,” without stopping to ask himself who then would be doing the understanding. Badly do we need witnesses such as Lewis and the philosopher Thomas Nagel to remind us that “scientific materialism is,” in Aeschliman’s words, “internally inconsistent and false.”

Read More ›
The-Restoration-of-Man

The Restoration of Man

C. S. Lewis is best known for his Narnia tales and Christian apologetics, works that have sold more than 100 million copies. But Lewis was also a trained philosopher and a professor at Cambridge and Oxford. An intellectual giant, he fiercely and extensively critiqued the fashionable dogma known as scientism — the idea that science is the only path to Read More ›

thomas-nagel-1978
Thomas Nagel, via Wikipedia

Dissent of Man

If someone had predicted a year ago that Oxford University Press would publish a book with the subtitle Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, I might have wondered what alternate universe he was inhabiting. But Oxford did publish it, and the aftershocks among the intellectual elite have yet to abate.

The book’s author, philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a professor at New York University and the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including an honorary doctorate from Oxford University; fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities; and elections to such august bodies as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. It is a testament to Professor Nagel’s stature that his critique of Darwinian theory was allowed to be published at all. But his stature has not immunized him from a flood of abuse and even suggestions of creeping senility.

It’s not often that a book by a professional philosopher attracts the notice — let alone the ire — of the cultural powers-that-be. One can think of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind in the 1980s, but other examples are hard to come by. At any rate, Mind and Cosmos is well on its way to becoming a book that can’t be ignored by the thinking public. Thus far, it has been denounced in the Nation and the Huffington Post, dubbed the “most despised science book of 2012” by the London Guardian, defended in the New Republic (where Nagel’s critics were blasted as “Darwinist dittoheads” and a “mob of materialists”), subjected to a feature story in the New York Times, and put on the cover of the Weekly Standard, which depicted Nagel being burned alive, surrounded by a cabal of demonic-looking men in hoods.

The author has attracted special displeasure from the powers-that-be for using Mind and Cosmos to praise intelligent design proponents such as biochemist Michael Behe and philosopher of science Stephen Meyer. As the New York Times explained, many of Nagel’s fellow academics view him unfavorably “not just for the specifics of his arguments but also for what they see as a dangerous sympathy for intelligent design.” Now there is a revealing comment: academics, typically blasé about everything from justifications of infanticide to pedophilia, have concluded that it is “dangerous” to give a hearing to scholars who think nature displays evidence of intelligent design.

Read More ›
The Magician's Twin
Screen capture of books, candles, and skull from The Magician's Twin

The Magician’s Twin

More than a half century ago, famed writer C.S. Lewis warned about how science (a good thing) could be twisted in order to attack religion, undermine ethics, and limit human freedom. In this documentary "The Magician's Twin: C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism," leading scholars explore Lewis's prophetic warnings about the abuse of science and how Lewis's concerns are increasingly relevant for us today. Read More ›
The Magicians Twin cover

The Magician’s Twin

Beloved for his Narnian tales for children and his books of Christian apologetics for adults, best-selling author C.S. Lewis also was a prophetic critic of the growing power of scientism in modern society, the misguided effort to apply science to areas outside its proper bounds. In this wide-ranging book of essays edited by John G. West, contemporary writers probe Lewis’s Read More ›

Blurred people background
Blurred background made of people walking through the city
Photo licensed via Adobe Stock

Public Life in the Shadowlands

Even before the film Shadowlands, C. S. Lewis was probably the most widely recognized Christian thinker of the twentieth century. By the end of the 1980s, his books already had sold more than seventy million copies, an achievement that surely places Lewis among the best-selling authors of all time.

Lewis is most appreciated today for his superlative imagination and his lucid defense of Christian orthodoxy. But he also was a keen observer of social and political affairs. As Americans struggle to define the proper relationship between religious faith, moral principle, and political action, there is much that they might learn from this inimitable British academic.

Turning to Lewis for advice about politics is undeniably a bit paradoxical. According to stepson David Gresham, Lewis was skeptical of politicians and not really interested in current events.1 He even observed that he had no use for the “great issues” of his day. “Lord! how I loathe great issues,” he wrote in 1940. “Could one start a Stagnation Party — which at General Elections would boast that during its term of office no event of the least importance had taken place?”2 Lewis likewise avoided making partisan commitments. During the 1930s, he told a student that he refrained from donating money “to anything that had a directly political implication”3; and in 1951, he declined a title offered him by Prime Minister Winston Churchill (whom he greatly admired), because he feared that critics would seize upon the honor as evidence that his “religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda….”4

Despite this seeming indifference to political life, Lewis wrote about a variety of political topics, including crime, war, censorship, capital punishment, conscription, socialism, vivisection, the welfare state and the atomic bomb.5 When he discussed these matters, however, his primary concern was not public policy. Political problems of the day interested him only insofar as they involved matters that endured. Looked at in this light, Lewis’s habit of writing about politics and his simultaneous detachment from the political arena are perfectly understandable. Uninterested in the partisan passions of the moment, he always tried to find the permanent in the political. As a result, much of what he has to say about public life remains acutely relevant. Indeed, it is the very timelessness of Lewis’s writings that makes them so timely.

Public Morality Based on Public Principles

Of all the political lessons that can be learned from Lewis, perhaps the most important is that public morality should be founded squarely upon public principles. Unlike some Christian conservatives, Lewis did not believe that civic morality ultimately had to be grounded in the Bible to be legitimate. Nor did he believe that arguments about social morality were fundamentally arguments about religion.

Instead, Lewis championed the time-honored idea of natural law — the belief that the fundamental maxims of civic morality are “written on the hearts” (Romans 2:14) of all human beings by God through reason and conscience. This natural moral code cannot be escaped, said Lewis; it is the source from which all moral judgments spring. Its cardinal virtues — justice, honesty, good faith, magnanimity, beneficence, mercy — are known to be true independently of experience. According to Lewis, these basic precepts form a moral common ground that undergirds all civilized societies, a point he illustrated in his book The Abolition of Man by cataloguing similar ethical injunctions from some of the world’s major civilizations.

Lewis was aware that some Christians objected to natural law because they thought it detracted from the dignity of revealed religion. But he could not accept their view. Far from contradicting Christianity, he argued, natural law is actually presupposed by it. Lewis agreed that Christianity deepened one’s ethical understanding. But he was insistent that “Christian ethics” not be regarded as “a radically new thing.” Pointing out that a convert to Christianity “accept[s] the forgiveness of sins,” he asked:

But of sins against what Law? Some new law promulgated by the Christians? But that is nonsensical. It would be the mockery of a tyrant to forgive a man for doing what had never been forbidden until the very moment at which the forgiveness was announced. The idea…that Christianity brought a new ethical code into the world is a grave error. If it had done so, then we should have to conclude that all who first preached it wholly misunderstood their own message: for all of them, its Founder, His precursor, His apostles, came demanding repentance and offering forgiveness, a demand and an offer both meaningless except on the assumption of a moral law already known and already broken.6

The practical political consequences of Lewis’s understanding of morality are considerable. The present controversy over religion in politics largely hinges on the assumption that the morality espoused by conservative Christians cannot be justified apart from the Bible, and hence it is illegitimate as a guide to secular policy. But according to Lewis, this is a red herring. One does not need to accept the authority of the Bible to know that theft and slander are wrong, or that honoring one’s commitment to a spouse or child is a good thing. Traditional morality of the type we find in the Bible is also reasonable morality, the morality of common sense. Thus, as Christians, we should not be afraid to apply our moral principles to politics. Instead, we should be willing and able to defend our principles as supported by reason as well as revelation. Civic morality is not the peculiar domain of religion, and Christians who wish to be politically effective (as well as theologically sound) should drive this point home. It is one of the best ways for them to disarm their critics.

The Importance of Being Prudent

Natural law provides a moral common ground for all citizens to enter politics as equals, but it does not provide simple-minded solutions to specific political problems. Nor did Lewis claim that it would. Lewis understood that being morally right is not the same thing as being politically bright. Translating moral principles into public policy requires something more than merely the right moral principles. It requires the virtue of prudence, which Lewis aptly defined as “practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it.”78 The importance of prudence is a second lesson about politics that might be gleaned from Lewis.

Read More ›
Photo by Marie Bellando-Mitjans

The Dehumanizing Impact of Modern Thought: Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Their Followers

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor who endured the horrors of Auschwitz, astutely commented on the way that modern European thought had helped prepare the way for Nazi atrocities (and his own misery). He stated, “If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton Read More ›