Tuesday, May 17, 2011

St. Clive, Science, and Theology

I’ve been wondering how to bring together three of my favorite subjects: C.S. Lewis, science, and theology. (Or, counted another way, it becomes two topics: Lewis with science and theology.) Recently, I came across Lewis’s essay—really an oral presentation to the Oxford Socratic Club—from 1944 in which St. Clive takes up the question: “Is theology poetry?” And he refines the question to become to whether theology is merely poetry (which it isn’t), and then analyzes the poetry of the “Scientific Outlook” presented by evolution (and especially H. G. Wells) as a philosophy of progress that gradually and painfully overcomes obstacles. 

It’s a fascinating lecture—as Lewis is wont to create—not on science per se, or even evolutionary science, but on the use of evolution to create a worldview, one which challenges orthodox Christian accounts of the world.

And I want to lean on this point just for a moment. It is here—not as a field of study, but as an understanding of the world or sense-of-life, where science often intersects--or even collides with--theology. Many evolutionists see a mindless, “pitiless indifference” (to quote Richard Dawkins) against the entirely purposeful creation by the hand of God.

The reason Lewis rejected the “Scientific Outlook” was this: it asserts the truth and reasonableness of its claim without thereby providing a place for reason. Or as he put it:
If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.
The Scientific Outlook tries to fit in reason in an irrational—or maybe arational—world. Belief in a Creator God who endows humanity with reason makes entirely more sense. Lewis concludes that’s why he does not believe in the “Scientific Outlook,” but instead believes in Christianity, which includes reason and science.
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
I suppose that’s where St. Clive, science, and theology all come together for me and why I subscribe to both the affirmation of Christian theology and the insights of science, including those of evolution through natural selection.

How about you? What do you think?


john said...

since lewis gave this speech in 1944, there has been new research in biology in just the last 10 or 15 years on the evolution of the brain, and emergent behaviors such as altruism, logic, morality and reason.

i think the trick is in the "AND" you italicized. it's interesting that at a certain point in history, special revelation changed the world. but special revelation in scripture, though living, has been fixed in type for thousands of years. there are new interpretations, but the data remains unchanged.

on the other hand, science, (a microscope on natural revelation) progresses, generating volumes of new data for new learning and interpretation. i'm not saying science is some how superior. But one way of looking at science is that it is a microscope on natural revelation, and we can learn a lot by looking through it.

Greg Redeker said...

I love that essay/talk. Most people don't take the time to think through the logical incongruities between their actions and their beliefs, especially if they believe that humans happened by chance.

GCootsona said...

I certainly agree that science helps us with natural revelation (or the Book of Nature) and even can assist in unfolding concepts in the Book of Scripture like the nature of the world, causality, etc. We need to read both Books!

I also agree that human beings don't always--or is it often?--try to work out logical incongruities. Maybe we don't want to. Or maybe it's too painful. At any rate, some of the hard-edged scientists are willing to be honest with what their metaphysics implies, e.g., Dawkins describing the world as "blind, pitiless indifference." I blogged on that a few years ago by simply quoting the words of scientists themselves and addressing what for them is the problem of good. The post received quite a spate of angry emails. And not all entirely rational. It didn't obscure the fact that the atheist, materialistic worldview is reasonably depressing.

My final thought is this: at the end of the day, we (by which I mean believing Christians) don't need to fear engaging with real science as long as its not metaphysics masquerading as science. A book I'm reading right now by Alister McGrath, "Surprised by Meaning," has some nice chapters on the topic.

Anonymous said...

I like how the phrasing of your summary: "...it asserts the truth and reasonableness of its claim without thereby providing a place for reason..."

I have Victor Reppert's book, "C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea" which defends Lewis's arguments in a more philosophical manner. Wikipedia has a very interesting page on this argument http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_reason

As an avid fan of G.K. Chesterton, I think he articulated this in a way that is still fitting today:

"“If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry... on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.... the main metaphysical question; whether we can prove that the primary act of recognition of any reality is real. St. Thomas recognised instantly, what so many modern sceptics have begun to suspect rather laboriously; that a man must either answer that question in the affirmative, or else never answer any question, never ask any question, never even exist intellectually, to answer or to ask. I suppose it is true in a sense that a man can be a fundamental sceptic, but he cannot be anything else...If a man feels that all the movements of his own mind are meaningless, then his mind is meaningless..."

Nietzsche long ago saw science as the child of Christianity, and in that indicated that both would collapse together (suicide by matricide?) leaving art as the only real means of expression.

"Man does not exist by nature in order to know. Two faculties required for different purposes truthfulness (and metaphor) have engendered the inclination to truth...all these pale atheists, anti-Christians, immoralists, nihilists, these skeptics,...they certainly believe they are as completely liberated from the ascetic ideal as possible, these 'free, very free spirits'; and yet they themselves embody it today and perhaps they alone. They are far from being free spirits: for they still have faith in truth..." -Nietzsche

Bill Jackson, Oroville CA

Anonymous said...

Whoops...I accidentally wrapped the Lewis quote into my Chesterton quote!

Bill Jackson, Oroville CA