Saturday, July 23, 2011

C. S. Lewis on “the Scientific Outlook” and its Contrast with Science

(This is the next installment of the chapter I'm working....)
Ultimately, C. S. Lewis was a professor of literature and therefore in the humanities and not the sciences. Most of his arguments for faith take place in philosophy or the arts. Yet, this may be a strength because many arguments against Christian faith are presented by scientists as scientific, but are really philosophical in character.
We come then to a confusion—or maybe the shell game—that exists, as well as a nexus for misunderstanding. Science commits itself to methodological naturalism quite rightly. Science, at its core, looks for the interactions, interrelations, and thus cause and effect in the natural world. It does not ask the question, “What is the boiling point of water?” Science keeps testing, hypothesizing, testing, and hypothesizing, until the conclusion is made that, when water at sea level is heated to 100 Celsius, it begins to boil. No god or spirit is needed for that specific phenomenon of nature (other than that a Creator God who put together nature itself, by I will return to that theme below).
The issue is when this method of looking for natural causes elides into philosophical naturalism—that all there exists is nature. Just because science cannot test or number something does not mean it does not exist. 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. “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted,” as Albert Einstein once quipped. Though many scientists, and atheistic philosophers, link methodological naturalism with philosophical atheism, there is no sound reason to do so.
At this point, it might be worthwhile to delineate the difference between theology, which is the study of God, and science, which is the study of the natural world based on the distinction between primary and secondary causation. God is the primary cause—God undergirds and establishes all being. As the great medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas taught, the nature of God as Creator is that being is always flowing from God. That fact defines primary causation. God is the Cause that undergirds all other causes. Secondary causation is what human beings, and all other agents in the natural world, are given to do. Shakespeare created Hamlet and Ophelia—that is the nature of authorship. They would not exist without him, but within the story they have real interaction. The analogy is not perfect because once the book is written, the real interactions between Hamlet and Ophelia are fixed in a way that ours is not. Nonetheless the central point of the analogy lies here: if Shakespeare were to have stopped writing Hamlet in the midst of its creation, the entire story would have ceased. And so too it is with God. God is the primary cause, but we are the real secondary causes. If God were to stop creating, we would no longer exist.
Returning to our text at hand: “Is Theology Poetry?” is a fascinating lecture—as Lewis is wont to create—not on science per se, or even strictly evolutionary science, but on the use of evolution to create a worldview, one that challenges orthodox Christian accounts of the world. To repeat: This atheistic challenge confuses methodological naturalism (tbe basis of evolution) with philosophical naturalism. Or, in this essay, Lewis juxtaposes science and the Scientific Outlook. Therefore, when scientists grasp this distinction, no conflict between science and God need arise prematurely. Now there may be discoveries about creation and raise questions about the Creator, but science by its nature does not have the power and right to say that all that exists is what it studies. It is as if sculptors were to assert that painting does not exist because they have never touched paint.
Therefore, Lewis held out great hope for science and faith. As he puts in the mouth of the devil, Screwtape, in the first letter of the Screwtape Letters, the imagined correspondence between a senior devil and a junior devil, Wormwood, on how to tempt a human soul.
Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defense against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can't touch and see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists (Letter One).


M Fitzpatrick said...

Overall, I thought this was a solid exposition and expansion of Lewis' thought. "Is Theology Poetry?" is a classic of Lewis' and I hope everyone who reads your blog takes the time to read the essay itself on their own.

One caveat: at some point I'd love to get down to the theological bedrock on freedom as it concerns first and secondary causation. I've read Ric's chapters on this subject and I simply don't by the Aristotelean argument for our freedom. The problem is this: in the analogy about Shakespeare, Shakespeare is the sole determinant of every thought and action Hamlet has. The question becomes, theologically, how God departs from Shakespeare in any significant way. How does a primary cause not also become the "wizard behind the curtain" on all the secondary causes? Don't they just "appear" to be free because, as Spinoza famously wrote, "Men are conscious of their actions and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined"?

It is one thing to say I am here because God actualized me. In that sense, God caused me. But that is more a bottom up causation, causation that makes the difference between being and non-being. What about left-to-right causation, the series of events in reality? Does God's primary causation set the previous states of the universe before human existence? If so, how does secondary causation work as metaphysically different from the universe before there was humans? What changed metaphysically?

A final note: Ric claims that to be free is to be determined by your reason. Interestingly, this is the exact same notion of "freedom" given by Spinoza, the most famous hard determinist in history. This correspondance makes me nervous. We should talk. :-)

GCootsona said...

Yours are great comments and, as per usual, get to significant issues. For example, on primary and secondary causation and the analogy of Shakespeare (which apparently Dorothy Sawyers made famous in "Mind of the Maker") I tried to indicate that there was a problem with the analogy: "The analogy is not perfect because once the book is written, the real interactions between Hamlet and Ophelia are fixed in a way that ours is not."

I just wanted to demonstrate how primary and secondary causation look. How God as Primary Cause sustains our real secondary causes.

What do you think? Is there something more I can, or should, add, or is the analogy simply flawed?

GCootsona said...

Somehow this comment from Monsieur Fitzpatrick didn't make it through the spam filter process. My apologies. And here it is:

Greg, I think this juxtaposition is quite interesting, but it makes some bold claims. Pinker is making the assertion that neuroscience can touch the previously unreachable areas of human thought (quite literally). Haldane raises the epistemological objection to this claim, but of course this doesn't falsify Pinker's claim. He could easily retort that we do have some reason to believe our beliefs are true - namely, that we have survived evolutionarily. If I mistake what the world means, it might cost me my life. The fact that we thrive shows we are probably getting something right. The question remains why, and it isn't obvious that Pinker's suggestion is impossible.

Regarding Jacks' reflections, there is a sincere debate raging in philosophy of science and evolutionary psychology as to whether science, art, morality and religion can fit in the scientific worldview. We already know, from past Triad discussions, that morality probably can be given a naturalistic basis which science could study. Science itself could be the object of study if we consider sociology a science. Art? Religion? Well, anthropologists have given their best crack at these, as have philosophers. Whether these will ever merely reduce down to good neuroscience, I don't know (and hope not). But there are sincere scientists who would claim that each of these can in fact be subsumed under the scientific worldview. Pinker definitely thinks religion can, as does Daniel Dennett. As for art, you might watch this short Ted Talk by Denis Dutton on the subject of beauty.

M Fitzpatrick said...

You know, I've actually struggled with Lewis' adaption of Sayers' analogy ever since I first read it in Mere Christianity. I'm honestly not sure. On the one hand, I like the analogy, because I really do see God as the grand Storyteller. And yet, there is an important and fundamental difference. Unlike Hamlet, we have real influence on the details of the story. What does this even mean? I wonder if a closer analogy might be driving a car. God has primary caused (created) the automobile, the roads, the signs, all possible routes, and has ensured what the final destination will be. But still, whether we take the interstate, the old state highway, or the surface streets, is up to us. God has set the overall narrative, but the final clarity requires our participation.

What do you think?

GCootsona said...

I'll think about the car analogy because I sense there's something there. (No other comment yet.)

What I think is not always so evident in the writing analogy is the way authors talk about their characters' motivations and decisions once the book gets started. It's as if the characters have a life of their own. There needs to be an internal consistency with the character, but that provides for a reasonable variation of responses.

M Fitzpatrick said...

I like that. As a writer myself, I'm aware of how characters have a "life of their own." That's a pretty deep concept though, and I'll need to let it steep for a bit!