Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Few Notes on C. S. Lewis and Science

As I read him, Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963), probably the most famous Christian apologist of the 20th century, presented a four-step apologetic. I want to note in what ways this apologetic engages science with Christian faith. Though the final step argues that Jesus is God—which is not strictly speaking a scientific concern—the first three steps confronted the scientifically based philosophy of his early 20th century Oxford. I could also argue that they resonate into 21st century American culture as well. 

But I’ll restrain myself on that last point. Instead, let me outline those first three steps:
  1. First of all, there is more to the world than just material stuff. Materialism (that there is just brute matter) is in fact self-defeating because, if we are pure materialists, rational thinking is impossible. Lewis’s book Miracles principally presents this apologetic, but it is scattered throughout his writings, especially in the ‘40s.
  2. Human beings seek something that this world cannot satisfy, which points to a God beyond this world. “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  This argument appears in The Problem of Pain and in “The Weight of Glory.”
  3. There is a Law or Rule about Right and Wrong (or the Law of Nature, or even natural law) that exists in all human beings and points to the God created that law within us. Lewis developed this apologetic in his opening Broadcast Talks for BBC, which became the first section or “book” of Mere Christianity, as well as his 1943 Riddell lectures later published as The Abolition of Man.

Let’s look at #2 for a moment: Lewis’s argument from Joy or desire. The argument brings to mind the question of whether Albert Einstein’s words about “God” were really about, well, God, such as “everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe—a Spirit vastly superior to that of man.” Richard Dawkins argues (not surprisingly as the arch-atheist) that this stuff in Einstien isn’t really about God, it’s about transcendence. In his recent book, scientist Amir D. Aczel, contends (as I understand him) that, no, this is really about the Deity, and in fact, believing in God is profoundly compatible with science.
So I'm going to set Lewis in this fray. What is he saying? Is he arguing that this sense of transcendence—or better, this desire for it, which Lewis calls “Joy”—proves God? No, at least not as a deductive proof. Instead Lewis is making a suppositional argument here: We do not fully understand the desire for something beyond (or Joy) itself, but it opens to a wider metaphysical conclusion, one that points to God who created us. Or more systematically, the form of this suppositional argument from desire proceeds as follows: Suppose God created this world, we can imagine that God would leave a desire for more than this world offers. We experience a longing for more than this world offers. It is reasonable to see this as pointer to God.
In a certain sense then, the argument cannot be decided on the basis of science or not. Science seeks to understand the interactions of the material world. And yet, many scientists, because they focus their lives on the interactions of the material world, believe that this world is all there is.
Like my title says, these are notes. Nothing fully conclusive yet. But I’m interested to know what you think…

Friday, April 25, 2014

C. S. Lewis and Karl Rahner on Jesus and Evolution

In the final section of his most famous book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis relates the nature of Christ, as the Second Person of the Trinity, with evolution. Lewis poses the question: What is the Next Step in Evolution? Lewis writes, 
the Next Step has already appeared. And it is really new. It is not a change from brainy men to brainier men: it is a change that goes off in a totally different direction—a change from being creatures of God to being sons of God. The first instance appeared in Palestine two thousand years ago.
This Next Step is voluntary and thus, unlike previous stages in evolution, can be missed. Lewis uses evolution as a way to talk about the inbreaking of the new aeon in Christ.

Lewis’s BBC broadcast talks, which became this section of Mere Christianity, took place in 1943. About three decades later, one of the greatest 20th century Catholic theologians, Karl Rahner, wrote about “Christology within an Evolutionary View of the World.” Rahner sees the whole of creation moving toward God’s immanence in the world. He summarizes what this means for evolution and Christ, 
The point of the thesis that we are trying to establish is this: although the hypostatic union [that Jesus Christ is both God and man] is a unique event in its own essence, and viewed in itself is the highest conceivable event, it is nevertheless an intrinsic moment within the whole process by which grace is bestowed on spiritual creatures.
Rahner views the incarnation as a final, definitive instantiation of what God has been doing through the process of evolution. (This has a ring of Teilhard de Chardin about it.)

I’ll leave it there for the moment. As I contemplate doing some research over the coming months on Christology and science, I’m interested by the difference of approach between these two seminar Christian thinkers.