I continue to work on this theme of how C. S. Lewis interacted with science... maybe it'll grow up to become an e-book someday. In any event, here's a sketch of the major ideas.
The first thing we have to say on the topic of C. S. Lewis and science is that Lewis was no scientist. He did not hold a degree in science, and even famously had troubles with mathematics—so significant in fact that these deficiencies almost prevented his entrance into Oxford. (This fact is something of a surprise considering his mother held a masters degree in math.)
We might conclude concede that there is nothing to say specifically on the topic of C. S. Lewis and Science.
Nonetheless, Lewis did discern a rising tide of scientific thought that set itself against Christian belief and that sought to remake western civilization. Here science did not promote its findings per se, but offered them as the basis for a philosophical change… or put differently, a transformation of worldviews. This worldview would be mechanistic, thus materialistic, and therefore implicitly atheistic. It would not only destroy the basis for Christian belief, it would also implicitly deny the need for literature (which, of course, was Lewis’s great passion and his professional discipline).
So, in this sense—of science as the basis for a worldview—Lewis had plenty to say, and the topic winds its way into a considerable percentage of what he wrote.
I would therefore like to unfold the topic of C. S. Lewis and science more systematically.
- First of all, using Lewis’s 1954 inaugural address at Cambridge, Lewis summarized decades of reflection and expressed grave concerns about the growth of the Machine, especially man as a Machine, and the way it set a new course in the West for intellectual development, or really in his view, degradation.
- This realization, which had been building for decades, led him to make three interlocking moves in his apologetic work, that is, in his defense of Christianity, and more broadly, his defense of the humanities as the basis for a sound worldview. The first of these moves was to argue that the materialistic philosophy was self-defeating. Materialism, according to Lewis, left no place for true thought, or put another way, thought that led to truth.
- The next move was to demonstrate that this materialist philosophy was existentially unsatisfying. Materialism left no place for joy, for what Aristotle called human flourishing.
- He then continued by arguing that all human cultures implicitly hold to an objective standard of right and wrong. This Lewis took as a sign of God’s character and of the way God created this world.
- Lewis concluded that science had a rightful place in intellectual work and in the development of the West, but had no right to determine all truth and knowledge. Scientific materialism diminishes our humanity and distances us from the earth. Instead, Lewis argued that belief in a Creator God offered the best alternative, which also left a substantial place for the humanities in Western culture.
In sum, Lewis’s thoughts on science interest me as a scholar of Lewis and therefore have considerable relevance for his vast readership. Though formulated over fifty years ago, they also have some considerable contemporary relevance as we continue to face onslaughts from those who promote scientific materialism as the final arbiter of truth and rationality.