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…


Michael F said...

Greg, once again you've written a lovely and concise post. I think you've captured Lewis' contributions very well.

However, in light of our Triad conversations and so forth, I have to ask a question we haven't really discussed before about argument #2, which you give the primary focus of this post. Lewis says that Joy gives us reason to think we are made "for another world." Now this is an ambiguous phrase, but my reading of Lewis says that Lewis means by this Heaven. But we don't agree with Lewis on this, right? Accepting evolutionary biology, to my mind at least, strongly implies that we were made for this earth, in a very adaptive sense. Moreover, the theology I learned at the Triad is not about us going to Heaven but Heaven coming to Earth. In a very real sense then, Lewis is wrong. We are not made for another world - what we are made for is living fully with God in this world. Now it might be argued that, since we don't live immediately with God in this world, that kind of Earthly life is the "other world." I don't think this is what Lewis meant, but it would be a much welcome amendment, and make the argument more pertinent. Thoughts?

Greg Cootsona said...

Michael, I think you're on to something, namely Lewis's recalcitrant Platonism (which I don't think he ever fully reconciled with his biblical, Christian faith--more on that in my book). Nevertheless, if you substitute a "renewed earth and heaven" where God is fully present to us for Lewis's Heaven, then, by my reading, the argument works. (By the way, I think this substitution is justifiable because when we look at Lewis's "Heaven" in The Great Divorce, it's a lot like the biblical view of a new heaven and a new earth. It's MORE real than what we now know.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the "not made for this world" is (or should be) more implicative of the idea that due to the Fall, we are no longer meant to be satisfied with the tainted version of the world we are currently in. In that sense, the longing C.S. Lewis describes would be for the latent "memory" (for lack of a better word right now)that people have of the Edenic state where we still had glorified bodies and a direct communion with God." When the consummation of this fallen version of the planet occurs and it's either cleansed by God's purifying Holy fire or somehow physically reinterpreted into a Pure/unfallen/redeemed state (whatever form it takes), then THAT is the place where we are meant for and what it is that we yearn for. And of course, it's not really the place as much as it is ultimately the ability to be in God's Holy, perfect, Nurturing Presence. In that sense, the Platonic ideal of things being in their original perfect state (i.e.grass being sharper/greener...etc) perfectly coincides with what Lewis was thinking in other Apologetics of his, but just didn't quite articulate to the degree he could in this one particular excerpt of his.