C.S. Lewis, Science, and Faith

by on June 15, 2015

In his classic text, The Abolition of Man, adapted from a series of lectures, the literary master C.S. Lewis sets out in defense of what he calls “the Tao.” This unique reference to the thought of the ancient philosopher Confucius refers to objective truth and the existence of universal moral values like courage and honor. Lewis spends the bulk of his discourse proving in various ways that a consequence of the Tao is the existence of a true Nature, that is, natural law, including human nature. As civilizations and human thought have progressed, so has an increased desire by man to view things merely as pieces of nature, but not so that they might be upheld and respected. Lewis posits that “we reduce things to mere nature in order that we may ‘conquer’ them” (italics original). But as the Enlightenment and psychological advances sought to show that humans have no true rational spirit attached to the Tao and were merely themselves components of nature, an interesting dichotomy arose. If man’s goal is to conquer nature and yet man himself is just another part of nature with no root in the supernatural, then it is essentially man’s goal to conquer himself.

Furthermore, if there is no rational quality to man, then man’s trying to overcome himself is merely a result of natural tendencies as he operates within the framework of something outside of himself, namely nature (but I thought there was no nature?). Lewis writes, “The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere instinct, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.” Man’s dream to overcome himself, to admit that there is nothing different between him and the grass on Mundelein’s Frisbee field, is a gradual and rather sad process of dehumanization. “Either we are rational spirit obliged to obey…absolute values,” says Lewis, “or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut for the pleasures of masters” who themselves have also been rationally dehumanized. The Tao, Natural law, “provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike.” “Nature” without law, or the reduction of natural law and the values of the Tao to mere products of nature, leads to “the kind of explanation which explains things away” without really giving us anything new. I don’t intend to resolve the conflict between the existence and natural tendencies and the rejection of nature here, that’s above my paygrade. But it is worth noting the present inherent contradiction.

Eventually, Lewis warns, we will discover that “we have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it.” Lewis suggests that the sciences in their current state merely explain things away and provide no rational substance to explain the things which they examine. This is not the true aim of science. Science is not a means of explaining away reality or, worse still, a process of conforming the nature world to our expectations of reality. Rather, “it is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too?” Science, and the rational data about the world that science looks to discover, must not serve the end of explaining the garden away but of bringing us to the garden and leaving it at that. For Lewis, the garden seen the through the window represents the first principle. The scientist is called to look through everything for the purpose of arriving at a first principle, which by its nature is beyond definition. He is not called to “see through first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent…To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.” It seems to me that modern science does not wish to understand or encounter the first principle behind its discoveries, but wishes to explain it away as a means of establishing itself as the ground for true knowledge.

I began reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity before I entered seminary some five years ago and, after reading it, I realized how uninformed (and in some cases, misinformed) I was about religion and about the person of God. First and foremost, even the non-versed reader will be able to see that in Christianity, and certainly in Lewis’ thought, the first principle, first mover, maker of the “Tao,” and, per John 14:6, even the “Tao” itself is God.

It is hard these days to engage in a debate having to do even remotely with the compatibility of faith and science without the requisite staunch atheist launching the attack that faith and science are mutually opposed to one another. “But Hark!” Atheist Alan cries, “the facts of science are certain! And anything not proven by science simply cannot be proven! Faith was the crutch of moronic peasants in the Middle Ages to explain why their lives were so terrible. Science is the true beacon of light and truth!” And, no doubt, Faithful Fred is not catechized well enough to counter such arguments because, admittedly, they can be pretty convincing. In another case, Fred’s wife, Fran Faith, retorts that the Church came up with the scientific method, that her teachings about life issues are rooted in science, that the Church doesn’t think Genesis is an literal play-by-play of how God created the world, that evolution is actually not completely incompatible with God as Creator, and the list goes on. At the end of the day, Fran and Alan have made very little progress and faith and science (or at least their interlocutors) certainly seem to remain mutually opposed.

But my point here is not that faith and science are mutually opposed. They’re not. I’m not arguing that faith is opposed to science. It’s not. But I’d like to posit something that has become abundantly clear to me: science, or better, the corruption of science is opposed to faith. It’s not mutual. By the gradual degradation of science from a discipline which sought to know about the world and its inhabitants while plainly recognizing that it could not examine its first principle to a discipline which has made every attempt to do away with or to “see through” that first principle and explain it away, modern science has come to believe that it has all the answers. This is so to such an extent that atheists like Richard Dawkins and others have joined Nietzsche’s chorus, chanting together “God is dead!”

God’s not dead, the faith is not dead, the first principle still reigns. Modern science is opposed to faith not because faith is wrong, but because the course of modern science has taken a dangerous turn. If people begin to believe in the Church and have faith in her own scientific thought, they would see, first of all, that the first principle does exist and that this existence changes the entire ball game. Forced face to face with the first principle, modern science has to admit that it does not have all of the answers; this admission would be disastrous to its ego. With the combined eyes of faith and reason, we see clearly through the window to the opaque garden outside. When faith and reason work together, we can have our cake and eat it, too.