Casual readers of C.S. Lewis are not always familiar with his supremely balanced view of science and faith.
In a world where skeptics allege science and religious faith are incompatible, Lewis upheld the orthodox Christian understanding that Christianity and true science are 100% compatible. The problem arises when people attempt to use science to explore matters science cannot address.
In “C.S. Lewis and How Christians Should Think about Science,” we read that “C.S. Lewis has written extensively on science or specifically on how believers should think about science. Lewis himself was not antiscience. But he had grave concerns about the use of science to either manipulate nature or validate worldviews based on reductionism or naturalism.”
I would like to emphasize this warning, by adding three simple letters. C.S. Lewis “had grave concerns about the misuse of science.” And so should we all.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes science’s proper role.
Science works by experiments. It watches how things behave. Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really means something like, “I pointed the telescope to such and such a part of the sky at 2:20 a.m. on January 15th and saw so-and-so,” or, “I put some of this stuff in a pot and heated it to such-and-such a temperature and it did so-and-so.” Do not think I am saying anything against science: I am only saying what its job is.
And the more scientific a man is, the more (I believe) he would agree with me that this is the job of science—and a very useful and necessary job it is too. But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes—something of a different kind—this is not a scientific question. If there is “Something Behind,” then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way.
The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them statements that science can make. And real scientists do not usually make them. It is usually the journalists and popular novelists who have picked up a few odds and ends of half-baked science from textbooks who go in for them. After all, it is really a matter of common sense. Supposing science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that the questions, “Why is there a universe?” “Why does it go on as it does?” “Has it any meaning?” would remain just as they were?
There are, of course, many, many thousands of scientists who are Christians.
I recently read an interesting article on the Society of Roman Catholic Scientists. I commend it to everyone, whatever your religious affiliation (or lack thereof). It is entitled “Christianity in Scientific Mythology,” and begins with the author saying,
It shocks many people to find out that I am both an astrophysicist and a religious believer. It shocks some of my fellow astrophysicists and even some of my fellow Catholics. . . . But why should this be? Why should it be a surprise that someone whose chosen profession is the scientific study of the universe is also a person of faith? Why the perception of conflict? Is it intrinsic to the business of science that it be “at odds” with religion?
Despite the fact that Professor Clemens fails to mention C.S. Lewis in his essay, he makes many valid points. The first lays a solid foundation for his message, and dispels a patently obvious, but seldom acknowledged, fact.
One of the defects of contemporary culture is the undue and unhealthy reverence we show toward scientists. The public imagines scientists to be too smart to disagree with, too objective to be swayed by emotion or bias, and experts on every subject they choose to talk about. None of these things is true, of course, and the unquestioning acceptance of these notions does great harm.
Like all sane people, C.S. Lewis appreciated the great value of science. What he warned against was a sort of deification [my word] of science. It is like the elevation of scientific mythology to the status of ultimate religious truth, able to answer even metaphysical questions with certitude.
If you would like to read more on this subject, consider the following articles:
As a person of faith, albeit not a scientist, I concur wholeheartedly with C.S. Lewis. In the following passage from The Weight of Glory, Lewis makes a profound point, although it may require more than a single reading to comprehend. You may wish to read the entire essay to see how he builds up to this observation, but I offer it here on its own merits.
The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world: the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific point of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religious. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself.
The illustration above was drawn by E.J. Pace and appeared a century ago in The Sunday School Times. You can download a personal copy of a book featuring a hundred of Pace’s cartoons here.
Nearly 50 years after his death, his books continue to sell a million copies a year.His name was Clive Staples Lewis, born NOVEMBER 29, 1898.
At age 19, he fought in the trenches in World War I.After the War, C.S. Lewis taught at Magdalen College, Oxford, 1925-54; and was professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge University, 1954-1963.
Originally an agnostic, C.S. Lewis credited his Catholic colleague at Oxford, J.R.R. Tolkien, whom he met in 1926, as being instrumental in his coming to faith in Jesus Christ.J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, 1937, and Lord of the Rings, 1937-1949, which is one of the best-selling novels ever written–with over 150 million copies sold.
C.S. Lewis’ writing style was influenced by George MacDonald, a writer and Christian minister.MacDonald’s fantasy literature pioneered an entire genre, influencing Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865; L. Frank Baum, who wrote The Wizard of Oz, 1900; J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, 1937.
C.S. Lewis regarded MacDonald as a “master,” stating:”Picking up a copy of Phantastes (1858) one day at a train-station bookstall, I began to read. A few hours later, I knew that I had crossed a great frontier.”
G. K. Chesterton cited George MacDonald’sThe Princess and the Goblin (1872) as a book that had “made a difference to my whole existence.”
George MacDonald wrote:
“There are things that must be done in faith, else they never have being.”
“Faith is that which, knowing the Lord’s will, goes and does it; or, not knowing it, stands and waits, content in ignorance as in knowledge, because God wills – neither pressing into the hidden future, nor careless of the knowledge which opens the path of action.”
“Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to the honest. They are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet, but have to be, understood … Doubts must precede every deeper assurance; for uncertainties are what we first see when we look into a region hitherto unknown, unexplored, unannexed.”
“The principle part of faith is patience.”
“A perfect faith would lift us absolutely above fear.”
“All about us, in earth and air, wherever the eye or ear can reach, there is a power ever breathing itself forth in signs, now in daisy, now in a wind-waft, a cloud, a sunset; a power that holds constant and sweetest relation with the dark and silent world within us. The same God who is in us, and upon whose tree we are the buds, if not yet the flowers, also is all about us- inside, the Spirit; outside, the Word. And the two are ever trying to meet in us.”
“If we do not die to ourselves, we cannot live to God, and he that does not live to God, is dead.”
“Any faith in Him, however small, is better than any belief about Him, however great.”
C.S. Lewis was also influenced by Gilbert Keith Chesterton’s book, The Everlasting Man (1925), written in rebuttal of H.G. Wells’The Outline of History.
Lewis explained:”The best popular defense of the full Christian position I know is G.K. Chesterton’sThe Everlasting Man.”
Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man, 1925:“Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something . Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how something could turn into something else.It is really far more logical to start by saying ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth’ even ifyou only mean ‘In the beginning some unthinkable power began some unthinkable process.’For God is by its nature a name of mystery, and nobody ever supposed that man could imagine how a world was created any more than he could create one.But evolution really is mistaken for explanation. It has the fatal quality of leaving on many minds the impression that they do understand it and everything else.”
He continued:”I do not believe that the past is most truly pictured as a thing in which humanity merely fades away into nature, or civilization merely fades away into barbarism, or religion fades away into mythology, or our own religion fades away into the religions of the world.In short I do not believe that the best way to produce an outline of history is to rub out the lines.”
G.K. Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man, 1925:“If there is one fact we really can prove, from the history that we really do know, it is that despotism can be a development, often a late development and very often indeed the end of societies that have been highly democratic.A despotism may almost be defined as a tired democracy.As fatigue falls on a community, the citizens are less inclined for that eternal vigilance which has truly been called the price of liberty; and they prefer to arm only one single sentinel to watch the city while they sleep.”
He added:“As for the general view that the Church was discredited by the War — they might as well say that the Ark was discredited by the Flood.When the world goes wrong, it proves rather that the Church is right.The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”
G.K. Chesterton continued:“Christendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died.Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”
C.S. Lewis described in Surprised by Joy, 1955, how he resisted believing, “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape.”Finally, in 1929, he came to believe in God:”You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen (College, Oxford) night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.
… That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me.In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
In 1931, after a late-night discussion with J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson,Lewis described his deepening spiritual journey in Surprised by Joy:
“I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken.I was driven to Whipsnade zoo one sunny morning.When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached to zoo I did.Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought.Nor in great emotion. ‘Emotional’ is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events.It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.
… And it was, like that moment on top of the bus, ambiguous.Freedom, or necessity? Or do they differ at their maximum? At that maximum a man is what he does; there is nothing of him left over or outside the act.As for what we commonly call ‘Will,’ and what we commonly call ‘Emotion,’ I fancy these usually talk too loud, protest too much, to be quite believed, and we have a secret suspicion that the great passion or the iron resolution is partly a put-up job.
… They have spoiled Whipsnade since then.Wallaby Wood, with the birds singing overhead and the blue-bells underfoot and the Wallabies hopping all round one, was almost Eden come again.”
Among C.S. Lewis’ most notable books are:
The Problem of Pain,1940;
The Screwtape Letters,1942;
Abolition of Man, 1943;
The Chronicles of Narnia, 1950-1956, which includes: The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe.
Lewis stated in The Oxford Socratic Club (1944. pp. 154-165):”If … I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole, then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit science.If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on bio-chemistry, and bio-chemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of atoms,I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.”
In The Problem of Pain,Lewis wrote:”The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it.Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil.Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt …God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world …No doubt pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion.But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment, it removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul …Suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God …… If tribulation is a necessary element in redemption, we must anticipate that it will never cease till God sees the world to be either redeemed or no further redeemable.”
In Mere Christianity, 1952, C.S. Lewis wrote:”All that we call human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
Lewis expressed in Mere Christianity, 1952:”I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’That is the one thing we must not say.A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.
… You must make your choice.Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
In The Screwtape Letters, 1942, Lewis wrote:“The safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
In the final chapter of The Abolition of Man, 1943, Lewis warned:”I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently.”
C.S. Lewis wrote:
“There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.'”
“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.”
“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
“Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.”
Lewis wrote:”Christianity … is a religion you could not have guessed … ‘It is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up.It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.”
He wrote in Mere Christianity, 1952:”The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus in a woman’s body.”
In Mere Christianity,C.S. Lewis wrote:”God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion.God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing”–Read as PDF … C.S. Lewis “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one”