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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

To see but not see through

This is Part VIII, the final installment, of a review of The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis. See Part VII for links to Parts I-VI.

Lewis continues with predictions of what will happen as the Controllers reinvent a system of values for Mankind:

Those who would debunk Traditional values and cut mankind out “into some fresh shape” at the arbitrary will of “some lucky few” will bring about new developments in language, which we most definitely see rampant in our present time of so-called political correctness: “Once we killed bad men: now we liquidate unsocial elements. Virtue has become integration and diligence dynamism, and boys likely to be worthy of a commission are ‘potential officer material.’ Most wonderful of all, the virtues of thrift and temperance, and even of ordinary intelligence, are sales-resistance.” (emphasis in original)

Lewis points out that “The true significance of what is going on has been concealed by the use of the abstraction Man,” but he is quick to say that the word “Man” itself is not necessarily “a pure abstraction.” If we speak from within the Tao, “we can speak of Man having power over himself in a sense truly analogous to an individual’s self-control.” (emphasis added) But this possibility disappears once we step outside the Tao.

Lewis predicts that his lecture will be taken by some to be an attack on science. He denies the charge outright, noting that the real “Natural Philosophers” will understand that in defending value, he is defending the value of knowledge, which itself can only be found within the Tao. He even goes so far as to suggest that “from Science herself the cure might come.” Reiterating the “magician’s bargain,” “that process whereby man surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power,” Lewis makes the point that “the scientist has succeeded where the magician failed,” and this has put “a wide contrast between them in popular thought” so that the real origins of Science are misunderstood. “The serious magical endeavor and the serious scientific endeavor are twins: one was sickly and died; the other strong and throve. But...[t]hey were born of the same impulse.” (emphasis added)

Lewis allows that “some of the early scientists were actuated by a pure love of knowledge,” yet asserts that “if we consider the temper of that age as a whole we can discern the impulse of which I speak.” He explains that the problem of wise men of old was to conform the soul to reality, and the solution was “knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.” But for magic and applied science, “the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique. Both the magician and the applied scientist are therefore willing “to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious.” (emphasis added)

Lewis references Bacon and Marlowe’s Faustus to support his contention: Bacon, says Lewis, “condemns those who value knowledge as and end in itself: this, for him, is to use as a mistress for pleasure what ought to be a spouse for fruit.”

Ignoring the connotations of the term “mistress” for the moment, consider what Lewis is saying: rather than regarding the created as being valuable in and of itself, by the fact of its being created by God, and for the God-revealing characteristics it therefore possesses (which are worthy of admiration and awe), the created and the knowledge thereof are better used merely as tools for the production of something deemed more desirable. I don’t completely disagree that knowledge can be used to help our fellows, or that creation can be utilized toward this end. However, the overarching philosophical view toward this ought to be stewardship, in a unified understanding of the God-created value of all things. The line gets impossibly blurred, however, when all created things, including man, cease to be viewed with a sense of awe and reverence that can only be conferred via acknowledgment of a loving and providential Creator.

Again Lewis allows that the founders of modern science “were those whose love of truth exceeded their love of power...[b]ut the presence of the bad elements is not irrelevant to the direction the efficacy takes.” He concedes that the modern scientific movement may not have been tainted from birth, but observes that “it was born in an unhealthy neighborhood and at an inauspicious hour.”

“Its triumphs may have been too rapid and purchased at too high a price: reconsideration, and something like repentance, may be required.”


Lewis asks if it is therefore “possible to imagine a new Natural Philosophy, continually conscious that the ‘natural object’ produced by analysis and abstraction is not reality but only a view, and always correcting the abstraction, in other words, always checking itself against the Tao, against the inherent value of the created endowed upon it by the qualities of its Creator. “The regenerate science which I have in mind would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself. When it explained it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole.” (emphasis added)

There would be “new light cast on the unknown thing, Instinct, by the inly known reality of conscience and not a reduction of conscience to the category of Instinct....In a word, it would conquer Nature without being at the same time conquered by her and buy knowledge at a lower cost than life.” (emphasis added)

At this point, Lewis realizes that he may be “asking impossibilities.” Perhaps an analytical understanding of things can only be had at the price of destroying what is being analyzed. Yet if the process cannot be arrested before “common Reason” is destroyed as well, then it must be stopped.

Lewis fears that his warning may be underappreciated, that his concern may be seen by the scientist as yet another barrier to the advancement of science that nevertheless “can be safely passed.” Such a treatment, says Lewis, is the result of “the fatal serialism of the modern imagination – the image of infinite unilinear progression which so haunts our minds. Because we have to use numbers so much we tend to think of every process as if it must be like the numeral series, where every step, to all eternity, is the same kind of step as the one before.” But he implores us to consider that “[t]here are progressions in which the last step is sui generis – incommensurable with the others – and in which to go the whole way is to undo all the labour of your previous journey. To reduce the Tao to a mere natural product is a step of that kind.”

In sum: “Up to that point, the kind of explanation which explains things away may give us something, though at a heavy cost. But you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ forever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away.”

“You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things forever;” eventually there will be nothing left to see through,” or rather, “then everything [will be] transparent,” i.e., invisible. This cannot be. “To see through all things is the same as not to see.”

Oh Lord, be Thou our vision...


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