Subtitled C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, the newest offering from Discovery Institute Press is a fascinating collection of thirteen essays by ten eminently qualified scholars. The book draws its main theme from The Abolition of Man in which Lewis describes “the ‘magician’s bargain’ . . . whereby man surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power,” an exercise that historically has played itself out not just in magic but also its twin, science (p. 76). It’s an idea that had been germinating with the 20th-century’s greatest Christian apologist long before the publication of that book in 1943.
Lewis had been a Christian just a few years when he wrote to Dom Bede Griffiths in the spring of 1936,
Again, we must believe that there is no real conflict between the Rational and the Mystical: but in a given period now one, now the other, will be what the world actually needs to be most reminded of — I mean the unbelieving world: and one or the other will usually be the bridge to faith. Thus you and I came to it chiefly by Reason . . . but dozens of other converts, beginning with St. Paul, did not (The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, vol. 2, p. 189).
Five years later this idea had crystalized into what would become the thesis of The Abolition of Man. Writing to Douglas Bush on March 28, 1941, Lewis declared,
Magic and “science” are twins et pour cause, for the magician and the scientist both stand together, and in contrast to the Christian, the Stoic, or the Humanist, in so far as both make Power their aim, believe Power to be attainable by a technique, and in practice of that technique are ready to defy ordinary morality. Of course, one succeeded and the other failed: but that shd. not blind us to the strong family likeness (Letters, vol. 2, p. 475).
The Stoic and Humanist may have their own intrinsic flaws, but it is this matter of technique that Lewis tackles squarely in Abolition. Each essay in The Magician’s Twin deals with some aspect of this theme.
The first general section, “Science and Scientism,” is introduced by editor John G. West who points out that Lewis’s world of science (a world claiming preeminence for empiricism in all areas of life) is still our own world. Not much has changed. If anything, scientism claims even more: just read or listen to any of the New Atheists. West then sets the context for the works that follow with a lead essay bearing the title of the book itself. While each article has something important to say, I will offer only highlights.
In “C. S. Lewis, Science, and the Medieval Mind,” Jake Atkins points out that it was one of Lewis’s central goals to expose the “chronological snobbery” (p. 59) inherent in the notion that the medieval era was a benighted period opposed to science. On the contrary, Christianity, then as now, extolls and enhances it. C. John Collins explains in the next essay that Lewis brings “a peculiar clarity” to the issue of science and religion, a clarity rooted in Lewis’s historical depth, rigorous logic, and his application of reason to both realms of inquiry and knowledge. Interestingly, Collins acknowledges Lewis’s unenthusiastic appraisal of William Paley as an apologist, but notes, “To say that Paley made mistakes does not establish that therefore all kinds of design inference from nature are wrong-headed, and Lewis does not fall into that trap” (p. 83).
In the next section, “Origins,” West leads with “Darwin in the Dock,” an insightful and incisive examination of Lewis’s views on evolution and what the Oxford don called “evolutionism.” Interestingly, Lewis echoed the ideas of Alfred Russel Wallace in arguing that human beings could not have been produced by a mindless process like natural selection. That natural selection was more of a subtractive than a creative process is an understanding that Lewis shared with Wallace, the theory’s co-discoverer. Common descent might indeed be true but the human mind could not have evolved by Darwin’s blind forces of chance and necessity; this surely required intelligent design. West then follows with an essay directly addressing the matter in “C. S. Lewis and Intelligent Design.” Outlining and explicating Lewis’s four arguments friendly to a universe by design, the arguments from natural beauty, morality, reason, and functional complexity, West gives a scathing critique of Michael Peterson’s “straw man version of intelligent design” (p. 157). Peterson uses mischaracterization supported by inadequate and misused references to suggest that Lewis would have rejected the modern ID movement. West’s detailed, carefully and cogently argued rebuttal to Peterson is persuasive and definitive. In fact, West counters with seven powerful arguments Lewis would undoubtedly have offered against those currently seeking to refute ID.
“Reason” is the third section. In “Mastering the Vernacular,” Jay W. Richards discusses Lewis’s argument from reason, an important version of the more venerable metaphysical argument that “an effect cannot be greater than its cause” (p. 188). Many will appreciate and identify with Lewis’s impact upon Richards’s own spiritual and intellectual life, demonstrating that Lewis was not simply a purveyor of abstract ideas to be weighed among philosophers or discussed in classrooms, but a prophet of concepts and worldview illuminations that have impacted the daily lives of countless thousands or indeed millions (including this reviewer). Lewis’s argument from reason is picked up again by Victor Reppert in “C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea Revisited.” Reppert gives an interesting analysis of Elizabeth Anscombe, the eccentric cigar-smoking Oxbridge philosopher, who objected to Lewis’s argument of causation somewhat famously (or infamously) in a debate with Lewis at the Socratic Club in 1948. (Walter Hooper gives a good summary in his biography, C. S. Lewis: A Companion & Guide, pp. 619-620.) Reppert shows how, in the second edition of his Miracles (1960), he adroitly addressed each of Anscombe’s criticisms.
The fourth and final section is “Society.” Here James A. Herrick leads with “C. S. Lewis and the Advent of the Posthuman,” returning The Magician’s Twin more overtly to themes in The Abolition of Man. Most pertinent today is Herrick’s discussion of “contemporary transhumanism,” really just a modern, gussied up version of eugenics. If, as Herrick suggests, “Lewis exhibited remarkable prescience in The Abolition of Man” (p. 257), we can take heed that Lewis’s warnings are being presently realized in
The user-friendly smile of the high-tech firm, not the icy stare of a government department….Moreover, justifications for enhancement research are not hammered out in centralized planning meetings, but tested on focus groups and winsomely presented in entertaining public lectures. Financial support for posthumanity comes not from Big Brother bureaucracies but from Silicon Valley boardrooms (p. 254).
In “The Education of Mark Studdock” Cameron Wybrow shifts the focus from Abolition to Lewis’s fictional portrayal in That Hideous Strength (1945). Using the story’s character Mark Studdock, a sociologist, Wybrow explains that “Lewis paints for us a portrait of the ‘modern’ educated man,” a person desensitized to beauty, who “sees through” traditional virtues as “emotional rubbish which must be swept away in the name of rationality and progress” (p. 279). The net effect is to create a generation well schooled in doctrines and views “if not literally demonic in origin, demonic in effect” (p. 279). Wybrow uses his analysis of Mark Studdock to draw some powerful, if rather disturbing, conclusions regarding certain “progressive” tendencies within the modern academy. Wybrow, however, ends on a note of encouragement and hope. The two following essays by M. D. Aeschliman and Michael Matheson Miller examine Lewis’s thoughts on the logical and epistemological deficits of scientism, rounding out a superlative collection destined to become the standard work on Lewis and the sciences.
When a new book is offered to the public on such an eminent figure as C. S. Lewis, about whom much has already been published, perhaps some defense for yet another should be given. I would offer three. First, while a great deal has indeed been written on Lewis, comparatively little attention has been given to his views on evolution, cosmology, or science in general. This volume now effectively fills that conspicuous gap.
Second, what has been written on the topic is often seriously flawed (as John West’s stunningly well-crafted answer to Michael Peterson demonstrates). The Magician’s Twin is thus a necessary corrective to misconceptions and misinformation on Lewis’s views concerning a range of issues relating to the philosophy of science. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I would argue more not less needs to be presented against the materialistic, scientistic worldview generally. If one takes the three leading Christian apologists of the modern era and compares them to the three leading secularist/skeptics (what Lewis might have called “Conditioners”) of modernity and performs some rough citation analysis, the results are startling.
A title search of C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and John Henry Newman yields 12,742 hits; a similar search of Charles Darwin, David Hume, and Bertrand Russell yields more than 20,000 hits. (Citation analysis was performed July 20, 2012 on WorldCat, the world’s largest bibliographic database of 1.8 billion records in 72,000 libraries worldwide.) While other choices for representative figures could arguably have been made, it’s safe to say that the six given here are defensible and serve the purpose. When the number isn’t even two-thirds that of its opponents, I think it is fair to say that the release of The Magicians Twin to the reading public is not only appropriate but necessary and overdue. This book speaks to the most critical issues of our time through one of the greatest intellects of the previous century. The contributors to this volume are to be commended for offering — even amplifying — this prophetic voice to a new generation. The service they perform has never been more important than now.
Professor Flannery is the author of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (Discovery Institute Press) and other books.