Tag Archive | space

C.S. Lewis on Scientism in Out of the Silent Planet

Have you ever heard of C.S. Lewis’ book series, The Chronicles of Narnia? It’s good. But, Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy is even better. And one of the reasons for that is because he confronts scientism.

Scientism

Scientism exalts the natural sciences as the only fruitful means of investigation. In the words of Wikipedia: “Scientism is the promotion of science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.” In short, scientism is the view that says science, and science alone, tells us what is right and true.

Science, of course, is different. It is the study of the natural world through systematic study (observation, measurement, testing, and adjustment of hypotheses). Scientism goes beyond science and beyond the observation of the physical world into philosophy and ethics.

How can observations about the natural world tell us how to think and live? How can science tell us how to best do science? What can be said about the problems of scientism? C.S. Lewis gives us a few things to think about, and in a very enjoyable way.

Out of the Silent Planet on Scientism

Weston, one of the main characters in C.S. Lewis’ book, Out of the Silent Planet, holds to a form of scientism and belittles other ways of acquiring knowledge. Unscientific people, Weston says, “repeat words that don’t mean anything”[1] and so Weston refers to philology as “unscientific tomfoolery.” The “classics and history” are “trash education.”[2] He also says that Ransom’s “philosophy of life” is “insufferably narrow.”[3]

When science is the sole means of knowledge then we are left without theology, philosophy, and ethics. We are left to decipher ought from is. And it can’t be done. Or not in a way that prevents crimes against humanity. “Intrinsically, an injury, an oppression, and exploitation, an annihilation,” Nietzsche says, cannot be wrong “inasmuch as life is essentially (that is, in its cardinal functions) something which functions by injuring, oppressing, exploiting, and annihilating, and is absolutely inconceivable without such a character.”[4]

Weston concurs. He is ready and willing to wipe out a whole planet of beings. He says, “Your tribal life with its stone-age weapons and bee-hive huts, its primitive coracles and elementary social structure, has nothing to compare with our civilization—with our science, medicine and law, our armies, our architecture, our commerce, and our transport system… Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower.”[5]

It is about life. Looking at life, looking at survival alone, leads us to think that alone is the goal. My life versus your life, Weston’s life versus the Malacandrian lives. That’s what we get when we derive ought from is. “Life is greater than any system of morality; her claims are absolute.”[6] And so, if it would be necessary, Weston would “kill everyone” on Malacandra if he needed to and on other worlds too.[7] Again, Weston finds agreement in Nietzsche: “‘Exploitation’ does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society: it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function.”[8]

Conclusion

Is Weston’s view correct? No. And we know it. That is the point C.S. Lewis makes. He offers a narrative critique of scientism in Out of the Silent Planet as well as through the whole Ransom Trilogy. He shows the havoc that scientism sheared of theology, philosophy, and ethics can unleash.

The answer is not to discard science, however. That is not what Lewis proposes either, though that is what some protest. The answer is to disregard scientism. Science is great and a blessing from God, but science on its own is not enough as our guide. We cannot, for example, derive ought from is. We cannot look at the natural world around us, at what is, and find out what we should do, how we ought to live.

Notes

____

[1] C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1996), 25.

[2] Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet 27.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals.

[5] Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, 135.

[6] Ibid., 136.

[7] Ibid., 137.

[8] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond God and Evil, par. 259.

The Christ of the Cosmos

The Christ of the Cosmos

The Massive Size of the Universe

The heavens scream out and tell us of God’s surpassing worth (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20). God’s glory is beyond our comprehension.

Do you know how far away the closest star is (besides the sun)? It is approximately 4 light-years away. A light-year is the length that light travels in one year. Light travels fast! 186,000 miles per second and there are 31,536,000 seconds in a year. A light year is really really really far. One light year is almost 6 trillion (6,000,000,000,000) miles! So, it takes four years for the light from the closest star to get to us.

And did you know that the sun is so big that about 1,300,000 earths could fit inside of it?[1] The universe is vast beyond comprehension.

The Astrophysicist, Hugh Ross has said, “Somewhere around 50 billion trillion stars make their home in the observable universe.”[2] That is impossible to conceive of. “A comparison may make it more comprehensible: if that same number of dimes were packed together as densely as possible and piled 1,500 feet high (as high as some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers), they would cover the entire North American continent.”[3]

Wow.

Jesus’ Massive Glory

And God—the One who created each star, named each one of them, and holds the entire universe together (Is. 40:26; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:3)—cares about you! He cares so much that He sent His Son to die for you. Jesus, God in flesh, humbled Himself, came, and died for anyone who turns to Him for salvation.

Christ who created the cosmos and holds all things together (Col. 1:16-17) made Himself nothing, took the form of a servant, was born in the likeness of men, and humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:7-8). Jesus, the Holy One, the spotless Lamb of God, became sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

The One who died on the cross for us died as He held the planets in orbit. He died, though He is the one that held the very nails together that pinned Him to that tree (Heb. 1:3).

He calls the host of stars by name and He knows your name! His judgments are just, His Word is true, and He is a God of sacrificial love. His faithfulness is never stopping, always and forever.

“Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

The Christ of the cosmos deserves our praise! 

Notes

[1] To get a visual of the expanse of the universe, use a tennis ball to represent the sun (2.7 inches in diameter) and the edge of a dime to proportionally represent the earth (0.02 inches), then place the tennis ball and dime twenty-four steps apart. That will help you see  the distance between the sun and the earth (Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Preaching as Remindingp. 76). Arthurs goes on to explain that “To explain the distance to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star: the tennis ball would be in Boston and Alpha Centauri would be in Memphis” (Ibid.). 

[2] Hugh Ross, Why the Universe is the Way it Is, p. 31. 

Why did God create such a big universe?

There is a certain way we should approach questions, the first thing that comes to mind is humility. There are certain things we cannot know the definitive answer to. I think that makes sense since we are creation, not Creator. However, that is not to say we shouldn’t ask. Here are a few of my thoughts on the question… 

First, is it actually big? It’s all perspective. To us it seems big, big beyond comprehension. However, Isaiah 40 says that God names every star and that the nations are like dust on a scale. That is, things, even really big things, are small to God. Also, to put things in perspective, ants seem small to us but they don’t seem small to themselves. There are things that are small compared to ants (e.g. protons and neutrons). Maybe it is not the universe that is big but we that are small. Maybe that seems strange because we see ourselves as so big, so grand. Maybe that’s part of the reason the universe is so big, to show us that we are small. We are not the be-all-end-all of the universe. We are small. 

Second, the Bible says that the heavens, i.e. the vast universe, carries out a specific role. And what is that role? The vast universe declares the glory of God (see Ps. 19:1ff; 50:6; Rom. 1)! If the universe is declaring the glory of God it makes sense that it would need to be big! 

Third, God takes pleasure in His creation. There are stars no human will ever see, fish we can’t imagine, and flowers that bloom and die without any humans awareness. But God knows. And God takes pleasure in it all. Remember, in Genesis 1:31 God said it was “very good.” So, God enjoys His vast creation. Remember God is the Great Creator, the Great Artist. Artists create. And it’s awesome and beautiful and sometimes mysterious but it’s what they do, even if no one sees. Creator or Artist is part of who God is, it’s one of His attributes. It’s what He does

Fourth, it causes us to say, “What is man that you are mindful of him” (Ps. 8:4)? It makes us amazed that God the Creator and sustainer of all, the one who upholds the universe by the word of His power, cares about us. Even to the point of death on a cross. 

[In fact, the hardest thing in all the Bible for me to believe is not the resurrection, is not the miracles, is not any of that stuff, that all makes sense to me (God can do all that!). However, what is hard to believe is that God cares about us humans. That is amazing!]

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