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 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” and so Weston refers to philology as “unscientific tomfoolery.” The “classics and history” are “trash education.” He also says that Ransom’s “philosophy of life” is “insufferably narrow.”
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.”
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.”
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.” And so, if it would be necessary, Weston would “kill everyone” on Malacandra if he needed to and on other worlds too. 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.”
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.
 C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1996), 25.
 Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet 27.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals.
 Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, 135.
 Ibid., 136.
 Ibid., 137.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond God and Evil, par. 259.
How should Christian art be informed by the Christian worldview? (part 6)
In the last post in this series we considered Christ. In this post, we are going to…
Consider our Current Condition
It is important for us to correctly situate ourselves within our current condition. We, for instance, do not want to place ourselves within the new creation when we are still reeling from the crash. In the same way, we don’t want to forget that Christ has came. We need to understand our current condition. We do not want to have an “over-realized eschatology” or an “under-realized eschatology.” We want to correctly grasp our situation and communicate the struggles and hopes that we have to the world.
Steve Turner has said, “It is not Christian to make art that assumes that the world is unblemished.” It’s certainly true that the Kingdom has come in God’s Son. The light is shining and the darkness is passing away (1 Jn. 2:8) but it hasn’t passed away yet. We still live in a fallen world. Soon the darkness will be forever gone (Rev. 22:5) but for now it’s an element in our reality so to paint or portray reality means including “darkness.” Read More…
20 Observations from Genesis 1-3
Gen. 1:1—We see the answer to our and the universes origin (and logic, math, science, etc.).
Gen. 1:24-25—We see where the different “kinds” of animals came from. It sounds like God made each different “kind” or type of animal with enough genetic code to produce all the different types of that kind but that they would stay with that “kind” or genetic code. There are similar genetic trademarks between each “kind” yet don’t overstep their kind. This is because they are made by the same Maker and He left the same stamp of intelligence on each of them.
Gen. 1:26-27—Humans have worth and should not be disregarded. From here we see humans have great potential. We also see grounds here for the immorality of mistreating humans. (People have argued that the idea of human rights came from the Christian understanding that all humans are made in the image of God).
Gen. 1:28-30 cf. 2:15—We see a call to stewardship and industry; something that has always been important for survival and compassion.
How should Christian art be informed by the Christian worldview? (part 1)
Introduction: How should we think about art? Why has art had such a varied history? What explains why we can relate to both “sad reflective art” as well as “joyous exuberant art”? How does art in its various forms sometimes make us yearn for something that seems out of reach?
I believe as we look to God’s Word as our guide we will be able to make some significant observations that will better position us to answer some of those questions. In the coming posts, we’ll consider seven ways the Christian worldview informs how we think about art…
First, Consider the Creator
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1). He made atoms and oceans, sunsets and frogs, butterflies and hogs. He made matter and motion, the stars in space and every trace of sand. He made my hands and yours too. God made flowers and bees. God thought up nectar and the neurons that make emotion.
A Brief Theology of Emotions
We all have emotions. How often do we consider emotions from a biblical perspective though?… Yet, what better place to turn than God’s word! So, what does the Bible say about emotions?
Emotions are part of God’s good design
First, it is important to realize that “Our emotional capacities are part of our nature as personal beings created in the image and likeness of God.” Second, Emotions are part of God’s good design. Third, We often don’t think about it but we are actually commanded to be emotional. For example, Psalm 2:11 says “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” And there’s a bunch of other examples (Deut. 28:47-48; Ps. 51:17; 97:10; 100:2; Matt. 6:25-34; Rom. 12:9, 15; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:15).
So, Jay Adams says:
“The fact is that there are no damaging or destructive emotions per se. Our emotional makeup is totally from God. All emotions of which He made us capable are constructive when used properly (i.e., in accordance with biblical principles)… All emotions, however, can become destructive when we fail to express them in harmony with biblical limitations and structures.”
You may have heard: “Don’t follow your emotions” or “don’t let your feelings get the best of you,” or “use your head.” But emotions are not bad in themselves. God created us with emotions.
Even our negative emotions are not always wrong. It’s not always bad to feel bad. Sometimes feeling sad and angry is good and right. It’s important to realize that in the Psalms the genre of lament is most common. It is also important to remember that there is no book of Joys but there is a book of Lamentations. We don’t always have just “good” feelings and that’s okay. On the other hand, God made us at least in part to experience profound joy and to experience this forever, Psalm 16:11 says. So, our first take away is for us to realize that emotions are not bad in themselves.
But what’s wrong with emotions? Or, why is it that sometimes we can’t or shouldn’t trust our emotions? Because…
Emotions are broken by sin
A lot of us remember the (true) story of Adam and Eve. John Frame has said, “the fall… was rebellion of the whole person—intellect as much as emotions, perception, and will—against God.” After looking at Genesis 3:1-6 (notice the highlighting) we can agree with what Frame says: