“The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed,” says Lewis (p. 82). We no longer consider the trees to be magical creatures, but to have load bearing properties, and certain levels of resistance to decay. Stars have names and weight and distance, but no longer the ability to inspire wonder in the human creature is they did in days of old. The process of science has reduced our understanding of the world around us to what we call nature. It is not a bad thing to pursue an understanding of something, but Lewis pleads that “The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it.” “To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see” (p. 91).
We must see through some things, but Lewis suggests that humanity itself should not be on the agenda for a reduction to some element of nature that can be manipulated and changed. “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” (pp. 89-90). He is thinking particularly of the ‘tao’ or those principles of morality that are intimately connected to human nature.
If we use science to reduce the tao to nothing more than an element of humanity, then we can and rightly should, go about shaping it to be as we best think fit. However, the result would simply be the submission of all humanity to the will and the whims of those who were able to reshape the tao and condition humanity to conform to it (p. 86). There is no mastery over nature in this scenario that is not also the mastery of nature over man. For if we are to reduce man to nothing more than what we can scientifically understand, we rob him of all that would make him a man and condition him for some purpose that only the ‘conditioner’ can determine.
“Is it, then, 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?” (p. 89). Rather than pretending like what we already know is a complete view and then working with it to acquire power, why not simply accept that our understanding of what and who we are will always be somewhat incomplete. Therefore, the process of education and discovery must always be ongoing. There will never be a good time to end the discovery of humanity and attempt to begin shaping the future in the way that we see fit. For as explained already, this will only spell the end of progress.
All references from “The Abolition of Man: How Education Informs Man’s Sense of Morality” by C S Lewis. For more blog posts in this series, click here.