C.S. Lewis’ Critique of “Scientism”

C.S. Lewis held to many of the scientific conclusions of his day. Nonetheless, he was often critical of what others have sometimes called “scientism”—a worldview that treats science as a stand-alone teller of truth without a deeper epistemological basis and thus room for a metaphysics; a form of science that makes absolutist exclusive claims that lead it to assume more jurisdiction than its methodological parameters actually allow.

See the following quote from his lecture, “Is Theology Poetry?” or as we might rephrase it, Is Christianity nothing more than aesthetically pleasing mythology?

“The picture so often painted of Christians huddling together on an ever narrower strip of beach while the incoming tide of ‘Science’ mounts higher and higher corresponds to nothing in my own experience. That grand myth … is not for me a hostile novelty breaking in on my traditional beliefs. On the contrary, that cosmology is what I started from. Deepening distrust and final abandonment of it long preceded my conversion to Christianity. Long before I believed Theology to be true I had already decided that the popular scientific picture at any rate was false. One absolutely central inconsistency ruins it….

The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears. Unless we can be sure that reality in the remotest nebula or the remotest part obeys the thought laws of the human scientist here and now in his laboratory — in other words, unless Reason is an absolute — all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming.

Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based. The difficulty is to me a fatal one; and the fact that when you put it to many scientists, far from having an answer, they seem not even to understand what the difficulty is, assures me that I have not found a mare’s nest but detected a radical disease in their whole mode of thought from the very beginning. The man who has once understood the situation is compelled henceforth to regard the scientific cosmology as being, in principle, a myth; though no doubt a great many true particulars have been worked into it.

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Justin Taylor, “Day” in Genesis 1-2, and Pre-Evolution Interpretation

In a recent post at The Gospel Coalition (also see this older post), Justin Taylor discusses “Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods.”

I’ve written about the creation debates before. And if you’ve talked to me in person about these matters, you’ve probably heard make something like the following comment:

One of the reasons (it would seem to be the main reason) interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 and the nature of God’s creative work have become so stinking controversial is the arrival of evolutionary theories. Since Darwin, proposing anything besides a 24-hour-day-view of the “days” in Genesis 1 immediately became way more controversial than it was prior to Darwin. This is due to the fact that anti-macroevolution Christians view Genesis 1-2 as a battle ground. If you walk there now, you’re going to step on a land mine even if you were not the originally intended target.

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Thoughts on Engaging the Creation Debate

Introductory remarks

You should keep in mind that as I write this post, I am not taking a specific position on issues such as evolution, God and science, nor the meaning of Genesis 1-2. In this post I simply seek to share some thoughts I have on these matters. At times and in various circles, creation debates can be very heated. I understand that. But sometimes I think the result is that things get a little blown out of proportion. I’m not suggesting we compromise on vital truth. But I guess I’m calling us to examine what constitutes as that vital truth. In class last year, Dr. Carson reminded us of the words of Francis Schaeffer: something like, “what is the least Genesis 1-2 must be saying for the rest of the Bible to be true.” Secondary truths are not by nature unimportant truths. And I don’t want to downplay their importance. But they must be distinguished from primary doctrines. And either way, no context excludes the necessity of charitableness.

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