Monday, July 05, 2010

What Was C.S. Lewis Looking For?

“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? I hardly know what I am asking for…. 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. When it explained, it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole. While studying the It it would not lose what Martin Buber call the Thou-situation. The analogy between the Tao of Man and the instincts of an animal species would mean for it new light cast on the unknown thing. Instinct, by the inly known reality of conscience and not a reduction of conscience to the category of Instinct. Its followers would not be free with the words only and merely. In a word, it would conquer Nature without being at the same time conquered by her and buy knowledge at a lower cost than that of life.

“Perhaps I am asking impossibilities. Perhaps, in the nature of things, analytical understanding must always be a basilisk which kills what it sees and only sees by killing. But if the scientists themselves cannot arrest this process before it reaches the common Reason and kills that too, then someone else must arrest it. What I most fear is the reply that I am ‘only one more’ obscurantist, that this barrier, like all previous barriers set up against the advance of science, can be safely passed. Such a reply springs from the fatal serialism of the modern imagination – the image of infinite unilinear progression which so haunts our minds. Because we have to use numbers so much we tend to think of every process as if it must be like the numeral series, where every step, to all eternity, is the same kind step as the one before…. To reduce the Tao to a mere natural product is a step of that kind. Up to that point, the kind of explanation which explains things away may give us something, though at a heavy cost. But you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it… It is no use trying to ‘see through first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all tings is the same as not to see.”[1]

But, as Newman says, there is the “Illative” sense which is a knowledge beyond sensible perception and abstractive reasoning. If reality is the Word of God where heaven and earth will indeed pass away, but the Word does not pass away, then we know the real not in the light of principles and by seeing, but by hearing. Case in point on the principle of causality, Newman remarks that “The assent which we give to the proposition, as a first principle, that nothing happens without a cause, is derived, in the first instance, from what we know of ourselves’ and we argue analogically from what is within us to what is exzernal to us. One of the first experiences of an infant is that of his willing and doing; and, as time goes on, one of the first temptations of the boy is to bring home to himef the fact of his sovereign arbitrary power, though it be at the price of waywardness, mischievousness, and disobedience. And when his parents, as antagonists of this willfulness, begin to restrain him, and to bring him mind and conduct into shape, then he has a second series of experience of cause and effect, and that upon a principle or rule. Thus the notion of causation is one of the first lessons which he learns from experience, that experience limiting it to agents possessed of intelligence and will. It is the notion of power combined with a purpose and an end. Physical phenomena, as such, are without sense; and experience teaches us noting about physical phenomena as causes. Accordingly wherever the world is young, the movements and changes of physical nature have been and are spontaneously ascribed by its people to the presence and will of hidden agents, who haunt every part of it, the woods, the mountains and the streams, the air and the stars, for good or for evil; - just as children again, by beating the ground after falling, imply that what has bruised them has intelligence; - nor is there anything illogical in such a belief. It rests on the argument from analogy.

Newman then explains how we formulate the principle of causality as a principle: “Since causation implies a sequence of acts in our own case, and our going is always posterior, never contemporaneous or prior, to our willing, therefore when we witness invariable antecedents and consequents, we call the former the cause of the latter, though intelligence is absent from the analogy of external appearances. At length we go on to confuse causation with order; and, because we happen to have made a successful analysis of some complicated assemblage of phenomena, wehich experience has brought before us in the visible science of things, and have reduced them to a tolerable dependence on each other, we call the ultimate pointes of this analysis, and the hypothetical facts in which the whole mass of phenomena is gathered up, by the name of causes, whereas they are really only the formula under which those phenomena are conveniently represented.”[2]

Notice that Newman is talking about the experience of the ontological “I” when he speaks of experience. That is, the being, or the reality, that is being experienced is the self as being restrained by a personal force. This is the experience of a “cause.” What we perceive through our senses when we observe billiard balls moving billiard balls is what Hume rightly refers to as “association.” The sensible perception and therefore experience of association is not a direct experience the reality of being in a state of causality. What is being experienced is a perception. Or better, what we directly experience is the experience of ourselves experiencing the perception of association. That is not causality. We experience causality when we experience ourselves mastering ourselves to act and achieving that mastery and an action, or being stopped.

This is the theological epistemology that Ratzinger-Benedict is advancing in his Magisterium. The key is to know God experientially: “Only God knows God.”[3] We can do that only by becoming God (Christ) and experiencing what it is to be God from within ourselves. That is achieved in the action of becoming prayer (Lk. 9, 18) and speaking to the Father with Christ. Only in that context, can we experience the knowledge of Jesus Christ and be able to say: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16).

This is what C. S. Lewis is looking for!!

Someone just paraphrased Lewis for me when he said that his greatest obstacle to faith was having debated successfully concerning apologetics. How insightful since the temptation is precisely to reduce Christian faith to concepts.

[1] C.S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man,” Macmillan (1970) 89-91.

[2] J. H. Newman, “An Essay in the Aid of a Grammar of Assent,” UNDP (1992) 69-71.

[3] Cf. Mt. 11, 27.

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