Thursday, 30 April 2009

Science and C. S. Lewis

Watching a TV programme "The Narnia Code" (about Michael Ward's book Planet Narnia, which I reviewed very favourably in LibraryThing), I was struck by a couple of passing comments.

Despite his ability to write science fiction, I have tended to regard C. S. Lewis (half-consciously) as something of a scientific illiterate, simply because he says hardly anything about biology. However, it was made clear that Lewis was a keen follower of the astronomy of the day, and fully aware of the demands that its findings make of the religious believer. (As Ward said on the programme) Lewis somewhere stated the almost inevitable opinion that any serious religion must be cosmic in scope, and take into account the whole of the universe as perceived by modern science.

There was a nice little analogy from Polkinghorne. Why is the kettle boiling? Science can offer a good deal along the lines of "because the water is undergoing a change from the liquid to the gaseous state...", but the answer might also be "because I want a cup of tea: would you like one too?"; and here science has nothing to say. Science is successful not because it can answer all the questions, but because scientific method effectively selects questions of the type to which it can give answers.

The modern materialist, it was noted, begins from the existence of matter as primary, and the arising of our delusory personhood is seen as something weird and anomalous. Lewis, by contrast, asks why we cannot start with what is obvious to us, and view consciousness as primary.

I thought of a scientific analogy comparable to Paley's watch (so perhaps ultimately as misleading). Some non-believers point to the Earth's marginal position in the physical universe as somehow confirming its cosmic significance, the majesty (or the sheer brute size) of the galaxies being so much more what the cosmos seems to be about. Why should the meaning of the universe be focused on a small, dim planet? However, if you found a building full of very large and complex pieces of equipment such as electricity generators and cooling coils, you wouldn't be correct to presume that these are therefore the truly important things, and that the small screen in a side room on which scientific observations are displayed is insignificant because it is small and not placed in the middle. To make a very small but important scientific observation, it may be necessary to construct a very large laboratory. To make a very small but important sentient species, it may be necessary to construct a very large universe.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Eastertide: New Life, New Stress

After all my musings on the topic of creation, I was struck afresh by Genesis 1 at the Easter vigil service this year. I heard the tale more clearly than before as a simple expression of faith by the ancient authors. No one this side of insanity could take literally the description of the vault of heaven dividing the waters above from the waters below; but the account stands pure and simple as a statement of spiritual affirmation. Believing that the world had such a form, the authors stated their conviction that God was the source of it; but what they happened to believe about the physical constitution of the world is immaterial to the underlying affirmation.

Despite the incomprehension of our well-meaning but blinkered musicians when anything exotic such as a Taize chant or a responsorial psalm is called for, the service was grounded in reality and quite uplifting, from the bonfire in the churchyard to the generous spraying of the congregation with water from the font. It was also a welcome brief respite from the turmoil of home life, where the active and increasingly self-willed Squirmle 1 is now manifesting his unsettled feelings at the recent arrival of Squirmle 2, and the latter is giving his mother much discomfort and frustration and virtually no sleep. (I can hear him squawking now, at a minute to midnight, and he may not take much of a break before 5 a.m.)