Reflections on a new book about C.S. Lewis, science, and society.
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Today, Julian Savulescu is called a trans-humanist. According to The Magician’s Twin chapter, written by James Herrick, Savulescu
“is a leading proponent of human enhancement, the school of thought that promotes the progressive use of biotechnologies to improve human intellect, moral reasoning and other traits such as physical strength. Savulescu has argued that deep moral flaws and destructive behaviors point to the need to employ technology and education to change human nature; either we take this path or we face extinction as a species.”
There are striking similarities between the goals of today’s trans-humanists and the technological future envisioned by C.S. Lewis, both in The Abolition of Man and in his novel That Hideous Strength. (Both were written in the 1940s.) As with other writers such as Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, Lewis assumed that progressive opinion would try to incorporate the latest technology into society. Whatever seemed old fashioned would be displaced by something more up-to-date and scientific. Some developments such as the recent enthusiasm for stem cell research have indeed borne that out. (But embryonic stem cell research, which was initially and misleadingly sold to the public by the New York Times as an immortality project, has gone almost nowhere because no one has been able to master the science; it seems to have been mainly a fantasy to begin with.)
In other ways, however, progressive opinion has headed in an unanticipated direction. Consider the global warming scare. Today’s Greens, who are driving this debate, yearn for an old fashioned world with windmills and warmth collected directly from the sun; not a world of big power stations and oil companies. Every excuse to eliminate or postpone nuclear power is seized upon, however low its carbon emissions. Germany is now heading down that self-destructive path and Japan will possibly follow suit. (China, not!)
The new direction of the intelligentsia is elitist to be sure, as it was in Lewis’s day, but it also harbors these anti-technological sentiments. Progressive characters in That Hideous Strength disparage an old fashioned village pub in England and plan to eliminate such anachronisms when they come to power. Today’s intellectuals would be shocked by that. “Ye olde” things appeal to us, we admire old structures and consistently try to preserve them. C.S. Lewis would have been pleased.
The great thrust of the new technology today has been in the making of ever smaller personal computers and the development of a digital world — the world wide web in particular. This momentous development was of course unforeseen, and it has no particular ideology. But its effect is to decentralize power and decision-making and that will continue for years to come (perhaps eventually rendering print obsolete). This direction, too, is inimical to the world planned by experts that Lewis envisioned (and dreaded) in his critique of scientism.
One could say a lot more about this outstanding new book. It is valuable precisely because so little attention has been paid to C.S. Lewis’s views about science and society. It will be of interest not just to students of C.S. Lewis but to anyone following the controversies surrounding intelligent design, the faculty of reason, and the mysterious history of human life.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?