Christianity, Science & C.S. Lewis

Casual readers of C.S. Lewis are not always familiar with his supremely balanced view of science and faith.

In a world where skeptics allege science and religious faith are incompatible, Lewis upheld the orthodox Christian understanding that Christianity and true science are 100% compatible. The problem arises when people attempt to use science to explore matters science cannot address.

In “C.S. Lewis and How Christians Should Think about Science,” we read that “C.S. Lewis has written extensively on science or specifically on how believers should think about science. Lewis himself was not antiscience. But he had grave concerns about the use of science to either manipulate nature or validate worldviews based on reductionism or naturalism.”

I would like to emphasize this warning, by adding three simple letters. C.S. Lewis “had grave concerns about the misuse of science.” And so should we all.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes science’s proper role.

Science works by experiments. It watches how things behave. Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really means something like, “I pointed the telescope to such and such a part of the sky at 2:20 a.m. on January 15th and saw so-and-so,” or, “I put some of this stuff in a pot and heated it to such-and-such a temperature and it did so-and-so.” Do not think I am saying anything against science: I am only saying what its job is.

And the more scientific a man is, the more (I believe) he would agree with me that this is the job of science—and a very useful and necessary job it is too. But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes—something of a different kind—this is not a scientific question. If there is “Something Behind,” then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way.

The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them statements that science can make. And real scientists do not usually make them. It is usually the journalists and popular novelists who have picked up a few odds and ends of half-baked science from textbooks who go in for them. After all, it is really a matter of common sense. Supposing science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that the questions, “Why is there a universe?” “Why does it go on as it does?” “Has it any meaning?” would remain just as they were?

There are, of course, many, many thousands of scientists who are Christians.

I recently read an interesting article on the Society of Roman Catholic Scientists. I commend it to everyone, whatever your religious affiliation (or lack thereof). It is entitled “Christianity in Scientific Mythology,” and begins with the author saying,

It shocks many people to find out that I am both an astrophysicist and a religious believer.  It shocks some of my fellow astrophysicists and even some of my fellow Catholics. . . . But why should this be?  Why should it be a surprise that someone whose chosen profession is the scientific study of the universe is also a person of faith? Why the perception of conflict?  Is it intrinsic to the business of science that it be “at odds” with religion?

Despite the fact that Professor Clemens fails to mention C.S. Lewis in his essay, he makes many valid points. The first lays a solid foundation for his message, and dispels a patently obvious, but seldom acknowledged, fact.

One of the defects of contemporary culture is the undue and unhealthy reverence we show toward scientists.  The public imagines scientists to be too smart to disagree with, too objective to be swayed by emotion or bias, and experts on every subject they choose to talk about.  None of these things is true, of course, and the unquestioning acceptance of these notions does great harm.

C.S. Lewis’ Concept of Scientism

Like all sane people, C.S. Lewis appreciated the great value of science. What he warned against was a sort of deification [my word] of science. It is like the elevation of scientific mythology to the status of ultimate religious truth, able to answer even metaphysical questions with certitude.

If you would like to read more on this subject, consider the following articles:

Science and Scientism: The Prophetic Vision of C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis: Science and Scientism

C.S. Lewis and the Religion of Science

C.S. Lewis on Science, Evolution, and Evolutionism

Another worthwhile article, published in the journal of Science and Christian Belief, is available at “Science and Religion in the Writings of C.S. Lewis.”

As a person of faith, albeit not a scientist, I concur wholeheartedly with C.S. Lewis. In the following passage from The Weight of Glory, Lewis makes a profound point, although it may require more than a single reading to comprehend. You may wish to read the entire essay to see how he builds up to this observation, but I offer it here on its own merits.

The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world: the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific point of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religious. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself.

The illustration above was drawn by E.J. Pace and appeared a century ago in The Sunday School Times. You can download a personal copy of a book featuring a hundred of Pace’s cartoons here.

26 thoughts on “Christianity, Science & C.S. Lewis

  1. Great article. Great article to pass on to my 6 grandsons, ranging between 9 and 21. Their schooling seems to exalt science above faith, which as you have pointed out from Lewis and others, is a fallacy.

    Thank you for the info.

    1. I’m glad you found this helpful enough to share with your grandchildren.

      Christian have nothing at all to fear from truth, but so much of science is simply theory, presented as fact. I celebrate Christians working in the sciences. Exploring this wondrous creation in their various fields is extremely exciting.

      We should pray for them, just as we do for people in fields like medicine, missions, or the armed forces. Their search for true knowledge about this amazing cosmos is informed by their knowledge of the eternal Truth.

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  3. Hi Rob,

    Amen. God made Science, faith, and everything that fall between. I am with you, Lewis, and others who see it all fit together. Have people never seen Solomon’s writings that shows he studies Science and faith? I write Sci-fi to show their perfect pairing.

    In Christ, Gary

  4. Excellent article. You know, if you ask a materialist why there is anything at all, eventually their answer becomes one form or another of the statement “It just is.” And that’s the very critique they will make against a person of faith’s understanding of God’s being. There aren’t really any atheists. Just theists and pantheists. And, I suppose, those that Dante called “the nothing people.” Lots of those running around.

    1. You’re right, Keith. Agnosticism (“nothing people”) is one thing, but atheism is inherently absurd. As for pantheism, it is likely the true religion of most of the world’s population, even in the West. Sadly, the god we encounter in fallen Nature is not only majestic and inspiring, it is capricious and deadly.

      Good to hear again from another published author who is part of the Mere Inkling community!

    1. Yes, it is. I just had an interesting thought… can you imagine how all of this “debate” will look when we gaze back at it from eternity? We’ll see it in its true perspective. That will be glorious…

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    1. I love it when our grandchildren get excited about science. Just yesterday our youngest, in kindergarten, came home and told us “I have to show you an experiment.”

      It wasn’t even an “assignment.” But he was so excited about a video they had seen about transferring magnetism. So we gathered a magnet, paper clips and a needle to have him “teach” us how it works. What fun!

      Science is wonderful. Scientism, on the other hand, is soul-killing.

      1. dolphinwrite

        I’m wondering how one can say science has it’s limits. This is where I attempt to get people to think for themselves, because the statements we make around our children influence how they see, or don’t see, the world. In order to make that statement, one has to share one “proof” of limits. For myself, I might say the our understanding of science is currently limited as we can only understand what we currently understand. All the best.

      2. Actually, I see almost no difference between the idea that science is limited and your own description of its inadequacy/incompleteness. Science (until our blinded eyes and minds are healed) always remains incomplete. It depends upon unproven theories which can change or be dismissed with a single discovery (or more rational theory).

        Science is indeed wonderful. And true science is fully compatible with God’s self-revelation. But our comprehension of science’s truthfulness (in this life, most certainly) will always remain imperfect and incomplete. The proof of that, it seems, is self-evident.

        It is a wonderful thing when Christians pursue scientific careers while keeping their eyes fixed upon the person who is Truth incarnate.

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  7. dolphinwrite

    I have never understood how or why some people state a difference between science and faith. Science and faith both exist at the same time, one pointing to the other.

    1. Very true.

      I think it all goes back to fallen humanity’s innate desire to hide from our Creator. If we can set up a false description of reality, we can try to deny God’s existence.

      The problem is best described in John’s Gospel (chapter 3):
      “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. . . . the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

  8. Good article Rob. I’ve heard many discussions regarding the “materialistic” worldview from which science operates and how this denies the Creator. But when one looks at it from C. S. Lewis’ perspective it makes perfect sense that scientists should operate from a materialistic perspective; this is the realm from which they can test and analyze our reality.

    Where they seem to get off track is when they go beyond the “physical reality,” which they can test, and start theorizing beyond that – into the spiritual or divine realm. In doing so, they only show how unaware they are of their own belief system and how secular knowledge, and perhaps science itself, has become their god.

    1. Thank you for your very succinct summary of the value and the danger of scientific allegiance.

      I think God delights in our scientific exploration of the wonders of his glorious creation… but he grieves when we bow down before it.

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