Argumentation

The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis

the story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter. The uncle’s mentorship pertains to the nephew’s responsibility in securing the damnation of a British man known only as “the Patient”.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when beginning this book, yet here in the first letter from Screwtape there is food for thought.  From the book:

It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches.

The nephew is attempting to use argumentation to convince the Patient against “the Enemy.” Screwtape finds this a bad idea.  It might have been OK a few centuries earlier, when people understood when something was proved and when it was not, when they recognized concepts such as true and false – when proper argumentation was necessary in order to convince someone of something.  People don’t live in such a world anymore – better for the likes of Screwtape that things stay this way: The Screwtape Letters C. S. Lewis Best Price: $1.50 Buy New $7.71 (as of 06:05 EDT - Details)

The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle on to the Enemy’s own ground.  He can argue too, whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result.

Stick to propaganda – those from “Below” are much better at this than the “Enemy” with which they struggle.  Once you bring argumentation into the picture, you risk awakening that which Screwtape and his type have worked so long to purge from man – man’s reason.

Once awakened, the Patient will begin to consider universal issues and withdraw his attention from immediate sense experiences.

Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean real science) as a defence against Christianity.  They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see.  …the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up is ‘the results of modern investigation’.

This is quite an interesting statement.  We are told that science has disproven much of what Christianity has to offer – that science has replaced faith.  Yet Screwtape fears science – what he calls “real science.”

What does Lewis, through Screwtape, mean by “real science”?  Apparently he contrasts this withscientism:

…Lewis strongly disagreed with the politicization of science (ideology) and then using the false idol of scientism as a cudgel to smash religion, Christianity, capitalism, intelligent design and any philosophical worldview whose aims differed from true “science.” Echoing Darwin’s evolution atheism, this materialistic worldview demanded that all scientific knowledge be reduced to materialistic, blind, undirected causes.

When I see the phrase “true ‘science’” in the above, it can only mean science as the materialists see it for the sentence to make any sense.  Now, this will take a little unpacking, so before you say something like “what does Lewis know, he isn’t a scientist,” take a deep breath.

From Edward Feser:

…for most of the history of philosophy and science, there was no rigid distinction between these disciplines; “philosophy” was just that general “love of wisdom”…

How about Albert Einstein as one example of many scientists and physicists who see the necessity to look beyond the material world?  Here he is in 1944:

So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.

Or this:

Everyone who is seriously committed to the cultivation of science becomes convinced that in all the laws of the universe is manifest a spirit vastly superior to man, and to which we with our powers must feel humble.

Lewis was after true science, which incorporated metaphysics and not merely the physical or material; for much of history, the ideas of science and philosophy were integrated – one subject, if you will.  In much of the history of the West, philosophy and theology were completely intertwined.

Einstein certainly studied philosophy as well as physics, and he understood that both must be integrated if one is to do proper, “independent” work.

So what was Screwtape afraid of?  Allow real science into the discussion and you can dump any notion of winning against the “Enemy.”  Keep science purely in the materialistic, physical realm – stick to the notion that the only truth is truth proven here.  Otherwise you risk awakening the Patient’s reason, and once awakened he will ask questions that take him beyond physical science, into the metaphysical – into philosophy – and inherently, therefore, into religion.

Conclusion

To the extent that there is today a dialogue around the meaning crisis and an awakening from the meaninglessness of the notion of a purely material and materialistic world, it appears that there are cracks forming in Screwtape’s plans.

I see visible evidence of this in the dialogue as popularized by Jordan Peterson, but further developed by others such as John Vervaeke and Paul VanderKlay – a dialogue that is eroding the influence of the materialist “new atheists.”  However, the conversation isn’t a new one: I am somewhat aware of the awareness to this issue in the works of Owen Barfield – a major influence on both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien – even a century ago.

I have not traced the history of this conversation, but I suspect many individuals in the West became acutely and even quite personally aware of a meaning crisis with the advent of the Great War; Jacques Barzun would certainly say so.

Epilogue

What does all of this have to do with liberty or topics that are central to this blog?  If we are to think of liberty in purely material and economic terms, we can all just quit whining – we have no reason to complain.  But merely having more stuff isn’t liberty, as man is made for so much more.

We are finding that a culture built around the material is not a culture that can defend or sustain liberty.  That culture that once did defend and sustain liberty has been nearly destroyed, but we can see evidence of an attempted comeback.  It would be nice if this evidence was manifest in the various institutions of Christianity, as this is where is should be coming from and this is where I believe it must come from if it is to be sustainable; but as of yet, I am not aware of any meaningful evidence of this.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.