A couple of weeks ago, I started my sermon by talking about C.S. Lewis, magic, and science. When I was done, I asked, “Does that make sense?” A person in the back of the sanctuary loudly proclaimed, “No!” Sometimes you really nail it as a preacher…and sometimes you don’t.
Thankfully, I am not just a preacher. I am also a writer! So I get a chance here to explain the point, hopefully a bit more clearly. And maybe, since I already tried once and was misunderstood, I should allow Lewis (a masterful writer) to speak for himself:
“The real story of the birth of Science is misunderstood. You will even find people who write about the sixteenth century as if Magic were a medieval survival and Science the new thing that came to sweep it away. Those who have studied the period know better. There was very little magic in the Middle Ages: the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are the high noon of magic. The serious magical endeavor and the serious scientific endeavor are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse.” (The Abolition of Man, Collier, 1947, p.87)
Lewis is describing what he calls a “magician’s bargain”: that process where humans surrender object after object, and finally surrender themselves, in a quest for power. His warning is that power is always power OVER someone. All people can’t have power in this scheme. It is the power of a very few over millions, or billions. The goal of magic was to gain this power. Lewis was not against science (an important point), but he saw many trying to apply science to gain power over others. The goal of applied science, at its conception, was not pure knowledge (he cites Francis Bacon’s Advancement of Learning), but power. Bacon rejected magic because it did not work, but he had the same goal as the magicians.
Lewis describes how this is different than how earlier humanity functioned:
“For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious–such as digging up and mutilating the dead.” (Abolition of Man, p.88)
The quest for power is a quest to escape the real problem of humanity: humans need to change. We are trying to change reality to match what we want, and we are so driven to change it that we will do anything to make it happen. Vintage thinking (Jeremiah 6:16) means we go back to the ancient wisdom: WE need to change; we need to allow God to get inside and change us.
I will share more thoughts on this next week. For now, ponder this: when problems arise, are you quicker to ask, “How can I change this situation?” or “How do I myself need to change?”