Friday, September 21, 2012

Yes, We Can't

Four years ago the rhetoric soared and the promises were intoxicating. The sick would be cared for, the oceans would reverse their rise, the planet would heal, and peace would fill the planet. It was the age of Aquarius. The millenial kingdom was at hand.
That was then. Now the president seems at almost every turn to be telling us that the economy was worse than he thought, the Republicans are more recalcitrant than he expected, the world is more complex than he knew. There are limits to what he can do. The change he promised us, well, it can't actually be effected from inside Washington.
It's hard to believe that a president whose party controlled both houses of the legislature for the first two years of his administration and who has been blessed with an obsequious media couldn't accomplish whatever he really wanted to accomplish. Nonetheless, "Yes we can" has in less than four years morphed into "No, I can't, but I deserve four more years anyway."

Mr. Obama's admission of failure reminds me of the man in a cynical limerick I heard a number of years ago that goes like this:
They showed him the thing
that couldn't be done,
and with a smile he got right
to it.
He tackled the thing that
couldn't be done,
and found out he couldn't do it.

The Magician's Twin

C.S. Lewis was a scholar of medieval classics and a writer of no little fame. He wrote the Narnia series and a number of other works, both fiction and non-fiction, which have been immensely popular with readers for over sixty years. One of his non-fiction works was titled The Abolition of Man, and in it he traces how modernity is inexorably extinguishing man's humanity. Lewis decries the dehumanizing scientism, the view that any question worth asking can be answered by science, which has come to dominate so many precincts in modern culture. Even so, his views on science and evolution have gone largely unexplored in the fifty years since his death (He died on the same day as John F. Kennedy).

Now there's a new book out on these aspects of Lewis' thinking titled The Magician's Twin: C.S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society and it's reviewed by Tom Bethell in the current issue of The American Spectator. The book takes its title from Lewis' claim that science and magic are in several respects twins.

Bethell writes:
We normally associate C.S. Lewis with Christian apologetics, English literature, and the Narnia stories; less so with science and questions about evolution. But as the Discovery Institute's John G. West points out in The Magician's Twin, throughout his life Lewis was concerned about the abject submission of culture and politics to the growing authority of science. Lewis respected science, but he rejected the idea that it is the only reliable method of knowledge about the world. He called that error scientism. As for evolution, his skepticism about it increased over the years.

In this anthology, John West and his co-authors gather material primarily from four books by Lewis: Miracles, The Abolition of Man, That Hideous Strength and The Discarded Image. Their findings are enhanced by West's research into Lewis's papers and correspondence, now at Wheaton College in Illinois. He also made good use of unpublished annotations and underlined passages in books preserved from Lewis's own library.

Lewis well understood the cultural dominance of the theory of evolution in his day and was at first reluctant to criticize the theory. He also tended to assume, as so many others have since, that Darwinism was better confirmed than it really was (or is). In fact, since Lewis's death in 1963, the new findings of molecular biology have made the theory look a good deal less plausible than it did 50 years ago.
Bethell goes on to outline some of the modern trends that Lewis could not have foreseen in their particulars but the general nature of which he limned in Abolition of Man. It's an interesting review and the book sounds like an interesting read.