Saturday, January 26, 2008

Will the Republic of Heaven be Better?

In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Prince Caspian tells the Governor of the Lone Islands that the slave trade must stop. Governor Gumpas is flabbergasted. Price Caspian just doesn't understand the economics involved, he says.

"But that would be putting the clock back," gasped the governor. "Have you no idea of progress, of development?"

I have seen them both in an egg, said Caspian. "We call it 'Going Bad' in Narnia. This trade must stop."

A couple weeks ago I wrote a bit about what C. S. Lewis thought of Developmentalism--the idea that mankind is getting better and better all the time. Many think that if we were just not tied down with so many "unnecessary" restrictions, our Development would be faster. Philip Pullman seems to be calling for such a lifting of restrictions in his Dark Materials trilogy. Rather than being dominated by "The Kingdom of Heaven," Pullman calls for the creation of "The Republic of Heaven."

We in the United States know what it is to live in a Republic. The idea is to put power into the hands of the people rather than into a monarch or small group. The framers of the Constitution wanted the government to have as little power as possible--just enough to protect the People from invasion and from themselves. For this concept to work, for the People to rule themselves, the People must be "under God."

To grant that there is a supreme intelligence who rules the world and has established laws to regulate the actions of his creatures; and still to assert that man, in a state of nature, may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government, appears to a common understanding altogether irreconcilable. Good and wise men, in all ages, have embraced a very dissimilar theory. They have supposed that the deity, from the relations we stand in to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensably obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever. This is what is called the law of nature....Upon this law depend the natural rights of mankind. --Alexander Hamilton in The Farmer Refuted, 1775, quoted in the Founders Quote Database

The Founding Fathers talked about the truths which are "self-evident." They were speaking about the law of nature when they declared that "All men are created equal." (Unfortunately, not all the Founding Fathers were uninfluenced by the supposed dictates of "progress" and economic "necessity," and it took nearly 100 more years for our practice to catch up with our rhetoric.) Freedom was an inherent right given by God, not granted by governments.

In The Amber Spyglass, the final book of the His Dark Materials trilogy, after the Regent has died, someone says that it will only be a matter of time before someone takes his place. A power vacuum always seeks to be filled. People naturally desire someone or something to follow. We see this in history with "Republics" that have denied God. Communist Russia practically deified Lenin and Stalin. China did the same with Mao. Countries that do not believe that there is a God who has given us rights usually end up with governments that grant very few.

C. S. Lewis wrote about the Law of Nature in such works as Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man. He points out that societies that never had contact with each other have similar moral codes and ethical structures. As Alex McFarland points out in the book Unshakable Faith, "That’s not to say that humans always do what is morally right; Lewis and others assert that all cultures, intuitively know what is right." There are self-evident truths that have, to one degree or another, affected cultures around the world. Murder, theft and adultery are taboo, while heroism, self-denial and honesty are applauded.

The same is true even in the cultures in His Dark Materials that have rejected the Magisterium. Pullman emphasizes over and over that although Will and Mr. Scoresby will kill to defend themselves or others, they abhor it. Will insists on leaving a gold coin whenever they have to take anything they need. The Witches seduce men, and one witch even kills a man who rejected her. But the point is made that at least his wife can be comforted knowing he was faithful. Many characters are praised for their heroism and self-denial, and even Lyra comes to realize that her lying ("the only thing I'm good at") will not avail in the end.

The Amber Spyglass, the last book in the series, ends with Lyra telling Pan that they were to build The Republic of Heaven now that The Kingdom of Heaven was over. The rule of the Magisterium certainly was oppressive. But will the Republic be any better? I have my doubts.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

C. S. Lewis in Praise of Evolution

Did you know that Phlip Pullman's His Dark Materials (the trilogy of which The Golden Compass is the first book) is actually based upon an idea that C. S. Lewis praised? It's true. In an essay posthumously published first in the anthology Christian Reflections, Lewis had this to say about what he termed "Popular Evolution or Developmentalism":

Not merely terrestrial organisms but everything is moving 'upwards and onwards'. Reason has 'evolved' out of instinct, virtue out of complexes, poetry out of erotic howls and grunts, civilization out of savagery, the organic out of inorganic, the solar system out of some sidereal soup or traffic block. And conversely, reason, virtue, art and civilization as we know them are only crude or embryonic beginnings of far better things--perhaps Deity itself--in the remote future. ... nothing seems more normal, more natural, more plausible, than that chaos should turn into order, death into life, ignorance into knowledge. ... It is one of the most satisfying dramas which have ever been imagined.
"Imagined." Lewis asserts that the popular view of Evolution, although a thrilling idea, is an imagined "Myth." In fact, this essay is entitled "The Funeral of the Great Myth." Popular Evolution or Developmentalism, Lewis says, must be kept separate from the Theory of Evolution as taught by "modern scientists."

I do not mean that the doctrine of Evolution as held by practising biologists is
a Myth. It may be shown, by later biologists*, to be a less satisfactory
hypothesis than was hoped fifty years ago [the beginning of the twentieth
century]. But that does not amount to being a Myth.

I assume that this essay was written in the early 1960's shortly before Lewis's death. His "funeral oration" for Popular Evolution seems rather premature. (Perhaps this is one reason the essay was not published while he was still alive.) But he does seem to be correct about the mythical nature of popularized Evolution. He asserts that Popular Evolution is different than Evolutionary Theory because it pre-dates Darwin, and because it differs in content from the "scientific theory." Lewis reminds us that the writings of Keats and Wagner were inspiration for the idea of Delelopmentalism, and pre-date The Origin of Species. Scientific Evolution is a biological theorem. Popular Evolution, with much of its emphasis on Man's improvement, tends to be rather metaphysical. As has been popularized especially in science fiction, it asserts that the next stage of our evolution will be upward, even though the scientist recognizes that changes in species for the better are the exception rather than the rule.

I have been reading Pullman's trilogy, and have made it about half way through the third book. What the series apparently is about is humanity reaching toward its next phase in the evolutionary process. In this version of the Myth, god is trying to keep us from evolving. He wants to keep us under control lest we take his place. In the Dark Materials universe(s), god himself has evolved from matter, but has lied saying he created all other creatures. The lie is perpetrated so he can gain permanent control over everything. Dust, which is composed of conscious elementary particles (Think of the midi-chlorians in Star Wars, only smaller.), stand in his way. They are the repository of Truth; god is a liar.

For Lewis, the next stage of our evolution will come about when God changes us into something better than we are now, not when we when we get rid of God and "develop" on our own. God desires to lead us into all Truth, not keep it from us. His Truth will set us free to be all we were meant to be, not some evolutionary process.


*There are stirrings in the scientific world that some "later biologists" are beginning to doubt the validity of traditional evolutionary theory. And this is not just from the Creation Science domain. As early as 1986, Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, pointed out that research in microbiology and other fields shows that the complexity involved in living cells is a huge hurdle that evolutionary theory has a very difficult time jumping over. Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box is another book on the subject, with an updated version published in 2006. These books have not been well received in the scientific community, however, and the controversy over the Theory continues.