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September 29, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

CS Lewis’ critique of scientism

CS Lewis’ critique of scientism runs throughout his work.  Miracles and many other essays include critiques of naturalism, which certainly is one key dimension of scientism’s role in undermining ideological and thinking paradigms outside of materialist science.

To me, one of his most direct critiques of scientism comes in his discourse on Religious Language:

“To be incommunicable by Scientific language is, so far as I can judge, the normal state of experience….The very essence of our life as conscious beings, all day and every day, consists of something which cannot be communicated except by hints, similes, metaphors, and the use of those emotions…which are pointers to it.”

—-CS Lewis, On Religious Language

What Lewis is saying is that to deny areas of inquiry outside of science is ultimately to deny the ability to talk about ourselves and our inner lives and in one sense to deny the very existence of the self (identity, personality, subjectivity, etc..).

Moreover, it seems to point out that we use a fundamentally different language to talk about our inner lives and issues concerning trust, love, and relationship.  This language is one of “hints, similes, metaphors, and the use of those emotions…which are pointers to it.”

If you are interested in this area of inquiry, CS Lewis’ Abolition of Man is pretty good as well as The Restitution of Man which is about CS Lewis’ position on scientism.  Magicians Twin is quite a good book, which unpacks the issue of scientism.  CS Lewis versus the New Atheists is also decent, particularly the critique of naturalism (so thematically similar).  CS Lewis’ narrative sci-fi novel That Hideous Strength is also supposed to be about scientism.  Mary Midgley although she doesn’t mention CS Lewis as I recall has a number of books about scientism and related issues.


Here is an interview with a Lewis follower who explains the issue of scientism:

MercatorNet: You and your fellow authors are strong critics of scientism. Does that mean that you are anti-science and anti-progress? 

West: I actually regard myself as pro-science. Scientism is the abuse of science by claiming that science is the only way we can know the truth about anything. By extension, it’s also the claim that scientists should have the right to rule over society by virtue of their superior technical expertise. Just like being a critic of theocracy doesn’t make one anti-religious, being a critic of scientism doesn’t make one anti-science. If anything, it’s those who are trying to challenge scientism who are the defenders of science, because they are trying to rescue science from being applied outside its proper boundaries.

As we examine this issue its critical to attempt to make a clear delineation between science and scientism.  And ideally that we only focus on the ways in which scientism attempts to function as an all inclusive worldview or suppresses other forms of knowledge and understanding by claiming to be on the top of the academic heap (similar to Hume’s Fork).

I’ve included this critique of scientism bibliography which has links to a number of online resources which philosophically question this destructive worldview.

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