Book Review – The Abolition of Man (C S Lewis)

This fascinating short book contains three lectures given by C S Lewis on the subject of education. Parts of it I found quite dated and hard to follow, and yet it seems to me that the overall message is very contemporary. Lewis’ concern is that modern education is in danger of explaining humanity away, and in an attempt to gain power by “conquering” nature, we are in effect abolishing ourselves.

One tendency he focuses on is that of “debunking” what we see as values or virtues, by explaining them merely as feelings or human constructs. Those that do this seek to free us from traditional values, and give us the “freedom” to define ourselves as we wish. This is strikingly modern, as secular atheists have become increasingly vocal about the obsolescence of religion in the light of scientific advance, and yet seem unable or unwilling to offer a coherent framework of values of their own. Lewis freely admitted that he would be accused of attacking science, an accusation which he strenuously denies.

He argues that throughout history, people of many religions and backgrounds have followed and understood the Tao – the universally understood system of morality (or more accurately, the idea that there is objective value), and he provides an appendix giving examples from various ancient writings. What the modernisers are seeking to do, is to make man the master of what he wants to be, by explaining everything simply in terms of nature.

The importance of this book is that it reminds us of the need to coherently argue for a Christian belief in the existance of objective values, truths and morals, and to refuse to allow “Science” to elevate itself to such a position that it can be used to “debunk” such things. While not all readers will agree with Lewis on every point, I think he provides some very good arguments. I would be interested to know who the contemporary Christian writers taking up this argument are (suggestions in the comments please!).

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