A Devilish Either/Or

Screwtape Explains Science vs. Faith

This piece was written in response to a challenge by a friend of the author, who thought a new letter from the wily old devil Screwtape might be called for, since the science-versus-faith issue is more compelling now than it was when C. S. Lewis's classic book, The Screwtape Letters, was first published in 1942.

My dear Wormwood,

I can see that you have re-formulated yourself after I devoured you back in the 1940s and are ready to again take up your tempting duties. The last time I wrote to you, the British were embroiled in their second war with the Germans. Today, as you prepare to win souls for our Father Below, I would like to draw your attention to a very different kind of war, one that, if you use it properly, can secure a new crop of souls for our banqueting table.

The humans call it the war between religion and science, and it has proven an absolute boon to our efforts to cut humans off from the Enemy. Throughout much of history, we kept the majority of men enslaved to a belief that physical matter was either evil (as it was for the Gnostics) or an illusion (as it was for the Hindus and Buddhists) and that they couldn't, and shouldn't, trust their senses to determine the nature of reality. If we did allow them to study nature, we fooled them into believing, as the pagans of old believed, that what they saw was random, controlled by the whims of arbitrary gods.

That is, until the Church let the cat out of the bag! Buoyed up by their faith that the Enemy had created a good, ordered, and rational cosmos and that they could uncover that goodness, order, and rationality if they used their reason, clergymen across Europe began to observe and study and measure their world. Assured that the universe outside them and the reason within them had been created by the same Person, they knew it would only be a matter of time before they could discover and put into mathematical formulas the laws by which the universe ran. We found ourselves powerless to stop the onslaught.

In England alone, that ghastly period the humans call the Middle Ages produced Robert Grosseteste, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, John Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham. And things only got worse when the Renaissance began. Men who believed that the Enemy had revealed himself both in the Bible and in the book of nature ripped back the veil to reveal the Enemy's creations—natural and human—in all their beauty, wonder, and mystery. I can barely write the names of these meddling scientists without vomiting: Copernicus and Galileo, Bacon and Boyle, Kepler and Kelvin, Newton and Pascal, Faraday and Mendel. And the list goes on and on.

We had almost given up in despair when things took a most auspicious turn. That venerably confounded man they call Charles Darwin came up with a theory stating how all the complexity of the world, and of human life itself, could be accounted for by unguided material forces. The theory was helpful, for it offered humans who were eager to avoid spiritual accountability a way by which they could (so they thought) explain everything apart from the Enemy.

Still, the theory alone did not secure for us the real victory. The Christian humans might very well have done what they had always done before: take the new scientific theory and test it against their reason and their study of the Bible.

But they didn't. In the late 1800s, we got an American university president, Andrew Dickson White of Cornell, to invent a fictional conflict between religion and science. (How gratifying to be able to use one Christian creation—the university—to turn another Christian creation—science—against the Enemy!) Despite the abundant historical evidence to the contrary, White (and others, including John William Draper) made humans believe that they had to choose to follow either religion or science. You will wonder, Wormwood, why the humans didn't expose this phony conflict as a false dichotomy. Never fear, we nudged them into abandoning logical thinking long ago!

This religion-versus-science tactic is best used on college students, especially ones who grew up in a sheltered home and are on their own for the first time. Convince them (it's not hard to do) that since science deals in "facts" and religion is just a "feeling," that they must, as educated scholars, accept the facts and abandon the feeling. Better yet, convince them that the "facts" they have been learning from their secular teachers are all based on "new" evidence of which the Christians of the past had not the slightest inkling.

Listen carefully, Wormwood, and I'll give you some concrete examples you can use. As far back as Pythagoras, Plato, and Ptolemy, the humans knew that the universe was vast, but they did not reason, on the basis of that data, that the earth was unimportant or that humans were insignificant. But your patient won't know that, since he's been taught that the people of the past were all ignorant of "science." Your job is to make your patient believe that the immensity of the cosmos is a new discovery that "proves" that human life, particularly his own life, is a product of arbitrary, meaningless forces.

After you've taught your patient to find cause for despair in the heavens above, turn his gaze back down to the earth below. Draw his attention to the pain and suffering that abound in nature, to the way one animal feeds on another and the way one species rises victorious above others. Then blind him to the glaringly obvious fact that Christians have known this for centuries and have accepted it as clear proof of the Bible's teaching that man and nature were created good, but that man sinned, causing himself and nature alike to fall into a state of corruption and futility. If you blind him to that, he will naturally accept the lie that this information is new and is proof that natural selection is the process by which human life, and even human consciousness, arose.

I advised you in the first letter I sent you all those decades ago that it is best to keep your patient away from science altogether. That advice still holds—unless the science you expose him to is a naturalistic science that offers itself up as an alternative to, rather than a co-laborer with, religion. Remember, you must force him to choose religion or science, facts or feelings, reason or faith. Don't let him seek a harmony between the Enemy's book and the book of nature. If you can persuade him (1) that he must surrender either his belief in the Bible or in science, (2) that if he surrenders the latter, he will be a superstitious, "medieval," closed-minded yokel, and (3) that if he surrenders the former, he will be a rational, modern, free-thinking chap, your patient will do the rest.

From being one of the chief exposers of our lies, science has morphed into one of our greatest covers. Use it well, Wormwood, and you will plunge your patient into a kind of existential despair from which he will find it hard to extricate himself.

Your affectionate uncle,
Screwtape

(www.Loumarkos.com) is Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University; he holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities. His books include From Achilles to Christ, Apologetics for the 21st Century, and Literature: A Student's Guide.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #54, Fall 2020 Copyright © 2020 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo54/devilish-eitheror

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