Friday, December 02, 2005

Bioethics in Narnia? - Christianity Today Magazine

Bioethics in Narnia? - Christianity Today Magazine:

Nigel M. de S. Cameron writes:
"When I interviewed Leon Kass for Christianity Today on his appointment to chair the President's Council on Bioethics back in 2002, I asked why he got into bioethics. One reason he gave was a short and stunning essay by C. S. Lewis.

As the world awaits the Narnia movie, and Lewis's extraordinary work receives the acclaim of a fresh generation, nothing demonstrates his genius like that little essay with the strange title, The Abolition of Man. It runs to just over a dozen pages. Not only are they the most profound pages he ever wrote, they may also be the most significant pages written by any writer of the 20th century. They are certainly the most relevant to the technological challenges of the 21st century...."

Nigel M. de S. Cameron notes that C.S. Lewis was "way ahead of the curve" when it came to reflecting on how the modern world could ultimately affect the human race. In The Abolition of Man Lewis started with "...three typical examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive." (Note that during World War II, the wireless was radio, the aeroplanes were taking on a more military role, and contraception was fairly new on the scene. )

Lewis continued with an analysis of how science can be used well or used destructively. He suggested that the final "victory" of Man over Nature might place power into a ever-dwindling number of hands:

"The real picture is that of one dominant age—let us suppose the hundredth century A.D.—which resists all previous ages most successfully and dominates all subsequent ages most irresistibly, and thus is the real master of the human species. But then within this master generation (itself an infinitesimal minority of the species) the power will be exercised by a minority smaller still. Man's conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man's side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well aas stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.

I am not yet considering whether the total result of such ambivalent victories is a good thing or a bad. I am only making clear what Man's conquest of Nature really means and especially that final stage in the conquest, which, perhaps, is not far off. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have `taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho' and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?..."

-- The Abolition of Man (1943), Chapter 3

At the time of Lewis' essay, the atomic bomb had not yet fallen on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the structure of DNA was still unknown, genetic engineering was done the old-fashi0ned way (one hybrid cross at a time), cell phones were not a reality, computers were in their infancy and personal computing was unknown, the rapid dissemination of information (truth or lies) via the Web could not be predicted, supersonic "aeroplanes" were not anywhere to be seen (or heard), and space travel was only a theme of some science fiction writers.

It would be interesting to see what Lewis' reactions would be to OUR modern world. Yet in reading the essay I see Lewis asking questions that people are still asking or perhaps more accurately, should be asking.

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