The Light Through Which to See the World (Part 2)

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” CS Lewis

Last week I began reflecting on the significance of this statement in Lewis address Is Theology Poetry? I hadn’t quite gotten to the point of showing the significance of the sentence (other than asserting it was more than being a statement about worldviews). By way of reminder, I discussed how Lewis drew attention to the essential significance of poetry in any belief system, and how Christianity’s poetry is, in some sense, different to them. It is from here that Lewis begins to change tact and starts to critique those who naively assume that we can abandon poetry and metaphor.

Critiquing the scientific naturalism of his day Lewis shows that both the “scientific” worldview is no less dependent upon metaphor and poetry, and Christianity is no more absurd because it uses such language. We cannot state beliefs free from metaphor and symbol, even in natural science or mathematics. Quoting a then contemporaneous anti-Christian author, Lewis critiques his use of metaphorical language to demonstrate his point:

“Dr Richards does not mean that the part of the cause “takes” effect in the literal sense of the word takes, nor that it does so through a sensory impulse as you could take a parcel through a doorway. In the second sentence … he does not mean that an act of defending, or a seat booked in a train, or an American park, really sets about rolling or folding or curling up a set of coilings or rollings up. In other words, all language about things other than physical objects is necessarily metaphorical.”

It seems, then, the presence of metaphor hardly excludes the use of reason and in fact generally grounds one’s ability to reason at all, as language (and thereby virtually all cognition) is predicated upon metaphorical conceptions of the world (something which modern cognitive science and linguistics have largely confirmed).

Upon closer inspection, then, the scientistic inheritance of modernity, the mythical, poetical cosmology which denies itself as such, is fundamentally insufficient. Its narrative of progress – its ever upward movement from chaos to order – cannot itself account for its very highest value: Reason.

“The whole picture professes to depend on inferences observed from facts. Unless the inference is valid, the whole picture disappears. Unless we can be sure that reality in the remotest nebula or the remotest part obeys the thought laws of the human scientist here and now in his laboratory – in other words, unless Reason is an absolute – all is in ruins.  Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is a flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based.”

And so now I think we can appreciate the depths of Lewis’ statement. In his typical fashion, he has plumbed the depths of a sophisticated philosophical discussion and summarised it for everyone to understand. When he claims that by Christianity we see the world, it seems as though he means that only by Christianity can there be a sun to see the world at all. To see the world, one can only do so through “poetry”, but not merely any poetry, but a specific kind of poetry. In Christianity, one can make sense of and allow for science, but if one takes the so-called “scientific worldview”, one cannot fit in both Christianity and science itself.  That is, only by Christianity can the world be made sense of, for the transient, temporary reality has been revealed to be what it is in light of the actual – in light of the ideal – which holds its foundations in place.


Anthony Bondarenko

Tags: metaphor | poetry | science |