C.S. Lewis embraced science, not ‘scientism,’ PBA lecturer says
Nov 20, 2013

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WEST PALM BEACH (PBA)—An award-winning chemist and five-time Nobel Prize nominee might seem to be an unlikely fan of the famed Christian author C.S. Lewis, who never formally studied science, abhorred what he called “scientism,” disregarded certain scientific disciplines, and shunned modern technology.

But Dr. Henry F. Schaefer III, Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at the University of Georgia, considers himself a devoted Lewis fan. During a recent public lecture in the DeSantis Family Chapel at Palm Beach Atlantic University, Schaefer said he first was asked to speak on the topic “C.S. Lewis: Science and Scientism” at the University of Tennessee in 1998.

Not only does the world-renowned researcher, who became a Christian at age 28, continue to give the lecture at various universities, he now teaches a popular freshman seminar on it at UGA each fall. “This lecture has become much more popular since the Narnia films came out,” Schaefer joked.

In this 50th year of the anniversary of Lewis’s death, Schaefer’s Oct. 21 presentation on Lewis was the centerpiece of this year’s President’s Distinguished Scholar Lecture at PBA.

In addition to his public lecture to about 250 attendees, Schaefer spoke to PBA students and faculty in classes and in chapel on the topics “The Big Bang, Stephen Hawking and God” and “The World Views of Great Scientists.” 

Paul Copan, professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic, served on the committee that organized the President’s Distinguished Scholar Lecture. A number of PBA students and faculty as well as visitors who attended his public presentation expressed their enthusiasm and appreciation for both the content of the talk as well as the privilege of being able to listen to such a distinguished speaker, he said.

“Dr. Schaefer’s talk illustrated how C.S. Lewis, though he is dead, still speaks in the present with relevance, insight and power,” Copan said.

“Dr. Schaefer showed how Lewis gives insights into the proper use of science—the study of the natural world and natural phenomena—and the misuse of science (‘scientism’) and its dangers. When ‘science’ rules out divine design, purpose and meaning and when it reduces all knowledge to what is knowable by science, it makes statements that cannot themselves be known by science. This is just engaging in amateur philosophy.”

During his public presentation, Schaefer said that Lewis did not consider himself among the world’s great scientific minds.

“When he says that he was not a scientist, that’s an understatement,” Schaefer said. “Somebody told him science had disproved God, and knowing absolutely nothing about science, he swallowed (atheism) for quite a number of years. After he became a Christian, his attitude changed.”

Schaefer noted that Lewis was not negative about science. However, Lewis did have a problem with scientism, a term he frequently used in his writings, he said.

The scientism of Lewis’s time was called logical positivism in the 1920s and reductionism in the 1990s, Schaefer said. “You might even call it scientific imperialism,” he said.

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