Saturday, October 22, 2016

C. S. Lewis on truncated thought

From Chapter 6, Answers to Misgivings, in C. S. Lewis's Miracles: A Preliminary Study, pp. 41-42.
All these instances show that the fact which is in one respect the most obvious and primary fact, and through which alone you have access to all the other facts, maybe precisely the one that is most easily forgotten—forgotten not because it is some remote or abstruse but because it is so near and so obvious. And that is exactly how the Supernatural has been forgotten. The Naturalists have been engaged in thinking about Nature. They have not attended to the fact that they were thinking. The moment one attends to this it is obvious that one’s thinking cannot be a merely natural event, and that therefore something other than nature exists. The Supernatural is not remote and abstruse: it is a matter of daily and hourly experience, as intimate as breathing. Denial of it depends on a certain absent-mindedness. But this absent-mindedness is in no way surprising. You do not need—indeed you do not wish—to be always thinking about windows when you are looking at gardens or always thinking about eyes when you are reading. In the same way the proper procedure for all limited and particular inquiries is to ignore the fact of your own thinking, and concentrate on the object. It is only when you stand back from particular inquiries and try to form a complete philosophy that you must take it into account. For a complete philosophy must get in all the facts. In it you turn away from specialised or truncated thought to total thought: and one of the fact total thought must think about is Thinking itself. There is a tendency in the study of Nature to make us forget the most obvious fact of all. And since the Sixteenth Century, when Science was born, the minds of men have been increasingly turned outward to know Nature and to master her. They have been increasingly engaged on those specialized inquiries in which truncated thought is the correct method. It is therefore not in the least astonishing that they should have forgotten the evidence for the Supernatural. The deeply ingrained habit of truncated thought—what we call the “scientific” habit of mind—was indeed certain to lead to Naturalism, unless this tendency were continually corrected from some other source. But no other source was at hand, for during the same period men of science were becoming metaphysically and theologically uneducated.


Joe Hinman said...

Anthropologist Benson Saler quotes the great Emile Durkheim in pointing out that the idea of a bifurcated reality made up of an upper real of “supernatural” and a lower real of “natural” is a modern Western concept that begins with modern science. “[the mysterious world of supernatural above the natural] is not of primitive origin….it is science and not religion that has taught men that things are complex and difficult to understand.” [4] Saler points out that this concept of the realm above nature presupposes a ream of nature bound together by natural laws. This is a modern concept brought to us by science. He also draws upon Durkheim, Hallowell, and Richard in support' the use of the term “supernatural” has a long history that proceeds this modern scientific concept. [5]

The Original Concept of Supernature

All of these objections assume a certain version of the SN. It has become a catch-all for anything non materialistic or naturalistic that scientistic types want to snub without really having to disprove it. Supernatural today means anything from ghosts, Bigfoot, UFO to psychic powers, and angels and demons and God in heaven. Not so with the original concept. In the early centuries of Christian philosophy the original Greek fathers thought of God as transcendent but they did not necessarily conceive of that as “supernatural.” The Church fathers took their notions from the Greeks. “The term 'supernatural' and cognate words in various European languages were employed Long before the rise of modern natural sciences. [6] The school of Miletus (Ionian Greeks) are generally credited with being the first school of critical philosophy. Their use of the term Phusis (roughly translated “nature;” from this term we derive our word Physics.) caused them to be deemed a “physicists” [7] The Stoics had a concept of natural law and materialism. Their natural order would not have been based upon supernatural design. Aristotle viewed the universe working in a rational manner out of necessity rather than design. Ultimately he grounded everything (motion) in the prime mover, but his prime mover was not anthropomorphic and did not design a higher order but worked by necessity. Many ancients had a notion of natural order without a contrasting notion of a supernatural order. “For some the most interesting opposition was conceptualized as a contrast between nature and art...Christian thinkers through the fifth century did not develop theologically significant uses of supernatural” [8]


John Moore said...

So Lewis is saying that thought just can't be a natural, physical phenomenon. Right?

jdhuey said...

"They have not attended to the fact that they were thinking. The moment one attends to this it is obvious that one’s thinking cannot be a merely natural event, and that therefore something other than nature exists."

When attended to with the proper tools for investigation it not at all obvious that 'thinking' isn't a natural process. Given that we have absolutely no valid information about how something non-natural would even work, there is nothing to gain by any supernatural conjecture.