Science Fiction Film and the Abolition of Man

I am an editor of a new book, to be released in the near-ish future by Wipf and Stock Publishers: Science Fiction Film and the Abolition of Man. Details below.

The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis: a scholar of literature by profession, yet known as a theologian and Christian apologist to many. And also a philosopher. The Abolition of Man is probably his most philosophical work in that it is neither a work of or about literature, nor a theological analysis or defense of Christianity—though he shows himself conversant with both literature and theology. He mentions that he is a Christian and is presenting a view that Christianity holds. But, he explains, the view he is presenting is common to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, ancient Chinese philosophy, ancient Greek philosophy, ancient Roman philosophy, and the early modern western philosophers.

That view is a particular view on ethics, the view that moral values are objective—a view for which Lewis uses the name given it by Chinese philosophy, the Tao. What Lewis is giving us is thus neither literature nor Christian apologetics. It is an apologetic for the continuing importance of the Tao.

Lewis
Lewis

When Lewis wrote the Abolition, the Tao had fallen on hard times. A few developments in modern philosophy and culture had rendered the idea virtually incomprehensible to contemporary western man, who tended as a result to think that it was simply mythical: There never was such a thing as the Tao. Those who spoke of it were really just telling us how they felt about various things in the world–not telling us how anything actually is in the world.

There will come a time, Lewis speculates, when a complete psychology enables a perfected science of propaganda; combined with a complete technological expertise, this will enable those who control this technology to reshape the entire human race, both as it exists at the time and as it will exist afterwards. They will, if they continue to reject the Tao, end up changing human nature. They will reshape the race as they see fit—or, rather, as they like, there being no relevant sense of fitness in the absence of moral standards.  (Part of the background of this is the philosophies and theologies of desire of Lewis, the moderns, the medievals, and others.)

They will, in effect, abolish man as he has always existed.

Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man: Genesis

Some years ago I sat down at my computer and started watching J. J. Abrams’ Fringe at Hulu.com. It was awesome. Not only was it good sci-fi, but it was about The Abolition of Man–whether Abrams or anyone else meant it that way or not. (The show was in Season 1 at the time. In the final Season, which I watched years later on Amazon Prime, the Abolition was still a big theme in the show–whether intentionally or not.)

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I wrote a Facebook note on the subject, which was noticed by a friend from high school whose father, apparently, is C. S. Lewis scholar Bruce Lee Edwards. Edwards posted my note on a website he maintains, which was kind of neat.

Over the next several years several ideas gradually formed in my head: that there ought to be a book about sci-fi film and The Abolition of Man, that I didn’t want to write it, and that I didn’t want to edit it all by myself.

So I recruited my friend Kevin Neece of TTC‘s sister site TheUndiscoveredCountryProject.com as co-editor. Another year or two later we finally got around to emailing people who might be interested and issuing some public Calls for Abstracts.

The rest of the story of this book is rather boring. In a movie, it would be told in a montage to make it seem more fun: lots of emails, lots of thinking, lots of printing and reading and revising and re-reading.

Anyway, the book is nearing completion at last.  Yay!

Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man: Overview

The thesis of the book, briefly, is that the dangers about which Lewis warned us—the dangers of science without virtue—are nicely illustrated in science fiction film and television. For science fiction is a genre exploring the philosophical significance of the technological age. It frequently illustrates the dangerous consequences of pursuing happiness through technological means without also cultivating virtue. These consequences include, but are not limited to, the abolition of man—the destruction or removal of that which makes us human.

Our authors are from Australia; Poland; Argentina; Germany; and various parts of the USA. We are mostly college teachers (with a few grad students and I don’t remember what else). We are scholars of philosophy, theology, literature, and film.  One of our authors is TTC‘s Scott Shiffer!

Enterprise
4 out of 21 chapters are about Star Trek!

I am the author of the introductory Chapter 1, “Finding C. S. Lewis in Science Fiction Film and Television.” After that we have 20 articles divided into three Parts mirroring the three Chapters of Lewis’ original book.

In Chapter 1 of Lewis’s book, “Men Without Chests,” Lewis examines the immediate consequences of a culture that debunks the objectivity of moral truth: Its youth will grow up lacking the ability to love what is good, and unaware that there is any such ability which they are lacking. In our book’s Part I, “Men Without Chests,” we explore the ways science fiction film portrays men without chests, e.g.:

  • how people with atrophied moral sensibilities confront (and misuse) technology,
  • and the atrophy of the moral sensibilities as a direct result of science and technology—either by habitual misuse of it or simply by being so dazzled by science that other important things are forgotten.

In Chapter 2 of Lewis’s book, “The Way,” Lewis defends the doctrine of objective value from the debunking which is fashionable in education these days. Older societies taught values to their young as facts, a teaching which initiated them into the activity of being human. In our book’s Part II, “The Way,” we look at the positive side of the technological age. We consider how science fiction film suggests the importance of objective moral truth. We are especially interested in the way science fiction suggests that we are, in Peter Lawler’s words, “stuck with virtue” as the best way of attaining happiness. We are also interested in the way science fiction may itself take up, in its own small way, the task of cultivating the Tao.

In Chapter 3 of Lewis’s book, “The Abolition of Man,” Lewis explains the long-term consequences of a particularly modern problem. That problem is the convergence of scientific progress with modern moral skepticism, and the end result will be the abolition of humanity. In our book’s Part III, “The Abolition of Man,” we explore how science fiction portrays this terrifying culmination of the modern world’s dependence on technology if we neglect virtue and the Tao.

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