Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Lewis and Clarke

The book From Narnia to a Space Odyssey: The War of Letters Between Arthur C. Clarke and C.S. Lewis makes much of their correspondence debating the dangers of the rise of technology. Lewis's wife, Joy Gresham, was also a friend of Arthur C. Clarke.

Dear Mr. Clarke--

I quite agree that most scientifiction [science fiction] is on the level of cowboy boys' stories. But I think the fundamental moral assumptions in popular fiction are a very important symptom. If you found that the most popular stories were those in which the cowboy always betrayed his pals to the crooks and deserted his girl for the vamp, I don't think it would be unimportant.

I don't of course think that at the moment many scientists are budding Westons: but I do think (hang it all, I live among scientists!) that a point of view not unlike Weston's is on the way. Look at Stapledon (Star Gazer ends in sheer devil worship), Haldane's Possible Worlds and Waddington's Science and Ethics. I agree Technology is per se neutral: but a race devoted to the increase of its own power by technology with complete indifference to ethics does seem to me a cancer in the universe. Certainly if he goes on his present course much further man can not be trusted with knowledge.
~C.S. Lewis, Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter to Arthur C. Clarke of Dec 7, 1943


Less sympathetic to our aims was Dr. C. S. Lewis, author of two of the very few works of space fiction that can be classed as literature-Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Both of these fine books contained attacks on scientists in general, and astronauts in particular, which aroused my ire. I was especially incensed by a passage in Perelandra referring to 'little Interplanetary Societies and Rocketry Clubs'...

An extensive correspondence with Dr. Lewis led to a meeting in a famous Oxford pub, the Eastgate... Needless to say, neither side converted the other. But a fine time was had by all, and when, some hours later, we emerged a little unsteadily from the Eastgate, Dr. Lewis' parting words were, 'I'm sure you're very wicked people-but how dull it would be if everyone was good.'
~Arthur C. Clarke, "Armchair Astronauts", Holiday magazine, May 1963

4 Comment(s):

At Wed Aug 03, 06:06:00 AM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Ok, this is totally unrelated to the content today, but when I was searching for an illustration for this post, I noticed how much this shot of Bowman going out the pod bay door looks like the HAL's "eye". Surely that must have been intentional on Kubrick's part!

At Wed Aug 03, 11:04:00 AM EST, Blogger Bob said...

What would Lewis make of Peter Singer, I wonder? Or the possibility of cloning humans and other genetic manipulations?

At Wed Aug 03, 01:32:00 PM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

*is ignorant*

Who is Peter Singer? Should I know him?

At Thu Aug 04, 06:07:00 AM EST, Blogger Bob said...

Peter Singer

Singer is a "bioethicist", though he's probably most (in)famous for the very last heading in that entry. I was thinking about Lewis' comment regarding scientists' "complete indifference to ethics". Singer does have ethics, but not ones that I think Lewis woul recognise. In the Narnia Chronicles, some animals are raised above the level of dumb beasts. I suspect that Lewis might think Singer was pushing humans down towards that level.


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