There were two plenary speakers, Matthew Dickerson from Middlebury College (computer science) and Annalisa Crannell from Franklin and Marshall College (mathematics). Each gave two presentations, and both were excellent speakers. Here I want to focus on Dickerson's second presentation, where he found himself discussing the ecological implications of "transhumanism" (Ray Kurzweil et al) and its relationship to the thought of C.S.Lewis. I was quite surprised to discover that our Computer Science plenary speaker was also the co-author of a book - Narnia and the Fields of Arbol - on Lewis' environmental thought which I had recently read and which I had been planning to review some time on this blog.
Dickerson contrasted the implicit Platonism of Kurzweil - what matters is our "software" (that is, the "program" which constitutes our minds), our "hardware" (that is, our bodies) is defective and can and should be replaced by an artificial substitute - with the Christian hope of the resurrection of the body. He quoted Lewis from chapter IV of Miracles:
The earliest Christian documents give a casual and unemphatic assent to the belief that the supernatural part of man survives the death of the natural organism. But they are very little interested in the matter.Surprising worlds from a defender of the supernatural! Lewis goes on
What they are intensely interested in is the restoration or "resurrection" of the whole composite creature by a miraculous divine act.Narnia and the Fields of Arbol appeals to Lewis' fiction to develop the idea that this hope - of the restoration not just of the human creature but of all creation - provides a foundation for an appropriate relationship between humanity and the rest of the created world. Contrary to the famous thesis of Lynn White according to which Christianity, by demythologizing the sacred groves, had licensed humanity to exploit them, Lewis presented deforestation as a blasphemous project, as for instance in The Last Battle:
"Woe, woe, woe!" cried the voice. "Woe for my brothers and sisters! Woe for the holy trees! The woods are laid waste. The axe is loosed against us. We are being felled. Great trees are falling, falling, falling."In this passage the natural world, represented by a Dryad, the "nymph of a beechtree", cries out to its human steward, King Tirian, for justice and protection from exploitation - exploitation which has been justified in the name of religion, yes, but of a false and cruel religion. Dickerson reads Lewis as an agrarian with a deep sympathy to nature and place, almost Wendell Berry as an Oxford don.
I very much agree with the basic theological point here. Humans are part of creation, not "above" it, and our hope is to be restored along with it, not to leave it behind after a technological Singularity or an eschatological Rapture. Still, I would have been interested to hear more about how this works out in practice. How do these principles inform our decision-making as Christians confronted daily with stewardship-related questions both large and small?
PS: More reading on this blog related to Lewis and the environment can be found here, here and here.