Man Will Never Dominate Nature

Saint_Augustine_PortraitIn this world, the possibility of exploitation will become most violent when men not only deny God but attempt to dominate nature.  C.S. Lewis explored the possibilities of men dominating nature during World War in both realistic and fictional media.  “The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself,” Lewis explained in The Abolition of Man.[1]  Ironically, because this means that the generation that discovers this will overturn all previous generations and shape all future generations, this revolutionary generation will be a tyrant and dehumanize all.  “They have stepped into the void,” Lewis argued.  “They are not men at all: they are artefacts.  Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.”[2]  Lewis took the argument to its logical conclusion:

From the point of view which is accepted in Hell, the whole history of our Earth had led up to this moment.  There was now at least a real chance for fallen man to shake off that limitation of his powers which mercy had imposed upon him as a protection from the full results of his fall.  If this succeeded, Hell would be at last incarnate.  Bad men, while still in the body, still crawling on this little globe, would enter that state which, heretofore, they had entered only after death, would have the diuturnity and power of evil spirits.  Nature, all over the globe of Tellus, would become their slave; and of that dominion no end, before the end of time itself, could be certainly foreseen.[3]

Though written in fantastic terms, Lewis’s words from That Hideous Strength ring with truth, and Hell is the winner.  Dawson agreed: the machine will become “the blind instrument of a demonic will to power.”[4]  With such a victor, Romano Guardini warned, “unspeakable rape of the individual, of the group, even of the whole nation” will be the result, as the terror regimes of the twentieth-century have well demonstrated.[5]  Indeed, in modernity, Etienne Gilson realized, knowledge itself is synonymous with destruction.[6]

Man’s victory over nature will not satiate his avaricious appetite.  He will then want control over other men, thus denying the uniqueness of each person created in God’s Infinite Image.  “The man engaged today in the labor of ‘techniques’ knows full well that technology moves forward in final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the race,” Guardini explained.  “He knows in the most radical sense of the term that power is its motive—a lordship of all; that man seizes hold of the naked elements of both nature and human nature.”[7]  But, God did not create man to become either individually or collectively a power.  The goal of all life, Jesus showed us and St. Paul reminded us, is Love, the willingness to sacrifice one’s self for the greater good—the greater good of family, friends, community, Church, and God.  There can, in fact, be nothing greater than Love, as it is the motive power of the universe and all life.  The universe was created through words of Love, and fallen man is redeemed through the love of the Word become Flesh, sacrificed on a tree, and risen from the tomb.  The overthrowing of Love as the object of society, therefore, and the greed for power can only lead to destruction.

In Augustinian thought, all good comes from Grace, while all evil comes from the angelic and human will.  As a sovereign God, He creates only good.  “The highest good, than which there is no higher, is God, and consequently He is unchangeable good, hence truly eternal and truly immortal,” St. Augustine wrote in his “Concerning the Nature of Good, Against the Manichaeans,” in 405.  Additionally, one cannot distinguish between great goods and small goods.  Instead, all “good things great and small are from the supremely good alone, which is God.”  Only those beings with independent wills—the angels and men—have the ability and opportunity to create evil.  They do so by choosing their own good over the good of the created order.  “Nature therefore which has been corrupted, is called evil, for assuredly when incorrupt it is good,” Augustine continued.[8]  In this view, St. Augustine reflected scripture.  “Do not invite death by the error of your life, nor bring on destruction by the works of your hands; because God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.  For he created all things that they might exist and the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them” (Wisdom 1: 12-14).  One could also state in absolute truth, true love harmonizes, while pride destroys.  Indeed, the search for power—that is, the use of the will to take another into one’s self against his will or to treat another person in an exploitative fashion—will always, in the end, destroy the destroyer.

Its success nearly complete, the machine will devour all men.  Scientific man “becomes a subordinate part of the great mechanical system that his scientific genius has created,” Dawson wrote in 1931.  But, because it is twice removed from Grace, the machine becomes autonomous.  “In the same way, the economic process, which led to the exploitation of the world by man and the vast increase of his material resources, ends in the subjection of man to the rule of the machine and the mechanisation of human life.”[9]  Grace remains, of course, but men, by and large, have ignored it, mocked it, or least offensively, relegated it only to private life.

 

Notes

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (1943; New York: Touchstone, 1996), 69.

[2] Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 74.

[3] Lewis, That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy Tale for Grown Ups (1944; New York: Scribner, 1996), 204.

[4] Dawson, The Judgment of Nations (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1942), 11.

[5] Guardini, The End of the Modern World (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 1998), 61.

[6] Etienne Gilson, “The Terrors of the Year Two Thousand,” Logos 3 (Winter 2000): 22.

[7] Guardini, End of the Modern World, 56.

[8] St. Augustine, “Concerning the Nature of Good, Against the Manichaeans,” ca. 405A.D.

[9] Dawson, ed., “Christianity and the New Age,” in Essays in Order, 162; Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education (1961: Steubenville, Oh.: Franciscan University, 1989), 190; and Dawson, The Modern Dilemma: The Problem of European Unity (London, ENG: Sheed and Ward, 1933), 38.

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