Lewis On Nature, “Bodysnatchers,” and “Little Scientists”

My point may be clear to some if it is put in a different form. Nature is a word of varying meanings, which can best be understood if we consider its various opposites. The Natural is the opposite of the Artificial, the Civil, the Human, the Spiritual, and the Supernatural. The artificial does not now concern us. If we take the rest of the list of opposites, however, I think we can get a rough idea of what men have meant by Nature and what it is they oppose to her. Nature seems to be the spatial and the temporal, as distinct from what is less fully so or not all. She seems to be the world of quantity, as against the world of quality: of objects, as against consciousness: of the bound, as against the wholly or partially autonomous: of that which knows no values as against that which has and perceives value: of efficient causes (or, in some modern systems, of no causality at all) as against final causes. Now I take it that when we understand a thing analytically and then dominate and use it for our own convenience we reduce it to the level of ‘Nature’ in the sense that we suspend our judgements of value about it, ignore its final cause (if any), and treat it in terms of quantity. This repression of elements in what would otherwise be our total reaction to it is sometimes very noticeable and even painful: something has to be overcome before we can cut up a dead man or a live animal in a dissecting room. These objects resist the movement of the mind whereby we thrust them into the world of mere Nature. But in other instances too, a similar price is exacted for our analytical knowledge and manipulative power, even if we have ceased to count it. We do not look at trees, either as Dryads, or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgil, and Spenser may be far off echoes of that primeval sense of impiety. The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture. To many, no doubt, this process is simply the gradual discovery that the real world is different from what we expected, and the old opposition to Galileo, or to ‘bodysnatchers’ is simply obscurantism. But that is not the whole story. It is not the greatest of modern scientists, who feel most sure that the object, stripped of its qualitative properties, and reduced to mere quantity, is wholly real. Little scientists, and little scientific followers of science, they think so. The great minds know very well, that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality has been lost.

C. S. Lewis | The Abolition of Man: Or Reflections On Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English In the Upper Forms of Schools (New York: MacMillan, 1947), 43–44.


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    C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) was born in Belfast, educated prep schools in England, Belfast, and earned his undergraduate degree at Oxford. He was a military veteran of World War I and, in 1925, appointed tutor in Magdalen College, Oxford. He was converted to Christianity in 1931 and became a prominent literary critic, scholar of Norse mythology, Medieval and Sixteenth-Century English, and a leading apologist for Christianity. His academic work is still appreciated by scholars and his popular fiction (e.g., The Chronicles of Narnia are beloved by millions.

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One comment

  1. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy (science)…”
    Shakespeare: “Hamlet”

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