12 November 2018

Book reviews ...

... are a great temptation, I find, to those of us who like to appear knowledgeable without actually ... er ... reading ... all these wretched new boks.

Apparently the late Stephen Hawking has bequeathed to his admirers some Postumous Papers, in which, so the Sunday Times informs us, he foresees that we we shall successfully transform ourselves into posthuman, inorganic beings. Creating immortal digital surrogates is an 'ambitious dream' but 'may not be as far fetched an idea as it sounds'.

Poor old thing. But, simultaneously, a rather more elegant thinker and writer, the Astromer Royal Lord Rees, has come up with similar stuff. He also thinks that a bio-hacked super-race is inevitable; that we will transcend our biological bodies and go electronic.

Antidotes to such ideas are most easily found in the theological Scifi trilogy of C S Lewis. In Perelandra he advances the attractive hypothesis that since, in the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Glorious and undivided Trinity took our nature upon him, it is that nature which henceforth be assumed by the hnau, animalia rationabilia.

And, in That Hideous Strength he sets before us baddies who have become so fastidious and delicati that they seek the ultimate dissolution between mind and matter. "In us organic life has produced Mind. It has done its work ... after that we want no more of it ... learn to make our brains live with less snd less body: learn to build our bodies directly with chemicals ... a great race ... a pure race ... they have cleaned their world, broken free (almost) from the organic ...they do not need to be born and breed and die; only their common people, their canaglia do that. The Masters live on. They retain their intelligence: they can keep it artificially alive after the organic body has been dispensed with - a miracle of applied biochemistry ... they do not need organic food ... they are almost free of Nature, attached to her only by the thinnest, finest cord ..."

But the climax and conclusion of Lewis's story reveals that, from page one, it has really all been a sort of prothalamium, about flesh and the fleshly love of creatures themselves begotten in a bed.

It is, surely, the fundamental anthropological dogma of Christianity that flesh is, in itself, good. Against the recurrent seductions of Manichees and Docetists and Gnostics and Cathars, we have maintained that what God wonderfully created (condidisti) and himself assumed and yet more wondefully remade (reformasti), is good and is destined for everlasting life. The old heresies were but Hellenistic attempts to corrupt the sound Jewish anthropological and theological bedrock of God and Creation; and the relationships and the distances between this two. The silly dreams of some modern physicists or technocrats are no better.

As the old fifth century office hymn for the Ascension so succinctly put it, culpat caro, purgat caro, regnat Deus Dei caro. [ flesh {of Adam} sins, flesh {of God Incarnate} cleanses, God reigns, the flesh of God {reigns}].

It makes one cynical, how old errors keep raising their ugly heads every few centuries.


Michael Leahy said...

Hawking is grossly overestimated. I recommend Wolfgang Smith's recent demolition of Hawking's spurious 'Grand Design' in his recent book, Science and Myth.

The irony of these trans-humans is that as they increasingly laud man's technology and machinery, the more recent findings in molecular biology and bioinformation reveals that Divine engineering and software is incomprehensibly more advanced than anything mere mankind has to offer. Also, our quantum physicists incline more to the likelihood that matter emerged from mind rather than the opposite.

The likes of Hawking and Dawkins and their atheistic scientific colleagues are, to my mind, c-or d-list scientists, in the manner of how celebrities are ranked. Oddly, enough, a very high proportion of the scientific a-listers of the last century have been deists or, predominantly, theists. Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, Lemaitre, Goedel (a mathematician, but that counts) and not an atheist or agnostic among them.

vetusta ecclesia said...

Not for publication unless you think fit nor germane to this article but my only means to communicate.

The latest edition of The Venerabile, the annual of the VEC, in its News from Old Romans section, baldly states in the report from A and B, “ our retired Bishop, Kieran Conry, is in Hampshire”.

Ambrose said...

Are human feelings and thought flesh?

Howard said...

In an age of ignorance and superstition, it was believed that a likeness preserved in stone could assure immortality: Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! How exhilarating to see we have progressed beyond such absurdities and now understand that it is a likeness preserved in SOFTWARE that assures immortality! Besides, what says permanence and stability like software?

pueblosw@gmail.com said...

Re Hawking's efforts in this area rather than astrophysics. One can not help but remember the immortal words of Clint Eastwood playing the character of Dirty Harry in the film Magnum Force, "A man's got to know his limitations>" Mr. Hawking was probably never acquainted with his.