Then came the Witch’s voice, cooing softly like the voice of a wood-pigeon from the high elms in an old garden at three o’clock in the middle of a sleepy, summer afternoon; and it said:
“What is this sun that you all speak of? Do you mean anything by the word?… Can you tell me what it’s like?”
“Please it your Grace,” said the Prince, very coldly and politely. “You see that lamp. It is round and yellow and gives light to the whole room; and hangeth moreover from the roof. Now that thing which we call the sun is like the lamp, only far greater and brighter. It giveth light to the whole Overworld and hangeth in the sky.”
“You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children’s story.”
The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis
When people talk about whether something–morality or gender or the search for happiness–is natural or constructed by society, I often think of this passage from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Because the sun is not needed in that little room underground, the Witch convinces the children that there is no sun anywhere; they made up the whole thing based on what is real.
In the same way, the main argument against truly natural things is that you don’t see them happening around you. No one acts morally. Gender is a thing of the past. People refuse happiness at every turn.
People get confused between the Laws of Nature and the Natural Law. The Laws of Nature are descriptions of things that always happen under a given circumstance. Examples include “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” and the Law of Universal Gravitation. Even if they cannot be explained, they can be starting points for investigation of further phenomena.
The Natural Law, on the other hand, has more to do with how things should be. Lewis talks about it in many of his books as a basic, unspoken expectation that people will treat each other fairly. He believes people have a good nature, and acting in accord with it is acting naturally and following the Natural Law.
The objection is that people can do anything they want. We simply have to train ourselves that society doesn’t get to decide for us. We don’t have to follow “nature”. In fact, there is no “nature”.
Let’s look at the Witch’s example.
The most natural thing in the world is for people to live and work during the day. The sun provides us with warmth and light. Our skin gets necessary vitamins from its rays. Our body clocks are regulated by the hormones cortisol and melatonin, which themselves are produced and released due to the rising and setting of the sun.
On top of that, the largest sign in the sky is a natural way for society to coordinate activity.
But… WHAT IF…? What if technology came to a point where the light and heat of the sun was irrelevant? Where vitamins could be sufficiently gained by other means? What if cortisol and melatonin could be controlled through injections? Society could be completely regulated by an arbitrary timing system. Perhaps we could have twenty-six-hour days.
Wouldn’t that bypass nature? Wouldn’t that mean the natural course is irrelevant? That nature wasn’t really there in the first place?
Stay in the dark
“What is this sun you all speak of?”
This is what the witch tries to say. She has brought them underground, where they can see nothing of their old lives. She shows them that there is no sun. How can they think there ever was one?
She wants them to stay in the dark. She convinces them that there is no hope of light. She tells them it was a game. If they give in, they truly have no hope of seeing the sun again.
We too have this choice. Accept the way things are, that our very identity as persons can be wiped out by technology or lies. Or work towards the truth of the way things could and should be.