Lewis on size and importance

I found this old draft of a post while going back through my archives and tagging my old posts. I don’t remember why I particularly wanted to quote this (though the rest of the draft post held some interesting clues) nor why I decided not to post it after all. So I’m posting it now, almost 18 months after I had originally intended.

“And what, after all, does the size of a world or a creature tell us about its ‘importance’ or value?

“There is no doubt that we all feel the incongruity of supposing, say, that the planet Earth might be more important than the Great Nebula in Andromeda. On the other hand, we are all equally certain that only a lunatic would think a man six-feet high necessarily more important than a man five-feet high, or a horse necessarily more important than a man, or a man’s legs than his brain. In other words this supposed ratio of size to importance feels plausible only when one of the sizes involved is very great. And that betrays the true basis of this type of thought. When a relation is perceived by Reason, it is perceived to hold good universally. If our Reason told us that size was proportional to importance, then small differences in size would be accompanied by small differences in importance just as surely as great differences in size were accompanied by great differences in importance. Your six-foot man would have to be slightly more valuable than the man of five feet, and your leg slightly more important than your brain—which everyone knows to be nonsense. The conclusion is inevitable: the importance we attach to great differences in size is an affair not of reason but of emotion—of that peculiar emotion which superiorities in size begin to produce in us only after a certain point of absolute size has been reached.
….
“This suggests a possible answer to the question raised a few pages ago–why the size of the universe, known for centuries, should first in modern times become an argument against Christianity. Has it perhaps done so because in modern times the imagination has become more sensitive to bigness? From this point of view the argument from size might almost be regarded as a by-product of the Romantic Movement in poetry. In addition to the absolute increase of imaginative vitality on this topic, there has pretty certainly been a decline on others. Any reader of old poetry can see that brightness appealed to ancient and medieval man more than bigness, and more than it does to us. Medieval thinkers believed that the stars must be somehow superior to the Earth because they looked bright and it did not. Moderns think that the Galaxy ought to be more important than the Earth because it is bigger. Both states of mind can produce good poetry. Both can supply mental pictures which rouse very respectable emotions—emotions of awe, humility, or exhilaration. But taken as serious philosophical argument both are ridiculous. The atheist’s argument from size is, in fact, an instance of just that picture thinking to which, as we shall see in a later chapter, the Christian is not committed. It is the particular mode in which picture-thinking appears in the twentieth century: for what we fondly call ‘primitive’ errors do not pass away. They merely change form.”

—CS Lewis, Miracles, p. 83, 85

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