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The Abolition of Man

I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently.

Chapter 3, “The Abolition of Man,” The Abolition of Man

1. Bible Study: Read Romans 1:18–32 and then reflect on the following questions.

Romans 1:18–32

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (NIV)


  1. According to Paul, why is God’s wrath against the godlessness and wickedness of people being revealed?
  2. Why are all people on earth accountable for knowing the truth about God?
  3. What happens to people who exchange the truth of God for a lie?
  4. What does the fact that God gives people the freedom to choose to do good or evil say about God’s character and the ways in which He relates to human beings?
  5. Describe the process by which the mind of a human being becomes depraved.
  6. In what ways does our culture today approve of people who disregard and even act to counter God’s moral laws?

2.  Read The Abolition of Man, Chapter 3, “The Abolition of Man.”

Chapter Summary: 

Lewis’s concluding chapter, “The Abolition of Man,” describes what happens when his first two chapters meet means, motive, and opportunity. “Conditioners” will arise to craft values and shape emotions outside the Tao, and they “will be armed with the power of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall at last get a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.” 

In fact, it would be safe to say that today the Conditioners have already arrived. A fully formed Christian worldview now requires followers of Christ to wrestle with emerging issues such as eugenics, artificial intelligence, and transhumanism. Lewis, of course, was thinking about these issues long before most people. 

It was the issue of transhumanism, the belief that through technology human beings might live forever, that compelled Lewis to write his Space Trilogy. In an August 9, 1939, letter to his friend Sister Penelope Lawson, Lewis wrote to express his concern regarding a former student who took “interplanetary colonization quite seriously, the realization that thousands of people, in one form or another depend on some hope of perpetuating and improving the human species for the whole meaning of the universe—that a ‘scientific’ hope of defeating death is a real rival to Christianity.”

Who, exactly, gets to play the role of “Conditioner” in our modern world? Lewis warns us, “what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.” There is a transactional element associated with being a Conditioner wielding this power. Lewis calls it “the magician’s bargain,” where one exchanges his or her soul to gain power. Once consummated, the effect of this bargain is “de-humanized Conditioners.” When men step outside the Tao, “They are not men at all.”

The fallout from the magician’s bargain doesn’t stop with the dehumanization of the Conditioners. Once dehumanized, the magician’s bargain clouds their vision and forces them to see others such as perhaps the sick or the elderly as less than human. As Lewis was delivering these lectures, England was in the throes of the Second World War, where he, along with the rest of the world, watched with horror as the Nazis systematically eliminated those they considered unfit under their eugenic creed of “Life unworthy of life.” Instead of dehumanization, to be truly human, Lewis points out that in previous ages conforming the soul to reality was accomplished via knowledge, wisdom, and virtue. Now Conditioners discard humanity by subduing “reality to the wishes of men,” so that “the solution is a technique,” whether it’s rewriting the circuitry of our cells through eugenics or providing teenagers with puberty blockers.

Lewis’s final warning in The Abolition of Man goes beyond the casualty of clouded vision associated with the magician’s bargain. In their arrogance, Conditioners assume they can “see through” the dying wick of the Tao and objective value. Instead, the magician’s bargain only leads to blindness because, “To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see” and the whole world will become invisible.

Key Quotes to Look For:

“From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with nature as its instrument.”

“For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.”

“When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”

“I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently.”

“Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man.”

 “It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return.”

“For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.”

3. Watch Video: A Guided Reading of Chapter Three

Learning Goal:

You will understand Lewis’s argument that discarding realism—The Tao or Objective Moral Values—and embracing relativism in favor of unrestrained scientific progress leads necessarily to self-destruction.


4. Questions:

(1) According to Lewis, what will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man?

(2) What does “the power of Man to make himself what he pleases” mean for the rest of humanity?

(3) Is Lewis “anti-science”? 

(4) What does Lewis say magic and science have in common? Do you agree?

(5) Have Lewis’s predictions come true in the West? If so, to what extent?

5. Make It Personal:

  • Name three people, movements, or groups that are intentionally attacking or running counter to God’s moral law as revealed in Scripture. Reflect upon your responses to these types of people, movements, or groups in the past. What actions could you take in the future to respond to these groups with truth and grace?
  • In the midst of an evil world, what brings you hope? Make a list of ways in which you can remind yourself daily of the hope we have in Christ, even as the world is seeking to counter the truth of Christ.

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Bryan C. Hollon

Bryan C. Hollon, Ph.D., is Dean President of Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. Previously he served as the City Director of the C.S. Lewis Institute of Northeast Ohio and as a Professor of Theology and Director of the Center for Christian Faith & Culture at Malone University. Dr. Hollon was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) in 2015. In 2017, he planted and pastored St. John’s Anglican Church in Canton, Ohio until 2021. As a scholar, Dr. Hollon specializes in ressourcement theology, which is best exemplified in the work of Henri de Lubac. He is also a proponent of the great consensual tradition that C.S. Lewis referred to as “Mere Christianity.”


Joseph A. Kohm

Joseph A. Kohm, C.S. Lewis Institute Vice President for Development and City Director for Virginia Beach. Joe is an attorney and formerly worked as a Certified Major League Baseball Player Agent. He earned his Master’s in Management Science from the State University of New York at Oswego and both his J.D. and M.Div. from Regent University. Joe is the author of The Unknown Garden of Another’s Heart: The Surprising Friendship between C.S. Lewis and Arthur Greeves (Wipf and Stock, 2022.)


Joel Woodruff

Joel Woodruff, President, C.S. Lewis Institute, has worked in higher education, “tent-making,” nonprofit administration, and pastoral ministries in Alaska, Israel, Hungary, France, and Northern Virginia. He served as Dean of Students, Chaplain, and Professor of Bible & Theology at European Bible Institute, where he helped train Europeans both for professional ministry and to be Christian leaders in the marketplace. Prior to joining the Institute, he was on the leadership team of Oakwood Services International, a nonprofit educational and humanitarian organization. He is a graduate of Wheaton College, earned his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and has a doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. As a Parish-Pulpit Fellow, he studied Biblical Backgrounds & Archaeology in Israel for a year.


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