Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of prominent Christian writer and apologist C.S. Lewis, which will no doubt be overshadowed by the 50th anniversary of something completely different. However, the occasion has not escaped the watchful eye of the Disco Tute, which is using the milestone as an opportunity to tout its latest video project, a “documentary” that will apparently attempt to capture Lewis’ struggle over “intelligent design” — the modern conception of which wasn’t established until nearly three decades after his death.
I have no doubt that Lewis was a full-blown, Darwin-loving evolutionist. He wrote about the subject numerous times and fully incorporated the theory into several of the theological arguments he advances in, for example, “Mere Christianity” and “The Problem of Pain.” Yes, he certainly expressed doubts, or even outright opposition, toward a purely scientific/materialistic worldview, which he sometimes referred to as “evolutionism” or even “evolution,” though the context of his writing make clear that what he is actually discussing is, essentially, atheism, or what might be called “scientism” today. He makes this distinction clear in his essay “The Funeral of a Great Myth”:
The central idea of the Myth is what its believers would call ‘Evolution’ or ‘Development’ or ‘Emergence,’ just as the central idea in the myth of Adonis is Death and Re-birth. I do not mean that the doctrine of Evolution as held by practising biologists is a Myth. It may be shown, by later biologists, to be a less satisfactory hypothesis than was hoped fifty years ago. But that does not amount to being a Myth. It is a genuine scientific hypothesis. But we must sharply distinguish between Evolution as a biological theorem and popular Evolutionism or Developmentalism which is certainly a Myth.
Of course, ID proponents are not the only anti-evolutionists who have tried to claim Lewis as one of their own. To my knowledge, every major young-earth creationist organization has as well, just as they’ve tried to claim everyone from Martin Luther to Christ himself.
For just one example, see this essay by Creation Ministries International’s Peter Barnes, which attempts to contort Lewis into a man whose early sympathy toward evolutionary theory was nothing more than the residue that tragically escaped his conversion from atheism. Barnes uses a few choice quotes and a third-person anecdote to demonstrate the evolution became “a growing question” for Lewis later in life (and I’m sure Lewis eventually recanted of the whole business on his deathbed, just like Darwin, right?).
Below, I’ll present a few quotes from his own writing that I think will make Lewis’ beliefs on the subject pretty clear. But first, I have to say that I think these chuckleheads’ postmortem efforts to fit C.S. Lewis into their anti-science mold are enormously insulting to his memory. He was, throughout his life, a devout purist regarding the role of science and the role of philosophy and theology. Had he been aware of it, I am sure that he would have been an enthusiast supporter of the late Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of non-overlapping magisteria. Lewis said as much himself in the opening salvos of “Mere Christianity”:
Science works by experiments. It watches how things behave. … Do not think I am saying anything against science: I am only saying what its job is. And the more scientific a man is, the more he would agree with me that this is the job of science — and a very useful and necessary job it is too. But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes — something of a different kind — this is not a scientific question. If there is “Something Behind,” then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way. The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them statements that science can make. And real scientists do not usually make them.
As such, I think it’s obvious that Lewis would have rejected from the outset the entire premise upon which both creation science and intelligent design are based: namely, that it is possible — from a purely scientific standpoint — to prove the existence of the Christian God.
For more evidence, here’s C.S. Lewis on evolution (emphases mine):
“If by saying that man rose from brutality you mean simply that man is physically descended from animals, I have no objection. But it does not follow that the further back you go the more brutal—in the sense of wicked or wretched—you will find man to be.”
“For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed for ages in this state before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say ‘I’ and ‘me,’ which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past.”
“I do not doubt that if the Paradisal man could now appear among us, we should regard him as an utter savage, a creature to be exploited or, at best, patronised. Only one or two, and those the holiest among us, would glance a second time at the naked, shaggy-bearded, slow spoken creature: but they, after a few minutes, would fall at his feet.”
— C.S. Lewis, “The Problem of Pain”
“Century by century God has guided nature up to the point of producing creatures [humans] which can (if they will) be taken right out of nature, turned into ‘gods.’”
“At the earlier stages living organisms have had either no choice or very little choice about taking the new step [of development]. Progress was, in the main, something that happened to them, not something that they did.”
— C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”