A few weeks ago, I wrote a response to a presentation by young-earth creationist Jerry Bergman in which he utilized appeals to authority as his primary forms of argument that “there are a lot of scientists who are being persecuted because they don’t believe in evolution.” Among the men that he used to make his case were C.S. Lewis. On Lewis’ evolutionary stance, Bergman stated,
It’s not too well known that [Lewis] was a very active creationist, opposed to evolution, although he didn’t write a lot about it directly. You kind of have to read between the lines to understand what he had to say . . . And later on in his life he did write a book called The Great Myth. And in that small book, actually, in that, he really effectively dissected why evolution could not be true, but ironically, it wasn’t published until after he died.
Following this, the show’s host stated, “We encourage our people to read, you call it The Great Myth,” to which Bergman said, “Yeah.”
In my response to the presentation, I wrote that
I looked. And I looked. And I found out that this book doesn’t even exist. Rather, Lewis wrote an essay called “The Funeral of a Great Myth” which was included in a volume called Christian Reflections. It seems that Bergman spit out anything that he can remember of any given thought and hope that his viewers will automatically know what he is talking about.
If you read my review of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, then you might know that I decided I won’t let it slide when people make blind appeals to authority or cite sources incorrectly. So I was very excited to find the Lewis anthology Christian Reflections, which contains the essay “The Funeral of a Great Myth,” in which I had been lead to believe that “The Myth” was evolution.
“The Funeral of a Great Myth” is a fascinating but troubling little essay. The first thing you notice is that it was written in a very different ideological time than what I’m living in right now, or even than what I’ve ever known since being born in 1995. This volume was published in 1967, four years after Lewis’ death, so it’s hard to know exactly when this essay was written except that it was late in Lewis’ life and it was before 1963. A helpful review of the essay on Reformation21 reads,
In Lewis’ own words, “the central idea of the Myth is what its believers would call ‘Evolution’ or ‘Development’ or ‘Emergence.'” This definition and the brief paragraph containing it do not clearly state what Lewis has in view; the casual tone of the paper suggests that Lewis is addressing readers who are familiar with his topic and who will not require technical language and precisely defined terms to understand his argument.
This describes my greatest problem with the essay, which is that what exactly the myth is was never clearly, succinctly defined. I feel as though the best way I could describe The Myth is Lewis’ idea of “evolutionism,” and you could guess that it is a paramount distinction between evolutionism and evolution. It seems that evolutionism is what you get when you take the basic idea of evolution as progress, grossly over-exaggerate it to apply to everything in life, philosophy, and the universe, then have that be your entire worldview and essentially worship it. I would expect nothing less of Lewis than to condemn this, appealing as it may be, especially with its roots in naturalism and it’s overtones of man taking the place of God.
But it’s important to note than Lewis was not, in this essay or anywhere I’ve ever read from him, denying biological evolution. In this essay, he said things like:
We must sharply distinguish between Evolution as a biological theorem and popular Evolutionism or Devlopmentalism which is certainly a Myth.
In fact, Evolution is a theory about changes: in the Myth it is a fact about improvements.
Again, for the scientist Evolution is a purely biological theorem. It takes over organic life on this planet as a going concern and tries to explain certain changes in that field. It makes no cosmic statements, no metaphysical statements, no eschatological statements . . . But the Myth knows none of these reticences.
“I am not in the least denying that organisms on this planet may have ‘evolved’.”
Furthermore, if you have a copy of Mere Christianity, it is worth perusing the final chapter called “the New Men”, in which Lewis shows his (mostly) clear understanding of how evolution operates by natural selection. He uses this idea in making his case that we have reached where we are by biological evolution, and he postulates on our next step and his idea that it will involve becoming Christlike sons of God. Even with his Lewisian, Christian spin on it, it has been refreshing for me to learn that Lewis rejected the false dichotomy that you can believe in Christianity or evolution, but not both.
9 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis vs. Evolution”
This is yet another case of an apologist “cherry-picking” the corpus of a writer. His claim that Lewis was a flaming creationist couldn’t be farther from the truth, but since Lewis has standing in the Christian community, using him as an authority makes his false claims have some ring of truth. Rather a dull thud than an actual ring.
Apologist count ob “believers” do do what they do … believe … and not go check sources and not go find the original and read it in full. The “slip of the tongue” may have been deliberate, but I suspect it was a slip of the tongue brought about by wishful thinking.
There’s no doubt that CS Lewis was a creationist who rejected evolution.
But we have to ask “Which CS Lewis?”.
There’s the CS Lewis who actually lived. And then there’s the CS Lewis who has been reinvented by conservative Christians.
It is an annoying thing that conservatives do. While he was alive, Martin Luther King was harshly criticized by conservatives, who considered him a dangerous radical. But now that he is safely dead, he has been reinvented as a conservative to be praised.
Thanks for that research. My understanding and expectation is that CS Lewis would not have found a problem with God acting through evolution. And all the evidence seems to support that. But today’s anti-evolution Christians are unable to accept that, so they reinvent Lewis and make him more to their liking.
The never ending appeal to authority is crippling. Who’d a thought that doing your own research could have such expert clarity? Christians are now muddled in the commentary of experts who have a dog in the fight.
I continue to appreciate how kind Rebekah is to these people. They would not reciprocate unless to fear the power of her mighty pen and determined wit. This guy lied.
CS was an Anglican, albeit a believer of sorts and an apologist, he was no thumper as I define them.
I shall follow her kind lead, but in my heart I consider this jackass (Bergman) to be a liar — not that I care what CS believed or wrote (although I enjoyed Mere C. and The S Letters).
Much of what he wrote was not intended for his atheist followers.
Either or? To include evolution as part of god’s plan seems to stretch Christianity too far – look at the actual text of the religion (the bible) and there is nothing there to support it (unsurprisingly, as the people who wrote that book would have known nothing of evolution). The idea that the two can co-exist comes out of ‘scholars of theology’ (to me an oxymoron) attempting to obfuscate the issue and hence worm their way out of a hole (evolution disproves their religion).
I would also point out that evolution, having been proved beyond reasonable doubt (unlike religion) is not a theory, but a fact. I believe it has been posited that The lion, the witch and the wardrobe is some sort of allegory for Christianity, which could be true – they’re both fantasies. ;¬]
“evolution disproves their religion”
This only makes sense if you determine what their religion should look like. That’s very arrogant and always results in strawmen – as if your interpretation of Biblical texts is only possible one. Creationists agree with you on this point.
Evolution applies to our natural reality. Religion is about a supernatural reality. You’re making a category error. And clever christians know this; they will mock you.
PS: I’m a 7 on the scale of Dawkins, but not because science “disproves” religion.
If I recall correctly, there’s at least one other place in his writings where Lewis mentions evolution (in regards to human origins) in a completely accepting way, without indicating any contradiction with Christianity. So the guy Rebekah quoted here simply didn’t read Lewis. Instead he projected his own denial of evolution into him.
There is something appealing to all of us in using those who have gone before as pedestals to support the perosnaly needed doctrines we believe today that support our claims on the beliefs we hold.
Done get me wrong – it isn’t just Christian who does this, Atheists do it as well – just take Bertrand Russell.
Lewis was a Christian and Russell was not – but we must not become lax in our ability to learn, think and move our thoughts on. Those who went before and wrote for us did so to enable us to think. Not to present a truth that is ever lasting – things move on.
If So and So believed in X, and they where a high respected Y, then X must be true.
Why? X might have been the best they could get to then, but what if we can get to Z today?
As already stated – could Lewis just be a puppet used by the conservative christians of the last 40 years to enlarge their sense of understanding and appeal to a hope in the Judea-Christian God that they want to exist.
What if we re-read lewis and stripped out the modern apologetic voices demanding we take him in the way that they present him?
Well done for doing this Rebekah.
“In fact, Evolution is a theory about changes: in the Myth it is a fact about improvements.”
Heh heh. It’s a popular falsehood among creationists that evolution theory is about improvements indeed. Compare the “evolution can only result in degradation” argument.