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.