C.S. Lewis and evolution—A critical review
Like the Taj Mahal, British author C.S. Lewis is greater than all the photographs and eulogies. Great, but not infallible.
The author of more than 30 books, Lewis’s variations on Christian themes range from science fiction to witty satire with a moral purpose. His books and radio talks had particular appeal for people with religious uncertainties, and for those wishing to see familiar beliefs stated in a fresh way. By the time of his death in 1963, his work had won wide acclaim.
But the quotation below shows, I think, how even his brilliant mind could be confused when trying to reconcile the theory of evolution and the truth of Scripture. I trust my criticism will not be unfair.
In his essay on Dogma and the Universe we find this passage:
“When a Central African convert and a Harley Street specialist both affirm that Christ rose from the dead, there is, no doubt, a very great difference between their thoughts. To one, the simple picture of a dead body getting up is sufficient; the other may think of a whole series of biochemical and even physical processes beginning to work backwards. The Doctor knows that, in his experience, they never have worked backwards; but the African knows that dead bodies don’t get up and walk. Both are faced with miracle, and both know it. If both think miracle impossible, the only difference is that the Doctor will expound the impossibility in much greater detail, will give an elaborate gloss on the simple statement that dead men don’t walk about. If both believe, all the Doctor says will merely analyse and explicate the words ‘He rose’. When the author of Genesis says that God made man in His own image, he may have pictured a vaguely corporeal God making man as a child makes a figure out of plasticine. A modern Christian philosopher may think of a process lasting from the first creation of matter to the final appearance on this planet of an organism fit to receive spiritual as well as biological life. But both mean essentially the same thing. Both are denying the same thing—the doctrine that matter by some blind power inherent in itself has produced spirituality.”
First, what is the context? Lewis is trying to answer the question: ‘How can an unchanging system (Christianity) survive the continual increase of knowledge?’ He answers by six analogies, of which five are (to my mind) valid, but the sixth is false.
Here we give only the last two. I shall call them A and B. Now notice: in A, both the Doctor and the African believe in an instantaneous miracle, that is, something above and beyond the common experience of mankind. In B we have the ‘author of Genesis’ (like the African) believing in an instant miracle, but the ‘modern Christian philosopher’ (unlike the Doctor) believes in process which (so scientism contends) is going on before our eyes according to fixed natural ‘law’ of evolution; a process therefore which cannot by any twist of language be called miraculous. So the philosopher and the ancient author do not at all mean the same thing.
The analogies are not parallel. The philosopher has in fact abandoned belief in the instant-miracle of Creation, for, as Lewis himself says in an earlier chapter, the essence of a miracle is SPEED.
Nobody doubts that water can be turned into wine over a period of years; nobody doubts that storm winds and waves will die down, given time; nobody doubts that fig trees will wither and die, eventually. But the Gospels call us to believe in One who made all these things happen instantly; and the ‘continual increase of knowledge’ has added nothing to our understanding of how He did it.
If this be true of miracles in the New Testament, why not of Old Testament miracles too?
It is remarkable, but often overlooked, that in Exodus 20 the Creation account is linked not to the First Commandment stating WHO is the true God (here the modern philosopher has no problem), but to the Fourth Commandment stating HOW He made the universe … to which many Christian philosophers will not assent.
In defence of Lewis it may be said that he was writing in the 1940s, when it would have been intellectual suicide for a professor of English to disregard Darwin.
Faced with the ‘assured results’ of modern geology, he felt he must settle for theistic evolution. However, he clearly perceived the error of those who, yielding to the specious claims of uniformitarian biology, would separate Luke 1 and 2 from chapter 3 on onwards, classing the early chapters as ‘myth’ and those later as ‘history’. I like to think that, had he lived another 20 years, and made a thorough study of the equally fallacious claims of uniformitarian geology, Lewis would have acknowledged his own similar error in trying to divide Genesis into different literary genres—when the vast majority of Hebrew scholars, ancient and modern, agree that ‘the author’ regarded the whole book as ‘toledoth’ or history.