A few years ago, a series of letters written by C. S. Lewis back some seventy years ago came to light that has given scholars some questions as to the Narnian’s changing views regarding the “E” word. By the “E” word, I mean … “evolution”.
The “E” word is generally something you do not say in polite company around many evangelical Christians, unless you want to say something negative. Here at Veracity, we have no qualms over discussing topics related to the “E” word. Yet the stakes are high, as many students of Scripture have noted. Some say that evolution is the greatest threat to the truthfulness of the Christian message. Others, to varying degrees, say that evolution is at least partly, if not fully, compatible with Christian belief.
How do you sort this all out? It sure would be helpful to know what one of the most popular Christian apologists of the last one hundred years, Oxford’s C. S. Lewis, might have thought about the matter.
Darwinism as Fundamentally Flawed vs. the Creation “Myth”
The controversy surrounds some correspondence between Lewis and another British intellectual, Bernard Acworth, about the topics of Charles Darwin, science, and creation. Although the Acworth side of the correspondence has been lost, we know that Acworth was one of the principal thinkers behind the mid-20th century, British equivalent to the more contemporary and American “Intelligent Design” movement. Acworth vigorously argued that evolution and Christianity are inherently incompatible.
What did Lewis say in response? Scholars disagree as to how to assess Lewis’ statements.
John West and the Discovery Institute argue that while Lewis publicly endorsed evolutionary creationism (or more commonly, theistic evolution) as the most responsible Christian view towards the topic of human origins, Lewis began to harbor some doubts over time, and perhaps even earlier on in his life. Part of what “shook” Lewis was his reading of Acworth’s essays as evidenced in their subsequent correspondence. It is important to note that while Lewis would never go so far as to embrace Young Earth Creationism, he apparently had felt uneasy about “the fanatical and twisted attitudes of [Darwinism’s] defenders” (Lewis, 1951 letter to Acworth). This would imply that the popularly accepted view of Lewis’ unqualified public endorsement of Theistic Evolution has been overblown.
However, not everyone agrees with the conclusions drawn by the Discovery Institute. Consider this collection of essays from David Williams, recently a staff member with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at NC State University, available from the BioLogos Foundation. Williams is particularly helpful in that he elaborates on Lewis’ understanding of myth and its role in biblical thought. Much of the controversy centers on the relationship between myth and history, and myth and science. For Lewis, myth does NOT mean something that is not true. Rather, myth has to do with a way of viewing the world. What I see that Williams is getting at is that Lewis made a distinction between “evolution as science” and “evolutionism” as part of a myth, a philosophical approach to seeing the world. Lewis would accept the former and reject the latter. Lewis would therefore see “evolution as science” as fitting in with the Biblical creation story, which is opposed to “evolutionism” as a myth based on an inadequate philosophy. For Lewis, the Bible tells a radically different story about God’s creative purpose and the human problem when compared to a purely naturalistic “evolutionism” that disparages belief in a Creator/Redeemer God. However, questions about Lewis’ analysis remain: Are his categorizations of Genesis as “myth” and “evolutionism” as a separate myth correct assessments?
Take a look at this professionally produced video by the Discovery Institute that presents a revisionist case regarding C.S. Lewis and Darwinian evolution, and compare it with the contrasting essays. Was Lewis a friend or foe of Darwin? Did Lewis ultimately embrace the “E” word as a Christian, did he reject it, or did he have a more nuanced understanding?
Even if you do not agree with everything in the video, you might find the soundtrack music to be really cool:
You will probably notice that a lot of Veracity blog posts recently are on topics related to Creation. If you are not terribly interested in these topics, please bear with me for the next few weeks as some members of the Veracity community prepare for the upcoming Facts and Faith symposium. Do you want to explore more about these issues in conversation with other people? Then please come to the Facts & Faith Symposium, to be held at the Williamsburg Community Chapel, on several Sundays in November, 2013 (the 10th, 17th and 24th) at 6:30pm. Once the Symposium is over, you will see a greater diversity of topics discussed on Veracity once again.
A briefer summary of the C.S. Lewis “evolution” issue, with a more modest assessment, comes from a blog entry by Larry Gilman that I found.
In the beginning of the video, there is a reference made to theologian Michael L. Peterson. Peterson extensively engages the arguments about C.S. Lewis’ views on evolution and intelligent design here at BioLogos.