I have a particular affection for this book. I first read it at 17, a year or so before my own conversion, after a friend gave it to me. It settled my troubled mind which had recently been polluted by an excess of dark, nihilistic fantasy literature. I won’t fully review or dwell on the beauty of the book but just highlight those passages and ideas which touch on my case in this thesis.
A signature theme of this trilogy is the doing away with the wall of separation between the spiritual and material worlds. This is modelled by the narrator’s discussion of his fears as he makes his way to Ransom’s house at the start of ‘Perelandra’, where he is mentally assaulted by voices (later understood to be demons) trying to make him believe he is having a nervous breakdown. As he reflects on the business he has got himself into, he realises that Ransom’s account of the eldils (angels) and Maleldil (God) tears down the dividing wall between ‘religion’ and ‘real life’. He realised that this division had been comforting while it lasted.
This is the most obviously ‘creationist’ of all Lewis’ books. Elwin Ransom is transported by angelic power to Perelandra (Venus) where he meets a naked, green human female on a floating island. Much of the warm freshwater sea that covers Perelandra is covered by floating islands of living matted vegetation which provided abundant food and drink. She speaks freely about Maleldil, who is intermittently conversing with her, and how ‘Our Beloved’ had become a man on Thulcandra, a clear reference to the Incarnation. It is a new Eden with no sin, scarcity, or death.
He discovers that she and her husband ‘The King’ are the planets only ‘human’ inhabitants, and have recently been created by Maleldil as mature adults, male and female. She has become accidentally separated from her husband as they were travelling between islands. They converse, somewhat awkwardly as she has no vocabulary to discuss evil, death or any kind of wrong. She lives with tame animals who serve her, including a friendly dragon and large fish that delight to be ridden like water horses.
She and her husband have been given the rule of the planet and a command not to spend a night on the fixed land. The parallels with the Genesis creation story, read as plain history, are many and unmistakeable.
Then Professor Weston shows up in a spherical space ship of the same kind he used to travel to Malacandra (Mars) in OOTSP. I will skip plot details and cut to a very significant conversation between him and Ransom in which the scene is set for the book’s main theme, a new temptation in which the Old Serpent, inhabiting Weston’s body, seeks to repeat his ‘success’ in causing the Fall of Man on Thulcandra (Earth).
In the discourse that Lewis sets up between Weston and Ransom, metaphysical aspects of evolution are discussed. Weston has got into ‘biological philosophy’ and ‘…become a convinced believer in emergent evolution.‘ He has furthermore somehow come into contact with some kind of spiritual life-force, which he claimed also guided him to the discovery of the ‘Weston rays’ which power his spacecraft. He has learned to speak fluent Old Solar also to be ‘guided’ by a Force. Ransom is growing more alarmed by the minute and asks if Weston is not aware that there is a Devil. Weston loses patience and says ‘I am your God and your Devil. I call that Force into myself completely.’ He then vomits and convulses, and as we discover later, become demon possessed. The main portion of the story then turns on his trying to skilfully persuade (i.e. tempt) the Green Lady to disobey Maleldil’s command not to spend a night on the fixed land.
Significantly, when Ransom is desperately trying to persuade The Lady to refuse the temptation of the Un-Man (as Weston’s body and the demon who is animating it are called) he tells her the story of Adam and Eve and that once on his world (Earth) there were only two people as there are now on Perelandra. This militates against the idea that Lewis saw the Biblical creation and Fall story as mere myth.
Temptation is resisted and good eventually triumphs. Weston’s demonised body is destroyed and the story ends with a triumphant initiation of the King and Queen receiving full powers of governance of the unfallen planet, including a real knowledge of good and evil and freedom to live on the fixed land. Tor and Tinidril, as the couple are now named, ‘…climb the step at which Adam and Eve fell.’
What is the story about? On one level, it is a ‘yarn’ as Lewis self deprecatingly wrote to a correspondent. Lewis is often very complicated and more than one layer of meaning can be found. It can be, and is, enjoyed in a non religious way as a fresh, imaginative sci-fi/fantasy novel (it was praised as such by Harlan Ellison, noted Sci-Fi author and consultant to the great ‘Babylon 5’ TV series. Or as a theological work. Or as an environmental tract. I say it is all that and more. But Lewis never wrote major works just for fun (poems maybe). He was always trying to communicate what he saw as important insights, to ‘smuggle theology’ and hopefully turn men and women to Christ. On the most obvious theological level, it is an speculative exploration of what might have happened if Adam and Eve had resisted the tempter. Very obviously, that would be pointless speculation if the Adam and Eve story wasn’t true.
Somebody will say ‘Ah yes, all very well, but Lewis was big on myth and we can support the idea from other of his writings that he saw Genesis 1-3 (if not 1-11) as Myth. The fact that he has written a fantasy novel in which a new Eden story is presented as plain fact is neither here nor there.‘ Isn’t it? Surely at the very least it shows that Lewis (A) had a lot of sympathy for the plain reading of Genesis as history, and (B) that the ‘myth’ if seen as untrue would be unable to carry a story of the kind he wanted to tell. I mean to say, you can hang a story like Perelandra on the Adam and Eve story, but you couldn’t hang it on a hominids to humans over hundreds of thousands of years story.
There is support for the view that Lewis saw Genesis as myth. But Perelandra isn’t written as allegory-he is writing as ‘credible’ science fiction. Yes, we know now that Venus is uninhabitable but other writers of serous sci-fi took similar liberties, and still do. Had the utter inhabitability of Venus been clearer when he was writing, Lewis could easily have placed the action on a distant unknown world of which we know nothing, as in David Lindsay’s ‘Voyage to Arcturus’. We are being told regularly about distant exoplanets which ‘might support life’ based on the flimsiest of evidence. But if we go that way, we then have to ask what we think Lewis thought the Eden ‘Myth’ actually represents.
What about metaphors? When God uses metaphors (e.g. ‘I am the Door’ -John 10:7) it represents something that is easier expressed that way than in plain language. Nobody thought that Jesus was saying that He was a piece of wood with hinges and a handle when He said ‘I am the Door’. Returning to the observations he made in Problem of Pain, published 3 years before Perelandra, he was somewhat vague in that book about the mythological versus historical status of the Genesis account of the Fall and felt that , at least, the original account held more profound truth than the theologised account. It seems to me that his using of a near carbon copy of the Adam and Eve Garden of Eden story set on an uncorrupted planet at least indicates a strong visceral sympathy for a plain old-fashioned reading of Genesis 1-11 (Ransom reflects after victory has been secured that ‘No Ark will be needed here’).
Against a young earth creationist reading of Perelandra are passing references to an old planet and solar system. You get these inconsistencies with Lewis, as with Father Christmas oddly turning up in The Lion, the itch and the Wardrobe. But myth or no, a traditional view of Creation and the Fall runs seamlessly though the whole novel. And it rings true, given only that we acknowledge a big enough Creator who is not restrained by space, time, energy or ignorance.
In conclusion: Perelandra is a rich and remarkable story on many levels: the above discussion barely scratches its surface. I will not reduce it to a creationist tract, but the style and content seem at the very least to proclaim that C S Lewis had strong sympathies to a plain reading of the Genesis creation and Fall account. He could not possibly have made the same theological points using an evolutionary background, any more than I can imagine a hymn worshiping God for evolution. It also asks questions about a possible darker side of science, which leads us on to the final book in the trilogy. That Hideous Strength speculates further on the theme of what can happen when bad men make science their god, indeed seek to become gods themselves.
<><><><><>< to be continued
Plot outline-Ransom, an unmarried academic on a walking holiday, is kidnapped by Weston (a physicist) and Devine (an adventurer with his eye on gold) and taken by them to Mars (Malacandra). He escapes, meets and is befriended by a group of hrossa (simple but intelligent and civilised otter like creatures) and learns that there are 2 other races of being on Mars. All live interdependently in peace with no war, crime or poverty under the governance of Oyarsa, a deathless being who administers Malacandra (Mars) on behalf of Maleldil (God). It emerges that Ransom’s planet, Earth, is known to them as Thulcandra, the Silent Planet, whose planetary ruler The Bent One (Lucifer) had rebelled against Maleldil, leading to great destruction and misery. He even attacked Malacandra but was beaten back by the Oyarsa of Mars and other planetary angels, but not without much damage to Mars, which now only supports life in a system of low valleys. The inhabitants however are completely unafraid of death, knowing that, barring accidents, they will all pass painlessly of old age at a fairly predictable time and ‘go to Maleldil’ which they look forward to immensely. There are certainly elements of ‘Utopia’ here, it is a picture of a broadly unfallen world, something Lewis wrote about the possibility of in several essays. But bad men have come from Earth to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). They are captured and brought before Oyarsa to give account of themselves.
Out of the Silent Planet- Weston’s Brag
The following scenes provide a wonderful opportunity for Lewis to tell us what he thinks of Weston’s scientistic, evolutionary philosophy of life, a central element of which is belief in the onward evolution of Man beyond Earth. Mars is meant to be their first conquest and staging post. Devine is presented as a mere gold hunter. He uses the brilliant device of getting Weston to boastfully tell Oyarsa what he believes and why, via Ransom as a translator (Weston has a smattering of the Martian language, Old Solar, Ransom is by now fluent.) This comically reveals how hollow, amoral and internally inconsistent they really are. You need to read the whole passage in context. Downing in ‘Planets in Peril’ suggests Weston and Devine are based on characters Lewis was bullied by at school and opposed by at Oxford. J B S Haldane was incensed at the characterisation of Weston which he thought was modelled on himself and was derogatory to scientists-Lewis answered him in ‘A Response to Professor Haldane’ which see. Lewis insisted, giving examples, that some scientists at least exhibited Weston’s views.
Weston, having described humankind’s supposedly great technological and cultural achievements, which he contrasts with what he has seen of the Martians’ simple way of life, defiantly tells the invisible Oyarsa ‘Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower….life is greater than any system of morality…it is not by tribal taboos and copy book maxims that she has pursued her relentless march from the amoeba to man and from man to civilisation.’
The way that Lewis has Ransom translate these great swelling words of the boastful scientist into plain language is incredibly funny and revealing. You just have to read Weston’s Brag for yourself, in full, in the context of the book and the trilogy. I often remember this passage as I listen to or read the great swelling words emitted by certain parties today. I concede there is an element of pantomime in Weston’s Brag, but anyone who thinks Lewis is laying it on to thick here should just read some of Dawkins’ foaming at the mouth rants against people who dare to question Darwin.
The content of this speech is pure philosophical evolutionism as a world view, taken to its logical extremity and stripped of all religious prohibitions on theft and murder. It is philosophical, materialistic Darwinism of the Hitlerian variety. I say that thoughtfully, having read both Darwin’s Origin of Species and Hitler’s Mein Kampf and, regardless of the automatic howls of protest such comparisons engender, I assert that Hitler and the German National Socialists’ racial ideology did owe something to Darwin, whose ideas had been widely accepted in Germany, not least due to the ’embryology recapitulates phylogeny’ fraudster Ernst Haeckel.
I am aware of the risks of writing this. For those disposed to dismiss the assertion that Darwinian thinking contributed to Nazi ethics as a ‘reductio ad Hitlerium’ smear or as Dawkins puts it ‘an old canard’, I can only say that professor Richard Weikart’s scholarly study ‘From Darwin to Hitler’ puts the link between Darwinian thinking and Nazi philosophy beyond reasonable doubt. Just as history has been re-written to include the flat earth slander and a mythologised version of the Galileo affair in support of the ‘conflict’ model of ‘science versus religion’, history has also been written to exclude the Darwin/Hitler philosophical connection. Weikart as professor of European history at the University of California has done his homework and I believe proved his case. His book is hard to find but there is a lot of his work on line including responses to critics.
It is necessary to emphasise, as Weikart did, that Nazism had various other roots and that Darwinism did not make the race holocaust inevitable, nor did Darwin or most of his followers intend it. Nevertheless, as Weikart says, ‘ideas have consequences’. We are primarily concerned here with the views of C S Lewis on evolution and its philosophical consequences. Here they are, some of them. The views Lewis expresses though Weston’s Brag indicates that he at least believed that acceptance of survival of the fittest plus atheistic materialism(i.e. minus God-give ethical standards) may open the door to certain actions that Biblical Christianity closes the door on. Bear in mind that OOTSP was published in 1938 when the storm clouds of WW2 were gathering but the Nazi race holocaust was just beginning and was certainly not widely known about.
A thoroughgoing acceptance of Darwinianism helps make Nazi race policy possible by 2 avenues. Firstly, accepting evolution by means of natural selection as the means of making and perfecting the human race implies that perhaps we should give nature a hand at ‘…eliminating, or at least not breeding from, our worst stock’ (as Darwin put it). Hitler understood this, he has a lot to say about human breeding in Mein Kampf. Secondly, by removing God as a source of revealed, non-negotiable ethics (e.g. ‘thou shalt not murder’) the unthinkable becomes thinkable, at least in theory. Darwinism does not compel racial genocide, but it removes some obstacles to it and suggests it may help improve the human race. This latter idea has not gone away: eugenics is keeping its head down for now but it has not died.
Back on Malacandra, Oyarsa gives his judgment, expressing sorrow and some anger that ‘The Bent One’ had so corrupted humans. They are banished back to Earth, with the ship sabotaged so it can’t be used again. Ransom is given the chance to stay but chooses to return. Oyarsa commends this choice and asks him to keep an eye on the bad guys, hinting that they will be in contact again. This proves to be the case as we discover early on in Perelandra, a Voyage to Venus.
In conclusion: Lewis depicts 3 happy races living under divinely appointed rule on Mars. Earth (Thulcandra-the Silent Planet) is seen as having fallen under the cruel, dark domination of ‘the Bent One’ . Two bad men misusing science, one seeking personal gain, the other desiring to further Man’s evolutionary progress, come to Mars with ill intent. Evolutionary based materialistic philosophy leading to conflict, death and war is contrasted with obedience to God’s created order leading to stability with contentment. Consistent with Lewis’ primary views on the subject, the science is secondary to issue of what he called evolutionism. Evolutionism for Lewis is the philosophical extension of biological evolution theory into metaphysics, replacing the created divine order, which is portrayed godless folly which will inevitably cause evil.
Of course, this sci-fi fantasy contains speculations about physics and Mars which we now know (and Lewis knew then) do not correspond to reality. I hope that no reader thinks I am dim enough to argue that it is evidence against biological evolution. I hold it up as evidence that C S Lewis was deeply concerned about men building philosophies of life on evolutionary foundations, and acting on them. But whatever I say about the book, it’s a great read.
Postscript: Lewis wrote in his essay ‘Religion and Rocketry ‘ (1959) that, if there were unfallen races of being in outer space (on which he perhaps had an open mind) that it was a jolly good thing that we humans could not reach them, as if we did then doubtless we would exploit, rape and destroy them. This thought set out in plain argument in an essay is illustrated here in speculative fiction, one of Lewis’ trademarks. He also addressed the ‘space as quarantine’ theme in a poem ‘Prelude to Space’ in which he likens a space rocket to a gigantic penis aimed at the virginal stars with which Man intended to ejaculate into space, exporting ‘…bombs, gallows, Belsen camp, pox, polio, Moloch’s fires,… Torquemada…
‘If we take pride to fling so bountifully on space, The sperm of our long woes, our large disgrace.’
Professor Weston goes from bad to worse in the next book of the trilogy, ‘Perelandra: or, A Voyage to Venus’.
to be continued
The Ransom Trilogy
Most people know of Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, 3 of which have been major films, and probably most western Christians have at least heard of his apologetics/theological works such as Mere Christianity. Not so many people know he wrote a superlative science fiction trilogy, which has been praised by non Christian sci-fi writers like Harlan Ellison. Much in the trilogy touches on creation/evolution and scientism in the form of materialist triumphalism. These are ‘fantastic tales’ which like allegory can carry meaning, something alluded to in Out of the Silent Planet where the narrator says that the details are true but he names have been changed to avoid lawsuits and that fiction is being used to get hard truths out there that would not be believed if presented as fact.
‘Out of the Silent Planet’ was the first adventure featuring Elwin Ransom and is set mainly on Mars. It was published in 1938. ‘Perelandra: A Voyage to Venus’ followed in 1943 and also featured Elwin Ransom and Professor Weston from the first novel. The trilogy was completed in 1945 with ‘That Hideous Strength’ which featured Ransom and Dick Devine who was Weston’s associate in OOTSP. It is set on Earth but organically connected to the earlier novels.
These are my personal Lewis favourites, and that is saying something. Mrs Hayes and I are on our third set, having started with used copies in the 1970s and literally worn 2 sets out by constant re-reading over 40 years. I long for the trilogy to be filmed, but only if done well.
These are rich books which repay multiple readings. In July 2009 in Oxford there was a 2 day meeting all about the middle book, Perelandra. I met Will Vaus, Michael Ward, Sorina Higgins, Judith Wolfe and many other Lewisians at the 2 day colloquium at St Stephen’s House, Oxford with a performance of the ‘lost’ CS Lewis/Donald Swann opera ‘Perelandra’. This was an astounding weekend with new papers presented on varied aspects of just this one novel-one third of the trilogy. The experience inspired me to write my first novel (*), which began as a sort of fan-lit ‘What if the bad guys had won?’ spin off following the action in ‘That Hideous Strength’ 140 years later. I mention this only to comment on Lewis’ vast powers of invention, adventure and the multiple layers of meaning he managed to pack into these three adventurous and prophetic books, which are far less well known today than they ought to be. I have only recently read ‘Planets in Peril’ by David C Downing and heartily recommend this critical study of the trilogy-Downing reveals Lewis’ debt to numerous other writers including Dante, Mallory, Milton as well as modern sci-fi writers like H G Wells, Ola Stapledon and many others.
As I cannot discuss the creation/evolution angles taken in this trilogy without plot spoilers, the reader who has not yet done so is encouraged for their own pleasure to read Lewis before my commentary. Also, as we have seen, Lewis referred to these ‘scientifiction’ stories as ‘yarns’ and ‘fairy tales for grown ups’ and they contain some logical inconsistencies (even allowing for the supernatural/fantasy background assumptions) so we must be cautious about drawing excessively confident conclusions. Having said that, there is a strong set of creationist assumptions as a background to all three books, especially Perelandra. The books have been criticised as anti-science, but they are not. They are, amongst other things, cautionary tales about modern man getting too much power and using it to serve his own godless ends while divorced from wholesome morality.
to be continued
The Problem of Pain
First published by Geoffrey Bles in 1940, The Problem of Pain is a work of popular theology commissioned by Ashley Sampson. It is dedicated to The Inklings and begins with a careful look at why we think the question ‘why pain?’ is even worth asking, as in ‘why not pain?’ Lewis considers various pre-Christian views of pain and suffering. He points out that in the nihilistic, deterministic universe of the materialists, whom as he points out have been around at least as long as the Roman philosopher Epicurus, there is no philosophical problem (although there may be a practical one). As one of Epicurus’ philosophical successors Richard Dawkins puts it today, the universe is blind, pitiless and indifferent and we just have to get used to it. There is no meaning, and if pain gets too bad, switch yourself off through suicide (something Lewis mentioned in SBJ that he found a comforting thought during his atheist years). Incidentally, the Apostle Paul confronted both Epicurean (who were atheist and evolutionist) and Stoic philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:18). He preached Creation to them both (17:24-28) before he preached the Resurrection. It is worth noting (17:32) that it was the Resurrection that put people off his Gospel message, not Creation.
The English poet A E Housman, an atheist, commended suicide as a remedy if life became relentlessly unhappy in several of his poems. For example
‘Shot? So quick, so clean an ending? Oh that was good boy, that was brave.
Yours was not a fault for mending, ’twas best to take it to the grave.’
Housman’s view is perfectly consistent with both modern materialism and old style paganism. Avoid pain if you can, bear it if you must, end it by suicide if you choose-but don’t waste time asking why. If our lives and the universe are purposeless, then so is pain. Deal with it.
For polytheistic pagans, who worshiped gods like Odin, Thor, Zeus, Apollo, Krishna-pain just existed and you took a stoical view of it as a matter of both pride and practicality. Lewis touched on this in his amusing poem ‘A cliché came out of its cage’ in which he positively compared the stoicism of real old fashioned pagans with today’s men, envisaging a man who has received a death wound making derogatory comments to his killer about the workmanship and aim of his spear, but not moaning about dying.
Pagans might take solace from the thought that if life became too painful they could always honourably kill themselves. I understand that this view survives to some extent in Japan to this day. There was no point expecting a scheming, devious god like Loki, a drunken, brawling god like Thor, or a womanising god like Zeus to concern themselves with your earache or indeed cancer.
As an aside, it is interesting to note the growing cries for legalised mercy killing in the name of autonomy and compassion. I think given the progressive dechristianisation of my country this campaign will probably succeed within my lifetime. A phrase the campaigners often use is ‘You wouldn’t let a dog suffer like that, you’d euthanase them.’ and of course, the new evolutionary paganism regards men and dogs as cousins with an equally random origin and blank destiny.
Having discussed consistent responses to suffering under pagan and materialist world views, Lewis correctly points out that the question ‘Why does God allow suffering?’ only becomes meaningful once we accept the idea of a Deity who is (A) all powerful, and (B) perfectly good. It is only under conditions where there is such a Being that the idea that there ought not to be suffering can logically exist. The question is not worth asking unless we are discussing such a God, and people like Dawkins and Stephen Fry acknowledge this.
Incidentally, Fry has got a cheek in his 2015 Irish TV outburst blaming God for suffering when he has spent thousands of pounds satisfying his selfish desire for cocaine, the production and smuggling of which causes much suffering to innocent people in Columbia, Mexico and elsewhere. As I discuss in an essay on suffering (see appendix) God could stop all the suffering caused by the illegal drug trade and drug misuse by invading and re-programming the minds of addicts. But while He was doing this he would have to remove the person’s free will, all desires God disapproves and so probably consciousness, reason and humanity. Would Fry accept this?
Under the chapter heading Divine Goodness, Lewis considers what may be called ‘Epicurus’ Conundrum’, often quoted by atheists today. This runs roughly ‘Suffering exists. A good God ought to want to stop it, an all powerful God could stop it. Therefore God is either weak, bad or non-existent.‘ (&*&)
Lewis argues several points, I think successfully which illuminate the question of suffering without totally removing it. By creating intelligent beings with free wills, disobedience to God (sin) becomes possible, and therefore inevitably suffering (as sin always causes suffering) also becomes possible. The question as to whether, knowing this, it might have been better for God not to have gone ahead with the creation is one he says he is not equipped to answer ‘…even if the question has any meaning’. But given what he knows about the character of God, Lewis trusts that it was better to go ahead with the creation (but see Genesis 6:5-7). I don’t know the answer either and I find this the most difficult question of all. The book of Job addresses this but gives no answer beyond saying that we should trust God.
As he continues his argument, Lewis has a lot to say about the Fall. He goes over ground already covered in The Pilgrim’s Regress as discussed above. Since it is inconceivable that a good God would have created humankind in our current deplorable state, something must have gone wrong after a good start. Genesis says that the original uncorrupted creation was ‘very good’. Right. From this point onwards, the traditional Biblical creationist may (indeed should) weep and wring his hands, bitterly regretting the way things are, but he has no intellectual difficulties. The explanation is shocking and unwelcome, you can understand why people don’t like it-I don’t like it-but it is straightforward given its internal premises.
The Genesis narrative as understood by Christians for many centuries is that our first parents were given a probationary commandment and wickedly disobeyed it, showing the most appalling wilful disrespect and distrust of their Creator, who had given them everything they needed or could reasonably want and every reason to trust Him. This wicked, ungrateful, inexcusable, treacherous act poisoned everything. The earth, the cosmos, was cursed on account of Adam’s sin. We may hate it, but there it is. Furthermore, this fits in with Paul’s theology set out in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 particularly ‘…as in Adam all die, so in Christ all are made alive.’ This subset of theological objections to evolution is discussed at length elsewhere, and not all conservative Bible Christians agree on the detail. Suffice it to say that a plain reading of the Genesis 3 account of the Fall of man makes sense within a whole-bible framework, but if you are going to try to graft an evolutionary narrative on to Genesis then you are going to have to unweave and re-weave a whole lot else.
And this is the problem that Lewis, taking a theistic evolutionist view as he appears to do in this book, tries to deal with. How do you, as a believer with a high view of Scripture, and one who has dared to teach others (James 3:1 ‘Let not many of you become teachers, for you will be judged more strictly) reconcile the biblical and the evolutionary accounts of human origin, including the Fall? If there was any room for levity here, I would be sniggering at the discomfiture of the clumsy attempts which have been made at reconciliation, including this one, but there isn’t and I’m not. In fact, much as I look up to Jack, I think he gets into something of a muddle here. Although in this chapter he apparently espoused molecules to man via monkey (OK, ‘hominid’ but monkey alliterates better) evolution, in fact like many of today’s Evangelical preachers, when he is addressing vital creedal issues he teaches as though we can take the Scripture at face value. A theistic evolutionist with a young earth creationist inside trying to get out, but for now holding 2 incompatible truths at the same time acting as if they were compatible. If the 6 day creation and Fall story were allegory representing something real, there shouldn’t be this difficulty matching evolution to Scripture as if trying to get a right foot into a left shoe 2 sizes too small. If it was true and Darwin had done the Church a favour by expanding our true knowledge of the Creator’s ways, it would at some point all come together and we’d say ‘Yes, I can see it all now, how clever of God…’ Evolution would enhance our view of God, not diminish it. But that’s not what happens with the theistic evolution compromise. It doesn’t make our theology come together, it makes it fall apart.
On pages 60-62 (in my well worn Fontana 1957 paperback edition) of POP, Lewis begins by suggesting that the Genesis story about a ‘magic apple’ (*) is mythical. He elsewhere has a lot to say about myths, on which he was exceedingly well informed. When C S Lewis said ‘myth’ he did NOT mean ‘untruth’ or ‘Fairy Tale’. He refers to the better pagan myths as ‘good dreams’ in Mere Christianity, and suggested God sent such stories to pre-Christian people to point them to the truth as well as their light would allow. A myth to him meant a story which although not technically accurate in fact carried truth, sometimes in a more readily communicable form than a direct narrative. He discussed in the essay ‘Horrid Red Things’ how a mental image may communicate truth better than a more technically correct but over complicated verbal description’ The more highly educated person who perhaps looks down on the honest faith of a simpleton who imagines God as an old man with a beard may simply be replacing this (undoubtedly over simple) image with another image of his own e.g. ‘hypersomatic trans-dimensional intelligence’ or ‘envelope that contains all the parameters of the universe’ (which I heard from a Catholic priest at school around 1972) that may sound cooler but not be any closer to the ultimate reality of the Great Maker, the One who is what He knows Himself to be and dwells in unapproachable light.
Writing that he had ‘..the deepest reverence for Pagan myths, still more for myths in Holy Scripture.’ he was therefore certain that the version of the Fall narrative which involved a forbidden fruit and trees of knowledge and of life ‘contains a deeper and subtler truth…‘ He felt that this story most likely contained a truth more profound than the version of events which made the apple a simple test of obedience, but that he was not wise and inspired enough to grasp the full profundity. He said that therefore he would offer his readers ‘… not the best absolutely, but the best I have.’ I like that about Lewis, he will say when he isn’t sure, and he will change his mind when he learns better. In view of his use of the term ‘myth’ here, it’s worth recalling his significant essay ‘Funeral of a Great Myth’ in which evolution is the myth in question.
In summary: The Problem of Pain gives mixed messages on creation/evolution. While Lewis appears to endorse biological evolution and suggests that the Genesis creation account is mythic, he insists that it is a true myth for which he has the deepest respect and bases his theology of pain on the idea of a good creation which fell, which is inconsistent with Darwinism.
(*) A poor choice of words in my opinion. The fruit is not named as an apple, and we know that apples don’t grow well in countries where it’s warm enough to live outdoors comfortably unclothed, also ‘magic’ is not an appropriate term for the works of the Deity
(&*&)I have done my best to address this in an essay ‘Why doesn’t God stop all the suffering?’ which is on my http://www.questiondarwin site.com and Kindle book ‘Three Men in a Hut and Other Essays.’ I come to broadly similar conclusions to Lewis (I wouldn’t, wouldn’t I?) using different examples.
Conversion-The Pilgrim’s Regress
I will now pass over his childhood, cramming for Oxford with the rationalist tutor William Kirkpatrick, his experience in the trenches of WW1, early years at Oxford and his conversion, to the first book Lewis wrote after his return to faith, The Pilgrim’s Regress (TPR), on which I will make some general observations before discussing its relevance to our main subject. It should in my view be read together with Surprised by Joy, as both are spiritual autobiographies and cover a lot of similar material in Lewis’ life. I recommend reading the latter book first as it’s much easier going-if you do it that way you will ‘get’ allegorically described things in TPR more readily. Jack had become a much better writer by the time he wrote SBJ.
TPR was written flat out in 2 weeks in August 1932 at the Belfast home of his close friend Arthur Greeves. It was an allegory, borrowing from John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, and follows the journey of a man who sets out from his home country in search of a joyful vision of ‘The Island’ which he had seen and felt from a distance. On the way, he meets various allegorically named travellers and protagonists. As with the traveller (Christian) in Pilgrim’s Progress, many of the people and places he meets on the road are not what they first seem. They promise the pilgrim, John, truth, pleasures, liberty and safety but deliver varying degrees of lies, half truths, bondage and danger, or at best distraction up blind alleys. Just as in Bunyan’s tale, just as in Lewis’s Oxford of the 1920s, just as in real life today. The pilgrim’s job is to sort the truth from the lies, a job for which he finds himself not particularly well equipped, so it is as well that he meets with unlooked for help on the way.
The book is a series of counterblasts against various philosophical, intellectual and fleshly obstructions, diversions, temptations, traps and snares that had been set by enemies (or The Enemy) to prevent him becoming a Christian and getting right with God through faith in Jesus. It considers intellectual and experiential issues such as the longing for joy, the appeal of atheism, the lure of sensualism, various false dawns, the concept of twinned and opposite errors (e.g. asceticism versus sensualism, extreme doctrinal purity versus liberalism, etc), the pursuit of the reluctant soul by the ‘hound of heaven’ etc. Again, all these issues are dealt with in a calmer, mature style in Lewis’ later works, but I can think of few subjects he dealt with later that he didn’t flag up in The Pilgrim’s Regress.
TPR is nobody’s favourite Lewis book, certainly not mine, but he poured a huge amount of distilled thought, hard won insight and raw emotion into it shortly after his conversion, making it a vital key to understanding the real C S Lewis. He had, as it were, wrestled with the hound of heaven and eventually, after frantically trying every avenue of escape from the Truth ‘… gave in and admitted that God was God’ (SBJ). He described in SBJ how he had resisted the growing realisation that God was God and Christianity was true with all the intellectual vigour he could muster. In TPR he documents this struggle, considering allegorically the arguments against and for faith.
The Pilgrim’s Regress is not an easy or entertaining read, and had it been written by almost any other author it would be long forgotten by now. He wrote about pitfalls and temptations that caused him mental and spiritual turmoil, perhaps because he really needed to. I doubt that he enjoyed reviewing his own mistakes in this confessional way. This is a difficult, combative, complicated, charmless-even ugly- book. CSL admitted as much some years later in a somewhat apologetic preface to the third edition, to which he had reluctantly added chapter commentaries to help the bemused reader make more sense of the book’s complex and obscure style. He apologised for the bad temper and the obscurity of the work, faults he said he found it hard to forgive in other writers. The obscurity-and much of it is very obscure- he explained was due to his desire to defend what he called the Romantic style of literature. His attempt to define what he meant by that term mystified me, underlining his point about obscurity. ‘Romanticism’ as Lewis saw it was an obscure and dying literary form that was at the time of the third edition all but forgotten. CSL had made an error of judgment, bravely launching his little boat against the wind on the wrong tide.
Another reason he gave for the obscurity was that he had assumed that the rather tortuous and cerebral route he (as a triple first Oxford scholar) had taken to faith was relatively common, so hoped his confessions would help others in a similar fix. Later he discovered this assumption was mistaken: he had scrambled through the swamp and up the hill by a most difficult and unusual route. He miscalculated therefore on 2 premises. The conception and thought may have been brilliant and illuminating, but much of the literary style, plot and characterisation was too clever by half. This pilgrim’s tale read in isolation isn’t a patch on John Bunyan’s, but it tells us a lot about C S Lewis’s thinking.
The anger is easier to explain. The recently converted author was angry with others for misleading him, and with himself for being misled. He wrote ‘I have myself been deluded by every one of these false answers in turn, and have contemplated each of them earnestly enough to discover the cheat.’ That, I suggest, was the birth of the Christian apologist in him. In charity, he sought to show others the Way, and where the booby traps, pitfalls, false guides and blind detours lay in wait for pilgrims.
He had gone through experiences similar to Bunyan’s ‘Slough of Despond’ and meet characters analogous to Giant Despair and Mr Worldly Wiseman from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Regarding the Slough of Despond, Bunyan said that the King’s men had gone to great effort to warn and help pilgrims pass it safely, but they still missed the signs and the path and got stuck. Having, like Bunyan’s pilgrim Christian with help from ‘A Man’ (Christ), extricated himself from his own Slough of Despond, Lewis wanted to help others evade or crawl through their own Sloughs.
Lewis says that the character of the pilgrim John is largely (but not wholly) autobiographical. He has realised deep down that he is in need of and on a search for something beyond himself, perhaps beyond this world, but there are many foes, deceivers, obstacles and dead end detours in the way-just as in Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ He realises at last that he could have reached his goal the easy way and much sooner via ‘Old Mother Kirk’ but was too proud and sensual to humble himself and instead was distracted and fell for the lies and temptations that were designed to keep him out of The Way. As he puts it in the preface’s last paragraph ‘The book is concerned solely with Christianity as against unbelief’. But if we can sift through the obscurity (with the help of CSL’s revised preface and the retro-fitted chapter headings) and allow for the anger and haste, there are rich rewards here.
An interesting encounter for our purpose is one of the earlier ones, where John, shortly after leaving his home country of Puritania, encounters a robust atheist ‘Mr Enlightenment’ who assures him that there is no Landlord (the Landlord represents God in this allegory). A series of ‘proofs’ of materialism is advanced including ‘…Christopher Columbus, Galileo, the invention of the printing press, the earth is round, gunpowder.’ How similar to today’s simplistic ‘Who needs God now that we’ve got mobile phones, space probes and the Large Hadron Collider etc.?’. In many of Lewis’ later works he would discuss the false ‘either or’ dichotomy between religion and science. The bold, self-assured Mr Enlightenment, from the technologically advanced town of Claptrap, represents the atheist stage of CSL’s journey. Science, science, science and more science-any question that can’t be reduced to materialist terms and resolved in a laboratory isn’t worth asking so may be dismissed-all a load of superstitious Bronze Age fairy tales don’t you know?
Mr Enlightenment significantly tells John that people in his home country of Puritania all believe the world is flat. When contradicted on this he assures John that the Puritanians do believe the world is flat and that it is impossible that he could be mistaken on such a matter. This connects with what Lewis later wrote about the flat earth slander in a 1945 essay ‘Religion and Science’. He establishes in that essay that the ancients right back to Ptolemy knew that the earth was a sphere in space located an enormous distance from the sun and stars, and that the Church had never believed or taught otherwise. The flat earth slander was invented by atheists in the 19th century and retro-fitted to a secularised version of history in order to support a fabricated myth about the Church holding back science. This is an example of the kind of misinformation tactic used to promote the false ‘religion versus science’ warfare model so beloved of reductive materialists.
After his encounter with Mr Enlightenment, John is delighted because he had been living in fear of the Landlord all his life. We read that, in a scene reminiscent of Bunyan’s pilgrim when the burden of sin was lifted from his back at the cross, he bounds along lightly to the top of a little hill where he stops as ‘…he was too happy to move.”There is no Landlord,’ he cried. Such a weight had been lifted from his mind that he felt he could fly.’ He continues on his way rejoicing, telling a stranger on the road who remarked that he looked very glad ‘So would you be if you had lived in the fear of a Landlord all your life and had just discovered that you were a free man.’
This chimes in well with Lewis’ discussion of his then atheism in his other autobiography Surprised by Joy. He links the affirmation of atheism ‘There is no Landlord!’ with personal autonomy and freedom from rules, the ability to live for pleasure in both intellectual and physical realms. In SBJ he wrote about his atheistic self wanting ‘limited liabilities’, the freedom to live as he pleased, body and mind, refusing to be bound by any moral or other laws he didn’t at the moment approve of. And another comfort of atheism was knowing that if life ever became chronically miserable with no realistic prospect of improvement he could kill himself and be done with it. He acknowledged in SBJ that this gave him a motive for wanting Christianity not to be true, this encounter is a word picture of it. (In fact, he threatened to kill himself as a teenager if his father didn’t take him out of the public school he was in, which he hated.)
This takes us directly to the subject of evolution/creation, because it is clear that atheism/materialism depends on a mindless origin of the universe, humanity and everything else. Which evolution conveniently provides. Richard Dawkins wrote in ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ that ‘Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually satisfied atheist.’ but in fact both atheism and a form of evolutionism go back at least to the Roman philosopher Epicurus (as CSL references in ‘Funeral of a Great Myth’). As Lewis testifies, some people wish atheism to be true because, upholding their own ‘I am the master of my destiny!’ autonomy, they detest the idea of being beholden to a Creator God. Such people have a motive to want evolution to be true, for without a credible materialistic origins theory atheism is intellectually untenable. While atheists often accuse creationists of doubting evolution because it conflicts with our preferred version of reality, the opposite charge is not so often made. Bias runs both ways, a cardinal principle of all honest scientific investigation.
Later John is taken captive by Mr Sigismund Enlightenment ( representing Freudian psychology), son of the Old Mr Enlightenment whom he had met earlier and who had introduced him to atheism. He is imprisoned in a dungeon under the tyranny of The Spirit of The Age, who is depicted as a giant in the shape of a mountain, claims to own all the lands round about and insists on the right to control all coming and going. When the giant gazes on people, they become transparent, revealing all kinds of nasty things inside them-a parody of Freudian ‘psychoanalysis’ which claims to ‘see through’ everything. Lewis certainly saw through Freud. As with Castle Doubting and Giant Despair in Pilgrim’s Progress, the captives are subject to incessant and disgusting brainwashing to get them to believe that ‘The Island’ and any other hoped for joys are foolish ‘wish fulfilment dreams’, to be rejected and replaced with hard edged materialism. Just as Bunyan’s pilgrims Christian and Hopeful are able to escape when one of them remembers that he has a key called Promise which will open any door in Castle Doubting, so the prisoners of the Spirit of the Age are rescued by a woman called Reason.
After she has disabled the Spirit of the Age by cutting through his miserable nonsense, John is freed but many of his fellow prisoners are too brainwashed to want to escape even though now they can. Under Freudian indoctrination, they ‘saw through’ everything to such an extent that now they can trust nothing-they are true nihilists. She later explains to John as they walk away from the prison that ‘They pretend that their (the materialists-SH) researches lead to that doctrine: but in fact they assume their doctrine first and interpret their researches by it.’ They reach wrong conclusions based not on knowledge but their own preferences because they have ceased to listen to Reason’s relatives (check sisters or daughters) Theology or Philosophy. This chimes in with his assertion in Funeral of a Great Myth that where evolution is concerned ‘Imagination runs ahead of evidence’ and that evolution was not adopted as an origins narrative because new facts had come to light that compelled it, but that men’s minds had changed about God and so they sought out an origins narrative that would underpin the conclusion they had already reached due to preference.
She also explains to him that the self styled enlightened rationalists dismiss any stories of The Landlord (God) as ‘wish fulfilment’ fantasies, which John finds hilarious as he realises he does not want there to be a Landlord who can judge him and sentence him to ‘The Black Hole’. But, she continues, they fail to acknowledge their own evident wish for there to be no Landlord and no Black Hole, so their atheism is by their own reckoning equally open to a charge of wish fulfilment, of preferring a particular conclusion and so designing their research to arrive at it. To this day, the rules of investigation into origins are so arranged that only naturalistic possibilities may be discussed or explored, with Darwinism not allowed to be questioned in the education system of mainstream media.
The discourse between John and Reason also addresses the reductionist materialism of the so called ‘New Atheists’, whose ideas are not at all new, since Lewis wrote about-and refuted- them some 80 years ago. They go back in Western thought at least to the Roman philosopher Epicurus. Lewis applies these arguments here against atheism, but they do equally well against evolutionism, which is inextricably linked with atheism.
After parting ways with Reason, John finds an earlier companion, Vertue (who represents morality without faith), whose progress is blocked by a deep, wide gorge with a broken bridge. As they discuss how they might cross it, an old lady addresses them, Mother Kirk, who represents the Church. She offers to take them across, saying they will never make it by their own efforts. They distrust her and decline, John has a ready store of objections to hand. She explains to them concerning the chasm and broken bridge that ‘…the Landlord never left it like that’ in response to their complaints about His workmanship. Mother Kirk then tells them the Bible story of the creation and Fall of Adam and Eve, in allegorical form but clearly recognisable as the traditional Genesis account plus some added exegesis from Romans 5 (check). She explains that the things which are wrong with the world are not the Landlord’s fault but due to culpable human disobedience. This is all fully accordant with traditional Christian doctrine and appears to leave no room for gradual ascent upwards over millions of years.
The above insight into Lewis’ thought on creation and the Fall reminds me of the sermons taught at the Evangelical church I attend-and many elsewhere. My church, like me, tries hard but is imperfect. God, I trust, loves and accepts us both in Christ by grace through faith. Whenever the doctrines of Creation, Original Sin, our Fall in Adam, Christ as the Second Adam and related doctrines are discussed, the preacher generally talks as if the Genesis account were historical and to be read plainly-as Mother Kirk’s tale here implies Lewis believed. However, they tend to run a mile from overtly affirming young earth 6 day creation or criticising molecules to man evolution.
I find this well meant inconsistency in many sincere, convinced Christians-as I find it to some extent in C S Lewis’ writings. They know the doctrines matter, they know the Genesis to Revelation Bible narrative hangs together consistently if taken as read, they suspect it might fall apart if the Genesis Creation/Adam and Eve/Fall/Curse bits are forcibly extracted and replaced with a Darwinian narrative, but they don’t want to appear fools before the Establishment. They have fallen for the lie that seekers might accept the idea of an immanent, transcendent, triune Deity, the miracles including the Virgin Birth, water into wine, multiplication of loaves and fished, healing the blind, raising the dead, the Atonement and Resurrection, and the coming Day of Judgment and Eternal Life, BUT will turn their nose up at Biblical Creation. So they produce fudge. Mature believers can live on fudge for a while, we all survive various compromises up to a point, but in the end, a diet of fudge tends to rot their teeth and make them obese. And the effect on children is even worse.
An important aside: this idea that teaching creation will put off people who would otherwise have come to Christ is worth consideration, as it is often used, sometimes with vitriol, against Biblical Creationists. What evidence is there for it? There is certainly no logic in it, as miracles are indispensable in Biblical faith, including the central miracles of the Incarnation, Atonement and Resurrection. Those believers who say that proclaiming Creation will put genuine seekers off, are you quite certain you are preaching an authentic Gospel? We hear the same charge made against churches who teach Biblical sexual conduct. If someone says ‘I would become a Christian if it wasn’t for the Church’s attitude on sex’ (i.e. if the church abandoned a Biblical standard and fell into line with worldly views about sexual sin) I am sorry but I don’t believe them. Jesus never compromised on the call to repentance and obedience even if it meant disciples walked away. See for example Matthew 19:20-22 and John 6. What are we saying here, that essential doctrines that Jesus and the Apostles taught can be discarded in order to lower the bar? What kind of disciples will this make? Anyhow, it has been tried and it doesn’t work. In any event, with most UK churches tolerant of if not actually promoting theistic evolution, the issue does not arise. If someone genuinely comes to Christ but objects, for example, to full immersion believers baptism, there is no shortage of churches that do not require it and will welcome them. Surely the same applies here at a minimum?
The journey continues in twists and turns, various characters representing different temptations, and errors. Some of the encounters touch the edge of the creation/evolution discussion, for example Mr Broad whom we meet. He is clearly a liberal churchman, related to the heretic bishop we meet later in The Great Divorce. He deflects John’s plain questions about the necessity or otherwise of crossing the gorge with standard liberal ‘…on the one hand…on the other hand…yes my dear boy I used to think like that when I was young, you’ll grow out of it…‘guff. Broad regards orthodoxy as ‘…the lifeless view, the barren formula…’ He is more interested in ‘..the language of the heart..‘ Broad rejects what he sees as crude salvationism and refuses to be tied down to yes or no answers. He will not admit to any definite conclusion other than that there are no definite conclusions (apart from his rejection of absolute truth of course!).
Eventually John and Vertue surrender to The Landlord via His agent, Mother Kirk, and take the plunge in a kind of baptism ceremony. As they prepare for this, all the old temptations and ‘cheats’ appear to try to dissuade them at the last, recapitulation all the lies and half truths they have deployed earlier.
In conclusion: The Pilgrim’s Regress is an uneven and difficult book offering a peek though a misted window into the mind of the newly converted C S Lewis in 1933. In it he considers his search for the source of Joy, the philosophical ‘cheats’ that had kept him from Christian faith (the truth behind his vision of Joy) and how he eventually ‘…gave in and accepted that God was God.’ (SBJ). Amongst other false world views, he rejects materialism and exposes some of its lies-including specifically the flat earth slander, the false ‘science versus religion’ paradigm and exposes the strong philosophical preference of atheists to believe that there is no God, a philosophical preference they generally call ‘science’. Mr Enlightenment, his son Sigismund and ‘The Spirit of the Age’ represent materialism, therefore evolution, which is therefore by implication rejected by Lewis, since you cannot possibly have materialism without evolution. In as far as evolution is considered here, it is rejected in favour of a positive Creation, Fall and Redemption narrative as told by Mother Kirk.
C S Lewis’ theology
This has been considered in many biographies and commentaries, particularly Will Vaus’ excellent book ‘Mere Theology.’ (IVP 2004). C S Lewis’ theology was, like Christianity itself, simple but complicated. I am reminded of the saying ‘In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.’ Ah, but who decides which things are essential, and how? Some Lewis quotes suggest he thought evolution was relatively unimportant, and respected Lewis scholar Will Vaus among others takes this view.
He was a ‘via media’ Anglican, positioning himself as it were between Rome and Geneva. He wrote in the introduction to ‘Mere Christianity’ that if readers wanted to know what his theology was, they could look it up in The Prayer Book (a reference to the 39 Articles of Anglican theology found there. Would to God they were believed by British Anglicans today!).
Lewis was conservative where necessary, liberal and catholic (small c) where possible, and was refreshingly willing to say ‘we cannot know’. Keen to avoid needless division and offence, he asked Anglican, Catholic and Methodist ministers of religion to comment on the manuscript for ‘Mere Christianity’ the very title of which says something. He hated sectarianism, perhaps due to his exposure to unthinking tribal bigotry during his Belfast upbringing. But where he was clear on traditional Christian doctrines, including unpopular ones, he was often very clear, and willing to cause offence and be mocked. He was an unashamed supernaturalist whose Christianity encompassed High Church and Evangelical Anglicanism with Roman Catholic sympathies. He took a traditional view of the Atonement and Resurrection and believed in the need for personal conversion and the New Birth.
Jack Lewis also prayed for the dead, did regular aural confession with a priest and was an ardent sacramentalist and something of a mystic. He was also a lifelong smoker who liked his beer, something which along with his Roman Catholic sympathies, including belief in some kind of purgatory, has prevented him from being quite universally loved across the whole of Christendom. Some of his Christian detractors were also offended by his use of pagan imagery in the Narnia stories.
His secretary and friend Walter Hooper converted to Catholicism and has said he believed Lewis might have done the same if he had lived much longer. I’m not convinced, but wouldn’t rule it out. He believed in and worshipped a Sovereign Creator Deity who had made all things by His divine will, wisdom and power, so he was certainly a creationist in general terms.
Lewis’ views on creation and evolution-an overview
Lewis’s admiration and worship for the God of creation runs through everything he wrote. On the specific issue of molecules to man evolution, this book’s subject, he is much harder to pin down. He distinguishes between Darwin’s biological ‘theorem’ (his preferred term) and the accompanying philosophies and metaphysical implications. Throughout his writing, whether essays, fiction, theology or letters he often referenced creation/evolution and the issue of ‘scientism’. He rarely addressed the issue of evolution directly, but when he did, he generally expressed scepticism.
David G Downing (Planets in Peril-a critical study of C S Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy) pertinently asks in the introduction to his book ‘How much of his critique of modern science and technology was well informed, and how much was the result of prejudice or habitual suspicion of all things modern?’ I will argue that he was not ignorant of the science facts around Darwin’s theory, but they weren’t a major concern of his. One of his major concerns was the debasement of language and abandonment of objective standards in favour of subjective-see ‘Abolition of Man’ and ‘That Hideous Strength’ the fantasy novel (‘fairy tale’ was his preferred term) which as he wrote in the foreword illustrated the serious points he had tried to make in ‘Abolition’. This is subsumed within the broader theme of a Christian (or at least Christianised) study rejecting the Biblical revelation and replacing it across the board with the philosophies of men.
Surely anyone who thinks about it can see that three godless 19th century revolutionaries stand at the heart of the materialist dechristianising movement of that time, Darwin, Marx and Freud and the greatest of these is Darwin. Evolutionism was implicitly, if not always explicitly, at the heart of the spiritual and intellectual darkness C S Lewis saw creeping over Christendom. As he argues in Abolition of Man, Perelandra (with the descent into madness of Weston) and That Hideous Strength (with ‘scientism’ ending up in demonism), when we abandon the spiritual and moral good the Creator has gifted us, we end up losing the intellectual good which is also a gift coming down from the Father of Lights (James 1:17). But much thinking and writing about the profoundly anti-Christian nature of Darwinianism had not been done in Lewis’ day, nor its results become so apparent.
Based on the available data, I cannot honestly claim that Lewis was a biblical creationist in today’s terms (bearing in mind the debate has moved on since his time, when the modern creationist movement had barely begun and there was next to nothing in print). But he did believe in a Creator God and a real Fall and was sceptical of evolution, both on scientific and particularly on philosophical grounds.
He was more concerned about the philosophy of scientism (a disputed but nevertheless meaningful term, which he used if didn’t invent) which is implied by and bundled in with evolution, as we see in one of his most detestable characters, Professor Weston. And he was absolutely clear on one issue that many Christian teachers and leaders are very reticent about today: there is a real Devil, who hates you and has a miserable plan for your life. The issue of Satan is addressed particularly in Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters and the Ransom Trilogy. Lewis saw Satan as mainly intending to advance his hateful plan for every soul of man by telling lies, not least those pervasive background lies that filter down from key opinion leaders, wafting through the vertical and horizontal information channels in the culture like an odourless gas, barely if at all noticed until most minds have been infected.
When considering the limited direct attention Lewis gave to the origins debate, it is important to consider the times he lived in. It is not as if he was surrounded by a lively young earth creationist movement, the issue was pretty much asleep during his lifetime, and he had other fish to fry. The first of the 3 major events that pushed the creation/evolution debate into prominence was the publication of ‘The Genesis Flood’ by Morris and Whitcomb in 1961. Lewis was a sick man by then, his life’s work done. He died 2 years later. The next great trumpet blast against Darwinism came with the birth and rise of the intelligent design movement which arguably kicked off with the publication of Philip Johnson’s book ‘Darwin on Trial’ in 1991. The final thing which has helped the modern Darwin dissent movement forward has been the advent of the internet which more than anything else has enabled previously disenfranchised groups and individuals to break through the establishment blockade on challenging molecules to man evolutionism. Obviously this was all well after Lewis’ time.
Lewis politely declined at least two invitations from Captain Bernard Acworth of the Evolution Protest Movement to give public support to the creationist cause. In one letter he expressed considerable sympathy for the anti-evolution cause and said he wished he was younger. Among the reasons he gave for declining to write an introduction to Acworth’s book was his lack of biological knowledge and the fact that it might detract from the successful apologetics work Lewis was doing. Both of these are honourable excuses, neither imply acceptance of evolution.
Would Britain’s, perhaps the world’s, best loved Christian apologist have taken a more robust view and supported the Darwin dissent paradigm if he had been born later, lived longer or heard the case made better than Acworth made it? Having studied as much of his work as I can get my hands on over several decades (see bibliography) and plus biographies and commentaries and 7 days of C S Lewis conferences in Oxford, I have tried to make sense of him on creation and evolution.
I offer these observations to readers who love C S Lewis and are interested in evolution and its theological implications. Whatever I have got right or wrong, the issues remain, and they matter. C S Lewis’ trilemma (Jesus Christ-mad, bad or God?) like Pascal’s Wager is still on. Choose wisely.
(5) Walter Hooper tells a story about Lewis coming out of the Lamb and Flag pub in St Giles, Oxford and giving some money to a beggar. ‘What did you do that for?‘ says Hooper ‘He’ll only spend it on drink.’
‘Well if I’d kept it, I’d probably only have spent it on drink’, Jack replies.
to be continued
Lewis was fallible
It’s important to acknowledge that however much Lewis is loved, and regardless of his gifting and learning, he was a man like other men. Some commentators talk of ‘Lewisolatry’ (Lewis worship) or ‘Jacksploitation’ (Lewis was known to his friends as Jack, lesser writers may hope his name will help their work sell). But because he was often right doesn’t mean he was never wrong. His name carries no authority or magisterium beyond what he can establish by sound reason and Scripture. If I could ‘prove’ Jack Lewis was a ‘creationist’ (depending on how we define those terms) that wouldn’t prove ‘creationism’ was true, any more than proving that he accepted molecules to man evolution would make that true either. But I am convinced that his earlier views of evolution, which were broadly accepting although sceptical, changed over time. I argue that if we look we can see his view of the danger of Darwinism to wholesome faith expressed as early as 1933 in ‘The Pilgrim’s Regress.’ I will also argue, some may think arrogantly, that he was more of a creationist than he realised.
He could change his mind. He thought he had been beaten on a point of logic by Elizabeth Anscombe in a Socratic Club debate, and-feeling suitably chastened- changed his views on a particular argument against materialism that he had used until then and used it no longer. Who can say what might have happened had he met a sufficiently well informed and skilled debater on biological evolution? There are precious few around today, there were approximately none in his era.
Lewis’s Early views on Evolution
In ‘All my Road Before Me’ an early autobiographical collection, Lewis recollects being asked by a friend’s sister at Oxford in 1925 whether he believed the religious or the scientific account of creation. He replied ‘The scientific, of course.’ This answer is what we would expect from any knowing, worldly wise undergraduate at that time, let alone a professed atheist: it is mentioned as a datum line.
It seems likely that, like most other Britons then and now, Lewis had not made a particular study of the facts and issues around evolution, far less heard any educated opposing views or arguments, and had most likely absorbed an acceptance of evolution from the pervading intellectual environment, i.e. he had soaked it up ‘because the experts say so.’ I’m aware of no strong evidence either way and it’s not very important for our discussion here. Lewis’ views would change on many things over the next decade especially after his conversion in 1931.
Did Lewis accept ‘theistic evolution’?
There are 3 main questions that the Christian may, and I think should, ask concerning the theory (*) of biological evolution.
1) What is it?
2)Is it true?
3) Can a follower of Jesus accept it without to some extent damaging their faith and witness?
Each of these 3 big questions subsumes many smaller questions that are not asked as often as they should be. I remain astonished at the willingness of so many Christians to trust other people, some of whom are openly working to destroy the Christian Church, to dictate to them on issues as big as this.
We cannot put C S Lewis in a big black chair and ask him these questions in detail and depth: he is too busy breathing the sweet air of heaven’s orchards and racing unicorns up waterfalls. So we have to do some detective work, and no doubt interpretation, which will, like other people’s interpretation, be open to question.
Question 1-what is evolution? The problems begin with the definition, the word ‘evolution’ being used quite loosely to describe a range of different things from the design of motor cars or economic policies to cyclical variation in the colour of moths. I prefer the term ‘molecules to man evolution’ (Darwin avoided discussing the origin of life, but it requires an explanation as natural selection cannot begin without it.) I will use the term biological evolution to mean the idea that, after life somehow arose, it descendants gradually became modified so that all life forms, extinct, extant and future, are the offspring of that first self-assembled ancestor. Evolution is said to proceed via natural selection (non-survival of the least fit) acting on naturally occurring variations. Lewis understood this, see ‘Funeral of a Great Myth’.
In an almost throwaway reference to scientific objections to evolution in this essay he stated (correctly) that evolution does not explain the origin of life, or the species, or the variations. He correctly notes that harmful variations greatly outnumber useful ones, a big problem for the theory. He also quotes biology professor D M S Watson who stated that evolution had not been observed or proved but had to be accepted as true anyway since Divine Creation, the only alternative, was unacceptable to modern men. So, Lewis knew what biological evolution was claimed to be, probably better than many today who get their ideas fed them in school and the main stream media, and was sceptical of it.
2) Did Lewis think that Darwin’s ‘theorem’ was true? His view on this is equivocal, as he made statements which can be taken either way. An example of how deliciously complicated his views were can be seen in the essay ‘The World’s Last Night‘ in which he wrote ‘…the modern conception of Progress or Evolution (as popularly imagined) is simply a myth, supported by no evidence whatsoever.’ If I was dishonestly quote mining Lewis I could leave the above as it stands and say ‘There, you see, he was a creationist!’ But he continues ‘…I say, evolution as popularly imagined. I am not in the least concerned to refute Darwinism as a theorem in biology..‘ He went on to say that ‘what I want to point out is the illegitimate transition from the Darwinian theorem in biology to the modern myth of evolutionism or developmentalism or progress in general.’ He then goes on to assert that the theory arose before there was any evidence for it but that it had been taken up by various revolutionaries for political and ideological reasons since it fitted their narrative.
Having said that, he said he was not writing here to debunk biological evolution, but to discuss the end of the world, mentioning the evolutionist ‘progressive’ world view as part of his argument, which was that the world and humanity is not going to go on getting better and better, as thinkers like Bernard Shaw, Henri Bergson, H G Wells and others imagined, but (if Jesus is to be believed) will end catastrophically by divine fiat and be replaced with a new world in which only goodness dwells.
That is the difficulty reading Lewis on evolution. When he mentions it, it is most often in passing while he is discussing something else that was more important to him. Hence the risk of citing him out of context-or being accused falsely of so doing. Take no man’s word, read the whole essay! But I must honestly conclude that the question of whether or not C S Lewis accepted biological evolution as science fact is not definitely resolved by direct evidence in his writings. I will propose that on the analysis of more indirect evidence, reading between the lines, that he was deep down a creationist.
Question 3–Can a Christian accept evolution without harming their faith and walk? Did Lewis think so? What evidence is there to support the case either way? A long answer is required to this difficult question. Before interrogating Lewis I will consider the question as put today.
6 day creationists in the church today are accused by fellow believers (never mind those outside) of scientific ignorance, misreading Scripture, divisiveness, poisoning the Gospel, placing stumbling blocks in the way of seekers, telling men and women they cannot be saved unless they accept Genesis as literal history, and of making a problem where there is no problem. I reject all of these charges and have addressed them in a long essay (&*&*&*). I know of no creationist organisation, and I subscribe to four, which states that accepting evolution per se disqualifies a Christian profession. It is not, as they say, a ‘Salvation Issue’. Christ alone is The Salvation Issue. But let’s be careful-a long list could be compiled of things that will not keep us out of heaven but will do us and our witness no good at all. A sin or error may not kill, but will weaken us. That is one of the main themes of the New Testament letters to believers, who are warned to stay on guard against the deceitful philosophies of men (e.g. Colossians 2:8) and false teachers in the Church (e.g. 2 Peter 2:1-3, Jude 4, 1 john 2:24, etc) at all times. Lewis reminded us (for example in Screwtape) that we are in hostile enemy occupied territory. There is no room for complacency. I am amazed and perplexed that Christians who accept evolution are apparently so relaxed about the company they keep, like the heretic ‘bishop’ John Shelby Spong who denies all the miracles of the Bible including the Resurrection as inconsistent with ‘modern science’. And here we are already walking with Lewis, who wrote a whole book about the reasonableness of miracles.
The question is-does acceptance of evolution help or harm our Christian walk, or is it entirely neutral? An important subsidiary question often raised is whether questioning or opposing Darwinism will put earnest seekers off Christianity (NB-if this question is asked, its opposite must be asked too-does the acceptance of biological evolution deter people seeking God by persuading them there is no God to seek-no Creator so no Lawgiver or Judge, so therefore no need for a saviour?) Where does Lewis stand on all this? Can we track his views down at all or must we guess, risking attributing views to him he never held?
Lewis is absolutely clear that, regardless of what we think of biological evolution, there is a major conflict between the evolutionary ‘progressive’ and orthodox Christianity world views. This conflict grows sharper the more we consider evolution’s metaphysical implications about Humankind’s destiny. These implications and their outworkings have become much clearer, have ‘progressed and developed’ as Prince Caspian put it (see ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ chapter 4) in the half century since Lewis entered Aslan’s country.
Evolution has in fact been used as a weapon against faith. Even if Christians think it shouldn’t have been, the fact is that it has. Evolutionary based thinking by men like Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx have created philosophies which have demonstrably done actual harm. Our view of God has changed-individuals, church, academy and society. The Bible has been ‘interpreted’ to mean things that our forefathers would not have recognised, and if you start by ripping up the first book, then no wonder. Because if Adam and Eve can be explained away as myth and metaphor, then so can Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah and Jesus. The English poet and author Thomas Hardy, who abandoned Christianity after reading Darwin, said as much in his poem ‘The Respectable Burgher on the Higher Criticism.’ in which he traces doubt about the veracity of Genesis to a rejection of Christ’s Resurrection and swapping the church for Voltaire.
Heretic bishops worse than the one Lewis caricatured in ‘The Great Divorce’ have begun their downward spiral by rejecting Genesis, then the Atonement, then the Resurrection, then the New Birth, then the concept of sin, judgment and the need for salvation. And there is now talk of blending Christianity and Islam as ‘Chrislam’ (which Lewis arguably prophesied in the last Battle where Tash and Aslan were declared to be one as ‘Tashlan’.) A growing number of churches are giving way before sexual revolutionaries and secularists to accept so-called same sex marriage. Just as cannabis is a gateway drug, replacing the Bible creation account with a secular origins account which requires no divine intervention is arguably a gateway heresy which leads on to others. The Apostle Peter apparently thought so, see 2nd Peter where he predicted ‘damnable heresies’, apostasy in the church and denial of the Noah flood in the last days.
If biological evolution has no metaphysical or religious implications, how is it that men like Karl Marx, Ernst Haeckel, T E Huxley, Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins and many others have used Darwinian evolution as a powerful tool to advance atheism? Leading atheist Dawkins wrote ‘Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.’ I argue then that while Lewis was somewhat accepting of Darwinian evolution as a biological theory, he was extremely concerned about its metaphysical implications.
Since our Lord said that a bad tree was known by its fruit (Luke 6:43, Matthew 12:33), was Lewis being inconsistent with Lewis by rejecting evolution’s implications but not evolution itself? For if evolution’s metaphysic implications were so bad, and he thought they were, then how could evolution be of God? He never expressed any concerns about ungodly behaviour as an outcome of accepting divine sovereign creation in six days, which is after all what a plain reading of Genesis gives us. The plain metaphysical implication of accepting the Genesis creation account as history (even if ‘mythologised’ to some extent) is that God is our sovereign Lord to whom we owe 100% allegiance. And this Lewis believed utterly, as can be seen in everything he wrote from his conversion to his death.
Even if he believed the Genesis 1-3 creation and Fall narrative had something of myth about it, he thought it a profound truth-bearing myth, as he said in The Problem of Pain and Miracles. And like many Evangelical preachers today, he lived and wrote as if Genesis were true. He looked to God as Creator and Lord, even while (arguably) making a mental note that evolution was the accepted scientific origins explanation, overlooking the disconnect. Even if he held to evolution as science fact, he never expressed the slightest concern that disregarding the claims of scientists and taking 6 day creation as fact would shipwreck our faith.
Doing a reduction on the above, I suggest the following formulations for debate. It is likely possible to develop better propositions, these are tentative.
Proposition 1) Evolution is true. Our traditional understanding of Biblical Creation must give way to science. Accepting evolution cannot harm our faith since all truth is God’s truth. But developing a metaphysic/world view based on it will lead us astray, so we must have a strict dividing wall between biological evolution and any moral, religious or philosophical ideas that might derive from it.
Proposition 2) Evolution is probably true, but it doesn’t matter. We can believe it and at the same time believe the Genesis story as a ‘true myth’. We can assume God created through evolution but hold a theology and world view assuming 6 day Creation is true at the same time, just ignore the seeming contradiction.
Proposition 3) Evolution is untrue because (A) it is bad science, and (B) it contradicts the Bible. Accepting it will harm our faith and undermine the presentation of God’s command to the world that they should repent and believe the Gospel. Accepting evolution as our human origin story radically alters who we think we are, which opens the way to godless philosophies.
C S Lewis appeared to believe both 1 and 2. But these two statements cannot be fully reconciled.
Proposition 1 puts us in the position of saying that, due to modern science, we understand the Genesis account better than the Apostles, Church Fathers, Reformers and Puritans. If evolution is God’s truth, then it cannot conflict with the Bible, can it? but in fact, we observe acceptance of evolution taking people away from God. How could God’s truth do that? If 6 days of purposeful divine activity become 4 billion years of chance mutation, the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:8-11) and the genealogy of Christ (Matthew 1, Luke 3) aren’t the only things in the Bible that have to be torn up and re-written. And if we reject 6 day creation because it is unscientific, well so are parting the Red Sea, healing the sick, Virgin Birth and Resurrection. If we allow materialistic science to tell us how to read our Sacred Scriptures, where does it stop?
Proposition 2 re-states the same position from a different angle, just a bit more honest about the inconsistency we are willing to live with. ‘Don’t worry, God could have done whatever, it’s all OK.‘ We can act as if 6 day creation were true while holding that it isn’t, or that it doesn’t matter. If acting as if the Genesis creation account were true (even if it is not) does us no harm, then why not accept it as true anyway? What is the worst thing that could happen if, for the sake of argument, Genesis is in fact metaphor but we took it as history? Being called rude names? But what then about Matthew 5:11-13 where Jesus promises a great reward to those who endure name calling and worse on HIs account?
Proposition 3 is the mainstream 6 day creationist position. Lewis cannot be proved by proof text quotations to have taken this position but it is to my mind most consistent with most of what he wrote especially part (B).
Even if I am thrown out of the Oxford C S Lewis Society and banned from the Eagle and Child for saying so, I contend that Lewis for whatever reasons failed to apply his usual excellent standard of logic to this conundrum. He left disconnected ends hanging loose. I do not blame the great man, but I think he was inconsistent in saying that evolutionism was harmful lie but evolution itself was true, if he did indeed imply the latter. I think he at least half admits this disconnect in his letter to Bernard Acworth of 9th September 1951.
to be continued
Apology and introduction
(NB I have written some 40,000 words on C S Lewis and the evolution/creation debate. I am posting it here in sections. Constructive criticism is welcome.
Why another book on C S Lewis?
Why another book on C S Lewis? Is there anything worth saying that hasn’t already been said? Evidently I think so or I wouldn’t have written this. This work considers what Lewis thought and wrote about origins, i.e. the creation versus evolution debate. This overlaps the theism/naturalism debate, often falsely framed as the ‘science versus religion’ debate. I think this debate is interesting and significant. The extent to which some people try to shut it down by denial, ridicule, misrepresentation and bullying is instructive. Lewis noted in a letter to Bernard Acworth of the Creation Protest Movement the ‘…twisted and fanatical…’ attitudes of some of evolution’s most active proponents.
There is a strong tendency to equate questioning Darwin with denying science. Many people are poorly informed and/or confused about both the nature and significance of the debate. Others proclaim ‘There is no debate!’ But there is, and it won’t go away. Can Lewis, that great clarifier of thought and opponent of dissembling and waffle and, help us see the truth through the intellectual fog? I believe so, if we let him, but it will take some effort. Absolute yes or no answers will elude us, hence the equivocating title of this study, but no honest seeker for truth comes away from C S Lewis entirely unsatisfied.
Lewis on good form is peerless. Providence took his first class brain through many strong formative experiences, positive and negative. He was a former atheist who became the ‘patron saint’ of Christian apologists, wounded WW1 soldier, an Oxford triple first scholar then lecturer, a professor at Cambridge, friend of Tolkien and other influential Christian writers (The Inklings), multilingual including Old Icelandic and German, a highly and broadly educated classicist with a Christian mind. His huge and varied output continues to be valued by most serious English speaking Christians. This being so, if he had anything to say on this important subject it might be worth hearing.
To interrogate Lewis on the creation/evolution debate, I have studied all his popular works and much of the less well known material including the collected letters, see bibliography. It was stimulating to re-read books like Miracles, Pilgrim’s Regress, Problem of Pain, Reflection on the Psalms etc: much new light has broken out for me from them. I have tried to distil and bottle some of that light. If I only get a few people asking questions and going back to the Lewis originals to see if I am right or wrong, that will make the time I spent on this project worthwhile.
It is generally thought that Lewis embraced molecules to man evolution and/or thought it didn’t matter. I can see why a respected scholar like Will Vaus takes this view, but I do not think it is so simple. More than once he said that he accepted biological evolution (with reservations) but on other occasions he expressed well informed doubt. His views changed over the course of his life and are nuanced. He strongly opposed what he called ‘scientism’, a godless materialistic world view associated with the philosophy of ‘evolutionism’ (as distinct from biological evolution). It is important to understand this distinction, or we will be thinking at cross purposes.
Isolated Lewis quotations can be used to ‘prove’ a range of views. I have tried to weigh the whole of what he said on the subject and believe that he was at best questioning of Darwinism and that the spirit of his post-conversion writing was thoroughly supernaturalist and creationist. Furthermore, he saw where the godless world view based on materialistic assumptions was going and vigorously opposed it. I am certain that subsequent history has proved him doubly right on that point.
C S Lewis-a remarkable Christian scholar, poet and soldier
This is not a biography but some detail about the man is unavoidable. Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast in 1898 and raised in the Church of Ireland. His mother died of cancer when he was 9. His father, with whom he did not get on well, sent him away to boarding school, which he hated. He became infatuated with Norse mythology partly through Wagner’s music and Arthur Rackham’s illustrations, and abandoned his nominal Christian faith as a teenager. His atheism was reinforced at Great Bookham, Surrey, under the tutelage of the rationalist tutor W T Kirkpatrick. He was a convinced materialist but also a lover of pagan mythologies when he went to Oxford in 1917. He went to war: most of his friends were killed and he was wounded. He returned to Oxford and earned firsts in English Literature, Classics (Greats) and Philosophy before being appointed lecturer in English. He became a Christian after a long and tortuous intellectual struggle. All this and more is documented in Surprised by Joy, various biographies and on line sources.
52 years after his passing, Clive Staples Lewis (Jack to his friends) remains the most popular and oftenest quoted Christian writer of modern times. He is loved by Anglicans of all strands, Methodists, Evangelicals, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Calvinists like John Piper, and almost everyone in between. He told his secretary Walter Hooper that he thought his books would fall from popularity after his death, but most remain in print and sell well. New editions plus biographies, commentaries and academic theses and papers on his work and life continue to appear. A memorial to him was recently dedicated in Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey.
Jack is not just admired, he is loved. What he wrote was usually not only right, but winsomely so-except to those who detest Christianity and whom no apologetic however excellent would convince. Many people, including me, testify that his clear, wise and kindly words helped us to begin, make sense of and successfully continue our Christian journey. He also helped us find better words to try to communicate the life and truth of Christ in us to others. That he is loathed by avowed opponents of Christianity like Polly Toynbee, Philip Pullman and Richard Dawkins is a further badge of honour.
He is so often cited by lesser writers that there is a risk of assuming that his opinion settles a matter. But we know from his confessions of doubt, sin and error that he wouldn’t have stood for that. He used terms like ‘I am a layman writing for other laymen.’ and ‘If this word picture doesn’t help, forget it.’ Admirers say things like ‘Even when Lewis is wrong, he makes you think.’ Although he often cited ancient and mediaeval writers from Aristotle to Dante and modern writers like socialist playwright Bernard Shaw and evolutionary biologist D M S Watson, Lewis was always showing and explaining rather than just telling. The supreme authority he appealed to was always Christ, not ‘The Authorities’ let alone his own authority. He was a popular lecturer and great debater who took on the public atheists of his time, men like Bertrand Russell, H G Wells and J B S Haldane who promoted godless world views that sought to supplant Christianity. These men have their successors, but as Lewis once asked ‘Where are my successors?’
His contributions to Christian writing include the well beloved Narnia tales, apologetic works like the classic Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain, speculative fiction like The Great Divorce and the Ransom Trilogy, the darkly funny and highly instructive Screwtape Letters (which were partly instrumental to my own conversion), ‘A Grief Observed’ which remains the acknowledged ‘go to’ work on bereavement. He also wrote two spiritual autobiographies (one allegorical ‘The Pilgrim’s Regress’ and one straightforward ‘Surprised by Joy’), many letters, reviews and essays, plus two collections of poems. There were also highly regarded scholarly literary works such as ‘The Allegory of Love’, a contribution to the ‘The Oxford History of English Literature’, ‘The Discarded Image’ and more. How many writers of any religious or philosophical standpoint have achieved comparable success in so many different genres or sell 2 million books a year half a century after their death?
Lewis produced no major work dealing specifically with creation/evolution, it wasn’t on his ‘to do’ list. Only one poem and one essay as far as I can discover tackle evolution head on, although there were many passing and indirect mentions. However, he wrote much about what he called ‘scientism’. This term is taken to mean a philosophical approach to life which holds that science and the sciences reign supreme in all areas of enquiry and have rendered religion, theology and philosophy redundant. It is almost a form of worship, with ‘science’ set up as an idol. This is arguably the unifying theme of his science fiction trilogy.
Scientism is a sort of religion for atheists (Stephen Hawking used this term of astrophysics, as cited in the recent film ‘Theory of Everything’). It is a triumphalist, dogmatic materialism, a godless way of viewing the world which sees the sciences not just as tools to be used to gain empirical knowledge and utility which we can fit into a world view, but as a world view in itself-science as the measure of all things, an idol to be worshipped instead of God. Scientism rules out all forms of evidence other than the crudely empirical, dismissing poetry, philosophy and theology as so much emotive trash. It dismisses historical evidence for Christianity as ‘anecdote’, thus ‘proving’ the claims of materialism to its own satisfaction by framing the terms of the debate. Produce god in a bottle for us, get him to do some tricks and then we’ll believe, on our terms.
I come across this crude reductionist attitude daily and see it as a ‘cheat’ (to use Lewis’ term regarding false philosophies as discussed in ‘The Pilgrim’s Regress’). Like any other man-made object of worship, scientism is set up to replace God and it effectively blocks Gospel light from entering the sinner’s heart. Lewis knew this particular cheat from personal experience and addressed it in numerous of his major works as we shall see. Scientism/materialism cannot stand without a godless origins story, i.e. evolution. Lewis discusses this usually ignored fact in his essay ‘Funeral of a Great Myth’ in which he truly says of evolution that ‘Imagination runs ahead of evidence.’ He said that a scientific theory of biological evolution became philosophically necessary in the 19th century, and so therefore one was produced to order. Darwinism, Lewis wrote, did not arise from the discovery of new facts, but to satisfy the modernist philosophical world view which predated it.
Observations around materialism, science, origins, creation and evolution are found scattered through all Lewis’ writings, with much more on the philosophical and theological implications than the science. This is as you would expect given Lewis’s position as primarily a storyteller and philosopher/theologian thinker who was, to quote Galileo, ‘…more concerned about how to go to Heaven than how the heavens go.’ Nevertheless, I believe there is a complex and interesting story to be told around C S Lewis’ views on evolution/creation. I have tried to evaluate and criticise his thoughts and make coherent sense out of them. My findings are tentative and open to question.
Cautions and disclaimers
Herman Melville wrote in his classic novel ‘Moby Dick’ that the laws of whaling were so succinct that they could be engraved on the point of a harpoon. However, they required an encyclopaedia of commentaries to interpret them. Any fool can ask a question that the wisest man on Earth cannot answer. And the question asked in this book’s title is not admitting of a short, plain answer, or this thesis would be much shorter.
I am a long standing CSL fan and also a 6 day young earth creationist. I hold to the latter position after much study for both scientific and theological reasons, despite the ridicule and anger I get for it. I have argued in support of my convictions elsewhere (see appendix). I acknowledge my potential bias. However, bias works both ways: my bias is declared, my facts can be checked, my arguments argued against and my conclusions contested.
I love and respect Jack Lewis too much to want or dare to misuse him. After all, I look forward to buying him a pint in the heavenly Eagle and Child, if there is one; or better still pouring him a cider in my heavenly orchard, if I’m allowed one (and the last paragraphs of The Last Battle and Miracles suggest he thought I might be!). I don’t want to have to apologise for misrepresenting him. More importantly, I am answerable to our Creator, who takes a very dim view of liars (Revelation 21:8). Any genuine mistakes whether due to poor scholarship, misunderstandings, ignorance or omissions are of course my responsibility for which I hope to be corrected and forgiven.
The following quote is lifted from Tom Graffagnino’s page, see under ‘cat out of bag’ in the quotes section.
“Years ago, speaking in a tone of subdued irony for my benefit, Donn Rosen, a curator of ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History, wryly summarized what is involved: ‘Darwin said that speciation occurred too slowly for us to see it. Gould and Eldredge said it occurred too quickly for us to see it. Either way we don’t see it.’ “
— Tom Bethell , American Spectator, September 2013
Reflections on the ’No true Scotsman fallacy’ fallacy.
Quite often in discussion about disputed matters, the ‘No True Scotsman Fallacy’ is deployed. As far as I can tell, it is usually intended to signify that a defence that has just been made of a particular XYZ person’s behaviour, typically an excuse that ‘no true XYZ would have said or done that’ is invalid. In my experience (and this may not be typical) it is most often used to disallow or dismiss a defence that has been made against an attack on Christianity due to the behaviour of a professed or supposed Christian.
An example, from a conversation I caught part of yesterday on the Premier Christian Radio ‘Unbelievable’ Facebook page went roughly as follows.
A ‘I see that some Christians have been rejoicing that Jimmy Carter has terminal cancer because he is allegedly not a real Christian.’
B ‘No Christian could wish or say any such thing.’
A ‘Well this one did.’
B ‘But no true Christian would have.’
A, C and D cackle triumphantly in unison ‘Ha ha ha! You used the No True Scotsman fallacy. You lose!’
The people who claim the ‘fallacy’ are of course dismissing the defence made by B, and rest their case. Christianity is guilty as charged and all so called Christians are idiots, hypocrites and liars, etc. As someone once said, it is a hard thing to answer a simple lie with a complex truth, but I think we should try-always bearing in mind that we rarely have the whole picture about anything. Life has a habit of being too complex to sum up in half a dozen syllables.
I don’t like arguing in baggage laden quips and slogans, but obviously some people do. Quips and slogans always oversimplify and often misrepresent. This particular one carries a lot of assumed baggage, reminding me of C S Lewis’ thoughts in The Screwtape Letters about ‘The joke that is assumed to have been made’. For using the ‘No True Scotsman Fallacy’ (NTSF for short) actually proves nothing about the case under discussion.
In this essay I would like to discuss why I think that the use of NTSF is generally a cheap distraction tactic, a baggage-laden insult used to muddy the waters of debate. I will specifically address its use as a counter-defence strategy in on line discussions where Christians are responding to attacks that have been made against Christians in general because of the alleged behaviour or statements of some..
Questions I suggest need asking are as follows
- What do we mean by a Christian?
- Can we legitimately divide Christians into true and false categories?
- If so, how?
- Are there such things as false Christians and false churches?
- Is there a better term than ‘true’ that we can use?
Let’s look at the above example first. Setting aside any question about the genuineness of Jimmy Carter’s Christian profession (I will assume it is genuine but that is beside the point here) the question has arisen that one or more professing Christians have expressed happiness that he is terminally ill with melanoma cancer that has spread to the brain. Presumably they are saying he is under God’s curse, perhaps for supporting same sex marriage (if he does) or something similar.
Any Christian who said such a thing would be going against the clear teachings of Jesus that we should love one another and not judge lest we be judged. Rejoicing at another’s sufferings is hateful. So this is unchristian behaviour. Does this therefore mean that the person is ‘no true Christian’? It depends what we mean by true Christian, but in any case, what is wrong in principle with the idea that someone might be a bad or untrue Christian?
In order to decide, if we want to, what is a true Christian, we need to decide what we think a Christian is. This will of course be disputed, and that is nothing new but goes right back to the words of Jesus, who said to some of his supposed followers ‘Why do you call me ‘Lord! Lord! but do not do as I tell you?‘ (Matthew 7:21, Luke 6:46)
I suggest that, in theory, we can divide alleged Christians into several categories. Please do not ask me how we can tell which is which, I doubt we can reliably tell. But what they say and what they do as measured up against the teaching of Jesus is arguably our best guide, based on Jesus’ words cited above.
- Perfect Christians. I don’t recall ever meeting one but in theory they might exist. I agree with C S Lewis that the better a Christian is, the more they are aware of and mourn for their own failures. The Apostle Paul and John Bunyan were 2 outstanding Christians who both referred to themselves as ‘the chief of sinners’.
- Christians trying to be perfect, often failing (sometimes publicly) but picking themselves up after each failure and struggling on. I hope I am in this category.
- Lazy and complacent Christians, whose conversion is genuine but who to a greater or lesser extent are coasting, trifling with sin, compromising with the world to avoid criticism, lazy and often giving a bad example. John’s letter to the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:14-19) castigates a church that thinks it is doing fine but in God’s eyes is in a pitiable state. I fear being in this category. Paul refers in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 to believers who will get to heaven through the merits of Christ (therefore ‘true’ Christians’ in that sense) but who will ‘suffer loss’ because of their lack of good deeds.
- Falsely professing Christians who have never been converted and are none of Christ’s. Jesus referred to such false believers on numerous occasions. These people, as they stand, are not going to Heaven. This would include adherents of grossly heretical sects, and practitioners of the sin of Simony (‘false apostles’ milking believers for money). I am not naming names but the New Testament contains many dire warnings about such including Matthew 24:24, Acts 8:18-24, Acts 20:29-31, 2 Peter 2:1-3, Jude 4, and Revelation 2:2, 2:9, 2:20, 3:9.
So, at the least we can divide professing Christians into Perfect, imperfect but genuine, and fake. I’m not saying we can always say which is which, and to further complicate things people can move between categories. The NTSF is already looking so imprecise to be useless other than as a smug put down.
What is a ‘true Christian’? I say the best definition is a disciple of Jesus, one who actively seeks to follow Him, who makes choices based on His teaching and example. I take it as axiomatic that anyone who dares call themselves a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth should regularly study and always strive to keep the teachings of Jesus, and belong to a church of similarly inclined disciples. The term ‘disciple’ pre-dates the term ‘Christian’, we read in Acts 11:26 that ‘At Antioch the disciples were first called Christians’. A disciple is one who is under discipline, one who follows and obeys. The term is generic, so you could have disciples of Buddha, Socrates, Galileo, Darwin, Karl Marx, Richard Dawkins or Tony Blair.
A disciple follows a leader. I take it as self-evident that individual disciples may show a greater or lesser degree of commitment to the teachings and example of their leader. We humans being the weak, messy, inconstant people that we are, vary in our levels of commitment. Any of us may behave inconsistently, or appear to. Looking at what the New Testament tells us about the disciples of Jesus, they were a mixed bag. On the whole, they loved and followed Jesus. But none of them did so perfectly 100% of the time. We read about cowardice, unbelief, selfish ambition, lies, sexual immorality, sacrilege, being drunk at the communion table, theft, backsliding, holding to false doctrine, teaching false doctrine, misuse of religion for personal gain and betrayal. The apostle John wrote, ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.’ It is no part of the Gospel to assert that all professed Christians, however ‘true’, live sinless lives. We ought to, but most of us fail at least some of the time.
So is a true Christian a perfect Christian? A perfect Christian would be one who always obeys Jesus and never sins in any way. I do not know if there has ever been even one such disciple. Returning than to the example of professed Christians who allegedly cursed Jimmy Carter. That was disobedient behaviour. Even if Jimmy Carter is a false believer (which I do not say) it was very wrong to curse him, doubly so as it brings disgrace on the teaching of Christ. Therefore any such person would most likely be in category 3 or 4 above.
I should add at this point that there is a 5th category, distinct from 4, of persons who know perfectly well that they are not disciples of Jesus, but who pretend to be for dishonest and hateful purposes. They carry out false flag operations on line, attributing outrageous statements to Christians for the deliberate purpose of smearing them. Among these are the so called Jim Solouki, a shameless liar troll who blogs under the title ‘creationsciencestudy’ making statements such as God hates the Philippines and sent them a hurricane because of Roman Catholicism, and the ‘Disciples of the New Dawn’ who have a liar troll Facebook page which amongst other things curses women who have Caesarean sections or who bottle feed their infants.
So, as usual, its complicated. I am a Christian, I hope a ‘true’ one, who does not live a perfect life. I believe there are many others like me. There may be some of us living a perfect life, good for them. Some of us fail publicly and bring disgrace on the name of Jesus. In the church I am a member of, I had to sign a declaration that I would seek to live according to the Bible and if necessary (which God avert) be subject to discipline on a single charge, that of ‘Bringing the name of The Lord Jesus into disrepute’. Signing that made me think, but I signed it, and was glad to be admitted into fellowship with some 600 others who had signed it too, and I believe meant it.
When professing Christians are alleged to have done or said wrong, there are several possibilities. The report may be incorrect. They may be falsely professing Christians, either self deceived or deliberate liars like ‘Jim Solouki’, or they may be real (‘true’) Christians having a bad day or with unrepented character flaws. They may be seriously out of line and off balance like the highly unrepresentative Westboro Baptist sect, who number fewer than 100 people and are detested and condemned by most Christians.
One thing is clear-we all fail sometimes and there is no good denying it. Believers who seek to defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ must acknowledge and mourn our sins, and those of our brother and sister Christians. If any professing Christians have cursed Jimmy Carter, and I must stress that I have no evidence this has happened, they must repent. I do not say ‘if any professed Christians have criticised Jimmy Carter…’ for Scripture clearly teaches that it may be our duty to give or receive criticism.
So what then? People are going to continue using the ‘No True Scotsman Fallacy’ as a put down whether I like it or not. Perhaps Christians when responding to attacks on the behaviour of other professed Christians can avoid using the term ‘No true Christian’ and instead use a phrase like ‘If X said or did that, it was disobedient to the teaching and example of Jesus, and they should be ashamed and repent.’
But here is a more important point that the above kind of discussion may obscure. ALL Christians have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We do not find acceptance with God by our behaviour, we are too messed up. Forgiveness of sin and adoption into God’s family is the free gift of God through faith in Christ. As Romans 6:23 says ‘The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Opponents of the Gospel are always trying to shift the grounds of debate away from the claims of Christ to some other ground. They will often assert that Christians behave badly (whether fairly or not) as part of their argument. We believers, knowing as we do that many of us strive to do good to others at our own expense and struggle against sin, and that there are false believers, are offended and naturally try to respond to slanders. This is understandable, but can get us dragged off the point-that all men are sinners, all men sin, all men need to come to the Saviour who alone is the doctor with the right medicine for our sickness.
Finally, having apologised on behalf of Christians who get it wrong, I wonder about the quality of the lives of those who are pointing the finger? When they accuse Christians of hypocrisy, where does their sense of fairness come from? The charge of hypocrisy carries its particular potency because Jesus condemned it. Hypocrisy usually means that someone is claiming to live to a high moral standard but in fact does not do so. Are all the people who fling the NTSF and other slogans at Christians so clean themselves?