Saturday, February 04, 2012

A debate on what Lewis believed about evolution

16 comments:

B. Prokop said...

Off the top of my head, I can't recall Lewis ever mentioning the subject.

There are numerous passages in the works of Charles Williams, where he explicitly embraces evolution. I recall G.K. Chesterton taking a skeptical stance, but one has to consider how long ago he was writing. The issue simply was not as settled then as it is today.

Which leads me to what may be the main point. Whatever Lewis might have thought about evolution in the mid-20th Century is no indicator of what he would have professed today. Lewis was an avid follower of the latest developments in planetary science, for instance - an interest he put to good use in his Space Trilogy novels. The physical descriptions of Mars (in Out of the Silent Planet), Venus (in Perelandra), and the Moon (in That Hideous Strength) are popularizations of what he could have read in the best scientific literature of that time. So we do have evidence of Lewis keeping up with current science.

Crude said...

Bob,

Off the top of my head, I can't recall Lewis ever mentioning the subject.

Without having checked the link, I recall that Lewis was comfortable with theistic evolution, but manifestly not with other varieties.

He even wrote a poem about the subject. I'm a TE, and it remains one of my favorites.

Ryan Anderson said...

CS Lewis was a biologist???

B. Prokop said...

Ryan,

No, he wasn't. But he was an avid follower of scientific research in multiple areas, and had the greatest respect for persons in the field. He knew enough (at the popular level) to understand the great scientific debates of his time. In his celebrated series of discussions with science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, Clarke praised Lewis for his amateur familiarity with the most current developments in research, and Lewis praised Clarke for his amateur competence in philosophy.

They parted, neither having changed the other's mind about the main point, but with a deep respect for each others' integrity and competence in debate. They ought to be a model for others in this respect.

unkleE said...

I can recall Lewis discussing evolution, and a quote from a contemporary scientist to the effect that scientists believe in evolution because the only alternative is special creation, and that is untenable. Lewis went on to comment that he couldn't believe that the scientist meant exactly what he seemed to be saying, and that there was surely evidence to support evolution. Unfortunately I can't remember the source, though I guess if someone googled it they'd find it.

Bilbo said...

Michael Peterson wrote a long essay, trying to refute the idea that Lewis would have been a supporter of Intelligent Design (ID) theory. It was published in several installments at Biologos.org. I made several comments at all the installments, and also at my own blog, bilbos1.blogspot.com.

I think Peterson deeply misrepresented Lewis's views.

My fear is that both parties in the debate will mispresent Lewis, each to a different extreme.

Bilbo said...

Probably the most egregious part of Peterson's essay:

http://biologos.org/blog/c-s-lewis-on-evolution-and-intelligent-design-part-7

See my comments in the combox explaining why.

Bilbo said...

But I don't expect much better from John West, a member of the Discovery Institute, who will doubtless argue that Lewis would have been a died-in-the-wool ID proponent. And again, I think this will deeply misrepresent Lewis's thought regarding science and apologetics.

Bilbo said...

or is it "dyed"?

B. Prokop said...

dyed

Steve Lovell said...

As for Chesterton's views on the matter ... I think he probably was sceptical, but in The Everlasting Man he doesn't come out and say it didn't occur. Rather he said that if it did occur it doesn't make the origin of man (or other creatures) any less miraculous: a slow miracle is no less miraculous than a fast one.

David B Marshall said...

Lewis would remain now what he was then: he would tentatively accept NDE, but remain open to skeptical arguments, including from ID. He would not be dogmatic on either side, recognizing the limits of his own scientific knowledge.

Bilbo said...

David: Lewis would remain now what he was then: he would tentatively accept NDE, but remain open to skeptical arguments, including from ID. He would not be dogmatic on either side, recognizing the limits of his own scientific knowledge.

I think you're right, David, but I could see Lewis saying something like this: "If even the atheist astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle believed that the first cells were intelligently designed, then perhaps the case for a naturalistic explanation for life is much weaker than we have been lead to believe, and the case for intelligent design is much stronger. However, it is the glory of science to progress, so I gladly turn to other arguments."

Steve Lovell said...

In case it helps others ...

I assume NDE is not (i) Near Death Experience(s) but (ii) Neo-Darwinian Evolution. The incorrectness of (i) was obvious, but it just to me 10 mins to come up with (ii).

Bilbo said...

David, I should amend my agreement a little bit. It's clear that Lewis was willing to accept evolution. It's not as clear that he accepted the Darwinian account of evolution. For example, he wrote the following in The Problem of Pain:

For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed for ages in this state before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say "I" and "me", which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgements of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past.

This is an evolutionary account of the physical development of human beings (though not of their psyches). However, it isn't clear that it is a neo-Darwinian account.

Gregory said...

The chapter in Mere Christianity called "The New Men" seems to acquiesce Evolutionary theory. However, Lewis takes a less than Darwinian view when he proposes the "Next Step":

"I should expect the next stage in Evolution not to be a stage in Evolution at all: should expect that Evolution itself as a method of producing change will be superceded...the Christian view is that the 'Next Step' has already appeared. And it is really new. It is not a change of brainy men to brainier men: it is a change that goes off in a totally different direction--a change from being creatures of God to being sons of God. The first instance happened in Palestine 2000 years ago. In a sense, the change is not Evolution at all, because it is not something arising out of the natural processes of events but something coming into nature from the outside."

Lewis goes on to make 5 points which attempt to delineate the contrast between Evolution and the "Next Step".

If Darwinism implies "naturalism", then Lewis was not a Darwinist. Read the chapter for yourself and then you can decide whether he and Darwin would agree with Lewis' concept of "the New Men".