Wednesday, March 19, 2008

C. S. Lewis on Theistic Evolution

On this blog, I have often argued that theistic evolution is compatible with evolutionary science. Although there are Darwinian atheists like Richard Dawkins, their atheism is not dictated by Darwinian science, which is open to the possibility that God acted as First Cause in using an evolutionary process to carry out his will.

C. S. Lewis--perhaps the most famous Christian apologist of the twentieth century--was a theistic evolutionist. In his writings, he identified the Creation story in the book of Genesis as a "myth" or "Hebrew folk tale" that should not be interpreted literally. That God created everything and created human beings in His image was true, but the natural process by which this occurred was not specified in the Bible, and it could have occurred by an evolutionary process.

Lewis accepted the traditional doctrine of the Fall. Although it is sometimes asserted that the evolutionary account of human beings as evolving from lower animals and from primitive proto-human ancestors denies the Fall, Lewis denied this.

In The Problem of Pain, Lewis speculated on the origins of human beings:

"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 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 new consciousness ruled and illuminated the whole organism, flooding every part of it with light, and was not, like ours, limited to a selection of the movements going on in one part of the organism, namely the brain. Man was then all consciousness."

This original "Paradisal man" is not detectable by the natural fossil record, because "judged by his artefacts, or perhaps even by his language, this blessed creature was, no doubt, a savage." This original specific nature was lost when man fell though some act of pride. "Thus human spirit from being the master of human nature became a mere lodger in its own house, or even a prisoner, rational consciousness, became what it now is--a fitful spot-light resting on a small part of the cerebral motions."

Although Lewis was critical of evolutionists who falsely claimed that evolutionary science dictated atheism, he saw no necessary conflict between his Christianity and evolutionary science.

It is true, however, that towards the end of his life, he was somewhat influenced by his correspondence with Bernard Acworth, a creationist anti-evolutionist who tried to persuade Lewis to become an opponent of evolution. But there was no change in his published writing on creation and evolution.

A survey of Lewis's correspondence with Acworth can be found here.

In his book The Language of God, Francis Collins--the head of the Human Genome Project--indicates that reading C. S. Lewis was a crucial point in his journey from atheism to Christianity. He decided that science and Christian faith were compatible. In the section of his book explaining why he accepts theistic evolution, he quotes the same passage I just quoted from Lewis about divinely guided evolution. Collins defends theistic evolution--or "BioLogos" as he calls it--as superior to the alternatives--atheism, creationism, and intelligent design.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think CS Lewis believed in the "myth" of Genesis more than it seems to be. I was especially impressed by the way he wrote in The Chronicles of Narnia of Aslan, who conjures up the land of Narnia with his singing and the magical notes that seem to synchronize with the objects of nature that spring up after he has uttered those notes. The entire land of Narnia, as described by him, reminds me of heaven, right from the splendid sunsets, the stars, the moon and the mere vitality and energy the place lends to you. Many believe that these are Biblical references and are inspired from Genesis.
However, whatever his thought process and whatever one's beliefs, CS Lewis is always a delight to read.
In fact, Disney and Walden are coming up with the latest Narnia movie-Prince Caspian, this May 16th. It promises to be awesome by the looks of the trailer. You can catch the trailer here-