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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Another Point About C.S. Lewis

Posted by jlwile on October 24, 2011

About three months back, I posted an essay about how people mischaracterize the views of C.S. Lewis to make it look like he agreed with them on some issue. In that essay, I cited Dr. Michael L. Peterson, an evolutionist, who deliberately edited a quote by C.S. Lewis to make it sound like he was an ardent evolutionist. I then cited Dr. Jerry Bergman, a young-earth creationist, who ripped several of Lewis’s quotes waaayyyyy out of context to make it look like C.S. Lewis was an anti-evolutionist. As I said in my essay, neither of the authors is correct. In fact, C.S. Lewis was an evolutionist, but his faith in evolution was never very strong. He thought it might not be the last word on origins, and at minimum, it would require direct intervention by God at certain key points.

I have gotten some flack from a few of my fellow young-earth creationists for calling Dr. Bergman out on his mischaracterization of C.S. Lewis. However, I am very familiar with all of Lewis’s published works, and there is no doubt that Dr. Bergman was simply not being honest in his portrayal of Lewis. The problem is, most people are not very familiar with Lewis’s work. As a result, it is hard for the average reader to notice when people like Dr. Bergman and Dr. Peterson quote him in such a way as to mischaracterize his views.

Well…there is a popular expression: “Actions speak louder than words.” As I was searching for something in a book I read years ago, I stumbled across the fact that C.S. Lewis performed a specific action which definitively shows, contrary to Bergman’s claims, that C.S. Lewis was certainly not an anti-evolutionist.

The book I was searching is entitled The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design. It is written by Dr. Ronald Numbers, and it is a fascinating look at the history of creationism. It shows how creationism started as a uniquely American movement among Christians but ended up developing into an international movement that includes not only Christians but many other theists, such as those who practice Judaism.

In the book, Dr. Numbers spends a great deal of time discussing the Evolution Protest Movement, which he abbreviates as “EPM.” This British organization was founded in 1932 and labels itself as the oldest creation science movement in the world. Its first chairman was Captain Bernard Acworth, a retired British naval officer and author of several books, some of which argued against evolution. As Numbers discusses the EPM, he talks about how it tried to increase its credibility by enlisting certain high-profile Christians to the cause. He then says this:1

The EPM suffered an even greater setback when it failed to win the public endorsement of C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), perhaps the best-known Christian apologist of his day and a personal friend of Captain Acworth’s. In the 1940s and 1950s Acworth tried repeatedly to cajole the Oxford don into joining the protest against evolution, but Lewis, believing that nonmaterialistic evolution posed little threat to Christianity, refused to take sides or even contribute a preface to one of Acworth’s books.

Now, of course, if C.S. Lewis really was an anti-evolutionist, as Dr. Bergman claims, you would think he would join the EPM. However, he did not. Thus, not only Lewis’s published works, but also his actions, show that he was not any kind of anti-evolutionist.

Please note that no one who actually reads C.S. Lewis in an honest way could possibly think that he was an anti-evolutionist. Consider the words of Dr. Timothy Keller, an award-winning, best-selling Christian author. In discussing why he is worried about the theological view that Adam and Eve were not real people, he says:

Before I share my concerns with this view, let me make a clarification. One of my favorite Christian writers (that’s putting it mildly), C.S.Lewis, did not believe in a literal Adam and Eve, and I do not question the reality or soundness of his personal faith.

Obviously, if you don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve, you are not an anti-evolutionist. However, for those who don’t have the time to become as familiar with Lewis as Dr. Keller, Lewis’s refusal to join the EPM should tell you all that you need to know to see that he was never an anti-evolutionist!

Now at the same time, Lewis was far from an ardent evolutionist. As Dr. Numbers says on the very same page of the book I quoted previously:

Privately, however, he found Acworth’s arguments against evolution increasingly compelling-and the pretensions of many biologists repellent. In 1951 he confessed that his belief in the unimportance of evolution had been shaken while reading one of his friend’s manuscripts. “I wish I were younger,” he confided to Acworth. “What inclines me now to think that you may be right in regarding it [evolution] as the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives is not so much your arguments against it as the fanatical and twisted attitudes of its defenders.”

So Lewis’s faith in evolution was shaken as he got older. Interestingly enough, however, his own words indicate that his faith was not shaken so much by the arguments against evolution as the behavior of those who defended it. Nevertheless, he was only willing to admit that Acworth may have been right about evolution. He was not even willing to privately admit that Acworth was right.

By refusing to be publicly associated with the anti-evolution movement, and by refusing to admit (even privately) that an anti-evolutionist friend was right about evolution, it is clear that C.S. Lewis was not an anti-evolutionist. At best, you could say that he was an evolutionist whose faith in evolution decreased as he grew older.

REFERENCE

1. Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design: Expanded Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 175.
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Comments

18 Responses to “Another Point About C.S. Lewis”
  1. Josiah says:

    I find it interesting that even if he didn’t hold to a literal Adam and Eve, in his very Popular Children’s series he has a very close reflection of the Genesis account in the Magician’s Nephew and persistently refers to the children as “Daughter of Eve” or “Son of Adam”.

  2. jlwile says:

    I don’t think using the term “daughter of Eve” or “son of Adam” requires believing in a literal Adam and Eve. Even if a Christian takes them as allegorical figures, they still represent the figurative beginning of the human race. Thus, all humans are, in a figurative sense, sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.

  3. John Miller says:

    C.S. Lewis is best used for the atheist vs theist type debates, and not for creation vs evolution.

  4. jlwile says:

    I agree John. Unfortunately, some evolutionists and some creationists seem to like to mischaracterize what he believed in a misguided attempt to strengthen their case.

  5. modsynth says:

    You’re right, it takes some careful reading to really understand him – or anyone else, for that matter. For one thing, definitions can shift or change over time, and/or across the pond. Also, people who are familiar with a subject (like creation/evolution) often use nuanced terminology that gets pounded flat when it’s retold by less nuanced sources speaking to fairly uniformed audiences. This is clearly the case when people quote Lewis’s rebuke of “Evolutionism” in “Funeral of a Great Myth”. It’s quite clear that he’s not talking about biology if you actually read it, but if you quote it and remove the “-ism”, you can make an excellent case that CS Lewis was the Ken Ham of his time.

    The ASA has posted Lewis’s correspondance with Acworth (thanks to Numbers):
    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1996/PSCF3-96Ferngren.html

    (Also, I linked to your previous blog in my post on CS Lewis. Thanks, Dr. Wile)

  6. jlwile says:

    Thanks, Modsynth! You are very right – if you don’t approach a person’s writing with the proper respect, you can end up making all sorts of mistakes regarding what he or she is saying. I don’t know how many of my fellow creationist I have had to correct regarding “Funeral of a Great Myth,” because most haven’t bothered to read it. They have just seen what people like Bergman say about it and parrot that misinformation.

  7. Josiah says:

    Do the creationists you correct bother to amend their arguments when you correct them for that?

    There is a depressingly large amount of misinformation out there. Even the second google result for “Funeral of a Great Myth” is Creation.com going on about how this was written against evolution.

  8. Tas Walker says:

    Hi Jay, You say, “if C.S. Lewis really was an anti-evolutionist, as Dr. Bergman claims, you would think he would join the EPM. However, he did not.” It does not follow that because Lewis did not join the EPM his views were not anti-evolution.

    Did you see the quote from Lewis that Ronald Numbers cited on p. 153 of his book (The Creationists, University of California Press, California, 1992): “I wish I were younger. What inclines me now to think you may be right in regarding it [evolution] as the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives is not so much your arguments against it as the fanatical and twisted attitudes of its defenders.” (C.S., Private letter (1951) to Captain Bernard Acworth, one of the founders of the Evolution Protest Movement (England)).

    You also say, “Please note that no one who actually reads C.S. Lewis in an honest way could possibly think that he was an anti-evolutionist.” Did you read the comment at the bottom of Jerry Bergman’s article by Luke W. of New Zealand? He said, “I agree with this article. I have read, reread, and reread a vast amount of Lewis’ material, including essays, fiction, and apologetics, and can confirm that this article’s portrayal of him is accurate.”

  9. jlwile says:

    Unfortunately, Josiah, they often do not. For example, note the comment from Tas Walker (who is a part of Creation Ministries International). He made that comment after I privately asked Creation Ministries International to retract Dr. Bergman’s micharacterization of C.S. Lewis. It is unfortunate that CMI is not willing to retract an obviously false article.

  10. jlwile says:

    Hello Dr. Walker. First, please explain to me why C.S. Lewis would not join the Evolution Protest Movement, if we was, indeed, the anti-evolutionist Dr. Bergman claims. This organization was chaired by a friend of his, and this friend constantly tried to get Lewis to join. Since Lewis refused to join, that very action tells me he was not the anti-evolutionist that Dr. Bergman claims.

    I did, indeed, see the quote. In fact, it is in the very article on which you are commenting. I wonder how you missed it there. Since you missed the quote (which is offset in a quote box), perhaps you missed what I wrote right after that quote. I made the point that this very quote demonstrates that C.S. Lewis was not an anti-evolutionist. Note that this was a statement made in a private letter, and even in that private letter, Lewis was not willing to admit that Acworth was right. He was only willing to admit that Acworth may be right. Now…if C.S. Lewis was the anti-evolutionist that Dr. Bergman claims, why could he not admit, even privately, that Acworth was right?

    I do, indeed, say that anyone who reads C.S. Lewis in an honest way could not possibly think he was an anti-evolutionist. Clearly, Dr. Bergman has read some (I expect not much) of C.S. Lewis, but he has not read Lewis in an honest way. He can’t even quote Lewis honestly, so he clearly hasn’t read Lewis honestly. I expect the same is true of Luke W. of New Zealand. Do you happen to know exactly which of Lewis’s materials Luke W. has read? The fact is, as a commenter, Luke W. can say anything he wants about what he has read, and you cannot confirm or deny what he has said. I bet if I were to quiz Luke W. on C.S. Lewis’s writings, he would fail the quiz as badly as Dr. Bergman would.

    As I mentioned to Josiah, it is very unfortunate that Creation Ministries International is not willing to retract an article that is so clearly false.

  11. mark c says:

    Thank you Dr. Wile for your willingness again to go the distance in pointing out a deliberate attempt to bend the facts. We all evolve in our views. Lewis’s mistrust of scientism and materialistic evolutionary philosophy obviously made him sceptical about readily accepting Darwinian evolution. Lewis should be our hero for willing to follow truth where it leads, not in being comfortable.

  12. jlwile says:

    I agree, Mark. Thanks for the comment!

  13. David says:

    Dr. Jay,

    Once again, certain young-earth creationists show an unwillingness to budge when confronted with the truth.

    This type of recalcitrance only fuels the fire that hard-line evolutionists use to paint creation advocates as prevaricating truth-twisters.

    Just as we don’t appreciate evolutionists distorting the scientific record to suit their purposes, we creationists should go the extra mile to assure we are being careful in our interpretation and presentation of these matters.

    God bless you for respectfully but forcefully speaking the truth, and encouraging others to do the same!

  14. jlwile says:

    Thank you, David.

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