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