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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Just Making Sure That Horse Is Really Dead…

Posted by jlwile on October 29, 2011

I have written two posts about people who have mischaracterized the views of C.S. Lewis when it comes to evolution (you can read them here and here). At the risk of beating a dead horse, I want to write one more.

In both of my previous posts, I mention an article by Dr. Jerry Bergman. In that article, Dr. Bergman tries to make the case that C.S. Lewis is a “creationist and anti-evolutionist.” I think that my posts have done a good job of showing that Dr. Bergman is simply wrong. Dr. Lewis cannot be described as either a creationist or an anti-evolutionist. I have shared my posts with the author and with the people at Creation Ministries International, the organization that runs the website that published the article. Unfortunately, neither the author nor Creation Ministries International feels the need to retract it. Indeed, in a personal communication with Dr. Bergman, I was told that he had found C.S. Lewis scholars who agree with him. He did not provide the names of those scholars, however, even though I asked for them.

As a result, I decided to see if I could find any C.S. Lewis scholars who agree with Dr. Bergman on this issue. I went to the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s website. This is a wonderful organization that “…is dedicated to advancing the renewal of Christian thought and creative expression throughout the world of learning and the culture at large.” As a part of meeting that mission, the foundation has a study centre at “The Kilns,” Dr. Lewis’s former home in Oxford. I sent Dr. Bergman’s article to the foundation, asking them to have one of their scholars review it to see if it was a reasonable discussion of C.S. Lewis’s views on evolution.

A few days ago, I received a wonderful reply to my question. The author was humble, gracious, and very insightful. It started with these words:1

I am not entirely sure if I should be described as a “Scholar”, in fact I am pretty sure that I should not, but the folk at The Kilns have sent your question on to me.

He went on to give me his answer, some of which will appear below the fold. In that answer, he referred to Dr. Lewis as “Jack.” This is what his close friends and family called him, so as I read the message, I assumed that this man knew C.S. Lewis really well. As I reached the bottom of the message, I read his name: Douglas Gresham. If you don’t recognize the name, it is C.S. Lewis’s younger son. Lewis adopted both Douglas and his older brother, David, when he married their mother, Joy. When Joy lost her battle with cancer, Lewis continued to raise Douglas and David. He dedicated The Horse and His Boy, one of the books in his acclaimed Chronicles of Narnia series, to both of them. Douglas is a producer for all the Chronicles of Narnia movies, and he strives to make them follow the books as closely as they possibly can. He also appears as a minor character in each movie.

I think it is safe to say that Mr. Gresham is probably one of the few people alive today who knows what C.S. Lewis really believed when it comes to all manner of things, including evolution. Do you want to know what he said about Dr. Bergman’s article?

First, let me tell you exactly what I asked of the C.S. Lewis foundation, so that you know the context of Mr. Gresham’s reply. I wrote:

I am trying to find a serious scholar of C.S. Lewis to evaluate an article from Creation Ministries International (CMI). I personally think it severely mischaracterizes Lewis’s views, and I am trying to get CMI to retract it. Would it be possible for one of your scholars to evaluate it?

After his kind, humble words about not being a scholar, here is what he wrote:

You are of course completely right. The ex-contextualisation of quotes, in a piece of creative and pseudo-explicative writing can make them mean practically anything, particularly if the minds of the readers are cleverly steered by self-conceived explanatory notes between the quotations as it seems to me that they are in this piece.

To say that Jack “believed” in “evolutionism” (as it is presented today) would be a lie, but to take what he wrote on the borders of this artificially extreme topic out of context to propel one’s own “creationist” barrow is equally mendacious.

After some explanation as to what Dr. Lewis believed when it comes to interpreting Genesis, he followed with:

Many people whose minds are entrapped by particular ideas and fixated upon them, often ex-contextualise Jack’s writings; a sentence here, a phrase there and so on and then re-combine them in ways to promote their own hobby-horses. In a fashion, this is flattering because the same kinds of people have been doing this with the Scriptures ever since the 1st Century. However flattering or not, it is also of course complete folly.

I personally think this is the most important part of Mr. Gresham’s message to me. This is something that happens far too often in the church today. People take a big name like C.S. Lewis and try to force his words to support their own pet project. A great mind like C.S. Lewis, however, cannot be fit into a nice, simple category. He thought deeply, and as a result, his views were incredibly nuanced. This can be said of many of the great names in Christendom. When a writer starts telling you that some great Christian agrees with him or her on some issue, don’t believe it. Until you take the time to seriously read that person’s original writings, you have no idea what he or she actually believed!

Here is how Mr. Gresham summed it all up:

Did Jack believe in creation? Yes of course. Did he believe in “Creationism”? No.

Did Jack believe in evolution as a possible tool of ongoing creation? Yes, naturally. Did he believe in “Evolutionism”? No.

One of Satan’s favourite ploys (and he has many of them) is to persuade those who call themselves Christians to concentrate on the trivial at the expense of the essential, and this piece seems to me to be a classic example of someone doing just that.

Thank you, Mr. Gresham. I can only imagine what it must have been like to have constant access to a man like your father. I appreciate the fact that you took the time to answer my question, and I hope all my readers will heed your words and refrain from concentrating on the trivial at the expense of the essential!

NOTE

1. Prior to publication, I sent this entire article to Mr. Gresham for his approval, as I did not want to dishonor his kind act by mischaracterizing anything he wrote to me. He approved of the article as it appears here.
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Comments

12 Responses to “Just Making Sure That Horse Is Really Dead…”
  1. David says:

    Dr. Jay,

    Despite your fair minded and persistent efforts to get to the truth on this issue, I am afraid this poor painted pony will continue to be ridden by Dr. Bergman and others.

    It tells us a lot about a person to see their response when confronted with the error of their ways.

    Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid (Proverbs 12:1).

    Thanks again for caring enough to address this important issue. May we all follow the truth where it leads, and not hold blindly to our personal prejudices.

  2. Jake says:

    This is really impressive, Dr. Wile. You really know how to drive a point home…

  3. Vivielle says:

    That’s really neat that you got a reply from C.S.Lewis’ son!

  4. jlwile says:

    David, I hope you are wrong about this poor painted pony. I couldn’t agree more with your last sentence!

  5. jlwile says:

    Vivielle, it really was!

  6. Sean says:

    I am grateful that our Lord has provided you as a check and balance on those who are not as careful with the truth and with facts as they should be.

  7. Evan Arcadi says:

    Does this mean that C.S. Lewis believed in something a couple tiers up from adaptation?

  8. jlwile says:

    Thanks, Sean. I can be hard on my fellow young-earth creationists, but that’s because I am so convinced that young-earth creationism is true. As a result, I don’t want people who call themselves young-earth creationists promoting untruths.

  9. jlwile says:

    Yes, Evan. C.S. Lewis thought there was more to evolution than just adaptation. Even young-earth creationists like myself believe in adaptation. In fact, it is the only way young-earth creationism works scientifically.

    Lewis went much farther and accepted macroevolution. For example, in The Problem of Pain (p. 57) he said this:

    What exactly happened when Man fell, we do not know; but if it is legitimate to guess, I offer the following picture — a “myth” in the Socratic sense, a not unlikely tale…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.

    Note that his myth, which he calls not unlikely, accepts that man’s physical form came from the animals. That’s pure macroevolution. However, this thing was still just an animal until God stepped in and gave it “a new kind of consciousness.” At that point, it actually became human. This is standard theistic evolution, and Lewis says that it is not an unlikely tale.

  10. The Black Sheep says:

    Very cool! Please pass the Turkish Delight.

  11. jlwile says:

    Black Sheep, you have once again demonstrated why I look forward to your comments. Edmund would be a bit ashamed, but very proud that you remembered!

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