C.S. Lewis Wasn’t an Anti-Evolutionist, but He Did Work for British Intelligence!

This collection contains some of C. S. Lewis's most important works. (click for credit)

This collection contains some of C. S. Lewis’s most important works. (click for credit)

More than three years ago, I ran across two articles that mischaracterized C. S. Lewis’s views on creation. I wrote about both of them, but the one that distressed me the most claimed that Lewis was a “creationist and anti-evolutionist.” Since it so severely mischaracterized Lewis’s views, I asked the publisher, Creation Ministries International (CMI), to remove it from their website. At first, they did not. I wrote two other articles on the subject (here and here) and thought I was done.

Later on, however, an email correspondence led me to write a detailed rebuttal of the article and send it to the journal in which it was originally published. The journal published my rebuttal and gave the author of the article space to respond (which is the proper thing to do). However, it was clear that he could not defend what he had done to Lewis’s words. As a result, CMI eventually withdrew the article. I am pleased that they did the right thing.

Why am I telling you this? Because I recently ran across another article about C.S. Lewis, and it makes an incredible claim: “C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent.” The article was written by a well-respected Christian academic, Dr. Harry (Hal) Poe, who is also an avid collector of items related to Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkein, and other literary figures who interacted with them. While the phrase “secret government agent” is a bit over-the-top, the essence of article seems quite reasonable, and it illustrates how someone as well-studied as C.S. Lewis can still harbor a surprising secret!

While the article is long (he is an academic, after all), the upshot is that Poe was searching eBay and noticed that someone was selling a 78 rpm record that supposedly contained a lecture by C.S. Lewis. Poe figured this had to be a hoax, because he had studied Lewis thoroughly, and there was simply no indication that a 78 rpm record had ever been made of any of Lewis’s lectures. Nevertheless, Poe was curious, so he bought it, and it turns out that the record seems to be legitimate! It is parts 1 and 3 of a series entitled “The Norse Spirit in English Literature.” Poe is now searching for parts 2 and 4.

Obviously, Poe wanted to learn more about this amazing find, so he did some digging. He found out that during World War II, Iceland had strategic significance. The British invaded it to take it from the Germans, but Britain needed to secure the good will of the people there. As a result, the Joint Broadcasting Committee (an arm of British intelligence) asked Lewis to record a lecture that would help the people of Iceland feel some kinship towards the people of Britain. The lecture for which Poe has parts 1 and 3 was the result.

Interestingly enough, this record clears up a bit of a mystery among C.S. Lewis scholars. In a 1941 letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, Lewis remarked that he had made a gramophone record of himself and then listened to it. He had never heard his own voice from a recording and was shocked at how he sounded. Scholars didn’t really understand what this statement referenced, since there was no known gramophone record with Lewis’s voice. However, the timing of the letter works perfectly if it is referencing this record. Dr. Poe plans to hold a public hearing of the record in July of this year.

Now as I said, the term “secret government agent” is a bit over-the-top. While Lewis did keep this recording secret from everyone in Britain, it was presumably broadcast in Iceland. Thus, he was not under cover or anything like that. However, he did do some work for an arm of British Intelligence, and it was kept secret from most people.

I find it astounding that a well-studied man like C.S. Lewis, who died less than 60 years ago, can still surprise those who are experts about his works and his life! It makes you wonder what other unknown works exist for other well-known writers!

16 Comments

  1. Tony says:

    I’ve had a few correspondences with CMI and in my opinion the people there that I’ve dealt with are blinkered in their views. I’ve found it frustrating trying to have a reasonable discussion with them and I fear their penchant for ridiculing unbelievers might be giving Christians an even worse name than we would otherwise have in the secular world.
    I’ve mentioned this to them more than once over the years, to no avail, and eventually I unsubscribed from their newsletter, having no desire to attend any more of their events.
    Having said that I do have fond memories of a full day bus excursion with Tas Walker around the Gold Coast and hinterland.

    1. jlwile says:

      I do get upset with how they ridicule other believers, but I get upset with many organizations in Christendom for the same thing.

  2. Cheri Fields says:

    The juxtaposition of your title made me laugh, but now I see what you were getting at.
    Fascinating stuff!
    Thanks for keeping us on our toes. Of all the people on earth, Christians’ tolerance for error should be the lowest. It’s not fun being the contrary voice, but God’s never been into consensus much.
    It’s nice to know Lewis had the same trouble listening to himself most of us do. It’s also fascinating to see how difficult reassembling the recent past can be.
    One of the points Lewis himself made about literary analysis was how wildly far from the truth people’s assumptions about an author could be. A healthy dose of skepticism about any reconstruction of the past is always in order, while it can often give irreplaceable clarity to have the direct account of the protagonist.

  3. Doug Hibbard says:

    Not to be a smart-aleck, but wouldn’t parts 2 and 4 be on the flip side of parts 1 and 3? 🙂

    And I love the story, overall, including the strange situation of having to invade Iceland and not really wanting to!

    1. jlwile says:

      It seems to me that you are right. That way, you can listen in order by flipping the records.

    2. Many multi-part records were set up like this, so that they could be stacked on an automatic changer spindle. The disc with part one was placed on the spindle first with the next disc having part two on top of it. Disc one/part dropped to the turntable and played to the end, then the tone arm retracted and disc two/part dropped down and played to the end. Then both discs were flipped over manually and stacked again on the automatic spindle, where parts three and four would then play automatically in order.

      1. Tony says:

        Ah yes that’s the reason – I remember that now. Our first album was a 2 disk 4 part Davy Crockett recording, with Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen, and the disk were: #1=part 1, part 3s; #2=part2, part 4.
        Each side played for about 20 minutes I think, at 45rpm, and stacking them made it a lot more enjoyable in those pre-remote days. This was when I was maybe 3yo, in 1950.

        You must be nearly as old as me Michael, thanks for rekindling those memories.

        1. jlwile says:

          I am wondering if the author of the article has the wrong idea. After all, this record was made for a radio broadcast, right? Back then, didn’t radio stations have two turntables so they could seamlessly go from one song to another? If that’s the case, parts 1 and 3 would be on one record. That way, you play part 1 on the first turntable, then you start part 2 on the second turntable for a seamless transition. You then flip the record on the first turntable while the second one is playing, and that allows you to seamlessly transition to part 3 when part 2 is done. Flipping the record on the second turntable while part 3 plays then allows you to seamlessly transition to part 4.

      2. jlwile says:

        I don’t think that works, does it? It seems to me that disc 1 would need to have parts 1 and 4. After all, disc 1 drops, playing part 1. Disc 2 drops, playing part 2. When you flip them over, disc 1 is now on top, and disc 2 is on the bottom. Thus, the flip side of disc 2 needs to be part 3, and the flip side of disc 1 needs to be part 4. See my reply to Tony above as to why I think parts 1 and 3 are on the same disc.

  4. Anthea says:

    Since everyone was expected to help with the war effort, helping the intelligence services would be quite different from the sort of spying shenanigans that went on during the Cold War.

    I am excited about the record — just think Lewis has something in common with Bjork, in that he is celebrating Icelandic artistry!

  5. Robert Byers says:

    I’ve never understod why Lewis is esteemed so much. Is it just because of popular books/ Who says he was any better or very good at christian doctrines?!
    That he rejects Genesis and accepts evolution hoes against his intellectual ability especially for some one, I presume, believes the bible is true or mostly.
    Stories are cool but not the evidence of better intellectual ability to understand important things.
    i like he is popular but there are so many better then and now.

    1. jlwile says:

      Lewis is esteemed so much because his writings communicate the essence of Christianity in a way that speaks to a large number of people. The Holy Spirit has used his works to lead thousands of people to Christ. This is why Christianity Today called his masterpiece (Mere Christianity) “The best case for the essentials of orthodox Christianity in print.” In fact, in compiling their “Books of the Century” list, they said:

      By far, C. S. Lewis was the most popular author and Mere Christianity the book nominated most often. Indeed, we could have included even more Lewis works, but finally we had to say: “Enough is enough; give some other authors a chance.”

      I agree that his views on Genesis are incorrect. However, when I get to heaven, I am sure that I will find some of my theological views to be incorrect. No one has perfect theology. However, there are some who can communicate the essentials of Christianity in an incredibly effective way, and C.S. Lewis was one of those people.

      Now please understand that I am not a fan of C.S. Lewis. I find his philosophy to be sloppy and his fiction to be simplistic. However, even though his works don’t speak to me in a meaningful way, I can certainly acknowledge that he is one of the most important voices in modern Christendom and should be studied for that reason alone.

  6. Tony says:

    “I agree that his views on Genesis are incorrect. ”
    I don’t necessarily dismiss Lewis’s view that Genesis is allegorical, and I’m glad you mentioned it because I’ve wondered for a number of years why most Christians believe the bible books, especially Genesis, are meant to be taken literally?
    I ask in all sincerity – I became a Christian only 10 years ago, at age 58, and at first went along with my SDA church friends on this, but after thinking about it for a year or two I’ve come to the conclusion that the Genesis story is almost certainly allegorical. But perhaps I’m missing something.
    I read (actually listened to the audio of) Fr Richard Rohr’s series “New Great Themes Of Scripture” several years ago and I’m inclined to view the works of the bible writers in much the way he does. I don’t see reason to believe the events of Genesis are a literal historical description of what happened.
    But having said that, if you know of some reason, I’d be happy to know about it too. The fact that people in the bible seem to regard the Genesis story as literal truth, or that Jesus may have acknowledged their belief, does not necessarily mean it is. Jesus was renowned for meeting people where they were in their understanding. Or who knows – maybe Jesus was mistaken about it too, he was “fully human” after all. (I know, that’s going a bit far for most Christians – no offence intended.)
    Maybe it’s the underlying principles which constitute the truth God has made available to us through the bible. Maybe it doesn’t matter that they’re not all actual historical events – it’s not like we need it to have actually happened to confirm the truth of what God is telling us.
    Is it?

    1. jlwile says:

      Tony, I think the Bible can be interpreted like any other book. Sometimes, an author makes allegorical statements, and no one takes the author literally. Other times, an author makes historical or factual statements, and everyone takes the author literally. How does the reader know when to take an author literally and when to not take the author literally? Based on the way the author writes.

      We can determine when to take the Bible literally and when to take it allegorically in the same way. The nature of the prose in Genesis is much more historical than allegorical. In other words, it reads more like the book of Exodus than the book of Psalms. Thus, it seems to be that it should be taken literally. Now, of course, the Bible was written in a different culture, so perhaps I am interpreting it incorrectly. However, when I look at science, I see strong evidence for a literal interpretation of Genesis. Since my plain reading of Scripture and my understanding of the scientific evidence both point me to a literal interpretation of Genesis, that’s the interpretation I use.

      Could I be wrong? Of course. As I said, the Bible was written in a different time and culture, so my reading of it could be flawed. In addition, science is, by its very nature, flawed. As a result, my interpretation of the scientific evidence might also be wrong. However, I think there is strong evidence from both Scripture and science to indicate I am not wrong.

  7. Tony says:

    Well. I really like your answer Jay, I was expecting something different.
    Food for thought. I’ll get back to you maybe; maybe not, there are just too many questions.
    It’s like when I became a Christian I had all my questions answered, then gradually, the more I read the more they became unanswered. I’m not afraid I’ll ever go back to atheism but I am alienating a lot of Christian friends.
    Basically, I trust that Jesus is there, within my arm’s reach, invisibly, imperceptibly. He’s my conduit to the God-thing. He IS, part of the God-thing – the most relevant part to me. One day (non-day) I’ll join him there, and in the meantime I’m going to make the most of this life I’ve been gifted. I believe the evidence is there to support such an approach to life. Certainly not to prove it, but there’s enough to make it tenable – unlike materialist atheism, that’s the last tree to bark up, the least likely hypothesis, in my view.
    But I just – it’s a completely different level of thinking, a different model, from the conventional Christian one. But it is a Christian model, I call myself a Christian, because the “Christ”, Jesus, the promised one, is central to it all for me. As for the bible – I take from it what I can and leave for another day the bits that don’t make sense. I don’t see any of it as evidence for atheism, the way Dr Dawkins et al do. Worst case – the “contradictions” can always be explained as misconceptions by the humans who wrote it. Three steps forward and two steps back I think is how Richard Rohr describes it. And often it turns out the failure is on the reader’s part.
    Thanks Jay.

    1. jlwile says:

      Continue to search with an open heart, Tony.

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