C. S. Lewis and Evolutionism

Some Christians have a problem with Lewis and his comments about Evolution.

Several years ago, I published a post about an article written on the asa3.org site in 1996 by Prof. Ferngren about C. S Lewis’ beliefs regarding the theory of Evolution.   He lays a lot of weight on correspondence Lewis had with Captain Bernard Acworth, written between 1944 and 1960 about the subject.  Ferngren writes:

“Lewis may have accepted a theistic version of organic evolution, but he resisted attempts to draw broad philosophical implications from scientific theories .”

More recently, Prof. Michael Peterson has written an article on Lewis and Intelligent Design, also on the asa3 site.   Peterson agrees with Ferngren that Lewis was primarily concerned about the philosophical problems behind the way biological evolution was being turned into Evolutionism.  Peterson’s contribution is evidence regarding how Lewis’ “mere-Christian” Trinitarian thought influenced his rejection of Evolutionism.

Interacting with Ferngern in note 38, Peterson writes:

“Reading all of Lewis’s letters to Acworth, we see Lewis basically reacting to the evidences against evolution that Acworth proposed by saying that at his age he could not become an expert and adjudicate such matters. He was certainly open-minded and willing to consider all putative evidence for any view. But any suspicion Lewis expressed about the factual nature of Evolution can be overblown by fastening on just a comment or two. The larger context which Lewis always establishes for any particular remarks about Evolution is his deep hostility toward Evolution as a kind of secular theological creed [my emphasis]….”

Consistent with this statement, elsewhere in his article, Peterson writes:

“But Lewis’s critical point for present purposes, in current parlance, is that we must distinguish the appropriate methodological naturalism of science from philosophical naturalism—something I[ntelligent] D[esign] fails to do. Methodological naturalism is the scientific approach of restricting the explanation of natural phenomena to natural causes. Philosophical naturalism, on the other hand, is the philosophical view that nature alone is real, that there is no supernatural” (p. 257).

The upshot is that Lewis had no problem with methodological naturalism.  He recognized his lack of expertise in the area and kept a humble attitude about it.  However, he was an expert in philosophy and had lots of problems with philosophical naturalism.

In your reading of Lewis, when he seems to favour Evolution, please make this distinction.  Don’t think he is not a Christian because he does not espouse your understanding of origins.  He would not have sided with people today who want to use forms of evolutionary theory to explain everything, including the origin of mankind or the existence of God.   As Peterson says, “he is clearly a Christian Theistic  Evolutionist, or an Evolutionary Christian Theist” (p. 263).  The key term here is “Christian.”

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