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C. S. Lewis on Evolution and Intelligent Design, Part 4

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May 5, 2011 Tags: Design
C. S. Lewis on Evolution and Intelligent Design, Part 4

Today's entry was written by Michael L. Peterson. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

This blog series, adapted from this article in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, is a comprehensive study of the views of Christian author and apologist C. S. Lewis on the theory of evolution and the argument from intelligent design. In Part 3, Peterson explored three features of ID and Lewis’s reaction to each. In this post he encourages Christians to distinguish between scientific and philosophical arguments for ID and to not treat all ID arguments as equally valid.

Let us turn from a Lewisian evaluation of certain characteristics of ID per se to a more general and very perceptive point that Lewis makes. In The Problem of Pain, Lewis categorically rejects unqualified, stand-alone intelligent design arguments—and, of course, this would include ID arguments—because their strategy for explaining order in the world in terms of God’s guidance is always countered by the problem of suffering:

You ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Either there is no spirit behind the universe, or else a spirit indifferent to good and evil, or else an evil spirit … [Regarding the basis of religion, reasoning] from … this world to the goodness and wisdom [or intelligence] of the Creator [is] preposterous. (pp. 14-16)

In nearby passages, Lewis states the scientific fact that the universe is running down and that all life will ultimately come to an end, as well as the obvious fact that pain is experienced by all sentient animals, including human beings. Lewis knows that such important facts must be included in the complete rational evaluation of any case for an Ultimate Being or Transcendent Intelligence. This is why Lewis would say that it is too glib—and conveniently selective—for IDers to argue that a Transcendent Intelligence is the best explanation of selected complex forms (e.g., the whip-like tail of a certain bacterium) while ignoring other phenomena in the biological realm such as carnage, pain, and death. Lewis clearly believed that, when the arguments for and against God are weighed, Theism indeed appears more rational than any other philosophical position. Yet his knowledge of the relevant arguments on both sides makes him sensitive to weak or fallacious forms of theistic argument which he felt no obligation to defend. This is why Lewis’s own apologetic approach is helpfully characterized as a “cumulative case” which connects some of the stronger individual arguments for specific divine attributes, such that all of the arguments taken together provide coherent and convergent philosophical support for a theistic deity.

For Christian theists to identify the defects of ID’s core argument from irreducible complexity is not to dismiss all design arguments in a wholesale way or to abandon the idea of God as intelligent Creator and Sustainer of nature. It is simply to analyze objectively the strategy of one highly specific line of argument based on an understanding of what counts as good theistic argumentation and a commitment to the integrity of various fields of knowledge. Understandably, many people mistakenly associate ID with the larger family of design-type and design-related arguments, both historic and recent. In fact, in the past decade or so, discussions of ID such as those collected on the website of the Discovery Institute, have touched on various philosophical arguments from natural theology: the fine-tuning argument, the traditional teleological argument, the cosmological argument, and the moral argument. As we know, Lewis believed in the effectiveness of many of these types of arguments, making it possible to acquire the misimpression that Lewis would endorse ID, or that perhaps he had offered his own argument for intelligent design. We should note, too, that ID advocates have also proposed that their position be viewed as—or at least be closely associated with—a theory of information, particularly regarding the intelligent origin of information embedded in organic nature. While interesting and important, information theory really forms the basis for yet another distinct design-type argument that must be distinguished from ID’s irreducible complexity argument. The argument from information is a relative newcomer to the family of design arguments and will need to survive legitimate scrutiny on its own terms.

The basic point here is that well-constructed design arguments, when conjoined with other well-constructed theistic arguments, can mount a formidable case for a Transcendent Intelligence—which even Antony Flew felt was compelling. But these other intelligent design considerations originated independently of ID, have their own inherent philosophical weight, and do not logically lend support to ID’s quite specific assumptions and strategy. No doubt it is helpful to find a number of design-type and design-related arguments assembled in one location, such as on the Discovery Institute’s website; but these arguments can be found in many other locations and without association with ID’s idiosyncratic approach. Wisdom counsels us, then, to distinguish between the arguments for a Transcendent Intelligence that are specific to ID and the broader lines of teleological reasoning. It is entirely possible to reject the ID movement’s attempt to prove this Intelligence from within science while endorsing expressly philosophical arguments for it. The philosophical approach is to consider critically what is required for the very existence of science, its rational nature, and the overall structure of the world it studies, as well as to reflect on the significant findings of science in an effort to find their larger meaning and relevance to theology.

We may now employ the distinctions above in developing judicious answers to the two previous questions. To make important distinctions between ID and traditional teleological argumentation, we first asked: In what exact sense is God the Designer? We learned that Christians need not accept the notion that there are complex biological structures created directly by God without antecedent forms; they may hold a different view of how God brought about biological complexity. Avoiding ID’s dichotomy between primary and secondary causes, for example, allows natural process (including evolutionary process) to be seen as the manner in which God brings about complex forms or the presence of complex information. The second question was, What sorts of considerations, if any, legitimately point to a Designer? Again, a Christian believer can be critical of attempts to prove scientifically that there is an intelligent designer while still embracing insightful philosophical renditions of the teleological argument. Progress is made in this discussion when we avoid the category mistake of proposing God as a scientific explanation of certain phenomena and instead consider God philosophically—and, of course, theologically—as the best ultimate explanation of nature, science, and human rationality.

In the next post, we go on to look at Lewis's views on evolution.

Michael L. Peterson is professor of philosophy at Asbury University. He is also managing editor of Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers. His books include Reason and Religious Belief (Oxford); God and Evil (Westview); With All Your Mind: A Christian Philosophy of Education (Notre Dame); and Evil and the Christian God (Baker). He has produced multiple edited volumes and journal articles.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #60831

May 6th 2011

It seems that Lewis did not argue for the existence of God from the goodness of Creation, because of the difficulty of proving the goodness of Creation.  I do expect that he did argue for the goodness of God elsewhere based on the goodness of Creation, but that is besides the point.  Certainly he is correct to say that the goodness of the Creation is not a scientific question, but a philosophical or theological one.  However I think there are some important points which need to be made when discussing this.

First of all there are three basic concepte that need to be understood, order, rationality, and goodness.  Order is the most basic.  It is necessary for everything else.  Many Christians have objected to evolution because they they say it is based on disorder.  Many unbelievers embrace evolution because they think the same way.  However evolution is not based on disorder.  It uses chance in a limited manner to introduce change into the system in a controlled manner.

Rational is next.  Rational means understandable by the logical mind.  It does not mean true.  Something can be very rational, but false.  However something must be orderly to be rational.  The universe is rational because it is orderly.  Chaos theory found order in apparently chaotic systems.  The quantum world appears to be disorderly by our standards, but it is not as far as we can tell.

Goodness is final.  Something is not good unless it has some kind of order.  Even fredom has order.  Goodness also is rational.  We can understand and appreciate it. Goodness has purpose and meaning.  It is the opposite of aimless and meaningless.

The primary reason why life might not be considered good is death.  Death is the source of all pain and suffering.  Why do people and other creatures die?  The obvious answer is because we are physical beings.  Physical beings have a beginning and an end.  They change and die. 

If humans die because we are physical, then clearly life is evil if the physical is all that there is to life and humanity.  Life is more than the body, more than things, more than the physical, more than death.  This argument puts materialists on the defensive.  They have to explain how there must be more to life than the physical, or say that life is evil and meaningless.  Of course God has given us the answer for death that only God can provide, which makes life complete and meaningful.

I argue in my book, The GOD Who RELATES that God had the choice of gving humans freedom or sinlessness.  Other creature God created who are without free will.  Humans are different, we have free will, but this means that we are capable of sin, which we do quite often.  It seems to me that the worst fate a human can have is not to be a sinner, which we all are, but to fail to use our free will to move beyond sin in order to accept God’s freedom to love God and others, which too few people do.  God also gives us the ability to sin and the antidote for sin, so we cannot blame God for sin. 

Darwinism argues that life is an end in itself.  While that may seem true for non-humans, ecology shows that life is not a struggle for survival, but a process of adaaptation to a niche, an environment, whereby all of the resources of that environement are utilized for the benefit of all.  We humans have upset that process, and we need to restore it as soon as possible.

Hereas non-humans have no choice as to whether survive or not, humans do.  If life is not rational, meaningful, and good, we have the freedom and ability to cease to live.  Non-believers are driven by their beliefs to the conclusion that life is not good.  This is the conclusion they often want to foist off on believers, which is true only when compared to life with God in heaven.  I prefer to argue that life is good, and indeed that this life prepares us for the life to come.                  


Bilbo - #60850

May 7th 2011

Peterson once again butchers Lewis’s view.  Yes, Lewis would have had problems with attributing evil in Nature to God’s creating activity.  This is why in his book, The Problem of Pain,  he devotes his chapter on “Animal Pain,” to the question.  In a young earth, evil in nature could be attributed to the fall of man.  But in an old earth, such a theodicy wouldn’t help the overwhelming amount of animal pain and death that had occurred long before humans showed up.  Lewis’s answer?  A prior Luciferian fall that influenced the natural history of at least Earth, and perhaps this solar system, galaxy and universe.

So the existence of evil in creation does not mean that Lewis would reject ID arguments.  And as I have said before, Lewis would regard any science that seems to favor a theistic interpretation as evidence that should be taken very tentatively.  So could Lewis accept ID arguments?  Of course he could.  But he would do so very tentatively. 

Bilbo - #60851

May 7th 2011

Let me quote from part of Lewis’s chapter 12, “The Propriety of
Miracles,”  in his book, Miracles; a Preliminary Study:

the Ultimate Fact is not an abstraction but the living God, opaque by
the very fullness of His blinding actuality, then He might do things. 
He might work miracles.  But would He?  Many people of sincere piety
feel that He would not.  They think it unworthy of Him.  It is petty and
capricious tyrants who break their own laws:  good and wise kings obey
them.  Only an incompetent workman will produce work which needs to be
interfered with.  And people who think in this way are not satisfied by
the assurance given them in Chapter 8 that miracles do not, in fact,
break the laws of Nature.  That may be undeniable.  But it will still be
felt (and justly) that miracles interrupt the orderly march of events,
the steady development of Nature according to her own inherent genius or
character.  That regular march seems to such critics as I have in mind
more impressive than any miracle.  Looking up (like Lucifer in
Meredith’s sonnet) at the night sky, they feel it almost impious to
suppose that God should sometimes unsay what He has once said with such
magnificence.  This feeling springs from deep and noble sources in the
mind and must always be treated with respect.  Yet it is, I believe,
founded on an error.
A supreme workman will never break by
one note or one syllable or one stroke of the brush the living and
inward law of the work he is producing.  But he will break without
scruple any number of those superficial regularities and orthodoxies
which little, unimaginative critics mistake for its laws.  The extent to
which one can distinguish a just ‘license’ from a mere botch or failure
of unity depends on the extent to which one has grasped the real and
inward significance of the work as a whole.  If we had grasped as a
whole the innermost spirit of that ‘work which God worketh from the
beginning to the end’, and of which Nature is only a part and perhaps a
small part, we should be in a position to decide whether miraculous
interruptions of Nature’s history were mere improprieties unworthy of
the Great Workman or expressions of the truest and deepest unity in His
total work.  In fact, or course, we are in no such position.  The gap
between God’s mind and ours must, on any view, be incalculably greater
than the gap between Shakespeare’s mind and that of the most peddling
critics of the old French school.

The whole chapter is worth
reading, but I think I’ve quoted enough, for now, to show that Lewis
would have no problem with the idea of God intervening in natural
history in order to accomplish His ends, such as possibly bringing about
the origin of life, or causing the necessary mutations needed to bring a
new form of life into being.  In other words, Lewis would have no
theological or philosophical objections to Intelligent Design theory.

Bilbo - #60878

May 8th 2011

What Peterson ignores is Lewis’s chapter 9, “Animal Pain,” where he

It seems to me, therefore, a reasonable supposition,
that some mighty created power had already been at work for ill on the
material universe, or the solar system, or at least, the planet Earth,
before ever man came on the scene:  and that when man fell, someone had,
indeed, tempted him.  This hypothesis is not introduced as a general
“explanation of evil”:  it only gives a wider application to the
principle that evil comes from the abuse of free will.  If there is such
a power, as I myself believe, it may well have corrupted the animal
creation before man appeared.  The intrinsic evil of the animal world
lies in the fact that animals, or some animals, live by destroying each
other.  That plants do the same I will not admit to be an evil.  The
Satanic corruption of the beasts would therefore be analogous, in one
respect, to the Satanic corruption of man.  For one result of man’s fall
was that his animality fell back from the humanity into which it had
been taken up but which could no longer rule it.  In the same way,
animality may have been encouraged to slip back into behaviour proper to
vegetables.  It is, of course, true that the immense mortality
occasioned by the fact that many beasts live on beasts is balanced, in
nature, by an immense birth-rate, and it might seem, that if all animals
had been herbivorous and healthy, they would mostly starve as a result
of their own multiplication.  But I take the fecundity and the
death-rate to be correlative phenomena.  There was, perhaps, no
necessity for such an excess of the sexual impulse:  the Lord of this
world thought of it as a response to carnivorousness—a double scheme
for securing the maximum amount of torture.  It it offends less, you may
say that the ‘life-force’ is corrupted, where I say that living
creatures were corrupted by an evil angelic being.  We mean the same
thing:  but I find it easier to believe in a myth of gods and demons
than in one of hypostatised abstract nouns.  And after all, our
mythology may be much nearer to literal truth than we suppose.  Let us
not forget that Our Lord, on one occasion, attributes human disease not
to God’s wrath, nor to nature, but quite explicitly to Satan. [Luke
    If this hypothesis is worth considering, it is also worth
considering whether man, at his first coming into the world, had not
already a redemptive function to perform.  Man, even now, can do wonders
to animals:  my cat and dog live together in my house and seem to like
it.  It may have been one of man’s functions to restore peace to the
animal world, and if he had not joined the enemy he might have succeeded
in doing so to an extant now hardly imaginable.

So should
there be good evidence for ID, then Lewis would not have been troubled
that there might also be evidence for evil ID.  For him, Satan would be a
prime candidate for the role.

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