C.S. Lewis on Science, Evolution, and Evolutionism

| By on Endless Forms Most Beautiful

In July 2008, when BioLogos was but a new creation without so much as a website, I presented a paper at the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s triennial Oxbridge meeting. The paper was called C.S. Lewis on Intelligent Design, and I boldly yet fearfully put a rolled-up copy in the hands of one Francis S. Collins, who was a plenary speaker at the conference. 

I was already familiar with Collins, having read The Language of God when it appeared, and having been one of many people who plied him with further questions afterwards (in my case, in a handwritten note on my very best stationery). Reading over the paper today, there are a few things I would write differently now (namely I’d be a bit more nuanced in my descriptions of the Intelligent Design movement). But I was over the moon when Collins wrote to say he found my paper “well researched and articulately presented.” That fateful day at the conference eventually led to my present employment at BioLogos—nothing short of Providence.

C.S. Lewis is one of the patron saints of Evangelicalism, if there ever was one. Lewis’s works of apologetics, children’s literature, and science fiction are almost universally known and loved among Evangelicals. Lewis’s thoughts on science and faith are less well known, but he wrote extensively of science, and even of evolution, both in his popular works, like Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain, and in private letters. 

I offer just a few Lewisian gems for reflection (see the paper for citations and discussion). First, on the nature of science itself:

Science works by experiments. It watches how things behave. Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really means something like, ‘I pointed the telescope to such and such a part of the sky at 2:20 a.m. on January 15th and saw so and-so,’ […] Do not think I am saying anything against science: I am only saying what its job is [….] But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes--something of a different kind--this is not a scientific question.[1]

For Lewis, science isn’t equipped to answer some of the most fundamental and important questions of all, such as, Why there is something rather than nothing? and Is there a God?

Perhaps surprisingly, Lewis makes this same point when talking about evolution:

We must sharply distinguish between Evolution as a biological theorem and popular Evolutionism or Developmentalism which is certainly a Myth. [...] To the biologist Evolution […] covers more of the facts than any other hypothesis at present on the market and is therefore to be accepted unless, or until, some new supposal can be shown to cover still more facts with even fewer assumptions. […] It makes no cosmic statements, no metaphysical statements, no eschatological statements.[2]

The real danger is not evolutionary theory, then, but Evolutionism—the all-encompassing worldview. Lewis was right to want to put Evolutionism to rest once and for all. (This is certainly a goal BioLogos shares with the ID movement, even as we disagree about the science of evolution.)

What about human evolution?  Lewis famously envisioned an evolutionary scenario for Adam and Eve in The Problem of Pain, but I offer this quote because it is less well known:

Just as my belief in my own immortal & rational soul does not oblige or qualify me to hold a particular theory of the pre-natal history of my embryo, so my belief that Men in general have immortal & rational souls does not oblige or qualify me to hold a theory of their pre-human organic history-if they have one.[3]

In other words, so what if we had non-human biological forebears?  We are still immortal, rational, ensouled creatures made in God’s image.

Lewis eschewed the creation OR evolution false dichotomy that so many of us grew up with. His writings encourage us to face the findings of science with courage and, just as importantly, recognize when a materialistic worldview is masquerading as science. As faithful Christians, we’ve simply got to do both.

 

Notes

Citations

MLA

Applegate, Kathryn. "C.S. Lewis on Science, Evolution, and Evolutionism"
http://biologos.org/. N.p., 5 Nov. 2015. Web. 24 June 2017.

APA

Applegate, K. (2015, November 5). C.S. Lewis on Science, Evolution, and Evolutionism
Retrieved June 24, 2017, from http://biologos.org/blogs/kathryn-applegate-endless-forms-most-beautiful/cs-lewis-on-science-evolution-and-evolutionism

References & Credits

[1] Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. HarperOne, 2001. p. 22

[2] Lewis, C.S. “The Funeral of a Great Myth.” Christian Reflections. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967. p. 85

[3] Letter to Captain Bernard Acworth. September 23, 1944. Quoted in Gary B. Ferngren and Ronald L. Numbers. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, March 1996.

About the Author

Kathryn Applegate

Kathryn Applegate is Resources Editor at BioLogos. She received her PhD in computational cell biology at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. At Scripps, she developed computer vision tools for analyzing the cell's infrastructure, the cytoskeleton. Kathryn joined the BioLogos staff in 2010.

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