Sunday, January 13, 2008

C. S. Lewis in Praise of Evolution

Did you know that Phlip Pullman's His Dark Materials (the trilogy of which The Golden Compass is the first book) is actually based upon an idea that C. S. Lewis praised? It's true. In an essay posthumously published first in the anthology Christian Reflections, Lewis had this to say about what he termed "Popular Evolution or Developmentalism":

Not merely terrestrial organisms but everything is moving 'upwards and onwards'. Reason has 'evolved' out of instinct, virtue out of complexes, poetry out of erotic howls and grunts, civilization out of savagery, the organic out of inorganic, the solar system out of some sidereal soup or traffic block. And conversely, reason, virtue, art and civilization as we know them are only crude or embryonic beginnings of far better things--perhaps Deity itself--in the remote future. ... nothing seems more normal, more natural, more plausible, than that chaos should turn into order, death into life, ignorance into knowledge. ... It is one of the most satisfying dramas which have ever been imagined.
"Imagined." Lewis asserts that the popular view of Evolution, although a thrilling idea, is an imagined "Myth." In fact, this essay is entitled "The Funeral of the Great Myth." Popular Evolution or Developmentalism, Lewis says, must be kept separate from the Theory of Evolution as taught by "modern scientists."

I do not mean that the doctrine of Evolution as held by practising biologists is
a Myth. It may be shown, by later biologists*, to be a less satisfactory
hypothesis than was hoped fifty years ago [the beginning of the twentieth
century]. But that does not amount to being a Myth.

I assume that this essay was written in the early 1960's shortly before Lewis's death. His "funeral oration" for Popular Evolution seems rather premature. (Perhaps this is one reason the essay was not published while he was still alive.) But he does seem to be correct about the mythical nature of popularized Evolution. He asserts that Popular Evolution is different than Evolutionary Theory because it pre-dates Darwin, and because it differs in content from the "scientific theory." Lewis reminds us that the writings of Keats and Wagner were inspiration for the idea of Delelopmentalism, and pre-date The Origin of Species. Scientific Evolution is a biological theorem. Popular Evolution, with much of its emphasis on Man's improvement, tends to be rather metaphysical. As has been popularized especially in science fiction, it asserts that the next stage of our evolution will be upward, even though the scientist recognizes that changes in species for the better are the exception rather than the rule.

I have been reading Pullman's trilogy, and have made it about half way through the third book. What the series apparently is about is humanity reaching toward its next phase in the evolutionary process. In this version of the Myth, god is trying to keep us from evolving. He wants to keep us under control lest we take his place. In the Dark Materials universe(s), god himself has evolved from matter, but has lied saying he created all other creatures. The lie is perpetrated so he can gain permanent control over everything. Dust, which is composed of conscious elementary particles (Think of the midi-chlorians in Star Wars, only smaller.), stand in his way. They are the repository of Truth; god is a liar.

For Lewis, the next stage of our evolution will come about when God changes us into something better than we are now, not when we when we get rid of God and "develop" on our own. God desires to lead us into all Truth, not keep it from us. His Truth will set us free to be all we were meant to be, not some evolutionary process.


*There are stirrings in the scientific world that some "later biologists" are beginning to doubt the validity of traditional evolutionary theory. And this is not just from the Creation Science domain. As early as 1986, Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, pointed out that research in microbiology and other fields shows that the complexity involved in living cells is a huge hurdle that evolutionary theory has a very difficult time jumping over. Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box is another book on the subject, with an updated version published in 2006. These books have not been well received in the scientific community, however, and the controversy over the Theory continues.


Anonymous said...

I have parused you site as i was browsing about CS Lewis/Kay Lindskoog and W. Hooper. It is quite refreshing to see someone who speaks with astute civility. I was going to go to a seminar on CS Lewis and decided not to because of the persaons association with Hooper. i actually was honored to speak to Katherine Lindskoog many years ago when the "controversy just started on the internet some 15 years ago. I was refreshed by her unwillingness to castigate any on the Dark Tower and related issues. I read your piece on this from last year and felt vindicated in my perception of the Dark Tower as something kind of strange even before the controversy. Anyway i trust God will bless you and your still small voice reflects His Still Small Voice.
Under the Lions Mane, Steve

Mark said...

Thank you for your kind comments, Steve. I am glad someone is actually reading this!

I have no idea at this point if Lindskoog was right, but, as I said in my article, I was impressed also by her "unwillingness to castigate." It seems to me that many questions are still left unanswered by Hooper, et al. Perhaps some day some Lewis scholar will take the time to investigate this further.