Thursday, 19 December 2013

Did C S Lewis believe in evolution?

The godofevolution blog recently posted an item on C S Lewis which (as I read it) effectively claimed that he supported evolution. Do have a look for yourself and read the whole item, I don’t want to be accused of misrepresentation. Several CSL quotes are used which appear to suggest he accepted evolution. However, other quotes of which I am aware telling (IMO) a different story are not mentioned. I aim to correct that omission, putting the other side of the story about this revered, fallible, complex and much loved character, convinced as I am that although CLS was not a biblical creationist as the term might be used today, he was far from being a Darwinian and cannot honestly be used to advance or support the molecules to man via a common ancestor agenda.

I’m a long term and committed  fan of CSL and have a substantial collection of his books, all the well known works plus many essays and poems and volumes 2 and 3 of the collected letters (can’t obtain volume 1). Having studied the man’s thought, which was wide ranging, complex and which changed during his recorded life, I don’t try to claim him as a young earth creationist. I look forward to meeting him one day and don't want to have to apologise for misrepresenting him. But based on the whole of what he wrote I think he was nearer to the YEC position than the Darwinian.
I propose to post several appraisals of Lewis’s writings which reflect this view. Beware of course of my bias, and beware of your own bias too. And remember that Lewis, like other men, was imperfect (as he often told his readers). Also, remember that there is a Liar (read CSL's 'The Screwtape Letters') who is out to deceive you, as Jesus and the Apostles taught.

Anyway, to the source material.

Bernard Acworth of the Evolution Protest Movement (which is the world’s oldest creationist group, now known as the Creation Science Movement) tried to recruit CSL to the YEC cause. He politely declined. Acworth’s side of the correspondence is not available, but CSL’s responses are in Walter Hooper’s collected letters.

On 13th September 1951, Lewis wrote the following to Acworth from Magdelen College, Oxford.

‘Dear Acworth-

I have read nearly the whole of ‘Evolution’ (*) and am glad you sent it. I must confess it has shaken me: not in my belief in evolution, which was of the vaguest and most intermittent kind, but in my belief that the question was wholly unimportant. I wish I was younger. What inclines me now to think that you may be right in regarding it as the central and radical lie that now governs our lives, is not so much your arguments against it as the fanatical and twisted attitudes of its defenders. The section on Anthropology was especially good.

I am just back from Ireland where I have had the great pleasure of meeting an old friend of yours-Conway Ross. He told me you were one of the only two men who ever ‘talked him down’ and he hoped I would be the third. This hope was disappointed: ‘Faith he gave me little chance to fulfil it. But he’s a grand chap and a man of my totem.'

The point that the whole economy of nature demands simultaneity of at least a v. Great many species is a v. Strong one. Thanks: and blessings.


C. S. Lewis <<<<< 

What does this letter prove? It would be wrong to try to hang too much on it, but given CSL’s great popularity and how hot the creation/evolution debate has become, it is surprising to me that it's content is less well known. ‘The central and radical lie’ does not seem a very mild or ‘on the fence’ statement. Lewis says here that his belief in evolution was ‘of the vaguest and most intermittent kind’ . This hardly seems to suggest that he had a real conviction that molecules to man evolution was true. The letter seems to imply that he had not given the matter much thought as he hadn't thought it mattered much compared to other things he was profitably involved in. He was not ignorant of science, as I hope to show in future posts. The likeliest reason for his failure to give the matter much attention seems to me that on the one hand he was otherwise very busy and that on the other hand almost nobody was raising the issue.
We should remember that Whitcomb and Morris’s book ‘The Genesis Flood’ which is widely regarded as having kick started the modern creationist movement was not published until 1961, ten years after this correspondence and 2 years before Lewis’s death. It is hardly surprising in the context that Lewis was not involved in this particular battle  on one side or the other.

A further letter from CSL to Acworth is dated 27th September 1951.

>>>Dear Acworth-

No, I’m afraid I should lose much and you would gain almost nothing by my writing you a preface. No one who is in doubt about your views on Darwin would be impressed by testimony from me, who am known to be no scientist. Many who have been or are being moved towards Christianity by my books would be deterred by finding that I was connected with anti-Darwinism.

I hope (but who knows himself! That I would not allow myself to be influenced by this consideration if it were only my personal success as an author that was endangered. But the cause I stand for would be endangered too. When a man becomes a popular Apologist he must watch his step. Everyone is on the look out for things that might discredit him. Sorry.


C. S. Lewis.<<<<

I appreciate that the above may be seen as a gift to the theistic evolutionists who say that proclaiming biblical creation and questioning and attacking Darwin is a distraction and impediment to the Gospel. I have said elsewhere and hope to further clarify why I disagree with that assertion and  argue that this is not a fair message to take from this correspondence. I would suggest that it is more reasonable to suggest that his polite refusal to become identified with the Evolution Protest Movement was more to do with the fact that Lewis had profitable work for the Kingdom of God that he believed God had given him and was tracking along nicely and that this would be a dissipation of his energy and a distraction from the particular work. Lewis had in hand. Just as Justin Welby declined an invitation to become patron of an animal welfare charity, not because he was against it but as he had too much else on.

Anyhow, these are Lewis' words which I reproduce without alteration and we may make of them what we wish. He wrote more that most people realise on evolution and I hope to share more of it here in 2014. As there is such a lot so say, I will post it in several sections rather than one huge essay.
Happy Christmas.
'You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.' Matthew 1:21

(*) Bernard Acworth ‘This Progress: The Tragedy of Evolution’ (London: Rich and Cowan, 1934). I have not seen this book so cannot comment on it.



  1. Tyler Francke, from God of Evolution here. Interesting that you respond to a series of quotes in which C.S. Lewis is clearly and publicly (in two of his most popular books) accepting the proposition of the evolution of man and incorporating it into his theological arguments, with quotes from two private letters. Obviously, C.S. Lewis' goals in a widely circulated theological treatise are going to be different than his goals in a private letter with a young-earth creationist. I would think that the former is far more important in considering what Lewis thought about evolution and whether it could coexist with biblical Christianity, but you are, of course, free to think whatever you wish.

    However, I would like to point out that even the quotes you use do not necessarily mean what you claim they mean. In the first letter, Lewis did not call evolution "the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives"; he clearly said that was BERNARD ACWORTH'S view, a view Lewis thought he "may be right" in, but not because of the scientific evidence or lack thereof.

    As you acknowledge, the second letter appears to reveal little more than Lewis' fears that his "aligning" with the "anti-Darwinism" pushed by Acworth would severely inhibit his work of defending the Christian faith.

    What's more, although Lewis -- in that letter -- describes his "belief in evolution" as being "of the vaguest and most intermittent kind," it also was STRONG ENOUGH that he says Acworth's arguments didn't shake it. If anything, he was shaken only in his belief that the question is "wholly unimportant."

    As you acknowledge, the second letter appears to reveal little more than Lewis' fears that his "aligning" with the "anti-Darwinism" pushed by Acworth would be detrimental to his work defending the Christian faith. Not much support for your view that I can see.

    The bottom line is that there is no evidence that C.S. Lewis read Genesis literally, or that he thought that Christians should read Genesis literally. He repeatedly and publicly described it as a myth, and even a folk tale.

    1. Apologies for the repetition in the post above. I was having difficulty with your comment system.


feel free to comment, good manners and lucidity are appreciated.