An Evolutionary Fluke

Did trees evolve from apes? An odd question, to be sure, but one humorously posed by C.S. Lewis in a letter to his father.

While this column does discuss the theory of evolution, it’s not doctrinaire. So, whatever your opinion of Darwin’s notions, read on, and you may enjoy a pleasant surprise.

C.S. Lewis, the brilliant Christian apologist was not an ironclad “evangelical” in the American sense of the word. Here in the U.S., that typically requires adherence to a handful of doctrines, usually including the affirmation of the infallibility of the Scriptural autographs and of the creation of humanity in the persons of our first parents, Adam and Eve.

As important as these matters are, very few Christians would deem them salvific, in the sense that people holding less “vigorous” views on these issues will be excluded from heaven.

C.S. Lewis was one of those who focused on the core of the Christian faith, rather than secondary doctrines. He referred to this as “mere Christianity,” and it was based on a trusting relationship with God through the Person of Jesus, God present with us in the Incarnate Word.

As for doctrines per se, like all good defenders of the faith, C.S. Lewis preferred not to get bogged down with secondary matters. This is consistent with the spirit of Paul’s advice to the young pastor, Timothy.

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. . . . Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone . . . (2 Timothy 2:14, 23-24).

Lewis’ 1927 Evolutionary Conversation

In March of 1927, C.S. Lewis wrote one of his eclectic letters to his father in Northern Ireland. As usual, he commented on his father’s previous correspondence and shared about his current health and activities. While his relationship with his father grew strained after his mother’s untimely death while he was still a child, Lewis’ letters to his father exude familial respect framed in the context of early twentieth century British sensibilities.

That said, Lewis was always eager to share curious or silly experiences he knew would amuse his solicitor father. He takes a humorous approach, for instance, to advising his father to consult a more skilled doctor to diagnose an ailment, rather than suffering with the incomplete work of the physician he has always known, he will simply be “offer[ing] up several months of pain as a sacrifice on the altar of an old acquaintance.”

At the same time, he acknowledges his personal inclination toward doing the same, stating that “if I lived at home [I] would continue to use Gillespie all my life.” Gillespie, it turns out, ran a taxi service long favored by the family despite his bumpy transportation. “I have never regretted Gillespie and his hexagonal wheel,” Lewis shares.

He returns to his argument, however, by saying his father’s health demands the attention of a competent physician rather than relying on past ties. He concludes with an illustration based on his own brother. “Hang it all, even you wouldn’t suggest that because I’ve known Warnie a long time I ought to trust him as an interpreter on a holiday in Spain.”

C.S. Lewis proceeds to share with his father current events at Magdalen College (“we are putting up a new building”) and a recent nightmare (“it was the sense of being on the moon . . . the complete desolateness, which gave the extraordinary effect”).

The letter includes other fascinating elements, but it is time now to consider the reference to evolution.

An Absurd Age

I absolutely love the way C.S. Lewis invites us to experience the following moment. His story is so vivid, it still lives a century after the described events transpired.

We live in the most absurd age. I met a girl the other day who had been teaching in an infant school (boys and girls up to the age of six) where the infants are taught the theory of Evolution. Or rather the Headmistress’s version of it.

Simple people like ourselves had an idea that Darwin said that life developed from simple organisms up to the higher plants and animals, finally to the monkey group, and from the monkey group to man.

The infants however seem to be taught that ‘in the beginning was the Ape’ from whom all other life developed – including such dainties as the Brontosaurus and the Iguanodon.

Whether the plants were supposed to be descendants of the ape I didn’t gather. And then people talk about the credulity of the middle ages! À propos of this can you tell me who said ‘Before you begin these studies, I should warn you that you need much more faith in science than in theology.’ It was Huxley or Clifford or one of the nineteenth century scientists, I think.

Another good remark I read long ago in one of E. Nesbitt’s fairy tales –‘Grown ups know that children can believe almost anything: that’s why they tell you that the earth is round and smooth like an orange when you can see perfectly well for yourself that it’s flat and lumpy.’

Ironically, immediately after this, Lewis introduces his next subject with the words: “Almost the only interesting thing that has happened to me lately was a visit from a young German.” You see, I wasn’t misleading you when I said his letters are filled with fascinating material.

One must assume that times have changed, and that English children are no longer being taught such simplistic distortions of actual theories. But that’s not the theme of this current post. Rather, I wish to show how wonderfully entertaining a simple family letter can be – especially when it comes from the pen of C.S. Lewis.

19 thoughts on “An Evolutionary Fluke

  1. Reblogged this on Zero Lift-Off and commented:

    I’ve often referred to C.S. not only for his beautiful “The Chronicles of Narnia” or his other genius writings, but, more than anything else how his having been a faithful Christian attending church regularly with his mother during his youth until her suffering death from cancer when he took the exit ramp from his faith in Jesus Christ.

    As the years went by during Lewis’ education then professorships at Oxford and Cambridge while being an atheist, a profound thing happened as he recounted later to his longtime friend and correspondent, Arthur Greeves! How just nine days after talking with his close friend J. R. R. Tolkien who explained to Lewis a profound truth about Myths; which then brought C.S. Lewis full circle, from being a follower of Christ and then his departure from that faith, which to many is a powerful myth; to once again being smack-dab right back on the path of being a believer, who was again truly one of the faithful! Now even with more vigor and zeal than he had ever previously experienced or demonstrated in practice, and, because of what Lewis points out in these words he wrote to his friend Greeves; “Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened!” This conversation with Tolkien we can say was the straw that broke the camel’s back if you will, that this was the turning point which “broke his doubt” and transformed him magically from being faithless, or not a believer in Christ, to actually wholeheartedly believing that Jesus Christ is the son of God!

    This to me was a miraculous event and I think Lewis took it as such going on to become a top ranking most prolific writer and advocate of Christendom; the belief in Jesus Christ actually being who He claimed to be! What a priceless gift from God, that C.S. Lewis was given this opportunity to awaken the faith in his own heart; to then go on and produce such masterful genuine faith based writings that gave so much hope and inspiration to countless persons as an impetus, for them to also find their own faith within their hearts, and to want a personal relationship with Jesus Christ too!

    What follows in this short video is a reenactment of that conversation Lewis had with Tolkien, which does exemplify and inspire just how genuine heartfelt conversation that seeks to understand and find truth; can be a monumental thing in anyone’s life! It literally can make the difference between finding heaven or hell.
    God bless you.
    Thank you Lord for the gift you provided to C.S. Lewis and thus to all.

    Brother in Christ Jesus,
    Lawrence Morra III

    Previously I had written these other essays that seek God’s Truth and they are my attempt to answer the question of why we must have faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps when you have time you can review these. What follows are a few excerpts from these blog posts.

    Let me ask you; do you really prefer to think that not being born would be better for you and your children? Because I can absolutely guarantee you that is exactly what the Devil wants you to believe, that master of all lies wants any of us to think we are defeated before we start.

    You see I’ve learned that God absolutely exists and God’s purposes and Plans are all that matter not we free willed sometimes foolish, silly or arrogant creations of; His. “Total humility is the beginning of acceptance and understanding” that we are here for a God given reason not our imperfect sometimes self-righteous thinking or vision of what this has to be about living among the dead as we do; for I say to you this isn’t really living not with a price on all of our heads that says nobody gets out alive! We are looking with eyes half shut or in many cases wide shut in which case even though we think they are open they see nothing, not the Truth of God; never really seeing the length and depth of all that is really going on, and is always beyond our grasp; yet it’s as plain and simple as the morning turns to night and after the night a new dawn comes.

    Life is the most beautiful incomparable gift and blessing of absolute LOVE!

    1. Glad to have you repost this on your blog. And it’s great to see he inspires many of your own posts as well. Just a minor point of clarification for readers of your comment. Yes, he did indeed serve as a professor at Oxford while an atheist.

      However, when he went to Cambridge as a professor he had already become a strong defender of the Christian faith. Cambridge was a much more hospitable environment for a disciple of Jesus.

      1. More than happy to contribute to opening eyes and hearts to Christ which is the whole point to any of this I do believe and hope. Arguments could arise as to which educational institution had the most bearing on Lewis’ Transition back to Christ but these arguments would be a moot point at best, because the history of his return to Christianity is established history. I could myself find some flaws in his then ensuing treatment of some Biblical matters that even J.R.R. Tolkien his close friend had difficulty with Lewis over in subsequent years! Tolkien being of a Catholic mindset and Lewis more of a Protestant/Calvinist point of view do have their clashes in actual interpretation that expert Theologian Scholars could lecture all of us on and with due cause. We still are in the fallen state so camaraderie or pleasantries are continually attacked and discouraged in fellowship between many Christians, because you know as well as I do that Satan is the prince of this world and is working overtime to disrupt and dishearten; look at our insane evil riddled government; so beware is all I can say to you or anyone at this juncture! I have experienced this calamity firsthand on many occasions and they were even outright demonic attacks!

        Good to point out for clarification and of course anyone interested in a very in-depth historical accounting would with their own review of the history in greater detail discover many interesting as well as surprising facts or a more whole truth as it pertains to C.S. Lewis for as an example in time differences between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in their decidedly different handling of some core components of the Christian Faith from a theological as well as actual practice brought about a discomfort that eventually created some tension between them.

        For a period of a few years C.S. Lewis was slowly but surely begging his return to Christianity! It was this meeting with Tolkien and their depicted conversation in the reenactment video which led to his conversion several days later from being an announced atheist to being again a faithful Christian. This conversation occurred while teaching at Oxford but Though affiliated with both Oxford and Cambridge into the 1950’s only in the 1955 was he finally honored by Magdalene College at Cambridge University when he received a chair in recognition of his important contributions to English literary history and criticism.

        My own and surely anyone that might incidentally transpose any overlapping experiences at both universities in a broad sense accidentally the fact is each institution has very closely named colleges within the main body, Magdalen College is a constituent college of the University of Oxford ( Magdalen College, 1925-1954) and then there is Cambridge University (Magdalene College, 1954-1963). Overall I say part and parcel both of these education centers for higher learning contributed to his reemergence into his own faith and believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior! That was my only intent in writing what I did to this point; but, the crux or focal point came to fruition just after that conversation with J.R.R. Tolkien.
        Like I say happy to open eyes and hearts to Jesus.

      2. The dimming of Lewis’ relationship with Tolkien was one of the great sorrows in both of their lives. Most of the authors I’ve read attribute the largest part in that weakening to the arrival of Joy Davidman, who Lewis would marry. That she was a divorcee was part of the problem, in some people’s thoughts. More, however, consider it a personality issue, as she was outspoken and opinionated in a way that Tolkien (and some others) considered quite off-putting.

        As for the natural barriers between Roman Catholics and various breeds of Protestants… that is inevitable when both individuals are devout, and zealous in their adherence to their denomination’s doctrines.

        Yes, J.R.R. played a huge role in Lewis’ conversion from theism to Christianity. But Lewis was never destined to “swim the Tiber.” He was a Protestant. The grandson of an Anglican priest, and an Irish Protestant to boot. Didn’t make him a strong candidate for joining the Roman communion.

        Instead, God used C.S. Lewis for something far better — he focused on how the Body of Christ transcends any single denomination. Mere Christianity is the essence of the faith of Jesus’ disciples, as it always should remain.

  2. For a period of a few years C.S. Lewis was slowly but surely begging his return to Christianity! Sorry about that typo though perhaps Lewis was begging for his own return to his lost faith but I did of course mean beginning!

      1. Touché! Chuckle, chuckle, not I sir! I wouldn’t nor would you I propose be so foolish to start tossing stones in a glass house! Now as for other persons running slip-shod amongst us in this worldwide hyperbolic dilemma, strewn with all manner of rhetoric; I hold my tongue lest I really cause a feud!

    1. Feuds are terrible things indeed. Especially when they erupt within families.

      Over the years, I’ve learned to be less defensive of my own positions and more open to learning from others. That doesn’t mean that I ever compromise my convictions or integrity… just that I don’t jump to defend my views as my initial reaction to encountering things that may simply appear to be challenges to the truth.

      It’s far more beneficial to all involved to discuss, rather than to argue.

      1. Well said Sir! You’ve taken those lessons to heart well and come out a better man for it! I’ve learned sometimes the hard way how insecurities or defensiveness can riddle one’s life with a greater and unnecessary burden like a gorilla on the back to lug around while still having to make a go of life and do the right thing! When you speak of convictions and integrity I say this, as I feel equally committed to and as strongly about mine as anyone else does theirs; but all of it, anything in me or you must yield to God’s ultimate absolute Truth! We must not forget we are the fallen and imperfect so unable to bring all points of light to one absolute focal point!

        I know you’ve read this but it may be helpful or at least interesting food for thought with the readers.

        Here it is in a nutshell. Confusion and deception abound and while we are in such a tragic state of human turmoil like nothing ever before on such a global scale even compared to world wars because we are all on the actual precipice now and weren’t back then, but this now has the distinct difference of having all the signs of being the beginning of The End, the Great Tribulation; I’d say you agree there are much bigger fish to fry siting right on our laps! In all of what I just said and anything previous; to me the only thing that actually matters and must hold my devout attention every minute of every day moving forward is to allow God’s Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, to guide me; to do Our Father will in heaven.

        I can’t see anything else of any real value or importance now and I’ve been through some serious shit some of it actual attacks by evil that could have and should have killed me several times over, along with torture me in the process; but here I am, so it has to be only because God wants it this way, and I better man up and be willing and able to jump on His command!

        I leave this pertinent Holy Scripture to take into account here.

        Jeremiah 17:5-13 (ESV)
        5 Thus says the Lord:
        “Cursed is the man who trusts in man
        and makes flesh his strength,[a]
        whose heart turns away from the Lord.
        6 He is like a shrub in the desert,
        and shall not see any good come.
        He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
        in an uninhabited salt land.
        7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
        whose trust is the Lord.
        8 He is like a tree planted by water,
        that sends out its roots by the stream,
        and does not fear when heat comes,
        for its leaves remain green,
        and is not anxious in the year of drought,
        for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
        9 The heart is deceitful above all things,
        and desperately sick;
        who can understand it?
        10 “I the Lord search the heart
        and test the mind,[b]
        to give every man according to his ways,
        according to the fruit of his deeds.”
        Seek no man but seek God who is in heaven!

        And thank you Rob for the fine posting as well all of the good input you’ve given to me, as valuable food for thought and further contemplation; something both Lewis and Tolkien would be right on the same page with us! Amen.

        Brother in Christ Jesus,

      1. There are penpal groups that still exist. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that your church sponsors that sort of activity.

        But yes, it was much more exotic when we were young, and the world seemed so much larger and more mysterious.

      2. Yes, I do like cottage pie. I found it to be one of the reliably satisfying meals while we lived in England.

        Yes, you certainly lack the time. Family must ever remain the priority of a good parent.

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