C.S. Lewis on Intelligent Design

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, the major think tank of the intelligent design movement, aims to “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies,” and to “replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God” (CSC 1999).  Intelligent design advocates have sought to accomplish these goals by attempting to prove that modern evolutionary theory is wrong because it does not explicitly account for the creative action of a “Designer.”  The intelligent design movement has achieved widespread support among fundamentalist and evangelical Christians who believe God’s special creation of Adam and Eve was physical as well as spiritual.  The vast majority of scientists and a United States federal court of law, however, have rejected intelligent design and declared it to be religiously motivated pseudoscience (Forrest and Gross 2005).

How should Christians think about intelligent design?  What of its conclusion-that evolutionary theory is wrong?  Is mainstream science too restrictive in insisting on naturalistic explanations for observed phenomena?  Because the intelligent design movement began almost 30 years after Christian writer C. S. Lewis’s death, we cannot definitively say what he would have thought about it.  Lewis did, however, write frequently about the nature of science, including evolution.  His views on this topic have been appreciated by believers and unbelievers alike.  I will suggest that Lewis would have rejected intelligent design for two reasons:  (1) its practitioners fail to recognize the established limitations of inferential science, which Lewis frequently defended, and (2) intelligent design exchanges the glory of the Christian God-which believers see so clearly in nature-for evidence of a potential but unknowable Intelligence.

In the past 150 years since Darwin first announced his theory of evolution by natural selection, the human body has become increasingly de-spiritualized.  This de-spiritualization is not only the result of evolutionary theory, but of all modern biology which seeks to uncover the structure and inner workings of our physical bodies.  The fact that, at basest level, our genes are essentially interchangeable with those of bacteria seems to reduce the Imago Dei to a groundless myth in the eyes of modern materialists.  Christians too often accept this logic and either reject the Bible or retreat to antiscience.

Lewis, in contrast, had a different response.  He felt that scientific explanations were descriptive but not meaningful in the ultimate sense; that is, a thing is more than the stuff it is made of-it may have tremendous symbolic or spiritual significance  (Ward 2008).  If we are to reflect truly the image of God, we must remember that human beings are more than the molecules that comprise our bodies.  Even as we rationally observe our genetic continuity with other forms of life, we have good reason to believe that we are indeed a special creation, set apart from the animals by our unique ability to willfully glorify and enjoy God.

Lewis on the nature of science

Though Lewis was not a scientist, he knew much about the philosophy of science.  Frequently, he wrote about the distinction between science and scientism, the latter being the belief that the methods of the natural sciences should be applied to all disciplines, including philosophy, the humanities, and the social sciences (Schaefer 1).  Lewis was decidedly for science and against scientism.  In Mere Christianity, he unpacked the ways in which we can answer the question of whether or not there is a “power” behind the universe.  He wrote, “[s]ince that power, if it exists, would be not one of the observed facts but a reality which makes them, no mere observation of the facts can find it”  (Mere 24).  Lewis believed that the natural sciences, based on empirical observation and inference, can answer certain kinds of questions but not others.

Lewis also thought there was good evidence for rejecting metaphysical naturalism-the belief that nature is all that there is.  In The Weight of Glory, he wrote, “[i]f minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees”  (“Weight” 230).  The existence of reason itself argues for a transcendent Mind.