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Friday, May 13, 2005

C.S. Lewis wrote a mock hymn to “Evolution”?

Apparently so. C.S. Lewis’s ”Evolutionary Hymn” is reproduced here, to the tune of “Lead us, Heavenly Father, lead us”:

Evolutionary Hymn

by C.S. Lewis

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair:
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice in the present,
Joy or sorrow, what are they
While there's always jam to-morrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.

[read the rest at the link above]

Lewis, incidentally, had not started out opposing Darwinian evolution, but he came to do so because of the “fanatical and twisted attitudes” of its defenders. As I explained in By Design or by Chance?,

C.S. Lewis (1898–1963), perhaps the most widely read Christian apologist of the 20th
century, was careful to distinguish between evolution as a theory in biology and Evolution as an idea that came to dominate the politics and religion of his time. He noted that decades before Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, poets and musicians had started proclaiming that humanity was inevitably evolving, onward and upward, to a glorious future.24 “I grew up believing in this Myth and I have felt—I still feel—its almost perfect grandeur,”25 he wrote.

However, there is a big difference between the myth of Evolution preached by poets and the theory in biology. Lewis made quite clear to his readers that the biological theory of Darwinism does not argue that there will be inevitable, continuous improvements over time. It only explains continuous change over time. The change can be degeneration or decline. Really, it is all the same to the biologist, especially if the subject is fossil lampreys or some other unattractive entity. But as applied to human society, the myth of evolution morphed from a theory about changes to a supposed fact about improvements. It became a powerful weapon for good or ill in the hands of social reformers and politicians.

Lewis wrote: “To those brought up on the Myth nothing seems more normal, more natural, more plausible, than that chaos should turn into order, death into life, ignorance into knowledge.”26

The reason continuous improvement without human effort seemed so plausible was that contrary examples in nature were simply ignored. For example, popular presentations of evolution typically feature the evolution of the modern horse from a bulgy little pawed creature. They do not highlight the evolution of an active, independent creature into a degenerate, disease-causing parasite, though that happens, too. Much as Lewis admired the literature based on the Evolution myth, he didn’t like the political version very much at all. About that, he wrote:

It has great allies, Its friends are propaganda, party cries,
And bilge, and Man’s incorrigible mind.27

Lewis was also well aware that Darwinism has often functioned as a religion in itself. It certainly functioned that way for Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s bulldog.” Evolution was a religion for politically varied figures such as playwright George Bernard Shaw, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and composer Richard Strauss. Popular understanding of evolution actually owes much more to them than to Darwinian biologists. Each of these thinkers had his own ideas about what evolution, specifically human evolution, was.28 However, Shaw got it right at least once. He explained in Back to Methuselah that “if this sort of selection could turn an antelope into a giraffe, it could conceivably turn a pond full of amoebas into the French academy.” 29 That, precisely, is what Darwin and his successors believe, and what everyone who can be described as a non-Darwinist disbelieves.

Lewis’s views about Darwinism as a biological theory changed over time. In the 1940s and 1950s, a friend tried to get him to join a protest movement against it. However, he refused, fearing that association with anti-Darwinists would damage his reputation as a Christian apologist. “When a man has become a popular Apologist,” he explained, “he must watch his step. Everyone is on the look out for things that might discredit him.”30 However, privately, by 1959 he had become increasingly skeptical of Darwinism and concerned about its social effects, especially on account of “the fanatical and twisted attitudes of its defenders.”31

To find out more about my book, go to By Design or by Chance?


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