Would C. S. Lewis Have Joined the Discovery Institute? (3 guesses and the first 2 don’t count)

Would C. S. Lewis Have Joined the Discovery Institute? (3 guesses and the first 2 don’t count) November 28, 2012

Over at The Biologos Forum, David Williams has begun a series on what C. S. Lewis thought about evolution, Genesis, myth, and how all this fits together for Christianity (Surprised by Jack: C.S. Lewis on Mere Christianity, the Bible, and Evolutionary Science, Part 1).

Williams’s series is prompted by a recent publication of the Discovery Institute edited by John G. West (senior fellow and vice president). The Discovery Institute is a well-known apologetics organization advocating, among other things, Intelligent Design, which, according to their website, claims that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause [i.e., God], not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

For those new to this debate, you could call this “evolution lite”–some things, it is claimed, can only to be explained by direct divine intervention rather than simply a “process.”

Fair enough. It’s a free country. But what caught Williams’s attention is the aforementioned book, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society. Its purpose, along with an accompanying website and documentary, is refreshingly transparent if also disturbingly idiosyncratic. As Williams reports, this project is aimed at,

enlisting Lewis as an ally in a wide-ranging campaign dealing with “evolution, intelligent design, bioengineering, moral relativism, and even the role of government” [from the Introduction, p. 13]…. To the essayists’ contentions that Lewis was politically conservative [at least in a British sense], a moral and epistemological objectivist, a sharp critic of atheistic Materialism, and an opponent of reductionistic Scientism I say nolo contendere. None of this is news. However, other features of the book are sure to raise eyebrows among close readers of Lewis, especially Edward J. Larson’s alarmingly paranoid chapter which argues that Lewis saw “science as the ultimate threat to freedom in modern society” [from Larson’s essay. p. 57].

Williams further comments on the book’s apologetic aim:

For West … it is clearly unacceptable for theistic evolutionists to be able to cite Lewis in support of their alleged heterodoxy, and so West attempts to rescue Lewis from what he regards as a pro-evolutionary misreading of the man and his work.

West’s aim seems doomed to failure in the face of Lewis’s own very public statements advocating evolution, which West himself recognizes. But, to reach his apologetic goal, West claims to uncover for us the real Lewis, the one who can only be found beneath the surface of what he wrote rather than what Lewis explicitly said.

To make the case that Lewis is not an ally of theistic evolution … West [in his chapter “Darwin in the Dock”] weaves together a revisionist biographical sketch of Lewis, portraying him as having harbored deep-seated doubts about Darwin from his early days and then matured into a thoroughgoing but private skeptic towards evolution in his later years. It is this tendentious revisionist distorted biographical lens through which West then goes about re-reading some of Lewis’s other public statements. West’s new spin on Lewis depends upon selections taken from Lewis’s boyhood letters to his father and private correspondences with anti-evolutionist Bernard Acworth, observations about the ways in which Lewis underlined books in his private library, and an anecdote or two. When nothing firmer can be found, a quotation from Tolkien or another of Lewis’s known associates will do in a pinch.

Summarizing West’s view succinctly, Williams writes: “West attempts to squeeze Lewis back into West’s own preconceived orthodoxy, rather than letting Lewis be Lewis.”

Sometimes I wonder what drives people to such desperate measures.

In this series, Williams’s aim is to set the record straight (which until now needed little help) by laying out Lewis’s views on three areas relevant to this discussion: Scripture in general (especially Genesis and myth), Adam and the doctrine of the Fall, and evolutionary science and the myth of “Evolutionism.”

I am looking forward to this series, not so much for its promise to put to rest West’s awkward thesis (which, frankly, seems to be its own refutation), but for laying out Lewis’s thoughts on Scripture and evolution.


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  • Richard Forrest

    So, what scientific research has the DI funded, and where have they published their findings?

    It’s rather telling that they needed to fake the laboratory background when they were touting their “research” programme.


    Do you think that an organisation engaged genuinely in research would need to do so?

  • Richard Forrest

    My word! What a lovely word salad.

    So, to summarise: you are claiming that the existence of the bacterial flagellum indicates the existence of an “intelligent designer” but because the nature of that “intelligent designer” may be outside the remit of scientific investigation the identity of that “intelligent designer is not open to question.

    Let’s start with a few facts rather than obfuscation, shall we?

    “Irreducible complexity” – the supposed hallmark for the intervention of an “intelligent designer” (and why don’t we just just the acronym “GOD” (short for “Generalised Omnipotent Designer”) to save my typing fingers – was predicted on the basis of evolutionary theory by Herman Muller in 1918 . Here is the paper in which he predicted it http://www.genetics.org/content/3/5/422.full.pdf

    So the supposed test for ID was predicted on the basis of evolutionary theory nearly a century ago. Not a good start for ID.

    Setting this aside, let’s look at ID “theory”, which states {according to the DI here: http://www.intelligentdesign.org/whatisid.php

    “Intelligent design begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex and specified information (CSI).”

    As a basis for “theory” this is as silly as saying that because mackerel are fish, all fish are mackerel. Just because some instance of complexity are produced by “intelligent agents”, it is not a logical consequence that all instances of such complexity are the product of “intelligent agents”.

    “Design theorists hypothesize that if a natural object was designed, it will contain high levels of CSI.”

    ..which is an “hypothesis drawn not only from a logically incoherent premise, but is one which assumes the consequent – another logical fallacy. The weasel word is “specified” – which implies an agent who specifies (presumably GOD (and please note that this an an acronym, not a reference to the Christian (or Hindu or Moslem) God).

    “Scientists then perform experimental tests upon natural objects to determine if they contain complex and specified information.”

    They do? I am not aware of any research carried out by any scientists to determine if they contain “complex and specified information”. How would one do that? What observation or measurement could determine if a natural object does not contain “complex and specified information”? After all, all matter is complex, and anybody who believes in God (as opposed to GOD) believes that they whole of creation is designed.

    “One easily testable form of CSI is irreducible complexity,”

    …which, just to remind you, was predicted on the basis of evolutionary theory almost a century ago…

    ” which can be discovered by experimentally reverse-engineering biological structures to see if they require all of their parts to function.”

    …which of course is something ID researchers have never done. What they have done is to cherry-pick the research findings of scientists and misrepresent them to imply that they support their “theory” whilst studiously ignoring any evidence which refutes it. A rather clear example of this came from the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial, during which Michael Behe dismissed as “unconvincing” scientific papers he later conceded that he hadn’t even read.

    “When ID researchers find irreducible complexity in biology, they conclude that such structures were designed.”

    “Designed” being a term which they evade any attempts to define in the rigourous way in which scientists define their terms.

    Let’s just remind ourselves that the phenomenon of “irreducible (or specified) complexity” was predicted by evolutionary theory, which makes the supposed indicator of ID a load of dishonest crock.

    Setting that aside:
    In science, hypotheses must be testable. This means that they must set constraints on possible outcome. This means that there have to be potential observations or measurements which could not be explained by the hypothesis. If a dog gave birth to a cat, it would falsify evolutionary theory. There is no equivalent for ID – unless you can propose a potential observation or measurement which could not be “explained” by the intervention of GOD using unspecified but potentially supernatural means.

    Setting that aside:

    Assuming that certain natural phenomena could not be explained by any existing scientific theory, that does not mean that we invoke the intervention of GOD (and please not that this is an acronym, not a reference to the Christian (or Hindu, or Moslem) God) to explain them. We say “I don’t know” and carry on looking. Science exists not because of what we know, but because of what we don’t know. “I don’t know” is a perfectly valid scientific conclusion, and is what drives the whole process of scientific enquiry. When faced with a question science can’t answer, we look for answers. We don’t abandon science in favour of the untestable assertion that GOD did it.

    Science works. It made possible the device you are using to communicate your rejection of science. To redefine its fundamental nature to accommodate the supernatural, as ID proponents demand, would be ridiculous. To claim scientific support for a “theory” whilst demanding that we redefine science in this way so that the “theory” can be treated as science is downright dishonest.

    And that, quite frankly, is the root of the whole issue. We should reject ID not for any particular religious or scientific reason, but because it is dishonest. This dishonesty was exposed clearly during the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial, during which ID proponents lied under oath. The claims of ID for scientific legitimacy are dishonest, and the fact that some at least of its fellows have a perfectly respectable track record of scientific research and publication means that they must know that they are dishonest.