Editor’s Note: With the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s passing next week, November 22, we are pleased to offer selections from CSC associate director John West’s book The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society. What follows is excerpted from Dr. West’s Chapter 7, "C.S. Lewis and Intelligent Design."
C.S. Lewis countered the argument from undesign with several positive arguments in favor of the existence of a transcendent intelligent cause for nature. They include:
1. The Argument from Natural Beauty
From early on, Lewis’s pessimistic view of nature as "red in tooth and claw"1 was counterbalanced by the longings stirred within him by nature’s beauty.2 even in Spirits in Bondage, the bleak vision of nature presented in some of his poems can be contrasted with poems describing scenes of overwhelming beauty that raised glimmers of the transcendent. For Lewis, our experience of beauty in nature pointed to the reality of something beyond nature:
Atoms dead could never thus
Stir the human heart of us
Unless the beauty that we see
The veil of endless beauty be3
In Lewis’s view, the longings provoked by earthly beauty could not be accounted for by a blind and mechanistic material universe. They required a transcendent cause outside of nature. This cause was not necessarily personal, but it did go beyond blind matter and energy. As a consequence, it put an intelligent agent back on the table as one of the options for discussion.
2. The Argument from Morality
Lewis eventually recognized that the argument from undesign suffered from a critical flaw: If the material universe is all there is, and if human beings are simply the products of that universe, then on what basis can they criticize the universe for being so bad?4 By judging the universe in this way, human beings are presupposing the existence of a moral standard outside of material nature that can judge nature. But where did this moral standard come from? The existence in every culture of a standard by which the current operations of nature are judged implies the existence of a transcendent moral cause outside of nature. Again, this transcendent moral cause is not necessarily personal, but a transcendent personal God is one of the alternatives that can now be considered.
3. The Argument from Reason
Lewis argued that reason cannot be accounted for by an undirected material process of chance and necessity such as natural selection acting on random mutations. If reason could be accounted for in this way, according to Lewis, we would have no reason to trust the conclusions of our minds, including the conclusion that our minds are the products of a material process of chance and necessity. The bottom line for Lewis is that the existence of reason within nature points to a need for reason outside of nature as a transcendent intelligent cause.5
4. The Argument from Functional Complexity
According to Lewis, "universal evolutionism" has schooled us to think that in nature complicated functional things naturally arise from cruder and less complicated things. Oak trees come from acorns, owls from eggs, and human beings from embryos. But for Lewis this "modern acquiescence in universal evolutionism is a kind of optical illusion" that defies the actual data of the natural world.6 In each of the aforementioned cases, complex living things arose from even more complex living things. Every acorn originally came from an oak tree. Every owl’s egg came from an actual owl. Every human embryo required two full-grown adult human beings. We see the same pattern in human culture. The "evolution" from coracles to steamships, or from one of the early locomotives (the "Rocket") to modern train engines, requires a cause that is greater than either steamships or train engines. "We love to notice that the express [train] engine of today is the descendant of the ‘Rocket’; we do not equally remember that the ‘Rocket’ springs not from some even more rudimentary engine, but from something much more perfect and complicated than itself — namely, a man of genius."7 Lewis made clear the relevance of this truth for understanding the wonderful functional complexity we see throughout nature: "You have to go outside the sequence of engines, into the world of men, to find the real originator of the Rocket. Is it not equally reasonable to look outside Nature for the real Originator of the natural order?"8
This is explicitly an argument for intelligent design, and Lewis implies that this line of reasoning was central to his own disavowal of materialism. "On these grounds and others like them one is driven to think that whatever else may be true, the popular scientific cosmology at any rate is certainly not."9 This argument for intelligent design does not in and of itself lead to the Christian God according to Lewis. But it opens the door to considering the alternatives to materialism of "philosophical idealism" and "Theism," and from there one may well progress to full-blooded Christian theism after further reflection.10
(1) The phrase is Tennyson’s, but one can hear echoes of it in Lewis’s poem "Ode for New Year’s Day": "For nature will not pity, nor the red God lend an ear." C.S. Lewis, "VIII: Ode for New Year’s Day," Spirits in Bondage, 14. For Tennyson’s line see "In Memoriam A. H. H." (1850), Canto 56, accessed June 25, 2012, http://www.online-literature.com/donne/718/.
(2) See Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 7, 16, 152-158. What I am describing here as the argument from natural beauty is one part of Lewis’s larger argument from "joy." For a helpful overview of the development of this argument, see Kathryn Lindskoog, Finding the Landlord: A Guidebook to C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress (Chicago: Cornerstone Press, 1995), xiii-xxv; also see Lewis, "Surprised by Joy"; Lewis, "The Weight of Glory," in C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, revised and expanded edition, edited by Walter Hooper (New York: Macmillan, 1980), 3-19.
(3) "XXVI: Song," Lewis, Spirits in Bondage, 50.
(4) See Lewis to Dom Bede Griffiths; C.S. Lewis, "De Futilitate," in Christian Reflections, edited by Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967), 65-67, 69-70.
(5) See C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study, 1960 edition (New York: Macmillan,
1978), especially, 12-24; Lewis, "De Futilitate," 57-71; Lewis, "Religion Without Dogma?" in God in the Dock, edited by Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 129-146.
(6) C.S. Lewis, "Is Theology Poetry?" in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, revised and expanded edition (New York: Macmillan, 1980), 90; also see C.S. Lewis, "Modern Man and His Categories of Thought," Present Concerns, edited by Walter Hooper (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), 63-64.
(7) Lewis, "Is Theology Poetry?," 90.
(8) Lewis, "Two Lectures," God in the Dock, 211.
(9) Lewis, "Is Theology Poetry?," 91.