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Mere Manipulation — Using C.S. Lewis to Pitch Evolution to Christians

David Klinghoffer

C.S. Lewis

If you’re not overly scrupulous, you can take any idea and try to sell it to Christians by slapping the word “Mere” on it. This gives the impression that it would have been heartily endorsed by the most beloved of Christian apologists, C.S. Lewis, author of Mere Christianity among other books.

Does the tactic work? It’s hard to imagine with an informed audience. But clearly some people think it does, notably Darwinists working to persuade Christians on behalf of evolutionary belief. Sample headline from the theistic evolutionary group BioLogos, “Surprised by Jack, Part 4: Mere Evolution.” Sample title from a BioLogos event, back in March in California, “Mere Science and Christian Faith.”

The event featured BioLogos Advisory Council member Greg Cootsona who wrote a recent book of the same name that tries to promote evolution over intelligent design. Cootsona teaches comparative religion at Cal State Chico. Evolution News reviewed his book’s chapter on intelligent design here, calling it “embarrassing” as scholarship:

[I]t’s disappointing to report that the book’s case for theistic evolution and its critique of intelligent design, aimed at younger people, are marred by multiple errors, ranging from minor to quite serious, relating to fundamental tenets of the theory of ID. What the author means by “mere science” isn’t clear, and the phase appears only once, at the end of the book. But it’s evidently an attempt by this shallow book to borrow some prestige from C.S. Lewis and “mere Christianity.”

Now Marvin Olasky, editor of World Magazine, takes note. He wryly observes that Lewis “should have trademarked ‘mere.’” Yeah, too bad he didn’t. Olasky weighs in on the Cootsona book by juxtaposing it helpfully with books from Discovery Institute Fellows, The Magician’s Twin, by John West, and Heretic, by Matti Leisola and Jonathan Witt. From “Mere distortion: Co-opting C.S. Lewis, promoting evolution”:

The title and subtitle of Greg Cootsona’s Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults (IVP, 2018) suggests his two chief ways of selling Darwinism to Christians: C.S. Lewis (who should have trademarked “mere”) was for it, and evangelicals should make their peace with Darwinism for the sake of the children who will otherwise abandon the gospel.

We could ignore Cootsona’s poor writing except that he directs the program in Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries (STEAM) at Fuller Theological Seminary, so his sales pitches are influential — but they’re also superficial, at best.

Right, given the source, this is a significant effort aimed at Christians. Embrace evolution “for the sake of the children.” It’s what C.S. Lewis would have wanted! Olasky calls it out:

As John West wrote in The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society (Discovery, 2012), Lewis saw the limitations of Darwinism: “It does not in itself explain the origin of organic life, nor of the variations.” Rather than thinking humans had evolved since Creation, Lewis emphasized devolution: Before the Fall, Adam had unimpeded fellowship with God (“God came first in his love and in his thought”) and complete control over animals (“He commanded all lower lives with which he came into contact”). Not anymore.

Lewis particularly insisted on original innocence followed by original sin — “I believe that Man has fallen from the state of innocence in which he was created: I therefore disbelieve in any theory which contradicts this.” In Miracles (1947), Lewis criticized those who “say that the story of the Fall in Genesis is not literal.” Lewis corresponded for 16 years with Bernard Acworth, a leader in Britain’s Evolution Protest Movement, and in 1951 wrote that Acworth’s work “has shaken me: not in my belief in evolution, which was of the vaguest and most intermittent kind, but in my belief that the question was wholly unimportant.”

Lewis at that point understood how evolution could be “the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives.” That’s why Cootsona’s argument that church leaders should embrace macroevolution because otherwise kids will walk away from church is so wrong: Accepting evolution propels many toward unbelief. When we don’t try to turn them around, we are accomplices to surrender.

As I mentioned, one problem with Cootsona’s book is the failure to responsibly engage with the science of intelligent design. This is typical, unfortunately. (See my recent interaction with atheist biologist Nathan Lents, who’s got his own book out on the human body’s “poor design.”) Olasky acknowledges the powerful careerist incentive to fall in line with Darwinism.

Others see the problems but know what will happen if they think independently: Matti Leisola and Jonathan Witt show the professional consequences in Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design (Discovery, 2018).

I’ve said before and will repeat that while I’m not a Christian, I strongly resent it when Christians, or people of any faith or of none, are patronized and manipulated. Anyone should resent it.

By all means, make the case for Darwinian theory and against intelligent design. Engage the science fully. If you particularly wish to target Christians, go ahead. But be clear, not least with yourself, about what you’re really doing. Don’t mislead with the pitch, implied or explicit, that promoting Darwin is somehow the Christian thing to do, that you are following in the legacy of C.S. Lewis, or advancing the spiritual good of “emerging adults.”

Photo: “The Searcher,” statue of C.S. Lewis, Belfast, Ireland, by Paul Bowman via Flickr (cropped).