Lewis and Genesis

C. S. Lewis’s unorthodox views are clearest in his writings on Genesis. He followed St. Jerome (c.347-420), whom he said believed “that Moses described Creation ‘after the manner of a popular poet’” or “in the form of a folk-tale” (“Dogma” 42; Miracles 42; Reflections 109). Although he noted the creation story’s “depth and originality” (Miracles 42), Lewis accepted “the view of those scholars who tell us that [it] is derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical. … When a story of such re-tellings turns a creation story which at first had almost no religious or metaphysical significance into a story which achieves the idea of true Creation and of a transcendent Creator (as Genesis does), then nothing will make me believe that some of the re-tellers … ha[ve] not been guided by God” (Reflections 110-11).

Adam in the Garden of Eden Genesis 2:7-8Regarding the creation of Adam, Lewis didn’t believe that “God formed [him] of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7).[1] He didn’t believe that Cain’s wife descended from Adam either: “I pictured the True Men descending from Seth, then meeting Cain’s not perfectly human descendants … interbreeding and thus producing the wicked Antediluvians” (“To Sister” 157). So, when the writer described “God ma[king] man in His own image, he may have pictured a vaguely corporeal God making man as a child makes a figure out of plasticine” (“Dogma” 46). Lewis believed that “this passage might merely illustrate the survival … of the Pagan inability to conceive true Creation, the savage, pictorial tendency to imagine God making things ‘out of’ something” like a potter or carpenter (Reflections 115). However, “a modern Christian philosopher may think of a process lasting from the first creation of matter to the final appearance on this planet of an organism fit to receive spiritual as well as biological life. But both mean essentially the same thing” (“Dogma” 46).

Contra Genesis, Lewis’s Adam was “the son of two anthropoids, on whom, after birth, God worked the miracle which made him Man: said in fact, ‘Come out – and forget thine own people and thy father’s house,’” like a foreshadowing of God’s call to Abraham (“To Sister” 157). Lewis didn’t think that Eden contained just two people either: “We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state” (Problem 75). He also attributed the fall of mankind to the idea that “someone or something whispered that they could become as gods. … We have no idea in what particular act … the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. … It might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence” (75-76).

Lewis’s views on evolution are therefore hazy. He believed that “when you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds” (Mere 157). Lewis also “object[ed] to … the notion of ‘emergent evolution’ – that man is naturally progressing upwards toward perfection and complete knowledge” (Christensen 31). Still, although he noted “difficulties” on evolution, they weren’t “religious” (Reflections 115). He also thought that “with Darwinianism as a theorem in Biology I do not think a Christian need have any quarrel” (“Modern” 63). As a result, Lewis believed that the spiritual difference between men and animals was “sharp,” the biological one “hazy and problematical” (Problem 145). He even thought that unborn babies “passed through various stages. We were once rather like vegetables, and once rather like fish: it was only at a later stage that we became like human babies” (Mere 204). In his writings, then, contrary to the creation account in Genesis, Lewis agreed with some parts of evolution, namely that “man has evolved from lower types of life” (Mere 218). He called man “the highest of the animals,” yet “called to be … something more” (Reflections 115, 158). Lewis also believed that mankind evolved from something lower into something higher, namely that “one of the primates is changed so that he becomes man; but he remains still a primate and an animal. He is taken up into a new life without relinquishing the old” (115). So, instead of Genesis, what is Lewis’s creation story, which he calls “a not unlikely tale” (Problem 71)?

Thousands of centuries ago huge, very heavily armoured creatures were evolved. If anyone had at that time been watching the course of Evolution he would probably have expected that it was going to go on to heavier and heavier armour. But he would have been wrong. The future … was going to spring on him little, naked unarmoured animals which had better brains: and with those brains they were going to master the whole planet. (Mere 219)

For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed for ages in this state before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism … a new kind of consciousness which could say ‘I’ and ‘me,’ which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God. … I do not doubt that if the Paradisal man could now appear among us, we should regard him as an utter savage, a creature to be exploited, or, at best, patronised … [a] naked, shaggy-bearded, slow-spoken creature. (Problem 72, 74-75)

adam eve edenFinally, contrary to a six-day creation and six-thousand-year-old earth, Lewis believed “that animals existed long before men” and that “two thousand years is almost nothing in the history of the universe” (Mere 137, 221). His views on animals are also unorthodox: “carnivorousness … is older than humanity” (Problem 137). In reality, prior to the fall, God gave animals “every green herb for meat” (Genesis 1:30). The first animal death occurred when God killed one to “make coats of skins” for Adam and Eve (2:21). Lewis also attributed causes of animal pain to “Satan’s malice” and “man’s desertion of his post” (Problem 140). This view isn’t unbiblical, but Lewis used it to allow the possibility for animal redemption, since Satan might “have corrupted the animal creation before man appeared”; his first “redemptive function” was to “restore peace to the animal world” (138, 140). However, God made everything “very good” (Genesis 1:31); sin entered the world with the fall of man. Animals don’t need redemption. They never sinned.

Sources
Christensen, Michael J. C. S. Lewis on Scripture: His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, the Role of Revelation, and the Question of Errancy. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989, 2002.
Lewis, C. S. “Dogma and the Universe.” The Guardian (19 / 26 Mar. 1943): 96, 104, 107. Rpt. in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Ed. Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970. 38-47.
—. Mere Christianity. 1952. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001.
—. Miracles: A Preliminary Study. New York: Macmillan, 1947.
—. “Modern Man and His Categories of Thought.” Present Concerns. Ed. Walter Hooper. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986. 62-66.
—. The Problem of Pain. 1940. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996.
—. Reflections on the Psalms. 1958. San Diego: Harvest/Harcourt, 1986.
—. “To Sister Penelope CSMV.” 10 Jan. 1952. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950-1963. Ed. Walter Hooper. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2007. 156-58.

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[1] All Scripture references are to the King James Version (KJV), unless otherwise noted.