C. S. Lewis: Evolution denialist?

It’s extremely painful working my way through C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: I still can get through 20 pages at most before I have to stop in disgust. Fortunately, I have only about 100 pages to go, and the pages are small. My revulsion may be due to having been crammed to the maw with theology when I wrote my last book.

Up to now in Mere Christianity, Lewis has said nothing about evolution, though the video below says there’s a small bit later on. Still, I wondered what a man as smart as Lewis would make of the theory of evolution, and the video below, “suggested” by YouTube, answers the question. Sadly, his views on evolution are even worse than his views on Christianity. Though Lewis died in 1963, when we already had tons of evidence for evolution, Lewis was a doubter, apparently holding the following views:

  • He had no objection in principle to common ancestry, but was skeptical about it—exactly the view that Michael Behe holds.
  • He was especially skeptical about human evolution, not seeing how natural selection could create the reasoning human mind.
  • He saw materialistic natural selection, the “unguided version,” as incapable of creating novelty; it could “knock out existing functions” but not create new ones. This of course is a stock argument of creationists.
  • Insofar as natural selection were creative, God would have to be guiding it. Thus, the form of  “natural” selection accepted by Lewis was really “unnatural” because it was guided by God. In other words, Lewis was in part, a theistic evolutionist, and in part a creationist.
  • In his book Miracles, Lewis claimed that human reason could not have been produced by materialistic natural selection, for if selection is a “blind” process, how can we regard reason as giving us the ability to uncover the truth? This is very similar to the arguments of Sophisticated Theologians™ like Alvin Plantinga, and is a specious argument. I explained why in Faith Versus Fact. 
  • Lewis also claimed that if humans evolved in a Darwinian way, we would have no reason to prefer morality over immorality, as there would be “no such thing as right or wrong.” Real atheists would have to admit that, he said.
  • As Lewis got older (and as the study of evolution advanced), he became even less accepting of evolution, proclaiming that the dogmatism of evolutionary biologists convinced him that  evolution was the “central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives.” It’s almost as if he thought evolution was a tool of Satan (in whom Lewis believed).
  • Finally, Lewis was an anti-accommodationist, critical of those who tried to reconcile evolution with theism. That’s the only thing he got right!

At the end of the video, the narrator praises Lewis for his expansive view of science, saying that science should not rule some questions as off-limits, as evolution supposedly does. The narrator says that evolutionists adhere dogmatically to the idea that most of our DNA is useless junk, and thus can’t accept that most of it is function, as God would of course have intended. Sadly, the narrator is wrong. It’s unfortunate for him and for god that most of our DNA does appear to be junk, and this video was made before a reanalysis of the ENCODE data showed that.

The narrator also disses vestigial organs, saying that we’ve discovered functions for some of them and hence they can’t be used to support evolution. But as I’ve said repeatedly, vestigial organs can still have some function while also serving as evidence for common ancestry (the flippers of penguins are one example). And there are simply some organs that are almost beyond having a conceivable function, such as the muscles that enable some humans to wiggle their ears (remnants of muscles used adaptively by our ancestors), as well as “dead genes” that have been rendered totally nonfunctional by mutations. What would Lewis say about the human genes for egg-yolk proteins that are broken–and produce no product at all yet are very similar in sequence to functional yolk-protein genes in reptiles and birds?

Have a listen below. I wonder if we can really call Lewis a “smart man” given not only his dim view of evolution but his deeply flawed theology.


  1. Jeffrey Shallit
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Maybe he wasn’t so smart. Or maybe he was just completely uneducated in the scientific world view. Or maybe he was surrounded by people of similar bent who didn’t challenge him enough.

    • Sastra
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      Yes. The idea that people with incredibly stupid views must themselves lack intelligence just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Not only doesn’t the data support it, but there are too many other options.

      Once someone has fixed their identity on believing something their tribe believes, it’s very hard to move them. Skeptics aren’t different than other people: knowing how and why we make mistakes is specialized knowledge.

    • Henry Fitzgerald
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

      The claim that Lewis wasn’t so smart can’t survive contact with his diaries from the 1920s (published in a possibly dodgily edited form under the title All My Road Before Me).

      Don’t get me wrong: much of what he says even back then is quite mad and the ill-formed controversies of the day might make you want to tear your hair out. But that’s also part of what makes the book fascinating reading. And in any event they show Lewis as a live, multi-faceted, questioning intelligence, who maybe was simply born at the wrong time. It’s sad how he ended up.

      The interesting thing about these diaries is that I think they shed a new light on the claim – which Lewis later made much capital of – that he was a reformed atheist. We forget he lived in a time when idealism (as in, Bishop Berkeley) was still in the air, and the kind of mystical opinions Lewis expresses are sometimes so close to theism you wonder what exactly the difference is.

  2. jaxkayaker
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s fair to call Lewis delusional. I was given a copy of Mere Christianity for my high school graduation, but never could be bothered to read it. I don’t envy you reading it, but better you than me.

    • Posted September 17, 2016 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      I am sacrificing myself so that others don’t have to. Just call me Aslan.

    • Stephen
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      Really? You’ve never read any of his books but you’re ready to make a psychological diagnosis?

      Lewis was a brilliant literary scholar who read literature and philosophy at Oxford in the 20s. I’ll leave it up to the biologists among us to say where their field was at that point when Lewis was being educated. I doubt Lewis was particularly versed in the hard sciences at any point in his life.

      How come we can’t disagree with believers without assuming they’re either perverse or delusional? Lots of very smart people are wrong all the time about a lot of things. Including, alas, so-called “skeptics”.

      • GBJames
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think it is a matter of assuming that believers are delusional. It is, rather, a conclusion based on observation. Whether or not we are all wrong about lots of things, we aren’t all wrong in the same way. Being wrong in the way of being convinced of the existence of things for which there is no evidence is delusional. If you believe that invisible elephants live in my basement you are delusional, regardless of how smart you might be when it comes to analyzing Chaucer or designing efficient automobile transmissions. The elephants aren’t there. You are delusional.

        • frednotfaith2
          Posted September 18, 2016 at 12:44 am | Permalink

          I take the position that some people may be brilliant in one or more areas but complete dunces in others, refusing even to consider that they might be wrong and not being swayed by any amount of evidence that is presented to them. In most cases it seems it is religion that makes dunces out of otherwise very intelligent people. Of course, there are also plenty of well known cases in which lust makes some otherwise very smart people, usually men, and often politicians, behave incredibly stupid.

          • Wunold
            Posted September 18, 2016 at 1:38 am | Permalink

            I’ve met many people who were brilliant in some areas and dumb in others. Universal geniuses are very rare, and our brains are very good in the compartmentalization of dissonant information.

      • Posted September 18, 2016 at 1:10 am | Permalink

        Our field at that point was already highly advanced, so nothing excuses Lewis for reverting to pre-modern views. Everyone is wrong about a lot of things, but he was not just wrong. He was incredibly pompous and arrogant. He did not like a theory universally accepted by experts in a field in which he was not versed, so he concluded that the experts were wrong.

      • jaxkayaker
        Posted September 18, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        I said I never read Mere Christianity . I never said that I haven’t read any of Lewis’ books, nor did I say that I don’t know anything about the man. Try to get a grip and read more carefully.

  3. Flemur
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    “I still can get through 20 pages at most before I have to stop in disgust.”

    I drop things like that after about 20 sentences.

    Maybe Lewis was “High V, Low M”.

    • jaxkayaker
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Same here. I know that I should know the creationist arguments in order to be able to counter them more effectively, but I can’t abide reading their disingenuous, ignorant nonsense.

  4. Caleb G
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    The host of this video works for the Discovery Institute, so that right there should raise red flags when they start to make pronouncements about evolution. In Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, he accepts that humans descended from other animal species, so it is disengenuous for the video to imply that Lewis rejected human evolution.

  5. Posted September 17, 2016 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, C.S.Lewis’ ingrained snobbery robbed him of any self-doubt. He claimed to have been an Atheist in his younger days but, apparently having decided that the only explanation for things he didn’t understand was that the god he didn’t believe in did it, he decided that god must be the one his parents had believed in.

    Obviously, being English, how could there be any other god but the English one? And how could there be a rational explanation for something Clive Staples Lewis didn’t understand?

    Of course, his cosy radio fireside chats in which he reassured the English that they had the one true god, the one true morality and the best culture possible (and were so entitled to rule the world and tame the savages) was a nice little earner and not to be put at risk with too much uncertainty.

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    The status of Lewis’ exact views on this subject have long been a bone of contention between BioLogos and the Discovery Institute, with BL maintaining Lewis accepted (god-guided) evolution and DI maintaining he questioned it.

    –>!!This video is made by the Discovery Institute and their Center for Science and Culture!!<–

    It is written and directed by one of their bigwigs John West and based on his 2012 book claiming Lewis for ID "The Magician's Twin: C.S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society"
    (NOT to confused with Laura Miller's positive secular humanist appreciation of the Narnia books "The Magician's Book"!!)

    The YouTube channel of this video entitled "C S Lewis" is maintained by the Discovery Institute.

    Others have fought back and claimed that Discovery and John West have distorted Lewis' views on the subject and that Lewis was a full-blown theistic evolutionist a la folks like Ken Miller and Teilhard de Chardin. In defense of this, see
    and more briefly from BioLogos

    I myself am far far more aware of Lewis's writings on medieval and Renaissance literature and his occasional writings about science-fiction than I am with his theology, but this piques my interest in exploring more what he really thought.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      The creator of this video debated the (Christian)other side as defended by Mike Peterson.

      This YouTube channel (operated by the Discovery Institute) has videos of the debate between West and Peterson, at the evangelical Biola University.

      Philosophically, Lewis seems to have been influenced by Immanuel Kant’s “Transcendental argument” for theism, which boils down to the inherent impossibility for a naturalistic base for a sense of reason, morality, or beauty.

    • Billy Bl.
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      I confess to having read many of de Chardin’s books in my “formative years” before my brain go up to speed (so did Dawkins, so I’m not too ashamed). Only one CS Lewis, which I remember nothing about. I don’t think these people were stupid, just that the brain has amazing powers to defend treasured beliefs, even good brains. Lewis was definitely a denialist.

    • Posted September 17, 2016 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      I’ll accept that Lewis was a theistic evolutionist based on those articles and this one, which seems pretty impartial, but he still adheres to a form of creationism in implicitly imputing reason and especially morality to the direct action of God.


      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        Quite true. That’s the influence of Kant’s “Transcendental argument” on his thinking.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      Part 3 (with links to parts 1 and 2) of a series claiming Lewis continued to accept biological evolution, while rejecting what he called “philosophical evolutionism” (even after the AcWorth correspondence) is here

      Interesting highlights:
      Lewis refused to write a forward to Acworth’s anti-evolution book (Acworth comes up at approximately 14:00 in the video), and was dismayed when he found out that Acworth believed in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. In a letter to another friend, a bit after the Acworth correspondence, Lewis described Acworth as “good Christian of the Evangelical type — but his head absolutely buzzing with Bees”. The Acworth correspondence is in 1951, this letter in 1952. In 1960, Lewis republished an essay in which he reiterated his original view castigating the “the illegitimate transition from the Darwinian theorem in biology [Okey-dokey to Lewis] to the modern myth of evolutionism or developmentalism or progress in general”.

      As late as 1962, Lewis wrote in a another private letter talking about his own “pre-human embryonic past”.

      The fallacy in Lewis’ thought is of course his effort to save evolution by postulating a two-story universe that has both a natural level and a supernatural level.

  7. GBJames
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 3:08 pm | Permalink


  8. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I never understood the praise heaped on C.S. Lewis’ fiction books for children. I remember positively hating the ones I tried to read.
    I found the writing style insufferably condescending, as if he’d never told a real-life child a story in person but was writing for other motives. The stories seemed to me both a tepid imitation of prior fantasy worlds and a tissue-thin attempt to hide smarmy morals about conventional religious rules of behavior.
    I did learn from the experience — that not all “young adult” novels recommended by adults are worth reading, and that the next-most satisfying thing to finishing a great book like the ones I loved at that age by Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein et al was the sound a truly crappy book made when it hit the wall across the room.

    • Henry Fitzgerald
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

      I quite like Lewis’s fiction, but the single work of fiction of his I’d most strongly recommend – capable of converting people allergic to the rest, I believe – is his last, Till We Have Faces.

      It’s a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche story and it’s definitely saturated with a religious outlook, but it’s beautifully written, and perhaps an even sadder and more beautiful story for people who disagree with the author’s worldview. The character called Fox, an atheist who’s meant to be sympathetic (and actually is sympathetic, unlike his counterpart in the Cosmic Trilogy) is someone I feel much more keenly for because he’s trapped through no fault of his own in a mystical and godly universe.

      The book is unfortunately not widely known or read but my view that it’s Lewis’s best work is common among those who have read it.

  9. rickflick
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand Lewis’s objection to natural selection. He seems to believe that random mutations couldn’t make changes that would add new utility, but that’s precisely what natural selection IS. It’s as if he can see how a random mutation could induce longer wings in a bird, but if the mutation makes shorter or less efficient wings it was OK with him. This doesn’t make sense outside of a mind who’s already committed to falsifying evolution. The hoped-for conclusion leads the rationalization.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

      Well, to nitpick, the mutations are random – some result in ‘better’ organisms, some worse, some pretty much the same. (Probably more worse ones than better, actually). Then the ‘better’ ones naturally fare better – the ‘natural selection’ step.

      ‘Better’ in the sense of better suited to their surroundings, of course.


      • rickflick
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

        Right, by why couldn’t Lewis see it that way? If he really understood natural selection he wouldn’t have that specific objection. Apparently, he hadn’t figured it out. But, then why not?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 17, 2016 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

          I wonder why not. It just seems so blindingly obvious. So obvious a mechanism that, like water flowing downhill, it seems hardly necessary to give it a name.


  10. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    One thing we seem to know for sure is Lewis was not a scientist and had no training in science. It was not his field. It puzzles me why his ideas or thinking on science would raise much interest and maybe it does not among scientist in general. If you have trouble with some of the concepts of evolution the thing you need is more time studying those things and reading from the people who do. But Lewis seemed more interested at times in learning or reading those who questioned it or came to the same opinions as he did. His own process of understanding was wrong.

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    My revulsion may be due to having been crammed to the maw with theology when I wrote my last book.

    “I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly. … [T]his also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”

    So Behe regurgitated arguments made by Lewis before him? Goes to show that, in the land of the denialist, there’s nothing new under the sun.

  12. Aceofspades25
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Wait what? Which reanalysis of the encode data? Did I miss something?

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    HEY!!! NPR just played (what seemed to be an old) interview with a familiar-sounding UC evolutionary biologist who somehow got a worm in his head at a ballgame.

    Whaddup with that?

    • Posted September 18, 2016 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      They broadcast it every few years and I only know they’ve done it because someone comments here, as you did, or I suddenly get emails from people I haven’t heard from in years!

  14. Sarah
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Is it in this book or somewhere else that Lewis describes his conversion from atheism to Christianity? He says he is very unhappy and reluctant to come round to this opinion, but either Jesus Christ really was the son of God, as he claimed, or else he was a raving lunatic. Therefore [?] J.C. must be the son of God. I always thought this was odd logic and there were several holes in it. Am I leaving something out? Lewis was an expert on medieval and Renaissance literature, and you would expect him to be a bit more perceptive than this.

  15. pam
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    (Bending WAYYYYYYY over backward) We can cut him a little slack because he had no access to the DNA discoveries we all take for granted. Biting my lips….

  16. Roger
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    If a creationist says C. S. Lewis is a creationist, I would look out the window and make sure it’s raining if he says it’s raining lol.

  17. Posted September 17, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Off topic, perhaps, but I never feel obligated to finish a book. Once I discover it is crap, it goes to the used book store unfinished. It sounds like Mere Christianity would be one of those.

  18. Posted September 17, 2016 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on PUBLICITACOM.WORDPRESS.COM and commented:
    It’s extremely painful working my way through C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: I still can get through 20 pages at most before I have to stop in disgust. Fortunately, I have only about 100 pages to go, and the pages are small. My revulsion may be due to having been crammed to the maw with theology when I wrote my last book.

    Up to now in Mere Christianity, Lewis has said nothing about evolution, though the video below says there’s a small bit later on. Still, I wondered what a man as smart as Lewis would make of the theory of evolution, and the video below, “suggested” by YouTube, answers the question. Sadly, his views on evolution are even worse than his views on Christianity. Though Lewis died in 1963, when we already had tons of evidence for evolution, Lewis was a doubter, apparently holding the following views:

  19. keith cook +/-
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Creationist evolutionist? more like, creationist evokinist!
    Of this type:
    invoke (a spirit or deity).

  20. J. Quinton
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Most people use their intellect to defend beliefs they formed from non intellectual reasons.

  21. Ubernez
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm – looks like most people haven’t read the book…
    – don’t need to
    – I know what it says
    – someone told me what it is about
    – it’s will be painful to read
    – etc etc etc

    Don’t get me wrong – I get it it!
    But when I read the comments, it does pain me to read the smugness of superiority. Now, I know that sentence will get me scorned and attacked – but I am really sad for myself…for I am the one who uses these tones when I incessantly attack religion…and I do, all the time…but it is hard to see myself reflected in these comments, because now I know what I sound like.
    I know I shouldn’t write this…but I am in a very bad way at the moment, and everything irks me, so I apologise in advance, but I look to this site for reason and argument (and cats), and when it falls short, I am sad.
    Still, I am just in a funk. This too shall pass. I love this site, love the range of articles, love the dissembling of erroneous and flawed arguments…
    I show my daughter this site constantly, and we rant against the safe spaces, the cultural appropriation thesis, the disbelief in evolution as a starting premise to satisfy a pre-ordained conclusion…
    Keep going, and please everyone ignore this post – I am compelled to write, and feel better for doing so, but therapy is over, so now just ignore it…nothing to see here.

    • Roger
      Posted September 18, 2016 at 2:09 am | Permalink

      Actually you’re right there is a lot of smugness of superiority in internet comments and it’s good to self-reflect on it and try and avoid it. Not easy to do though when everyone else is doing it lol.

  22. saxonrooinek
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Continuation on his reading of CS Lewis’s book ……

    Sent by my 4G Ready Samsung Galaxy S III on Three

  23. Henry Fitzgerald
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    I know this is the third time I’m sticking my oar in but I do want to defend Lewis as a writer with one other point… I enjoy his prose as a rule, but I too loathe Mere Christianity, which has everything objectionable about his writing in a neatly concentrated form.

    But you should remember it’s a series of radio talks, written to be read out, and then transcribed into a form that wasn’t originally intended. This doesn’t excuse the condescending tone or the cheap sophistry, but I think it explains it. At any rate, even if you hate his other works, and I can see why you would, it’s unfair to judge him by his worst. Christians like it, but no one else does.

    • Posted September 18, 2016 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      Besides the Narnia books, that may be his worst book, but it’s the most famous, and was enormously influential, as you know. So I’m entitled, I think, to judge at least the book. Which, as you say, is abysmal. And even if was radio talks, he rewrote them for publication, so are you really saying that he bears LESS responsibility for his nonsense because he first broadcast it on the radio?

      • Henry Fitzgerald
        Posted September 18, 2016 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

        In response to your last question, hell no. It’s as I said, a causal explanation, rather than an excuse, for why the levels of condescension and oversimplification are atypically high. Lewis was using prose he thought was just fine for radio. I’m not saying it was just fine for radio.

        I’m not saying knowing it was a radio series makes me think better of the book itself. On the contrary, I (like you I suspect) wince when I imagine this being read out to a large audience; I keep thinking to myself: “You know, I’ll bet that took someone in.”

  24. Kevin
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    I think this is just poor underpinning to one’s generation. Lewis was stuck in an old world. He never got out of it. Critical thinking would have allowed him to see past his own desire to want design.

    I disagree with the second tenet of evolution. It’s not random. In the sense that there are physical laws that guide evolution on earth. That’s not random. Just as there are physical laws at another habitable planet around some other star where evolution would not be guided by randomness, but the laws constraining physical outcomes on that planet. Random, yes, but not really random.

    • nicky
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      It may be only random with regard to natural selection. That is -if I understand correctly- mutations should be random with regard to reproductive success for the theory to work.
      I’m not really clear if they absolutely n*have* to be, or are just *allowed* to be random in that respect.
      I’m sure Jerry has a take on that.

  25. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    As an aside, it’s interesting how everyone conflates evolution with Darwinism. It wasn’t always so.

    When I was wandering around the Jardin des Plantes in Paris I came on a statue of Lamarck, the ‘founder of Evolution’ (Fondateur de l’Evolution). Say what?

    But in fact Lamarck was quite right in his overall vision of evolution as a phenomenon, just wrong about the mechanism. If I’ve got this right, he thought there was a ‘complexifying force’ (analogous to mutations?) generating variations which were then acted upon by the surroundings – an ‘adaptive force’. Also, and notoriously, he thought that the characteristics so acquired could be inherited. I think the red herring of Lysenkoism cast a quite unfair shadow on Lamarck’s reputation.

    A pity, in a way, that Lamarck wasn’t right. His evolution would be far more efficient, rapid and humane than the extremely slow and wasteful Darwinian evolution by differential reproduction. It would require us to have some sort of ‘feedback’ mechanism which, in all sorts of things from amplifier circuits to public relations, adds immeasurably to the efficiency of processes. (Arguably, if some organism had by chance acquired Lamarckian reproduction, it would promptly have started to out-compete everything else).

    If G*d (being benevolent, all-knowing and all-powerful) had set the primitive world in motion then he surely would have arranged for us to be Lamarckian creatures rather than having to rely on the default of ‘natural selection’.


    • David Evans
      Posted September 18, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      The example of amplifier circuits shows that feedback can have unwanted consequences. I can imagine giraffes who really, really wanted those hard-to-reach leaves evolving, in one step, necks so long that they fell over.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 18, 2016 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

        Good point! As I recall, feedback is usually damped or reduced in some way so it isn’t excessive. (I’ve actually encountered this in complicated hydraulics calculations – try an input value, see what the result is, reduce the value pro rata and try again… it’s quite easy to ‘overshoot’ and end up oscillating around the answer).

        But (what I’ll call) the Darwinian feedback method is so attenuated it’s almost swamped by background noise.


    • Posted September 19, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      There’s a bit of nationalism there, probably. After all, the first statements I know of any kind of evolution (by natural selection, to boot) are in Empedocles, and maybe Anaximander even earlier. Darwin (and Wallace) are honoured because they marshaled the massive evidence in the view’s favour.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 19, 2016 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

        Possibly, though nationalism cuts both ways.

        The presence of the statue in the Jardin des Plantes is obvious, since he was its director for many years.

        Lamarck developed his theory of evolution some decades before Darwin. It could be (I don’t know this) that evolution was accepted in France first, but not in England until Darwin came along.

        (Half-forgotten Greek writers are a bit of a red herring, after all Aristarchus IIRC developed a heliocentric model of the solar system millennia before Copernicus)

        I’m not looking to steal anyone’s credit, Newton’s phrase ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ applies.


  26. madscientist
    Posted September 18, 2016 at 2:58 am | Permalink

    I always suspected that CS Lewis was trotted out as being intelligent etc because he was opposite science in the “culture wars” – itself a ridiculous concoction whose sole objective was to poo-poo scientists as inferior beings to those with diplomas in the arts. So CS Lewis was not intelligent by any stretch of the imagination, but he had buddies who promoted him in society. My rating of CS Lewis: at least as awful and unimaginative as L. Ron Hubbard. When I was younger and people would start talking about CS Lewis’ “genius” I would invariably say “He was clearly an idiot – can’t you see that? How stupid must one be to think there is any substance whatsoever to his words?”

    • David Evans
      Posted September 18, 2016 at 4:09 am | Permalink

      I don’t think an unintelligent person could have written “The Discarded Image”, a book which made me understand the medieval world-view in a way no other author has. “A Preface To Paradise Lost” is good too – once you get past his sexism.

  27. David Evans
    Posted September 18, 2016 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    In his thought on reason and the brain, Lewis was in agreement with some very bright people, both before and after his time. Haldane, for instance:

    “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere byproduct of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

    reference http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/nave-html/faithpathh/haldane.html

    • Posted September 18, 2016 at 7:10 am | Permalink

      Yep, Haldane was wrong on that, too. But there’s no doubt he was smarter than Lewis.

      • David Evans
        Posted September 18, 2016 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        It seems obvious that they were wrong to us now, having followed the arguments about how reasoning faculties can evolve and seen how machines can think. I’m not sure how obvious it was at the time.

        • Posted September 18, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

          Haldane having been a central figure in establishing the equations for change of gene frequencies by natural selection, one can be sure that he knew about its capabilities. I’ve always been puzzled by that Haldane statement, especially since John Maynard Smith described Haldane as “the last of the old-time mechanists”.

          • David Evans
            Posted September 18, 2016 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

            Haldane may have considered that although natural selection can give us brains well-adapted for survival in everyday life, it’s harder to see how it can guarantee that our reasoning will be correct on more abstract questions or those remote from everyday experience. He may have seen it as a genuine puzzle rather than an argument for dualism.

  28. Ray Little
    Posted September 18, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I think it’s a mistake to think of Lewis as a theologian. What he wrote was SCRIPTURE, the product of an imagination obsessed with the idea of a deity. Easy to see in his fictional works, but I think equally true of his non-fictional ‘theological’ works, like ‘Mere Christianity’. They are not the product of a mind considering all possibilities, but the product of a man Taking a Stand for What He Believed In. I don’t believe big-T Theologians think much of his non-fiction.

    • David Evans
      Posted September 18, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      True, but then big-T Theologians have said some pretty dreadful things. About Hell, for instance. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” was the only book that came close to making the doctrine of Hell seem tolerable for me, but it’s very far from Christian orthodoxy.

  29. C. Morano
    Posted September 20, 2016 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Ayn Rand was no fan of C.S. Lewis. She called him an “abysmal bastard,” a “monstrosity,” a “cheap, awful, miserable, touchy, social-meta­physical mediocrity,” a “pickpocket of concepts,” and a “God-damn, beaten mystic.”

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