By Hendrik van der Breggen
Christmas, Evolution, and Narnia
One of this season’s popular gift DVDs may be Prince Caspian, part of C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.
Lewis (1898-1963) is famous as a writer of children’s fantasy. What many Narnia fans might not know, however, is that Lewis, an Oxford and Cambridge University professor, was persuaded by J.R.R. Tolkien and others to believe that, in the Christmas story, the ancient myth of a dying and rising God became fact.
According to the Christmas story, God came to earth as a human being named Jesus. But, Lewis learned, the Christmas story isn’t complete without Easter. About thirty years after Jesus’ birth, Jesus revealed God’s radical love for us by suffering and dying on a cross, thereby taking the punishment for our sins onto Himself and granting us a pardon. Two days after the crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave—a glorious sign to help us accept God’s gift of grace, by faith.
Lewis presented arguments for the literal truth of the Christmas-Easter story in his book Miracles.
Intriguingly, one of Lewis’s arguments in Miracles is relevant to contemporary discussions of evolution and intelligent design, when “evolution” is understood atheistically.
Here’s the argument (modified by University of Notre Dame philosopher Alvin Plantinga). Evolutionary theory on the assumption of an unguided, unplanned process of genetic mutation and natural selection guarantees at most that we behave in ways conducive to immediate survival.
Significantly, immediate survival only requires immediately useful skills in foraging, fighting, fleeing, and reproducing.
This means that the reliability of our belief formation very probably does not extend to deep theories about nature, especially if they’re not related to immediate survival. Therefore, if atheistic evolutionary theory is true, then our beliefs about logic (beyond rudimentary logic) and mathematics and science—especially deep scientific theories—should be, very probably, dubious.
But now an epistemological (knowledge) problem arises for atheistic evolution: It is a deep scientific theory, which, if true, very probably shouldn’t be believed to be true.
But another problem also arises. We know much, much more than what’s required for mere immediate survival (think of particle physics, lasers, etc.).
Well, it turns out that our knowledge of physics, lasers and the like is suggestive evidence for thinking that our brains and senses are intelligently designed (for truth seeking). This means that when we discuss evolution and its philosophical implications, the apparent evidence of intelligent design which arises from our ability to reason and do science in the first place should be considered.
It also means that we should ponder what Lewis called “deeper magic,” that is, God’s redemption plan for humanity, established before time and space began, but revealed in history, paradoxically, by a baby in a manger.
(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, Otterburne, Manitoba.)