C.S. Lewis and the Myth of Creation (Part 2)

Lewis believed that creation itself was an essential belief for one to be considered a Christian. Unlike many of his twentieth century contemporaries, Lewis did not advocate that one must believe in a particular model of creation. He merely believed that a proper belief in Christian theism entailed the belief that God, the highest supernatural being, had to be distinct from his creation and the source of his creation. There must be a faith assent to God as Creator in Christian belief.

As opposed to Pantheism (and by implication, atheism), “The Christian idea is quite different. They think God invented and made the universe—like a man making a picture or composing a tune” (MC, II: 4). Christianity is, in Lewis’ estimation, the only religion that really speaks of a creation theology where there is a distinguishing factor between the natural and supernatural (GID, ST, 149).1 And, as opposed to other popular cosmological philosophies of his day, Christianity did not allow for matter to have existed eternally as some interpretors of Genesis or scientists would like to suggest. Creation as ex nihilo, while maybe not fully intended in the language of Genesis 1, was essential to sound theism. God and creation were separate from each other and it was only the latter that emanated from the former.

Lewis saw that proper creation philosophy necessarily entailed a cosmological beginning and cause. Much of the science that supported a beginning to the universe was just coming in, but it was coming in with such confidence that Lewis was able to say with some definitiveness that now we “know” the universe began. He states, “But entropy by its very character assures us that…it may be the universal rule in the Nature we know…A clock can’t run down unless it has been wound up” (M, 293-94). He was aware of the fact that the only way out of creation was to believe that matter was eternal. But a beginning, as cosmological science was beginning to show, philosophically implied something beyond itself and it implied a creation: “Either the stream of events had a beginning or it had not. If it had, then we are faced with something like creation” (GID, LON, 78).

Two things cannot exist for all eternity and one must lay on the outside of the other: “On any view, the first beginning must have been outside the ordinary processes of nature” (GID, TL, 211). Nature, being created, could not therefore be divine (RP, 80) and it was the very fact that we know nature had to be caused which allows us to distinguish between the natural and the supernatural: “To say that God created Nature, while it brings God and Nature into relation, also separates them. What makes and what is made must be two, not one. Thus the doctrine of creation in one sense empties Nature of divinity” (ibid). Thus, it is the very fact that nature exists which brings us into some form of separation from God. It shows that Nature, and anything in it, is not divine or supernatural and it shows that some chasm between God and Nature was inherently part of the creation process. God intended us to be in relation with Him, but he also intended us to be—at least initially—separated from Him.

And while Lewis believed that Creation ex nihilo was not as well proven as the existence of God, he did believe that the principle of abduction would lead one to consider this the more likely scenario over any other hypothesis’ (M, 228). He writes, “If anything emerges clearly from modern physics it is that nature is not everlasting. The universe had a beginning, and will have an end…at the moment it appears that the burden of proof rests, not on us, but on those who deny that nature has some cause beyond herself” (GID, DATU, 39). This was the cosmological argument in its simplest form: Everything begins to exist; the universe began to exist; therefore the universe had a cause for its existence.

Thus, as Lewis saw it, mere Christianity entails a belief that God is the source of creation and lays outside his creation as its original cause. It is not that physics and cosmology have no simply shed light on something new about the universe and that it just happens to make the case for God more likely. It is that science has just recently come “into line” with Christian thought (ibid). Creation ex nihilo, a cause for the universe, and an end to the universe are all Christian doctrines which science has only recently validated.

In terms of process, Lewis found no reason to reject the evolutionary consensus on origins. He often speaks of “the human animal” and a sort of man-before-man: “He is an animal; but an animal called to be, or raise to be, or (if you like) doomed to be, something more than an animal” (RP, 115). This comports well with what the biological sciences and the fossil record tell us about the origins of man, but the important fact is that the bestowal of the image of God on the human animal makes it more than an animal.

In his imaginative retelling of Creation and the Fall he notes, “For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself…The creature may have existed in this state before it became man…Then in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say ‘I’ and ‘me’, which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past” (PP, 5:6). As opposed to naturalistic distinctions between humans and other animals which revolve solely and completely around the classification of cognitive ability, Lewis believes that there is an inherent difference. Part of what it means to be human revolves around cognitive development, but it goes further beyond that. It leads into the expression of the self and ‘the other’ (climatically with the recognition of the numinous). It leads to the ability to be able to interpret moral truths and live by them, even if they lay contrary to ones own survival (the ability to go beyond instinct). It is the recognition of inherent beauty for beauties own sake and to recognize the Tao for what its absoluteness and genuineness. In fact, Lewis describes the ‘Conditioners’ of the Tao as “not men at all”, thus indicating that in some sense, we can reject our own humanity (TAM, 3:11).

Evolution may be able to explain the biological changes that took place to get us to this point. But the sciences have no knowledge or ability to ascribe person-hood, value, or moral dimensions which surround such a status. All in all, Lewis expresses hesitation in suggesting that science can fully explain the rise of consciousness within the animal. He distinguishes consciousness and sentience by what he calls the ‘perception of successions.’ An animal, Lewis notes, would have the ability to have ‘a succession of perceptions’, but the actual ability to perceive those successions as moving from A to B to C (all the while being able to recall each succession and know that the current situation is to be distinguished from the former) is only definitively acquired by the human animal (PP, 9:4). The animal can have an unconscious sentience but it is always limited by the ability to perceive of its own successions passing by, as if something else is standing outside the successions to perceive them.

1Lewis probably meant to say something like “Theism” is the only worldview that speaks of a creation, since both Judaism and Islam have creation theologies. His contrast here with other philosophical beliefs like polytheism, pantheism, etc. and his recognition elsewhere that in Judaism there is a creation theology suggest that he may have more properly spoke of “theism” than Christianity.