In 2010, Barack Obama described his views on same-sex marriage as “evolving.” That’s the second manifestation of the spell C. S. Lewis said we’re all under.
Last week I wrote about my friend Bill. He’s under a spell, scienticism. We’re all under it. C. S. Lewis pointed this out in numerous contemporary essays. His target was not the biological theory of evolution. It was scienticism, a distorted view of evolution manifested in three ways. The first is survival of the fittest. Out of the Silent Planet seeks to “trump” it.
I doubt Bill’s under this spell. He’s more likely under the second, one typified in Barack Obama saying his views on gender have evolved over the years. I’m not bashing Obama—he said it. The assumption is that evolution is always upward (see ape to man diagrams).
This was first espoused by Henri Bergson in Creative Evolution (1907). There’s an upward, “emergent life-force” in nature that spontaneously gives rise to higher and more positive forms of expression. This was hugely popular with British thinkers. They strove to overcome the obstacles (religion) that impede individual expression. We evolve by being spiritual but not religious. “Emergent evolution” says we can be naturalists and spiritual.
Bergson proved spellbinding. “Under his spell, the presumably unbridgeable bap between religious and naturalist viewpoints appeared to dissolve into mere illusion. Bergson achieved this feat by simultaneously spiritualizing biology and naturalizing the spiritual.”
No coincidence that Lewis began writing Perelandra the year Bergson died. Lewis reframed creation as, yes, continual development, but no, not necessarily evolving up. It can devolve down. It is therefore no accident that the single prohibition in this dynamic paradise—its Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—is to avoid settling on the “Fixed Land.”
The Fixed Land is static, as are prohibitions like “Thou Shalt Not.” They remind us life is mysterious, infinite (for the infinite God is life). Finite people don’t always know best. Individual expression has merits, but prohibitions keep it from becoming idolatrous.
That’s why the Queen of Perelandra, the Green Lady, lives on the waves. Dynamic. Rolling. Ransom on the other hand wants to settle on the Fixed Land. “In my world all the lands are fixed.” He doesn’t know we inhabit a multitiered universe with “Natures piled upon Natures.” The Green Lady does. “An expression of horror or disgust passed over her face” when Ransom spoke of settling on the Fixed Land. We never do this. We follow Maleldil (God) with “no assurance. No fixed land. One must throw oneself into the wave.”
I sense this is some of Bill’s frustration. He’s read science books depicting a multitiered universe. Dynamic, live, complex. He finds this attractive. So do I. So does the five percent of the population that biases the brain’s right hemisphere. In our right brain we directly experience the world as “live, complex, changing.” We’re evolving, living beings, encountering “the nature of things never fully graspable, never perfectly known.”
Isn’t that wondrous? Sounds like the Apostle Paul. We know truly, but never perfectly in this life. We know only in part (I Cor.13:9).
Contrast this with 95 percent of the western world biasing the left hemisphere. The left prefers “things that are fixed, static… but ultimately lifeless,” writes Iain McGilchrist. This is what Bill experiences in church. It’s settled on the Fixed Land: Sacred or secular. Creation or evolution. Creation is imagined as static (if we’d never fallen, we’d still be eating raw fruits and vegetables). Few imagine a pristine garden becoming a city as we evolve upward, mixing and matching grains and spices, creating for example breads that delight our senses.
Or wine that gladdens the heart. God gives wine to gladden the heart (Ps.104:15). It starts with raw materials God gives in creation. Time. Sun. Soil. Seasons. Water. Vines. Grapes… and human beings who evolve by discovering fermentation. Voilà—wine. Thanks be to God.
My hunch is Bill longs for this. But it can’t be found in most of his science books, for they actually preach scienticism, like “creative evolution.” It treats Nature as God. The God of the Bible? Nice idea, just don’t pretend it’s science. It’s religion, which is inferior, as in Obama’s swipe at those who “cling to their guns and religion.” That’s hubris.
The solution is both/and, religion and science. It requires ambidextrous thinking—both/and—the right hemisphere leading and including the left. The right experiences life as fluid, evolving. The left interprets these as fixed realities (such as God). They are, but the right reminds us to never settle on Fixed Lands, assuming our anthropology and theology are biblical, correct, settled. Lewis felt they often aren’t, especially our anthropology. He warned that if it went uncorrected, it would lead to the abolition of man.
If we return to true science, which is about suppositions (tentative guesses), we recognize boundaries as good, divinely established to keep us from hubris (such as evolution being always upward). But we must also return to true religion, which in ancient times recognized the same boundaries keeping us from the hubris of religious certainty and expressive individualism—both rampant in American Christianity today. A win-win.
That’s why Lewis wrote Perelandra. After Bill finishes Out of the Silent Planet, I’m going to suggest he read it. If he finishes that book, I’ll recommend That Hideous Strength.
Tell you why next week.
 Sanford Schwarz, C. S. Lewis on the Final Frontier: Science and the Supernatural in the Space Trilogy (Oxford University Press, 2009), 60.
 C. S. Lewis, Miracles, (Geoffrey Bles; First Edition (1947), 252.
 Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale University Press, 2010)