Challenging C.S. Lewis on Evil and Evolution

Lewis believed that animal predation reflected a demonic "corruption" of nature, but biblical and natural evidence says otherwise.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I love C. S. Lewis, but feel perhaps the painful circumstances of his life at the time he wrote The Problem with Pain led to a bit myopic vision of animal pain.
Interesting observation about larger brains and the need for energy rich food. That would make it necessary to have meat eating in order to develop the larger brains of predators and primates, including man. You can survive as a vegetarian, but it is not easy to have a complete diet as one, even today with grocery stores, and to have a complete diet as an early human would be very difficult for a vegetarian, though we do not know what was available in Eden, depending on your view.

Very insightful, thank you. Here are some of my ideas that follow on the article.

  1. Psa 104:21 The young lions roar for prey, seeking their food from God.

So predation can be seen as a part of God’s plan.

  1. Scripture is an ancient text and God’s revelation is in terms of ancient understandings. In that ancient context as a general statement, life is good and death is bad. And physical things are used to teach spiritual truths. There is a lot of symbolism in the Levitical rituals about life and death.
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Bethany, great post! Thanks so much for all you’ve written—here
and elsewhere, whether at Lewis’s desk or not. :smirk:

My next two BioLogos posts will be somewhat connected to what you’ve
written here. I’ll address first the “Fall” and what Genesis 3 actually says
about its effects on the natural world; then I’ll reflect on how God’s
providence might relate to both the randomness and animal suffering associated
with evolution.

You’re totally right about about the positive role of predators in Psalm 104 and of God’s pride in Behemoth and Leviathan in Job. And also about the snake in Genesis 3 not being Satan.

On Lewis’s notion of the effects of a Satanic fall on nature, besides all you’ve said above, one more (biblical) argument against it is that the only explicit teaching about the fall of Satan places this in the eschatological future, not the primal past (that latter is the teaching of the Enoch literature, not the Bible). I touched on the evidence for this in A New Heaven and a New Earth, pp. 184-187.

Sure it’s easy. We have beans, peas, nuts,seeds, quinoa, etc. Nuts and seeds are especially energy-rich. And that’s just for vegans, like me. Vegetarians can eat eggs and milk products.

@beaglelady I think it is easy today. But we have to make a careful decision, even now, to avoid meat and to ensure a full diet. To early humans and pre-humans, living in a nomadic way, it is highly unlikely that such a choice was available (due to seasonal change) or even thought of. Someone out there will know more than I do about diet evidence in hominid fossils…


@JRM Thanks for your comments! I look forward to reading your pieces. Interesting point about Satan’s fall being future and not past. I had not considered that!

Very interesting article! I think it might also be worth exploring the contrast of The Problem of Pain with Lewis’ portrait of a “pre-fallen” world in Out of the Silent Planet: where there is an emphasis on the good & glory of the hunt (and predation) in chasing down the shark-like (and Psalm 104-like) hnakra.

@C_Visscher I hadn’t even considered that! Thank you!

I think Lewis may have been influenced by the Peaceable Kingdom scripture even though it takes place in the future and is considered by many to be metaphorical. If the Peaceable Kingdom has no predators and that sounds good then wouldn’t the opposite be bad? Even though there is no scientific evidence for it, there is a belief among biblical literalists that humans did not eat meat before the flood and afterward their lifespans were shortened although that connection is usually not voiced. Milton personified Chaos and Order and I think Lewis may have been thinking of something like that for his mighty being or force, We could describe life on earth as order rebounding to geological and cosmological chaos but physicists would say that those events are also the result of the laws of the universe. An interesting parallel in science is that the same mutation that gave us larger brain cavities also weakened our jaws to the point of not being able to chew tough vegetation. So did eating meat come after an increased capacity for knowledge? I agree with you. Lewis was an English Literature professor trying to come up with a theology to explain biology. but yeah, I like him anyway.

A good blog.I have to say I find C S Lewis’s argument as implausible and creates a mindset trying to decide which part of creation is demonic and which is not. What about plate tectonics and volcanoes? Are they demonic?

I cannot see how Ro 8 19-22 points to a fallen cosmos. That is pushing it assuming the “usual” translations for cosmos, but that is open to other possibilities. The word for creation here is ktisis which often means in the NT and Apostolic Fathers humanity (I have checked each occurence) Further the words for futility and decay can equally well be read in a human moral sense and not about the cosmos. Hence Ro 8 19-22 will read;

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For humanity waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for humanity was subjected to moral futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that humanity itself will be set free from its bondage to immorality (moral decay?) and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole of humanity has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only humanity, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know.

I reckon this makes better sense for the whole thrust of Paul’s argument in Romans

I’ve done an exegetical word study on ktisis for a paper on 1 Peter and I don’t remember ‘humanity’ coming up as a meaning at all. All the literature points to ‘creation’ or ‘creature’ or ‘founding’ (though the last one is not the usual NT sense)

Do you mean ktisis means ‘creature’ and has humanity as the referent creature in view in lots of contexts? Even if that is the case, you can’t just sub in “humanity” for “creation” in Romans 18, that’s not a valid translation practice. That would be like me saying that because apostolos has Paul as a referent a lot in the NT context, we can sub in the name Paul every time apostolos appears. No, you can’t.You can’t use a hyponym as a synonym.

I was using the example form Arndt gingrich and their diversity of meanings and it can mean Creation, creature, humanity or human institution according to context. Mk 16 15 and Col1 v23 make sense with ktisis being humanity at large.

I am intrigued by your study on ktisis in 1 Peter as I think i am right that the word only occurs once - 1 P2 v13 where it is taken as human institution

My point is that ktisis has several meanings in NT and apostolic Fathers and we need to determine the context.

Further my starting point was from understandings of theologians in the 19th century and earlieir

I am NOT doing what you suggest in your last two sentences

Many words cannot be translated by one english word and we need to consider the variety of meanings.

There is similar situation over matiotes and phthora

Thanks for the interest

You are right. That’s why I said, “We have…” Humans are classified as omnivores so we can digest a wide variety of food, both meat, fruits, vegetables, etc. Our ancestors and related species also occasionally scavenged meat from predators and even engaged in cannibalism. Of course, our ancestors occasionally ended up on the menu of other predators. A diorama at the American Museum of Natural History shows a giant hyena about to pounce on a Homo erectus. Scientists have found erectus skulls with hyena tooth marks on them. Life has never been easy!

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That is what I’m challenging. I am under the distinct impression that in the NT at least, it has a single sense - “creation/creatures/created things.” Although it may refer to humanity in a given context, it doesn’t mean humanity and that is a crucial point. Humans are creatures to be sure, but not all creatures are human. It is the context that would have to tell you whether ‘creatures’ is referring to humans, not the word itself. So what in the context of Paul’s discourse in Romans 8 do you think points to an exclusively human referent for creatures? Other than that it seems to make more sense to you that way. :wink:

The “human institution” idea of 1 Peter 2:13 comes from the adjective ἀνθρωπίνῃ that modifies κτίσει
Personally, I think going with ‘creature’ in that verse is more defensible than positing a secondary sense for which no other examples exist in the extant literature, which is what translators are doing when they translate it “institution/authority.”

I dug up my research below, in case you were interested, but don’t feel obligated to read it. :slight_smile:

[quote] Another phrase that has generated much discussion is πάσῃ ἀνθρωπίνῃ κτίσει. The word κτίσις is not a common word, used only 19 times in the New Testament. All other uses employ the sense ‘creation,’ ‘creature,’ or ‘created thing,’ but some have argued that the use in 1 Peter is the only extant example of a secondary sense referring to ‘institutions’ or ‘authority.’ Arichea and Nida point out that κτίσει in verse 13 can be taken as referring generally to all human institutions mentioned in Peter’s letter (government, household, family), or it could be taken to refer specifically to the authority of the government. Some translations even combine the two ideas into something like ‘the authority of all human institutions’ (Arichea & Nida 1980:72).

The noun form κτίσις is a derivative of the verb κτίζω, which meant ‘to found a city or colony (as illustrated by the use of κτίζω in 1 Esdras 4:53) and an inscription dated 68-9 B.C. The use of the verb κτίζω to mean ‘create’ or ‘form’ is distinctive to the biblical use, but is also attested in a tablet from the third century A.D. (Moulton & Milligan 1976:362). Bauer et al (1979) note a first century inscription that used κτίσις to refer to the founding of a Senate, and they define the proposed secondary sense as “the act by which an authoritative governmental body is created.” They note that in 1 Peter 2:13 the word probably refers to the authority or order itself. However, Foerster objects to Bauer’s contention that κτίσις means ‘government order’ (Kittel 1979:1034-5). In the context of 1 Peter, believers are commanded to submit to specific individuals who exercise authority, the emperor and his governors, not to some impersonal order or institution.
Some commentators also reject the idea of positing a second sense of κτίσις and think ‘creature’ makes sense. Peter’s other use of a form of κτίσις, κτίσεως occurs in 2 Peter 3:4 and refers to creation. Kelly (1969:109) argues that κύριον of ‘for the Lord’s sake’ refers to God not Christ, and that Peter is saying that out of reverence for the Creator we ought to behave humbly toward all our fellow creatures. He finds it very unnatural Greek that a word meaning ‘institution’ would be modified by the adjective ἀνθρωπίνῃ. Michaels (1988:123) also thinks ‘every human creature’ is a perfectly appropriate translation and sees the use of the word as anticipating the ‘all people/everyone’ of verse 17. Dubis (2010:65) agrees with Michaels that πάσῃ ἀνθρωπίνῃ κτίσις, all human creatures, anticipates all people/everyone in v. 17. Some have wondered if it might be a heading for everyone that follows who must be given submission (not just emperor and governors, but also masters, husbands, church leaders). But, Dubis sees the appositive correlative construction that follows (the emperor, his governors) as suggestive that it is just the governmental leaders that Peter has in view. Perhaps it is a veiled critique of emperor worship in its suggestion that even the emperor is just another human, created by God.[/quote]

This makes for interesting biblical exploration. In Isaiah 65, which is about the new Kingdom, complete with wolf and lamb feeding together, no sounds of weeping, etc, we read this (NRSV):

No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

What is left completely unsaid here is that there will be no death at all. In fact, the opposite is implied in the quoted passage. Of course it is a matter of perspective. The writers of that time (along with all of their contemporaries) were fully prepared to rejoice at the thought of such blessed and nearly consistent longevity for everyone! Whereas we now are prepared to complain at the thought that anything good could ever have an end at all.

Oh… that’s a very good text to keep in one’s mind … @DonJ.

@Relates, Roger, might have something interesting to say about that … though he is usually more concerned about aggression within species, rather than between it …

I think it is a mistake to see the Bible as having a unified message or to ignore extra biblical material that may have impacted the thought of biblical writers.

While the writer of Genesis chapter one envisions a perfect cosmos at the time of humanities creation I think there are reason to believe that other writers did not agree. I don’t think we should be limited either by the chronology of the creation myths as they reflect inccorect understandings of natural history. Biblical writers had no idea the world existed millennia before humans or understood humans to merely be one sort of animal and not a whole new category

Some writing indicate to me an understanding of creation as expressed in some apocryphal books explaining that the forces of the universe God created are animated by spirits who rebelled against God. I think such an understanding allows us to imagine that their might be an ideal reality but because the geniuses of natural forces are in rebellion against God’s good rule they (evolution, earthquakes, volcanoes etc) can express them selves in evil ways.

The Leviathan or Lotan is described as defeated in the past, but in mythology it is often imagined that the events that happen in the mythical time before the emergence of the mundane world are in fact time less and eternal, so we could understand Leviathans defeat by God to take place not only in the primordial past, but always occurring as Hod continually overcomes chaos.

I know that our bodies have some kind of white blood cells call phagocytes that eat bacteria. Maybe if some of the first cells that appeared billions of years ago consume other cells too, then predation and death had always been part of life.

My knowledge of microbial life is very limited, so it would be interesting for me to learn about the ecology of prehistoric cells.