Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Shift the Ape...

Shift is C.S.Lewis' Antichrist or false prophet character from The Last Battle. Some have said that he bears some resemblance to the bishop of Rome, as he lead the donkey in and out of the stable in the lion skin to the foolish beasts, pretending it was Aslan; just as a Roman priest might expose and conceal a wafer from a tabernacle for credulous people, pretending it is Christ. There may be some truth to that interpretation. But I think that Lewis was influenced more by his old friend J.R.R.Tolkien, and by Charles Darwin, than by polemical Puritan teachings about the pope. Shift is an ape that pretends to be a Son of Adam, and lies in his fancy and claims to be hundreds upon hundreds of years old to explain his appearance. Darwin's theory needs no introduction here but it seems to me to be very apposite to have a talking ape in so deceptive and treacherous a character. I don't know what Lewis thought of Darwin's theory but he will no doubt have understood upon first reading Tolkien's meaning in that marvelous poem Mythopoeia, written for him in 1931:
I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God's mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not tread your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker's art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.
Darwin is not a subject I have often broached on Liturgiae Causa but I should like to know what readers think. Do you believe that Men evolved from extinct apes with obscure Latin names? If so, where does that leave Eden and the flaming sword? Original Sin? Our sense of exile, and the purpose of Christ's Incarnation? The works of Redemption, the operation of Grace, and so on. Ultimately, is Darwin's theory compatible in any way with Christian teaching? Because I don't think it is.


  1. This very question has always bothered me. Given all the amazing strides of physics, chemistry, biology and archaeology, do they all misinterpret the physical evidence written in the fossil record? If not, would God have created all of this evidence simply to mislead or tempt us? I know that that idea was posited in the 19th century, that the evidence is a deliberate snare. The physical world is an aspect of revelation. We have to be able to reconcile it somehow with Genesis.

    1. It's been done to death, like Swan Lake, I understand. I'm just trying to get a general sense of how people think on this.

  2. Understood. My way out is doublethink. I accept two contradictory (maybe, maybe not) ideas simultaneously. I believe that the physical evidence demonstrates that man has evolved on earth through millions of years. I also believe that at some point or other an Adam and Eve were endowed with modern consciousness and spoken to by God. They then disobeyed his command, and our fallen state is the result. By the way, I think Swan Lake is the greatest ballet ever written, and I never tire of watching it.

    1. I suppose the only way that you can synthesise the Genesis creation story with Darwin's theory is to ask: what distinguishes a man from brute beasts that have no understanding? The answer is a rational soul. And so, notwithstanding generational "improvements," if you like, at the point at which our ancestors looked up to God was, maybe, the point at which Man came to be.

      But that's rubbish, isn't it?

      I prefer Giselle to Swan Lake.

  3. Gosse's Omphalos hypothesis held that the world was created as described in the Book of Genesis, but that it was created "in media res", as if it had been functioning for millions of years before hand, and as if the processes of evolution etc. had been occurring.

  4. As I understand it:

    All of mankind is descended from a single hominid pairing in a band of about 120 individuals who left the African continent and ranged around the Fertile Crescent. They developed bigger and bigger brains and acquired the ability to reason and make ethical judgments.

    In my opinion, this is consistent with the Genesis account.