The Dream That Opened C.S. Lewis’s Other Eye

The man who has provided an intellectual framework for faith for so many says he only saw the world with one eye open—even as a Christian—until a dream awakened a fuller vision of reality. In his essay “Two Lectures,” C.S. Lewis describes an academic talk he attended on natural progression via the evolutionary model. Lewis had a dream later that night that opened his eyes to a fatal flaw, an intellectual trick, an unnoticed, but significant, defect of the lecturer’s theory.

In Lewis’s dream he was back at the lecture with the same voice droning on, but it was saying something quite different. The second lecture painted a similar picture of progress from simple to complex, but went even further: it went back to the common fact we all have experienced, that something more complex always precedes the simple things. Yes an oak tree comes from an acorn, something simple, Lewis points out, but where does the acorn come from? It comes from an oak tree, something more complex. It is always the more complex thing that precedes the simple process of progress.

Yet we have been nurtured in our culture, as Lewis understood in his day, to ignore this simple truth. “We have been trained to do this all our lives: trained to look at the universe with one eye shut,” Lewis wrote, “‘Developmentalism’ is made to look plausible by a kind of trick.” This trick, this sleight of hand, this intellectual fallacy foundational to so much of modern thought, is that it leaves “off the subject of absolute beginnings.”

Question: Why would modern thought ignore absolute beginnings?

Answer: Here, there be dragons. Or, Tokien references aside, here, there be a Creator.

It’s not hard to see why some modern thinkers would prefer to dodge that possibility. In the whole discussion of what came first, the chicken or the egg, they assume the egg and leave the chicken alone. The egg is simple, the chicken complex. It can do no good to begin with the complex when your whole system depends on the exact opposite.

Leave the chickens, dragons, and Creator out of the equation. Focus on the egg. But Lewis showed how the egg first theory really isn’t viable and certainly not more scientific.

To assume an eternal egg doesn’t require less faith than beginning with a created chicken. Or, as some might attempt, to try to conjure up some evolutionary process that produces an egg without a chicken is flatly absurd and opposite of all our experiences.

Here’s how Lewis describes it:

 “On any view the first beginning must have been outside the ordinary processes of nature. An egg which came from no bird is no more ‘natural’ than a bird which had existed from all eternity. And since the egg-bird-egg sequence leads us to no plausible beginning, is it not reasonable to look for the real origin somewhere outside the sequence altogether? You have to go outside the sequence of engines, into the world of men, to find the real originator of the Rocket. Is it not equally reasonable to look outside Nature for the real Originator of the natural order?” 

The morning after the dream, one of Lewis’s students didn’t show up for a meeting which gave the professor time to reflect. “For the first time in my life I began to look at the question with both eyes open,” he wrote. His experiences of the real lecture juxtaposed with the dream lecture helped him see something simple he had missed, how the grand atheistic model, the contemporary educated opinion, the popular academic attitude, places all of its eggs in the basket of simple beginnings. But all of our experiences point the opposite direction: the simple things come from the more complex.

To ignore this is to content oneself in seeing the world with one eye shut. I’m not sure how that is more sophisticated or more scientific. But it does leave God out of the conversation. Perhaps that’s the point.