Evolutionism is a philosophical doctrine atheistic in nature. It is not a term that will be used by actual scientists outside of the religion/atheism and creationism debates. As a doctrine evolutionism tries to explain every aspect of the world in which we live within the realms of astronomy, chemistry, and biology. According to computational cell biologist Kathryn Applegate it is evolutionism and not evolutionary theory that is problematic, “The real danger is not evolutionary theory, then, but Evolutionism – the all-encompassing worldview” (1). This is because an atheistic naturalistic philosophy is attached to evolutionary theory. Here the atheist believes that because organisms change over time and increase in complexity it somehow must support his worldview.
Biologos, a Christian evolutionary think tank, rejects evolutionism due to it being part of an “atheistic worldview that so often accompanies the acceptance of biological evolution in public discussion. Evolutionism is a kind of scientism, which holds that all of reality can in principle be explained by science” (2). Of course scientism is a problematic, self-refuting worldview as many philosophers and scientists have shown. However, popular 20th century Christian and science fiction writer C.S. Lewis urges us to “distinguish between Evolution as a biological theorem and popular Evolutionism or Developmentalism which is certainly a Myth…. To the biologist Evolution… covers more of the facts than any other hypothesis at present on the market and is therefore to be accepted unless, or until, some new supposal can be shown to cover still more facts with even fewer assumptions,” however, argues Lewis, evolutionary theory “makes no cosmic statements, no metaphysical statements, no eschatological statements” (3).
A good case of evolutionism is seen in the words of paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson who once penned that “Man is the result of a purposeless and materialistic process that did not have him in mind. He was not planned. He is a state of matter, a form of life, a sort of animal, and a species of the Order Primates, akin nearly or remotely to all of life and indeed to all that is material” (4). As Lewis says, this line of thinking by Simpson is chock full of “cosmic,” and “metaphysical” statements. Thus Simpson goes beyond what evolutionary theory itself can say and feeds into it a materialist, atheistic philosophy (though he was an agnostic) as evolution is silent on whether or not “man was planned,” or “purposeless.” Thus Biologos notes that one major critique of evolutionism “is that evolution–and Darwinism in particular–is more than just a scientific theory,” especially in the camps of atheists. The late philosopher Marjorie Grene argues that for atheists “Darwinian theory has itself become an orthodoxy, preached by its adherents with religious fervor, and doubted, they feel, only by a few muddlers imperfect in scientific faith” (8). Michael White agrees writing that “for biologists, Darwin is second only to God, and for many he may rank still higher” (9). This is why evolutionism is a “doctrine,” a set of beliefs firmly held by a specific group.
Drawing on Grene and White’s viewpoints the prominent atheist philosopher Michael Ruse explains that creationists (“those who are committed to a Genesis-based story of origins”) note that “too often evolution operates as a kind of secular religion, pushing norms and proposals for proper (or, in their opinion, improper) action” (5). This is because many people view evolution as an equivalent to atheism, thinking that it replaces God or otherwise rules out God’s involvement in the development of life (6). But, as is pointed out, that is a “philosophical or worldview position not a strictly scientific position” (7). Ruse goes on to concede that “there is indeed a thriving area of more popular evolutionism, where evolution is used to underpin claims about the nature of the universe, the meaning of it all for us humans, and the way we should behave… I am saying that this popular evolutionism – often an alternative to religion – exists.” But, as Ruse rightly warns, “we who cherish science should be careful to distinguish when we are doing science and when we are extrapolating from it, particularly when we are teaching our students. If it is science that is to be taught, then teach science and nothing more.”
1. Carneiro, R. 2003. Evolutionism in cultural anthropology: a critical history. p. 2–3.
2. Biologos. How is BioLogos different from Evolutionism, Intelligent Design, and Creationism? Available.
3. Lewis, C.S. 1967. Christian Reflections. p. 85.
4. Simpson, G. The Meaning of Evolution. p. 344.
5. Ruse, M. 2003. Is Evolution a Secular Religion. Available.
6. Biologos. What is Evolution? Available.
7. Biologos. Ibid.
8. Marjorie, G. 1974. The Knower and the Known. p. 187.
9. White, M. 2002. Rivals: Conflict as the fuel of science. p.131.