In the western world many are convinced that evolutionary theory is an atheistic naturalistic ideology. In other words, it is believed that evolution supports the atheistic worldview and the naturalistic narrative that accompanies it. Brad Kramer explains that to “many people evolution is first and foremost a “secular”, “worldly” belief system” (1).
This is a view held by both Christians and atheists alike. In fact, many Christians are still vehemently opposed to evolutionary theory primarily out of their theological commitments. Atheists, however, seem to roundly assume that their naturalistic beliefs are supported by the theory.
Before one engages the topic any further it is important to note the difference between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism. Methodological naturalism is the method of science (underpinning the scientific method) where scientists look for natural causes to phenomena within the universe. However, this type of “naturalism” is very different from metaphysical naturalism, the view that most atheists hold to. Metaphysical naturalism is a philosophy that draws philosophical conclusions about reality that go beyond what the sciences affirm or deny. Understood this way, metaphysical naturalism is no more part of science than Christian theism or theistic philosophy is. This is where some have noted the atheist’s error to sneek in, noticeably so in how he jumps from science assuming a methodology of naturalism to science and the question of God. This jump is erroneous because the question of a deity’s existence is one of ontology (which concerns being and existence, thus a philosophical question), not methodology. So when the atheist says that evolution affirms naturalism he actually means that it affirms his philosophical worldview of naturalism. This might be true, or it might not be, but what the atheist would have to do is to argue for the position.
As we have seen elsewhere, there is a significant difference between evolution and evolutionism. Evolution is the scientific theory that posits that all biological life has evolved from a single ancestor by means of natural selection and random mutation. As a scientific theory stated this way, evolution no more affirms or denies a supernatural reality, God’s existence, or the afterlife than does, for example, the theory of gravity. However, evolutionism is something altogether different, and denotes a philosophical belief system held by atheists and naturalists. Here evolution transcends being only that of a scientific theory and, for some, is equatable to a religion, or a religious conviction is attached to it (2). It is also perhaps why so many religious believers assume evolution supports an atheistic worldview.
But what is a more positive view of evolutionary theory within the Christian camp? Going on polls and studies released over the last few years many Bible believing Christians are increasingly accepting evolutionary theory as an explanation of the diversity of life on Earth. Despite this, and in the words of Christian scientist Howard Van Till, there is still an irritating cultural trend,
“On the advice of numerous Christian biologists I am led to the conclusion that the scientific success of the concept of biological evolution is the product of proper theory evaluation and that the apologetic employment of evolutionary theory in the “folk-science” of evolutionary naturalism is a regrettable and irritating cultural phenomenon that we must deal with on its own terms-not as science, but as the misemployment of science in a religious agenda” (3).
Many are seeing the relationship between religion and evolutionary theory differently. Peter Hess speaks of how “Theologians, clergy, scientists, and others belonging to many religious traditions have concluded that their religious views are compatible with evolution, and are even enhanced by the knowledge of nature that science provides” (4).
Such challenges the often assumed narrative that evolution is an atheistic ideology or that atheism has somehow monopolized it along with science.
It also appears that many religious believers, usually of a more radical view, think that scientists specializing in evolutionary theory have some kind of agenda. For example, as if the theory is there only to promote an atheistic naturalistic ideology, Kent Hovind once remarked that “Satan is using evolution theory to make kids go to hell.”
Although this would strike most people as an incredible line of reasoning it does represent the thoughts of an increasingly shrinking group of religious people. However, it is a dubious view, and that Kramer realizes touches too close to the likes of a conspiracy theory,
“[It] doesn’t logically follow that evolutionary science must be a massive, worldwide conspiracy wherein all evidence for evolution is nothing but fabrication and blind guesses” used to disprove God. Maybe evolution can be shown to be in conflict with, for example, a specific Christian’s interpretation of the biblical Genesis creation account. But that wouldn’t go as far as to make evolution an “atheistic ideology.” It simply shows that evolution is in conflict with a theological interpretation. But one also shouldn’t deny that there may well be an atheistic, naturalistic bias on the part of many scientists, especially those who confuse methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism. Thus to be an apologist for good science one needs “to stand firm against the attempt to reduce all reality to the physical and material – especially when atheism masquerades as good science” (5).
A final point often brought up by religious folk is that God is not in the business of competing with scientific theories. Just because one might have a natural explanation of how creatures evolved it does not somehow render God obsolete or relegate him from the picture. John Lennox remarks that God no more competes with a scientific theory than did Henry Ford compete against the laws of internal combustion of the Ford motor vehicle.
1. Kramer, B. 2015. 5 Common Objections to Evolutionary Creationism. Available.
2. Biologos. How is BioLogos different from Evolutionism, Intelligent Design, and Creationism? Available.
3. Van Till, H. When Faith and Reason Cooperate. Available.
4. Hess, P. Science and Religion. Available.
5. Kramer, B. 2015. Ibid.