Examining & Responding to a Few Religious Objections to Evolutionary Theory.

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Though evolutionary theory, which says that all life, both living and extinct, is related and gradually changes over time, is held by experts across the board, there are still a number of people, especially within the general public, who reject it. Much of the motivation for rejecting the theory stems from personal religious and theological beliefs of which we will examine very briefly here. This essay is not at all intended to give by any means an exhaustive response to some of the claims.

Ken Miller, a Christian biologist and theistic evolutionist, says that those who reject evolutionary theory often claim that “their objections are scientific. But when you answer those scientific objections, one after another, they just search for other objections. They approach it with such passion and look so desperately for examples to counter evolution that it’s obvious there is something that bugs them besides science alone” (1). Miller makes a good point because when one examines the Christians who rejects evolution he often, though not always, discovers that he or she are often the segment of believers who take Genesis as absolutely literal. By literal, one means that such a Christian views Genesis as presenting historical and scientific fact. This Christian believes that the Genesis creation account supports the view that the Earth is just 6000 years old, and that the descendants of those who survived the Great Flood are still alive today. However, as some have argued, this is a non-traditional way of reading the book of Genesis given that historical Christian theologians have held to numerous ways of reading the biblical account. The Genesis account is rich in interpretation with many of which do not assume that the Genesis creation account has to be an extremely literalistic scientifically accurate depiction of creation (2).

Thus, one of the reasons that many Christians reject evolutionary theory is because they see it as being incompatible with how they think God created mankind and the Earth as presented within Genesis 1. However, speaking from my engagement with Old Testament Studies and Biblical Studies, it is not at all disputed among biblical scholars, both Christian and non-Christian alike, that Genesis is an ancient text well grounded in the ancient Near Eastern setting in which it was produced. Genesis precedes the advent of modern science, let alone evolutionary theory as proposed by Charles Darwin in the mid 19th century, by thousands of years, and to expect it to be scientifically accurate as per a contemporary 21st century perspective is an anachronistic way of reading the Bible. Such a method of exegesis violates every method of biblical interpretation I have been taught in my biblical modules over the last three years. This way of reading Genesis, explains Miller came about only “in the last hundred years, mostly in the United States, that you have people coming up with a radically different view, which is that Genesis has to be true of science and history” (3). Now, this point both deserves and demands far more engagement than we can currently give it now, and we shall return to it in future essays.

Many Christians and theists feel threatened by the evolutionary account because they buy into the idea that evolutionary theory must somehow mean that God was uninvolved in the creation of his own creatures, or that God is entirely removed from the picture. Such views have also been widely argued and circulated by atheist-naturalists who do not believe that God exists and, unfortunately, many Christians have fallen for their argument. But as an argument it is open to being questioned on several grounds.

As many theistic evolutionists have contended, the naturalist’s argument presents a false dichotomy of putting evolutionary theory against God (4). Perhaps an analogy to the water cycle might help us to better understand the false dichotomy. Rain is caused by the water cycle in which water evaporates from the Earth, condenses in the air, and comes falling back down when it reaches a certain level of saturation. In other words, we understand the mechanism that causes rain. In the same way one might see evolutionary theory as God being the one responsible for creating the mechanism in the first place. The mechanism runs by itself, much like the rain cycle runs by itself. The 13th century theologian Thomas Aquinas contended that if something occurs in the natural world and that event has a natural cause, that in no way removes God or makes him irrelevant because God is the author of all things natural (5). God is the author of the whole show, so to speak.

Furthermore, many religious people reject evolutionary theory because they believe that it invalidates their morals beliefs (I’ve examined this in some more detail elsewhere where I’ve defended moral realism). Usually, they think that if evolution is true then we’re simply nothing more than animals (a philosophical, not a scientific belief, might I add) and because we’re just animals morality doesn’t exist. However, the theist can question this on a number of grounds.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, is that the question of morality, objective morality, moral realism etc. are by their very nature philosophical. However, evolutionary theory isn’t a philosophy nor is it a theological doctrine. It is simply a scientific theory. Now, this doesn’t rule out atheist-naturalists using it in such a way as for it to support their philosophical naturalism. In hindsight to that question I’ve highlighted the important differences between the philosophy of evolutionism and evolution as a scientific theory elsewhere. The point is that evolution itself is quite incapable of making statements about God, morality, the supernatural, naturalism, and so on. But as soon as one begins using it to make commentary and conclusions pertaining to such matters he is ostensibly dabbling in philosophy, not science. That’s not to say that those theological and philosophical deductions aren’t true, but rather that they are not scientific claims nor should be masqueraded as such as creation-scientists and naturalists so often tend to do.

Now, the theist could further contend that there are good ways one can view morality and evolutionary theory from a theistic context. One of the views embraced by evolutionary biologists and evolutionary psychologists is that evolution has in ways shaped our behaviour and moral senses. A naturalist might argue that this fact somehow undermines our morality being grounded in God, and that we don’t need God to explain morality because evolution explains it quite well by itself. However, not only does this argument leave the moral argument for God’s existence based on objective moral values and duties unaffected, but it also makes sense on a theistic worldview. For example, if God, as Aquinas saw, is the author of nature, then it is hardly surprising that he’d used the evolutionary process to instill within his human creatures their sense of morality. As Miller contends, this has all happened within God’s providential plan, “And if you can understand that God used the process of evolution to shape our bodies, which is surely how our bodies came to be, then why would the same God not use the evolutionary process to shape our minds and our morality?” (6). God therefore used evolution to shape our morality in such a way that we can actually identify the fact that an act is objectively morally evil (rape, torture, genocide) as opposed to morally good (helping the sick, poor, and vulnerable), and vice versa. This in no way undermines the fact that certain acts are objectively evil or good.

I hope that this essay has given readers an urging to further engage the literature on these topics due to the fact that we’ve only managed to entertain them very briefly here. I also hope that it can open up a space for much needed dialogue pertaining on these interesting and engaging subjects. We will no doubt be returning to them shortly.

References.

1. God of Evolution. 2013. Ken Miller: YEC not just a rejection of evolution, but ‘everything we know about science.’ Available.

2. Collins, F. 2006. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Chapter 6; Biologos. How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin? Available.

3. God of Evolution. 2013. Ibid.

4. CNN. 2007. Collins: Why this scientist believes in God. Available.

5. New Advent. Summa Theologiae: Question 74. All the seven days in common. Available.

6. God of Evolution. 2013. Ibid.

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12 responses to “Examining & Responding to a Few Religious Objections to Evolutionary Theory.

  1. I have sort of got the feel of this article. Its not quite where I am with morality. Morality I would argue sits within humanity, not with god. We are regularly told that morality is bound up with god. I disagree, indeed if as I believe our violence is based on war with god: morality is unlikely to be found in the context of god.

    And this is sort of where the scientist is to be commended as they are typically minimally religious, though they are probably operating within a higher power or system. But one day we will value our humanity, harness it. Our humanity will be our source of morality and within our humanity as it develops, violence and excessive violence should become all but obsolete.

    Yet, I read ‘The Fourth Revolution John Micklethwait, Adrian Wooldridge, half way through it suggests Singapore has arguably the most advanced government. Its founder Harry Lee, from memory lived into his 90’s and who would have had changing views. He is quoted, ‘Human beings, regrettable though it may be, are inherently vicious and have to be restrained from their viciousness.’ – I could not disagree with more. The ‘raw’ human which probably does not exist, is where we are likely to find the highest forms of morality, humanity. Thus a much admired government, may work well for decades but if its core truths are flawed, it will eventually if we are to survive and thrive be superseded by more accurate views of where we should look for morality.

    • I have a few points to make, Michael.

      Firstly, it is quite clear that you believe in moral relativism, “Morality I would argue sits within humanity, not with god.” However, on my site and within your book you make a number of moral claims, which seems to me to suppose that you are a moral objectivist. Maybe you can explain to me how you lay the foundation for objective morality.

      You also write that “the scientist is to be commended as they are typically minimally religious.” However, this is not clear. Do you mean when they are working as scientists, practically, or in their private lives? In fact, a large number of scientists are religious, which means your claim is a false one.

      • Moral relativism and Objective relativism are new phrases to me. But I would be surprised if we differed very much in what we think morality is. My focus was not so much what is moral and what is not moral, more how can we operate with the highest morality. I’m saying our highest morality will not come from religion or the religious, do not expect to find the highest morality in humans that are religious, neither the atheist who’s origins are religious.

        You may counter, religious doctors, religious charities, I reply, guilt, conscience, clearing up problems that came about in the first place from religion.

        I am really talking about the individual, you, and me, as we go about our daily lives, what should we be doing to optimize our morality – IF – we at war with god, does religion push god away, are the religious on god’s side, who is on humanities side, how do we go about stopping this war with god. Amongst us are two men who increasingly appear to have no problems with using nuclear weapons, but these two men come from us. It is ‘us’ that need to change, if we are to stop leaders behaving like this.

        So to operate with the highest morality, minimize religion, maximize exercise and sport, pain recognition exercise and sport, maybe other activities. We need a balance, attracting god, resting from god, we are both social, and at times operate on our own. We are subject to and influenced by events, that can make us tribal, but the tribe consists of individuals. With the wrong background, poor diet, stress, religion, (the first two often unavoidable) we may start out with high morals, only for things to degenerate. But restraint is easier with minimal religion not with maximum religion, that Muslims appear to be finding out the hard way, via some of the harshest regimes on the planet.

        As far as the scientist and religion are concerned, I’m saying that most science is conducted away from the structure, or context of religion. I did not hear that superconductors are being used to advance physics, with any attempt to associate developments with religion. But I would say, in certain circumstances, (not for the squeamish so I won’t go into detail here) religion may enhance science, Indeed, to me science is the study of god, although not directly involving religion. Am I contradicting myself. I think I am. Let’s try and tidy this up a bit, Science involves non religious activity, but may be enhanced by additional religious activity, but at a price, godlessness.

        And I do accept, we would not be where we are today, without religion. The question is at what price, is there an alternative to religion.

      • Something else occurred to me about the properties I think are inherent in religion. ‘IF’ religion weakens us by pushing god away, this may enhance our immediate tribe, by increasing our dependency. So where ever it is an advantage to increase dependency, religion can appear to have a positive effect i.e. within the family or immediate social groups.

        But scale religious use up and into bigger groups, the weakening effect of religion, politically can (where there is stress and poor diet) have unwanted side effects of unrest, tribalism, violence.

        Essentially there is an inherent ambiguity, to how (I think ) religion affects humanity.

          • That is obviously not entirely accurate, perhaps mostly disingenuous, and horribly unfair to millions of people. It would seem like many people who believe in God live self-sacrificial lives, helping the vulnerable where they can. You will find a Christian/religious organization or church behind nearly all relief efforts from feeding the poor, caring for the sick and orphans, the elderly, putting kids in schools, helping sexually abused, providing counselling and much more. I don’t really care what they believe, or what God they believe, but you should admit at least that much unless you’ve got an agenda against all religion to such an extent you can’t even admit what is blatantly obvious and right in from of your eyes. The difference often between anti-religious people, perhaps like you, and them is that they actually do things to help, and don’t resort to sitting behind computer screens like any atheist and falsely criticize millions of people who do good.

            • I counter the good deeds, that come from religious organisations with a sense of conscience, the guilt of the religious where much of the pain, vulnerability has its has come from religion itself, natural disasters, may also be included or their guilt is so strong that they will also respond to natural disasters.

              I think religion has a weakening effect which may have its benefits, and generate such organisations. But I still feel those that are religious do so from a basis of being godlessness. It is still possible to do some good, but not as much as if such organisations were not religious.

              I was curious as to how the Torah holy book starts and includes the Adam and Eve story. ‘ Those that eat from the tree of knowledge must surely die,’ I paraphrase.

              Someone on your blog (Shon I think his name was) said my arguments contradictory. But dig a little deeper and there isn’t any contradiction. The Religious are on god side of a war with god. We are naive to this war, maybe uneasy about standing alone. How can the religious be godless, but thats what they are, and good deeds can so easily turn into bad deeds, where ever man sacrifices himself to religion. Godlessness in all its negativity is never far away, as well as being the origin of atheism.

              We battle on James,

              ‘Relgions Separates Man From God,’ an e book.

    • I will respond to this in due time. I am, however, far more interested in general theism and evolutionary theory. That is where my main focus is, especially in this article.

  2. I have to say I enjoy your blog and writings – it is always a delight to find people interested in the big questions of life!
    I think the question of evolution and Christianity is a multifaceted and complex question. I happen to think evolution is not true, and I also do not think the earth is young. My reasons for not finding evolution persuasive are scientific, philosophical and theological. But there are many issues involved that would need to be carefully dissected. For example you mention Thomas Aquinas who had a different metaphysical view of nature (It was more Aristotilean) compared to the modern mechanistic view. Thomas thought nature had intrinsic ends, final causes that teleology is intrinsic to nature. Evolution seems to be antithetical to that because mutations for example are accidental and random – they have no goal or final cause. And if a mutation happens to produce a beneficial gene then it will spread through the population over time. How does one reconcile those two views?
    On the question of morality – if evolution is true how could morality possibly evolve because evolution is a completely physically mechanistic process? Is there a mutation that produced genes responsible for morality? Rationality?

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