Evolution vs. God

Published on April 2, 2007 by

My author friend Jay Lake blogged about a Newsweek poll that says 48% of the public reject the “scientific theory of evolution.” (He has more on evolution here.) He blames Republicans.

But I think at least a portion of the blame lies with the secularists who insist on making the theory of evolution anti-God, at least as it is taught in public schools. And many people, if forced to choose between their belief in God and their belief in a scientific theory, will choose God. (That’s not necessarily an irrational choice. The theory of evolution can’t send you to Hell for not believing in it.)

What do I mean by the theory of evolution being anti-God? What I’m referring to is the insistence that three factors (natural selection, random mutation, and genetic drift) — and only those three factors — explain the existence of the human species. What about God? He can’t even be mentioned in the biology textbooks, not even as a footnote.

Note that I’m not talking including the Biblical account of the creation. I’m not even talking about including the theory of intelligent design, which claims scientific proof that evolution alone cannot account for the development and diversification of life on Earth.

What I’m talking about is merely the acknowledgement of the possibility that God had a hand in things.

To put it another way: imagine that there are four pennies lying on the ground. Two of them are showing heads; the other two are showing tails.

Now, if the coins were flipped randomly, the probability that there would be two heads, two tails, is 38%. It is, in fact, the most probable outcome. Thus the state of the pennies can be easily explained as the result of random chance.

However, the fact that it can be explained as the result of random chance does not rule out the possibility that someone deliberately placed the pennies so there would be two heads, two tails.

The proponents of evolution, though, are doing the equivalent of claiming that the pennies must have been randomly tossed — at least when it comes to teaching evolution in public schools.

Is it any wonder that many people who believe in God, and who basically only have contact with the theory of evolution in the context of what is being taught in the public schools, think the theory is anti-God?

Of course, there have been people who opposed the theory of evolution on religious grounds ever since Charles Darwin first proposed it. But the proponents of evolution also deserve blame for promoting the idea that God and the theory of evolution are in opposition.

What’s my personal view on evolution? That there’s a good deal of evidence for it, but there are some things for which it is currently an unsatisfactory explanation. In any case, I do not believe evolution to be incompatible with my religious beliefs.

Filed under: General

7 comments on “Evolution vs. God”

  1. Jay Lake says:

    Hey dude. Thanks for the linkage.

    Insofar as I know, evolutionary theory is silent on the question of God. That falls under First Causes, which is a whole nother branch of science usually included in cosmology. Even though I am a raging secularist, I don\’t find it odd that some can see the miraculous hand of God in, say, the Krebs cycle, or the multidimensional interweaving of genetic sequences.

    For what it\’s worth, I think evolutionaryh biology has been politicized to the degree it has largely as a reaction to the push from the Right. Historically, evolutionary theory wasn\’t seen at odds with Christian belief so much as an explanation of the mechanisms of Creation. It\’s the current incarnation of literal absolutism that has created this \”choosing sides\” aspect, the insistence on the part of millions that some words in a book trump a universe full of clearly observable evidence, a large portion of which someone equipped with even modest education and equipment can validate for themselves.

    I agree that evolution is (or should be) no more incompatible with your religion beliefs, any more than your religious beliefs are incompatible with views on evolution.

  2. joycemocha says:

    Hi. I committed linkage and followed Jay over here. Hope you don\’t mind ;-)

    As a modern (some would say cafeteria) Catholic, I don\’t see any contradiction between evolutionary biology and theology. For that matter, even when I was a Protestant going to pre-seminary training (at Northwest Christian College), I didn\’t see the conflict then, either.

    Genesis speaks to a matter of faith, and a matter of who/what the purposes of creation are, not a blueprint of how it happened. A careful look at both the biblical Hebrew and textual studies of Genesis suggest that a deeper meaning rather than a literal, inerrant interpretation is required.

    One of the most entertaining parts of my Biblical Hebrew class, in fact, was when we translated the opening chapters in Genesis. The prof, who was definitely NOT an ardent creationist, had an ardent creationist translate the second Genesis creation account (I think that was it, I\’m too lazy to go and pull the Bible off the shelf to check it). Because of the contextual cues and the verb tenses, an evolutionary process very strongly comes across when translating directly from the Hebrew. This man stopped about halfway through, started spluttering, and kept repeating \”But this implies evolution! It can\’t do that!\”

    Heh.

  3. James Maxey says:

    \”What I’m talking about is merely the acknowledgement of the possibility that God had a hand in things.\”

    I don\’t mind introducing into the classroom any actual evidence you have that this is true. But until this evidence comes to light, why clutter up a perfectly good theory? The reason the other factors have a place in the classroom is that there\’s plenty of evidence for natural selection, mutation, and common genetic histories for most organisms. These are things that literally can be put under a microscope.

    \”What’s my personal view on evolution? That there’s a good deal of evidence for it, but there are some things for which it is currently an unsatisfactory explanation.\”

    Believe it or not, I conducted a panel on evolution versus creationism at Trinnocon where I gave the arguments against evolution. There are some big, gaping holes in evolution as scientific theory that I think should be addressed.

    For instance, one hallmark of a good scientific theory is that it can be falsified. But, what could ever falsify evolution? It\’s such a broad umbrella that it can simply absorb any evidence thrown at it. What traits would a living organism have to possess in order for a scientist to look at it and say, \”This cannot possibly be the result of evolution?\” If we were to discover a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater living in the wilds of West Virginia, scientists would hold him up as an example of life\’s adaptability and variability.

    Secondly, one of Darwin\’s own arguments was that we were able to select traits and in plants and animals and change them over time. We can take a wolf and turn its descendants into a great dane or a poodle. And yet, despite this deliberate tinkering and amazing morphological differences, we can\’t actually make the poodle and the great dane into different species. So, one of Darwin\’s own arguments about how species can change over time is actually evidence that change over time doesn\’t neccessarily lead to new species.

    So, I think there are gaps in evolutionary theory, and I think that people who blindly accept that the theory cannot be challenged or refined have an essentially fundamentalist mindset. But, I don\’t find it satisfying to say that any hole in the theory is evidence of God. Again, if you want God in the classroom, give me some evidence that he did it. I don\’t want mere assertation or speculation that he had a hand. I want someone to show me his fingerprints.

  4. Daniel says:

    Evolutionary theory could easily be falsified: locate fossils that are completely “out of order.” A one billion-year old human fossil, for example, would present a serious (insurmountable?) challenge to evolution (or carbon dating–same impact).

    I agree that the theory of evolution can co-exist with theism. On the other hand, the insertion of God is irrelevant in a biology textbook–why not pick the FSM? If you found four pennies, you could say it’s 38% likely that they landed that way be accident, but only a 1-in-6 billion chance that a “particular” person put them there. Best to keep the force of the state out of that conversation.

  5. James Maxey says:

    There’s a whole school of Forteana devoted to out of place fossils and objects. A brief sampling can be found here: http://www.mysterymag.com/theunexplained/?page=article&subID=103&artID=191

    Dating geological strata is a bit of an art drawing on several different lines of evidence and dates are challenged and debated all the time. One thing used to date strata is the type of fossils found within it. So, if indisputable human fossils were found, they would probably be taken as evidence that the strata was younger than other clues indicated, rather than evidence that the fossils were older by such an unexpected degree.

    I say all this as an avowed atheist who feels pretty good about the theory of evolution, and utterly skeptical of “theories” like intelligent design. But, the same skepticism I bring to religion carries over to certain scientific evidence. Some of the claims made from the fossil records strike me as a bit ambitious. Some species are identified by single fossils, and not always complete fossils at that. Looking at today’s world, would scientists be able to look at fossils of St. Bernards and Chihuahuas, completely stripped of genetic material, and be able to conclude that they were members of the same species? Obviously, it would be agreed they shared a common lineage, but almost certainly they would be classified as two distinct species.

    One interesting revolution taking place now in science is the conflict between genetic evidence as to the family trees that species fit within and long established fossil evidence. The bones and the DNA turn out to tell slightly different stories. Check out the April 2003 National Geographic for a good article on this.

  6. Matthew Rotundo says:

    Falsification of evolution? Simple.

    Evolution, like all science, is bounded by the laws of physics. Therefore, if you can prove that evolution violates a law of physics, you have falsified it.

    In fact, creationists have attempted to do exactly this, by claiming that evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

    This claim has been convincingly refuted. But the fact that creationists could even make the attempt to falsify evolution proves that is, in fact, falsifiable.

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