Can evolution and religion co-exist?
It depends on the religion!
Published: 22 September 2012 (GMT+10)
In today’s feedback CMI’s Dr David Catchpoole deals with some skeptics—one who thinks religion should have no trouble accepting evolution, and the other who is slavishly devoted to a thoroughly ‘evolutionized’ religion—atheism.
Brittany S. from the United States writes in response to article: Pesticide resistance and evolution:
I don’t understand why evolution and religion can not co-exist. Evolution is a fact, and it is not a matter of “believing” in it; it is a matter of understanding it. One can understand that evolution is real, and so is their religion that they believe in. I think I just become frustrated when you say there is no evidence towards evolution where there most certainly is. Why would scientist give evolution the name of a theory if it was not real. Gravity is also a theory, do you not believe in that?
Dr David Catchpoole responds:
Thank you for your response to the article on creation.com titled ‘Pesticide resistance and evolution’. Unfortunately your comment misrepresents our position on several points. E.g. type in ‘gravity’ into our searchbox and you’ll see what I mean on that score. Further, type in ‘operational science’ and you’ll find a list of articles that explain in clear terms our view of experimental science versus historical storytelling.
Your comment also misrepresents textbook evolution. To my knowledge, there is no biology/geology/anthropology/paleontology/evolution textbook in existence which says that a Creator God exists, or even that He was necessary. The only cause of origins that I was taught when growing up was evolution—so it’s no surprise to me in hindsight that I became an atheist. That’s because evolution as taught in schools and universities makes it clear that there is no spirit realm—except in the minds of people whose brain chemistry has deluded them into thinking that there is. The Bible says that ‘God is spirit’, which if evolution is true, means that the Bible’s God isn’t. So it is impossible for Bible-based Christianity and textbook evolution to both be real.
If you don’t believe me, here’s what a university professor, an evolutionary biologist, has to say on the subject. Will Provine, Professor of Biological Sciences at Cornell University—a teacher of evolution at the highest level—says:
“ … belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people. One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism.”1
Incidentally, regarding evidence: many of our articles emphasize over and again that the creation/evolution debate is not actually a dispute about the evidence. If it was, then evolutionists would be happy that creationists want to parade the very same evidence—but evolutionists are increasingly unwilling that this should happen. For an example, see the explanation re the ‘missing’ pic at Seeing the pattern. Also this eye-opening article in Creation magazine: “Modern birds found with dinosaurs—Are museums misleading the public?” No, the dispute is about the interpretation of the evidence.
R.S. from Australia writes in response to A candid admission (and has been reproduced without alteration):
what an absolute waste of an article. You have added nothing of value whatsoever. It is merely another poor attempt at critcising atheists but somehow have used an agnostic as the example. your Brev is clearly not an atheist at all. Also as an atheist I take great exception to the comment that atheists live selfish, purposeless lives. I am athesit sna live a fantastic live that I am appreciative of, I am loved by my family an friends and love them in return and I add to the community in which I live and give to the greater community. My life is not selfish nor purposeless. The mere insinuation proves to me that you where never atheist but it is more a piece of propaganda like your entire website. Please decist with the propaganda and review the facts unbiasedly.
Dr David Catchpoole responds,
Thank you for your response. However, at least one of your assertions is incorrect. (And if you’re wrong on one assertion, why should I trust anything else you’ve said?)
You wrote …
“The mere insinuation proves to me that you where never atheist”
… by which I assume you actually meant …
“The mere insinuation proves to me that you were never an atheist”
… which I can state from personal experience (which, after all, is what you’re making claims about here) is absolutely not correct. (For an account of something that happened during my time as an atheist, see: An ‘impossible’ dream—for an atheist.)
I wasn’t raised in a church-going household; my parents never took me to church; I did not become a Christian until my mid-20s. By any measure, I was a fully-fledged atheist before that. I believed evolution was unquestionably the explanation for our (and everything’s) origins, that there was no spirit realm, that the only sensible measure of an individual human’s ‘success’ as a biological entity was an ability to survive, and pass on one’s genes to similarly-survivalist offspring. Any sense of ‘purpose’ beyond that, must only exist in our minds only, evidently as a by-product of nature’s survivability selection index.
However, as a fellow member of the Australian community, aren’t you glad that my new worldview includes a personal commandment that I am to “love my neighbour as myself”? (And, according to Jesus’ definition of ‘neighbour’, that includes you!) The people around me who knew me when I was still an atheist say it’s much nicer to share their lives with ‘the new David Catchpoole’ rather than the former selfish one. If you were more aware of the power of Christianity’s teaching to transform lives and society for the better I’m fairly certain you’d be arguing for Christianity, not against it!
You say you’re not selfish. If that’s true, then I’m really glad. As a fellow member of the Australian community with you, I’m delighted that you’re not living as a consistent atheist, i.e. that your actions are not in line with your view that you’re just rearranged pond scum, here for this life only, and nothing beyond.
Incidentally, two very notable atheists, well qualified in evolutionary biology, know exactly what are the implications of an evolutionary origins on our understanding of morality and purpose. First, Dr William B. Provine, Professor of Biological Sciences, Cornell University:
“Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear … There are no gods, no purposeful forces of any kind, no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be completely dead. That’s just all—that’s gonna be the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.”2
Notice Provine’s highlighting of ‘no purposes’ and ‘no ultimate foundation for ethics’.
And now to the second evolutionary biologist—Richard Dawkins (who surely needs no introduction to an atheist like yourself). While most people apparently don’t realize what evolution means for our values, Dawkins clearly understands the link. He said:
“I’m a passionate Darwinian when it comes to science, when it comes to explaining the world, but I’m a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to morality and politics.”3
So, I guess if you’re unhappy about the idea that evolution = atheism = purposelessness = selfishness, perhaps you’d like to take the issue up with the likes of Drs Provine and Dawkins. But you might have to ‘interpret’ Richard Dawkins’ words somewhat, as you’ll need to work out which of his words he’s speaking as ‘a passionate Darwinian’ and which ones as ‘a passionate anti-Darwinian’.
- Provine, W.B., ‘No free will’ in Catching up with the Vision—Essays on the Occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the Founding of the History of Science Society, Margaret W. Rossiter (Ed.), Chicago University Press, Illinois, USA, p. S123, 1999. Return to text.
- Provine, W.B., Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy? The Debate at Stanford University, William B. Provine (Cornell University) and Phillip E. Johnson (University of California, Berkeley), videorecording © 1994 Regents of the University of California. (See also: Origins Research 16(1):9, 1994; arn.org/docs/orpages/or161/161main.htm.) Return to text.
- The Descent of Man—Episode 1: The Moral Animal, broadcast on The Science Show on the ABC Radio National, www.abc.net.au, 22 January 2000. Return to text.