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‘Evolution is science, but creationism is religion’

Using buzzwords to divide and deride

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Published: 2 October 2014 (GMT+10)

The titular claim is so common that it’s become a truism in our culture. That is, it’s enshrined as one of its most unassailable truths. However, it’s false. It’s misleading. It’s dangerous. And it’s schizophrenic.

evolution-happening-in-lab
People often have different ideas on what words like ‘evolution’ mean. We need to clearly define our terms to understand the conflicting truth claims in the origins debate.

Strong words? Definitely! Why say this? Consider these four words: ‘evolution’, ‘creation’, ‘science’, and ‘religion’. What do they mean? It’s hard to say; they all have such wide ranges of meaning that it’s impossible to know what they connote to each individual person. (See Evolution & creation, science & religion, facts & bias.) Indeed, those who promote the titular false dichotomy exploit this ambiguity with a dishonest ploy of ‘bait-and-switch’ or equivocation.

Take ‘science’. It can refer to a particular way of knowing (i.e. repeatable observation/experimentation done to figure out how the world works), or that a particular claim is evidentially sound (e.g. ‘oxygen theory is science, but phlogiston is nonsense’). It can even be used as practically synonymous with ‘public fact’ or ‘real world fact’. (See ‘It’s not science.)

‘Evolution’, ‘creation’, ‘science’, and ‘religion’ … all have such wide ranges of meaning that it‘s impossible to know what they connote to each individual person.

What about ‘religion’? It can mean ‘a set of beliefs about reality’, i.e. it can be synonymous with ‘worldview’, which means Christianity, Marxism, Hinduism, and atheism can all be ‘religions’. It can refer to institutions with some sort of spiritual focus—i.e. organized religion. It can refer negatively to a spiritual worldview perceived to be based on tyrannical ‘dogmas’ and/or rules as opposed to a ‘free’ subjective mysticism (e.g. ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’). A specifically Christian modification of this contrasts a ‘religion’ of rules to get to God with the ‘relationship’ God graciously enters into with us in the gospel (e.g. ‘Islam is a religion, but Christianity is a relationship’).1 Or it can be a dismissive or derogatory term for a private ethereal sentimentality that has no relation to the real world (e.g. ‘Religion is nice for you, but it’s not for me’).

What about ‘evolution’? It can mean change or development (even intelligently caused technological development!). With respect to the study of nature, it has a number of different meanings. It can refer to the production of some product or effect (e.g. the evolution of gas from the soil or an electrode), it can refer to any sort of change (e.g. genetic change). It can also be used as a catch–all term for the 13.8 billion–year big bang naturalistic history of the universe. It can be used to refer to the naturalistic origin and history of life, historically considered. It is used more specifically in biology to refer to two distinct notions; (1) change in gene frequencies over time, and (2) universal common descent from a single–celled organism which arose from non–living chemicals (as defined by Kerkut). Often these two are combined in the fuzzy notion of ‘descent with modification’, implying its facticity whether considering the gap between parents and children or bacteria and biologists. (See Don’t fall for the bait-and-switch.)

It’s a claim about what really happened in the really real world, not about some ethereal plane of ‘existence’ that has nothing to do with the real world.

And finally, what about ‘creationism’? It’s generally a pejorative word meaning ‘the belief system of anyone who irrationally denies all notions of “descent with modification”’. People who believe in biblical creationism, progressive creationism, gap creationism, and intelligent design are all labelled ‘creationists’ in this pejorative sense. (By the same token, atheistic evolutionists, theistic evolutionists (whom atheists co–opt as ‘useful idiots’ but regard with complete contempt), New Age evolutionists, astrology–believing evolutionists (New Ager astrologers nearly all have an evolutionary mindset), crystal–power–invoking evolutionists, Raëlian evolutionists, and even flat-earth evolutionists … are all labelled ‘evolutionists’.) By those who accept the label, it refers to the notion of special creation: that various kinds of life were supernaturally created, from which arose a considerable variety of types within each kind, but with no inter–kind cross–breeding. It is also often used more narrowly to define biblical creationists (sometimes called ‘young-earth’ creationists although the young–earth view is a corollary of the biblical foundation not the starting point). (See Science, Creation and Evolutionism and Argument: Creationism is religion, not science.)

Now, back to our titular truism. In what sense are these words used? As best as I can discern, it’s typically taken to mean something like this:

“Descent with modification is verifiable public fact, whereas the denial of all forms of descent with modification is a private ethereal sentimentality that has nothing to do with the real world (but is nice for you, of course).”

In other words, I think this ‘truism’ is one of the most self–serving and vague misrepresentations ever to be foisted on the modern populace. It doesn’t even afford ‘creationism’ the dignity of being wrong because it’s not even about the real world.

So, let’s set the record straight. Self–avowed ‘creationists’ (broad and specific non–pejorative designations) believe special creation is a historical fact! We also believe ‘evolution’, i.e. ‘the naturalistic origin and history of life’, is a false historical claim. In other words, if ‘creationism’ is true, then ‘evolution’ is false, and vice versa. ‘Creationists’ believe ‘creationism’ is a claim about public fact, not private sentimentality. It’s a claim about what really happened in the really real world, not about some ethereal plane of ‘existence’ that has nothing to do with the real world. Evolutionists think the same about evolution, but they’re wrong.

Could it really be that simple? But what about science? What about miracles? What about God? What about history? What about … ? The origins debate is a very complex debate involving many different forms of reasoning and evidence that cut across almost every subject imaginable (take a look at the range of subjects covered on our FAQ page). But at its base it’s a debate about conflicting claims about the real world. This debate has nothing to do with ‘private spirituality’. It has everything to do with public fact. So let’s move past the self–serving buzz words and truisms in this debate—they are nothing but a distraction to the fact of contradictory public truth claims about the origin and history of this universe.

References and notes

  1. However, when used in the modern sense of a ‘personal relationship’ with God/Jesus, this produces a misleading picture based on experience, not Scripture. Modern Christians are not personally acquainted with Jesus like John and Judas Iscariot were, and the example of Judas shows that a personal acquaintance with Jesus doesn’t save. Rather, we must believe in who Jesus claims to be (God incarnate) and what he claims to do for us (save us from our sins through his sacrificial death and life–giving resurrection), i.e. trusting him, to be saved (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9–10, 1 Corinthians 15:3–4). Return to text.

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