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Wishful thinking about nature’s abilities1

—paganism and evolution

A first-century inscription to Terra Mater (Mother Earth), a mythical goddess of the ancient Romans.


We are justifiably impressed by the great strides being made in science, technology and medicine. However, at the same time, western cultures have succumbed to secular, humanistic influences in education, the arts and the media; those human accomplishments are misused to persuade people that traditional Christianity is irrelevant. The truth-speaker who would stand up for Bible-based absolutes soon discovers the tyranny of society’s so-called ‘tolerant’ academic and political elites.2 After all, this is the 21st Century; surely we have grown up and left all that religious stuff behind. Or have we?

Paganism revived

Dig just beneath the surface and religion is alive and well. For sure, it is not the worship of the one true Creator God revealed in the Bible. No, modern people have ‘gone back’ to embracing gods of their own imagining. Ironically, many people with a strong secular evolutionary bent are now found embracing paganism. Pagans define their ideology as, “A polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion.”3 It is an ancient form of religion and is found in many guises but there is no doubt that it always makes the veneration of nature central. Some consider nature itself to be divine and worship it accordingly. However, many today are what we might call ‘naturalistic science pagans’; although they may protest themselves to be non-religious, their writings betray a different motive.

What can Nature do?

In recent years, I have observed this ‘naturalistic science pagan’ language creeping into both popular scientific writings and academic publications. Let us look at a few examples (the bold type is added for emphasis). In a Physics Today paper (2006), after detailing many important tasks accomplished by a living cell’s sophisticated molecular machines (e.g. here and here), the authors confess that scientists are ignorant about their origins. Nevertheless they confidently assert, “It is surely one of the triumphs of evolution that Nature discovered how to make highly accurate machines in such a noisy environment.”4 In a student proficiency book (2013), in a section entitled ‘The Miracle of Life’, the authors teach, “Somehow nature discovered how to build the intricate machine we call the living cell, using only the raw materials to hand, all jumbled up. Even more remarkable is that nature built the first cell from scratch.”5 The author of a book published by Princeton University Press (2015) had this to say in discussing the way in which certain cells are associated with sensory fibres of the vagus and other cranial nerves: “ … it’s simply not apparent how these two sources of small-diameter sensory fibers were combined during evolution. … nature learned how to combine these types to generate homeostatic sensory inputs, and we need to figure out how.”6


In these three cases, the claim being made is that ‘nature’ ‘discovers’ and ‘learns’ how to do things in order to ‘build’ living cells—and that this happens as part of the evolutionary process. Evolution can explain everything, apparently! A paper in the journal Science Advances (June 2016) describes research into the light-scattering properties of the scales on butterfly wings.7 It turns out that so-called ‘defects’ in the scales’ tiny ‘photonic crystals’ enhance the insect’s brightness and beauty. According to the lead author, Dr Andrej Singer, “In the evolution of butterfly wings, it appears nature learned how to engineer these defects on purpose.”8 In fact, absolutely everything is claimed to be the result of nature’s mysterious evolutionary work. Nature, says Jeffery Donaldson in a recent book (2015), is “the ultimate builder of tools”; from subatomic particles it developed atoms, molecules, a primordial soup, DNA and RNA, living cells, living creatures, and brains it is claimed. “Using the tool of the brain, nature learned how to build symbols, and then using those symbols it built conscious beings, and then used those to build whole civilisations, with ploughs, telephones, and computers.”9 For the ‘naturalistic science pagan’, there is nothing in this universe for which Nature doesn’t get the credit (see The religious nature of evolution)—but it is sheer wishful thinking!

Evolution, a kind of nature worship

We know that it has become completely unacceptable for a scientist to speak in an official capacity of God’s activity in this world. Yet, it seems just fine to replace ‘God’ with ‘Nature’. Indeed, generally the most ardent arch-humanists may willingly tolerate this blatant ‘naturalistic science pagan’ language. Of course, it’s plainly daft to attribute mind and personality to inanimate nature—as if physical stuff has the ability to think, learn, plan or discover things. Nevertheless, that is precisely what is happening in the name of evolution.

But evolution is not ‘a thing’ at all—it’s not something concrete. It is a logical fallacy (called reification) to take an idea and speak of it as if it is an actual entity. Some may protest that this is unfair criticism because ‘evolution’ and ‘nature’ are merely being used as figures of speech. Not so. Having denied the Creator His rightful place, the writers, in all these cases, have attributed the very real creative actions of mind to mere matter. The Apostle Paul’s words are a very apt description of our generation: “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:25). Creation magazine is a wonderful antidote to these ‘naturalistic science pagan’ influences pervading ‘scientific thinking’. Now available digitally too, it is even easier for us to spread this God-honouring material far and wide!

Published: 2 March 2017

References and notes

  1. First published as CMI Extra, CMI-UK/Europe, September 2016. Return to text.
  2. Sarfati, J., The tyranny of ‘tolerance’, Creation 25(4):6, September 2003; creation.com/tolerance. Return to text.
  3. Quoted from the paganfederation.org/what-is-paganism; accessed August 2016. Return to text.
  4. Phillips, R. & Quake, S., The biological frontier of physics, Physics Today 59(5):38-43, May 2006 | doi: 10.1063/1.2216960; physicstoday.scitation.org. Return to text.
  5. Capel, A. & Sharp, W., Cambridge English: Objective Proficiency: Student’s Book with Answers, 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, UK, p. 100, 2013. Return to text.
  6. Craig, A.D. (Bud), How Do You Feel? An Interoceptive Moment With Your Neurobiological Self, Princeton University Press, p. 96, 2015. Return to text.
  7. Singer, A., et al., Domain morphology, boundaries, and topological defects in biophotonic gyroid nanostructures of butterfly wing scales, Science Advances 2(6):e1600149, June 2016 | doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1600149. Return to text.
  8. McDonald, K., Butterfly wings under X-ray reveal insights about color, universityofcalifornia.edu/news, 13 June 2016. Return to text.
  9. Donaldson, J., Missing Link: The Evolution of Metaphor and the Metaphor of Evolution, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal & Kingston, p. 285, 2015. Return to text.

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