Oct 28, 2012. Over the last nine months and the last thirty one blogs we’ve covered a lot of territory in our explorations of the relationship between evolution, science, and religion.
One thing we explored was the love/hate relationship that Americans – and increasingly people around the world – have with evolution.
- For some people – and for nearly all scientists – evolution is powerful set of analytical tools, empirical results, and explanatory principles that combined with molecular genetics form one of the most powerful and relevant sciences of the 21st century.
- Many people, including many scientists, also hold evolution to be a powerful set of metaphysical truths about the nature of the world and the meaning and purpose of life – in short, they hold to it as a modern creation narrative. Only rarely do these people distinguish between evolution as science and evolution as a myth. It is this situation that prompted Mary Midgely – one of the most respected of modern-day English philosophers – to ask if evolution was a religion.
- For many other people – especially many Christian evangelicals – evolution is simply wrong. It is propagated, they think, as a modern secular attack against religion and belief in God in general – and against Christian morals and ethics in particular. When manifested as Social Darwinism, it taught master-race theories and nourished virulent racism. When manifested as psychological theory, it taught that man was an animal controlled by his instincts and transcendence of those instincts an impossibility. And as theological metaphysics, it taught that religion is unscientific and believers ignorant.
We explored the relationship between evolution and religion, paying frequent attention to Darwinism and its beliefs. Darwin did indeed hold that man was an animal and does seem to have retained little in the way conventional religious belief in his latter years, although he was eager to avoid any kind of controversy by taking a definite stand.
And we explored the Bahá’í point of view. Man is not an animal, that view holds. Our intellectual, spiritual, and rational capabilities make us different than animals. Because of this, and because we are the result of the laws of the universe, not simply the sequence of events that preceded us, it is incorrect to say that we are descended from the animals.
The Baha’i view – we concluded – is completely compatible with evolution the science. It offers different conclusions than evolution the metaphysics.
Many of Darwin’s modern followers – it isn’t clear what Darwin believed – hold that evolution denies the existence of God.The belief is either (a) that God as an explanatory principle is not needed to explain the existence of life given that a scientific explanation is available, or (b) that evolutionary theory proves that humanity came about by chance. (The later, apparently, is proposed with the intent of denying that man came into existence by deterministic natural processes.)
We looked into the logic of these beliefs to see their merit. Drawing on the scientific view that all things that exist must obey the fundamental laws of the universe, and the fundamental religious view that those laws were created by God, we concluded two things:
- First, as has been widley recognized, there is no contradiction between the view that humanity was created by lawful natural processes and the view that humanity was created by God.
- Second, there seems to be a very definite, widespread – and distinctively non-scientific – metaphysical conception of evolution and nature as having unique powers of creation formerly thought of as belonging to God. The later becomes particularly prominent in the thinking of Stuart Kauffman and Ursula Goodenough, who hold to views that see life as emergent and unpredictable and nature and evolution as creative and generating new phenomena.
If you believe, as many creationists do, that God created earth perfectly formed in its present state without any historical processes involved, or that God intervened via the miraculous introduction of “irreducibly complex” cellular components, then you subscribe to the only religious perspective that evolutionary science can defeat. It appears that the creationist/intelligent design and the anti-religious Darwinist schools of thought are locked in a mutually-reinforcing battle that keeps both sides excited and engaged, but at a distance from real science or real religon.
Humans and Other Animals
Humans are animals, according to Darwin. What this means is that Darwinism views the ladder of life differently than religion does, as the diagram on the right shows. Darwinism truncates that ladder – humans are part of the animal kingdom.
Is this what science tells us? My guess – and its only a guess as it is very hard to find a straight answer – is that scientists always assume humans to be different than animals both in their personal lives and in the studies they carry out. The exception is in areas such as medicine or biology in situations where human mental, cultural, or family behavior is not a controlling factor. In other words, the issue is usually sidestepped or ignored because of historical and ideological complications.
Enlightment 2.0: Towards a New View of the Relationship Between Science and Religion.
Why, we must ask, does the evolutionary creaton narrative come to such extreme conclusions? The conclusions I refer to are that humans are simply animals despite profound and very evident differences, that evolution shows that religion is wrong despite religion’s complete compatibility with all other sciences, and the deeply unscientific view that evolution shows humans to be created by blind chance.
As we have shown in these blogs, evolutionary science is no different than other sciences, excepting in its subject matter. Its historical approach to explaining how things came to be differs only in the details, not in the use of standard scientific procedures or the pursuit of empirical data, compared to studies of cosmological evolution, a branch of physics. And the use of random variations – chance – as a component of explanation differs little from its use in countless other sciences and disciplines.
The explanation for its extreme conclusions appears abundantly clear if one considers the historical context in which evolution first developed – a historical context that is that of the aftermath of European enlightenment and its vision of science and reason as the road to redemption for a humanity oppressed by authoritative European monarchs and repressive religious institutions. And the historical context is the turn away from religion that was happening all across Europe at the time of evolution’s rise.
It is this that I want to explore next: the Enlightment Vision of Science, its history, its successes, its failures, and what needs to be done to put its wheels back on. In true Silicon Valley fashion – after all, that’s where I live and work – I want to talk about Enlightenment 1.0 and its dysfunctional relationship with religion and consider what needs to be done to upgrade it to Enlightenment 2.0.
This is the 32nd and the last in a series of blogs on evolution and religion.The author, Stephen Friberg, is a Bahá’í living in Mountain View, California. A research physicist by training, he wrote Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution with Courosh Mehanian. He worked at NTT in Japan before joining the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley.