“I believe in science”. That was the answer a fellow classmate gave in my Capstone Biology course. The professor had gone around asking each student if they believed in God. She, being an atheist like the professor, had replied in the above fashion.
I rather, had replied in the affirmative. But I certainly believe in science too. In fact, I am just as earnest and sincere of a scientist as my classmate was. Must there be a dichotomy? Does truly believing in God precede believing in science? Is belief in science a renouncement of God?
Let’s examine this with the specific example of evolution, the preeminent scientific dogma of the day. It seems to be a good fit to examine the issue. After all, arguments about evolution are usually framed as “science vs religion” or “faith vs reason”. Modern followers of Darwinian evolution, or Neo-Darwinists, are often at the forefront of science against religion.
The Neo-Darwinist’s charge is that opposition to evolution is anti, or against science. More formally, the opposition is said to be theologically or philosophically based1. But the crux of the issue is that the Darwinist’s position is itself largely a philosophy and many of their objections are in essence, philosophical.
With that understanding, the arguments surrounding evolution are often battles of philosophies, not of sciences. Very few recognize this however. This can lead Neo-Darwinists to defend not scientific understanding, but rather materialistic philosophies. Author Ben Wiker puts it succinctly; “That, of course, is a very serious charge—but, it is no more serious than the materialists’ charge that arguments of intelligent design is mere faith in the disguise of science.”2 That being said, let us turn our gaze to the science at hand, evolution.
Why Evolution is much more than simply “science” or “the facts”.
What do we know about life on Earth and how it came to presently be? Let us first use a general, everyday approach3 to see what reality tells us. We know creatures exist now, as we can go see animals at the zoo or plants in a garden. We know that there are similarities and differences—our house cats are very similar in likeness to wild cats, less like dogs, and almost nothing like jellyfish. A further examination of anatomy and behavior will reinforce this. Additionally, we know that there are creatures that existed in the past that don’t exist today, such as dinosaurs and trilobites that show up in the fossil record. Likewise, we know creatures that exist today that likely didn’t exist in the past, as domesticated cats are not found in the fossil record until recent times. How is this explained?
Evolution is one explanation of the observations above. Now evolution, in the general use of the term, is simply the name for what we all know has and is occurring, change. “Time itself is the measure of change”4. That is why it is perfectly viable to talk about the evolution of the universe, the evolution of an idea, and of course, the evolution of life. But when working with biological schema, let’s be more specific. When speaking of evolution, most mean Evolution by Natural Selection (EBNS). In this schema, species have a common origin and change over time via the mechanism of natural selection5. EBNS as a theory seeks answer the question of how life has changed over time and given us the current diversity of organisms.
Do I object to the idea that organisms evolve? No. Am I against an emperiological6 approach to the origin of life? No. Instead, my objections are 1) the presentation of philosophical claims in evolution as science and 2) the dismissal and ridicule of objections to evolution based on science with the claim that it is based on philosophy. To put it shortly, the Neo-Darwinist will often claim philosophical ideas as scientific ones and reject scientific objections as philosophical ones.
I pause to give a take-home point. We can have both good science and good religion. Even author Hal Hellman , in the midst of ridiculing opponents of evolution, stopped to clarify how Catholic Universities had long taught that evolution and doctrine need not clash7.
Along those lines, the reaction of many humans (including myself) is not that the science of evolution is unsettling, but rather that the philosophy of evolution is.
The Philosophy of Evolution:
What is the philosophy of EBNS? It is often used as an explanation for not just how the universe works, but what the universe fundamentally IS. Even more so, it is used as the finishing piece for a cosmology of materialistic atheism. Materialism, as a reminder, is the philosophical theory that regards matter and its motions as constituting the universe, and all phenomena, including those of mind, as due to material agencies.
Neo-Darwinists often fall into the use of EBNS to justify materialism. This is usually done in one of two ways: a priori (before the fact) or post hoc (after the fact). If you start with the a priori assentation that materialism is true, evolution by natural selection MUST be true. What else is there? There can be no immaterial reality in the universe, no creator, no God.
If you believe that EBNS is true and the ONLY way life can originate and change, you may post hoc take this as a proof of materialism. After all, if you can explain living things materialistically, well then anything other than materialism need not be true. Both of these are the use of EBNS in a philosophical world-view.
The issue of EBNS is determined by its end. If its end is truth (that is, understanding reality as it really is), there is no issue. There is a great issue, however, if that end is materialism. The real issue I have is not the claim that EBNS must be true, but that materialism must be true.
Where does that leave me? When I approach evolution, I match philosophy with philosophy, and science with science. I will not be derided as a poor scientist for not believing the philosophy of Darwinian evolution. The materialistic Neo-Darwinists are mixing up their science and philosophy. “If God is dead, then everything is permitted”8, even poor reasoning, apparently. At its core Darwinism is not just about scientific facts; it is about a world-view, a moral cosmology.
So, my fellow scientists who are holders of materialistic Darwinism, if you want to argue about science, let’s argue about science. If you want to argue about philosophy, let’s argue about philosophy. But beware, you they step into the realm of philosophy and first principles thinking your belief in science with save you, guess again.
There are still many things to consider with evolution. What about the origin of life and sentience? What about the specific scientific objectives to EBNS? These will have to wait for a future post.
- Disciplines that consider the immaterial
- Wiker, Benjamin. Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2002. Print.
- Which is, of course, the philosophical approach
- Rizzi, Anthony. The Science before Science: A Guide to Thinking in the 21st Century. Baton Rouge: IAP Press, 2004. Print.
- Natural selection: process that preserves the organisms that are most adapted to their environment
- Emperiological: tool of science that makes use of beings of reason to bring sensorial data under certain organization principles
- Hellman, Hal. Great Feuds in Science: Ten of the Liveliest Disputes Ever. New York: Wiley, 1998. Print.
- Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, and Constance Garnett. The Brothers Karamazov. 1996 Modern Library ed. New York: Modern Library, 1996. Print.