I was supposed to do a presentation on the religious implications of evolution.
Evolution and Religion
Is there a conflict?
An Early Memory
I grew up in a United Methodist church in Phoenix. In the early 1960s, a local fundamentalist pastor was gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would have prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools.
This is something of a contrast with “equal time” laws that were developed subsequently, according to which school had to teach creationism alongside evolution. No, he wanted to re-enact something like the law Scopes violated in Tennessee.
Our pastor’s response
Was to publicly criticize this effort. Dr. Long thought that a battle with the theory of evolution was ill-advised, and said so from the pulpit. The Huntley-Brinkley report, then the big competitor with Walter Cronkite on CBS, picked up the story, and an excerpt from Dr. Long’s sermon was on the national news.
Do you believe in evolution?
That is not as straightforward a question as it appears. There are a diverse set of claims which are bundled under the umbrella of “evolution.” Philosopher Alvin Plantinga mentions five, which I call the five points of Darwinism:
Plantinga’s Five Points of Darwinism
Five points of evolutionism
1. The earth is ancient, millions of years old.
2. Species appeared gradually over time.
3. All life on earth comes from a common, single-celled creature.
4. The process of speciation occurred naturalistically, that is, without intelligent direction. Random variation and natural selection were sufficient to produce all life forms.
5. The origin of life also occurred without intelligent direction.
Five points of creationism
1. The earth is young, only thousands of years old.
2. Species appeared in the space of six literal days.
3. Life on earth did not come from a common ancestor. Rather, acts of special creation brought many species into existence.
4. The process of speciation occurred largely as a result of intelligent design on the part of an intelligent agent (God), not in any blind manner.
5. The origin of life was also the product of direct divine activity.
It’s not a package deal
Many people who have doubts about other aspects of evolution think we have good evidence for the first two points of Darwinism, including conservative Christian philosophers J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. These are people who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, but don’t think it requires believing in a young earth.
Young Earth Creationism
Young Earth Creationism, or YEC, holds that biblical chronologies are to be taken literally, and that not only the earth, but also the “heavens,” that is, the universe, came into existence relatively recently. The traditional date of creation according to Archbishop Ussher, places the creation of the entire universe at 4004 B. C. Still advocated by the Institute for Creation Research and by Answers in Genesis.
Scientific problems for YEC
YEC appears to fly in the face of science long before you get to Darwin. If you remember your basic astronomy, the standard measure of astronomic distance is the light year. That is the length of time light travels in a year. (186,000 miles per second isn’t just a good idea. It’s the law.) So if there are galaxies in space millions of light years away, as astronomy tells us, that means we shouldn’t be able to see them with our telescopes, since the universe has been only in existence for 6000 years, and therefore light can have only traveled 6000 light years since the beginning of the universe.
Hyper-literalism and Copernicus
Historically, hyper-literalism has had other battles with science, such as the contention, of both the Catholic Church and Luther, that the Copernican theory cannot be accepted because it conflicts with a literal reading of the Book of Joshua, in which the sun is said to have stood still for Joshua. This implies, of course that it is ordinarily moving. However, no one objects to Copernican astronomy these days.
Must a five-point evolutionist be an atheist?
No. One can believe that the evolutionary process on earth was as the evolutionists say, and still believe that the basic structure of the universe, as it came into being at, say, the Big Bang, required intelligent design, or in fact included intelligent design.
Some Recent Developments
1) The evolution-based atheism movement.
2) The intelligent design movement.
The evolution-based atheism movement
Major figure: Richard Dawkins. Dawkins has attempted to explain evolution to the general public, and has done so in such a way as to put a case for atheism on the back of evolutionary biology. Many scientists have insisted on the relative religious neutrality of evolution, Dawkins and those like him have said no, science has proven fully naturalistic evolution to be true, and that it leaves us with no room for God. Many scientists are in fact atheists, but Dawkins wants to use evolutionary biology to push for atheism. Other supporters of evolution are not happy with this. Dawkins’ most famous book: The God Delusion.
The Intelligent Design Movement
The intelligent design movement doesn’t necessarily buy in on all 5 points of creationism, but does think that our best science will show that you can’t exclude design from an account of how life developed. Thus, claims on behalf of a designer can and should be explicitly made by science, and children in public schools should be made aware of the fact that some people in the scientific community think this way. Many scientists are Christians (such as Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, and Kenneth Miller), but ID people want an intelligent designer, (which need not necessarily be God) to be brought into scientific discourse. Recent book on Intelligent Design: The Signature In the Cell.
Both of these movements, I think, are attempts to undermine the religious neutrality of evolutionary biology. One group wants to bring religion into biological science, the other wants to use science aggressively to get rid of God. However, I think both of these viewpoints are in the minority within the scientific community.