Thursday, November 19, 2009

religion and natural selection; why are Darwinists bothered by religion?

We hear a lot from atheists and militant scientists about religious folk fearing science. But a far more bizarro thing is the converse: scientific folk fearing religion-- and not seeking to explain and embrace it within an evolutionary worldview

A wonderful piece from Doug Wead (hat tip; Eric H from a posting on Doug Masson's blog)...

On this 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, I am amazed that there is still the ongoing conflict between science and religion. A couple of years ago the president of Harvard wrote an editorial for USA Today saying that religion and science should go their separate ways.

Politicians used to talk like that too. Not anymore. Gandhi once observed that “he who says religion and politics don’t mix, understands neither one.” Science ignoring religion is like a biologist ignoring the ocean. Thank God, religion didn’t feel that way or science and yes, even Harvard, which was born in the midst of a religious revival, would not exist.

What is especially intriguing to me is the hostility towards religion. I can understand the reverse. Most scientists are telling us that the person we know and regularly interact with does not exist. But why should science be so personally involved in this? Why so angry? They say it is a waste of time but we waste time on sports on dogs on art on love, which is after all, only an emotional reflection of the biological urge to reproduce. What is the big deal about wasting time on God? Why should they care? And there is no real proof that religious government leaders are any more maniacal than atheists, most famously Stalin, or Darwinians, most famously Hitler....

If God and religion are the products of evolution, as in a necessary social invention to keep us from the despair of knowing that life ends with death, or as in keeping us from murdering each other, so the species survives, then why would scientists get so angry about people being religious? They might as well be upset that we have hands and fingers instead of wings....There is very little curiosity about this. No courses on modern sermons and how they fit with evolution and survival....No analysis and comparisons of ancient sacred script, the Bible and others and how what was written to fit the evolutionary needs of mankind...working toward survival of the species....

Scientists often ask for physical discernable proof of the spiritual world and actually, something physical does happen when people believe they encounter God. The brain chemistry changes, there is the release of endorphins and an adrenalin rush, there is often an emotional response.

Now assume for a moment that it is only physical, that there is no God.
Still, there is something happening in the brain that is as real as if someone touched you on the shoulder, only more so, because I am touched many times on the shoulder without weeping or feeling high for hours afterward, or seeing a radical change in my lifestyle or overcoming drugs or alcohol....There is something very profound going on, something akin to the swarm dynamic that ants and bees, with their little brains, have working for them, something that should make a scientist curious.And yet, after such experiences, religious people will encounter scientists who not only have no explanation or interest, they sometimes tell them that their experiences didn’t even happen...

Let us assume for a moment that this brain chemistry, which affirms the beliefs of a person, is all physical and developed out of some evolutionary, societal need. Then this too, is wonderfully complex. It means that man evolved to the point that he developed a belief in God and furthermore, knowing that God did not really exist, and was an invention for evolutionary purposes, has hidden that fact from himself. That is, man had to lie to himself about God and it had to be so good, so convincing, so deep, so personally affirmed by internal evidence, that even a Harvard science professor couldn’t kill it. So, if this is so, why should science reject what evolution itself has done? Does it not have a purpose?

Hmmm, it is so exhausting.
It is so much easier to believe in God.


At November 20, 2009 at 8:07 AM , Blogger William Lang said...

But a far more bizarro thing is the converse: scientific folk fearing religion-- and not seeking to explain and embrace it within an evolutionary worldview

The journal Science just ran a long article on the evolution of religion, one of a series about evolution in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. There is in fact a great deal of active research on the scientific problem of how or why humans evolved to be religious. (The article is "On the Origin of Religion," by Elizabeth Culotta, Science 6 November 2009: 784-787. Sorry no link; it's behind a pay wall. But you should be able to get this through the university library.)

At November 20, 2009 at 10:17 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

I've seen some of the research on evolutionary explanations-- or at least evolutionary stories-- about religion and natural selection.

I'm more taken by the fear of and disdain for religion per se among some vocal scientists (acting outside their realm as scientists)-- more than just some of the relatively rare but unfortunate fruits correlated with religion. Maybe it's just the squeaky wheel getting the proverbial grease. But if religion is the product of natural selection, why isn't their default position that it is something to celebrate?

At November 20, 2009 at 4:38 PM , Blogger Janet P said...

Evolutionists must assume the impossible.

"Science" should publish some probability studies on amino acid chain formation of biologically active proteins. Looking at these any child could tell that their belief in evolution is more religion than science.

If evolution cannot explain where we came from, how did we get here?


At November 20, 2009 at 4:44 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Evolutionists, defined as those who think evolutionary mechanisms can (or even will) explain the development of life...yes, absolutely. They are perhaps the most faith-full people in the world.

At November 20, 2009 at 10:00 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Eric, I think the scientists who are publicly hostile to religion regard religion as a dangerous superstition. However, most scientists are at worse indifferent to religion. They have friends, family members or colleagues who are religious, and they are not interested in attacking or belittling the faith of people they know. And some scientists are themselves religious. I tend to fit in the latter category (although my beliefs are much more liberal, theologically, than yours).

Janet, science does not yet have a complete, credible explanation as to the origin of life. They are still working on that. But concerning what has happened since life began, evolution is extremely well-supported by the evidence. It is very convincing, the more you learn about it. I have on my shelf about 7 books that are pro-intelligent design. I read these with great interest. But after more reading, I realized the ID people are just plain wrong; the evolutionists are right. You can be Christian and accept evolution. You might look for the book The Language of God by Francis Collins. He's an evangelical Christian who is a top geneticist. He explains why he believes in "theistic evolution" (God used evolution to create life). (I should mention that Collins directed the Human Genome project. Earlier in his career, he shared in the discovery of the gene that causes cystic fibrosis.)

At November 20, 2009 at 10:08 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Right, I'm talking about the most vocal proponents of Evolution who are often avidly antagonistic toward religion. Maybe that's a good way to get their bread buttered?

Anyway, this combo is ironic and perverse, given their adulation for Evolution.

At November 20, 2009 at 10:40 PM , Blogger Janet P said...

Well, I would say that "Origin of Life" is the essential issue.

However, I disagree that "concerning what has happened since life began, evolution is extremely well-documented", especially if you are talking a continuum from protozoan to Homosapien.
Can you point to some specific (not suggestive) evidence of cross "macro-evolution" -- across Phyla? There is quite a bit of evidence that micro-evolution occurs eg. Darwin's Galapagos finches, but not macro.

I am quite sure that you can be an evolutionist and still be a Christian. As much as I believe in "Creationism", it is not an essential for salvation.
Sincerely giving your life to Jesus Christ is what makes a Christian; only God can judge a person's heart and motives.

At November 21, 2009 at 7:38 AM , Blogger William Lang said...

Janet, there are several fine examples of "macro" evolution. One are the synapsids, reptiles from which mammals evolved. Another is are the numerous fossils that have made it clear that birds are actually one particular type of dinosaur (theropods). (It is now known that modern birds still have genes for long tails, teeth and claws on their forearms-wings; these are now inactive.) A third are the sequence of fossils that show that whales evolved from hippo-like creatures. Yet another are the fossils that show stages of the evolution of amphibians from lobe-finned fishes. And concerning Homo Sapiens, we now have hominid fossils that show increasing brain sizes, from chimp sized to our sized, over a 3 million year period. We may not have the exact sequence leading from a chimp like ancestor to us, but we have a variety of species of hominids with smaller brains but who were tool users; this makes it clear that we did evolve from chimp-like ancestors. But—and this is very important—looking at the genomes of chimp and human makes it abundantly clear we share a common ancestor. One tiny example: We share with other primates the inability to make our own vitamin C. Apparently our primate ancestors lost this ability because they didn't need it (they ate fruit). It turns out the exact genetic defect in the gene for vitamin C is found in humans as in the other primates. Another example: "endogenous" retroviruses. Retroviruses (like HIV) splice their genes into our genes. If they manage to do that to a sperm or egg cell, these genes can end up permanently in our genome. It turns out these retroviral genes are found in our genes in various random locations (the viruses insert their genes in a purely random fashion). And it turns out some of these exact same genes are found in the exact same locations in the chimp genome as in ours. These retroviral gene insertions occurred in the common ancestor of chimps and humans before the latter two species evolved.

At November 21, 2009 at 9:36 AM , Blogger Janet P said...


Although you will not acknowledge the fact, there are serious problems with Darwinian theory.

It is extremely unlikely, impossible in fact, based on probability studies, that development can randomly occur on the cellular level.
Explanations such as yours, are fraught with assumption.
For instance, Synapsid may have mammalian similarities but what does that actually prove? If evolution is the reason for this, you would expect to see many fossils that can't be understood except as transitional. This is just not the case.

There has been controversy regarding the interpretation of "hominid" fossils; some have been discredited as outright hoaxes, so using them as hard evidence that we come from apes is unreasonable.

As far as genetics are concerned, there are certainly similarities but, once again, you have said nothing that proves how those similarities came about.
You're arguing from the standpoint that Darwinism is the best naturalistic theory and therefore must be true.

Eric is making an interesting point and it makes me wonder why, if you think evolution is such a satisfactory and complete explanation, you call evolution of religion a "scientific problem" (your first comment).

Here's the bottom line:
Darwinism is basically a position of faith not a scientific position that can be tested and proved.
It allows certain "elites" to be in charge of cultural philosophy, and of course, they dislike questions/observations that challenge their authority.
This is why certain of them hate religion and cannot tolerate or allow any other possible reasoning to explain our origins.

At November 21, 2009 at 8:37 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Janet, we'll have to differ on whether evolution is testable or not. However, I would like to explain why I don't think evolution is a threat to Christian faith. I am a theistic evolutionist; I believe that God used evolution to create life, including sentient life. There are two reasons why I believe God would use evolution: First, it is elegant—life creates itself, in directions that are both unpredictable and beautiful. But second, evolution also leads to natural systems that are resilient. If life can adapt to changing conditions, life needs less intervention.

Now we do both agree that you can be an evolutionist and a Christian. Evolution is, however, incompatible with a direct or literal reading of Genesis. Here's a solution to this problem. According to many scholars, Genesis appears to be a reworking of earlier creation myths. But the writers of Genesis did three things when they reworked those myths:
-- One, they removed the polytheistic elements, the cartoon figure deities and their stupid petty motives. In doing so, they affirmed monotheism and the goodness of God, who created the world, life and us because it was good.
-- Two, they affirmed an important message: don't worship created things. You'll notice that Genesis refers to the sun and the moon as the greater and lesser lights in the sky, not by their proper names. There's a simple reason for this: The proper names were names of deities. The message is clear: only worship God. Avoid idolatry and superstition.
-- Three, they created a beautiful work of literature that is still read, and used in liturgies and worship, by many people in many traditions. The implication might be that the writers/editors of Genesis knew they were creating some kind of fiction. But if so, they were creating fiction that taught extremely important things about God. In that sense, Genesis really is true. Nothing more appropriate could have been read by the Apollo 8 astronauts in orbit around the Moon (40 years ago next month, by the way).

So it is possible to be Christian and accept evolution. It is deeply unfortunate that Dawkins and his ilk do fear and hate religion, and argue that it is incompatible with science—because they are driving people away from science as much as they are driving people from religion.

At November 21, 2009 at 10:26 PM , Blogger Janet P said...


I appreciate your thoughts.

Basically, here's the message I hoped to get across:
Belief in God and Good Science are not mutually exclusive; in fact, examining the actual evidence could/would lead one to reasonably conclude that there is a Creator.

You did a very nice write-up on theistic evolution.
However, I do believe God spoke the whole thing into existence the way Genesis describes - I think the science points to this as well (reasons I have already outlined above).

I also wanted to point out that the concept of evolution is far from benign. When taken to the extreme, it can have severe/evil implications:
Racism -- some of us are further evolved than others and therefore better or more human.
Eugenics -- those of us who are not as "evolved" (handicapped, mentally ill) do not deserve to live (Hitler) - survival of the fittest
Humanism - worship of humans as gods; we are just getting better and better all the time!
You come from Slime -- People with living souls came from the "primordial soup"
And so on...

In any case, it has been an interesting and enjoyable discussion.


At November 22, 2009 at 8:15 AM , Blogger William Lang said...


Just one more thought.

People were racist long before evolution appeared. But Darwin himself hoped that by proving that all humans are closely related that his theory would reduce racism. (It was common in his day for people to believe that Africans were the result of a separate creation.) And the fact that politicians and social theorists have justified the destruction of human life using now-obsolete caricatures of evolution has no bearing on its validity as a scientific theory.

Best wishes,



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