Does accepting evolution require faith?

Science and Religion

Science and Religion

One argument made by creationists or proponents of intelligent design is that accepting (they typically say “believing”) evolution requires just as much faith as believing in the Genesis creation account.  These people say that evolution (sometimes called “Darwinism”) is as dogmatic as any religious belief out there.

It is hard to see how evolution, or science in general, can be called religious, when it does not have any of the characteristics of a religion.  Most religions include a belief in supernatural beings.  Evolution certainly does not require anyone to believe, or not believe, in supernatural beings.  There are also no sacred times, places, or objects; no ritual acts one must perform; and so on. 

To blur the distinction between evolution and religion, creationists argue that evolution cannot be proved.  Since it cannot be proved, one therefore must have faith to believe in it.  However, nothing in science can be proved with absolute certainty.  Yet most people would not classify jumping and knowing you will land on the ground as a “leap of faith”.  That is due to gravity.  Most people know this and accept it without a second thought.  Though nothing can be ultimately proved in science, high degrees of certainty can most assuredly be reached.

The theory of evolution is based on evidence that has been observed.  The amount of this evidence is not scant, in the least, as some creationists would have the world believe.  The amount of evidence supporting evolution is vast and well-documented, and it also comes from many diverse fields. 

Consider the following, which constitutes just a few pieces of evidence of evolutionary theory:

  • All organisms share the same basic mechanisms of replication, heritability, and metabolism.
  • Fossils appear in an order in the strata consistent with common descent.
  • The distribution of species across the globe is consistent with their evolutionary history.
  • Evolution predicts that new structures are adapted from other structures that already exist; similarity in structures should be based on evolutionary history rather than function, according to the theory.  For example, human hands, whale flippers, and bat wings all have similar structures even though their functions differ.
  • Speciation has been observed.
  • Other fields of science confirm that the earth, and the universe, have been around for billions of years–a long period of time, which evolution would require.

Creationists object that since evolution takes long periods of time, and since no one can go back in time to witness these changes, that evolutionary theory is therefore not scientific.  Again, if it is not scientific, one must simply have faith to believe in it, according to the creationists.  This begs the question to creationists: what do you think science is, and how does it operate? 

The Last Battle

The Last Battle

No one can directly see the earth moving around the sun.  No one can see atoms with their own eyes.  No one can see gravity.  Any possible theory of how a star forms must not be scientific, either.  We cannot create a star, the process is not repeatable, and the process takes a very long period of time.  Therefore, these theories must not be scientific either.  We may as well believe the depiction of stars as people from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.  In fact, large parts of the science world, including much of astrophysics, astronomy, geology, seismology, plate tectonics, and more, should simply be thrown out of the world of “science”, according to this line of thinking.

What creationists do not realize, or simply refuse to realize, is that it is not necessary for all parts of evolutionary theory (or any theory) to be directly observed.  What is necessary is that evolution makes falsifiable predictions that can be tested, and it does exactly that.

Evolution predicts that fossils will be found in chronological order–fossils further down the tree of life are older than fossils that are higher up.  This is certainly falsifiable.  Haldane suggested that anyone wishing to disprove evolutionary theory only needs to discover a rabbit fossil from Precambrian rock.  (Ironically, most creationists say fossils do not prove evolution, yet most creationists readily accept that dinosaurs existed, even though no one was there to see them.  All we have left of them are their fossils.)

Evolution also predicts that we will not observe organisms being spontaneously created, or spontaneously changing into a completely different creature.  Evolution requires that mutations must occur and be allowed to accumulate over time.  Evolution also says that true chimeras cannot exist (as in, a mermaid or centaur).  All of these predictions certainly allow evolution to be falsified.  If the fossil record was found to be static, if chimeras were found, if a mechanism could be found that prevents mutations from accumulating, if organisms could be observed being created, if it could be clearly demonstrated that the earth has not been around for billions of years, then evolutionary theory would certainly need some major adjustments to it, or it would possibly need to be dismantled altogether. 

Instead, the predictions that evolutionary theory makes seem to be verified time and time again.  If memory serves correctly, when Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species no one knew of any hominid fossils.  If none had ever been found, that would have falsified evolution as well.  If no transitional fossils were ever found, that would falsify evolution, too.  Yet when we dig up fossils, we see many examples of change over time.  Evolution predicts that speciation will happen; creationists argue emphatically that speciation has never happened and/or never been observed, but again, it clearly has.

Ironically, many creationists have no problem with the concept of “microevolution” (small changes within a species).  It is macroevolution, speciation, and common descent that they find dangerous.  These people fail to recognize that the same processes involved in microevolution are involved in macroevolution. 

Just as evolution is not a religious belief and does not require faith, creationism and intelligent design are also not scientific.  Both creationism and intelligent design rely at least partially on a supernatural being to explain origins and the diversity of life; this is not testable.  Neither creationism nor ID provides a model for making predictions, they provide no further problems for scientists to work on, and do not provide a way to solve other problems.  Evolution does all of this, and is arguably the best supported scientific theory currently in existence.  It does not require faith, belief that is not based on proof or material evidence, to accept it.

Why do creationists argue that evolution is a religion, or that it requires faith?  This argument deliberately blurs the line between religion and science.  Many religious people feel threatened by evolution and science in general.  Of course, science has turned a lot of the opinions and beliefs of the religious upside down over the years.  By challenging science, creationists are undermining the willingness of others to rely on science.  If evolution can be portrayed as a religion, a false religion more specifically, then perhaps Christians will be as unwilling to accept evolution as they are unwilling to adopt the Islamic or Buddhist religious systems.  One might even classify this as a defense mechanism.

It is my opinion that feeling threatened by evolution or science in general is simply unnecessary.  Having true faith means that one accepts and trusts that whatever God has done is okay.  What is troubling is that this type of faith does not seem to be compatible with most creationists.  Many creationists insist the Genesis creation account be read literally, even though there is nothing in the text that demands it be read in such a way.   Many creationists insist that any other interpretation is simply wrong, or even satanic.  Many of these people cannot accept that whatever God has done is okay, even if what God did was use evolution.  This fervent allegiance to something that so obviously contradicts the observations of the natural world around us does not serve as a good example of faith, and it certainly is not good “PR”, so to speak, for Christians, who unfortunately already have a lot of poor publicity to counteract.

As I have written before:

If God is the author of both the Word and nature, then we should expect there to be no conflict between the two when properly interpreted.

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5 Responses to “Does accepting evolution require faith?”

  1. donstuff Says:

    Must one choose?
    You present an interesting line of thinking. Have you read What’s So Great about Christianity by Dinesh D’Souza? His thinking might be considered unorthodox to many Christians, but he presents the basic concepts of creation and evolution as compatible.

  2. Dinesh hasn’t read Genesis side-by-side with Origins [so to speak]. The accounts are nowhere in synch. I’ve read his book and I can state this with certainty:

    1. He definitely and truly believes in evolution.
    2. He definitely and truly believes in God.
    3. He definitely believes that biblical passages must be allegorized whenever God’s word contradicts the presuppositions of evolution.

    If he were forced to make a choice between belief in God or evolution, I think it’s clear which choice he would make.

    –Sirius Knott

    PS – evolution still requires faith whether it qualifies as a religion or not, so please dispense with that red herring.

  3. Your definition of “faith” must surely be different than mine, then. Perhaps this is along the same lines of the problem in defining “kinds”…my, how that definition seems to change depending on the circumstances…

  4. i am gonna show this to my friend, guy

  5. I enjoyed your entry here. Just a comment on the end statement you make.

    “If God is the author of both the Word and nature, then we should expect there to be no conflict between the two when properly interpreted.”

    This would be based on the assumption that anything created does not conflict. I think your assumption needs some more thought as it is flawed. Creationists also say that God created the Devil. Let that bounce around in your grey matter for a while. 🙂

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