Evolution and Religion
One of the favorite tactics of anti-evolutionists is to argue that evolutionary theory is itself a relgion. There are numerious problems with this view point. Usually this view relies on the logical fallacies of equivocation, and the argument from ignorance.
Often times these arguments will note that scientists believe in evolutionary theory and that some people believe in religion. Hence both evolutionary theory and religion are “beliefs”. Q.E.D, evolution is a religion. The problem is that belief is not so simple a word that it has only one meaning that is exactly the same in all cases. For example, I believe that if I drop a rock it will fall to the ground. Why do I believe this? I have witnessed it an untold number of times. I have seen rocks (and other objects) fall to the ground so many times and never once seen anything fall up into the sky, that I believe the theory of gravity. There is no religion here, no dogma and casting anybody who believes in gravity as some sort of religious gravitist is just silly.
A slightly different version will use the word “faith”. They’ll note that most scientists put a great deal of faith in the explanatory power of evolutionary theory. Then they’ll note that religious people have faith in the existence of God. Evolutionary theory is religion, Q.E.D. Again, this is taking a word whose meaning is ambiguous and using that ambiguity to muddy the waters. I have faith the sun will rise tomorrow becuase I have a boat load of evidence that the sun rises everyday. In fact, I have over 13,505 observations that everyday the sun has risen and oddly enough not one where the sun has not come up. Then there are things like the theory that outlines the motion of the planets, astronauts going into space and observing the rotation of the earth, etc. All this evidence suggests that in probabilistic terms I’d be a fool to not expect the sun to rise tomorrow. Hence, I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow. With regards to religion faith is different. You are to have faith in God without such cold hard evidence.
The other favorite tactic is to claim that there are gaps in the theory of evolution hence it is suspect and anybody who believes in eovlutionary theory must be dogmatic. This either is due a complete lack of understanding of the scientific process or a deliberate attempt to mislead those who don’t understand the scientific process. Basically, we should believe any theory that has the highest probability of being true. Suppose we have two theories, X and Y. We also have evidence, E. Now, given E what is the probability that X and Y are true? Which ever probability is higher is the one we should go with. Now if it turns out that X has the higher probability then it is irrelevant if X has “holes” or “gaps”. It is the best that we have now, and that is what we should go with. Does this mean that X is “True” in some universal sense? No. We should always be prepared to revise our probability of X being true as new evidence becomes available.
And that leads us to Intelligent Design (ID). ID has no evidence. Some might point to Irreducible Complexity (IC), but evolutionary theory can explain IC structures. Further, think about what ID gives us. ID posits and intelligent designer. Does ID tell us who the designer is? No. Does it tell us how the designer arrived at the design? Nope. Does it give any idea about future designs or changes in the current design? No again. What does ID tell us? Well besides there being an intelligent designer, nothing, nada, zip. As far as I can tell ID has no content.
In contrast we have evolutionary theory and science. Is evolutionary theory cast in stone? No. The current theory of evolution is very different than what Darwin posited. Now we have genetics, and genetic mutation, genetic drift. There is Margulis’ symbiogenesis that argues that symbiotic fusion of genomes is a significant factor in inherited variation. Initially this view was seen as kooky and was vigorously opposed by mainstream biologists. But Margulis kept at it (in the lab unlike IDists who seem to spend most of their time in court or lecturing politicians) and provided the evidence for her “kooky” theory and it is now considered a significant step forward. Margulis theory is actually a challenge to neodarwinist thinking, but it is based on naturalism and does not invoke a supernatural being. Current evolutionary theory has adopted Margulis’ work and keeps on going.
So is evolutionary theory a religion? No. Any attempt to argue the contrary is completely ridiculous. Are there gaps in the theory of evolution? Sure there are, but this is true for every theory out there. It is likely that some of most well understood and accepted theories in physics will be found to be wrong in some small detail? Should we thus conclude an intelligent designer is “filling” that gap? And yes, biologists and scientists have “faith” and “believe” in their theories and hypotheses. They have this belief and faith precisely because of the evidence they have in support of their theories and hypotheses. Religion on the other hand does not work in the same manner. As far as I know, there is no theory that lays out the exact limitations and abilities of God. But who knows, maybe this is what ID advocates are actually advocating, put limitations on God and telling him what exactly he can and can’t do.