An essay donated by Kyle Jorstad
Part 2 of 2
Religion & Science: The Evolution Controversy
Yet even this open approach regarding the historical accuracy of Scripture by the Catholic Church is rejected by many of Darwin’s staunchest proponents.
Despite efforts by many Christian churches to allow for the theories of evolution and natural selection, individuals such as social scientist and Professor James Wilson still reject models not solely dependent on natural processes that exclude a superior intelligence. In responding to assertions that Intelligent Design (ID) is as much a theory as evolution, Wilson argues that where evolution is a scientifically testable and confirmable relationship, intelligent design advocates offer “a guess, a faith, or an idea.” 1 Wilson argues “evolution, like almost every scientific theory, has some problems. But they are not the kinds of problems that can be solved by assuming that an intelligent designer created life.” 2 Similarly, evolutionary biologist and staunch atheist 3 Richard Dawkins argues that “science, then, is free of the main vice of religion, which is faith.” 4 Dawkins contends that religion and science are inherently rationally unequal, as there is solely evidence for science. 5 Going so far as to argue faith as “irredeemably irrational,” Dawkins identifies Christians as “dyed-in-the wool faith-heads” whose religion immunizes them against any rational argument. 6 Dawkins concludes that religion and science are incompatible solely by virtue of religion’s investment in an invisible, incomprehensible God whose existence is premised on the lack of that one aspect which is required to establish truth: empirical evidence.
Dawkins never truly addresses, however, the issue of compatibility between religion and science by asserting the lack of empirical verifiability of faith. Times Magazine author Dan Cray, in referring to both Dawkins and his army of atheistic Darwinists as well as his theological opponents, writes “the most ardent of these don't really care very much about science [or theology], and an argument in which one party stands immovable on Scripture and the other immobile on the periodic table doesn't get anyone very far.” 7 Alister McGrath, a once-atheist with a doctorate in molecular biophysics and now a leading Christian theologian, responds to Dawkins on this point: “Where Dawkins sees faith as intellectual nonsense, most of us are aware that we hold many beliefs that we cannot prove to be true but are nonetheless perfectly reasonable to entertain.” 8 The reality is that many truths simply are not empirically verifiable; one such area is human memory. A memory of a certain day or sequence of events may be perfectly accurate, yet completely untenable; to individuals like Dawkins, this lack of evidence should completely disqualify such truths. Yet this is clearly illogical; many beliefs may be justified even in the absence of empirical verification, especially memory. Another example is the constancy of nature. Science can only prove that gravity was present yesterday; though the assumption of gravity’s presence tomorrow morning is entirely reasonable, we take on faith its constancy. 9 The existence of what we take to be universal truths without complete empirical backing thus becomes a major flaw in the arguments of scientific naturalists.
Another significant flaw with the view that science supersedes religion is the fact that many accomplished scientists, such as McGrath, profess compatibility between the two. The noted Harvard astronomer Owen Gingrich states “the universe has been created with intention and purpose, and ... this belief does not interfere with the scientific enterprise.” 10 Francis Collins, originally an atheistic scientist, explains his conversion to Christianity in his book Language of God, which maintains that the universe has been “fine-tuned for life as a result of the wonder and orderliness of nature.” 11 Staunch atheist Steven Jay Gould asserts that “the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs — and equally compatible with atheism.” 12 These individuals represent only a few of a rapidly growing body of well-educated scientists either professing faith in God or supporting harmony between science and religion. Naturally this does not substantiate concord between theists and Darwinists; it does, however, counter Dawkins’ insistence that real scientists are atheists. With respect to such individuals, it is no longer reasonable to dismiss religion on the grounds of faith’s lack of empirical verifiability without further consideration of the rationale behind the various creation ideologies.
One stock argument given in support of both theistic evolution and creationism is the complexity argument. Although there are many versions of this analogy, the argument essentially states that the parameters for life’s existence are so narrow that the odds of random life occurring are infinitely small. 13 Intelligent design proponent Fred Heeren argues, “The chance that amino acids would line up randomly to create the first hemoglobin protein is one in ten to the 850th power…and one chance in ten to the 78,000th power even for the DNA of a simple microorganism.” 14 With only 10 to the 80th atoms in the universe, Heeren argues the sheer improbability of our existence is surely a sign of intelligent design, if not the direct hand of God.
Arguments from improbability such as Heeren’s are referred to as the fine-tuning argument, which states that life has been fine-tuned to the specific parameters at which it can flourish. Darwin’s response is that no part of life is so irreducibly complex that it could not have evolved to its present state. On the Origin of Species further argues that evolution, as a guided process, is actually less a product of chance and more a result of natural biological laws. 15 Likewise, Dawkins argues that improbability is not evidence of design; improbable is not impossible and cannot eliminate the tenability of evolution. 16
Wilson counters intelligent design advocates by pointing out that if indeed life was designed, the designer made some big mistakes. For example, Wilson argues, the eye is often cited as evidence of a designer due to its intense chemical and biological complexity. 17 Yet the human eye has a blind spot, reducing the ability to see; some individuals are colorblind, and many require corrective lenses as their vision degenerates. Each flaw conforms to the theory of evolution, yet is inconsistent in the face of theoretical design by a superior intelligence, which lacks the evidence necessary for broad acceptance outside of the faith community. 18 Dawkins poses a similar argument when he identifies theistic evolution as a “tremendous cop-out.” 19 Dawkins finds it odd that God, in creating human beings, would wait 13.8 billion years through the creation of the universe and the process of evolution instead of simply creating life and humanity instantaneously.
Francis Collins, author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, has a response to both Wilson and Dawkins on this count. “Who are we to say that that was an odd way to do it? I don't think that it is God's purpose to make his intention absolutely obvious to us. If it suits him to be a deity that we must seek without being forced to, would it not have been sensible for him to use the mechanism of evolution without posting obvious road signs to reveal his role in creation?” 20 From Collin’s perspective, it is only natural that there are defects in human anatomy, flaws in life, and complex, seemingly natural explanations for our entire universe; a lack of reasonable alternatives would render Christian faith worthless. Collins’ line of reasoning is consistently dismissed due to its theological foundations; yet for Christians, theology continues to provide a basis for explaining our origins while still accounting for the worldly flaws cited by Darwinists as evolutionary proofs.
It is certainly recognized by religious groups and the church at large that their stances on creation cannot be irrefutably substantiated, especially to the scientific community. American pastor, theologian and Christian apologist Timothy Keller presents this stance well when he posits “As a “proof,” the fine-tuning argument is rationally avoidable ... however, as a clue, this line of thinking has force.” 21 After the establishment of each of the fifteen very precise scientific constants (gravity, atomic attraction, strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, etc.) and the creation of earth, the existence of humanity becomes exponentially less probable beyond human comprehension. In The God Delusion, Dawkins also latches onto the improbability argument, yet instead employs it in defense of atheism. Dawkins coins his argument “Why there almost certainly is no God,” identifying the argument from improbability as “the big one.” 22 Yet the improbability of human life, let alone life in general, is well documented and recognized; Dawkins’ argument on the improbability of God is not inherently contradictory to Christian theology. As McGrath puts it, “the issue, then, is not whether God is probable, but whether God is actual.” 23 In the face of demands for rigorous empirical support, design theories appear incredibly weak. Yet when searching for clues rather than irrefutable proof, theological creation theories bear remarkable weight and actually turn on their head many of the arguments presented by scientific naturalists and atheists.
The question on creation therefore ultimately comes down to whether or not one believes in God. 24 Regardless, individuals such as Dawkins who take a firm stance against religion have not sufficiently proven the incompatibility of faith and science. In the long run, evolution actually poses a relatively minimal threat to Scriptural and Biblical infallibility. 25 Should it somehow be determined beyond all doubt that evolution is factually inerrant, this would only force religious literalists such as fundamentalists and other evangelicals to adopt the more open perspective demonstrated by the Catholic Church and mainline/liberal Protestants towards scriptural exegesis and evolution. John Ostrowick, researcher in Philosophy at the University of Cape Town, stipulates that science’s claim of invalidating religion is ridiculous. Noting religion’s general benefits—group identity, culture, moral codes, wisdom, guidance, unity --- as well as Christianity’s core tenants --- Ostrowick believes that the confirmation of evolution would only serve to strengthen religion in the face of scientific progress. 26
Of the various religious models of creation, theistic evolution has been shown to be entirely compatible with evolution, given the assumption of God’s divinity and guidance of creation. Darwinian evolutionists and atheists such as Dawkins who object to any union of the two do so solely from a stance against the existence of God. This reason, while perhaps sufficient for secular individuals, is ineffective within the faith community itself as the existence of God is presupposed. Thus, the only firm argument against theistic evolution originates within the faith community itself—namely, creationists. As such, science and religion are certainly not mutually exclusive, but compatible within certain frameworks of Christian and societal beliefs. In the words of Pope John Paul II, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. ... Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” 27
- Baird, Robert M. and Stuart E. Rosenbaum. Intelligent Design: Science or Religion? Critical Perspectives. New York: Prometheus Books, 2007.
- Carlson, Richard F. and Tremper Longman III. Science, Creation and the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2010.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church: Meeting of the Holy Father Benedict XVI with the Clergy of the Dioceses of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso. Accessed February 12, 2015. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2007/july/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20070724_clero-cadore.html
- Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Profession of Faith: The Creator. Accessed February 1, 2015. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p4.htm
- Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Profession of Faith: The Fall. Accessed March 14, 2015. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p7.htm
- Cray, Dan. God vs. Science, Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins. Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science. Accessed March 14, 2015. http://inters.org/Dawkins-Collins-Cray-Science
- Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. Birmingham, Alabama: Gryphon Editions, Inc., 1987.
- Dawkins, Richard. Is Science a Religion? In Confronting Life’s Challenges, edited by P. C. Kemeny and Gary Scott Smith, 39-45. Acton, MA, 2012.
- Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Great Britain: Bantam Press, Transworld Publishers, 2006.
- Devine, Philip E. Creation and Evolution. Cambridge University Press: Religious Studies, 32 (1996): 325-337.
- Jelen, Ted G.; Lockett, Linda A. American Clergy on Evolution and Creationism. University of Nevada: Review of Religious Research, 51 (2010): 277-287.
- Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God. New York: Penguin Books, 2008.
- McGrath, Alister, and Joanna Collicutt McGrath. The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalist and the Denial of the Divine. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2007.
- Morris, Henry M. Design is Not Enough! Institute for Creation Research. Accessed March 14, 2015. https://www.icr.org/i/pdf/btg/btg-127.pdf
- Numbers, Ronald L. The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
- Ostrowick, John M. Does Evolution Really Threaten Religion? Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 146 (2013): 79-103.
- Sarfati, Jonathan. Refuting Evolution: How Old is the Earth? Creation Industries International. Accessed February 12, 2015. http://creation.com/how-old-is-the-earth
- Steiger, R. H. and G. R. Tilton. Lead Isotopes and the Age of the Earth. American Association for the Advancement of Science: Science, 150 (1965): 1805-1808.
- Stenger, Victor. Darwinism and the Age of Earth. CSI: The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Accessed February 12, 2015. http://www.csicop.org/sb/show/darwinism_and_the_age_of_earth
- The Holy See: Letter of His Holiness John Paul II to Reverend George V. Coyne, S.J., Director of the Vatican Observatory. Accessed February 12, 2015. http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/letters/1988/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_19880601_padre-coyne.html
- Vatican II: Dei Verbum, Chapter 3: Sacred Scripture, its Inspiration and Divine Interpretation. Accessed March 23, 2015. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html
- West, John G. Intelligent Design and Creationism Just Aren't the Same. Discovery Institute - Center for Science and Culture: Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology. Accessed February 1, 2015. http://www.discovery.org/a/1329
- Wilson, James Q. “Faith in Theory: Why ‘Intelligent Design’ Simply Isn’t Science,” in Intelligent Design: Science or Religion? Critical Perspectives, edited by Robert M. Baird and Stuart E. Rosenbaum, 49-52. New York: Wall Street Journal, 2005.
- Witham, Larry A. Where Darwin Meets the Bible: Creationists and Evolutionists in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
James Q. Wilson, “Faith in Theory: Why ‘Intelligent Design’ Simply Isn’t Science,” in Intelligent Design: Science or Religion? Critical Perspectives, ed. Robert M. Baird et al. (New York: Wall Street Journal, 2005), 49-51.
- Ibid., 51.
- Suzannah Hills, "I can't be sure God DOES NOT exist': World's most notorious atheist Richard Dawkins admits he is in fact agnostic," Daily Mail, AUG 24, 2014, at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
- Richard Dawkins, “Is Science a Religion?” in Confronting Life’s Challenges, ed. P. C. Kemeny & Smith et al. (Acton, MA, 2012), 40.
- Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalist and the Denial of the Divine (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2007), 23.
- Dan Cray, “God vs. Science, Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins,” Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science. Accessed March 14, 2015, http://inters.org/Dawkins-Collins-Cray-Science
- McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion, 26.
- Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), 132.
- McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion, 42.
- McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion, 34.
- Baird, Intelligent Design: Science or Religion, 155-157.
- McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion, 156.
- Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 44-47.
- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Bantam Press, Transworld Publishers, 2006), 114.
- Wilson, “Faith in Theory,” 51.
- Wilson, “Faith in Theory,” 51.
- Cray, “God vs. Science.” Accessed March 14, 2015, http://inters.org/Dawkins-Collins-Cray-Science
- Keller, The Reason for God, 131.
- Dawkins, The God Delusion, 113.
- McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion, 29.
- Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III. “Science, Creation and the Bible.” Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2010, 41.
- John M. Ostrowick, “Does Evolution Really Threaten Religion?” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa (2013): 89-90.
- The Holy See, Letter of His Holiness John Paul II to Reverend George V. Coyne, S.J., Director of the Vatican Observatory. Accessed February 12, 2015, http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/letters/1988/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_19880601_padre-coyne.html
How you may have arrived here
Original posting: 2015-NOV-04
Latest update : 2015-NOV-04
Author: Kyle Jorstad