“Evolution Is Most Certainly a Matter of Belief—and so Is Christianity”

Evolution of manAlbert Mohler once again puts my thoughts into words a lot better than I do, this time with regards to how a belief in macro evolution requires just as much faith as Christianity:

"Evolution Is Most Certainly a Matter of Belief—and so Is Christianity"

Hopefully to encourage you to read the whole thing, here is a quote:

So belief in evolution is not something one simply chooses to believe or to disbelieve, "like a religious proposition." Instead, it is "settled science" that simply compels intellectual assent.

The problems with this argument are legion. In the first place, there is no such thing as "settled science." There is a state of scientific consensus at any given time, and science surely has its reigning orthodoxies. But to understand the enterprise of science is to know that science is never settled. The very nature of science is to test and retest hypotheses and to push toward new discoveries. No Nobel prizes are awarded for settled science. Instead, those prizes are awarded for discoveries and innovations. Many of those prizes, we should note, were awarded in past years for scientific innovations that were later rejected. Nothing in science is truly settled.

Later, Mohler continues:

But the most significant problem with this argument is the outright assertion that science and religion represent two completely separate modes and bodies of knowledge. The Christian understanding of truth denies this explicitly. Truth is truth. There are not different kinds of truth that operate by different intellectual rules.

Every mode of thinking requires belief in basic presuppositions. Science, in this respect, is no different than theology…

Please do take the time to read his entire article…and, if you don’t mind a much less graceful related discussion, listen to my "Out of Nothing" sermon (or read it’s sermon notes).

Ultimately, no…Christian…you aren’t a dummy for believing in creation, and scientists are not using a "higher" approach to reason than you…well…unless you truly have "blind faith."

But, I would argue, so do many people, including scientists, who believe in macro evolution.

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  1. sean samis says

    For those who’ve read Mohler’s essay, I have this response. If you haven’t read Mohler’s piece, most of this won’t be clear.

    Evolution is “‘settled science’ that simply compels intellectual assent” or a rejection of the mountains of evidence supporting it. As one famous biologist wrote, nothing in biology makes sense without evolution. One can reject evolution, but only perversely.

    It may be true “there is no such thing as ‘settled science’” but there is no scientific theory that is an alternative to evolution; there’s not even one on the horizon. Not that no one is looking; as Mohler wrote, “Nobel prizes … are awarded for discoveries and innovations.” Every biologist is aware there’s a Nobel Prize waiting for the one who can upset evolution’s place in science. So far, no one’s found a scientific way to do that.

    On the other hand, no Religious awards await the person who might disprove any fundamental tenet of religion. This is an example of how both Krattenmaker and Stephen Jay Gould correctly thought that “science and theology operate in completely different worlds.

    Truth is truth.” Indeed, and evolution is as true as the roundness of the Earth.

    Mohler wrote that “In any event, both require ‘belief’ in order to function intellectually; and both require something rightly defined as faith.

    No. Anything rightly called a “scientific belief” is a necessary assumption, subject to verification if the opportunity arises. A “religious belief” is simply accepted (or rejected by other religions) and never put to the test. These two practices are so distinct that when Mohler uses the word “faith” for both, he does so as a rhetorical trick to obscure important differences. This is yet another example of how “science and theology operate in completely different worlds.

    Mohler wrote that the “dominant mode of scientific investigation within the academy is now based in purely naturalistic presuppositions.

    The scientific process is limited to what is observable; it is necessarily bound to “naturalistic presuppositions”; unnaturalistic presuppositions can never be evaluated, they are merely, purely believed. Nature is anything that can be observed directly or indirectly. The unobservable can be presumed, but it is a category that includes unicorns as well as gods; and there is no way known to distinguish which unobservable entity is real and which is not. If any are real.

    This is the biggest difference between science and religion; as Mohler himself wrote, the “very nature of science is to test and retest hypotheses and to push toward new discoveries.” Exactly. This is something religion does not do, and an example of why science and religion are from different worlds. Religion simply accepts its assumptions as true and calls it a day. Harking back to William James, religious thinking seems to consist merely of rearranging biases. Scientific thinking challenges their own biases. Mohler’s comment on the absence of “settled science” pops up again here, and significantly; if no scientific theories are settled, the fact that nearly all religious theories are settled is a reason to see that science and religion operate in different worlds.

    Mohler wrote that “uniformitarianism … is, we might well say, taken on faith by evolutionists.

    Well, no. Again; some things must be assumed to do anything. Even Mohler agrees with that. Without the assumption that the laws of nature are constant, science cannot proceed. Religion on the other hand, makes unnecessary assumptions as a matter of course, behavior which science tries to avoid. This is yet another example of how “science and theology operate in completely different worlds.

    The “infamous gaps” in evolution (which Mohler referred to) are fictional; there are no significant gaps in the theory, only things unsettled at the margins; biology is not a closed book after all.

    Finally, regarding Mohler’s paragraph beginning “Evolutionary scientists constantly argue for naturalistic theories of the origin of matter …”; no. Just no. Evolution is purely a biological theory; it does not posit nor require opinions or facts regarding the origin of the cosmos. Evolutionary scientists also have their favorite football teams; but no one think football is part of evolution. Casual speculation by scientists on topics of general interest (like “theories of the origin of matter, energy, life—and the entire cosmos” carry no more import than equivalent theorizing by priests or plumbers.

    In summary; science and religion do operate in different worlds, and Evolution is as close to a “settled science” as is the theory the Earth is round.

    I sent these thoughts to Mohler by email; I have no expectation of a response.

    sean s.

    • Hi Sean,

      I appreciate you taking the time to reply. My reply is going to sound contentious; it is not meant to be. Trying to make it sound friendly through would cause my over-long reply to be even more voluminous. 🙂

      And please forgive the typos and lousy English…I should be spending time with the family and I’m rushing this.

      I’d say my biggest qualm with macro evolution is an apparent unwillingness for those who hold it to discuss its shortcomings (I do not know if this is true of you). If they did I guess I could then more readily accept claims of “mountains of evidence.” I’ve seen mountains of evidence for evolution within a “kind” (for lack of a better term); I’ve seen very little for what is really being discussed by Mohler. (E.g. science can posit how a fish _might_ have become a lizard and find a couple of examples that _might_ fit the hypothesis, but their isn’t a single proven path via fossils/etc.)

      Now, of course, that doesn’t mean evolution is wrong…or that…making a _philosophical_ decision to only accept naturalistic explanations…that it isn’t the best option. But, being the best explanation within a purposely limited set of options does not mean it is true.

      Some other thoughts. If an award for disproving evolution gives it’s short life as a primary theory some type of validation (assuming, of course, someone would be even allowed to posit it in the peer reviewed scientific community)…I think you are wrong when you say that isn’t true of religion. Luther and Calvin turned the faith of their day upside down and are now lionized (which is an award of sorts). Often the most popular in religion are the rebels.

      Not so for any scientists who take on “settled science” in the modern social media & 24 hour cable news world. They are treated as pariahs.

      You wrote, “Anything rightly called a ‘scientific belief’ is a necessary assumption, subject to verification if the opportunity arises.” That is kind of a huge “carte blanche” isn’t it? One of the biggest issues with macro evolution is that something that happened over millions and billions of year _cannot_ be observed or recreated by beings that haven’t been around near that long. Also, religion is “subject to verification if the opportunity arises.” The question is whether it will ever arise for you or me (in a supernatural arena).

      I would also suggest that “unnaturalistic presuppositions” can be evaluated. For instance, truth does not contradict itself and religious world views can be measured in this respect. Also, theoretical science spends time in that which is unobservable (and, sometimes, never could be observed). Ultimately supernatural things could be observed, and there is a legitimate question from atheists in “Why then can we never catch it on videotape?” Well, with evolution, why then over the past century have we been not been able to show a definitive macro evolution path from one “kind” to another (let alone be able to truly show how non-life became life in the first place).

      Although there are some who fit the bill (in the scientific community too, I might add), it is not true that all religious folks simple accept “assumptions as true and call it a day.” There are myriad of us who take the same scientific approach you hold dear and apply it in a religious context. The big difference we have is that we do not, a priori, dismiss the possibility that the supernatural exists. We allow the evidence to lead us wherever it will; we accept that the best explanation for available evidence may be supernatural; we are willing to give that explanation up if a better one comes along (materialistic or supernatural).

      I also find it interesting that you pooh pooh the need to be able to explain the origin of the cosmos to accept evolution, yet you early on say, “As one famous biologist wrote, nothing in biology makes sense without evolution. One can reject evolution, but only perversely.” Evolution does not make sense unless you can explain when evolution began. Time (specifically the fact it had to begin) is perhaps even a bigger Achilles heel for it than the woefully incomplete macro evolution fossil record. It is the equivalent of the question “Who made God?” in a religious context…but…unlike “Who made God?”…it cannot respond, “It always existed” because, again, philosophically it has limited its options.

      Finally in regards to “In summary; science and religion do operate in different worlds, and Evolution is as close to a ‘settled science’ as is the theory the Earth is round.” This is, in many respects, what I started off discussing. It is such a triumphally exaggerated statement, but it isn’t presented as hyperbole. You and I both know that the evidence available to you and me about the earth being round is far more conclusive and less dependent on “the best theory available” than macro evolution.

      Again, I hope this doesn’t come off as unfriendly and I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. If you are interested in continuing, I would suggest we separate the discussion in distinct small threads…this really has too many points to discuss them efficiently. Let’s go item by item and encourage each other to remain on topic…as hard as that is for folks as committed to our world views you and I. 🙂

      I do assure you however, whether it hurts my argument overall, I am more than willing to admit weaknesses in parts of my world view. It truly is the best explanation I can provide for the evidence I have…so I have nothing to fear from you being able to point out a hole in it.

      Blessings on you and yours…

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