What does atheism have to do with evolution?

In actual fact, very little. Let me explain.

At the American Atheists convention I wrote about in my previous post, I got a hear a few very good and thought-provoking speakers. One was Massimo Pigliucci, a scientist and professor who has advanced degrees in both biology and philosophy. There was something he said in his talk that was not shocking at all to me, but does disagree with the statements of some other big atheist names. That is, that atheism is a philosophical conclusion, not a scientific one. You can not infer that there is no god by looking only at the natural world. Which is not to say that he disagrees with the atheist position. He is one himself, and calls atheism a “imminently reasonable” conclusion, but a philosophical rather than scientific one.

I have put some thought into working out how evolution and religion have been set up against each other, and can offer some insight from my experience. My first exposure to the words “Theory of Evolution” was in a book called It Couldn’t Just Happen. I found it on a table at a convention for the Church of the Nazarene that I went to with my parents. I loved science, and this book had pictures of planets and animals and had beautiful glossy pictures like the science books I used at school. So I got my parents to buy it for me, and proceeded to practically memorize the entire text. I remember major points out of it even today, though I’ve not cracked the book open in about twenty years.

Here is the gist of the book: Life on the earth is far to special and complex to have just happened by chance. The theory of evolution is therefore impossible and is nothing more than a rebellion against God. Either the Earth and universe evolved (which we have demonstrated is absurd) or God created it. The God of the Bible, of course.

It was not until years later, in my college years, when I learned about the big bang and then read about evolution on my own that I discovered how totally wrong this book was. One of the multiple huge disillusionments I had about Christianity is that I realized I had been lied to and mislead about the scientific facts of the matter by a Christian author, for Christian purposes. And is was to me a huge betrayal of my trust.

My point here is that it was not authors like Richard Dawkins that linked science and evolution with atheism in my mind. It was authors like Lawrence O. Richards, who very early in my life linked evolution with rebellion against God. Richard Dawkins just confirmed what I had already been taught. And I think it bears some mentioning here that for fundamentalist believers, religion is a matter of scientific fact. If you take the biblical stories literally and seriously, it has to be. It’s not like it is that way for everyone, but the point needs to be made.

Now, if you are a non-fundamentalist Christian believer don’t get it into your head that since I accept that a religious believer can also be scientific that I’m going to convert back. There are lots and lots of other issues that would have to be addressed before I would give any religion even a sideways glance. Atheism may be a philosophical conclusion after all, but it is still one that is well informed by and consistent with scientific fact. In a way that religious belief is not.

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2 thoughts on “What does atheism have to do with evolution?

  1. I found your post quite fascinating. For the sake of clarity I am a Christian (actually pastor if that makes any difference) that you would most likely call “fundamental” even though I don’t even like the term myself. To the point at hand. It is exceedingly rare to hear an atheist describe atheism as philosophical in any way. I would take exception to your contention that “religion is a matter of scientific fact,” although I certainly see the line of thinking that would bring you to that conclusion. Anyway, enjoyed reading your thoughts.

    • Thanks for your input PastorJeff.

      What I mean by my statement about religion and scientific fact in the fundamentalist view is that fundamentalists see the events in the Bible like the creation and Noah’s Flood to be literal historical events. True in the same sense as the statement “this pencil will fall if I drop it” is true. True in the same sense as a scientific fact. I didn’t consider myself fundamentalist either when I was a believer, but rather evangelical. In my case not every word in the Bible needed to be absolutely true. But the creation, Garden of Eden, and Noah’s Ark stories (for examples) were pretty pretty foundational. When viewed as literal events, many of the stories in the Bible are at odds with a modern scientific view of the world. And one thing that we know to be true cannot contradict other things we know to be true. This I learned as a young Christian: truth cannot contradict truth.

      I don’t think it’s really all that rare for atheism to be described by atheists as philosophical. I think it’s just that many of the big current names in atheism are scientists.

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