Misusing Evolution As Part of an Agenda

According to the New Atheists, atheism is supposed to follow from evolutionary theory. Activist Jerry Coyne does a nice job summarizing the Gnu thinking on this issue, asserting that evolution has “implications” that point away from theism. Let’s take a look at these “implications.”

Coyne writes:

The theories of gravity and relativity don’t impinge on anyone’s religious beliefs. Evolution carries implications that no other science does—save, perhaps some branches of cosmology. It implies that humans evolved by the same blind, materialistic, and naturalistic process involved in the evolution of every other species, and so we aren’t special in any numious sense. It implies that we’re not the special objects of God’s creation.

This is silly. Let’s take away the hot button issue of evolution and human origins and instead consider the fact that religious people think we are all special. Each one of us. Yet each one of us came into existence through a blind, materialistic, and naturalistic process called fertilization. Each one of us exists because a particular sperm fertilized a particular egg. If the belief that each one of us is special can co-exist with the process of fertilization, without the need to imagine God tinkering with each fertilization event to ensure the right eggs and sperm are used (which would also involved tinkering with the desire to have sex), then evolution is no problem.

Is such co-existence possible? Of course. I showed this in the first entry when I set up this blog back in 2009.

It sinks the “design” argument for God—the most powerful argument in the canon of Natural Theology.

No, it only sinks one formulation of the design argument – the God of the Gaps argument that insists biological phenomena are so complex that nothing other than a miracle from God could explain their existence. In reality, there are many versions of the design argument that remain intact alongside evolutionary theory. Design and evolution are not mutually exclusive.

It implies that we were not endowed by God with either a soul or moral instincts, so that our morality is a product of both evolution and rational consideration.

It does? How? Someone would need to explain how the soul or moral instincts would only exist if evolution was not true. Or go back to the fertilization event. If coming into existence because a particular sperm fuses with a particular egg does not imply we are without souls or moral instincts, how does evolution imply this?

It implies that much of our behavior reflects evolved, genetically-influenced propensities rather than dualistic “free will.”

“Much of our behavior” does not get us where Coyne wants to go -he needs to make the case that all of our behavior reflects evolved, genetically-influenced propensities. But once again, there is no reason to think evolution adds anything significant to the issue – we all have genetically-influenced and environmentally-influenced propensities, yet this poses no serious problem to free will.

I actually see it the other way around – I simply note the reality of my direct, first-person experience with choice – I know that I can choose against my evolved, genetically-influenced propensities. In fact, I have done so many, many times over my life.

None of the points Coyne raises amounts to some atheistic implication. In fact, I would argue there are very few Christians who reject evolution because of such “implications.” Most people who reject evolution do so for one simple reason – they believe the first chapters of Genesis should be interpreted literally. That’s why you will find a very strong correlation between anti-evolutionary views and the literal interpretation of Genesis, but the correlation between simply being Christian and anti-evolution is much weaker.

Let’s get to Coyne’s last talking point:

It implies that even if God did work through the process of evolution , He did so using a horrible and painful process of natural selection, a form of “natural evil” that doesn’t comport well with God’s supposed omnibenevolence.

Here Coyne is speaking out both sides of his mouth again. If God did work through the process of evolution, then all the other atheistic implications that were supposed to follow from evolution have been tossed in the trash bin. That God could work through evolution means evolution has nothing to say when it comes to the existence of God.

What Coyne is raising is just another expression of the argument from evil. We can proceed to tackle that head-on, but first can we all acknowledge that if God did work through the process of evolution, the previous implications are not really implications of evolution?

I thought not.

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1 Response to Misusing Evolution As Part of an Agenda

  1. I love how you drew a comparison between ontogenesis (the creation of each individual organism) and phylogenesis (the creation of a whole group of organisms), which is probably more useful and relevant to hidebound creationists.

    “It implies that we were not endowed by God with either a soul…”

    Interestingly, I’ve just been watching this. Perhaps more scientists will soften up.

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