The Tragedy of Compromise Pt 2: Torquing the Definition of Religion

Often, the world defines the controversy between Creationism and Evolution as science versus religion. I vehemently disagree. My objection, as I have noted, is that Evolution is clearly religion, not science. To begin to explain why, we need to define religion.

We all use words with varying degrees of specificity and technicality. For example, like a lot of Americans I use the term “torque” as a verb, to indicate that I have tightened a bolt as far as possible. My father, who is in the engineering field, does not typically use the term “torque” this loosely.

Similarly, we often use the term “religion” to refer to organized theistic organizations or as theistic systems of thought. This definition might work for a dinner party, but when we begin comparing systems of thought, it is wholly inadequate. The best definition of religion I can provide is the ultimate nature of reality and man’s proper response to that reality. The first clause (“religion is the ultimate nature of reality”) addresses the philosophical/theological questions of religion. The second clause (“religion is the proper response to reality”) addresses the questions of ethics and practice.

The actual problem is an error made during the “Enlightenment”: many enlightenment era thinkers thought they were replacing religion. What they were actually doing was creating a “new” religion: a religion that is often referred to in various times and sources “Scientism,” “religious naturalism,” and “philosophical naturalism”. In a less technical sense, this religious point of view has also been referred to as “Humanism,” “Atheism,” and most tragically, it has been confused with “Science.”

Religious naturalism is based on the acceptance of David Hume’s argument against miracles. I qualify this argument as an example of the logical error known as “begging the question” – but that is a subject for another day. Naturalists believe that reality is governed solely by natural law. This is something that they take on faith, though they themselves typically lack the intellectual integrity to admit that this is a matter of their faith. Instead, naturalists will play various rhetorical games that amount to dismissing, without examination, any approach to reality that disagrees with theirs. “Professing themselves to be wise, they become fools.”

This is more technical than I usually like to deal with on this particular site. But, technicalities are important to life; we can’t dismiss them because they are inconvenient. We are not finished with discussing a definition of religion, but I want to make sure you understand where we are going with this topic. When it comes to my thoughts about evolution, one thing is very clear: evolution begins with the assumption that the world came into existence through natural processes. Believers in evolution will often state that science (the empirical study of natural law) cannot accept supernatural causes. In a sense, they are correct, but that assumes that science is able to answer the question of origins. Yet, this begs the question of whether science and natural law can explain the origin of the Universe and life. Evolution requires one to begin with the assumption that the earth came into existence by natural process, or to put it another way: evolution requires us to assume religious naturalism.

12 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Compromise Pt 2: Torquing the Definition of Religion

  1. I regard your claim that “evolution begins with the assumption that the world came into existence through natural processes” as a classic strawman. The explanatory power of a very simple idea, natural selection, is applied solely to the question of how the world was populated with millions of different species. It does, however, also rely on the assumption of deep time, that these incremental changes occurred over billions of years.

    • I would disagree with you on the authorship of Hebrews, since the Author of hebrews appears dependent on the LXX, but I would submit that this is less a definition of faith than a description of faith. We all have faith in something – our senses, our ability to reason, etc. Faith is not outside of reason, but outside of the aforementioned faith in our senses, existence, etc., science is outside of faith.

      As to your issues with my definition, by your standards, Gould is not an Evolutionist, and most Creationists are evolutionists (since we also assume changes, though we assume that change is more typically negative – a loss of flexibility and information in descendants along with errors, and we view this as beginning with a broader number of archetypes that are often called “kinds” due to the Biblical use of the term), so you reasonng doesn’t work. But what I actually said was that evolution assumed that the world came into existence through natural processes, I would not disagree that evolution focuses on biological developments, my argument is that the theory rests on a philosophical presupposition that is outside of the realm of science to prove or disprove, and this presupposition means that evolution is better understood as a point of philosophy that applies scientific data to a given worldview.

  2. I indicated on another blog that the use of the neologism “Evolutionist” is a hindrance to being taken seriously. I will grant that you do not, at least, go one step further and call people who accept the Grand Synthesis of descent with variation “Evilutionists”. Scientific theories are not “isms” like communism or conservatism, but evolution would indeed be an “ism” if it in fact did require an assumption about the origin of the world. If human beings created a race of replicating machines, those machines would be subject to natural selection just as we are, and whether they realized they were an artificial life form or thought they had emerged spontaneously from :”goo” would have absolutely no bearing on the bald fact that they replicated with errors and those errors are subsequently tried for fitness in the ambient environment, resulting in a wide variety of species.

    • This again is begging the question.

      My Argument is that naturalists, due to the nature of their beliefs, began to confuse their philosophy with science in a more technical sense.

      I use the term evolutionists because my core contention is that evolution is not science – this is where I differ from Ken Ham, though I appreciate much of his work. Ken Ham argues that Scientific Creationism is as much a scientific approach as Evolution is. My argument is that neither are science, both are elements of worldview, or to put it more technically religion.

      • The technical term is descent with variation, which even you admit occurs against baramins. Darwin’s ideas were merged with Mendel’s and is now called the Grand Synthesis. It is a superb theory with so much observational support that I hardly know where to begin. If you believe it is a religion and not a science that is your choice and I cannot do much about that. But if you have a more specific claim (let us say an alternate explanation of the trilobyte strata) then I will attempt to answer that.

      • Actually, I would suggest you consider it an mull it over. My work with the definition of religion has been over the past decade, and is based on comparing philosophical and theological approaches to epistemology and ontology, and discovering that the systems that the label religious was used arbitrarily, and the rest has been worked out logically from there.

      • If it helps in understanding where I come from, maybe I can break it down this where, there is data, and there is extrapolation from this data. Everyone recognizes that Creation science (which I will admit I believe is misnamed, on the grounds I myself am arguing, but if I make up a new name in an already crowded field, I only add confusion in an attempt to clarify), extrapolates and interprets data on the basis of a pre-existing worldview. My contention is that evolution does precisely the same thing, the difference is that naturalists tend to be a little more sloppy in delineating the presuppositions and worldview and distinguishing it from the pure scientific method.

        What little I have found from Karl Popper (I’ve read him primarily in others, I can’t locate a library locally that carries his works) indicates that his assessment of evolution as a metaphysical research project would indicate that he might be working from the same vein that I am, though in reverse.

        I’ve enjoyed the conversation (what I could do between preparing a lesson as a sub, work, and some of next weeks work for the blog), I’m not sure where this goes without starting to move in circles, but I hope it at least gives you some food for thought.

  3. I find that in the total absence of any actual evidence for the existence of God, many believers prefer to focus on 1) Metaphysical arguments (variations on the ontological argument and other assorted similar word salads), 2) Apologetics based on variations of CS Lewis’ Trilemma (Liar, Lunatic, or Lord), and 3) Definitions of True Christian, atheist, agnostic, dogmatic atheists, critical atheists, deists, etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseam. I’m not interested in attacking religious beliefs except where they interfere with my liberties or are put forward as historical or scientific truths to be imposed on public school curricula. Scripture, however, is not a belief, it’s something tangible that can be analyzed for self-consistency, and that’s where my main interest lies.

  4. On Karl Popper, it is perhaps fitting that he, as a Lutheran by baptism, reformed the scientific method much as Luther reformed the Church, but your Popper quote came long before the following one, which can be retrieved at http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA211_1.html

    “I still believe that natural selection works in this way as a research programme. Nevertheless, I have changed my mind about the testability and the logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation. My recantation may, I hope, contribute a little to the understanding of the status of natural selection.”

    • I knew of the later, though my source indicates that this was possibly due to political pressure – but your piece and my source both failed to note the specific reasons of Popper’s recantation, the fact of his statement’s either way is useful, but what I really want is the underlying logic on both ends, still looking for his books on the point.

      As I have no issues with natural selection, I don’t see where even I would disagree with this statement since it is specifically limited to natural selection. My problem is that with the pepper moth experiment in England, at the end of the day they were still pepper moths. Natural selection was proven, but the conclusions drawn begged the question of whether natural selection was sufficiently strong to explain the diversity of life on earth.

      • You seem to require a coarse-grain result, at the species level, and disregard that biologists also study how natural selection affects the genetic makeup of creatures on a fine-grain level within species, “allele frequencies” and all that. Mutation is not the only mechanism for changes at that level, there is “genetic drift” which is like the gametes reaching into a jar of M&Ms when they are created through meiosis and getting a different selection each time, and these changes are also weeded out though natural selection, but on a time horizon much shorter than coarse-grained speciation.

      • Actually I would say the family level not the species level – creationism accepts change, mutation and a loss of information in the genome by natural selection – to demonstrate evolution you would need to see change that is inconsistent with creationism.

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