The Tragedy of Compromise: Evolution as religion

Over the last two articles in our “Tragedy of Compromise” series, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the definition of religion and the definition of science. My central contention is that during the enlightenment, philosophical naturalists began to confuse their religious views with science, and somewhere along the line, Christians began to adopt these atheistic definitions in discussions with atheists.

Naturalism contends natural law is sufficient to explain the universe. This concept is not something that has been proven either by science (by answering all of the questions possible about reality), nor has it been proven by logic. As I have noted before, this is based on an argument by David Hume’s “argument against miracles,” which is ultimately an argument to ignore evidence. Because naturalists believe science can find the answer to all of the questions about the nature of reality, they begin to confuse the philosophical evidence with the actual scientific discussion. I believe Evolution and Psychology, then, are two areas where the confusion between actual science and naturalism is most notable. Evidence revealing this confusion includes the scientific community’s discussion of Michael Behe ( our review was republished last week).

Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box is not actually an argument against evolution (though as a Christian I find much of the evidence useful in my discussion of evolution). Rather, it is an argument against atheistic evolution, and Behe is certainly open to theistic models of evolution. So, why the outcry? Behe has not misstated the facts, after all. He has merely applied the facts and suggested that natural law does not currently have an answer to the development of certain cellular structures without an intelligent designer.

Another evidence, also provided by Behe, is the reaction to the “Big Bang” theory by earlier atheistic scientists. One of the major doctrines of philosophical naturalism for centuries was that the universe has always existed – this was their answer to a particular argument for God (the Cosmological argument). The only explanation I have discovered as to why the Big Bang was so controversial in naturalistic circles (though many of them embrace the theory today), was because it questioned this basic doctrine and tenet. Einstein introduced a “correction factor” to his theory of relativity, not because of evidence, but to avoid the implications that a universe with a beginning is best explained as a created universe. He later acknowledged that this was an error (and this may have influenced his later conversion to Deism). Fred Hoyle, an astronomer, hypothesized the “steady state” theory, which indicated that hydrogen spontaneously came into existence throughout the universe – this theory has also been abandoned.

Finally, we can take note of the attitude naturalistic scientists have towards creationists. See the film Expelled for an introduction to the tactics of naturalists. After all, both Creationists and Evolutionists use a lot of conjecture in their arguments (Dawkins noted, “Creationists lack imagination” – because imagination is a key element of scientific rigor).

The idea, then, that naturalistic scientists are simply more objective than others is not as consistent as many would have us to believe. The title of this series is “the Tragedy of Compromise;” not the tragedy of evolution. We have published many articles laying the groundwork. Next time, we will apply this to our main point: attempts by believers to combine evolution with Christianity.

The Tragedy of Compromise: Science and its relationship to Religion

Last time, I began to discuss the definition of religion. In many cases, I could sum up this discussion by stating that religion, in a technical sense, is similar to the modern phrase “worldview.” Today, I want to discuss the term “science,” and how it differs from religion.

Science is the study of natural law based on observing a phenomenon, forming a hypothesis to explain that phenomenon, and then testing that hypothesis (often on the basis of something that this hypothesis has predicted) to prove or disprove the hypothesis. Science is a rigorous study, but it is also a limited one. Science, for example, cannot directly comment on grammar, history, mathematics, or for that matter, issues of religion. Science can provide information that contributes to these studies. For example, astronomy provides a great deal of information that is useful to historians in aligning ancient calendars with modern ones. Yet, one cannot make a scientific case to prove that Julius Caesar existed.

As a result, in a strict and technical sense, one needs to make a distinction between science and its applications (or as some put it, “applied science”). Forensics, for example, is not, strictly speaking, a science. A murder is a matter of history because it is an event. Forensics takes scientific data and applies it to aid the criminologist gain information, which helps the detective discern between various historical theories as to what actually happened. (For example, science has proven certain chemicals react to gunpowder that is left on someone’s hand and clothing after they shoot a firearm. An application of that fact helps detectives determine that someone has discharged a firearm). Medicine similarly is an application of science (e.g. “Chemical A affects Organism B, resulting in Reaction C” is the science. If Reaction C is desirable, then Chemical A may be applied therapeutically).

With this, then, I would suggest that I disagree with some of Ken Ham’s (a man I admire greatly for his works’ sake) recent terminology describing evolution. He currently delineates “operational science” from “historical science” (the latter being a term that he found in a secular earth sciences textbook). I agree with his central point on this matter: he is attempting to communicate precisely the same points I am, but I dislike this terminology because it fails to distinguish between science (or in Ham’s term’s “operational science”) and the application of science (“historical science”). In his first edition of “The Lie” he described the debate as the science of one religion versus the science of another. This I believe is closer, but I would amend it this way, “Creationism versus evolution is the application of science to origins on the basis of one set of religious assumptions against the application of science to origins on the basis of another set of religious assumptions” – less catchy, succinct and pithy, but technically it is more accurate.

As I noted in our last conclusion: “…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.” As I also noted: naturalism begins with Hume’s arguments against miracles. This, then, is a religious distinction between creationists and evolutionists.

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.