Friday, October 21, 2005

Evolution and Religion

I recently attended a day long seminar at Wits University, titled The Story of Life - A new perspective on South Africa's 3.5 billion year fossil record. It was a large event - there must have been about a thousand people who attended. There were 18 lectures from prominent South African palaeontologists, geologists, geneticists, and archaeologists, who sketched out what science currently knows about the origins and evolution of life. It was absolutely fascinating, and confirms - for me at least - the wealth of evidence and data that currently supports evolutionary theory.

The seminars fuelled some of my own thinking on the perceived tension between religion and evolutionary theory. The more I learn about evolution, the more I fail to understand why there is tension at all. I, for one, strongly believe - and have for sometime - that evolutionary theory does not prove or disprove the existence of God. Any atheist or agnostic who claims that God does not exist because of evolutionary theory is using a faulty argument - evolutionary theory only tries to explain the changes that we observe in living organisms, including humans, over time. It makes no claims at all about the supernatural.

Moreover, there are many Christians - referred to as theistic evolutionists - who have no problem at all with evolution. From what I understand, theistic evolutionists believe that God created life, and he guided evolution to bring about man. In fact, when I was still a Christian at university, studying Botany, I had come to accept evolution in animals and plants, although I still had reservations about human evolution at the time.

I should also note that evolution had nothing to do with my struggle and eventual journey away from Christianity - this was a result of other philosophical problems that I had with my faith. I think that, if I were still a Christian, I would have finally accepted evolution in its entirety. I believe that evolution is compatible with a belief in God - it only presents a problem for those who hold a literal interpretation of the bible.

So this means that I will never use the argument that proof of evolution disproves the existence of God. Likewise, if creationists ever convince me that evolution is false, I will not automatically accept this as proof of God's existence. I believe that God's existence does not depend on the proof or disproof of evolutionary theory at all.


Shmanky said...

I think it's more about picking a side, like being against or in favour of abortion, or capital punishment, etc. You're either in the pro or anti evolution camp, and that's the end of it.

Anonymous said...

It's true that evolution makes no claim about the supernatural, but that's because evolution has no need to make any claims on the supernatural. It works perfectly well without it.

Certainly evolution does not disprove the existence of God but this is simply because by approaching the matter this way you are talking about proving a negative - like proving that fairies don't exist. However, look at the question the other way and ask - what support for the existence of God does evolution provide?

I suggest the answer is, 'none whatever'. Evolution demonstrates how a simple chemical soup can be a source of today's biological complexity without recourse to any divine or supernatural intervention.

So what evolution says about God is "if he exists you'll have to look for him in the pre-primaeval soup stage because that's outside evolution's field."

So evolution 'proves'that if you're looking for God you'll need to start looking at the cosmology that created the primeaval soup. And as best I understand the cosmologists will say, 'well, we don't actually need God either and haven't found him anywhere in our field so you'd better go talk to the theoretical physisicists who are looking at where our cosmology came from."

And so on.

Now I assume you've been a little slap-dash and by 'God' mean only the Christian god rather than, say, Vishnu who is, as I understand it, rather more 'hands off' in his relations with the world than Jehovah. Given this definition it seems to me that while his absence from evolution, cosmology, physics, geology &tc. doesn't conclusively prove God's non-existance it amount to pretty pursuasive evidence in that direction just as the utter absence of any credible evidence for the existence of fairies suggests that, regrettably, they don't exist either.

What evolution also does is to blow huge holes in the credibility of the only evidence 'for' the existence of (the Christian) God, aka the Bible, so for this member of the jury anyway, the case for his non-existence is not only proved beyond the balance of probabilities, it's beyond reasonable doubt!