Reconciling Evolution and Religion

Teilhard de Chardin tried this feat without success. Many other scientists (Stephen Jay Gould included) have tried to paper over the conflict between evolution and religion by stating that science explains only how life evolved, not how it got there in the first place. These scientists are not doing their jobs. They obscure the fact that evolution does indeed deal with the origin of life, and the place of the human species within the cosmos. These are areas of human knowledge that religion has also laid claim to.

These scientists may be doing this to get more public funding by appealing to religious sensibilities. However, they need to start talking sense to the American populace, whose political discourse is strikingly myopic due to its high levels of scientific illiteracy and religiosity. These are the conditions under which a Creationist yokel, such as Mike Huckabee, could confidently say in a presidential debate that he rejects evolution, and then not be laughed off the stage.

In fact, these obscurantist scientists are partly responsible for some of most unctuous arguments coming from religious institutions. The late Pope John Paul II said evolution was compatible with Catholic dogma. This ingenuous claim, and many like it, fall apart once one looks closer at the claims religion has made about the nature of reality. The papering over of the conflict between evolution and religion (done both by scientists and theologians) has allowed several non-scientific views to arise.

One of them is a false middle ground (between Creationism and naturalistic evolution) known as ‘theistic evolution,’ in which a god somehow guides the process. Usually this version appeals to religious moderates (even the ones who consider themselves devout). What they do not recognize is that evolution does not need help from their religion in the same way that explaining the boiling of water does not. They probably feel the nagging need to put their god somewhere in their otherwise rational view of science (or else he might have nowhere else to fit). As Sam Harris said in a speech, “Given the gaps in science, and given the elasticity of religious thinking, it will always be possible to reconcile the most gratuitous nonsense with our modern scientific worldview.”

However, the beauty and essence of evolutionary theory is that it is the only one that can explain its own beginning (and end) without needing to insert some “skyhook.” It is a vital piece in the puzzle of the understanding of our world. Adding religious ideas to evolution cheapens it, makes it non-scientific, and strips it of its awesome explanatory power. I daresay, it is even more wonderful and astounding to know that we arose not as part of some grand cosmic scheme — but as part of a completely unintentional, mindless process called natural selection. We are very fortunate to end up here unplanned. It is highly unlikely (probably impossible) that if we started the universe over, we would have evolved again. What a great opportunity Mother Nature (evolution) has given us to explore and marvel at this cosmos. We should take full advantage of it, now that we are here.

Accepting the theory of evolution erodes religious thinking in a zero-sum way. It erodes the concept that we have souls, that we are the chosen race of a divine sculptor, that someone will always be there to look out for us (and our planet). The fact that every 100 million years or so, a large asteroid hits the Earth should alone give us pause when we consider that there must be some divine caretaker of humanity out there. As Carl Sagan wrote, “better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. And in the final tolling it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy.”

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~ by jsacc001 on March 22, 2008.

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