Atheism and the Evolution Requirement
|May 24, 2011||Posted by nullasalus under Atheism, Darwinism, Evolution|
One of the major difficulties I have as someone with one foot planted in the theistic evolution camp is discussing the general concept of evolution or Darwinism.
A large part of the problem is with the simple definition of the words – where one person takes Darwinism to mean “a process totally unguided and unforeseen by God in anyway”, another means “a process of variation and selection, where both variation and selected may be or (with some TEs) in fact were ultimately or proximately guided and foreseen by God”, still another means “a process of variation and selection, where the ultimate causes of variation and selection are not considered because that’s outside of science” to otherwise, etc. Navigating this is a headache, and one that constantly reappears.
But another conceptual problem is this: The claim that atheism and evolution are utterly intertwined. Now, this comes in a few forms. Sometimes the claim is that if evolution is true – let’s say, if it’s true that the first man had biological precursors – then theism must be false. More popular is the claim that theism and evolution can both be true, but theism can also withstand the falsity of evolution. Atheism, on the other hand, has a dire link to evolution: If atheism is true, then evolution must be true.
This latter view seems popular, both in and out of the ID tent. And it’s a view I deeply disagree with. My reasons follow below the cut.
Before I start in on this, I want to stress that there’s a related, more obvious claim that I’m not denying: That evolution, particularly Darwinism, is used to support atheism, and used to attack certain particular religious claims (that humanity and all life was created fully formed is the obvious example.) Likewise, I’m not denying that atheists make appeals to evolution to support their atheism, or that some would even agree that if atheism is true then evolution must be true. I think they’re as wrong as the theists who make this claim.
What I deny is this: That the assumed truth of atheism makes evolution logically necessary. All you need is a single example of a logically possible world where both atheism is true and evolution is false, and the logical necessity disappears. Here’s a sample of some possibilities.
* Humanity and all living things have been reproducing, producing only like kinds, unto eternity.
* The existence of at least humanity and possibly all other life is simply a brute fact: At some point in the finite or infinite past, humanity and/or life showed up without cause or explanation. They just are.
* Humanity and/or other life popped into existence in a Boltzmann Brain style scenario – one day they just appeared, sans precursors, by utter fortuity.
* Humanity and/or other life was directly caused to exist by a combination of laws and states-of-affairs that are/were themselves brute and inexplicable, yet which for no reason made the sudden appearance of these organisms inevitable.
This list could be expanded in numerous ways: Make the laws of nature subject to inexplicable change if you want. Increase the length of the brute fact chain. Fill the natural world with suspiciously convenient, detailed, life- or human-spawning processes that create directly rather than rely on selection and variation. All this and more are logically compatible with the truth of atheism. And it only takes one compatibility to show that no, evolution and atheism aren’t quite linked that way.
Now, as I said previously, this doesn’t mean that atheists don’t regularly present evolution as some kind of testament to the truth of atheism – but that’s deeply problematic. First, insofar as it relies on the claim that evolution must be true on atheism, it’s open to the same counter-examples I just provided. Second, I’d argue that the rhetorical strengths atheists are often granted by evolution typically derive most of their strength from their opposition to very narrow, particular religious claims – if a theist adheres to an account of origins such that organisms were made whole and without precursors, then an evolutionary account of such organisms is a challenge. But if a theist believes that God could have or did use evolutionary processes in creation, the bulk of the force of the evolutionary argument – in and of itself – dissipates. Insofar as this is true, evolution doesn’t function as an evidence for atheism as much as evidence against some particular claim of one religious view – but theism itself, and religion broadly, does not require the falsity of evolution anyway.
But one problem I have with this misunderstanding is this: It gives credit where credit simply isn’t due.