While I do not believe the discussion of evolution is incumbent to the question of the existence of God, for the purposes of this blog we will consider the two as connected. Recently on some atheist forums there has been a question concerning a better angle to take when discussing evolution with creationists. Instead of the tired question, “do you believe in evolution?” it has been suggested that “do you understand evolution?” is preferable. I agree that the syntax on the first question is horrible. There are several different types of belief and there is something like nine acceptable definitions of the evolution. But then, does the second question fare better?
From an epistemological standpoint alone the question fails because the answer to any epistemological question is contingent upon basic ontology; or that, understanding of a thing does not add or detract to its efficacy or existence in the world. For example, suppose a gun fell from a plane in the midst of a pre-industrial village. If the villagers managed to understand the device or not, its efficacious existence is contingent on neither their comprehension of the device or not.
Since knowledge of a thing does not aid in that things existence, what else should we consider about this second question? From a semantic standpoint, the second question “begs the question.” What I mean is, those who ask such a thing are obviously presupposing the answer. Or that, anyone who asks the question is essentially saying, “You disagree with evolution because you do not understand it. If you did understand it your belief concerning a creator would change.” This is worth examination.
My previously mentioned “translation” seems to be the driving intent of the question. The epistemological problem, the motives and question begging aside there is still a myriad of problems with this question. I wish to focus on two primary problems (which really is one criticism in two parts), one the ineffectiveness of full acceptance and the nature of “believing/understanding in evolution.”
What I mean by “the full acceptance” problem is, suppose that someone fully accepted every tenant of Darwinian evolution, would this result in atheism necessarily? In no way! Evolution is not a relatively new concept, there are Greek texts referring to various aspects of evolution. Darwin simply applied scientific methodology, terminology, and observation to pre-existing evolutionary thought. He was an Avant-garde in many senses, but by no means as the creator of the concept. However, these concepts were readily available and welcomed by atheism because until this date there was no real intellectual justification for atheism. While there were various philosophical arguments questioning the goodness or intent of God, the arguments for God vastly outweighed the arguments against Him. But with Darwinian evolution, it was a chance for the atheist to, in her mind, be truly intellectually justified in denying God’s existence.
Darwinian evolution seems to be the intellectual rallying cry of atheists but this is misguided. Darwin himself was not an atheist. One would think that if the creator of a school of thought does not reach the supposed necessary conclusion that is purported by other followers, one would not be justified in concluding the result is unnecessary—if Darwin was not an atheist, Darwinian evolution does not necessarily mean that God does not exist.
Further, not only does Darwinian evolution not necessitate atheism, but it is theoretically possible (and there are instances of it) of someone holding both to Darwinian evolution and being a theist (or even a Christian). While it seems most atheists or Christians are neither satisfied with this middle ground approach (both see it as an unjustified compromise) its existence is nonetheless proof that full acceptance does not necessarily entail atheism.
My second criticism concerning fundamental problems with the idea of “belief/understanding of evolution” is within the same vein of my first criticism. While the belief or understanding of evolution does not necessary point one toward atheism, I believe this can be taken to a further degree and maintain that by its very nature, evolution is merely advocated not because of its intellectual preeminence, but merely because it presents a possible alternative to God. A famous quotation by Arthur Keith renowned evolutionary scientist claims, “Evolution is unproved and unprovable. We believe it because the only alternative is special creation, and that is unthinkable.” There have been some questions as to the validity of this quotation but it is hardly an outlier belief. D.M.S Watson, a zoologist said, “the theory of evolution itself, a theory universally accepted not because it be can proved by logically coherent evidence to be true but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.” The previous two examples are somewhat dated, but this line of thinking is by no means limited to yesterday, Harvard Biology professor George Walls said, “I choose however to believe that which is impossible (Darwinian Evolution) rather than accept the unthinkable – special creation.”
While the question of Darwinian evolution really has very little to do with the question of God, even if it did its efficacy is not contingent upon comprehension, acceptance, and in no way necessitates atheism. At best it is a hope of intellectually justification for atheism, and this justification seems to be clung to not because of its intellectual prowess but because of the unwanted alternative, special creation.