Christianity and evolution – the real problem

The problem in the debate between Christianity and evolution is not really scientific at all but rather philosophical. We need to distinguish between ‘science’, which is a discipline, and ‘scientism’, which is a philosophical stance. Christians too often try to attack some of the results of science, when what we really should be attacking is scientism.

Scientism is basically the belief that, for every phenomenon in the world, a scientific explanation is both necessary and sufficient. That is, if you can explain something by using science, then every other type of explanation is ruled out. This idea was taken up by the atheistic proponents of evolution in the nineteenth century, who proclaimed that, since Darwin’s theory could explain the origin of life, then all other explanations (especially the Bible’s creation account) were both unnecessary and also incorrect. Unfortunately, the majority of their Christian opponents (e.g. the American fundamentalists) didn’t challenge this assumption but rather took it on board and (unwittingly) assumed it themselves! So the task of the Christians became the disproving of evolution, because if evolution was right then God must not exist. This is nicely summed up in Douglas Adams’ satire on the science/religion debate which concludes with God saying ‘Oh dear, I hadn’t thought of that’ and promptly vanishing in a puff of logic. (from ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’).

But scientism really is quite flawed. For example, just because I could analyse and completely describe to you the chemical constituents of the ink and paper of the books in your bookshelf doesn’t mean that what’s actually WRITTEN in the books is meaningless! I can’t ultimately analyse what’s written in the books scientifically, by doing experiments on them. I have to analyse them by reading them! So the scientific explanation, while it may be helpful and true as far as it goes, is not the only explanation of things. It may not even be the most helpful explanation of certain things (e.g. books), and it certainly doesn’t rule out other explanations (e.g. literary, historical, theological). If evolutionary theory did happen to be right, or partially right, then this would not rule God out at all.

Christians should be challenging scientism rather than putting all of our eggs in the basket of disproving evolutionary theory. If we can show that a scientific explanation for something doesn’t necessarily remove a theological explanation, then the heat is off both sides. Christians don’t have to go to the stake against evolution, and atheists don’t have to go to the stake for it. There is room for more rational assessment of evolutionary theory. Opponents of evolution can point out some of its problems in the various evolutionary theories that exist today, while proponents can accept that these problems exist without it becoming a major issue.

However, scientism won’t go away so easily, because actually, the real problem is not even philosophical. The real problem is rebellion against God. Real people in the real world don’t disbelieve because of evolution. Rather they use evolution as an excuse for their unbelief, and unwittingly adopt the flawed assumptions of scientism in doing so. The solution isn’t to attack science, but to show that our rebellion is real but has been paid for by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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