Writing at Slate, Jacob Weisberg dissents from the chorus of culture war peacemakers asserting that theology and evolution can be friends. It probably is better in in the short term if religious people think that the two are compatible so they stop trying to torpedo public school science curricula (pending the move to a fully voucherized system, at least) for fear of creeping secularism. But Weisberg’s doubtless right.
Sure, evolution doesn’t in any strict, logical sense exclude the possiblity of religious guidance… but it does make it otiose. One might, after all, believe the modern meteorological explanation for thunderstorms while still holding that Zeus or Thor “guide the process,” but it’s no accident that few people do. For someone who’s genuinely accepted a naturalistic explanation of a phenomenon, whether it’s storm fronts or the emergence of complex life, suggestions of divine guidance are apt to be met, sooner or later, with Laplace’s rejoinder: Je n’ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse.
We tend to use “faith” as a synonym for religous belief, but it seems like for lots of people, at least at the start, “faith” doesn’t have very much to do with it at all. For a lot of people, positing a deity is a pretty straightforward form of inference to the best explanation—and for a lot of our history, given the dizzying complexity of the natural world, it was scarcely an unreasonable hypothesis. Evolutionary theory is seen as a threat to religion precisely because, at least when they’re first forming their views, most people don’t rely on “faith” at all: They’re rational empiricists to a much greater degree than most secularists probably give them credit for.