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Climbing Mount Unbloggable

August 15th, 2005 · No Comments

So, apparently my post below on evolution and the psychology of religious belief has kicked off a little debate over at The Panda’s Thumb. For the most part, I think Tim Sandefur’s reply says what needed to be said, but let me just add something brief about the point of the original post.

My point was emphatically not, as Nick Matzke seems to suggest, that “evolution proves atheism.” Atheism isn’t really the sort of thing one can “prove” anyway (an omnipotent being could presumably decide, perversely, to create a convincing impression of its nonexistence if it wanted, a possibility that would remain in the face of any imaginable evidence); it’s more like the null hypothesis. All one can really do in this regard is to point out that there aren’t any good reasons to believe.

Anyway, as I thought I’d said explicitly there, I’m not claiming that evolution, any more than meteorology, directly logically entails the falsehood of some kind of abstract theism—though it rather obviously doesn’t sit well with some kind of literal creation story that holds Earth is 6,000 years old and all species popped into existence in the same week. Sure, it’s logically possible that the evolutionary story is correct but God had a thumb on the mutation scale in some subtle way.

My point was a psychological one: People want an explanation for intelligent life, both because it seems more complex than the rest of the universe in a way that demands some special explanation and because we’re more intensely curious about ourselves than the formation of nebulae. Lots of belief in a God is motivated not so much by “faith” but by a sense that if “I don’t know” is uncomfortable, then God provides an answer to this nagging question. That’s why you find lots of theologians making an “argument from design” (though, as Antony Flew has pointed out, it’s really an argument to design) that focuses on biology, not on the existence of physical laws in general. Maybe if they had, we’d see textbook stickers warning kids that gravity is just a theory, to be evaluated with an open mind.

The upshot is: I wasn’t claiming evolution “proves” there’s no God; I was claiming that to the extent evolution provides an account of how we might’ve come to be that doesn’t require the God hypothesis, it removes one of the big reasons people come to adopt religious views. Call it a kind of sociological or demographic conflict: To the extent that more people accept evolution as an ever-better-confirmed account of how life works, you’re probably apt (ceteris paribus) to find rates of religious belief decline in that society.

Tags: Science