Does religion blur understanding of evolution?

Victor Stenger has a short, but important, blog post in the Huffington Post. Appropriately (because it’s about evolutionary science) dated February 12 – Darwin Day, 204th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth.

Stenger’s article, No Belief Gap, considers Gallup Poll data on the numbers of American who accept evolutionary science and who believe in a god. But in contrast to some commentators, he differentiates between those who see evolution as guided by their god or as a so-called “naturalistic” process – defined in the polls as: “Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life [and] God had no part in the process.”

This is, of course, what we mean by evolutionary science. Guidance by gods, goblins, elves or whatever is not part of that science. (Nor is it currently part of any other science). The distinction is important and it is no accident that some religious apologists like Alvin Plantinga  misrepresent the issue and are trying to create the impression that “divine” guidance is an essential part of evolutionary science (see Naturalism and science are incompatible).

Stenger finds of those accepting a proper definition of evolutionary science:

“This is exactly the same percentage of Americans who declare themselves unaffiliated with any religion.

“It may be that the only Americans who accept naturalist evolution are those who do not participate in any organized religion.”

His last comment:

“Virtually all Christians who accept that species evolve, contrary to the Bible that they believe is the word of God, think evolution is God-guided. This is not Darwinian evolution. God-guided evolution is intelligent design creationism. How many American Christians believe in evolution, as it is understood by science? The data indicate none.”

Could we draw the same conclusion about New Zealand Christians? I would be interested to see similar poll data for our country.

See also: A specious argument for the comity of evolution and faith

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38 responses to “Does religion blur understanding of evolution?

  1. In any such survey you would have to be very careful with phrasing of questions.

    For example, I believe in ‘intelligent design’, the ‘evolution of species’, and ‘young-earth creationism’. (And you thought they were non-overlapping magisteria?).

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  2. I believe in ‘intelligent design’, the ‘evolution of species’, and ‘young-earth creationism’. (And you thought they were non-overlapping magisteria?).

    No, not non-overlapping magisteria, I think the first and last that you list are simply nonsense, believed by the slow of wit.

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  3. I think any such poll should ask the question of belief in a god-guided process – after carefully pointing out that the science does not include such a process.

    So, Ross, I conclude you do not accept evolutionary science.

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  4. So, Ross, I conclude you do not accept evolutionary science.

    How did you conclude that Ken?

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  5. Because young earth creation and intelligent design assumes some sort of activity by a god – evolutionary science doesn’t.

    In contrast if you accepted evolutionary science you would not be postulating any guidance by a god. That’s just not part of the science as we know it currently.

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  6. I can’t speak for Ross, but I read his comment as a way of constructing poll questions rather than his personal view on evolutionary science.

    When he said “I believe..” he was referring to the questions, not inferring the first person.

    Did I get that right, Ross?

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  7. Both.

    1. I find most crev/evo survey questions to be significantly flawed.
    2. Knowledgeable YECs believe in natural selection and significant speciation (‘micro-evolution’, if you will). We just don’t believe the ‘General Theory of Evolution’ which includes abiogenesis (some will disagree) and ‘Common Descent’.

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  8. Ross’s position is ludicrous.
    There is no evidence for an intelligent designer beyond wishful thinking, no evidence whatsoever for a young earth and further, the extant evidence for the “evolution of the species” points well away from the earth being young.

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  9. Ross – the key question is do you see evolution as a natural process, like all the other things science has investigated ,or “guided” by your god?

    That’s what the questions need to determine.

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  10. That’s what the questions need to determine

    Why?

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  11. Micro-evolution is a system designed by God. It runs ‘naturally’ with all outcomes foreseen by God.

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  12. Phil – because the question we are trying to answer is does the responder accept evolutionary science – not a bastardised version of the science.

    Ross, then you want to include “divine” guidance within the “science” – without any evidence for it – just, as Plantinga relies on, logical possibility?

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  13. Ken, do you accept the science that requires a multiple universe in order to explain the probability of life on earth? Do you accept this theory,that has no evidence for it, but is just an act of faith! I.e faith based Science?

    I don’t really have any strong feelings on the topic, just asking a question though.

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  14. Phil – no. And it’s a diversion.

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  15. Is it a diversion? I thought this was part of the Teachings of Dawkins

    I could be confused though. This site claims that Dawkins and Sagan accept the Multiverse theory

    http://www.asktheatheists.com/questions/1322-does-the-multiverse-theory-have-scientif/

    So I am interested to know if your beliefs differ from the teachings of Dawkins, and why.

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  16. Phil, I think we have been into the “belief” question before.
    But would you care to explain specifically what you question has to do with this particular interpretation if evolutionary science – the claim of “divine” guidance instead of a natural process?

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  17. Like I say, I don’t really have strong opinions on this topic, but it appears to me that Dawkins et al seem to make some very tenuous claims in order to rationalize their so called science based evidence.

    This is why I generally stay away from the argument, especially as it doesn’t really affect anyone which way you think on the subject, as long as kids are brought up to have an open and enquiring mind.

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  18. Phil, you are confused. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist – not a cosmologist. He freely admits he has not the scientific skills to do that sort of research or comment authoritatively on it. He has commented on the anthropic and multiverse ideas in a general way quite independently of his biological speciality.

    Check out people like Krauss for a more informed opinion.

    The multiverse ideas are speculative and have been advanced by cosmologists. Nothing to do with biology – they arise from current ideas about formation of the universe and symmetry breaking in its early stages. No one holds to these speculative ideas (they are not “theories”) as a matter of faith – and some question if any evidence could be found to test these ideas. Others suggest there is already evidence in the cosmic microwave background radiation. More expect that when we are able to detect and measure gravity waves we many well be able to check out the ideas.

    Most consider the universe we already know about is so immense we have plenty to go on with without worrying about others.

    Speculation is an important part of creative science but we do understand the difference between speculative ideas and scientific theory. Do you?

    You still have not explained the relevance – why do you think evolutionary science should be dependent on such a speculative idea? No one else seems to.

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  19. I can’t comment. I am not a biologist or a cosmologist.

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  20. Phil, your ignorance on the subjects didn’t seem to hold you back when you claimed:

    “the science that requires a multiple universe in order to explain the probability of life on earth?”

    Rather wasted diversion, eh?

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  21. It is not a wasted diversion.

    What is the purpose here?

    I thought it was an interesting discussion as Dawkins is interested in it.
    Of course, you might not be interested. That is your problem. But I am interested in multiverse theories and string theory and Higgs bosons and lots of cool stuff that Brian Cox does on tv.

    Especially given that he was in a boy band and girls think he is gorgeous. Good for science wouldn’t you say? Better than an endorsement from Cameron Diaz or Eddie Izzard. At least he has a degree or three.

    But is that digressing?

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  22. Of course all these things are interesting, Phil. And I have often written about them here. I have specifically reviewed books on multiverse ideas.

    But you screwed up on their relevance to evolutionary science – as far as I can see.

    You are of course welcome to develop the idea – but please stop making wild claims about Dawkins, etc. They don’t help you.

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  23. Well, if I screwed up then I apologize, but I thought that there was plenty of material on Dawkins and the Multiverse theory.

    For example

    http://onehundredanswers.blogspot.co.nz/2011/05/richard-dawkins-on-multiverse-theory.html

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  24. Perhaps you should try formulating a comment or question yourself, Phil, instead of random links. A lot of people come out with absolute rubbish about Dawkins.

    Why do you think multiverse ideas have any relevance to evolutionary science? What specifically are you questioning?

    In your own words, now. And leave Dawkins out of it. Just comment on the relevance or otherwise of these ideas to evolutionary science.

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  25. So who is this “Ross” fellow?

    Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Other interests: Computers, Science (incl. evolution & AGW hoaxes)

    The evolution AND AGW hoaxes?
    Colour me surprised. Not.

    For example, I believe in ‘intelligent design’, the ‘evolution of species’, and ‘young-earth creationism’.

    Young Earth Creationism?
    Ah, so you manage to see throught the Age of the Earth “hoax” too?
    Oh goody.
    So tell us…how old do you think the Earth is?
    Give us a number then.

    Knowledgeable YECs…

    Now there’s an oxymoron for you.

    We just don’t believe the ‘General Theory of Evolution’ which includes abiogenesis (some will disagree)…

    Yeah, those “some” being the scientific community.
    (shrug)

    Micro-evolution is a system designed by God. It runs ‘naturally’ with all outcomes foreseen by God.

    Ah, the gift that keeps on giving…
    Micro-evolution is a system designed by Allah. It runs ‘naturally’ with all outcomes foreseen by Allah.
    Micro-evolution is a system designed by The Flying Spaghetti Monster. It runs ‘naturally’ with all outcomes foreseen by The Flying Spaghetti Monster.
    Micro-evolution is a system designed by Thor. It runs ‘naturally’ with all outcomes foreseen by Thor.

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  26. When he said “I believe..” he was referring to the questions, not inferring the first person.
    Did I get that right, Ross?

    Evidently not.

    Ken, do you accept the science that requires a multiple universe…

    Wow. That came out of nowhere.

    Is it a diversion? I thought this was part of the Teachings of Dawkins
    I could be confused though.

    Could be, could be. Very confused indeed.

    Perhaps you should try formulating a comment or question yourself, Phil, instead of random links.

    Now there’s an idea.

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  27. The question I am formulating is, that in order to have a probability of life on earth that all things are correctly aligned etc, several scholars have claimed that there are multiple universes with different properties. Ours just happens to be the one that is right for supporting life.

    If there is only one universe, then the proability of it supporting life are vanishingly small.

    I am not claiming that this is correct, jat that this is a theory proposed by scientists and philosophers.

    Do you agree that this is a theory proposed and that it is relevant to evolution, or do you think that it is unnceccasy and we can rely on evolution based on a faith based approach to science?

    Just a thought or two.

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  28. Just a thought or two.

    Sounds familiar, an earlier troll using this as a sign off disgraced himself spectacularly.

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  29. Phil, you have that arse about face – possibly because you are giving too much credence to the description presented by religious apologists.

    The multiverse ideas are not theories as in the sense of scientific theories.. Scientific theories are collections of facts and detailed explanatory mechanisms widely supported by evidence (but of course open to modification as new evidence comes in).

    So the multiverse ideas are not scientific theories – they are speculations. Lets be clear about that.

    My understanding of the questions:

    1: One version of the multiverse ideas arises from hypotheses about formation of the universe. Of course again we are largely left with speculation (but pretty detailed speculation) about the first instants as our current knowledge does not stretch to such situations. But the original formation of what we call our universe could be just one of many, at the same time or at different periods of time. The rapid expansion of space (much faster than the speed of light) thought to occur at the beginning would mean we have no way of either detecting other universes or being influenced by them. However, some scientists argue for “fossil” evidence in the background microwave radiation of our universe.

    It could be just a matter of realising that our universe is far bigger than we currently think – we have been there before with galaxies and “island universes.”

    2: It could be that there other universes, or other regions of our universe, which have the same physical properties and physical laws we are already familiar with. It could be that other universe have different properties and physical laws, although we don’t know if it is possible for universes with other properties and laws to exist. We can be sure that there are at least some limitations as many values of physical constants would actually prevent survival of such universes.

    I think the ideas of different values for physical constant arises from symmetry breaking at early times in the speculated ideas of universe formation. But they also come from a different approach in “string theory” (again a misnomer as it is recognised not to be a scientific theory but a speculative hypothesis – or many speculative hypotheses).

    3: To claim “If there is only one universe, then the proability of it supporting life are vanishingly small” is typical of the statistical tricks played by religious apologists. I think we can be pretty sure that the possibility of life in any region of our universe (the one we already know) is vanishingly small. Consider our solar system – take the ratio of the volume of our earth (which as far as we know is the only local region with life) to the volume of the solar system. You will get a vanishingly small number. Extend that to the whole of the visible universe, allowing for life on a good number of planets, and the ratio is ever smaller. Even smaller if you are going to include other speculated universes.

    So the possibility of life existing in any local region of our universe is “vanishingly small.” Yet we know life exists here – so much for “vanishingly small probabilities.” Your chance of winning lotto is “vanishingly small” but we know there are winners.

    4: The religious apologists are arguing that the chance of our universe forming with the current values of physical constants is remote – but never justify that. It is not possible that symmetry breaking will lead to existence of universe with any old value for yhe physical constants. There may be huge limitations on possible values. Many values we already know would not allow viable universes. Perhaps the values we see are the only possible ones? Or, as Stenger has shown by computer simulation, a significant proportion of values produce universes conducive to possibility of life.

    5: Religious apologists rely heavily on “fine tuning” – the idea that either the universe could not exist, or it could but it would not be conducive to life, if the values of a number of physical constants varied by extremely small amounts. They rely on motivated logic and distorting of acts to get to that conclusion – here are a few flaws.

    A: Many of the fine tuning examples are misrepresented. For example, Hoyle’s original suggestion of fine tuning of nuclear resonance energies required for formation of carbon has been shown exaggerated. More recent knowledge indicates a wider range produces the same level of carbon, and an even wider range if other amounts of carbon are acceptable.

    The “fine tuning” of the cosmological instant (claimed one part in 10 to 120 power) is a complete misrepresentation arrived at by misusing another number.

    Some other fine tuning examples arise not because of units chosen – as for example the speed of light.

    B: Currently we just don”t know why some physical constants have the values they do – let alone if different values are even possible (remember “string theory” is speculation, not scientific theory). But ignorance is hardly a new situation and does give us plenty of things to work on. The frustrating issue is that at this level of physics technological limitations (eg energy available with colliders) hinders our research.

    6: Finally, all this speculation about formation of the universe (an area where ignorance prevails) does not place restrictions on current scientific theories. Evolutionary science does not include any assumptions about such things – any more than the mechanics of building bridges, floating boats or making roads (of course everything must exist before any of these are possible but such questions are never considered part of the theories involved). No one considers “fine tuning” arguments in developing theories of hydrodynamics yet surely the nucleosynthesis of oxygen is just as important here as the nucleosynthesis of carbon in biology.

    It is silly to call science “faith-based” just because it doesn’t include such far-flung ideas in its theories. That a very much a religious apologist argument aimed at discrediting science.

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  30. You seem quite keen on labeling people “religious apologists”

    I’m just trying to point out that some of our science is pretty tenuous (at least you agree on the cosmology aspect)

    By the way, the chance of winning Lotto is not vanishingly small.

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  31. Have you ever won lotto, Phil? Perhaps I should have said my chances were “vanishingly small” rather than yours. Yet most weeks someone wins. There is a difference.

    Religious apologist is not a derogatory label – they use the name to describe themselves. And they do use arguments you seem to be happy about.

    Some scientific speculation may well be pretty tenuous. evolutionary science is not. Nor is it faith-based – a term you seem to be keen in using, but are using quite inappropriately.

    So hopefully now we have disposed of these silly multiverse excuses.

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  32. You seem quite keen on labeling people “religious apologists”.

    (…audience shuffles nervously in their seats…)

    Phil? The “religious apologists” thing? You really should google it for yourself first.

    “Apologetics (from Greek ἀπολογία, “speaking in defense”) is the discipline of defending a position (often religious) through the systematic use of information. Early Christian writers (c. 120–220) who defended their faith against critics and recommended their faith to outsiders were called apologists.
    The term apologetics etymologically derives from the Classical Greek word apologia. (…) This Classical Greek term appears in the Koine (i.e. common) Greek of the New Testament. The Apostle Paul employs the term apologia in his trial speech to Festus and Agrippa when he says “I make my defense” (Acts 26:2). A cognate term appears in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians as he is “defending the gospel” (Philippians 1:7 & 16), and in 1 Peter 3:15 believers must be ready to give an “answer” for their faith. The word also appears in the negative in Romans 1:20: unbelievers are αναπολόγητοι (anapologētoi) (without excuse, defense, or apology) for rejecting the revelation of God in creation.(…)
    Christian apologetics combines Christian theology, natural theology, and philosophy to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, to defend the faith against objections and misrepresentation, etc,etc…”
    (Wikipedia)

    I’m just trying to point out that some of our science is pretty tenuous…

    Even worse, science doesn’t know everything.
    Now get in the sack.

    Dara O’Briain: Science doesn’t know everything

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  33. Phil, the problem lies in that you’re focussing on irrelevancies. West we face is one universe to observe, and we’re asking ourselves how it could have come about. In our quest for understanding we’ve come to a great variety of ideas a to how it did come about, from gods to the multiverse. What you’re thinking about is the likelihood of all these processes producing our specific universe. But our universe already exists, it’s not a question of chance anymore. We don’t need to look for some proces that must produce our universe, only for one that plausibly can. Sure, the multiverse is one of those, buy it’s certainly not the only.

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  34. My money is on turtles, all the way.

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  35. Phil you claim:

    “I generally stay away from the argument, especially as it doesn’t really affect anyone which way you think on the subject, as long as kids are brought up to have an open and enquiring mind.”

    And yet you are now putting money on turtles!

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  36. I was joking, Ken

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  37. So was I, Phil.

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  38. Haha, not enough LOLs and smiley faces. Too subtle for me.

    Like

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