Perspectives: Evolution v Creationism in modern-day faith
Is it time that all religions accepted evolution as fact in line with the majority of scientists?
As part of the Perspectives series, BBC Religion and Ethics asked two contributors to BBC One's religious debate programme The Big Questions to develop some of the issues.
The Reverend Greg Haslam, from the Westminster Chapel in London, is an avowed creationist who believes the world was created by God in six days between six to 10,000 years ago.
Inayat Bunglawala is chairman of Muslims 4UK, a group which promotes Muslim engagement in Britain, and a strong believer in the evolution of man in line with accepted scientific theory.
Enemies or friends?
Inayat: According to our best current understanding, the Earth was formed around 4.5 billion years ago, that's about 10 billion years after the Big Bang.
Most modern faiths have come to accept this yet, Greg, you claim that the universe and the earth were created in six days by God around 10,000 years ago.
Just as it is important for scientists to refrain from making unsupported atheistic claims about evolution, it is also surely important that religious people refrain from making unsupported claims about issues that are within the proper domain of science.
Join the Big Bang debate:
Greg: How did the Universe come into existence? What happened to form stars? How did life commence on earth? How did humans come into existence? What processes formed fossils?
Our presuppositions shape our views on all of reality. No facts come ready-labelled. All facts are interpreted facts.
So which interpretation is true? Ours? The scientists'? Or God's? Religion and science are either enemies or friends. Which is it?
Inayat: Your initial five questions - the "how" and "what" questions - are entirely valid ones and scientists have made good progress towards answering four of them. The one about how life began, however, has to date proven much more difficult to answer and the most honest response is that at this point we do not know how life began.
End Quote Inayat Bunglawala
Blaming Darwin's theory for all sorts of evil is like blaming the printing press for Hitler's Mein Kampf”
Religion and science do not have to be enemies. Many millions of people have found that religion can help answer their deepest "why" questions - questions that science cannot answer.
Greg: Creationists are not enemies of true science and should never be afraid of the true facts, for "all truth is God's truth". Checking false claims, however, is mandatory.
Often, fictional stories are told about origins by scientists similar to Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, like "How the Elephant Got its Trunk". But no one was there to see these events or God's creation as they unfolded - let alone the alleged 14.5 billion years old "Big Bang" and 4.5 billion years ago earth formation.
Humility is therefore required, not hubris. Long ages are assumed because with evolutionists time is the hero of the plot. Anything can happen given enough time. But can it produce complex order and information if the universe is blind, purposeless - the result of an explosion, random, chaotic and undirected?
Cause and effect
Inayat: You appear to be allowing your Young Earth religious worldview to be the main criterion by which you judge whether the science about the age of the Earth is correct or not. I think that is a categorical mistake. Scientists are not all engaged in a conspiracy to undermine religion. There are many scientists who are perfectly able to reconcile their faith with science.
The scientific method relies on finding natural causes to explain natural phenomena. It has been an extremely successful enterprise to date and has helped unveil a universe far larger and more wondrous than our forebears could possibly have imagined.
What is Creationism?
- Creationists believe that all forms of life were created by God
- Some say God did this in a single event, others do not limit creation to one event
- The most common theory follows the accounts in the Old Testament's Book of Genesis
Science informs us that all human beings are part of a wider family. Indeed, according to the theory of evolution all living organisms share common ancestors and are therefore related to each other. Isn't that just awe inspiring?
Greg: But, Inayat, evolutionary science asserts that things made themselves!
The first great problem then, is where did the universe itself come from? Where did all the "raw material" for evolution originate? It is a proven axiom of science that "nothing comes from nothing". For every effect you require an efficient cause. The materialist's explanation is no explanation at all. It is simply an assumption, and a wild one at that.
Inayat: We need to distinguish between an agent and a cause. Let's take Robert Asher's example of a steam engine. Science helps explain how a steam engine works i.e. the process by which its action is caused: heated water boils into steam which rises and powers the rotation of a turbine which then spins the wheels of the steam train etc.
Note that it is also valid to say that Thomas Savery designed the steam engine (and James Watt later improved upon it). However, this is a different kind of explanation: it is one of agency, not cause. Just because science helps to reveal the naturalistic cause behind the function of the steam engine, it does not mean it denies the agency of Savery and Watt.
Similarly, Darwin's theory of evolution by means of natural selection is an immensely compelling explanation for the mechanism of how different species have come about. It does not deny an agent.
Evolution: An evil influence?
Greg: As a philosophy, evolutionism has had proven evil influences on human happiness and welfare.
It is the root cause of such political philosophies as Atheism, Naturalism, Marxism, Statism, Socialism, and Nazism.
The 20th Century alone has spawned conflicts that have led to the loss of millions of lives. Darwin's theories are the root justification for such practices as racism, eugenics, abortion and euthanasia, practiced by Hitler, Stalin and Mao - all "intellectually fulfilled atheists" themselves.
Inayat: Blaming Darwin's theory for all sorts of evil is like blaming the printing press for Hitler's Mein Kampf.
The fact that the science of genetics has been misused to buttress racist attitudes, does not mean we should abandon the study of genes. Rather, it makes it all the more important that evolution be taught well to negate such misunderstandings.
Genocide and racism existed long before Darwin. Obviously, they did not need any contribution from Darwin's theory.
It is worth recalling that in many instances, such as the Crusades and the Spanish conquest of Central America, religion was explicitly invoked to justify them. Evolution and religion - like many ideas - can be abused.
Big Bang 'speculation'
Greg: Let's talk about one abused idea - the Big Bang, a concept which seeks to explain the origin of the universe, claiming that billions of years ago all the matter and energy in the universe was condensed into a particle no bigger than a pin-head.
No one knows where it came from, but its heat and density were unimaginably great. Then for some unknown reason it exploded, then expanded and cooled so that helium and hydrogen gas could be formed. Our solar system appeared and the rest is palaeontology.
Big Bang theory
- The Big Bang theory describes how the Universe began in a rapid expansion about 13.7 billion years ago
- Scientists believe all of space was created in this first moment, and has evolved since
- Radiation from the early Universe has been detected with radio telescopes and is seen as evidence to support the theory
Dead things don't re-create and re-order themselves to become living entities again.
Every explosion we've ever observed results in chaos, never order. Why would physical laws break down for the formation of the universe in the "Big Bang" and its aftermath? No scientist can yet tell us.
The scientist Michael Denton (Australian molecular biologist) should have the last word (from his book Evolution - A Theory in Crisis).
He says: "Evolutionary theory is still, as it was in Darwin's time, a highly speculative hypothesis entirely without direct factual support and very far from that self-evident axiom some of its more aggressive advocates would have us believe."
Inayat: Aside from the fact that science teaches us that the Big Bang was an expansion, not an explosion, it is worth noting that explosions can indeed produce some order amidst their other effects.
Supernovae produce heavy elements such as iron, and the shock waves from them compress interstellar gases, which begins the formation of new stars. Powerful explosions can compress carbon into diamond crystals, which have an evidently more ordered arrangement.
Michael Denton wrote that book back in 1985. It's arguments have not found wide support amongst scientists.
Here is one response to Denton from writer Mark I Vuletic on the Talk Origins website - where you will find responses to many of your questions.
"Evolutionists - even those who agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky that 'nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution' - would be surprised by Denton's suggestion that they hold macroevolution to be a 'self-evident axiom'."
Perspectives is a forum for invited contributors to write about personal and contemporary issues of faith and ethics. The views expressed here are those of the individual authors, not the BBC.