And we thought it was just science

October 24, 2006 at 10:24 pm Leave a comment

World-famous evolutionist, author, and historian of science Michael Ruse came to my campus last night and presented a lecture I was very anxious to hear. Entitled “The Evolution-Creation Struggle: A Very American Story,” the lecture traced the history of evolution and its relationship to Christianity, particularly in America.

ruse.jpgRuse’s most interesting point—a very surprising one, in my opinion—was that Creationism/Intelligent Design and evolution are both religious movements. The two “religions” involve rival eschatologies, rival origin stories, and rival moral codes.

This was not a new idea for me, but I was highly surprised to hear an ardent evolutionist pushing the point. I mean, how often do you hear a defender of Darwinism claiming that evolution is a religion?

But Ruse was explicit: the evolution movement “has never been theory-neutral” and has had a religious side essentially since Darwin.

Ruse was careful to point out that most Christian theologians accepted Darwinism within a decade of the publication of the Origin of Species. Yet he also noted that there was somewhat of a struggle over the new theory, particularly in England.

What was the reason for this? Evolutionists themselves (not Christians, importantly) fostered a warfare mentality between evolution and Christianity. Outspoken Darwinists like Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer tried to present evolution as a rival religion in competition with the Christian faith.

Propogating the faith

Not only did evolutionists have their own religion, but they also built their own “cathedrals” in the form of natural history museums. In fact, Ruse showed some comparison shots to demonstrate how the museums were designed to mimic church buildings. I don’t know the precise photos Ruse used, but I found some of my own that are very close. Check this out:


[Please note: It was not a Christian wacko making these religious comparisons. It was a world-renowned philosopher of science, one who is an authority on the subject of Creationism and evolution.]

naturalhistory2.pngNote what’s going on here: These museums provide a place where families can go enjoy free exhibits on Sunday afternoons and hear a different religious story than the one they would get in church. As Ruse himself said, the museum-goers are being taught a different religious story, but they don’t know it.

Up to the present

But what about the present day? Surely by now the “scientific” movement of evolution has been stripped of its religious tendencies.

But no—Ruse pointed to the example of biologist Edward O. Wilson as evidence that the movement retains its religious character. Wilson “preaches” a message of progressivism, one which has moral directives. On the issue of environmentalism, for example, Wilson urges that we must protect the planet and preserve the rain forests, or our planet will not survive. (Note the eschatalogical elements here.)

In fact, Ruse went so far as to compare Wilson’s message to an old-fashioned Billy Graham sermon, complete with a pathos-laden message of repentance: We must repent from the “sin” of our environmental destructiveness, for we’ve almost destroyed our planet.

Bafflingly enough, Ruse thinks Christianity and evolution are compatible in the end. Since I have not read any of his books, and since he did not elaborate, I don’t know how Ruse thinks this could be true. But I’m deeply skeptical. If Ruse is right and Christianity and evolution are rival religious movements, how could they be compatible?

As if it were possible to eliminate religion

During the Q&A period following the lecture, Ruse fielded one question from a high school science teacher who wanted to know how biology instructors should handle the issue in their classrooms.

Ruse’s answer was predictable—but thoroughly inconsistent, in my opinion. Students, he said, ought to receive far more exposure to comparative religion in non-science classes, but religion ought to be excised from biology itself.

I don’t mean to be unreasonable or sound like some religious conspiracy theorist. But if the rest of Ruse’s lecture was accurate, this ideal of eliminating religion from biology is a seemingly impossible one.

Like it or not, evolution has religious consequences. And crucially, these implications—these worldviewish tendencies—are not peripheral to the theory, but are intrinsic to it. The moral, historical, eschatological, and soteriological implications are inherent and can’t be stripped from the theory.

Therefore, if we’re teaching evolution in schools, presumably we have no choice but to involve religion in that instruction.

And we thought evolution was “just” science.


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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

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