Saturday, October 20, 2012

Evolution as Myth

"It takes more faith to believe in Evolution than it does to believe in God [, as in the God of the Bible]."
I've heard this argument raised from Ken Ham and many other Christians, citing issues with the fossil records, their alleged evidence of a young Earth, the inherent complexity of DNA, etc.  You've probably heard this before, right?

So I started thinking; "Wait, does it actually require such a great faith to believe in Evolution?  What if Evolution was just another myth available for us to believe, a religion competing on the global pious market?  Would it really be hard to believe?"

Let's step aside from the fossil records, DNA, and all of the other data which supports the technical details of Evolution and just look at the big picture; the Evolution Myth, if you will.

The Myth
Life on earth was not created, but rather it was the result of raw materials, chemical reactions, chance, and time.  Once life came to be, deviations developed through self-replication errors and time.  Deviations which helped the life form to survive and/or propagate, and other deviations which had little to do with survivability or propagation, accumulated over time and branched out into multiple paths, eventually resulting in all of the biodiversity we know today, including humans.

The Solutions
As we consider this Myth, we have to look around and see if it fits into the picture of reality as we know it.  Avoiding the finite technicalities of Evolution, are there other extraneous evidences to support this Myth such that it would be easier to believe than, say, a God partially/fully becoming man, in order to be slain, in order to make propitiation for our sins, in order for that God to forgive our sins, in order that we may live forever with Him in an environment in which that God will prevent us from sinning?  Furthermore, are there any other answers are provided by this Myth?  Below are some of the implications, agreements, and answers I thought of.

(Note that I do recognize that there are many Christians who also believe in evolution, either in its pure format or in a God-enhanced version, but what follows will be from a perspective of the Evolution Myth standing on its own.)
  1. The Earth is old, and the Universe is older.   As we gaze into the heavens at night, we look back in time, seeing light rays which left their respective stars billions upon billions of years ago.  Evolution is well in tune with this fact.
  2. We are insignificant in the universal picture.  As astronomy tells us, the sun is the center of our solar system, but our solar system is in one arm of our galaxy and our sun is one of billions of stars in the galaxy, which is just one galaxy of billions of galaxies, each with billions of their own stars.  Our planet is just one of likely trillions in the universe.  Evolution is well in tune with this fact.
  3. Evolution doesn't answer if there is or is not a god, but if there is one, it suggests that such a god is probably in line with deist theology.  The time it took to yield humans and the reliance on chance to form us suggests that no special attention was paid by any deity in our creation process.  Evolution is well in tune with this concept.
  4. Genetic deviations occur without divine cause.  It is not a test, a punishment, or a learning experience given by a god if your child is born with Down Syndrome, or if you are genetically predisposed to colon cancer, or if you are born infertile.  Evolution is well in tune with this fact.
  5. There is no divine cause for disasters.  Earthquakes, tsunamis, mudslides, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.  They are acts of nature, not, as insurance companies like to define them, acts of god.  Disasters do not take sides, nor are they doled out as personal or communal punishment.  Evolution is in line with the science here.
  6. There is no supernatural justice.  As we know all too well, good things can happen to bad people, and visa-versa, without any reckoning or reason.  People can commit great evils and go unpunished.  People can do great good and go unrewarded.  Using a poker reference, sometimes the cards are in your favor, but sometimes they're not, and it often has  nothing to do with your worthiness.  Evolution does not suggest anything different.
  7. Being weaker, smaller, or poorer physically equipped than many other animals, finding traits which promote cooperation would not be surprising, and yet these same cooperative traits would still contend with drives to compete for limited resources.  This is perhaps one of the most interesting angles, as it explains a lot of our social behaviors as a whole, such as tribalism, nationalism, genocide, etc.  While I would not say that Evolution could predict our present condition or that our condition was somehow inevitable, Evolution has no conflict with our present condition.
  8. If there is a god, divine intervention is unlikely, so we must take responsibility to change the world if we feel it needs changing.  It is up to us to right the wrongs and guide our species towards a better way to live.  We all know this, but Point 7 above helps to explain why we fall short of achieving such a goal.  Evolution does not suggest anything different.
  9. There is no "good" or "bad" in the world except by what we define these concepts to be.  However, that does not mean that these concepts are entirely arbitrary either. Given that we have drives for cooperation, we live communally.  Out of this, the basic concepts of good and bad are readily born, as "good" are actions which promote harmony and the preservation of the community.  This is why the basic moral codes are ubiquitous across nearly all cultures (do not murder, do not steal - at least from those inside your group, etc.) and why the more abstract codes vary significantly (what is acceptable to eat, how you treat livestock, what kind of clothes you can wear, etc.).  Evolution has no difficulties with this concept.
  10. Similarities between humans and animals would be expected.  The Myth suggests common lines of development.  Surely our similar skeletal structures in men and animals are in line with this idea.  Furthermore, our "human" actions of caring for and protecting the young, playing, fighting, teamwork, hierarchies, sacrifice, and compensation are all seen in the animal world as well, in varying degrees with different animals.  This matches the implications of Evolution.
  11. This life is all there is.  There is no afterlife, other than your bodily materials being recycled by other life forms.  It's up to you to make the best of your life with the given circumstances.  Chance plays a large role in where you begin and what your limitations will be, but your success in life will also be largely driven by your chosen actions.  Evolution would not suggest anything else.

The Problems
Evolution, as a Myth, fits very well with the empirical, sterile evidence.  I don't know if you've checked lately, but we are anything but sterile creatures.
  1. People have religious experiences with different faiths.  As mentioned above, the Evolution Myth doesn't say that there is or isn't a god, so having a religious experience would not contradict the Myth per se, but the doctrine of different brands of religions claim alternate reasons behind the creation of humans, their significance, and the age of the earth.
  2. People want meaning.  The Myth offers no meaning to life.  Of course, the Myth offers no meaning of "meaning" either.  Songbirds sing and dogs wag their tails without having an apparent, well-defined sense meaning.  We, too, can be incredibly happy without having to define the meaning in each moment of our lives. But for those who want it, the responsibility on each individual to define for themselves what is meaningful, and to seek out that meaning in their own lives.  The easiest way to find that meaning is to draw to our "Mythical" evolutionary traits of cooperation and interdependence, as mentioned in point 7 above.  However, many people would prefer to have something outside themselves define that meaning for them.
  3. People want to live forever.  The Myth itself offers no hope of continuing on forever, or or reuniting with lost loved ones.  That makes life bittersweet, as we should appreciate and make the most of each moment and each relationship, because they will not last.  (Although, there are some rather promising discoveries on the horizon in the field of life extension.)
  4. People want justice.  Life isn't fair, and the Myth suggests nothing more.  People don't always get what they deserve, in both the good and the bad senses.  Usually it is beyond our power to right these wrongs in our society, so we would like to take some comfort in knowing that there will be a time of reckoning when people get what they deserve.  Instead, with the Myth, that responsibility falls squarely on us.
  5. There is no explanation of why humans are so apparently superior.  Of course, there are many ways in which it seems that animals are superior to us!  Actually, the Myth does provide for this possibility, but depending on your perspective of how much better humans are than the other animals, by whatever arbitrary scales of measurement you'd like to use, this can make the Myth seem weak.
  6. There is no explanation of why the universe exists.  Indeed, this is true with regard to the Myth itself.  Evolution's Myth doesn't explain its own raw materials, or how the earth was formed, or how the universe came to be.  These origins require other explanations.

The Aftermath
To me, the problems with an Evolution Myth are not problems with the Myth itself.  They are problems beyond the Myth.  Other than the conflicts of doctrinal issues of various faiths, the issue with Evolution as Myth is that it does not do more.  It does not provide answers that we might want.

But not liking a myth doesn't mean that it takes a lot of faith to believe it.  There are many things I don't like, but I still believe, just because those beliefs match up with reality, like the belief that religion is not completely harmless.

Similarly, the Evolution Myth, regardless of whether or not you like it, harmonizes with many apparent facts of life.  Because of its apparent correlation, it does not take much faith at all to believe.  According to Hebrews 11:1:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  NIV
But, as noted in the many points above, we see various correlating evidences of Evolution even beyond fossil records, DNA, etc.  Plus, there is nothing we hope for (in a doctrinal sense) out of Evolution.  So by this definition, it actually takes very little faith at all to believe in the Myth of Evolution.

What Else?
When I read a list like this that someone has put together, I typically come up with things I would add, or things that I thought were not quite right.  So feel free to lay it on me.  Tell me what I've missed, and what I've messed up in this little thought adventure.


  1. I have much to say about this topic, but I need to get to your post regarding Isaiah 53, so I'll leave this alone. I'm officially passing the baton to another Christian. ;-) I will say that you've raised some *very* interesting issues here, and although I have a very different perspective than you, on the whole I find this to be an excellent post. Oh, and if I had to choose sides, I'd pick you over Ken Ham any day. ;-)

  2. Thanks Ollie! Glad to know that I am favored over a slice of ham. ;-)

    I'd love to get your thoughts if you get some time later.

  3. A lot of those problems and solutions speak more to a larger naturalistic/materialist view of reality than just the theory of evolution. The biggest way I can think that evolution is different than myths is that is does more than account for what we already know for sure from evidence. Like all good theories, it can make predictions. For example, we may have a missing fossil, but eventually we'll find the fossil and (surprise, surprise) it fits right where and when it should fit.

  4. Indeed, that's a great point Grundy, but I was intentionally trying to avoid scientifically too many derived facts and the difference between scientific theory and myth. However, what you're saying is critical to understanding the difference between the two.