Is the evolutionary argument against God's existence any stronger than Isaac Newton's in favour?
Science really isn't connected to the rest of life half as straightforwardly as one might wish. For instance, Isaac Newton noted gladly that his theory of gravitation gave a scientific proof of God's existence. Today's anti-god warriors, by contrast, declare that Darwin's evolutionary theorygives a scientific disproof of that existence and use this reasoning, quite as confidently as Newton used his, to convert the public.
In both cases the huge prestige of science is being used not for scientific purposes but to defend an existing general world-view. In both cases that defence is found necessary because this world-view, though prevalent and respected, has been coming under attack. And in both cases the supposedly scientific argument provided is weak. It only convinces people who already share that world-view.
Naturally, Newton's arguments scarcely need refuting today. Though he was not a Christian, he reasoned that gravity cannot be physically caused because it acts at a distance and material causes were believed always to work by contact, leaving God – a "god of the gaps" – as the only possible cause. Nobody thinks like this now. But is today's evolutionary argument – which is often treated as fatal not just to Christianity but to religion generally – actually any stronger?
I am not questioning that there can be valid objection to theism. (Buddhists, of course, deploy many of them.) The point is simply that this particular argument is irrelevant to it. Appeals to evolution are only damaging to biblical literalism. Certainly the events described inGenesis 1 are not literally compatible with what science (from long before Darwin's day) tells us about the antiquity of the Earth. But this is not news. The early Christian fathers pointed out that the creation storymust be interpreted symbolically, not literally. Its message centres not on the factual details but on gratitude for the intelligible unity of the creation. Later Christian tradition always understood this, even before the historical details began to be questioned.
The contrary, literalist campaign within Christianity is actually quite recent. It developed among more or less extreme Protestants after the Reformation – largely indeed in the last century in the US. It was consciously designed as a competitor with science, providing equal certainty by comparable methods. It is thus a political phenomenon, acting in some ways like a cargo cult. It has enabled relatively poor and powerless people to use their Bibles (which the Protestant Reformers had provided) to shape a rival myth of their own. They see this as an alternative to the materialist glorification of science and technology which they have perceived – with some reason – as the oppressive creed of those in power.
Like cargo cults, however, this Bible worship is also a spiritual phenomenon, a message felt in the heart. Despite its confusions, it involves a genuine response to the real wisdom which can also be found in the Bible. Serious attempts to answer it need, therefore, to acknowledge that wisdom. They must try to show ways of combining it with more modern thinking.
Belief in God is not an isolated factual opinion, like belief in the Loch Ness monster – not, as Richard Dawkins suggests, just one more "scientific hypothesis like any other". It is a world-view, an all-enclosing vision of the kind of world that we inhabit. We all have these visions. Though they are always loaded with lumber and often dangerous, we need them. So, when we try to relate and improve them we have to treat each of them as a whole. We would not be right, any more than Newton was, to start by taking our own standpoint as infallible.
From The Guardian