Why Discussing Evolution Matters

cMy secular friend and I had reached an impasse. We were discussing the implications of evolutionary biology, along the lines of my previous three posts. I had taken the position that DNA is a complex, information-rich medium and that there is no way to explain moving from simple to complex life forms via a random, mindless mechanism. Since a truly Darwinian approach to evolution requires that unguided natural processes supply this needed information, and since nature cannot provide information it does not have, I concluded that Darwinism must be false. That is, it cannot explain the presence of life of Earth, or the appearance of increasingly more complex forms of life. My friend and I agreed that an explanation of how life originally arose, and how it moved from simple, single-celled forms to something as complex as a human being was indeed necessary. He argued though that whatever that explanation turned out to be, there was no need to resort to the “god of the gaps” simply because our present knowledge was inadequate to provide it. He used as an example present day knowledge of medicine, as contrasted with the medical arts practiced centuries ago. Doctors then thought that an imbalance of “humours” in the body explained many diseases, but today of course we understand that germs and bacteria and viruses are really the cause. Someday, he concluded, scientists will discover this “self-assembling” characteristic of DNA and put to rest the need to invoke an intelligent designer as the cause.

“Why does it matter?” was the question he ultimately put to me. Why not just accept that science will someday provide the answers to all of life’s questions? With each passing year, more and more of nature’s secrets are giving way to the triumph of the scientific method. Religion, by contrast, is just a vestige of a superstitious age, when men conjured up phantoms to make sense of their world. Why not accept that men invented “God” to explain what they could not otherwise explain?

It matters, I replied, because ideas have consequences. And the idea that science can provide the answers to all of life’s questions is fundamentally flawed. Science is simply a method for obtaining knowledge – through observation and experimentation – and consequently cannot tell us anything about some of the most important questions we face. Is a thing good or evil, for example, is something science cannot answer. Take for example nuclear power – if used to supply energy, it is good, but it also can be used as a weapon of mass destruction. Science cannot tell us why we are here, or what purpose we should devote our lives to, or what we ought to do do when we’d rather do something much different. It cannot inform our morality. Most importantly, it cannot answer the question that has haunted man since he first began to think – what happens to us when we die

Science has an important role to play in society. Its influence has made our lives more comfortable, longer, healthier and more exciting. But expecting science to substitute for God is as foolish as expecting machines to eventually govern men. Science, and machines, can help us to live longer and better, but they can’t tell us how to spend these longer and better lives. They cannot give our lives meaning and they cannot save us when we breathe our last breath.

People of faith are increasingly marginalized in a high-tech society. Many learn to compartmentalize their beliefs and keep their faith lives separate, and silent. But if we allow the new atheists to frame this debate, to lead people to believe that science has eliminated faith – devoured it as the image above symbolizes – we do them, and society generally, a grave disservice. 

As believers, we guard a treasure that we have inherited, a treasure based in truth that can transform lives in the here and now and gain us eternal joy in the life to come. But for those who persist in a belief that science has already provided all the answers, this is so much buried treasure which may never be unearthed.

 Posted by Al Serrato

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One Comment

  1. C says:

    Medical advances since the time when doctors believed in the humours is actually a good illustration of why God of the Gaps is a terrible argument. At the time that humours were thought up, people were not going around claiming that viruses and bacteria were really the cause of sickness. Science hadn’t revealed them yet. No one would have said, “Just believe in viruses and bacteria because science will explain them one day.” Rather, medical experts would have been likely to say, “We can’t prove humours act the way we believe now, but the evidence will bear it out in time.”

    Naturalists have no more right to believe in spite of missing key evidence (e.g. how the first life form could possibly come to be; where dna data could have came from) than Creationists. They claim we fill the gaps with God, but what are they filling the Gaps with? Nothing more than the hope that science will prove their pre-conceived beliefs true.

    The accusation of filling the gaps is an unwilling admission that there are gaps to be filled. Things that need explaining for which there is no proof. So until the gaps are reasonably explained by evidence, accusations of one side filling gaps with the unnecessary are hypocritical.

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