Categorized | Personal, Science, Society

Evolution is Not a Religious Issue

It really irks me that more than one person has tried to disprove evolution to me as soon as I reveal to them that I am an atheist, as if evolution were the reason for my disbelief. People would soon begin spouting nonsense, citing “scientific” articles that they’ve never read, and asking me to view religious propaganda masquerading as legitimate documentaries.

I have had my fair share of creationist indoctrination even during my childhood. One of my earliest recollections of the concept of evolution, if not the earliest, was when I was still about 4 years old. I remember telling my mother that I wanted to be a scientist. She asked me in return if I would still want to be one even though scientists believe that we came from monkeys. She then asked me the very common (and stupid) creationist fallacy, “If evolution is true, why haven’t the monkeys today turned into men?”

To the unsuspecting child, this empty argument would have effectively put the nail through the coffin of evolution. Sadly, this seems to be the case in the Philippines, where the pseudoscience of creationism and misconceptions of evolution are accepted and even embraced by religious and scientific authorities. People in highly influential positions such as parents, teachers, and clerics, whom other people (most especially children) look up to as sources of truth, continue to preach against evolution while hardly knowing anything about it. In most cases, arguments against evolution revolve around citing Bible verses or attacking straw man versions of the theory.

Our current demography

According to the 2000 census, Roman Catholics made up 80.9% of the Philippine population while Muslims comprised 5%, Evangelicals 2.8%, Iglesia ni Cristo 2.3%; Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses comprise 1.3%. [1]

Thankfully, the Catholic Church is more liberal in saying that evolution is compatible with Christianity. In a statement made by the Vatican on February 2009, they further claimed that the concept of evolution predates Darwin, and the concept can be traced to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. More than 50 years ago, Pope Pius himself said that evolution is a valid scientific approach to understanding the development of humanity. [2] This makes me wonder though why, despite the Philippines being almost 81% Catholic, evolution denial is still prevalent among Filipinos.

From my experience, evolution is still treated, even within academic circles, as a scientific principle that can be reasonably doubted. What saddens me the most is the fact that I personally know biology students, graduates, and even teachers who, while seemingly versed in evolutionary biology, continue to dismiss it as false. Equally sad is how many science majors I know repudiate evolution for being “just a theory.” The fact that grossly unscientific ideas like creationism continue to permeate the academe, and that people who are products of our country’s so-called “premier university” keep on spouting nonsense against evolution, makes me seriously doubt the effectiveness of our system of science education.

Evangelicals (also known as born-agains) and Muslims are divided on the matter. However, both the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh-Day Adventists are clear on their position against evolution. [3] [4] The controversial Members’ Church of God International (colloquially known by their TV and radio show, Ang Dating Daan) has a creationist stance as well. Eliseo Soriano, its leader, stated: [5]

“To believe in the theory of evolution is to believe in accidents, for the theory of evolution can only be explained by accidents that allegedly happened in nature, and perhaps in the brains and minds of evolutionists!”

the ever-savvy Soriano

Clarifying some misconceptions

“According to Darwin, man was not created by God.”

The previous statement came from a history book written by Gregorio Zaide that is widely circulated among elementary schools in the Philippines. [6] Yes, you heard me right. That’s the famous Filipino historian Zaide right there. More of his religious zealotry can be found in the book and this blog article [7] written by a fellow freethinker.

It is a blatant misquotation of Charles Darwin, whose 1859 On the Origin of Species kickstarted revolutionary advancements in evolutionary biology and science, in general. While Darwin eventually professed deism and agnosticism, he never became an atheist. [8] As a biographer of Darwin puts, “one point is abundantly clear, all the surviving evidence contradicts the assertion that Darwin was an atheist.” [9]

“It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist. … I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.” —Charles Darwin in his letter to John Fordyce, 7 May 1879 [10]

“Lenin is quoted as saying that religion is the opiate of the people, but the truth is that evolution is the opiate of the atheists!”

The quotation came from an article published by The Church of God International (Philippines) about evolution and their stand against it. [11] The Church of God, by the way, is affiliated with the producers of Armor of God, a TV show on GMA News TV. Just so you’d know.

Before I proceed on dispelling these obviously distorted straw men, let’s just get things straight. Vladimir Lenin, the Russian communist, did not make an opium metaphor. It was Karl Marx who said that “religion … is the opium of the people.” [12]

Both Lenin and Marx were atheists, communists and evolutionists. Now before you get into thinking that evolution is some propaganda by atheists and/or communists, like what this person in Answers in Genesis thinks, let me tell you: it’s not. Believing in evolution will not make you an atheist (or a communist).

Contrary to what Soriano thinks, evolution is not driven by accidents. Rather, it is driven by natural selection. Natural selection is the process by which certain individuals in a population survive or reproduce more because of certain variants of genes they possess. This eventually creates organisms which are better equipped for their environments as they out-reproduce the competition. Mutations give rise to new variations among genes, and are also subject to natural selection.

To demonstrate this point, I’ll give a common example: albinism, a condition in which the animal is unable to produce any skin pigments. The primary reason why albinism is so rare is that individuals with the condition are heavily pressured in nature not to survive. Albinos will be normally easier to spot for predators, and are usually unsuccessful in finding mates, and thus fail to pass on their albino genes.

Another example would be sickle-cell disease (SCD). Just like albinism, it is a very rare condition, and for a good reason; SCD brings about many life-threatening complications, shortening life expectancy to about 42-48 years. But here’s the catch. While SCD is a rarity elsewhere, it has a high rate of prevalence in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is because, in less severe cases, resistance to malaria is displayed by individuals with SCD. This is especially helpful if you’re living in a region where malaria is widespread.

In summary, traits are a result of a continuous non-random process where a species adapts to the pressures of its environment. It is not an accident why albinism is rare. It is not an accident why SCD is prevalent in some parts of Africa. Humanity is not an accident. We have our traits today because individuals who first had them found them an evolutionary advantage for survival against those who don’t have these traits.

It may appear that animals (including humans) are intelligently designed because they’re so adapted to their environments. This is but an illusion of a lengthy natural selection and evolutionary process.

Why is it so contentious?

I think the biggest reason it has been so contentious is that a lot of people think that evolution, just as what people in the Renaissance thought of heliocentrism, is a religious issue. Well, it’s not. The fact that evolution is true doesn’t disprove the existence of any god, just as proving that the Earth revolves around the Sun doesn’t. Disputing creationism (the antithesis of evolution) doesn’t mean that you reject believing in a god as well. In fact, you can still be an atheist and believe that life on Earth was mystically guided by, say, some flying spaghetti monster.

The need to teach evolution and real science

Having recognized the problems, why make a fuss out of it? Why do we need to teach evolution? Why can’t we teach creationism alongside evolution?

The answer is simple: we must teach evolution because it is what evidence-based science tells us to be true; teaching creationism would be a disservice to rationality. People advocating for teaching creationism at schools might as well advocate for equal teaching time for astrology and the horoscope in our astronomy classes, for magnetic therapy in our medicine classes, and for homeopathy in our pharmacy classes.

Our current state necessitates secularism as a tool for preventing unscientific ideas from penetrating society-at-large. We must never commit in our pursuit of equal representation and free speech a most grave fallacy—that all ideas are of equal value. The words of Isaac Asimov still ring true and remain as inspiring as it was more than 30 years ago: “The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Evolution is a cornerstone of modern science. As biologist Richard Dawkins puts it, denying evolution is tantamount to denying the Holocaust. [13]

Now if creationists would just apply the same degree of skepticism to their religious beliefs, that would be really dandy.

 

Notes and references:

  1. Philippines. National Statistics Office. The Philippines in Figures 2010. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.census.gov.ph/data/publications/pif2012_in_CD.pdf >
  2. Irvine, Chris. “The Vatican claims Darwin’s theory of evolution is compatible with Christianity.” The Telegraph 11 Feb. 2009. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/4588289/The-Vatican-claims-Darwins-theory-of-evolution-is-compatible-with-Christianity.html >
  3. “Evolution is incompatible with Christianity.” Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “Is Evolution Compatible with THE BIBLE?” The Watchtower 1 Jan. 2008. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.watchtower.org/e/20080101a/article_01.htm >
  4. “The Seventh-day Adventist Church affirms its belief in the biblical account of creation in contrast to an evolutionary explanation for the origin of living organisms and the relationship of humans to other life forms.” “Statement on Creation : The Bible’s Worldview.” Seventh-Day Church. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 23 Jun. 2010. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/statements/bible-worldview.html >
  5. “The Origin of Humankind.” Members’ Church of God International. Eliseo F. Soriano, 28 Feb. 2012. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.mcgi.org/en/topics/blog_articles/the_origin_of_humankind/ >
  6. Zaide, Gregorio F. World History in an Asian Setting. 1994. Quezon City, Philippines: Rex Printing Company, Inc., 2000. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=Kq512SmGMIsC >
  7. The Filipino Freethinkers does not guarantee the veracity of any of the blog post’s claims.
  8. Lamoureux, Denis O. “Theological Insights from Darwin.” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 56.1 (2004): 2-9. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2004/PSCF3-04Lamoureux.pdf >
  9. “Was Charles Darwin an Atheist?” The Public Domain Review. John van Wyhe, 28 Jun. 2011. Web. Apr 6. 2012. <http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/06/28/was-charles-darwin-an-atheist/ >
  10. “Darwin to John Fordyce.” Darwin Correspondence Project. n.a., n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-12041 >
  11. “The theory of evolution remains unproved and unprovable. … Special creation is the more rational.” The Church of God International (Philippines). “Evolution: Fact or Fallacy?” 2002. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. < http://www.cgiphils.org/literature/pdf/evolution.pdf >
  12. Marx, Karl. Introduction. “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”. Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher. Trans. Annette Jolin and Joseph O’Malley. Paris: 7 Feb. 1844. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm >
  13. Rizvi, Ali A. “Are Evolution-Deniers any Different from Holocaust-Deniers, Birthers, or Truthers?” Hufftington Post 24 Sep. 2009. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-a-rizvi/are-evolution-deniers-any_b_295254.html >
 
DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.

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