Answers to objections about atheism and evolution
By David Annis
Article ID: 1325
Atheism and evolution are two topics that I write about and discuss with my religious friends. I encounter the same objections for both. Repeatedly.
Myth: “If you do not believe in God, you have no basis for morality. Anything is permissible.”
I can and do have a system of morality. It’s based on what kind of world I want to live in, not on belief that a supernatural being wants me to behave in a certain way. Wars, genocides, pogroms, holocausts, discrimination, terrorism, and slavery have all been justified based on religion. I donate to charity, know that murder is wrong, and teach my children right from wrong (there are no toy guns in our house).
Show me empirical evidence that the religious behave in a more moral way than non-religious and you might have an argument, but the evidence is not there. I know many atheists that donate to charity, love their wives, abide by the law, and otherwise act in a moral way. And I know many religious people that do not.
If you maintain that belief in God is needed as a foundation for a moral system, is any God sufficient? Are Xenu, Shiva, Allah and the Christian God, all equally moral? If so, isn’t picking a God just taking the easy way out? Instead of grappling with the difficult questions you are swallowing a belief system whole. Since you took the easy way out, if a premise fails you end up with a moral structure that can’t support itself. If all Gods are not equally moral, how can you be sure that your God’s system leads to real morality?
Myth: “You can’t prove a theory, so the Bible may be literally true.”
This argument falls into two pieces. The first piece says that an omnipotent being could change the Universe in all sorts of ways. Physical laws that work one way today may have worked differently years ago, so we should not believe the evidence before us. Carbon may decay at a different rate then than it does now, geological process may have been different one thousand years ago, and so on. Yet, those who make this claim also assume their refrigerator, car, and home heating system will still work just as well tomorrow. They rely on medical and agricultural systems built upon scientific methods. That’s intellectually dishonest.
The second piece of this objection is that science only proves that a theory is highly improbable. It doesn’t say something is impossible. A scientific theory can be overthrown. I can’t prove that I can’t jump to the moon. I can’t prove that I can’t pray my way there. Using the scientific method, however, I can prove that it is highly improbable that either method will put a man on the moon. Gathering insights about how the universe behaves is what allowed Neil Armstrong to take his giant leap for mankind.
Myth: “I can’t see evolution happen.”
Some people protest that they can’t see evolution happening right before their eyes. Plant speciation has been observed and used by farmers for hundreds of years, though not under laboratory conditions. In a previous post, I discussed macro-evolution occurring in the laboratory, but still got a response saying something like, “Gee, that’s a long way from seeing a bacterium turn into a horse.”
So, why don’t we see a bacterium turn into a horse right before our eyes? It’s because we observe over too short a period of time. My 10-year-old son is growing, but he looks no taller now than he did last week. There is rich evidence of evolution in the fossil record, in the genetic sequences of the plants and animals alive today, in our ability to breed new varieties of plants, pets, and livestock, and in the changes we observe in the natural world around us. We can’t see changes within our lifetime because these changes normally take hundreds or thousands or millions of years. Does this mean we should conclude these changes aren’t happening? If my son isn’t taller this week compared to last week, does this mean he’s not growing? In both cases, you can’t focus on a comparatively small timeline to see these changes. Look at the big, long-term picture.
Myth: “Evolution has missing evidence.”
This brings us to the last big objection that I want to discuss: missing evidence. Creationists will say that there is a missing link between X and Y. Indeed, not every single intermediate evolutionary form will be found. However, ask yourself if you need, or would even expect a complete record of evolution. Many things I believe in: Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, my oldest son’s fourth birthday party, the fact that my socks all came in pairs, have some of their supporting evidence gone missing. We believe in many things for which there are incomplete records. Why insist on a standard that can never be met? Furthermore, just because evidence is missing now doesn’t mean it will remain so – and we see evidence being found all the time like this fish fossil or these ants.
The clarifications and facts mentioned here may not change anyone’s mind about the topic, but they will clarify the viewpoint of the critical thinker and skeptic. Honest debate is healthy. We need it in order to best understand our world. Detailing what I believe – and why – will hopefully lessen confusion and bring clarity to conversations that desperately need it.