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     Response to ACLU ID FAQ: Part 5

     "Is evolution anti-religious?"

by Casey Luskin

FAQ 5: "Is evolution anti-religious?"
  • 5a. "No. Many mainstream religions and denominations - including the Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church USA - accept the scientific theory of evolution as consistent with belief in God as the ultimate Creator."
  • 5b. "Many evolutionary biologists are themselves religious. Standard high school biology textbooks explain the science of evolution without taking positions on the existence of God."

  • Response:
    FAQ 5A. "No. Many mainstream religions and denominations - including the Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church USA - accept the scientific theory of evolution as consistent with belief in God as the ultimate Creator."

    Firstly, I want to say that I knowingly chuckled to myself when I read this point because one of these two Christian denominations (I won't say which) has taken an active interest in the activities of the IDEA Center--and we have found such interest from entities at some of their higher governing levels. At the lower governing levels, the IDEA Center is participating in five events at three parishes from this denomination within the two next months. I have no doubt that many people in these denominations see evolution as compatible with Christianity. But there should be no pretending that there are not many skeptics of evolution--even scientists in levels of authority--within these denominations. I know for a fact that there are leaders in these mainline Christian denominations that question evolution and also support intelligent design. (This doesn't necessarily mean that they think that evolution is incompatiable with their faith, for their objections might be simply scientific, and not religious in nature.) From personal experience, I know that any insinuations that these denominations wholly support evolution or wholly reject intelligent design are wholly false.

    Secondly, it is not clear why the ACLU makes this point because nothing in Pandas (or the Dover Policy) indicates that evolution is anti-religious. Perhaps I am ignorant about some of the facts of the case where the Dover School Board stated evolution was anti-religious. I have no idea. But as far as I can tell, I can find nothing indicating that it characterizes evolution as anti-religious.

    Nonetheless, I agree with the ACLU if it states that evolution is not necessarily anti-religious. Evolution does not mandate that Christianity or any other religion is necessarily wrong. After all, there is no doubt that God, or whatever form of deity one believes in, could have created life using a variety of means, including evolution. There are many people out there who are "theistic evolutionists." However it is not for courts to declare that evolution is not anti-religious when for many people, they believe that evolution does contradict their religious beliefs. Courts are not to pass judgment on a person's religious beliefs, and if a person believes that the evolution conflicts with their religious beliefs, then courts have no business stating that such a person is wrong to believe evolution conflicts with their religion. Moreover, as seen in point 2 below, it seems very plausible that evolution could easily conflict with the religious beliefs of many people.

    The ACLU's characterization of the religious implications of evolution leaves off a number of important facts:

    1. Most polls indicate that evolution conflicts with the religious beliefs of many Americans (usually upwards of at least 40%).

    2. Many eminent scholars of religion think evolution places clear limitations on how God, if He exists, must have acted in the world. For example, eminent scholar of religion and science, Ian G. Barbour, in Religion and Science Historical and Contemporary Issues (Harper Collins 1997, pg. 238-240) states that under a Darwinian evolutionary account of origins, the chance-based nature of Darwinian evolution leaves one of three theological models possible for theists: a. God controls everything that appears to be random.
    b. God designed a system of law and chance.
    c. God influences events without controlling them.
    Thus, for those whose religious beliefs are that God did directly control the development of life without using chance-based processes which appeared random, Darwinian evolution contradicts their religious beliefs. The ACLU is correct to state that evolution need not violate a persons' religious beliefs. But they are wrong to assume that evolution has no necessary religious implications for theists of any stripe.

    The ACLU is correct to observe that one can believe in God and evolution. But religion is much more than simply whether or not God exists. For many people, religious beliefs are intimately dependent upon their beliefs about the nature of God, His character, and His historical actions in the world. Darwin's theory places clear limitations how God acted in the natural world, and this does indeed conflict with the religious beliefs of many people. Evolution may not be "anti-religious" generally, but it clearly has the capability of contradicting the religious beliefs of millions of Americans who believe that God intervened directly in the natural world when He created life, and did not use chance-processes to create life. At least this is what eminent scholar of religion and science Ian G. Barbour is telling us. Perhaps that's why polls consistently indicate that upwards of 40% of Americans reject evolution in favor of God creating life.

    3. Many people believe evolution conflicts with their religious beliefs, and if the ACLU says it doesn't conflict with religion, then the ACLU is essentially telling people what their religious should be. This does not bode well when someone claims to be "our nation's guardian of liberty."

    4. Evolution clearly is cited as supporting the worldviews of many materialists. In fact it is a lynchpin of many humanist declarations. For example, the Third Humanist Manifesto states that “Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing.” (Humanist Manifesto III) If evolution can be cited as providing epistemic support for some forms of philosophical systems, then it seems reasonable that many would view it as providing negative epistemic support for other belief systems (such as many forms of theism). There's just no getting around it.

    5. Science explicitly has adopted a rule stating that it can only operate under the assumption that the perspective of philosophical materialism is true. “[I]f a living cell were to be made in the laboratory, it would not prove that nature followed the same pathway billions of years ago. But it is the job of science to provide plausible natural explanations for natural phenomena.”
    (S & C, emphasis added)

    “The statements of science must invoke only natural things and processes. ... The theory of evolution is one of these explanations.”
    (Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, National Academy Press, 1998, pg. 42, emphasis added)

    “It was Darwin’s greatest accomplishment to show that the directive organization of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process, natural selection, without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent...[Darwin’s] mechanism, natural selection, excluded God as the explanation...”
    (Francisco Ayala [evolutionist scientist], “Darwin’s Revolution,” in Creative Evolution?!, eds. J. Campbell and J. Schopf (Boston, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1994), pp. 4-5, emphasis added)

    "Science, fundamentally, is a game. It is a game with one overriding and defining rule. Rule No. 1: Let us see how far and to what extent we can explain the behavior of the physical and material universe in terms of purely physical and material causes, without invoking the supernatural."
    (Richard E. Dickerson [evolutionist scientist]: "The Game of Science." Perspectives on Science and Faith (Volume 44, June 1992), p. 137, emphasis added)

    “Darwinism rejects all supernatural phenomena and causations. The theory of evolution by natural selection explains the adaptedness and diversity of the world solely materialistically.”
    (“Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought” E. Mayr [evolutionist scientist], Scientific American, pg. 82-83, (July 2000), emphasis added)

    “[F]or many evolutionists, evolution has functioned as something with elements which are, let us say, akin to being a secular religion ... [A]t some very basic level, evolution as a scientific theory makes a commitment to a kind of naturalism, namely, that at some level one is going to exclude miracles and these sorts of things come what may.”
    ("Nonliteralist Antievolution," Ruse, Michael [evolutionist philosopher of science], AAAS Symposium: "The New Antievolutionism," February, 1993, Boston, MA., emphasis added)

    "[W]e have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations…that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
    (Lewontin, Richard [evolutionist scientist], "Billions and Billions of Demons", New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, p. 28., emphasis added)

    “If there is one rule, one criterion that makes an idea scientific, it is that it must invoke naturalistic explanations for phenomena … it’s simply a matter of definition—of what is science, and what is not.”
    (Eldredge, Niles, 1982, The Monkey Business: A Scientist Looks at Creationism, Washington Square Press)

    “…any statement concerning the existence, nonexistence, or nature of a creator or creators is not science by definition and has no place in scientific discussion.”
    (Pine, R.H., 1984, “But Some of Them Are Scientists, Aren’t They?” Creation/Evolution, Issue XIV, pp. 6-18)
    The statements from from scientists may leave plenty of room for belief in God, but these statements also show that when scientists investigate origins, they assume that there were no intelligent causes at work in the history of life. This is nothing short of a theological position, and one with which many Americans might disagree.

    In conclusion, while it is clear that many theistic evolutionists do exist who believe that their religion is compatible with evolution, it is also clear that evolution has clear philosophical implications which could conflict with the religious beliefs of many. Furthermore, evolution itself seems built upon a philosophy of materialism which assumes that there was no intelligent intervention in the history of life--which is in itself a theological supposition!

    FAQ 5B. "Many evolutionary biologists are themselves religious. Standard high school biology textbooks explain the science of evolution without taking positions on the existence of God."

    The first statement is technically correct--but overall it does not accurately represent well-established sociological trends among evolutionary biologists. It is true that there are many evolutionary biologists who are religious. A few vocal biologists who are religious (such as Ken Miller or Keith Miller) have helped make the public aware as a whole that evolutionary biologists can believe in God. However, it is clear that the presence of a few religious evolutionary biologists does not tell the whole story.

    In 1998, legal scholar and award winning historian of the creation-evolution controversy Edward J. Larson, along with Larry Witham, described the results of their survey of the religious beliefs of scientists. They found that religious beliefs among evolutionary biologists are not exactly common: "The [NAS's S & C] booklet assures readers, “Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.” NAS President Bruce Alberts said: “There are many outstanding members of this academy who are religious people who believe in evolution, many of them biologists.” Our survey suggests otherwise." (Edward J. Larson & Larry Witham, “The More They Learn The Less They Believe,” Nature, 394:313 (June, 1998).) The authors found a “near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists,” which was particularly acute among NAS biologists, where only 5.6% believed in God. In fact among NAS scientists, belief in God was the “lowest” for biologists. Thus, while there may be evolutionary biologists who are religious, when scholars surveyed religious beliefs of evolutionary biologists, they found that contrary to what both Bruce Alberts and the ACLU suggest, there are not "many" evolutionary biologists who themselves are religious.

    The second part of this statement is relatively uncontroversial, as the ACLU merely observes that biology textbooks explain the science of evolution without taking a position on the existence of God. This is generally correct: biology textbooks are not trying to convince students that God does or does not exist. They leave religion out of the science classroom, which is exactly what they should be doing. Incredibly, the exact same compliment could be given to Pandas! In fact, the ACLU's statement might be rewritten as follows and still remain true, for one might similarly observe that "Pandas explains the science of intelligent design without taking positions on the existence of God."

    How is it possible this is true? Because the author of Pandas explicitly state that the evidence for intelligent design does not allow one to conclude if the designer is any particular deity, or if God exists in general. The authors write: "[S]cientists from within Western culture failed to distinguish between intelligence, which can be recognized by uniform sensory experience, and the supernatural, which cannot. ... We should recognize, however, that if we go further, and conclude that the intelligence responsible for biological origins is outside the universe (supernatural) or within it, we do so without the help of science." (Pandas, pg. 126-127)

    "But what kind of intelligent agent was it? On its own, science cannot answer this question; it must leave it to religion and philosophy." (Pandas, pg. 7)

    "A final misconception you may encounter is that intelligent design is simply sectarian religion. According to this view, intelligent design is merely fundamentalism with a new twist; teaching it in public schools allegedly violates the separation of church and state. This view is wide of the mark. The idea that life had an intelligent source is hardly unique to Christian fundamentalism. Advocates of intelligent design have included not only Christians and other religious theists, but pantheists, Greek and enlightenment philosophers and now include many modern scientists who describe themselves as religiously agnostic. Moreover, the concept of intelligent design implies absolutely nothing about beliefs normally associated with Christian fundamentalism, such as a young earth, a global flood, or even the existence of the Christian God. All it implies is that life had an intelligent source." (A Note to Teachers, by Mark D. Hartwig and Stephen C. Meyer in Pandas, pgs. 160-161)
    Thus, it appears clear that the authors of Pandas do NOT take a position on the existence of God in their book, and remain committed to a religiously neutral, scientific approach. It is unclear why the ACLU does not give Pandas the same compliment to Pandas as they give to other biology textbooks.

    Back to the ACLU ID FAQ Response Main Navigation Menu

    Note and Update
    Original note with corrected URLs: This musing is merely a commentary on the "ACLU's 'Intelligent Design' FAQ" as found on the ACLU website. While I am a lawyer, and this response to the ACLU ID FAQ mentions the case over teaching intelligent design theory in Dover, Pennsylvania, this commentary is not intended to be legal advice for anyone. This is simply my thoughts about the claims made by the ACLU in its ID FAQ on their website. Some of their claims, and thus some of my commentary relates to case law, but much of this discussion is also completely unrelated to legal issues. A full legal discussion about whether or not it is constitutional to teach intelligent design would go into much more depth than the commentary made here. This is not intended to fully or adequately discuss the general question of whether or not it is constitutional to teach intelligent design theory. My purpose here is simply to respond to the various sorts of claims made by the ACLU in its ID FAQ. If readers have further questions about the author's opinion, they are invited to contact the author at

    Update [10-26-05]: Also, these response pages were originally posted on February 11, 2005. I just learned today that as of September 16, 2005, the ACLU had published an updated ID FAQ at the same URL where the original FAQ was located. Thus, I apologize if there has been any confusion as this response was written months before the new FAQ replaced the old one. Thus, this response here is in response to the original ACLU ID FAQ which is still available at I have tried to change links to the ACLU's ID FAQ throughout my response to reflect the change in their URLs. I would also like to thank the ACLU for making me aware of the changes in the URLs and their FAQ.

    [Addendum added 2/22/06: I realized today that this FAQ had previously stated that I was not a lawyer. That is because I wrote this before I was admitted to the California bar. I am now an attorney and have updated this page accordingly today.]