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Religion and Science: Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

Introduction

From epistemological point of view, science and religion are two distinct ways of knowing; the first one relies on logic and empirical findings whereas the other is based on faith which does not require substantiation (Griffin, 2000, p 7). The theory of evolution, introduced by Charles Darwin only emphasized the difference between them. Moreover, it changed the way people viewed themselves and society. This paper is aimed at analyzing the impact of Darwin’s theory and its relationship with the Christian Church. Furthermore, it is necessary to discuss the debates about Darwinism and creationism. Finally, it is vital to show whether this scientific framework fully explain the development of human personality and its relations to societal factors.

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The debates about Darwinism and religion

When Charles Darwin first published his book On the Origins of Species, he immediately became subjected to heavy criticism not only by the church but in scientific circles as well. In part, this criticism can be explained by the fact that the theory of evolution presented an entirely new look on the development of nature as well as human beings and most importantly undermined the Biblical narrative about the origins of human beings. It postulates that the changes which occur within organisms are caused by gradual natural selection process. Additionally, this theory suggests that the existing species including Homo sapiens evolved out of common ancestor as a result of mutation and genetic recombination (Merz, 2008, p 38). These ideas could not be accepted by the then society. In the nineteenth century a great number of clergymen regarded Darwin’s works a heresy, while more liberal people argued that Christian beliefs and the theory of evolution do not have to contradict one another and than it is possible to reconcile them. One of such people was Charles Kingsley, a clergyman, who became interested in Darwin’s ideas and attempted to adjust them to the Bible version of the world creation. He said that it was “a noble conception of deity to believe that he created primal forms capable of self-development” (Kingsley as cited in Browne, 2003, p 95). Thus, one can say that Darwin’s ideas were rather appealing to him. More importantly, his views lie at the core of modern creationism and the theory of intelligent design.

It should also be mentioned that creationism emerged due to the growing popularity of Darwin’s ideas and the fact that they were confirmed by empirical findings of many researchers. This interpretation of Darwin’s ideas is also called theistic evolution. The early advocates of this approach were Pierre de Chardin, Asa Gray, and Ronald Fisher (Phy-Olsen, 2010, p 103). These people accepted Charles Darwin’s views on the development of nature but they also emphasized that this process was guided by a supreme being. Their ideas gave rise to the theory of intelligent design. The key premise of this theory is that the universe was tuned to be suitable for the existence of living beings. However, this argument has often been criticized by many researchers, especially physicists who believe that the formation of universe could be purely probabilistic; in order to prove their argument they often refer to chaotic inflation model (Carrier, 2005, p 76). Overall, scientific validity of creationism is often questioned and the majority of scholars reject it. Apart from that, one should remember that this view on the universe is not accepted by many religious people. For example, a great number of Christians believe that the text of the Bible does not have to be interpreted literally and that there is no necessity for people to find proof of the Old Testament story, particularly the Genesis. This debate between creationists and scientists is still going on; one can even say that it has become more heated, since this issue is directly related to education. The most important question is whether it is necessary to reconcile science and religion in school curriculum and how it should be done (Phy-Olsen, 2010, p 113). The champions of creationism and intelligent design believe that religion should not be separated from education, while their opponents argue that this will also return superstition and prejudice in the classroom (Phy-Olsen, 2010, p 113). Besides, at this point, the evidence supporting creationism is rather disputable and scanty.

On the whole, it is possible to argue that the emergence and adoption of Darwin’s theory made Christian beliefs more tolerant to science and more open to discussion. The theory of evolution made people reconsider their views on the Bible, by showing that literal interpretation of this religious text is hardly permissible. There are other important implications of Darwinism; namely it changed people’s perceptions of themselves and society. A human being was no longer regarded as divine creature but a representative a species that competes for resources and goods in order to survive. This point of view found its reflection in the works of Herbert Spencer, the founder of social Darwinism. This philosopher believed that human societies evolved from natural or tribal state into complex and hierarchical structures (Spencer as cited in Slattery, 2003, p 68). However, his key argument that those societies which failed to advanced were eventually doomed to extinction. The ideas of Herbert Spencer appear to be convincing and they were applied to many fields of human activities, including political science and international relations. To substantiate this argument, one can refer to the history of the nineteenth century colonialism whose supporters believed that some nations or countries were inferior to others and deserved to be conquered and colonized (Slattery, 2003, p 68). As it has been mentioned, Charles Darwin stressed the importance of gene flow and inheritance. Undoubtedly, this idea is evidence-based but unfortunately, it was used by those people, who harbored racial prejudices and stereotypes. They used this theory to support the idea some races were inferior to others. Yet, one should remember that Darwin’s interpretation does not fully explain the development of person’s identity and his/her character. It does not take into account economic situation, family background, or education. This is one of the reasons why it has been criticized by such prominent philosophers as Emile Durkheim and Karl Marks. For instance, Karl Marx argued that personal identity, his/her values, attitudes, and perceptions of the world are shaped by environmental forces and they are not the result of predisposition (Slattery, 2003, p 68). Thus, it is possible to argue that Darwin’s conceptions of Homo sapiens have their limitation and they are not accepted by everyone.

Conclusion

The theory of evolution, introduced by Charles Darwin produced profound effects on biological science, religion, and sociology. First, it showed that traditional Christian beliefs are not always compatible emerging scientific discoveries and prompted many people to reconcile these different worldviews. Secondly, it transformed contemporary understanding of society and individuality especially when we are speaking about the factors which shape a person’s character traits and value system. At this point, these questions are far from being resolved.

References

Browne E. J. 2003. Charles Darwin: The power of place. Princeton University Press. Princeton.

Carrier R. 2005. Sense and goodness without God: a defense of metaphysical naturalism. AuthorHouse. New York.

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Griffin D. 2000. Religion and scientific naturalism: overcoming the conflicts. SUNY Press. New York.

Merz K. 2008. Living within limits: a scientific search for truth. Algora Publishing. New York.

Phy-Olsen A. 2010. Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design. California: ABC-CLIO.

Slattery M. 2003. Key ideas in sociology. Nelson Thornes. Cheltenham.

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