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Evolution And The Evangelical Question

October 2011
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Evangelicals question evolution. On the surface, there is no problem with this. It is critical thinking, and we ought to promote critical thinking. Our democracy works better when we think critically, and vote after we have thought.

Yet I hear secularists criticizing evangelicals on this account, that evolution is beyond question. It is not beyond question; it’ll never be finally confirmed. It is impossible to finally confirm a theory, as Karl Popper taught us.

Yet there are good questions, and there are bad questions. The old schoolroom wisdom that there are no bad questions is quaint. Not all questioning is worthy of respect, especially when the questioning is no questioning at all.

The evangelical “questioning” of evolution is not an open and objective questioning. It is a rejection of a theory without having understood it. It is counter critical, and is not honest thinking. The word question thus used is an abuse of language , since the word has departed from its understood meaning. The evangelical use of the word means something more like privileged rejection 

Before evangelicals are granted the right to assert public policy on scientific issues, they must learn the issues and the method. They may question every step of the way, so long as they can formulate their questions clearly, and the word question is not so fuzzy as to mean nothing at all.

When public figures, such as we see in the GOP debate, claim that they question evolutionary theory, and present themselves as critical thinkers, they deserve all the mocking they get. They present themselves to be monkeys and apes, who know nothing of the art of thinking.

Yet when secularists present themselves so as to say that evangelicals are fools for even questioning evolution, they also use language foolishly. Evolution is always in question, otherwise science would fail and cease to be science. Scientists work to falsify their claims, which is to say they question their propositions. This is the essence of science, to test or question hypotheses, and to try to make them fail. Where is the weak spot?

Yet evolution has stood the test. More than one hundred years of questioning evolution, with the full force of the brightest minds civilization has yet produced, and the stubborn proposition will not fall. We must question evolution, if even to refine the theory. We each benefit from this mode of doubt and questioning. The evangelical use of the word question is inimical to the whole project.

What evangelicals call questioning is a sloppy use of language.  Did they learn the theory, and did they learn what question is and what questioning is not, then their questioning would be welcomed. As it stands now, the evangelical questioning of evolution is beyond question absurd, sloppy, and not worthy of respect.

And anyone running for office who thinks thus sloppily does not deserve the honor which is holding office.



  1. themysteryof says:


    I agree that evangelicals sometimes use language very sloppily, but that doesn’t mean their ideas aren’t valid. One of the reasons evolution has “stood the test,” is that evolutionists have been in control of public education for many decades. That allows them to censor any teacher who would challenge them. It allows them to skew the thinking of graduates.

    I was taught, and believed, evolution when I was in school. I was much better trained in Evolutionism than in Christianity. It made it very difficult for me to accept Christianity, Intelligent Design, and finally, Creationism.

    I believe that honest questions, from whichever viewpoint, should be heard, and answered. As you said, it does provoke us to refine our theories, whatever they are. All sides of any debate are prone to try to suppress the other. That is human nature, and an evidence that humanity is not what it should be.

  2. hommez says:

    Yes, honest questions we should hear. Yet we must not allow that questions about science would get a free pass around the scientific method. Until evangelicals can put their objections into sound, testable propositions, they do not have the right to have any more say in a science classroom than would, say, a Zoroastrian, a Muslim, a follower of Zeus, a Pastafarian, or any number of belief systems–each of which may have valid, and even beautiful points.

    As for your last point, that “humanity is not what it should be,” I cannot understand how humanity should be anything but what it is, except according to an ideal.

    Ideals are not themselves scientific; they are aesthetic. Yet I would have it that my ideal were founded on science. Where this were not possible, I would have it that my ideal were not in contradiction with science.

    But let me qualify the last point. On rare occasion, what would be in contradiction with science may indeed point a way to a new paradigm. But this is rare, and takes a shrewd mind to grasp. It takes a shrewd mind to capture the weakness of a paradigm, and an even shrewder mind to find the way beyond it.

    Yet evangelicals do not point forward, as their questions are not yet questions. They reject even the study of evolution, except to pass certain tests, and so have little promise of helping us to the next horizon.

    Their ideal is based on an old set of metaphors, which do not help in the modern context. Were they able to understand properly evolution and science, they would re-read their text, incorporate it, and form a new set of metaphors in a new ideal.

    But fundamentalism is stuck on a set of metaphors that cannot help us in any real way, except insofar as it gives comfort, and helps people organize to help the needy. This, I acknowledge. But in the real of epistemology, evangelicalism sorely fails.

  3. themysteryof says:


    You said, “On rare occasion, what would be in contradiction with science may indeed point a way to a new paradigm. But this is rare, and takes a shrewd mind to grasp. It takes a shrewd mind to capture the weakness of a paradigm, and an even shrewder mind to find the way beyond it.”

    I don’t think those occasions are as rare as it might seem. I think it happens often in the scientific world. We wouldn’t be where we are if men like Kepler, and Newton had not challenged the established science of their day. In their day the “church,” in alliance with established science, and the government were the censors. Today, evolutionary science, along with the endorsement of numerous churches, manipulate the government in much the same way. That’s an odd turn of events. I don’t think either approach is right.

    I know a science teacher whose job was threatened because he kept materials dealing with Creationism in his desk. He taught evolution to his students, but let them know that he personally didn’t believe in it. He let students borrow the material if they were interested. The materials offered questions and answers concerning problems with evolutionary theory.
    These questions would have exposed weaknesses in the theory, but the teacher was silenced.

    Believe it or not, the same materials would not be allowed in some churches. I agree that not everything can be permitted is a science class, and that evangelicals generally do a poor job of making their case. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a case. I appreciate your reasonable approach to this. Thanks for allowing my comments.

    • hommez says:

      I think the key for understanding why it is the case that creationism has been silenced in the classroom is this. Though creationists have every right to criticize the theory, and should be encouraged to do so, they jump the gun. These criticisms must go through a process before they are properly admitted into the classroom. They must play by the rules of science, or they are not playing science. Non-scientific propositions may indeed be valid, but they do not work in a scientific setting. In the science classroom, only scientific propositions should get called scientific. Particularly, in a high school classroom, we need to be careful. Students do not yet know clearly the difference between scientific propositions and other kinds. The students should be encouraged to challenge scientific propositions, but they should be taught how propositions are challenged in the science game. If they want to challenge evolution, for example, poetically, then they need to work out that kind of challenge in the context of literature.

      That a high school teacher was presenting the creationist “theory” (I’ll address this point in a moment), as an alternative scientific theory is a sign of scientific incompetence–even if creationist ideas can be called true or are valid. For, the rules which govern the creationist vocabulary, out of which they form propositions or criticisms, are not those which we have agreed to call scientific. These rules call for the kind of propositions which can be tested and which can be falsified. If these conditions cannot be met, we cannot call what is presented scientific–even if the ideas are valid.

      As to the theory of creationism, it is a misnomer, if we appeal to the rules of science. Theory has a higher status than do facts. Facts are a dime a dozen. Theory gives facts meaning, and represents a potentially infinite number of facts. Further, a theory must be able to make a prediction. If, for example, Newton’s propositions could not predict the motions of the planets, we could not have called his theory a theory in the scientific sense.

      The teacher of whom you spoke must not understand the deeper principles of his method, for this actions misrepresented the very ideal of the method. What he is presenting belongs to another method, more properly theological and political–even existential. So his “alternative” is no scientific alternative. It is a political, religious, or philosophical alternative, and belongs in another classroom. Yet I am not sure it belongs in a state funded classroom.

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