Could some atheist out there explain, when you profess to acknowledge no divine authority, why the Theory of Evolution is sacrosanct? Anyone? Maybe one of these guys?I ask this question because Christopher Hitchens, a man I quite admire despite his fiery crusade against all things religious, recently wrote an article about his book tour in support of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” In it, he tossed in this snarky aside with regard to the bumpkin-like nature of religious morons like me:
“People seem to be lying to the opinion polls, as well. They claim to go to church in much larger numbers than they actually do (there aren’t enough churches in the country to hold the hordes who boast of attending), and they sometimes seem to believe more in Satan and in the Virgin Birth than in the theory of evolution.”
The first claim, if true, is a legitimate observation of hypocrisy. I fail to understand, though, why it’s so important to Hitchens that evolution be an article of faith among nonbelievers, or why anyone who believes in Satan and the Virgin Birth could not possibly believe in evolution, too.
Hitchens is suggesting that all religious people are incapable of reason, which is an extraordinarily naïve position. It’s as sweeping as the condemnation contained in the title of his book: religion poisons everything. I’ve heard him defend this gross generalization in interviews. For example, a couple of months ago, radio talk show host and practicing Jew Dennis Prager asked him an illuminating question, which I paraphrase here:
“If you were walking in a bad neighborhood in an American inner city late at night and you saw a group of young people walking toward you, would you or would you not be relieved to learn that they had just come from a Bible study class?”
Hitchens didn’t answer right away. How could he? The reasonable answer, no matter what your religious affiliation, would have to be, “Yes, of course. How many gangbangers and hoodlums go to Bible class, after all?” But to so answer would be to concede that religion hadn’t poisoned these young people and had probably improved them. Hitchens tried to change the subject and pretend that the example falls apart if it’s applied to radical Islamists leaving an Iraqi mosque. Prager reminded him that this example focused on an American and not an Iraqi city and a Bible study, not a Koran study.
Remember, to win this argument, Prager doesn’t have to prove that religion doesn’t poison anything; he just has to demonstrate that religion doesn’t poison everything. When pressed to answer, Hitchens said that he would neither be relieved or nor “unrelieved,” and that he hoped they would be coming from a Thomas Paine class instead. (Lots of Thomas Paine outreaches going on in the inner cities these days, I guess.) His answer calls to mind the response of another group of reasoned men, who, when asked by Jesus if the baptism of John was of heaven or of men, answered “we cannot tell.” Sure. Because if either the Pharisees or Hitchens answered honestly, their arguments would utterly collapse.
This kind of nonsense is what makes the atheistic defense of evolution so deeply silly.
Understand this: I’m not advocating teaching the Book of Genesis in science classes. The Theory of Evolution is the best guess that science has been able to assemble to explain life on earth, and, as such, it has a place in the classroom. At the same time, scientists ought to treat it the way they treat every other scientific theory and admit that it’s still a work in progress.
Case in point: recently, two German physicists have claimed to have broken the speed of light, an event which would shatter the fundamental tenets of one of the most respected scientific theories in the world, namely Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The announcement has been greeted with skepticism, as all new scientific discoveries should be, but will it also be savaged with the kind of fury reserved for those who dare question any of evolution’s principles?
“Oh, you think Einstein was wrong, do you? What, then, you think the Earth was created in six days?”
“Faster than light? Oh, right. You’re one of those religious loons. Maybe Noah has some more room for you on the Ark.”
“So you’re smarter than Albert Einstein. You probably believe in Satan and the Virgin Birth, too.”
Hopefully, this announcement will be subjected to scientific scrutiny and not scorn. (As for me, I feel the same way about this as I did about the two Utah scientists who claimed to have achieved fusion at room temperature: I’ll believe it when I see it.) But the fact is that the theory of evolution is pretty good at explaining intraspecies adaptation but woefully inept at explaining how one species evolves into another, or how complex systems like eyes develop out of a series of random mutations. Start asking questions about this stuff, however, and you’re likely to get called all sorts of names, and if Chris Hitchens is anywhere nearby, the Virgin Birth is going to enter into the equation somehow.
Honest scientists, when confronted with legitimate inquiries about evolution, will answer “we don’t know” or “we’ll still working on it.” Hitchensites, however, will call your motives into question, because otherwise they have to admit that they’re either ignoring the theory’s internal contradictions or exercising faith in a future satisfying explanation. The hard fact is that evolutionary principles that don’t stand up to reason have to be accepted on religious grounds.
For Mr. Hitchens, for whom religion poisons everything, that has to be a bitter pill to swallow.