Why is Evolution so Hard to Accept?

A friend of mine who regularly finds himself locked in deep discussion in defense of reason from militant Christian fundamentalists recently sent me a copy of a message he received concerning evolution. I noticed a lot of facts and figures and other information which led me to believe this was no typical “fundie”. It seems that some of these people are really going to great lengths to build very long-winded arguments filled will so much “stuff” it’s almost overwhelming. That is, until you start digging in.

Did you know that there is a pseudo-scientific movement which is based solely on the rejection of evolution that borrows scientific terms, dates, and numbers? Me neither. But I am starting to see more and more of this type of argument. And while it doesn’t attempt to answer anything or find solutions to anything, unlike real science, it does give a glimpse into just how desperate fundies are getting concerning the fact that evolution has been proven as mountains of evidence including DNA confirms it. Evolution is fact.

Will these people ever just move on? Was it like this when the world was said to be a sphere? Did it really take fundies decades or maybe even centuries before they finally started to agree? My theory concerning this behavior is that until the fundies can use evolution to prove something in the bible, they will dispute it. They were able to get past the flat earth thing (almost; I hear there are still “flat-earthers” out there) by just using it as an example of just how imaginative and creative and all-knowing their god is. The shape of the earth and the true relation between the sun and the earth doesn’t threaten the very essence of a god created man. Evolution does. So I believe there will be a very long period of denial and intellectual dishonesty before – if ever – fundies face the fact of evolution.

Because the argument my friend sent me is filled with boiler-plate fundie arguments, I thought it would be interesting to take some of the more commonly used “Fundamentalist Evolution Assertions & Rhetoric” (FEAR) and analyze them specifically. The name of the fundie in this argument is “Garren”:

Garren: “you know that humans and bananas share 50% of the same DNA?  Did you know that we share 60+% of DNA with a chicken?  Must mean we evolved from bananas, through chickens to humans? “

Classic example of an argument from ignorance. The fact that humans share DNA with all living things is proof that all living things have a common ancestor. For life to have evolved from single-cell organisms, this relationship is absolutely necessary. One of the things fundies like to do is to create absurd examples, thinking it makes evolution appear absurd. But it only serves to illustrate how grossly uneducated fundies are in the principals of evolution. One of the most common mistakes they make is to ignore branching. The conclusion this fundie makes is that evolution is linear. That there was a single chain of sequences which caused everything to evolve from everything else. Apart from being ridiculous, this idea is either born from utter ignorance or used as a purposeful misrepresentation of evolution so as to mislead others who are unfamiliar with evolution.

Garren: “Do you see the problem with this [both side of this argument] , it REQUIRES FAITH first and then we both try and find “evidence” to support our beliefs in our FAITH!”

Here Garren attempts to devalue the scientific method by asserting that both science and religion require faith. This is another good example of the sheer disconnect from the principals of scientific method. To illustrate just how diferent science is from religion, I will compare the two:

Whenever biblical assertions are put to test, the method for testing the assertion is to find “evidence” by starting with the assertion and working backwards. The process of proving biblical claims is not a search for truth but rather the defense of an assertion. When evidence is found to support the biblical claim, it is included; whenever evidence is found to refute the biblical claim, it is dismissed. For example, one biblical claim which is used to describe everything from fossils to geological formations is the great flood of the bible where the Abrahamic god kills everyone and everything on the planet, save a few plants and animals and a few (related) people. To prove the flood happened, the fundies ignore the fact that there is not enough water to flood the earth. They deny the fact that the ice caps would have melted from such a flood. They deny the fact that in order for life to have re-established itself to the point of where it is today, there would have had to have been an entire ecosystem and 100% successful breeding of the animals on a  boat. The whole idea is incredibly ridiculous not to mention impossible. Despite this, fundies continue to assert that the great flood not only happened, but is the real reason for all the scientific discoveries concerning fossils and fossil layers. Fundies do not allow people of other religions or people of no religion to add their observations. If it doesn’t fit their religious scriptures, good evidence is simply ignored, denied, or re-tooled to fit their own agenda.

Scientific method was established for the purpose of discovering truths concerning our natural world. No scientist set out to prove “evolution” or that the world was not flat. These fields of study emerged from making observations of our world in an attempt to better understand it. Darwin set out to explore in a quest for answers and returned with interesting observations which eventually led him to believe there was a reason why so many finches could have different beaks in different areas based solely upon their environment and which attributes are more beneficial for each environment. He studies 15 different species of Finches in the Galapagos islands alone. Species which don’t exist anywhere else in the world.

Side note: I can’t help but to pause and think about how Noah would have had to not only catch and breed these Finches but also release them back onto a volcanic island chain after the flood subsided with each unique bird, reptile, tortoise and fauna put in just the right place for their proper survival based on the available food sources and other environmental conditions. Noah surely racked up quite some ark miles. And retrieving those unique animals in Australia before the flood must have been a real challenge. Kangaroos and duck billed platypus… wow! Gotta give him credit .

But what if the flood DID happen. And being realistic as the Israelites who wrote the Old Testament didn’t have any knowledge of America, Australia, New Zealand and much of the western hemisphere and so Noah did not travel to these places and re-introduce all plant and animal life there, how DID everything find it’s place? How did those 15 species of Finch get to just the right place with just the right plant life to survive? the answer is evolution. Whether there was a flood or not. There is not only no other explanation, but DNA evidence proves it. No one other than those who can’t stomach the idea of no Adam and Eve are denying it. Evolution is not a best guess. Evolution is a fact.

So back to science. Our use of science does not require faith and in fact is the anti-thesis to faith. Science is based on testable, demonstrable evidence. In other words PROOF. We can’t see electricity. But we can measure it. We can see the results of what happens when we control the flow of electricity. It’s the principal behind how we have computers. You know, the things we use everyday in our watches, phones, TVs, microwaves, cars, and personal computers. Science isn’t about making claims to prove one point or another. Science is about understanding our environment enough to manipulate it to our advantage. Science is used to make things happen. In medicine, we have applied our understanding of evolution to create vaccines which take into consideration the rapid evolution of bacteria. It is interesting to note that  bacteria found in some Japanese factories has evolved to consume nylon. The only way to explain this is evolution. Nylon is a synthetic product. Modern medicine cannot exist without our understanding of evolution. it’s not only a proven fact, we have working examples in medicine and in life forms.

So the difference between science and faith is that science describes our natural world using a process that eliminates the need for faith by testing and building working models to prove the validity of our observations. Faith, on the other hand,  relies on supernatural causes. Faith is required to hold beliefs outside the realm of testability or observation; other than in the imagination or “feelings” of individuals. Imaginings and feelings which cannot be demonstrated other than to make personal claims. Claims which do not affect real world developments like the use of electricity or the development of new medicines.

Garren also states: “I once again return to my first question THAT NOBODY (not even college professors) have been able to answer.  How does one TEST evolution!  Prove to me that you don’t believe by FAITH!  Everything in this world that can’t be measured by our senses is based upon faith.”

Again, Garren uses the premise that science is akin to religion. Science does not use human “senses” to measure electricity or light or gamma rays or atomic particles or to watch the splitting of cells during fertilization without the aid of instruments such as meters and microscopes, which are also the product of science. Science is the ANTITHESIS to faith. But fundies don’t want to be all alone in their very precarious position of having no proof and so try and establish that EVERYTHING requires faith. And this is absolutely true. I must have faith that I am not just dreaming right now and that this computer is not just a fantastic creation of my imagination. I must have some level of faith to believe I am even here right now. We can get into some very deep philosophical discussions about everything in the universe just being a perception which may be wrong. Right? But let’s get real; we are all here right now living in the same air and water and on the same planet and we have the same sun and the same requirements for survival. There are certain objective realities we must face. Science has brought about in the past few hundred years incomprehensible amounts of  proof of how this objective reality affects all of our lives. Automobiles, high rises, jet planes, computers, plastics, televisions, light bulbs, refrigerators, and so many things I couldn’t possibly list them all here. Our lives are improving because of our ability to manipulate our environment. To turn petroleum into an artificial valve in someone’s heart. To turn sand into microprocessors which control the technology we use everyday. This is science. And we do not need faith to know it exists. Because it exists. I can hold it in my hand. And I can turn it on. And I can press keys and write this and save it and retrieve it again on a different device in another part of the world.

Garren is a classic example of how child grooming can cause the entire thought process of a human to be based upon the acceptance of myth and the refusal to believe anything which counters such myth. This includes the divorcing of reason. He will convince himself that there is a conspiracy behind the scientific community to trick people into believing that everything we see and use and interact with everyday is nothing but a matter of faith. This is such an intellectually bankrupt perception of the world that it borders on abnormality. So what is the real reason behind having to preserve religious dogma? Why can’t these people accept that which is PROVEN and which is beneficial even to THEM? I think the answer lies in one or both of two possibilities:

1. Psychological Abnormality

Before being indoctrinated into a religious belief, there was an abnormality in the brain which limited the individuals ability to reason. Whatever comes in by way of a trusted source is never replaced with other ideas even if the other ideas are clearly more likely to be true. The person’s perception of the world is “solidified” based upon bias and now everything that the person experiences in life is filtered through a static thought process. If new ideas don’t pass a test when weighed against the individual’s bias or preconception, it is rejected. All opinions, ideas, thoughts, beliefs and experiences can only exist within the realm of a few tightly held beliefs. This is also known as confirmation bias. But there is a level at which even conformation bias will not hold up to normally functioning reason or common sense. Having a psychological abnormality might keep reason and common sense at bay. Or a learning disability might make it very difficult to grasp concepts.

2. Ego-Centrism and Willfull Ignorance

Ideas introduced at an early age are tied to the individual’s ego. The individual identifies him or herself with the early belief system and has a personal relationship with a framework of ideas that make the person feel safe and secure and loved. Anyone who counters the belief system is a threat to not only their perception of the world but to the person as an individual. Because the ideas proposed in religion are dogmatic, there is only good and bad, right or wrong, us or them. Anyone or anything which falls under bad, wrong, or them is a threat to their belief system and their self-image. All Ideas which counter their perception of the world are fabricated by “them”. Willful ignorance is used to avoid the unpleasant task of learning about all the other possibilities which their limited world view and protectionism shields them from.

And I am sure there are a myriad of other less common possibilities.

Evolution is hard to accept because it’s inconvenient  It proves that the myths in the bible concerning creation are as outdated as a flat Earth or the Sun revolving around the Earth. It’s as outdated as demons being the cause of disease and bloodletting being the cure. It’s as outdated as the story of a man building a wooden barge and setting sail in hundred foot turbulence with every imaginable animal, fish, insect and bacteria safely aboard breeding with a 100% success rate. Evolution, like so many other truths, is incompatible with fundamentalism. Why is Evolution so Hard to Believe?It’s really as simple as that.

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SC Rowland is a secularist, activist, and founder of Secular Press.

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