Why Can’t Evangelicals and Evolution Just Get Along, Already?

“I don’t personally have a problem with religious faith, even in the extreme, as long as it doesn’t supersede science and it’s not used to impose outdated mores on others.”

So wrote Charles M. Blow in the New York Times in a recent op-ed piece, provocatively entitled, “Indoctrinating Religious Warriors.” With certain features of the article, I find myself of one accord with Mr. Blow: for instance, he castigates the political right for intentionally conflating conservative politics with biblical fidelity. Thoughtful Christians should recognize the danger there, which is hardly a new challenge: politics are a messy business, and most Christians are aware enough to see that Jesus doesn’t fit well into our party lines.

But Blow’s article isn’t just a wag of the finger toward shady politics. His article is also a passionate defense of the ideological principle of evolution.

Blow finds the Christian ideology abhorrent specifically because it clashes with his own deeply held beliefs. The conflict is not, as Blow frames it, one of “science” against “religion,” but a fundamental battle of ideologies. Christianity puts forward a comprehensive worldview about the world we live in—describing the nature of humanity, answering the questions of right and wrong, and offering a vision for the future. What proponents of naturalistic evolution often fail to recognize is that their approach to science has the same traits. Naturalistic evolution, when taken as an ideology that denies supernatural involvement a priori, puts forward a comprehensive worldview. But its vision for humanity is drastically different.

Al Mohler helps to point this out in a reflection on this article in his podcast, “The Briefing.” He submits Blow’s claims to a series of questions, hinting that Blow’s beef is not with scientific ignorance, but with allegiance to Christianity. What is “religious faith” supposed to mean? Blow leaves little ambiguity about this, naming evangelicals as the primary problem. What “science” is he talking about? Again, Blow gives examples, only one of which is scientific: “science” means (1) accepting evolution as fact and (2) approving of gay marriage. What is “in the extreme” supposed to mean? Presumably, a religion becomes “extreme” when it has a system of ethics that contradicts the prevailing culture. “You can believe whatever you want,” Blow says, “but you also have to submit to my system of ethics.” Or, in other words, “My beliefs are better than yours.”

The trick is to get people to think that “religion” is just some private belief, irrelevant to actual life, while “science” is what all sane people know and trust. But that’s simply not the case. There are scientific disagreements as well as religious ones. The key question isn’t “Is it science or religion?” but rather, “What is true?” If the Christian religion is true, then it can’t be taken too far “in the extreme.” And if the Christian religion is true, then it has implications for all of life, including the ethics that Blow finds “outdated.”

I don’t personally have a problem with scientific claims, even in the extreme, as long as its supporters are honest about the fact that every claim arises from an ideology. Every ideology besides the Christian worldview will implicitly deny the Christian worldview; until Blow recognizes this, the clashes that Blow finds so perplexing will continue.