Is Your Faith a Product of Evolution?
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Is religion—specifically Christianity—a byproduct of evolution, which came about because of humanity’s genetic predispositions and imaginations about the world around them? Perhaps you’ve questioned your belief in the supernatural realm under the scrutiny of an evolutionary worldview and wondered if there is any evidence or reason for carrying on with such beliefs. How can we face the evolutionary explanation for belief in God in light of world history? These are legitimate questions and concerns worth investigating, and ones that we can find answers to as we pursue an honest and sincere faith.
Science, religion and philosophy
At first glance, it might appear that an evolutionary explanation for humanity’s belief in God and the tenants of a religious worldview is more rational than a divine explanation, simply because it’s based on modern “scientific” beliefs about our findings in the natural world. However, this conclusion is not based on indisputable facts established by science, but rather a Western philosophical presumption that the only way we can determine the cause or existence of something is if it has a naturalistic explanation.
By definition, science is explicitly limited to investigating materialistic phenomena. So, if we presume that there must be a materialistic explanation for non-materialistic phenomena, such as God and religion, then we are limiting the evidence to a biased, anti-supernaturalistic worldview.
It’s crucial for us to recognize that both explanations for humanity’s belief in the divine—whether by scientism’s anti-supernaturalistic worldview or by religion’s supernaturalistic worldview—are conclusions based on a presupposition of “faith,” and neither can be proven or disproven by scientific experiment. Therefore, science can play a role in our investigation of how the supernatural realm influences our material world, but it most certainly cannot be the only standard of proof of whether or not the supernatural world exists.
Text, archaeology and evolutionary criticism
So, let’s examine the evolutionary account to see whether it offers a more plausible explanation for what humanity believes about God and religion, but more specifically the God and historical roots of the Christian faith.
Critics of archaeology and religious texts, with an evolutionary worldview often explain the development of religion as follows: In primitive times, humans formed a belief in objects having spirits and worshiped their ancestors as it improved their survival. Their shamanistic style of beliefs and development of tribal deities gave humans an illusion of their involvement and influence in a supernatural world through fetishes, magic, idols and the like. This led to a belief in many gods—polytheism—and later reduced to elevating one god and moral code above all others. This ultimately resulted in monotheistic faiths (Josh McDowell, Evidence for Christianity, p. 500).
When we examine the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith, we see very clearly that the surrounding cultures practiced what this worldview refers to as the early evolutionary stages of religion. For example, the earliest civilizations that paralleled biblical times, such as the Egyptians, took to animism, polytheism and these “primitive” forms of god and faith. However, despite the trends of the world they lived in, the Hebrew faith defied evolution’s patterns for religion at every turn.
From the very beginning, the central message of the Hebrew texts—and of Christianity for that matter—was that of the “I Am” (Exodus 3:14; John 8:58).
The historical records show that they did not begin with a belief in objects from nature having a spirit, but rather a divine Being which caused all things to come into existence and Who had always been in existence (Hebrews 11:3). This vastly differed from what was believed by those around them.
Though their ancestors believed in honoring their parents, they did not worship their ancestors. Instead, they often left their families to seek after God, or the God of their forefathers (Exodus 20:12; Hebrews 11:24-26; Matthew 19:29). Archaeologists have found a plethora of statues and idols for the Egyptian and Canaanite gods. However, an image of the Hebrew God is nowhere to be found in the archeological record—because abstaining from all images of God as an idol was such an integral part of keeping this faith (Exodus 20:4-6).
So, there is no evidence that the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith evolved out of belief in spirits, ancestor worship or idol worship—but rather a genuine experience of divine inspiration. Even if one were to filter the historical texts and archeological record to somehow fit the evolutionary model, consider that “only the Hebrew religion and its branches have produced a genuine monotheism” (McDowell, p. 502). Polytheistic religions have either gained more deities or remained the same, but they have not reduced deities (Ronald Youngblood, B.D., Ph.D., as cited in Evidence for Christianity, p. 506). So, to assume that this monotheistic faith must have come from an evolutionary cause or a polytheistic religion isn’t based on evidence, but rather a presumption of a false cause.
“Every fresh publication of Canaanite mythological texts makes the gulf between the religions of Canaan and Israel increasingly clear. A common geographical environment, a common material culture and a common language were not enough to quench the glowing spark of the Israelite faith” (William F. Albright, as cited in Evidence for Christianity, p. 507). Unless it was divinely inspired, this faith should not have evolved or survived. If it did survive by mere chance, then the beliefs of Abraham and Moses were truly superior to those around them, simply because their beliefs were far greater than what man could have grasped in their time according to the narrative of evolution.
Psychology and altruism
In 2019, the British Broadcasting Company published an article titled, “How and Why Did Religion Evolve?” by Brandon Ambrosino. In his investigation of human and animal behaviors, namely the chimpanzee, he came to the evolutionary psychology’s worldview of religion. That is, assuming religion must have a naturalistic cause, primitive humans must have come to their beliefs in god(s) and faith as it was positively reinforced by a pseudo altruism of sharing outside their immediate groups, ritualistic play and spreading their ideas over a meal with others.
As a result, “evolution didn’t ‘aim’ at religion; religion just emerged as evolution aimed at other things” such as survival (Ambrosino). It was merely perpetuated by chance, humanity’s imaginations and genetic codes. To some who hold this worldview, religion is like an unnecessary organ—the appendix of human existence that once must have had a purpose, but no longer has a necessary function for humanity’s survival and wellbeing. However, these ideas are all based on anti-supernaturalistic presuppositions—not archaeological or historical evidence.
Furthermore, if evolution caused humanity to believe an illusion about reality by producing faith in God, how can we trust that it hasn’t convoluted our minds to believe in scientism’s predisposition of evolution? If evolution is based on survival, then it really isn’t a reliable method of understanding what is true in reality. It only helps us figure out what we can get from the world around us in order to survive. So, “it is not really fair to apply the knife of evolutionary skepticism to our morality and religion, and not use it on our own [anti-supernaturalistic sense of] reason” (Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, p. 225).
Finally, if religion is purely a byproduct of evolution, how could a religion such as Christianity have survived when it demands that its followers need to love and care for the needs of their enemies? This would ensure the survival of both the weakest and the strongest—which is the very antithesis of evolutionary principles.
Although faith in a divine being is often met with skepticism or derision from those who hold an evolutionary worldview, faith in the God of the Bible is not baseless or illegitimate belief structure. This faith—from its Hebrew and Christian roots—has survived throughout human history, despite popular world trends and evolution’s pattern for religion. Additionally, if belief in the Divine has ensured humanity’s survival, as evolution presupposes, then it is truly the ultimate tool for life. For no one said it better than Jesus Christ Himself, “I Am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).