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Intellectually fulfilled atheists?

It is important to emphasise the severe trauma that a heavy-handed introduction to Darwinian theory can cause some religious believers. In a single conceptual leap the world can be transformed from one in which there are clear evidences of divine care to one in which God is superfluous. As philosophical theologian Keith Ward helpfully reminds us: “for most theists, God must be causally effective.”Keith Ward, God, Chance & Necessity (Oxford: Oneworld, 1996) 79.If God’s causal efficacy within biology can be questioned - where evidence was thought to be the strongest - then it would seem prudent for apologists to pause before simply redeploying the same argument with different supporting data. While Darwin’s specific claims about his theory of natural selection were tightly circumscribed, its ability to topple so strong an argument for theism has been taken to justify a much stronger claim: that all arguments for theism are likely to fail. In reality, Darwin’s theory can directly challenge only a small number of the arguments for theism, but for many the defeat of the argument from design tipped the balance in favour of the competing philosophy of scientific naturalism. Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins has famously noted that while it had always been possible to reject theology, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London: Penguin, 1991) 6.

While religious language used to seem appropriate when describing the more profound aspects of our lives, science has investigated both the mysterious and the mundane and explained the former in terms of the latter. Dawkins for one has become convinced that “our own existence once presented the greatest of all mysteries, but ... is a mystery no longer because it is solved.”Ibid. xii. Flush with success, might the sciences not go on to resolve all mysteries? The expanding field of evolutionary biology has indeed gone on to unravel mysteries at least as ponderous as the origin of species. One of note is the aforementioned ‘miracle’ of childbirth, and the intricacies of biological development in general. Here was another instance where intuition proved unreliable. Science showed that there was no need to appeal to a mysterious ‘life force’ that differentiated living matter from the nonliving. The astonishing micro-world of genes, amino acids and proteins could achieve the same result through an accumulation of numerous mechanical processes, all of which were in turn potentially explained by natural selection. The almost unbounded explanatory power of natural selection has led Dennett to refer to it as ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.’ For him, the unleashing of this idea has had the following cultural impact: “science has won and religion lost.”Qtd. in John F. Haught, God after Darwin: A Theology of Evolution (Boulder: Westview Press, 2000) 16.

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Intellectually fulfilled atheists?

[1] Does Evolution ‘do the work of a friend’ for the Christian Religion?
Setting the scene - why focus on providence?
[2] Supposed challenges from the evolutionary sciences to theology
A challenge to human uniqueness and status?
A challenge to purpose in creation?
A threat to the veracity of scripture?
Evolution ‘explains away’ theology?
A challenge to Christian morality?
The challenges in wider context - Darwin as a scapegoat?
[3] The current state of the evolutionary sciences
Different ways of conceptualising Darwinian evolution
Evolution as chance and necessity
Evolution as an algorithm
Evolution as movement within a ‘fitness landscape’
Ongoing debates: contingency versus convergence
Ongoing debates: what are the key causal factors in biological history?
Ongoing debates: the environment as the principle cause?
Ongoing debates: convergence as the principle cause?
Ongoing debates: ‘Universal biology’ as the principle cause?
The importance of moving from evolution as abstraction to particular history
Ongoing debates: directionality and progress
Ongoing debates: the origin of life
Different levels and kinds of selection?
[4] Responses from theology
Evolution, probabilities and providence
Responses from contemporary theologians
Holmes Rolston III
Keith Ward
John Haught
Arthur Peacocke
An increased role for general providence?
Theology of Creation in the light of evolution: three scenarios
[5] Concluding remarks


Adrian Wyard
Adrian M Wyard MSt

See also:

The Relation of Science & Religion
Purpose and Design
The Argument From Design
The Anthropic Principle
Charles Darwin
DNA Double-Helix