In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, new atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett famously describes Darwinism as a “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept” — including religion. BioLogos has now approvingly posted an article by evolutionary psychologist Matt Rossano disclaiming the idea that “evolution” poses any threat to belief in God. The article concludes:
The more we understand evolution, the less it seems like neither the bogeyman creationists fear nor the universal God-dissolving acid some atheists crave.
That sure sounds nice, but is it true?
In Rossano’s recent book, Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved, he argues that religion itself exists because it evolved by unguided natural selection, as an adaptation, and was therefore not something created by God. In Dr. Rossano’s own words:
This book seeks to answer a very straightforward question: How did religion come to be? … [W]hile there may or may not have been a time before God, there most certainly was a time before the idea of God (or gods). This time cannot be found in documented human history, however, but only in human evolutionary history (or prehistory). Thus, religion came to be because religion evolved. Though not intending sacrilege, this book does aim to provide a clearly specified, step-by-step model of religion’s evolutionary history. … I strongly contend that religion is (or maybe was) an adaptation. … I’m well aware that for some folks, calling religion an adaptation amounts to nothing less than heresy.”
(Matt J. Rossano, Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved, pp. 1-2 (Oxford University Press, 2010).)
So there you have it: According to Rossano, religion exists not because God imparted the religious impulse to human beings, or because God revealed some special truth about Himself to us, as most religions claim. Rossano would have you believe religion is “an adaptation” and “religion came to be because religion evolved”.
Seems like Rossano just helped Darwin’s universal acid just eat God right out of the origin of religion. Yet Rossano expects us to accept his shiny-happy assertion that Darwinian evolution is in no way a “universal God-dissolving acid.”
One Amazon reviewer of Rossano’s book gets it:
The [book’s]premise is posited forthrightly and as if there is no doubt in the author’s mind that religion (in which God is scarcely mentioned at all), is a biological phenomenon… it is “adaptive behavior”, learned in the womb of evolution, carved out of “relationships” and is merely a cooperative instinct, learned from eons of evolutionary development. …
[T]he basic tenet behind this book is that human beings in their totality are the products of Darwinian evolution, without one shred of scientific data to support that view.
Consider also this passage from Rossano’s book where science has supposedly “eroded” many religious beliefs:
Expanding scientific knowledge steadily eroded the credibility of many supernatural religious concepts. As our understanding of and (to some degree) control over the natural world increased, the need to appeal to supernatural forces was reduced or eliminated. (p. 206)
But Rossano and BioLogos want you to believe that the notion that Darwinian evolution is a “universal God-dissolving acid” is a fiction invented by atheists and scared creationists.
What’s Really Happening Here?
Some might say Matt Rossano is deliberately talking out of both sides of his mouth — preaching a God-friendly version of evolution to the public, through the medium of BioLogos, but then promoting God-dissolving evolutionary explanations for religion in his professional work. Perhaps that’s part of it, but after looking through Supernatural Selection, I’m more inclined to think that his position is just logically incoherent but that he somehow can’t (or doesn’t want to) see it.
Much like BioLogos-affiliated Old Testament scholar John Walton, Rossano hopes he can save religion from science by the mere declaration that science can say nothing about God:
Whether God exists or not falls outside of the objective realm. It is subjective … the issue of God’s existence is irresolvable and it is irrational to debate irresolvable issues. (Supernatural Selection, pp. 15, 27)
Again, that sounds nice, but the effect of Rossano’s position is to deny theists the ability to argue for God’s existence. Most atheists are well-aware Rossano is wrong, so theists who adopt his position unwittingly concede (quite unnecessarily!) the debate over religion to atheists. Since Rossano’s own professional work removes God from the origin of religion, he’s in the unusual position of being both fiddler and arsonist as religion is burned up by Darwin’s universal acid.
My chapter in God and Evolution rebuts Rossano’s losing strategy, yet closes with the following encouraging news:
Someday — perhaps soon, these atheists believe — Darwin’s universal acid will complete its task and there won’t be anything left for religious persons to defend. Surely the more compelling response to the new atheists’ war against religion — if it is supported by the data — is a sound, civil, and compelling demonstration that their scientific arguments are wrong.
Thankfully, it’s possible to offer such a compelling response that is also supported by the data.