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Evolutionism claims that religious beliefs result from their ability to give us a cooperative ability to survive. This, an Evolutionist would argue, would imply that religion comes into existence, not on any truth claim, but from evolution giving us useful, but otherwise untrue beliefs.

What is the proper response to this argument?

(Here is another article on the subject.)

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    "Evolutionary Science has demonstrated that religious beliefs come from evolution giving us a cooperative ability to survive" Hahaha. No it hasn't.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 11 at 2:51
  • Not an argument, no evidence presented, no reason to downvote.
    – Luke Hill
    Oct 11 at 3:26
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    I didn't downvote but you need to provide a source for that claim so we can properly refute it. Most likely the claim presupposes naturalism which denies the supernatural origin of the human soul as separate from the body. Refuting naturalism plus demonstrating a better explanation of religious belief is one common strategy. Oct 11 at 4:17
  • Perhaps you are confusing "religious beliefs" with belief in a creator God. Such belief is universal and pre-dates "evolutionary science" by around 6,000 years. That means the probable answer to your question will be a resounding "No".
    – Lesley
    Oct 11 at 11:34
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    +1 for interesting question but "Evolutionary Science has demonstrated that religious beliefs come from evolution" is a highly debatable claim. IMO better if 'demonstrated' -> 'posits' or some such thing. Oct 11 at 15:34
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No.

Everything that exists, came to be by the process of evolution. So by that logic, scientific beliefs too are false.

There's nothing in the evolutionary mechanism that optimizes for objective truth, just survival. For instance, a caveman that believes he will be abducted by aliens if he eats a poisonous fruit will survive. Another that doesn't have this false belief, eats and dies. This is the essense of Alvin Plantinga's argument against naturalism.

Within a purely naturalistic system the probability that any basic belief (say the belief that I exist) is true would be 1/2. Complex beliefs that are composed of multiple basic beliefs would be the multiplication of probabilities of those basic beliefs. 0.5 x 0.5 x 0.5 = 0.125. As beliefs systems become more complex the probability of it being true becomes exponentially small.

To roughly paraphrase Plantinga: If naturalism is true, it's quite probable that - it being a product of human minds that came about via evolution - it is not true. This is a self-defeating proposition.

Furthermore, evolution only explains how things came to be not the why. There's no reason why God could not have used the evolution to create the life forms as He intended.

Some people think that takes away some of the grandeur of the creation. Not at all. I am a software developer. I had a task I needed to do daily, copying some generated files to a data server. Growing tired of doing it manually, I wrote a script to automate the process. It runs automatically on a schedule and copies the files by itself. Is this a less intelligent approach than the manual copying? Does the fact that it happens by itself mean there was no intent behind it? The code for the script explains how it happens, but there's no why there. The why comes from the programmer who wrote the script.

So if God used evolution, there's no reason our brains could not be how he intended. Capable of rational thought aimed at objective truth and not just what's expedient for survival. Part of this design could also be theism, or the capability to know him.

I'll leave you with G.K. Chesterton's view on this:

Evolution is a good example of that modern intelligence which, if it destroys anything, destroys itself. Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, it is an attack upon thought itself. If evolution destroys anything, it does not destroy religion but rationalism. If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside time. But if it means anything more, it means that there is no such thing as an ape to change, and no such thing as a man for him to change into. It means that there is no such thing as a thing. At best, there is only one thing, and that is a flux of everything and anything. This is an attack not upon the faith, but upon the mind; you cannot think if there are no things to think about. You cannot think if you are not separate from the subject of thought. Descartes said, “I think; therefore I am.” The philosophic evolutionist reverses and negatives the epigram. He says, “I am not; therefore I cannot think. ― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

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    "There's no reason why God could not have used the evolution to create the life forms as He intended." Aside from it fundamentally undermining God's Goodness.
    – Matthew
    Oct 11 at 15:56
  • @Matthew Good point. That's why I used the word could. I want to avoid basing Christian principles on conrete scientific arguments. Those are prone to change and when they do, people reject Christianity as being false. Such as insistence of Christians of past on a Geocentric model of universe.
    – John Doe
    Oct 11 at 16:13
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    The article you link makes the same mistake. It tries to present a specific model of creation. And it's based on the premise that death is bad. Is the plant death, or death at cellular level bad? Is it bad if there's no pain or consciousness involved, like in shutting down an AI powered system? Perhaps the animals evolved like a programmed system, and conciousness was injected much later? We can't know for certain. The argument that there is a creator doesn't have to rest on the exact mechanism of creation.
    – John Doe
    Oct 11 at 16:14
  • Plants don't "die" in the same way as vertebrates. "The life of the flesh is in the blood" (n.b. also Genesis 9:4 and many other places). Moreover, a plant doesn't die when it loses leaves any more than you or I die when we cut our hair or nails. It's not even inconceivable that plants didn't die either, before the Fall, but merely lost leaves/fruit to feed animals (and humans) while their root remained alive. Anyway, I contest that death before the Fall is contrary to God's nature.
    – Matthew
    Oct 11 at 16:22
  • Interestingly, I've seen arguments (chiefly from Dr. Russell Humphreys, as a hypothesized solution to the "distant starlight problem") that the geocentric model is correct. Not at the solar system level, of course, but at the universal level. (Apologies, a good citation is eluding me at the moment...)
    – Matthew
    Oct 11 at 16:32
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This might not be the answer you're looking for, but a great reference for this argument would be in C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. Certain concepts are paralleled with this argument, specifically the law of morality, where our morals come from, and the nature of God. After establishing that our moral structure comes from God himself, one point Lewis remarks on is the relationship between instinct (what you would call the evolutionary desire to survive) and morality. He makes a point that often, morality is in contradiction with instinct (for example, running into a burning building to save someone). In this case, instinct would call on you to survive and avoid danger, yet compassion and morality send you inside. Because Mere Christianity is an apologetic work, I would highly recommend reading it to help you with tackling these difficult debates. :)

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First, to directly address the (not exactly identical) question in the title:

Does the Origin of Religious Beliefs from Evolution cast doubt on Christian belief?

No, because from a Christian perspective, the very premise is flawed. We must start by asking whether this assertion has any credence, since a faulty assertion has little power to cast doubt.

So, let's do that:

[Evolutionism claims that religion comes into existence, not on any truth claim, but from evolution giving us useful, but otherwise untrue beliefs.]

What is the proper response to this argument?

I'd be tempted to respond by systematically dismantling Evolutionism, which, after all, has essentially zero evidence. Unlike Natural Selection, which is the variation of what we presently call "species" within their created kinds, making use of genetic potential which they possessed at Creation and are slowly but surely losing (according to the laws of entropy/thermodynamics, i.e. The Curse), the entire argument for Evolutionism rests on the Naturalist' dogmatic rejection of God. Evolutionism is born not out of evidence, but out of invocation of the Holmesian Fallacy.

There is, in fact, significant evidence against Evolutionism. The lack of evidence is evidence in itself. The absurd improbabilities against it are evidence. Indications that life was designed (including some that are hillariously claimed as evidence for Evolution) are evidence against it. The lack of fossil corroboration, and indeed the failure of the fossil record to align with the philosophy, is evidence. The abject failure of the philosophy to substantiate its claims, and the number of times it has had to be revised as a result, is evidence against it.

I could go on — indeed, many books have been written on the subject — but we'd be here all week.

All this, however, is irrelevant, because 2 Thessalonians 2:10b-11 tells us "they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false". After reading this, I realized I need to be more phlegmatic about trying to argue with Evolutionists. They are wedded to their dogmas to a degree that cannot be called other than religious zealotry. "[Naturalism] is absolute, for [the Naturalist] cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door" (Richard Lewontin¹, evolutionary biologist). Their philosophy (might as well call it a "religion"; the distinction is academic) is predicated on the (unscientific!) a priori rejection of even the possibility of God existing, and for the very good reason that they recognize that, should they allow for said possibility, the evidence in favor of it is nearly overwhelming. In the words of Romans 1:20, "His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."

The important take-away here is that the claim in question comes from this same philosophy; namely, that Naturalists will believe anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid confronting the possibility that God actually exists.

Therefore, I suggest what may seem a rather odd approach: preach the Law and Gospel. If someone is not completely lost to the Truth, the power of God's Word and the mountains of evidence in favor of the same (and, yes, in favor of Creation) will reach them. Show them that God's Word is true, and that it is Truth. If they are lost in their delusion, as per 2 Thessalonians, no amount of arguing or evidence will reach them. (Indeed, the ability of Naturalists to ignore inconvenient facts is astonishing.)

(¹ I've also seem assertions that Lewontin himself is not making this claim, but rather observing that it occurs. For our purposes, the latter is still sufficient; it does not matter what particular individual is operating in this manner, but that Naturalists as a whole tend to operate thusly.)


As an aside, I'm amused by the claim that 'religion gives us useful beliefs'. The evidence for (traditional) religions, particularly Christianity, providing for a better society is all around us. One needs only to compare the early USA to its sad state today, or to Marxist countries, to see that clearly. The implication therefore that an Evolutionist would somehow find Marxism "better" is... interesting.

This, of course, leads to a counterpoint with respect to religion being "useful". Christians clearly ought to (and do) argue for the societal value of Christianity. From our perspective, of course, God gave us religion — say, more specifically, the Law — because He knows our nature, and knows the sort of messes we humans devolve into without that guidance. Moreover, the Bible tells us that we were Created with a conscience, and that evidence of Creation is all around us (n.b. Romans 1:20 again). Thus, the case for the existence of religion, even among those that don't know Christ, is quite clear when approached from a Christian starting point.

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It matters zero where religious beliefs as a whole come from (I doubt the claim it is emergent from evolution can be properly proven, anyway), because even if it were as claimed, that touches not at all the fundamental claim of revealed religions that their religion was directly communicated from God. It is a genetic fallacy.

It is God who revealed himself to men, not men inventing a religion that somehow turns out to be right, or men "finding" God. It matters not that it is also true that humans invent religions (because obviously, we see that happening all the time in the Bible).

This answer makes the claim that a natural tendency for developing religion is, in fact, an indicator that there is, in fact, a God. C.S. Lewis also argued this or something similar as the argument from desire. However, on their own people can't do anything religion-wise other than invent a religion. God has to reveal himself so people can know him.

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"Evolutionism claims that religious beliefs result from their ability to give us a cooperative ability to survive. This, an Evolutionist would argue, would imply that religion comes into existence, not on any truth claim, but from evolution giving us useful, but otherwise untrue beliefs."

Evolution of a belief does not mean it is untrue. If anything, an idea having been evolved makes it more likely to be true. Indeed, evolution of ideas is precisely how the scientific method works, and is claimed to give such accurate results. Wrong beliefs that make false predictions are rejected. A belief that survives many attempts to prove it wrong is more likely to be true.

However, Christians do not hold that religious belief is, as such, necessarily true.

Consider the question of how false religions and heresies arise. How did people come to believe in Zeus and Athena, or Shiva and Vishnu, or Tiamat and Ishtar? How did some Christians come to believe in the Gnostic or Arian heresies? Can both the Catholics and the Protestants both be right? Even about those doctrines on which each says the other is wrong?

Religious belief that one particular denomination of one particular religion is true and all the other hundreds of religions and heresies are false necessarily implies that most religious beliefs held by humans are false. It would be the most monstrous heresy to say otherwise. So how should the Christian explain the human tendency to invent entire pantheons of deities that, according to Christian belief, are not real?

Most pagans believed in their religions because that was what the rest of their society believed. It's what they were taught by their parents and teachers. It's what they were told by society's rulers and priests. It's what was revealed and asserted to be true in their sacred texts. And often because the penalties for disbelief were usually severe. False religions arose and survived, not because the truth had been revealed to them, but because such beliefs were useful to hold the society together as a cooperative entity. Or sometimes, because it justified the sins they or their rulers wanted to indulge in - "useful" in a different sense.

But just because religions can be false does not mean they are all false. Just because religions can arise from their ability to give us a cooperative ability to survive does not mean that they all do. If there is evidence for the truth of one, in clear distinction to the 'evidence' put forward for all the false ones, then that proof stands on its own. An evolved tendency to make up false beliefs does not imply that all beliefs are false.

Evolutionists cannot hold that all evolved beliefs are thereby false, for their own belief in evolution arises by means of exactly the same evolved mechanisms. And Christians do not claim that all religious beliefs are true simply for being religious, so the truth of Christianity does not depend in any way on the character of or reasons for religious beliefs in general.

Evolutionists' argument that evolved minds can give rise to false religious beliefs does not tell us anything that we did not already know from history books full of tales of a multitude of false religious beliefs. Or from the Biblical accounts of the Prophets, or the Lives of the Martyrs, or the history of the Church. It's not news.

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Your question over-simplifies what has been said on the topic. Beliefs and ideas cannot 'evolve' in the same way that physical characteristics evolve. Beliefs are not genetic. A human baby is born without any "beliefs", and in most cases is raised by their parents to believe in something, or not!

The confusion you have may come from the fact that certain prominent advocates of evolution theory also weigh in their thoughts on religion, but the two are very different. For example, Richard Dawkins, author of many books on evolutionary biology, has also put forward his own theory on how cultural behaviours develop - something he called "memes". There is no actual "demonstration" of this as you suggest - much like evolution theories, it is a theory to explain what the theorist observes, but it is not really possible to put them to the test by scientific method. A theory to explain the existence of many religions cannot use the existence of many religions as clinching proof that it is correct.

For clarity, different Christian denominations have different feelings about true 'evolution' theory. Some deny it. Some accept it and say that the Bible must be 'allegory' to help us understand it. Others, including myself, accept that 'micro evolution' is a scientifically proven fact which explains the diversity in creation, but that the belief in 'macro evolution' as an explanation for how all life came to exist is a huge leap of logic that misuses the evidence backing micro-evolutions to support it. As I accept the science, I have no reason to disregard your question off-hand - it just doesn't relate to the same science.

From the perspective of a Christian - and this may well be shared by those of other religions too - is that human beings have a 'spiritual need' because we were created in God's image. It is the thing that separates us from animals, that we are able to comprehend our creator. And even those who don't believe in a 'creator' as such still evidently have that need, otherwise scientists would not devote their time trying to figure out how the universe began and how life started. Learning how we came to exist, whether by creation or by chance, arguably fills the same 'need' and is one that only human beings have.

It is possible to trace how many major religions have been 'adapted' over time - for example, doctrinal differences between Christian denominations may be traced back to events like the reformation. It is the belief of many that in the beginning there was one 'truth', and that the varied belief system of today is down to corruptions of that, schisms, and other deviations from the truth about our creator. To directly answer your question, we didn't 'evolve' a need and then fill it with religion - we were created, and at the beginning of human history that was knowledge, not belief. The need to have a belief is because we were specifically created to comprehend our creation.

Some do state the belief that all religions are different ways of acknowledging a creator, and may all be acceptable to him. A common illustration for this belief is that they are "all roads leading to the same place". That is not a Christian teaching, however - Jesus gave an illustration that said human beings were only on 1 of 2 roads, one acceptable to God, and one that is not (Matthew 7:13,14).

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A Christian (or more generally, a theistic) response to this claim is to expose the unjustified premise of metaphysical naturalism, a philosophical position which restricts the explanation for human's universal sense of deity to come only from nature. Several Christian philosophers who reject metaphysical naturalism (see the article The Self-Defeat of Naturalism for how Alvin Plantinga and C.S. Lewis do this in different ways) can accept that God works through evolution as a secondary cause of creation. They demonstrate through philosophical arguments that the human faculty which is the seat of religious beliefs is not part of nature, which in philosophy is commonly called the soul / mind. On the other hand, metaphysical naturalists reduce any operation of the soul into brain and other physical processes, a metaphysical thesis called physicalism.

Evolution is simply a scientific theory preferred by metaphysical naturalists to "prove" their atheism as against theism. Example proponents are Daniel Dennett (author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon) and Richard Dawkins (author of The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design). But there is a way of doing science (with evolution as one possible theory) without committing to metaphysical naturalism, a position called methodological naturalism that can be safely held by Christian scientists.

Quote from a 2018 dissertation by David Gordon Evolution, Naturalism, and Theism: An Inconsistent Triad?, Chapter V Section 1 (emphasis mine):

Methodological naturalism says that since science is the empirical study of the natural world, “scientific theories should be neutral on the question of whether a supernatural God exists.” 10 Methodological naturalism, being a method rather than a metaphysic, is not necessarily incompatible with theism, or belief in a reality which transcends the physical. The scope of methodological naturalism studies the Book of Nature, not Revelation, and limits itself to the investigation of natural causes and only allows for explanations which are natural. Daniel Dennett uses the imagery of skyhooks (a supernatural “‘mind-first’ force or power” such as a deity that resides in the sky) to describe theism, and cranes (natural processes) to describe naturalism. Metaphysical naturalists would deny the existence of skyhooks and argue only cranes exist. Methodological naturalists would remain neutral on the existence of skyhooks, but try to explain phenomena using only cranes.11

It is possible for a scientist to use methodological naturalism in his scientific studies, but adhere to theist beliefs as part of his or her larger metaphysical framework. However, if one begins within the framework of metaphysical naturalism, methodological naturalism is the only method which offers an accurate depiction of reality. Any theistic causal explanations are necessarily false. However, if one begins within the larger framework of theism, methodological naturalism may be only one of several different ways of investigating reality. In other words, if metaphysical naturalism is a true description of reality (the physical universe is causally closed), then methodological naturalism is a necessity, and the only proper way to investigate reality. If metaphysical naturalism is not a true description of reality (the universe might be causally open), then methodological naturalism is not necessarily the only proper method, and there might be non-natural events which occur in the universe which methodological naturalism cannot account for (the type of events the Bible records). There might also be non-empirical ways of knowing other than methodological naturalism (a priori reasoning, or intuition), or types of data and evidence that elude scientific investigation (mystical experience or the paranormal).

There are several problems facing both metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism. The problem for metaphysical naturalism is whether or not it is merely a dogmatic assertion, an assumption, or whether there are good epistemic grounds to favor it as the most likely ontology. This is an important issue, because “the naturalist claims to have epistemic, explanatory, and methodological superiority on his or her side, especially when naturalist positions are understood to have the authority of science behind them.” 12 So by what means does the naturalist justify their metaphysic and method so as to gain the epistemically privileged ground? A naturalist ontology cannot be justified by reason of the naturalistic method, since the reasoning is circular, as one assumes what one seeks to prove. If one from the outset limits oneself to finding only what is within one building, it is impossible to make claims as to what exists outside that building. It also leaves us with the problem of which came first, the worldview or the method?

CONCLUSION: Evolution "done right" (with methodological naturalism) does not necessarily lead into dismissing religious truths as "untrue beliefs". The claim comes from holding an atheistic philosophical position of metaphysical naturalism (and physicalism) which rejects religious truths a priori.

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  • As an observation: it is unclear what "methodological naturalism" means, or is understood to mean. I had understood it as synonymous with the rejection of the possibility of God. You appear to argue that it is the "innocent until proven guilty" approach taken by Creationists, i.e. to prefer a wholly natural explanation while not excluding the possibility that a supernatural explanation is superior in some instances.
    – Matthew
    Oct 11 at 16:06
  • @Matthew The dissertation explains it at length, which has to do with a philosophical presupposition of doing science. It's common among Christian philosophers of science that scientific method itself has to borrow elements from natural philosophy, so "methodological naturalism" is a common one being used nowadays, which is compatible with theism. It's a way to demarcate authority so truths from science don't conflict with truths from theology. In addition to the origin & operation of soul, "methodological naturalism" also allows for miracles and continuing God's actions within history. Oct 11 at 16:17
  • @Matthew "You appear to argue that it is the "innocent until proven guilty" approach taken by Creationists". No. Rather, the assumption is that God himself is the guarantor that nature doesn't deceive, that we can truly distinguish between primary vs. secondary causes (see chapter 5 section 2.2). So yes, methodological naturalism seems to be at odds with creationist's use of the Omphalos hypothesis (although the dissertation doesn't explicitly say this). Oct 11 at 16:36
  • I am honestly unsure if we're arguing the same thing or not. A YEC would say that the Earth is not billions of years old and that the "evidence" to said effect is misinterpreted. A YEC would say that miracles (that is, events contrary to the "usual" laws of nature/physics) have occurred, but that we should prefer natural explanations unless the evidence for a supernatural explanation is compelling. A YEC strives to minimize supernatural explanations, without (a priori) excluding them.
    – Matthew
    Oct 11 at 16:41
  • @Matthew I'm not sure either. I still need to dig deeper into philosophy of science and YEC. In my current understanding, methodological naturalism is compatible with Old-earth creationism but not YEC, which needs Omphalos hypothesis. Orthodox Christian theology doesn't require choosing OEC, YEC, or other ways to reconcile science with revelation. But Orthodox Christian theology as well as OEC & YEC are clearly against metaphysical naturalism. BTW, this is why Catholic church is not opposed to evolution per se, I think they explicitly allow methodological naturalist way of doing science. Oct 11 at 16:46
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There's been many novels and studies explaining how both the theory of Evolution and Christianity can co-exist as both being true.

I haven't given this a read yet (I plan to), but there's a novel entitled The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry (found here: https://www.amazon.com/Genealogical-Adam-Eve-Surprising-Universal/dp/0830852638) which goes into the possibility that both the theory of Evolution, along with the story of Adam and Eve, could both have occurred concurrently throughout history, looking at both scientific evidence and traditional readings of the scripture. This therefore would mean neither necessarily contradict or disprove each other. I'm not sure if the book is 100% accurate, but if you're strictly a Evolution believer and want to become a Christian, it may be a good way to explain that both are possible, tho again, not everyone may agree with the novel. It's still an interpretation of the text, and people will have different interpretations.

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  • This doesn't answer the question...
    – Matthew
    Oct 14 at 16:47
  • Oh, sorry, must've misunderstood the question. Oct 14 at 17:16
  • Specifically, the question isn't asking about Evolutionism and Christianity, in general, but asks for a Christian response to the Evolutionary view that "religion comes into existence, not on any truth claim, but from evolution giving us useful, but otherwise untrue beliefs".
    – Matthew
    Oct 14 at 18:05

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