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Why do so many religious people fear the idea of evolution?  

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Iain Palin
(@iain-palin)
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11/07/2018 10:38 pm  

Why do so many religious people fear the idea of evolution?

Why do so many religious people fear the idea of evolution (by which I mean here the concept of evolution by natural selection resulting in all known species of living creatures on Earth, including humans)?

Well for a start there are a lot of people telling them to, people who make a good living out of promoting the Biblical-literalist view, or stand to gain not just material riches but often political power by scaring people into a comforting “the good old days” mind set. I don’t call these figures religious though many are “religious” (self-identified, often prominently so) since they routinely lie and spread bogus information they know cannot be true, in clear defiance of the teachings of their Scriptures. These are the “God-fearing” folks who promote the Bible, including the Ten Commandments, but think they have an exemption from keeping the Ninth – the one about not bearing false witness.

But for the great mass of primate change deniers there are understandable, if flawed reasons, for fearing and rejecting evolution.

First, for many, changing and unstable times are scary. Fair enough, for most of us changing times are scary. But for many the reaction to times like today is to retreat into “old certainties”, the “good old days”, a simpler time with fixed and comforting beliefs. Times that never actually existed but whose fantasy acts as a psychological comfort blanket.
Second, there is a superficial and literalist reading of Scripture, taking at face value a text whose inner meanings may be many and whose outer meaning is not meant to be taken like a history or science text. St Augustine commented on this almost two millennia ago, warning against Christians being so sure of the facts of natural science based on their own understanding of Scripture that they entered into dispute with people who knew more about the subject and made themselves – and worse, their religion – look foolish as a result. Since Bahá'u'lláh has written extensively on the inner and symbolic meanings of the revealed Word this admonition should resonate even more with Bahá'ís but this is not always the case.
Third, there is a feeling that acceptance of evolution would be saying that “we are just animals”. The emotional force of this cannot be denied but it is fallacious in several ways.

· First of all we cannot decide whether or not something is true based on whether we like the result, if it’s true it’s true no matter what we want it to be.

· Second, there is no justification for that “just”. Even if our physical bodies developed as part of the animal kingdom – and the evidence that they did is overwhelming – we cannot deny we possess something that sets us apart from the lower animals, even our close relatives in the great apes grouping. Whether you call it mind, higher consciousness, spirit, or soul or any combination of these, we have it. This fact is accepted by such diverse commentators a Huxley, Dawkins, and the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church position is that there is no objection to accepting the fact of evolution as long as you do not buy into the “just and animal” attitude, which I would see as a valid position for Bahá'ís also.

· Third, there is no doubt that we have an “animal nature”, which includes not just the obvious tendencies to anti-social behaviour, it also includes patterns of behaviour that had positive survival benefits in the past but are now either useless or harmful. When we talk about rising above our animal nature it includes these – and the fact that the Writings make it clear that we can rise above them means we are not “just animals”.

In fact might it not be that reluctance to accept our evolutionary heritage for all sorts of false reasons is itself an indication of the weakness of our animal nature – a nature that we have the power of insight, learning, and spiritual support to rise above?


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