Evolution as Mythology, Part 1 (of 5): The Theory of Evolution is a Myth
Editor’s note: Today we present an article by guest scholars
The creation-evolution debate is usually framed as science v. religion: verifiable fact v. faith. But we contend that it takes at least as much faith to believe in the theory of evolution as in creation by a supernatural God. And in reality, evolution has more characteristics of a “myth” than of a scientific theory.
To justify this statement, one must first define “mythology” and identify its function. According to the American Heritage Dictionary:
Mythology (n): “A body or collection of myths belonging to a people and addressing their origin, history, deities, ancestors, and heroes.”
Myth (n): “A traditional, typically ancient story dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serves as a fundamental type in the worldview of a people, as by explaining aspects of the natural world or delineating the psychology, customs, or ideals of society.”
Mythology serves an important sociological purpose. It explains the worldview of a culture or people. It validates the thinking, practices, and ideals of a culture. A creation myth explains existence; without a creation myth, a culture or people are without “roots” and without purpose.
A myth can be based on truth or fiction—or it may contain an element of truth within a fanciful story. But a key characteristic of a myth is that it is hard to prove (or disprove) with the technology of the culture; a myth requires faith. The significance of a myth, therefore, is not so much whether it is true or false, but that it defines the worldview and forms part of the foundation of a culture. And since a myth is so important to the system of beliefs of a culture, myths die hard.
Man seems to possess an innate psychological need for a creation myth to explain his origins: virtually all primitive cultures reveal a creation myth among their oral histories. And the intensity of the creation-evolution debate in modern America for over 100 years shows man hasn’t changed; the deep psychological need for such a myth remains.
Is the theory of evolution mythology? To answer, one must define the theory. In its most complete form, evolution holds that life spontaneously arose from nonliving matter, and through numerous small changes over geological ages, all life-forms arose from that initial common ancestor.
Clearly, evolution is a creation story; but how is it similar to—and different from—other “creation myths”?
Creation myths from nearly all ancient cultures involve a powerful, supernatural “god” who creates the world and causes life-forms to be brought forth. This seems an important distinction: no supernatural being is required in the theory of evolution; everything is based on random natural processes called natural selection. Yet as one reads the literature, natural selection takes on godlike qualities. Whenever something cannot be explained, natural selection is cited with reverence, as if an omnipotent miracle-worker. Prominent evolutionists describe the process in terms Christians reserve for God and the Bible. For example, Sir Julian Huxley describes evolution as “a universal and all-pervading process” that is “the whole of reality.” 1 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says “evolution is a light which illuminates all facts, a trajectory which all lines of thought must follow.” 2
Evolutionary theory definitely meets one important characteristic of a myth: according to Ernst Mayr, the “Darwin of the 20th Century,” evolution is “man’s worldview today.” 3 Evolution explains origins to a culture that either rejects a supernatural God (atheism) or believes God is uninvolved in at least some aspects of creation. Hence, evolution serves the important sociological purpose of validating the thinking and practices of a culture that puts its faith in undirected natural processes.
The faith component of the theory is evident from the literature. Science philosopher Karl Popper perceives evolution as a “metaphysical research program”; 4 G. W. Harper refers to it as a “metaphysical belief.” 5 And Harold Urey, a founder of origin-of-life research, describes evolution as a faith which seems to defy logic:
“All of us who study the origin of life find that the more we look into it, the more we feel that it is too complex to have evolved anywhere. We believe as an article of faith that life evolved from dead matter on this planet. It is just that its complexity is so great, it is hard for us to imagine that it did.” 6
Some evolutionists even behave like religious fundamentalists—so obsessive about their belief that they will not tolerate contrary opinion, because it challenges their fundamental myth. Western academics do not demand death for heretics, but they sometimes try to destroy the career of those who challenge evolution. Stories circulate of scientists with impeccable credentials denied academic tenure and/or grants or persecuted in other ways after they question the theory. Such persecution is eerily reminiscent of that practiced by the Catholic Church on Galileo and other scientists in Renaissance Europe.
Evolution shows two more characteristics typical of a religion: it has a prophet, Charles Darwin, and it often seems to have the Gnostic quality of a secret-knowledge-known-only-to-a-select-few. The modern literature is filled with papers on evolution that quote Darwin’s nineteenth century speculations—just as modern Christians quote the Bible. Probability arguments that seem compelling to mathematicians and physicists are often dismissed by citing higher authority (“biologists have accepted evolution”). Fundamental issues, such as the evolution of the eye, are answered with plausible speculation but scant supporting fact—as in a PBS documentary — because, as evolutionary zoologist Pierre P. Grassé says, “We rarely discover these rules (which govern the living world) because they are highly complex.”7
The theory of evolution contains the characteristics of a myth. But the question is whether evolution is more fact-based like science, or faith-based like many religions. The next article will detail how the theory fails in key aspects of the modern scientific method.
Dr. Hugh Henry, Ph.D.
Dr. Hugh Henry received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Virginia in 1971, retired after 26 years at Varian Medical Systems, and currently serves as Lecturer in physics at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY.
Daniel J. Dyke, M.Div., M.Th.
Mr. Daniel J. Dyke received his Master of Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary 1981 and currently serves as professor of Old Testament at Cincinnati Christian University in Cincinnati, OH.
Dr. Charles Cruze, Ph.D.
Dr. Charles Cruze received his Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences in 1977, and currently works in research at Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals.
|Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5|
- Julian Huxley, “Evolution and Genetics,” What Is Science?, James R. Newman ed. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955), 272, 278.
- Francisco Ayala, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution: Theodosius Dobzhansky, 1900-1975,” Journal of Heredity 68, no. 1 (1977):
- Ernst Mayr, “Evolution,” Scientific American 239 (September 1978): 47.
- Paul A. Schilpp, ed.,The Philosophy of Karl Popper, vol. 14, The Library of Living Philosophers (La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishers, 1974), 133-43.
- G. W. Harper, “Alternatives to Evolutionism,” School Science Review 51 (September 1979): 16.
- Harold C. Urey, quoted in Christian Science Monitor, January 4, 1962, p. 4
- Pierre P. Grassé, Evolution of Living Organisms (New York: Academic Press, 1977), 2.