Is Evolution a Religion?

You have all seen examples of the creationist claim that atheism (which to them includes evolution) is a religion. We’ve written about it a few times, e.g.: Ken Ham: A Collection of Creationist Clichés, and also Rev. David Rives: Evolution is a Religion.

Now they’ll have even more ammunition for making that silly claim. In the UK’s Daily Mail (of all places) we read Federal prisons agree to recognize humanism as a religion so that inmates can celebrate Darwin Day. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Federal prisoners who identify as humanist can now celebrate Darwin Day and get accommodations typically afforded to those inmates who believe in a deity. The federal Bureau of Prisons agreed in the settlement of a lawsuit to add a section on humanism to its manual on inmate beliefs and practices. Officials in the prison system will also consider requests from humanist inmates for access to study materials, observance of holy days, and time and space for religious activities.

That’s the same case we wrote about last November in Court Rules Atheism Is a Religion?, so it’s not really news. But now that it’s back in the headlines, the creationists will be all over it. You can read the court’s opinion here: American Humanist Association et al v. Bureau of Prisons et al . Okay, let’s return to the Daily Mail:

Inmate Jason Michael Holden and the American Humanist Association filed the lawsuit last year, saying Holden and other humanist prisoners were prohibited from forming a study group at a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon. The settlement was reached earlier this month, and the association announced the settlement in a news release issued on Monday.

That news release is probably what triggered the press coverage. Let’s read on:

‘There’s not much to talk about in respect to just atheism,’ Holden’s attorney, Monica Miller, said by phone from Washington, D.C. ‘It’s really about what you do believe, and what those worldviews are and what those philosophies are.’ The settlement comes a little more than a year after the U.S. Army added humanist to its list of religious preferences.

The Army too? When your Curmudgeon was an Army reserve officer, long ago, aside from the usual denominations, the only other choice one could indicate was “No preference.” We continue:

It is unknown how many inmates identify as humanist. But giving them the ability to choose that preference, and to have it entered in the federal prison database, will allow the number to be calculated.

Holden has been imprisoned since an armed robbery in Washington state more than a decade ago. He explained in a May 2014 interview with Uptown Radio that not all atheists — such as those who are white supremacists — are humanists. ‘As humanists, we believe in the ability of mankind to transcend their differences and find some common ground, you know, make the world a better place,’ he said.

We’ve never paid attention to Humanism, but we never before heard that it had any connection to Darwin Day. Anyway, it’s nice to learn that a man convicted of armed robbery is interested in making the world a better place. Here’s more:

Under the settlement, Holden can maintain the group as long as there are at least two like-minded prisoners, and the option will be afforded to humanist prisoners elsewhere. Darwin Day is celebrated February 12, the birthdate of Charles Darwin. Those who observe the day use it to highlight science. Miller said the inmates could perhaps watch a video to mark the occasion and have some type of snack.

Why is any of this important? Because the creationists will use it to claim that the courts now recognize humanism (and atheism and evolution) as a religion. They’ll say that if they can’t teach creationism in the public schools, then we shouldn’t be allowed to teach evolution — because like creationism, it’s also a religion. Suddenly, they’ll become advocates of separation of church and state — as long as they can use that concept to attack science.

Yes, it’s crazy. But remember, we’re dealing with creationists, so craziness is to be expected.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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30 responses to “Is Evolution a Religion?

  1. By extending the “privileges” given to those who claim to like a sky fairy to those who don’t, this is simply giving equal privileges to everyone. I’d prefer that those who like their very own sky fairy didn’t get special treatment, but if they do, others should be treated the same way.

  2. I would think that the courts will understand that since science is based on empirical evidence, and that if some humans decide that the evidence is so impressive as to worship it, then be it. But that what some people do with any subject should not change the foundation of the definition of any subject, be it science or history and what is taught in school as science.

  3. Misogyny is not a religion but many religions include misogyny in their tenets. Evolution and science in general are not religions but any religion can include them in its tenets.

  4. This is silly.

    Everyone knows–as the Creationists endlessly proclaim–that Darwinism is the sole root of all evil and therefore all criminals are godless materialist evolutionist humanists by definition.

  5. Just as no True Christian would ever be imprisoned, no True Darwinist should ever not be locked up.

  6. David Evans

    Is it the case that you can’t form a study group in prison unless it’s in the name of some religion? If so, humanists should be arguing to get that changed, as a violation of the first amendment, not arguing they should be treated as a religion.

  7. “Evolution and science in general are not religions but any religion can include them in its tenets.”
    Well, religions that claim that dead bodies came alive or prophets rode the sky on a horse have some problems including sciene in their tenets. A priori though there is nothing that prevents them from doing so indeed.

  8. I find it interesting that fundamentalist preachers have always deplored how today’s society thinks “everything is relative” and “words are redefined to suit an agenda”. Yet, consider:

    (1) In the academy of religious studies scholars, historians, et al, the word “religion” has always meant a shared reverence for or devotion to some transcendence . This definition recognizes both theistic and non-theistic religions because it simply demands that the religion’s “practitioners” focus on that which somehow exists above or beyond the purely naturalistic. (So even with a religion which reveres the trees and creatures of the physical world, such as the various animist religions of Africa and Asia, devotees believe “There’s more than meets the eye here.” For example, they consider trees tangible and quite useful in daily life but their respect for “the spirit of life within them” or “the eternal presence of our ancestors residing in these trees” meets the definition of a religion even though their animist tradition may lack named deities.)

    (2) Yet, creationist leaders constantly complain that “Evolutionists are committed to pure naturalism, refusing to recognize anything beyond the physical world.” So they can’t have it both ways! Thus, if creationists want to denounce “evolutionary scientists” because they are strictly naturalistic and because modern science is devoted solely to Scientism (which they define as “Science is all there is.”), then evolution can’t be a religion while refusing to recognize anything transcendent or “supernatural.” Right?(!)

    Of course, that’s why creationist-speak has to control all of the definitions. Yet, oddly enough, to do so they also have to treat the word “religion” as an insult! Thus, “Evolution is just the atheist’s religion!” is meant to be dismissive. Moreover, they also have to do a backflip on their usual praise for “freedom of religion” and “respect for everyone’s religious beliefs.”

    With all of this in mind, I can usually frustrate my creationist opponent by saying something like this:

    “Oh, I can see now what you mean by evolution being a religion! You are saying that evolutionists are simply devotees of yet another cherished tradition within America’s rich and diverse religious tapestry and therefore those who you have been calling ‘evolutionary scientists’ should be afforded all of the same privileges and freedoms as every other religion in the United States.

    Thus, if a group of evolutionary biologists schedules an academic conference, the annual convention book of scheduled papers and abstracts should be eligible for the same discounted postal system postage rate which churches use for their mailings to parishioners. Also, all of the officers/leaders of The American Association of Evolutionary Biologists—perhaps even also the many members presiding over individual consortium sessions of the annual conference—should qualify for the same federal income tax exemption on that portion of their income which they spend on providing housing for their families, aka the Federal Parsonage Allowance. Yes, I agree with you that all such religious privileges should be extended to evolutionists and evolution groups meeting to teach, discuss, and promote the understanding of evolution.

    For that matter, hospital patients, members of the armed forces, and all prison inmates who affirm The Theory of Evolution should be given the option of circling EVOLUTIONIST under the RELIGION entry on their intake form so that an Evolutionist Chaplain will meet with them regularly. I think you’ve got a great idea there in declaring evolution a religion! I’m going to recommend this to my Congressional district representative.

    Creationists, your point is well taken: Religious freedoms and privileges for all religions is so very important, and the religion of evolution has been discriminated against for far too long.

    P.S. We need to make sure every hospital EVOLUTION CHAPLAIN is issued a free parking placard and perhaps even their own reserved parking space. After all, considering the significance of microbial mutations in post-operative infections, I think a lot of “evolutionists” may want to see their evolution chaplains in order to discuss what they may be facing. After all, evolution could very well determine where they are going. And when.”

  9. Evolution Chaplain’s bumper stickers:

    EVOLUTION made me what I am today.

    Proud parent of a product of evolution.

    If you can read this, you EVOLVED.

  10. @Prof. Tertius
    they can’t have it both ways
    Trying to have it both ways is pervasive throughout creationism.
    BTW, there is an idea in fundamentalism that it is not a religion. I recall that Jack Chick’s comic “Big Daddy” has a line something like, “I’m not religious. I’m a Christian.”

  11. This is unfortunate. All prisoners should be accorded the same privileges regardless of their religion, on not, or the reason for their wanting to meet as a group. It appears the court took the bait and swallowed it, giving them, and science, a black eye because of the association.

  12. michaelfugate

    TomS – I have seen that too. They see it as a personal relationship with God not a religion – religions require compromise.

  13. TomS wrote:
    “I’m not religious. I’m a Christian.”

    Perhaps the oldest version of that is the “It’s not a religion. It’s a relationship.” I wonder if anybody has tracked down the first use of that one. My guess would be Bill Bright of Campus Crusade but it probably goes further back, yet from a more obscure source. (In response to that slogan, I always asked the student if they recalled the word “religion” used in their Bible translation as whether it was applied negatively or positively. James 1:27 had usually escaped their notice.)

    I’ve also wondered who started the closely related “Religions involve man reaching out to God—but I’m talking about a relationship where God reaches out to man.” Josh McDowell probably popularized that one more than anybody but I’d be surprised if he started it. I’ve always winced over such generalizations, especially when someone like McDowell promotes his alleged “truisms” on university campuses where there’s people who know enough to shoot down such truisms with contrary examples.

    Another one which people accept without much thought is “Religions are man trying to earn God’s favor by works—but Christianity is uniquely focused on faith. Pure Land Buddhism also emphasizes faith for those lacking in the works department. In fact, the faith it talks about is based on trusting the works of a Bodhisattva, basically a Savior who has already achieved Enlightenment and so faith in his works allows the devotee to attain Enlightenment through a “plan B”. So when I first studied it, I was struck by the parallels in Buddhist religious history having a kind of “Protestant Reformation” where a faith-salvation provided an option for the “works deficient” devotees.

    Of course, I’m not against people identifying things that are unique about a given religion, Christianity included. (Yes, there are unique aspects.) But one obviously has to do some careful study and due diligence before making casual summary statements. Unfortunately, because books from people like Josh McDowell are advertised as very academic and profound (“Carefully researched!” and promising lots of pithy quotations), I feel a bit sad and try to be tactful when an excited reader of them asks me for my opinion or proudly shares some factoid they’ve just learned from a McDowell book. (Of course, far more disappointing is a lot of the overhyped Lee Strobel material. There’s an excellent example of book stores filled with “pop” titles which are big sellers but aren’t coming from the scholars who know the topic. Strobel is another claimant of being an atheist out to debunk the Bible but became a Christian instead. Perhaps he did…but from what I could tell, he was an atheist for a while at age 16 or whatever. Obviously, publishers play up such angles knowing that that is what the public wants to hear. The strange thing with Strobel in his Case for Christ is that several of the people he interviewed are superlative scholars who publications on the topic are quite solid—but by the time it gets “filtered” through Strobel, it is quite diluted and weak.)

  14. Yet, “dumbing down” is a societal trend in general. And, obviously, it is the entrepreneurs who are least qualified to act/speak as authorities on a topic who get a lot of press—largely from saying fools of themselves. Thus, people even assume that Kent Hovind is a real PhD and/or “science professor” and may even follow Eric Hovind, the poster child of making a family tradition of inane nonsense. (Neither has any sort of solid academic work behind them.)

    Sadly, a lot of the people who are the market for pop publishers et al don’t know the difference between evidence and an argument which succeeds in influencing people. Thus, they hear Ken Ham say “Science is just knowledge.” and they not only think it is brilliant, they honestly consider it evidence! And when people think “everything is relative”, many truly believe that “anything which convinces people” is thereby important and therefore evidence.

    After all, how many creationists spend a lot of time ranting that “Darwin’s evolution theory provided Hitler’s motivation for genocide” and even “Darwin recanted of evolution on his deathbed”? They don’t even care that even if either factoid was true, they would still be irrelevant.

    Even when I explain WHY both are irrelevant, they don’t care because some of them will even say outright: “You may think such factors are irrelevant–but among us normal people, of course it matters!” (After all, they reason that if Darwin recanted on his deathbed, it surely must have been a ruse all along. They assume that Darwin was pursuing a goal, not figuring out what the evidence could tell him. And when told that Darwin’s feelings or sins or change of mind are totally irrelevant because only the EVIDENCE matters, they think that is just talk. After all, a huge percentage of the population makes decisions based on feelings, not facts/evidence. Therefore, many of them find it impossible to believe that anybody else makes decisions in any other way.

    Of course, that’s why they think every discovery published in evolutionary biology came from “godless scientists” who started each day thinking “What can I do today to convince people that there is no God and evolution is true?” They actually sincerely believe that scientists are as obsessed over “creation science” and warring against it as they are about “godless science.” (I’ve watched Dr. Christine Janis try to explain to YECs and IDers on Amazon’s book reviews that the vast majority of her colleagues rarely give a single thought to “creation science” and what the YEC and IDist leaders are doing/writing. You can tell that they think she’s lying to them. Of course, in actual fact, a tiny percentage of scientists have Dr. Janis’ awareness of what it’s like to engage YECs and IDers.)

    So when Stephen Meyer tells Discovery Institute followers that scientists are “quaking in their boots” over his Darwin’s Doubt, they actually think that. (I doubt that Meyer could be that stupid to believe it himself. But I could be wrong.)

    That’s why Ken Ham’s silly “Same data, different interpretations.” is so effective with his audience.

  15. michaelfugate

    it is like the one-hit-wonder commenter “Wallace” a few weeks back claiming he had a few “facts” that if our gracious, humble host would let him post would blow evolution’s doors off. He never tried as far as I know.

  16. After all, a huge percentage of the population makes decisions based on feelings, not facts/evidence. Therefore, many of them find it impossible to believe that anybody else makes decisions in any other way.

    It goes the other way, too. Many of us act as if presenting evidence and reasoning can change creationist beliefs. I act that way, even though I know better.

  17. Fundamentalists/creationists can’t have their cake and eat it too. They have to choose whether to say that evolution is a religion, or that it’s against religion–that is, atheistic. By definition, there is no such thing as a religion of atheism.

    Actually, evolution isn’t either one: it’s non-theistic. Evolution doesn’t require a God, but it doesn’t reject the possibility of one — or more than one, for that matter.

  18. Dave Luckett

    I believe that “religion” requires a definition that states a number of variant terms, some of which have to be met, because you can always think of religions that don’t have that particular one.

    So, then: veneration for the numinous; a deity or deities or pandeity; clergy or religious officials with sacerdotal functions; ritual, liturgy or ceremonial; places of greater holiness or consecration; a creed or body of required beliefs held by faith; a prescribed code of conduct; specified acts, gestures or postures held to be worshipful; a text or texts held to be holy or at least authoritative in their own right. There may be others.

    Some religions have all of them, but most miss one or two. (Scientology, for instance, misses the first; Quakers do without the third; and so on.) But to be a religion, a belief system must have at least a few of them. An acceptance of evolutionary theory has none of them.

    Evolution is therefore not a religion.

  19. As someone who grew up in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, I had NO idea I was signing up for a new religion when I decided to major in geology.
    Who knew?
    One would have to stop using reason and logic in the future in order to be in line with creationoids. A dismal existence of ignorance, hatred, intolerance and stupidity.
    No thanks.

  20. I find it interesting that so few prisoners are humanists that they have been largely ignored. Apparently other religions have thriving prison populations.

    For example, Holden can maintain his group as long as there are TWO like minded people, that is, if he can find ONE OTHER humanist somewhere in the prison. It’s worded as though the group might be very temporary, given the scarcity of humanists in the penal system.

    In contrast, Ham tells us that atheists (presumably including most if not all humanists) are immoral, lawless, creatures. Why then are they so under-represented in prisons? I look forward to Ham’s explanation.

  21. @Dave Luckett: An excellent definition of religion, especially “a creed or body of beliefs held by faith”, as opposed to that which can be demonstrated by observation.

  22. @retiredsciguy
    There are difficulties with that. One is that “creed” and “faith” are probably defined with relation to religion. Would one say that my belief that the Chicago Cubs will not play in the World Series this year is a creed held by faith? Another is that observation is not the only rational or scientific basis for accepting a statement. Also, there are religions which are not distinguished by their belief, but by practice.

  23. Dave Luckett

    TomS, I’m glad retiredsciguy thought that the definition was good, but no definition that uses words is absolutely bullet-proof. I would say that your prediction that the Cubs would not play in the World Series is an estimate from observed fact, not a faith-statement. I would say my belief that J S Bach was the greatest composer who ever lived is more akin to faith.

    If you look at my original post, I was saying exactly what you say. There are of course religions that are not characterised by belief, but by practice. There are religions that are not characterised by having deities. My point was that a “religion” may partake of a number of different ideas, beliefs, practices and structures, but must partake of some of them in order to be recognised as “religion”; but that evolutionary theory partakes of no characteristic which distinguishes any religion.

  24. @Dave Luckett I agree.

  25. Defining “religion” is a difficult task because there are many factors involved (rituals, clergy, dogma, deities, relics, transcendence, miracles, etc.), and not every sect exhibits them all. It’s probably easier to define “science,” and then say that by definition, religion isn’t what science is. Unlike religion, science is limited in scope. It’s comprised of propositions that can be demonstrated or disproved by the scientific method.

  26. Wow. In the past, I have had to work with the IRS rules and regs including the 501 group that covers clubs, fraternities, and ultimately, religions. Considering the wide variety of people who work in government, the rules in 501 do a very good job of trying to be even handed with all of the not for profit groups.
    With that in mind, I can see where an institution such as a state’s prison system lumps all of the 501 entities and a few that wouldn’t fit there all into “religion”. Does that make evolution a religion? Well, no. No matter what, it just doesn’t fit either the tax code’s definitions, or even the penal code’s.

    It does bring up an important thing, however. English doesn’t use much of a distinction between believing or belief and knowing. Some linguist or sociologist grad student could do a great thesis on that. The creationists are so wrapped up in faith and believing that they don’t see any difference between knowing something and believing it or in it. I don’t for instance, believe in my refrigerator. Even sitting here at the computer with my back to the kitchen, I don’t believe my fridge is there, next to the stove. That’s because I know it’s there.

    This is a major clue to the thinking of the creationist. He cannot see any difference between believing in evolution and knowing it is happening. Consequently, evidence is just a distraction, it doesn’t settle anything. It’s what you believe that really counts.

    So, I guess in the end, for some people, evolution is a religion. Do I get prezzies on Darwin’s birthday?

  27. “Imagine”
    John Lennon

  28. The whole truth

    Prisoners should not be given special privileges or rights because they’re religious, and other prisoners should not, and should not have to get a court, or the military, or any other ‘legal authority’ to categorize a non-religious ‘worldview’ as religious for any reason, and especially so that non-religious people (whether prisoners or not) have equal privileges or rights. Special privileges or rights for religious people should be against the law, period. Instead of mislabeling a non-religious ‘worldview’ as religious, the courts, the military, and all other ‘legal authorities’ should just ignore religious beliefs when it comes to privileges and rights.

  29. And I call your attention to the observation of John Pieret, that even if there is a religion which has a belief in X, that does not make X a religion.

  30. For example, some religions insist on abstaining from alcohol. Other religions have ritual consumption of alcohol. So, does everybody belong to one of those two religions, the drinkers of alcohol or the abstainers?