Science and the Idea of God

Is there any objective evidence for any kind of divinity that doesn’t depend on faith? Can we find in nature, in man, in the universe, anything that hints at a purposeful creation? Is there anything in the natural world that passes the test of Hume’s Maxim: an extraordinary event for which there is extraordinary evidence? [1] Put another way, if an event that is presented as supernatural can be shown to have a natural cause, then it doesn’t provide a reason to believe in God.

For many centuries, Christian Europe didn’t think we should ask such questions. The most influential of the early Christian theologians, Bishop Augustine of Hippo, was adamantly opposed to the very idea. He called this kind of inquiry “a frivolous, avid curiosity,” a “morbid craving” which drove man “to scrutinize the secrets of the natural world that lie beyond our sight; knowledge of these is of no profit, yet people want to know them simply for the sake of knowing.” He saw no more value in investigating the courses of the stars than in the consulting of ghosts; both were as worthless as the theater. Curiosity, he complained, “stuffed [our hearts] with a load of rubbish, our prayers are often interrupted and disturbed by it, and . . . worthless thoughts intrude from who knows where to cut short the great business on which we are engaged in [God’s] presence.”[2] Curiosity, simply put, is a distraction and therefore a vice. But where Augustine saw scientific curiosity as an opening to sin, the medieval Church saw it as a threat to its authority.

Is the Earth the Center of the Universe?

For theological reasons the Church had decreed that the Earth was the center of the universe, and all the heavenly bodies revolved around it. They had Biblical justification: “He founded the earth on its solid base, not to be shaken forevermore,” it says in the Psalms. Not only that, but Joshua made the sun–not the Earth–stand still.[3] In the sixteenth century, the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus figured out that the opposite was true: it’s the Earth that revolves around the sun.[4] But the power of the Church and its Inquisition over such heretical thoughts was then so strong that Copernicus only allowed the publication of his conclusions toward the end of his life, in the 1540’s. He was right to be wary: sixty years later, the Inquisition sent Giordano Bruno to the stake, and after that put Galileo under house arrest for the rest of his life, for saying that Copernicus had been right.[5]

Bruno was executed in 1600, Galileo confined in 1633. Yet in 1687, Isaac Newton had no trouble publishing his Principia Mathematica, probably the most important work in the history of science, a book which proved (to the few people who could understand it) not only that the Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun, but also how they manage to do it: the sun’s gravity keeps them in orbit. In fifty years, the Catholic church had lost the power to keep science from exploring the world as it would, and to come to its conclusions without concern for whether they conformed to Scripture. The seventeenth century witnessed an argument between science and religion over “authority over minds and outlooks . . . to keep control of what can be thought”–an argument the Vatican lost.[6]

There are complex reasons for this, one being that the Protestants were in rebellion against the spiritual authority of the Vatican, and they may have seen scientists as fellow rebels. Galileo managed to publish his last manuscript in spite of the Inquisition by having it smuggled into Protestant Holland.[7] Tycho Brahe, whose observation and examination of a supernova in 1572 can arguably be said to have started the scientific revolution,[8] lived in the Protestant kingdom of Denmark, whose king not only sponsored him, but gave him funds to build an observatory. Newton himself lived in Anglican England.

The Vatican’s fear that science would undermine traditional religion was justified–and not just because science had proved the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe. Newton, who in many ways was as much a medieval scholastic as a modern scientist, insisted that the minor discrepancies in the planets’ orbits, which his theories couldn’t account for, meant that God had to occasionally make adjustments in order to keep the planets in line. Gottfried Leibniz, Newton’s contemporary and mortal enemy (they had developed calculus independently, and each claimed the other stole his idea), denounced Newton for reducing God to a maintenance man. Newton responded by accusing Leibniz of denying that God was active in the universe.[9] Then, late in the eighteenth century, the French astronomer Pierre Laplace made more accurate observations, refined the mathematical formulae, and showed that Newton’s law of gravity did exactly account for the planetary movements without the need for any divine tinkering. When he presented his work to Napoleon in 1802, the emperor remarked that “you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and you have never even mentioned its creator.” Laplace famously responded, “je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-la [I had no need of that hypothesis].”[10]

At the end of James Wootton’s monumental study of the beginnings of the scientific revolution, he observes that, “as for the religious convictions of the first [modern] scientists, the only safe conclusion is that generalization is impossible. . . . What they had in common was not religion but mathematics and, of course, a need for freedom of expression.”[11] The difference between Newton and Laplace isn’t so much that the first man believed in God and the second man probably did not, but that Laplace was able, through the use of improved measurements, to show that Newton’s mathematics didn’t require a God who intervenes in the universe.

Newton’s belief in an intervening God notwithstanding, he had shown “irreversibly that the universe is mathematical,” probably his greatest achievement.[12] Mathematics is the foundation of all scientific investigation, and it works by using what can be measured. God, according to all the theologians, cannot be measured, is beyond measurement, and so cannot be of use to mathematics. But so long as mathematics is able to explain accurately, completely, and precisely our observations and predictions of everything around us, then we can stand with Laplace in averring that we have no need of the God hypothesis.

Mathematics has been able to do this in astronomy, in geology, physics, in all the hard sciences. We now know, from observation, measurement and mathematics, that the universe started with a Big Bang around 13.7 billion years ago, and is currently still expanding (and may do so forever). We know how the solar system formed–first the sun, then gradually the cosmic debris coalescing into planets–and we know the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. We understand more and more about the laws by which the universe operates, that these laws all operate consistently and uniformly, and that there is no evidence of any supernatural agency interfering with them.

Defenders of the supernatural sometimes argue that since God ordained the laws of nature, he can at his will (or whim) abrogate them. Their argument is based on a fundamental confusion between the “laws of nature” and “natural law,” a medieval mistake cleared up by Descartes when he separated them.[13] Laws of nature aren’t “laws” in the moral sense, much less the legalistic one. They are not proscriptions of how the universe ought to operate; they are descriptions of how the universe actually does operate. They are worked out by observation, and are subject to change if new observations so require. There is no heavenly statute book of physics that promulgated the law of gravity; it was worked out by Newton and refined by Einstein. No decree from on high ordained that every object must fall toward the center of the Earth, and that any stone which dared to disobey would be exiled into outer space, there to wander endlessly hoping to be worth a mass.[14] If the attraction of gravity diminishes with the square of the distance between two objects, that is because it is the only way it can operate in our physical world. If nothing can move faster than the speed of light, that too is a matter of necessity, not of choice or decision. It is the demands of necessity, not the will or whim of a supernatural Being, that dictate how the universe runs.

I don’t mean to suggest that these laws aren’t subject to modification; they most certainly are. But these modifications are the result of our improved observations and understanding, not evidence of some cosmic Legislator deciding to intervene. Albert Einstein refined Newton’s understanding of the universe by showing that the speed of light is the speed limit of the universe, and thus gravity’s impact isn’t instantaneous, as Newton thought, but is limited to the speed of light.

Then Heisenberg refined Einstein with his uncertainly principle: the idea that, at the subatomic level, some events will always be random and unpredictable. Like Spinoza, whom he greatly admired, Einstein thought that the universe was strictly deterministic–everything is predetermined and predictable–and he was so disturbed by Heisenberg’s theory that he uttered his famous line, “God does not play dice with the universe,” not out of admiration, but frustration. Steven Weinberg, himself a Nobel laureate in physics, writes that the “abandonment of determinism” so appalled scientists such as Einstein, Max Planck, and others, that “they were unable to participate in the great progress in the physics of . . . the 1930s and 1940s.”[15]

Defenders of God acting in the universe, such as the Intelligent Design (ID) crowd, are reduced to arguing that the measurements are wrong or the theories mistaken (both of which are always possible, but so far there is no evidence for it), or that the evidence for God is to be found in those aspects of the universe that we can’t (yet) explain. “To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot,” said Albert Einstein (who didn’t believe in a personal god).[16] In plainer English, “God is in the gaps.”

The problem with the “gap” argument is that, as science continues to fill in the gaps, the role left for God continues to be reduced, sometimes to ridiculously small dimensions. For example, if ID proponents claim to find God in the indeterministic gap created by quantum mechanics, then they have postulated an omniscient, omnipotent Being who occupies his days (and eons) in choosing where each electron will go next, or which radioactive atom will be the next to decay, trivia which have no impact whatsoever on the functioning of the universe or the actions of mankind. Stephen Hawking did acknowledge that the randomness of quantum mechanics theory could be ascribed to the intervention of God, but “it would be a very strange kind of intervention, with no evidence that it is directed toward any purpose.”[17] Hawking has since taken the position that there never was a God in the first place. In his last book, published posthumously, Hawking wrote that “if you like, you can call the laws of science ‘God,’ but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you would meet and put questions to.” But he saw no need for even that much: “It’s my view that the simplest explanation is that there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate.”[18] (If in fact there is a personal God who plans on asking me after I die why I didn’t believe, I plan to reply, as Bertrand Russell said he would, “Sir [or Ma’am], you gave insufficient evidence of your existence.”)

There is, admittedly, one gap that may never be closed: what happened to start the Big Bang. Since time as well as space began at the moment, it is scientifically meaningless to ask what existed before it. So we cannot entirely exclude the possibility that there was some Being (call it God) that lit the fuse that started the universe–though if so, there is as yet no evidence for it. More to the point: the universe, with its two trillion (and probably more) galaxies spinning and drifting and occasionally colliding, with its continual birth and explosive death of stars (including ours, in another 5 billion years), with the growing number of planets being discovered that can potentially support life, gives no indication whatever that it was designed with a purpose, and certainly not the purpose of being for the benefit of some protoplasm inhabiting the third planet of an average star on an outer limb of a mid-sized galaxy of several hundred billion stars which itself accounts for perhaps one two-trillionth of the observable universe (in other words, us).

At a bare minimum, Newton, Laplace, Einstein, and the rest of the scientific pantheon have conclusively demonstrated that the creation of the universe and the Earth did not proceed according to the Bible, the Qur’an, the Enuma Elish, or even the Rig Veda.[19] As Laplace said to Napoleon, we have no need of the God hypothesis to understand and explain the universe.

Where Do We Come From?

But even if the universe doesn’t show the hand of God in action, what about us? Are we, human beings, created in the image of God?

Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, first published in 1859, wasn’t the first exposition on evolution. The concept had been known (if not necessarily accepted) since the start of the nineteenth century.[20] Darwin’s contribution was to show how, through his theory of evolution, species descended from other species (rather than being created individually), to show that this process was gradual, over millions of years, and to include man in the process.[21]

The Origin of Species itself had little to say about the evolution of mankind. Darwin saved that for another book, published over a decade later: The Descent of Man. After pointing out the numerous similarities, down to the embryonic level, between man and other species, he writes:

Thus we can understand how it has come to pass that man and all other vertebrate animals have been constructed on the same general model, why they pass through the same early stages of development, and why they retain certain rudiments in common. Consequently we ought frankly to admit their community of descent; to take any other view, is to admit that our own structure, and that of all the animals around us, is a mere snare laid to entrap our judgment.[22]

Darwin’s theory is based on, and substantiated by, sufficient evidence for us to state that the story of the creation of man as told in Genesis, or the Qur’anic equivalent in Suras 2 and 38, are simply wrong.[23] There was never an Adam and Eve created all at once out of dust or clay or slime or blood as fully modern human adults. Beyond that, evolution makes it effectively impossible to accept the idea that humans were created by some intelligence and exist for some purpose. This is because the theory of evolution proves that our existence is the result of variations that appear by chance.[24]

Though the theory of evolution has undergone many refinements and some modifications since Darwin’s day, at its heart it remains unchanged, and each successive modification has so far only reaffirmed Darwin’s basic insight: that evolution operates through the “preservation of favourable individual differences and variations, and the destruction of those which are injurious,” a process he called “Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest.”[25]

The key to evolution is the existence of variants: some members of each generation will be slightly different from the rest. If this difference is beneficial to survival, the individuals possessing it is more likely than their fellows to pass this variation along to the next generation. For example, if some gazelles in a flock are faster than the others, those gazelles are more likely to escape predators long enough to breed offspring. Given enough time, all the gazelles in the flock will be faster. At the same time, however, natural selection will also see to it that those leopards who can outrun even the faster gazelles will also survive to reproduce, thus causing the gazelle to readapt in turn (or else go extinct). And on and on and on, because natural selection really is the closest thing to a perpetual motion machine.

It would seem to be an elegant design, intelligently crafted–except for three critical flaws. First, most variations are harmful, and some are neutral, but only a few are beneficial. Second, all these variations occur by chance, so that even those variations that are beneficial aren’t necessarily the best ones possible, but just those that happen to be good enough at that particular moment. Third, natural selection ignores those variations, whether beneficial or harmful, that only appear after the end of an individual’s reproductive years.

Harmful variations are likely to be eliminated through the process of natural selection, especially when lifespan and reproductive years are closely correlated. But the observed fact that most variations are harmful is one that gave Darwin considerable philosophical difficulty. Curtis Johnson, the author of Darwin’s Dice, gives an explanation which is worth quoting at length:

One of the facts of nature that fascinated [Darwin] most–and it surely helped cast great doubt in his mind about a role for intelligence anywhere in the design process, was the fact that so many harmful designs are to be found in nature. Some creatures are born so ill-adapted that they do not really have any chance at all to survive or at least to propagate. That did not seem to Darwin to reflect intelligence. Darwin was also disturbed by any notion of God that would cast Him in the role of an inept, or worse a cruel, creator. How could a good God plan a world destined to be filled with so much senseless death and evident misery? Darwin was quite sure that was impossible.[26]

The second problem is that variations occur by chance. Darwin admitted he didn’t know what causes variations to occur. “Not in one case out of a hundred can we pretend to assign any reason why this or that part has varied.”[27] He wouldn’t have known about radiation or DNA, which we now understand to be at the root of variations: mutations triggered by cosmic rays and by errors in copying DNA from one generation to the next. There is also genetic drift, which occurs in animals such as humans that propagate by sexual reproduction, as each partner contributes a random half of its genes to its offspring.[28] It is a measure of Darwin’s genius that he was nonetheless able to predict on the basis of his theory evidence that wouldn’t appear for many years, just as he speculated, correctly, that the birthplace of modern man was in Africa.[29] Darwin was able to turn the chaos of chance into the order that he saw all around him because that is how natural selection operates: it corrects the mistakes made by chance.[30]

The other problem with chance, from the perspective of someone looking for evidence of God in evolution, is that it won’t necessarily select the best of all possible variations, but will pick one at random from those that happened to show up just then, and which was good enough to survive the process of natural selection. This is indeed a far cry from Leibnitz’s “best of all possible worlds” argument for the existence of God.

The third problem that natural selection poses is that it only works as long as an individual is capable of producing offspring, and therefore provides no way to preserve beneficial variations, nor eliminate harmful ones, that show up only later in life. Until the age of modern medicine, people often died during their reproductive years (women dying in childbirth is one major and unfortunate example), but now we are seeing more and more hereditary conditions, such as a genetic predisposition to certain cancers, that natural selection isn’t equipped to filter out. This too shows the absence of intelligent design in evolution.

Finally, evolution has demolished the notion that human beings, and all other species, each arose on its own. In Darwin’s day, there were few fossils to back up his assertion that man evolved from earlier species, but Darwin expected that this would be resolved in time.[31] And so it has been: there has been an explosion of fossil discoveries in the last century, so that we are now confident in saying that the common ancestor we share with the modern apes (the so-called “missing link”) lived around five to seven million years ago. “Looking at the whole array of bones, then, what do we have? Clearly, indisputable evidence for human evolution from apelike ancestors . . . fossils that start off apelike and become more and more like modern humans as time passes.” Time has been passing for longer than we used to think–we now have solid evidence of tool-making dating back 2.5 million years.[32]

With fossil records and palaeoarchaeology finds, we now have enough evidence to show how evolution formed the tremendous variety of life we see on Earth today, including how our own species evolved. The gaps still remaining in the records mean that we are missing some of the details, but the broad outline has long been clear. The only true conceptual “gap” still left in this sequence is the origin of life itself, the primordial progenitor from which all earthly life descended, starting around 3.5 billion years ago.

We don’t as yet understand how it is possible for organic life to spontaneously arise from inorganic chemicals, so, for the time being at least, it is conceivable to see the hand of God in the initial push for life. Even so, the idea of an Almighty Farmer planting the First Seed still leaves an unguided pattern of growth and development after that. (Unless, that is, one wants to postulate the Omnipotent flicking cosmic rays here and there and fiddling with DNA strands.) Anyone arguing otherwise would have to explain why the Designer spent so many hundreds of millions of years on the dinosaurs, only to wipe them out 65 million years ago. We also require an explanation that accounts for the harmful variations that still plague us today: the miscarriages, the anencephalic fetuses and the ectopic pregnancies, the congenital defects and the agony of Alzheimer’s, none of which show any evidence of an intelligent design. (Teeth are another case in point: every time I go to the dentist, I am more convinced than ever that there is no intelligence in their design.) Nor do we have any reason to believe that we are the end product of creation, for whose purpose the world was made. We got here by accident because natural selection found variations that were good enough to bring us forth, nothing more. There is no need for the God hypothesis.

In what amounts to a reversal of their respective attitudes toward science in the Reformation period, the Catholic Church is these days more accepting of evolution (if not of the conclusions to be drawn from it), while some Protestants, especially in the United States, are the ones now denying the reality of natural selection. The Vatican’s position is laid out in an encyclical issued by Pope Pius XII in 1950 which essentially gets around the question through the use of mind-body dualism: evolution created the body, but God inserted the soul.[33] In 2014, Pope Francis used a pontifical address to stress the moral charge given by God to Adam in Genesis, which he saw as more important than the physical mechanism by which God caused man to be.[34] Fundamentalist Protestants opposed to evolution are among the ones most likely to promote Intelligent Design.

This is not a science textbook, so I’m not going to go into the details of the ID arguments and their flaws, distortions, and outright falsehoods.[35] But I still want to make a couple of points about ID and other forms of creationism. First is that what they do is not science. The scientific method begins with observations, forms hypotheses to try to explain what has been observed, tests these hypotheses and then accepts, modifies, or most often discards them on the basis of the test results. A hypothesis that has been sufficiently tested and refined, and then verified by other scientists who make their own observations, eventually becomes a theory, meaning that it is the best acceptable explanation currently available of the confirmed data. Even after that, it is still subject to correction, as when Laplace and then Einstein corrected Newton’s theory of the solar system.

ID does the opposite: It begins with its conclusion (which it would never call a mere “theory”) that God created the universe and remains active in it. It then looks for evidence to support this conclusion and discards, dismisses, or diminishes any contrary evidence. Moreover, ID proponents generally are adamant that there is no evidence that would make them change their minds–unlike, say, the evolutionary scientist Jerry Coyne, who, when asked what it would take to make him reconsider his position on the existence of God, gave some hypothetical examples, though he said they were very unlikely to happen.[36] (In my case, finding a fossilized dinosaur footprint on top of a fossilized human footprint would probably give me pause.)

This difference reveals the real problem creationists have with evolution: it explains our existence without the need for God, and they aren’t willing to even consider that possibility. Without God, they complain, how we will know how to behave? Where is the source of our morality? And what about our souls: what happens to them (to us) after we die?

These are all valid questions, and I will be dealing with them later on. But to present these questions as though they posed a challenge to the validity of evolution is to argue that the conclusion is wrong not because it isn’t the most reasonable and logical explanation of the evidence, but because they don’t like what it implies.

Given the scientific evidence presented here, I can see no rational reason to seriously consider that the universe, or even just life on Earth, was created by Some Being as an act of will, despite this having been the belief that much of humanity has held for thousands of years. This belief is nothing more, and nothing less, than the product of our imaginations–one step in our quest to understand the world and we who dwell therein.

Against the argument that religion may have gotten the details wrong, but still had the right idea that there is a God who created the world, we have seen that the evidence for that isn’t there–unless, that is, it shows us a god who is vindictive, careless, and all too often misses the mark. Insisting on the God hypothesis as the source of the spark that lit the Big Bang makes God out to be a child who delights in watching stars go boom and galaxies go smash. Equally, making God responsible for the variations that drive evolution means that he must be incompetent, sadistic, or both. It has sometimes been said that we create gods in our own image; if so, we need to take a good long look at ourselves.

The only remaining argument is some form of authoritarianism such as Augustine espoused: that God acts in mysterious ways that are beyond our comprehension, that suffering ennobles, that if we are good obedient little worshippers and don’t question or complain, things will get better for us after we die–but only if we were lucky enough to be born (or born again, or converted) to the one right way to worship out of all the competing versions. Accepting that sort of answer requires us to shut down our intellect, to suppress our curiosity (Augustine would approve of that!), to discard all of our learning, our progress, our achievements, to surrender our lives to the authority of those who have anointed themselves to speak in the name of the god they have erected, and then to pray that doing all this will somehow keep us from being sent to hell.

I decline.


[1] Hume stated his standard this way: “That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish. . . ” (Hume An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, X.91). Loftus (2019) pointed me to this passage; see his work for a detailed examination and defense of the maxim.

[2] Augustine, Confessions X.35; II.6.

[3] Ps. 104:5; see Grayling (2016, 12). Josh. 10:12-14.

[4] Much earlier, in the third century BCE, the Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos came to the same conclusion, which may have inspired Copernicus (Grayling 2016, 243). I am grateful to Dr. Bulent Atalay for reminding me of this (personal communication, July 26, 2020).

[5] Both Galileo’s and Bruno’s situations were more complex than simple heresy; they had each made powerful enemies and political miscalculations. Also, the Vatican didn’t place Copernicus’s book on its list of forbidden readings until 1616. On Bruno, see, for example, Grayling (2016, 246-47), also Rowland (2008, 148). For Galileo, see Reston (1994, 251 and generally).

[6] Grayling (2016, 258-59). He describes “Galileo’s trial . . . [as] the last major attempt by the Church to prevent or at least control the scientific revolution” (242).

[7] Reston (1994, 276).

[8] Wootton (2015, 12-14).

[9] See Dolnick (2011, 266-70, 310-13). Dr. Bulent Atalay points out that Newton had worked out the basic idea of calculus by 1666, and wrote to Leibniz about it, but didn’t publish. When Leibnitz published his own work on calculus in 1684, using more elegant notation, “Newton flew off the handle” (Bulent Atalay, personal communication, July 26, 2020).

[10] Rouse-Ball (1908, 41). Rouse-Ball kept Laplace’s words in the original French; this is my translation. Some have questioned the story, but it is generally thought to be true. Hervé Faye, however, argues that Laplace never meant he was dismissing God. “It was not God that [Laplace] treated as a hypothesis, but his direct intervention at a specific point” (1907, 130 [my translation]).

[11] Wootton (2015, 576).

[12] Bulent Atalay (personal communication, July 26, 2020).

[13] See Wooten (2015, 367-76).

[14] In the First Apocalypse of Enoch (second century BCE), there is a passage which actually suggests this: “This place is the end of heaven and earth; it is the prison-house for the stars . . . which have transgressed the commandments of God . . . because they did not arrive punctually” (1 Enoch 18:14-15).

[15] Weinberg (2015, 248-49). I have relied on Weinberg, and also Wootton (2015), Jammer (1999), Mortimer (2016), and Dolnick (2011) for the material on physics presented here. I am also grateful to Prof. Bulent Atalay for his review of this chapter–but, as always, any mistakes remain mine.

[16] Einstein (1941).

[17] Hawking (2008, 134-35).

[18] Hawking (2018, 36, 38).

[19] The creation hymn in the Rig Veda (X:129) could arguably be read as a mystical description of the Big Bang. The Qur’an is vaguer than the Bible on the details of creation.

[20] For this section on evolution, I am relying on Stringer (2012), C. Johnson (2015), Asher (2012), and Coyne (2009 and 2015), among others, as well as Darwin, of course.

[21] “No one definition [of species] has satisfied all naturalists. . . ” (Darwin, Origin 42). The ability to interbreed has traditionally been part of the definition of a species, but recent discoveries of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans has called that definition into question.

[22] Darwin, Descent 25.

[23] The Qur’anic version of the creation of Adam (“Behold, I am about to create a human being out of clay” [Qur’an 38:71]) is too specific to be reconciled with Darwinian evolution, and many Muslims reject evolution for that reason. (See Edis 2016, 62-70).

                Asad adds a footnote to his translation of Qur’an 15:26 (“We have created man out of sounding clay, out of dark slime [̣hamaˀ] transmuted”) saying that ̣hamaˀ is a reference to evolution (2003, 430n24). But this does not accord with the general Islamic idea of man’s creation as taking place in an instant. In any case, I don’t know if Asad’s interpretation has gained any following.

[24] The next few paragraphs are essentially a summary of my understanding of Curtis Johnson’s excellent book, Darwin’s Dice. Johnson’s focus is primarily on how Darwin recast the role of chance in evolution out of concern for how it would be received; it is not, he writes, a book about “Darwinism” (2015, xii). Nonetheless, his explanation of how chance and variation work is so cogent that I am relying on it here, and also on Coyne (2009). Any errors and misinterpretations are, as always, mine alone.

[25] Darwin, Origins 77.

[26] C. Johnson (2015, 66).

[27] Darwin, Origin 157.

[28] See Coyne (2009, 122-24).

[29] Darwin, Descent 155. I should note (with thanks to Professor Charles Vella) that recent research suggests there were multiple migrations out of Africa between 270,000 and 60,000 years ago.

[30] C. Johnson (2015, xxiii).

[31] Darwin, Descent 156-57.

[32] Coyne (2009, 196; 207; 204). Professor Charles Vella has informed me that recent excavations in Kenya uncovered stone tools dating back 3.3 million years.

[33] Pius XII, Humani Generis §36.

[34] Francis, In Honor of Benedict XVI.

[35] Coyne (2015) and Asher (2012) are among the many scientists from across the religious spectrum who have taken those arguments apart. Levinson shows in some detail how creation science advocates are “arbitrary and highly selective” in their use of Biblical sources (2006, 1854n4).

[36] Coyne (2015, 118-19).

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