Atheists do not believe in evolution.
The problem is the word “believe.” Most people associate belief with religious faith or belief without evidence. People say they believe in things like the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, ghosts, unicorns, and gods. Even if we use the definition of, “To accept as true or real,” it is still not appropriate. As I discuss the issue further, you should begin to understand why.
Some people believe in Evolution because they do not have enough of the facts or knowledge of the theory to make an educated decision.
Here is my standard response to this question:
“I have arrived at the conclusion that the Theory of Evolution is the most likely explanation for the abundance of organisms on this planet. I base this conclusion on the currently available evidence, data, field studies, and other information.”
To arrive at that conclusion I looked at evidence, data, laboratory experiment results, observations, and other significant means used to arrive at the Theory of Evolution. Based on the available evidence there is no other theory that can take into account all of the evidence and still be scientifically credible. The Theory of Evolution leaves no contradictory evidence remaining.
Does that mean the Theory of Evolution is 100%? Of course, it does not. The theory of gravity (based on the Universal Law of Gravitation) is not 100%, either. Based on evidence we have available to us right now is where the Theory of Evolution comes from. Discovering new evidence tomorrow that contradicts the current Theory of Evolution would mean the theory would have to be reevaluated, modified, or completely scrapped for a new theory.
Science works by looking at the evidence then drawing a conclusion that fits that evidence and takes into account all of the evidence (leaving none out). Creationism, on the other hand, has a conclusion and looks for evidence to justify the faith in that conclusion (leaving contradictory evidence out because it conflicts with their faith). For example, the Institute for Creation Research says, [paraphrased] “If any evidence contradicts the Bible then it is not acceptable as evidence.”
There are many misconceptions about evolution that prevent people from understanding it and, too often, from “accepting” it. I will touch briefly on some of the more frequent misconceived arguments that I get in my email and that I see in letters from Creationists in our local newspapers.
Evolution Is an Atheist Belief (monopoly):
The majority of evolutionists are theists. Eighty-seven percent of the population accepts the Theory of Evolution (Source: Barna Research, 2000, PBS/BBC research, 2001). Either the theist has to concede that 87% of the population is Atheistic or that the majority of theists accept evolution as a sound scientific theory.
The Vatican officially recognized evolution as a sound scientific theory in 1994 because they could not ignore the overwhelming evidence and facts of the theory. Of course, the Vatican added the caveat that God himself was the mechanism of evolution. The Vatican learned its lesson about science from its view about a flat earth, geocentric solar system, and other religious “science.”
It is important to understand that evolution is both fact and theory. It is a fact in the sense that we know evolution occurs – we have seen it happen and see it happening. It is a theory when speaking about the mechanism of evolution (the how and why).
The most vocal opponents that use this “argument” are those that are unable to reconcile their belief and faith in a creation account in a sacred text with the Theory of Evolution. Literalists and Fundamentalists will have a difficult time accepting evolution because it conflicts with their religious beliefs and literalistic views of “God-breathed” words in a book.
My in-laws are a good example of these people. My in-laws believe that Satan placed dinosaur fossils in the Earth in order to deceive evolutionary scientists. Whenever they see, hear, or read anything dealing with evolutionary biology they laugh and say, “Those silly scientists.”
A good article to read on the subject of Evolution and Religious Literalism is God And Evolution by Warren Kurt VonRoeschlaub. His article is a collection of frequently asked questions about compatibility between evolution and Religion. His article concentrates mostly on the Judeo-Christian beliefs in Genesis, but most of his statements are general enough to apply to most religious creation accounts.
Christian Fundamentalists and Biblical literalists will have a hard time with evolution. If man evolved, then there was no Adam & Eve or Garden of Eden, which means there was no Tree of Knowledge or tempting serpent. This means that there was no Original Sin. If you take away the concept of Original Sin, then Jesus died for nothing.
The science of evolution inadvertently stabs at the very heart of Christian dogma and doctrine. Reconciling evolution with Original Sin is probably a very daunting task for literalists and Fundamentalists.
Evolution Cannot Explain How Life Began:
Correct. That is because evolution has absolutely nothing to do with the origins of life. Evolutionary theory deals with how life evolved after it originated. Evolution deals with the origin of species – not the origin of life.
There are many different hypotheses that attempt to explain how life was created before it evolved. It is this very fact that allows many theists to reconcile evolution with their religious beliefs because they can easily say, “God created life and used evolution to mold it.”
I certainly do not endorse the statement that a god created life and used evolution as his tool to create man. However, at least this theistic stance recognizes the overwhelming evidence for evolution and that the meaning of the Bible as a non-literal book.
Another misconception relating to this is that evolution and the Big Bang are part of the same theory. While the Big Bang may be associated with Cosmological Evolution, it has absolutely nothing to do (other than starting the process that put Earth here in the first place) with Biological Evolution. Cosmology and abiogenesis are not a part of the Theory of Evolution.
Evolution is “Just a Theory:”
This is probably the most common “argument” I hear. This indicates a clear lack of knowledge regarding scientific process and theory. Gravity is “just a theory” that is based on the Universal Law of Gravitation. Are you prepared to stop accepting Gravity since it is “just a theory?”
There is a misconception in the public that a scientific theory is a “best guess” or a “hunch.” Scientific theory is not the same as Starskey and Hutch going to a crime scene and saying, “I have a theory about this…” As Mark Isaac says in his article Five Major Misconceptions about Evolution:
ISAAC: “A theory, in the scientific sense, is “a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena” [Random House American College Dictionary]. The term does not imply tentativeness or lack of certainty. Generally speaking, scientific theories differ from scientific laws only in that laws can be expressed more tersely. Being a theory implies self-consistency, agreement with observations, and usefulness.”
If Man Evolved from Monkeys, Then Why Are Monkeys Still Around?
This question highlights the lack of knowledge of basic evolutionary science in the person asking the question. The Theory of Evolution does not assert that modern apes evolved into Homo sapiens. Homo sapiens and modern apes evolved from a common ancestor.
What that means is that modern man did not evolve from apes but evolved alongside apes. That would make us cousins, not grandchildren.
Of course, the other fallacy in this “argument” is that when a species evolves, that the species generating the mutation must become extinct. That is not the common rule. Many observed instances of speciation left the “originating” species intact. There are many sub-species today evolved from another species and both species survived. Wolves and coyotes are still here even though we have domestic canines. Kangaroos are still around even though we have wallabies. The mutation of a species does not mean the mutated species dies out.
If evolution worked by killing off the originating species then there would be only one species on the planet at a time. Think about it for a second, if the originating species had to die when it created a subspecies or new species then the only species alive would be the new species. If this happened every time evolutionary mutations occurred, then there would only be one species on the planet at any given time. There would be no abundance and diversity of life on the planet.
Therefore, even if modern man did evolve from modern apes, it would not mean that modern apes would disappear overnight because of it. If you remove a selection of a species and isolate it in a different environment and it evolves, does that mean the members of the previous species left in their original habitat will die off. Nope.
Evolution Violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics:
This warrants an entirely different page because Creationists so commonly use it and it requires an extensive rebuttal. You can find out more about this fallacy in my article Does the Second Law of Thermodynamics Prevent Evolution?
There are several debates where I discuss evolution in more detail and address a lot more of the arguments used by Creationists. You can read these debates by clicking on the Debates section.