Fossils as Faith

One line of attack you sometimes hear in the debate over the teaching of evolution in schools is that secularism is itself a relgion. This claim is usually stated with a tone of smug confidence. And though the scientists and other “secularists” are usually at pains to deny that their beliefs constitute a religion, they seem to share the belief that it would be a telling blow if they were.

I’m not so sure. Yes, calling science a “religion” does undercut the force of its claims to objective truth as a system for describing the world. But at the same time, it concedes to science all sorts of other powers that I don’t think creationists would be too happy to grant.

In the first place, religious arguments have a level of subjective incontestability that scientific ones don’t. If secularism truly is a religion, then its adherents are genuine in their faith. Asking a biologist to repudiate evolution would be like asking a Christian to abjure God. Indeed, notwithstanding the call to proselytize, it becomes positively offensive (in our civil society) to demand that devout secularists teach “theories” that are religiously repugnant to them.

And, secondly, calling secularism a religion gives it the ability to pass moral judgments. True, secularlism doesn’t mete out eternal punishment to unbelievers, but even religions without afterlives have profound moral teachings. Calling science faith gives the scientist license to claim that creationist beliefs are morally offensive and that proclaiming divine creation is sinful. Stirring up moral righteousness against themselves doesn’t strike me as being a very shrewd move by creationists.