Do people accept evolution only because of a dogmatic prior commitment to atheism?

The short answer

No. Anyone who spends a few minutes comparing evolutionist and creationist demographics will easily see that it is creationism, not acceptance of evolution, that tends to be motivated by prior dogmatism.

The longer answer

I. The comparative diversity of evolutionists

Although some evolutionists have a prior commitment to atheism, far more seem to have a prior commitment to the existence of God. Take for instance, the more than 14,000 clergy who have signed An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science. The second paragraph of that letter states:

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

In fact, as philosopher and historian Michael Ruse points out, there has  been a strong tradition of acceptance of evolution even among orthodox religious believers as far back as the time of Darwin:

There were people like John Henry Newman, the great convert to Catholicism (he ended as a cardinal), who were quite indifferent to science, who were prepared to give science what it claimed, and who then turned to other things. But there were also people who were interested in science and who positively welcomed Darwinism. Interestingly, these were often people of a more conservative or orthodox or high-church bent than otherwise. They were people who were interested in teleology and who saw in natural selection precisely the teleology-producing mechanism that they had been seeking. They were people (who, as I mentioned in the last chapter [of Ruse 2000], were often Calvinists) who took very seriously the fact of cruelty and struggle and pain that are our fate on earth and who saw in natural selection God’s way of deciding between sheep and goats. And they were people who saw in the unbroken law of evolution, not deism, but God’s constant interest in and sustaining of—His immanence in—the creation. (Ruse 2000:106)

Clearly, evolutionary biology draws supporters with a very diverse range of religious beliefs, ranging from an outright lack of religious belief all the way to religious conservatism. Acceptance of evolution comes from no particular predisposition towards religion, but merely from an appropriate respect for facts.

II. The comparative uniformity of creationists

In contrast, one seldom finds creationists who do not have a prior commitment to a conservative brand of religious belief. Even the much vaunted “intelligent design” movement, which has tried unsuccessfully to present itself as theologically neutral, is stacked almost entirely with fellows of the Discovery Institute, which blames all of civilization’s ills on the rise of materialism and the failure of theism.1 Since the Discovery Institute takes materialism to be undergirded by evolutionary theory, then out the window the evolutionary history of life must go, to be replaced with “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions” (as quoted in Still 1999) so that the glorious and spotless history of Christian temporal power can once again be resumed, to the betterment of all.

Observe, incidentally, how the Discovery Institute stipulates (by divine fiat, as it were) that evolution cannot be “consonant with Christian and theistic convictions,” and thus defines out of existence the millions of Christians and other theists who accept the evolutionary history of life. This reminds me of a debate I once saw between creationist Phillip E. Johnson and evolutionary biologist Michael Rose. At one point, Johnson likened Christian evolutionists to the defense, and atheistic evolutionists to the offense, of a football team: according to Johnson, the Christians claimed that there was no conflict between evolution and belief in God simply to run interference for the atheists, thereby enabling them to score points against Christianity. This still strikes me as a tremendously patronizing, even slanderous, way to characterize Christian evolutionists, as though they were covert agents of atheism.

The stark contrast between, on the one hand, the wide variety of religious believers and nonbelievers who accept evolution, and on the other hand, the almost invariably narrow fundamentalist persuasion of those who deny evolution, helps to explain why creationists direct so much acid toward evolutionists who also are believers: as much as creationists try to present evolutionists as religious dogmatists, the demographics clearly indicate who the religious dogmatists really are.


1 Materialism, according to the Discovery Institute, supposedly undermines the idea of personal responsibility and underwrites utopian projects that inevitably result in “oppression and genocide” (Discovery Institute n.d.). Theism, on the other hand, presumably “helped to support humanity’s own sense of purpose and dignity as creatures made in the image of the Creator” (Discovery Institute n.d.), and has never undermined belief in personal responsibility (say, through the doctrine of predestination, or by causing people to fob off hard moral decisions onto their preachers’ interpretations of ancient mythological writings), and certainly has never resulted in oppression or genocide (for instance, in the Crusades, the Inquisition, the slaughter of the Cathars, the pre-Hitler pogroms against the Jews, or the burning of alleged witches).


Discovery Institute. n.d. Life after materialism? Last accessed 29 March 2002. (Link now defunct.)

Ruse M. 2000. The Evolution Wars: A Guide to the Debates. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Still J. 1999. Discovery Institute’s “Wedge Project” circulates online. Last accessed 16 February 2016.