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Myth: Atheists Worship Science, Evolution is Atheists' Creed, Darwin a Prophet

Atheists have Replaced God with Science, Religion with Science

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Myth:
Atheists worship science. Technology is their church, evolution is their creed, Darwin is their prophet, and scientists are their high priests.

Response:
Religious theists who believe that everyone worships something and has some sort of religion will at times conclude that atheists' religion must be science. Science is not only secular and godless, but has also been responsible for overturning many of the myths, doctrines, and beliefs which have been fundamental to theistic religions. Science conflicts with religions not because it is a religion itself, but because religions typically conflict with reality. No one worships science, though.

Science is probably the most important and influential institution in the modern world. Utilizing the scientific method, it has provided humanity with more knowledge, more benefits, and more advantages than anything else in the past — including religion. Given the degree to which science structures out lives, our futures, and other social institutions, it's perhaps not surprising that some religious theists would come to see parallels between the two — even to the point where they think that science is serving some or all of the same functions that religion does for them and used to do for all of society.

None of the above makes science a religion, though. Definitions of religion are usually separated into two categories: substantive and functional. The substantive definitions seek to identify some basic "essence" that exists in every religions; common choices include belief in gods or belief in something "sacred." Although these definitions always rely on something that doesn't apply to some religions, none of them describe any "essence" of religion that applies to science.

Functional definitions of religion seek to identify the social, political, or psychological functions which religions serve for human beings. Common choices for this include providing social structure, teaching morals, creating communities, etc. None of these really describe science, either, though they can come somewhat close. Many of the social institutions which do create social structure or create communities are themselves heavily influenced by science. This isn't because science is inherently religious, however, but because science in the modern world cannot be ignored.

The idea that evolution is a "creed" for atheists and Charles Darwin a "prophet" is based on the popular belief among conservative evangelical Christians that evolution is anti-Christian and anti-God, even though it's no more or less godless and secular than the rest of science. None of this is true, though. Atheists don't place any greater importance on evolution than on other aspects of science; it's unlikely that atheists would pay any special attention to evolution if it weren't for Christians spending so much time and effort trying to undermine it in order to promote their theological, political, and social agendas.

It is fair to say that atheists place a lot of trust and confidence in science, but this isn't "faith" in the religious sense and how religious theists typically use the concept. Atheists place their confidence in science because it has repeatedly demonstrated how reliable it is. The scientific method has proven to be an effective means for separating truth from falsehood; during the relatively short period which science has existed, it has accomplished far more than anything has — including religions.

Modern science is largely an outgrowth of the Enlightenment, a period when religious institutions and ecclesiastical authorities began to really lose their power over most aspects of people’s lives. The Enlightenment was thoroughly secular in that it did not derive its impetus or principles from religious tradition or authority. The most fundamental values of godless science are thus also the values of modernity: skepticism, empiricism, and secularism. It’s not a coincidence that science and modernity developed side-by-side: godless science has reinforced secular modernity while secular modernity has provided the atmosphere in which godless science could thrive.

What this means is that it isn’t possible to defend one without also defending the other. Secular modernity won’t be able to proceed very far without the reinforcing support which godless science is able to provide; godless science won’t be able to continue helping us understand the world around us without the atmosphere created by secular modernity. Not only do they need each other, but we need them as well: secular modernity provides the freedom and room for people to follow their consciences and explore their religious beliefs; godless science has become invaluable to our survival as a species.

Science is often maligned for being godless, but godlessness is largely why science is successful: being godless means that science is not beholden to any religious ideology or perspective. If it were, then it wouldn’t be truly free to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Science is also often maligned for lacking values, but science has many values — it’s just that they are values which are fundamental to our secular, godless modernity. It is this which most upsets critics because those values are proving their superiority to the religious values which anti-modern ideologues would rather promote.

These are all reasons to think highly of science and to try to protect it from possible threats. None, however, are reasons to think that people in any way "worship" science or treat it as a religion. It is even arguable that science is less a belief system than a methodology: a method and means for understanding what reality is rather than a set of doctrines and dogmas which we are morally obligated to believe upon threat of punishment.

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