Lecture: Darwinian skepticism

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Professor of Religion Robert Shedinger shared his research on Darwin and evolution in his lecture titled “Religion, Science, and Evolution: Confessions of a Darwinian Skeptic” on Oct. 3 in Olin 102. His lecture followed the publication of his book “The Mystery of Evolutionary Mechanisms: Darwinian Biology’s Grand Narrative of Triumph and the Subversion of Religion.”

Shedinger’s lecture focused on his skepticism of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. He also discussed a double standard in the science and religion communities, which is that those who study religion are expected to have knowledge of science, but those in science are not expected to know about religion. He wanted to make clear that the work of both scientists and religious scholars can be affected by biases.

“When you talk about the relationship between science and religion, the way it often gets framed is that science is objective and empirical,” Shedinger said. “Religion is often thought of being very subjective and faith based and therefore cannot be a reliable marker of truth, particularly in the physical world. I simply want to try to problematize that.”

Shedinger did not become skeptical of Darwin until he started reading the literature of evolutionary biology. He drew the conclusion that, like religion, science could be influenced by ideology.

“I recognized all the signs and markers to an ideological debate rather than scientific debate,” Shedinger said. “At least from my perspective, even the great figures, the shapers of evolutionary theory, were not necessarily basing their views on empirical evidence but were pushing along an ideological perspective.”

Alexander Schaeffer (‘20) is currently taking a class with Shedinger called Science and Religion. The class was the first time he had heard anyone contradict Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

“All we’ve been taught is here’s this theory,” Schaeffer said. “We’ve never heard anything wrong or bad about it. It’s almost like it’s just expected that we hold it to this high regard that it is what it is. Since I am a religious person, it’s cool just to hear another perspective and it kind of makes you rethink how you look at the world.”

Jessica Carpenter (‘20) was persuaded by some of the examples Shedinger provided to make the audience question Darwin’s claims, including the fact that the peacock’s tail evolved in such a way that made it more beautiful, but harder to escape predators.

“I appreciated his examples of how we can see the flaws of Darwin’s argument today,” Carpenter said. “Like in the male peacock example, the males can’t fly with their beautiful tail.”

Shedinger mentioned in the lecture that he does not associate himself with the theory of intelligent design, which is the idea that biological processes did not happen by chance and must be explained by some higher power. However, intelligent design does bear some similarities to his ideas on evolution.

“The Intelligent Design movement is a specific organization of people that I interact with on a regular basis, Shedinger said. “In too many cases they take the step that we are talking about some sort of intelligence in the evolutionary process and saying that proves the Bible, and proves that Christianity is the uniquely true religion. As a religion professor who is interested in interfaith work, and looks critically at religion, I can’t take that step with them.”

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