The alarm of an external threat is often legitimate. Have not nazism, communism and terrorism been real dangers? But what begins as a legitimate response to a threat is sometimes extrapolated well beyond the original mandate. A war effort that is just can later lead to power grabs and secret wars.
For evolutionists, the enemy is creationism. And with creationism there certainly are many legitimate questions. Seventeenth and eighteenth century thinkers wondered about the age of the earth, whether god created the unsavory aspects of nature, how fossils fit into the picture, and so forth. Could it be that god created not by direct miracles but rather via nature’s laws?
Certainly these were, and remain today, legitimate questions. But in those centuries leading up to Darwin, several traditions emerged that did not merely question or doubt the traditional creation story, they mandated a strictly naturalistic origins narrative. The theory of creation, as several different arguments asserted, had been disproven so an evolutionary story must be the answer.
And that answer was increasingly viewed as the truth. Today evolutionists insist their theory is an undeniable fact. It would be perverse and irrational, they say, to doubt it.
This is the effect of having an enemy. Creationists are a unifying threat to evolutionists. Evolutionists routinely refer to creationists has having various nefarious motives. And this is why evolution apologists are quick to label any and all skepticism as creationism. Better to maintain a strong, threatening enemy than to thoughtfully consider different views.
Evolution is, of course, unlikely from a scientific perspective. Practically every one of its major predictions has been falsified. And the theory has become enormously complex and circuitous in its attempts to accommodate the uncooperative data.
But this misses the point. Evolution never was a likely idea. Its mandate did not come from the evidence in its favor, but rather from the evidence against creation. At bottom evolutionary thought is contrastive. It depends on its never ending recall of creationism. Today’s evolutionary literature reads very much like the Enlightenment version.
Evolutionists are continually explaining that while their idea is a theory, it is also a fact. The “theory” part refers to their ignorance of how all of biology could have arisen on its own, while the “fact” part refers to their certainty that it nonetheless must have happened that way.
Evolutionary philosopher Elliott Sober has analyzed how common descent advances via this contrastive thinking. The powerful arguments and evidence do not actually bolster the theory but rather they rebuke the alternative. He explains it this way:
This last result provides a reminder of how important the contrastive framework is for evaluating evidence. It seems to offend against common sense to say that E is stronger evidence for the common-ancestry hypothesis the lower the value is of [the probability of E given the common-ancestry hypothesis]. This seems tantamount to saying that the evidence better supports a hypothesis the more miraculous the evidence would be if the hypothesis were true. Have we entered a Lewis Carroll world in which down is up? No, the point is that, in the models we have examined, the ratio [the probability of E given the common-ancestry hypothesis divided by the probability of E given the separate-ancestry hypothesis] goes up as [the probability of E given the common-ancestry hypothesis] goes down. … When the likelihoods of the two hypotheses are linked in this way, it is a point in favor of the common-ancestry hypothesis that it says that the evidence is very improbable. [Evidence and Evolution, p. 314]
In other words, it doesn’t matter that common descent is not a good theory. It must be true because the alternative is even worse. Sober refers to this mode of reasoning as Darwin’s Principle. Evolutionists must fight their enemy.
Evolutionary thought is easily the greatest threat to science today. It turns science on its head in favor of its own metaphysics. Religion drives science, and it matters.