by Eric Steinhart
I always hate to be called an atheist – it characterizes me in terms of what I don’t believe, rather than in terms of what I do believe. And that sucks. Worse, the label itself seems purely negative: ok, so there’s no God, but what is there? And worst of all, the label comes with way too much baggage. I disagree with most atheists on metaphysical issues. I’m not a materialist and I don’t think that everything that exists is inside of our little universe. On the contrary, I’m both a mathematical and modal realist.
I’d like to propose a label that captures most of what most atheists do seem to believe in: evolution. Stop calling me an atheist.
Call me an evolver.
An evolver believes in evolution. Of course, this includes biological evolution here on earth, that is, evolution by natural selection. But an evolver is free to believe in many larger types of evolution. An evolver can believe in evolution on a cosmic scale. Cosmic evolution is nicely described in the work of Eric Chaisson. And an evolver can believe that biological evolution is continuing in technology (and technological evolution need not be via natural selection). So, a singularitarian who likes Kurzweil is an evolver.
An evolver can believe in evolution on a truly grand scale: a super-cosmic scale, in which universes are generated by evolutionary processes. Smolin and Gardner have described this sort of evolution (which, again, isn’t by natural selection).
And an evolver can affirm that evolutionary algorithms or principles govern reality at the most fundamental level: ontological evolution. Leibniz’s theory of the striving possibles is a kind of ontological evolutionary algorithm. And Charles Sanders Peirce described such fundamental evolution. These types of evolution aim to answer the really basic metaphysical questions (e.g. why there is something rather than nothing). Finally, it’s possible to defend the view that these deep forms of evolution are progressive in some grand sense.
The concept of evolution, not merely restricted to biological evolution here on earth, but thought of in a really broad and deep way, can answer all the questions that were previously thought of as lying in the domain of theistic religion. Where do our moral values come from? What is the nature of life? What is the origin of life? Where did the universe come from? Why is there something rather than nothing? Every question that used to be answered by appealing to God can be answered by appealing to some form of evolution.
The concept of evolution unites many disparate atheistic groups. It includes most scientists who are atheists and affirm Darwin. It includes religious naturalists, who reject God-talk in favor of the “epic of evolution”. And it includes singularitarians and transhumanists. I think this is what “atheists” believe in: we believe in evolution.