Re: Full disclosure (was Grand Canyon Tears America Apart )

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Wed Jan 28 2004 - 10:08:08 EST

>>> Joel Moore <> 01/27/04 12:30PM >>>
Does anybody now what historical trends led to "randomness" being
seen as one of the big problems with evolution? My understanding is
that William Jennings Bryan and others of that period argued against
evolution because they thought determinism was the problem. What led
to that flip?

Ted replies:
Wonderful question, Joel. In the contemporary discussion, even, this issue
remains somewhat unclear even in the best scholarship, at least in my
opinion. It seems as though we're damned if we do (have randomness) and
damned if we don't.

Bryan had a bucketload of issues with evolution, but probably the most
serious were moral ones. Social Darwinism was rampant--Darwin himself was
at least somewhat inclined that way, and Bryan quotes The Descent of Man
concerning the anti-evolutionary practice of vaccination (which preserves
the weak rather than weeding them out) in his most famous antievolutionary
message, "The Menace of Darwinism." I don't see determinism as the bogeyman
for Bryan.

On the other hand, for George Frederick Wright, a leading evangelical
theologian who had vigorously defended Darwin in the late 19th century,
determinism does seem to have been what threw him over into the
antievolutionary camp (he wrote one of the two antievolutionary essays in
"The Fundamentals.") He saw a fully materialistic universe, with no room
for divine action, and he quite properly rejected that. At the same time,
he felt that the evolutionists of his own day had gone well beyond Darwin in
this regard. I don't think he was actually right about this--Darwin's
pretty darn materialistic, in the final analysis--but he nevertheless tried
to defend the legitimacy of using evolution as a partial description of

Received on Wed Jan 28 10:08:56 2004

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