Re: [asa] comments on evolution and traditional Christian faith

From: Janice Matchett <>
Date: Thu Aug 31 2006 - 18:10:13 EDT

@ Ted wrote [excerpted]:

"...In the late 19th century, Asa Gray defended Darwinian evolution
while expressly affirming the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds as
containing "the essentials" of Christian faith. My own view is
virtually identical with Gray's. ..." ~ Ted Davis

Do you disagree with Neal Gillespie, as he is presented below by Ken
Hermann in his 1985 article in the PSCF:

   PSCF - Review Essay - Orthodoxy and the Challenge of Positivist

Neal C. Gillespie, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), xiii + 156 pp., with
notes and bibliography.

Honors College/ Experimental Programs
Kent State University
Kent, OH 44242

From: JASA 36 (September 1984): 169-176.

In the last several years significant work has been done on the
history of the development of Darwinism which enables us to gain a
deeper insight into the complexity of the issues involved in the
Christian community's response to it.1 Since its publication in 1979,
James Moore's The Post-Darwinian Controversies has received extensive
attention and high praise for its novel thesis that the orthodox
theology of several prominent natural scientists enabled them to
accommodate Darwinian natural selection with minimal dissonance. By
all accounts this is a major work which will shape research in this
area for years to come. However, in the wake of all the attention
lavished on Moore's work, insufficient attention has been given to an
equally provocative work of the same year, Neal Gillespie's Charles
Darwin and the Problem of Creation, which challenges Moore's thesis
at several crucial points.

[large snip]

".....the providential Darwinists (e.g. Gray, Wallace, Lyell) argued
that natural selection was the means by which 'god' created new
variations and species. Both groups felt that they had thus blunted
Darwin's critique of Creationism by effectively synthesizing
Creationist 'design' with his theory of evolution and natural
selection. Although Darwin welcomed their support, especially from
Gray, he was exasperated by their inability to comprehend that his
theory of natural selection was meant to replace 'design' as an
explanation for speciation, not supplement it. ... [snip]

...Gillespie argues that neither the providential evolutionists nor
the providential Darwinists grasped the significance of Darwin's
counterfeiting argument for their synthesis position. Darwin and the
Positivists were arguing that the order of the world only appeared to
be the product of Intelligence to those who, on prior ground, were
committed to it; it could not be logically inferred from the
phenomena themselves. George Romanes, a perceptive Darwinist, pointed
out that "It is one thing to show that, if we assume the existence of
mind in nature, organic adaptations must be due to design; but it is
quite another to prove the existence of mind in nature from the known
occurrence of such adaptations." (p. 115) In other words, the
Creationists were guilty of mistaking a prior assumption of
intelligent 'design' for an inductive inference.

Darwin and the Positivists further pointed out that it was only a
prejudice of anthropomorphic thought, a product of biblical patterns
of thought, which convinced the Creationists of the analogy between
human and non-human phenomena. Therefore, although terms like
'design', 'purpose', and 'law' were meaningful in describing and
explaining human activity, they could not be carried over univocally
into describing and explaining non-human activity. At best they were
only metaphors derived from human experience to describe the natural
world. They must not, however, be regarded as 'true' descriptions.
Thus, the Positivists argued, the existence of a 'Designer' could
neither be logically inferred from the adaptations of nature nor be
used as an explanation of such adaptations. Consequently, the
Creationist choice between 'design' and 'chance' begged the question
of the meaning of those terms which were paradigm-dependent.
(Gillespie rightly points out that the Positivists begged the
question as well, but did so successfully.) In the Positivist
universe it was possible to account for the order of the world
without being forced to choose between God's existence and chaos.7

Another way in which Darwin's definition of 'design' confused the
providential evolutionists and providential Darwinists was his
restriction of 'design' to the general operations of 'law' in the
universe as opposed to the specific 'design' of individual phenomena.
He thereby fixed his attention on the autonomous 'law' which ruled
the phenomena rather than on the phenomena themselves. Darwin argued
that the phenornena of natural history were the result of the general
laws which were "first impressed on matter by the Creator." Lest this
frequently quoted statement be mistaken as agreeing with the
providential evolutionists and providential Darwinists, Gillespie
points out that "while Darwin acknowledged the theological origin of
the laws of nature, the operation and end of those laws were not
predetermined by divine will nor executed under any kind of divine
supervision. [italics mine] It followed that there could be DO point
in seeking a knowledge of purpose or in giving a place to such a
postulate in scientific inquiry. " (p. 107) For Darwin, what he took
as 'god' was not present in natural history in any way, so was not
present to 'scientific' inquiry. Only the 'natural laws' of
speciation through 'natural' selection were present and accessible to

The Creationist difficulty in appreciating the force of Darwin's
theory is poignantly seen in Asa Gray, Darwin's most influential
advocate in the U.S. Gray's case is particularly instructive since he
is one of Moore's prime "Christian DarwiDists" who harmonized
orthodox theology with natural selection.

According to Gillespie, Gray only dimly recognized that natural
selection counterfeited purposive intelligence, and then only late in
his life. Believing that Darwin was really a providential
evolutionist, Gray earnestly hoped that he would eventually come out
explicitly for the harmony of 'design' (as Gray Understood it) and
natural selection. That Darwin Dever did, and that he, in fact,
opposed such harmony, caused Gray continued anxiety as can be
observed in his Darwiniana.

Gray's anxiety was rooted in his futile attempt to remain true to
both his Creationist sympathies and his Positivist philosophy of
science. As a good Positivist he steadfastly denied that God
'intervened' or in any way 'interfered' in a I miraculous 'way in the
creation' of new species. On the other band, as a good Creationist
and orthodox Christian, be was uncomfortable with the full
implications of the Positivist logic which denied an epistemic role
for God in 'science.'

He consequently held out for the possibility that God was somehow,
possibly as the unknown cause of variation, involved in guiding
variation "along certain beneficial lines." His problem was to
explain bow a Guide could guide who never was involved in the
physical process. As Gillespie sums up "Darwin's theory bad no place
for a Guide and Gray's view seemed to have no role for one except as
be moved in that realm of mystery which existed at the end of every
chain of scientific reasoning, the reality of which everyone had to
admit" (p. 114). In the end Gray was able to accept Darwin's theory
of natural selection only by consoling himself that Darwin's denial
of God's presence in the world was a personal quirk and not logically
entailed by his Positivist biology.

[large snip]

~ Janice

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Received on Sun Sep 3 19:18:19 2006

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