Re: [asa] Ditch Darwin To Advance Theory of Evolution, says Professor of Evolutionary Biology

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Mon Mar 05 2007 - 13:43:29 EST

I respond to some of Matt's points, as shown below, leaving out the rest for
the time being. I snip those parts I am not responding to.


>>> "(Matthew) Yew Hock Tan" <> 03/03/07 3:02 AM >>>

To what extent are Christian scientists willing to ditch Darwin - supposing
that there is a general agreement that the theory of biological evolution as
presented today (Darwinism) is "dogmatic ideology"?

1. Ditch the principle of blind, undirected/direction-less, purposeless
operating forces?

Ted: Many Christian scientists have to one degree or another, questioned
this principle while accepting Darwin's description of how biological
organisms change over time. This isn't news, but it also isn't very
interesting to many people who want to see scientists standing up doing the
Phil Johnson thing: denying that evolution itself is true. The first
American Darwinian, Asa Gray, accepted NS as a valid description of what
happens all over the place, while also injecting design into the whole
process, saying that "variations have been led along certain beneificial
lines..." Bob Russell, John Polkinghorne, Simon Conway Morris, Owen
Gingerich, and many others do likewise right now. Their precise language
might differ from Gray's, but I don't see enormous differences in their
overall conceptions. So, the answer to this question is, to a significant
degree Christian scientists have rejected "purposeless operating forces" in
evolution. Given that these people are world class thinkers/scientists, and
their views are clear enough, why is it that this question even comes up?
But it does keep coming up. My answer: They do not have a sufficiently
robust view of natural theology, coupled with a sufficiently low view of
evolutionary science, for those who keep asking this question. Am I not
right about this?

3. Ditch "natural" selection? That will mean ditching "dogmatic ideology"
of materialistic naturalism to allow for unknown forces operating the

Ted: Hold your horses. Let's be clear about what Darwin was claiming, and
why. Let's be clear about the origins of the metaphor and concept of
"natural selection." Darwin was, in the late 1830s, thinking very hard
about how to account for biodiversity and geographical distribution of
organisms. At that very time, he was reading political economy,
specifically clergyman Thomas Malthus. He also had read Adam Smith, and his
own family and educational background inclined Darwin toward free market
economic views. The competition for scarce resources that Malthus saw all
around him *in human society* hit Darwin right between the eyes. He was
already prepared to believe this *in nature* from what he had seen as a
naturalist. It struck him as obvioius, even inevitable. It wasn't
controversial then, and it shouldn't be now; it's a fact about how nature

As for Adam Smith, his "liberal" economics (ie, Newt Gingerich
"conservative" free market economics) saw competition as leading to
diversification and specialization, which enrich the human economy. The
"invisible hand" of the free market was his way of describing the
impersonal, unguided process (ie, no individual guides the process, which
consists of interactions from countless individuals acting as individuals)
that is the human economy. Let this not be missed, please: the analogy here
to Darwin's view of natural selection is close and deliberate. Darwin saw
NS as the invisible, impersonal, unguided market force that describes how
competition leads to diversification and specialization, enriching the
economy of nature. It has often been said that evolution by NS is a
19th-century Englishman's theory, and this is exactly what is meant by it.
It's a free-market description of what happens in nature, drawing on
observations/insights about what happens in the human economy.

I don't see anyone in the ID camp (or the YEC camp) jumping up and yelling
about the "atheism" in free market economics; when I do, I'll start to take
more seriously the charges of atheism in natural selection. (This rather
reminds me of Steven Weinberg's excellent point about how there should be an
investigation into all the "atheism" going on in meteorology these days,
with scientists accounting for the weather without involving God. I don't
often agree with Prof Weinberg when it comes to God, but in this case I do.
I share his view that MN is appropriate in science.)

4. Ditch the assumption that micro-evolution can be extrapolated to
5. Ditch the dogmatism of single-ancestor tree of life?

Ted: I'll lump these two together, for my purposes, b/c I think what really
underlies them is the great fear that evolution will make a convincing case
for common descent of *humans* and other organisms. This fear is not based
simply on Genesis, but IMO it is related to the Genesis account about human
beings having been created in God's image--a vitally important truth.
Linked closely to this theological truth is the further claim that Adam &
Eve had to have been separately created, or they/we would not transcend the
rest of nature and be thereby in God's image. A very serious point. The
problem, IMO, for such a reading is that the Biblical first humans are
placed in an agricultural, urban culture roughly 6,000 year ago; whereas it
seems abundantly clear from anthropology and archaeology that humans have
been around much longer, and long before there were cities and agriculture.
Leaving aside the whole common descent issue, which (as I say) is driven
(IMO) by fears about the image of God, we face a major problem with any
genuinely historical interpretation of the account of the creation of human
beings. As I say, leave out evolution; leave it completely out of the
picture, and the actual historicity of the Adam/Eve story is already open to
big questions. Show me first how to deal with that, and then we can talk
further about the common ancestry issue.

I would very much like to hear from Matt and others about these thoughts.


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Received on Mon Mar 5 13:44:30 2007

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