Re: [asa] promise trumps biology (accepting biological evolution for Adam)

From: Gregory Arago <gregoryarago@yahoo.ca>
Date: Sat Dec 13 2008 - 09:53:18 EST

George, a helpful post to clarify your position. Thank you!
 
You write:
1) “if one's "theism" is an expression of fundamental religious conviction, "ultimate concern," then things should be the other way around.”
 
I respond: This echoes my thoughts on this as well; I think TE is backwards in priority, as currently labelled.
 
George continues: “the term TE conflates a huge number of very diverse positions”
 
Gregory: This is why I call TE a philosophically weak position; it is stretched in many different directions and struggles to integrate them with a coherent synthesis.
 
George: “It doesn't really matter what kind of theist you are as long as you're an evolutionist.”
 
Yes, which is why secular humanists, Brights, materialists, (philosophical) naturalists, and the new atheists are usually softer on TEs than on ECs, OECs, YECs or IDists; this language of “as long as you’re an evolutionist” should be seen as a serious concern for TEs as members of the Christian community. It places the burden on them to repeat and repeat that evolution *IS* limited, that it doesn’t belong in certain realms (which is what Benedict XVI said in his first official speech), that they are not promoting Total Evolution (Craig Rusbult, ASA), and to speak of ‘things that don’t evolve (into being or having become).’ Maybe TEs are doing this, and Loren Haarsma will speak out again. I hope people will notice that this responsibility is the logical consequence of “as long as you’re an evolutionist” which is what I’ve been saying here for about three years.
 
George: “‘Christian who accepts biological evolution’ as a description of my position is clumsy but about as good as you can get without being even clumsier.”
 
Gregory: YES!!! Amen, this is exactly the preferred terminology because it opens up the notion that other types of evolution are simply and unequivocally unacceptable. Oops, warning signs just went up (flashbulbs: anti-evolutionist…run away)! Saying one is a Christian who accepts biological evolution is a healthy way of then protecting space to say, “But I don’t accept the ‘evolution’ of ethics.” And I know many people on this list, even those who would misname themselves as TEs instead, are happy to accept biological evolution, but not evolutionary ethics. Clumsy, perhaps, but good for clarity! I invite others at ASA to adopt it as a preferred terminology to the philosophically flimsy TE.
 
George wrote:
2) “Populations evolve, individual organisms don't - at least in the sense in which the term "evolve" is used in biology.  Since you've objected strongly to overly-broad uses of the term "evolution" I assume you wouldn't approve if I said that I, as an individual, have "evolved" over the past 65+ years.”
 
I respond: Richard Dawkins (among others) says individual organisms ‘evolve.’ You can argue this with him.
 
Surely you are correct that I wouldn’t approve of you saying that you have ‘evolved’ over the past 65+ years, in terms of character, personality, name, and other human-social issues. But please note George: in terms of your ‘biological make-up’ there is no reason for me to say you haven’t experienced mutations, variations, differentiations, adaptations, etc. (i.e. biological eVo language) as a result of fitness pressures, your environment, and other material-physical-natural things. So, in fact I would not be against you saying that you have ‘biologically evolved’ as an individual, if that’s the language that biologists prefer to use. Does this surprise you?
 
Yes, we are differing in our definitions of ‘individual’ and ‘population’ here, but as a sociologist I am well-prepared to discuss the relationship between individuals and populations and to defend the proper use of ‘individual’ in that realm. The main issue for me is that neither you, nor I, nor anyone reading this, lives simply as an individual, so any changes we experience, biological, physical, intellectual, economical, cultural, or religious, etc. take place in a community or society, just like any changes in science (or scientific rationality) itself. But the first ‘people’ might have (as a historical fact, even if scientifically un-provable) actually been a first ‘person,’ who had a special experience which none of us share.
 
“I have always thought it unfair to woman that she has never been alone in the world. Adam had time whether long or short, when he could wander about on a fresh and peaceful earth, among the beasts, in full possession of his soul.” – Karen Blixen
 
George: “I don't think the debates you refer to about gene-centric vs. population-centric evolutionary theories are really at issue in questions about the origin of humanity from a single couple.”
 
Yes, you are probably correct, in the sense that it is more about top-down vs. bottom-up causality, or wholes vs. parts, and, as usual, trying to find a responsible integrative balance on these themes.
 
As to the issue of ‘present [human] genetic diversity’ you’ve likely read more about this than I have, nevertheless I imagine the accuracy of measuring just ‘how much diversity exists’ and calculating by reverse-engineering is as difficult as measuring ‘how diverse human ethics are’ and trying to calculate all of the sources of variation and bifurcation, i.e. the origins of ethics. To me, single God, creating single person, then a partner, then more people, then spreading out over an inexact time scale doesn’t seem an impossible scenario. It seems to me that in principle you agree, and it is the ‘science of the day’ is suggesting otherwise.
 
Arago wrote: “Does this mean that you do not necessarily tie your theology to a group of first humans rather than to a pair of first humans?”
 
Murphy responded: “That's a false dichotomy. The model I suggest doesn't need to specify the size of the group & two individuals are a small group.”
 
Actually, the technical meaning of ‘group’ differs from ‘pair.’ Two people are not a small group; they are a pair or couple. A group needs three (which has Scriptural referents as well)! It may then be that the model you suggest “doesn't need to specify the size of the group,” but then it is still a ‘group’ and not a couple/pair or a single first ensouled person, Adam.
 
This is a significant meaning difference, though please do not feel, George, like I’m trying to force or pressure you in any way; it may be that one doesn’t need to take an absolute position on this in their theology or in their science. I don’t know in which realm one is more courageous to take a principled stand against their colleagues or congregation! Some positions are better left open than argued for exclusively and intolerantly, which is exactly what happened in the evolution vs. creation standoff in the 20th century. We’ve entered a new period, however, when better communication approaches and solutions can be found.
 
As for number 4), George, what you say is for me acceptable as it is, with the caveat that the Koran, if it is an inspired text, is therefore not only derivative on previous religions, but also claims to offer something new, which may include revelation about Adam (and Eve) that neither Judaism nor Christianity were given.
 
George wrote:
5)  Yes, the reason for skepticism about origin from a single couple comes from science.  But it's not a matter of me speaking as a scientist rather than as a theologian.  This is, after all, not my area of scientific expertise.  It is rather me as a theologian willing to be informed by science.  But note, "be informed by" doesn't mean "be dictated to by."
 
Gregory in response: Biology is also not my area of expertise and I try to be careful about how much to trust ‘experts’ whose conclusions sometimes reach beyond their respectively sovereign realm of knowledge, to involve humanity in a deeper way. As you know, sociologists are faced more directly with the threat of socio-biology and evolutionary psychology, dehumanisation and the ‘casualisation’ of human existence (S. Fuller 2006) than are natural scientists. It is more often natural science dictating bottom-up to human-social science than dictating from top-down (viewed as the neo-classical hierarchical ‘map of knowledge,’ e.g. A. Peacocke) about how to ‘do science,’ though I am neither seeking nor expecting an apology nor pity from the ASA list.
 
Like you, George, I am indeed “willing to be informed by science” and I like how you phrase this. It probably cannot be repeated enough in certain cultural milieus. If only E.O. Wilson and his ilk (who are of no small number) would stop wrong-headedly attempting to ‘dictate to’ human-social scientists, scholars and philosophers, we’d all be in a much better situation. But then again, it is because of the philosophical and institutional climate in which he is working that allows this to continue happening. And we’re all expected to celebrate the great (but rather un-philosophical) ‘genius’ Charles Darwin next year, even though some of his writings and views are quite obviously part of the present dehumanisation and degradation of human beings as spiritual entities.
 
Respectfully yours,
Gregory
 
p.s. I wonder how the discussion would differ if it was subtitled, “accepting the spiritual evolution of Adam.” Would there be a suggestion that spiritual things do not ‘evolve’ like biological things do, or an attempt to integrate and weave dis-united things together?

--- On Sat, 12/13/08, George Murphy <GMURPHY10@neo.rr.com> wrote:

From: George Murphy <GMURPHY10@neo.rr.com>
Subject: Re: [asa] promise trumps biology (accepting biological evolution for Adam)
To: "ASA list" <asa@calvin.edu>
Received: Saturday, December 13, 2008, 2:54 PM

Gregory et al -
 
Comments on your post below.
 
1)  As I've tried to explain before, I don't consider the term "theistic evolutionist" a major issue.  It certainly has its drawbacks.  It implies that the person's major commitment is to "evolution" - i.e., he/she is an "evolutionist" - & that that commitment is then qualified as "theistic."  But if one's "theism" is an expression of fundamental religious conviction, "ultimate concern," then things should be the other way around.  In addition, then the label "theistic" is very general so the term TE conflates a huge number of very diverse positions, so that a Jewish process theologian & B.B. Warfield could be lumped together.  (Actually the 2d problem is a consequence of the 1st.  It doesn't really matter what kind of theist you are as long as you're an evolutionist.)
 
But I'm not going to spend a lot of time & energy fighting that terminology.  There are more important issues.  I'll make the point that I did above & as long as the terminology doesn't distort conversations I'm involved in I'll leave it at that.  "Evolutionary creationist" is in some ways better but still not ideal.  "Christian who accepts biological evolution" as a description of my position is clumsy but about as good as you can get without being even clumsier. 
 
2)  Populations evolve, individual organisms don't - at least in the sense in which the term "evolve" is used in biology.  Since you've objected strongly to overly-broad uses of the term "evolution" I assume you wouldn't approve if I said that I, as an individual, have "evolved" over the past 65+ years. 
 
I don't think the debates you refer to about gene-centric vs. population-centric evolutionary theories are really at issue in questions about the origin of humanity from a single couple.  The genetic issue there, as I - a non-geneticist - understand it, is how long it would take for the present genetic diversity of the human race to develop from a single couple. 
 
3)  You ask, "Does this mean that you do not necessarily tie your theology to a group of first humans rather than to a pair of first humans?"  That's a false dichotomy.  The model I suggest doesn't need to specify the size of the group & two individuals are a small group.        
 
4)  The fact that Islam & Baha'i hold to human origin from a single couple doesn't count for a lot because they derive that belief from the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
 
5)  Yes, the reason for skepticism about origin from a single couple comes from science.  But it's not a matter of me speaking as a scientist rather than as a theologian.  This is, after all, not my area of scientific expertise.  It is rather me as a theologian willing to be informed by science.  But note, "be informed by" doesn't mean "be dictated to by."
 
Shalom
George
http://home.neo.rr.com/scitheologyglm
 

Hello again George,
 
"the model of original sin developed in an earlier article and summarized here does not require that there was no historical Adam." - G. Murphy
 
It seems to me that you are leaving enough room for variation in your position, George, so as not to commit a 'gap' argument. This most recent post of yours brings our perspectives closer together (they were less close after reading the two articles you again linked to that are in PSCF), though perhaps you are more liberal-scientistic leaning and I am more traditional-philosophistic leaning. It is enough to acknowledge that you leave room for a historical Adam and do not dismiss the possibility entirely. Perhaps is this one reason why you don't wish to carry the label 'theistic evolutionist', that is, evolutionary biological theories only rarely speak of Adam and Eve as any kind of 'reality'? I know that you are not a biologist, so this may not even be a relevant question...
 
George writes: "Of course evolution is a phenomenon of populations, not individuals, but mutations that spread through populations can begin with an individual.  You hear geneticists talk about when the gene for red hair, e.g., arose.  We don't know when the first group of hominids that should be considered human in a theological sense arose."

As you are probably well aware, George, there is much debate amongst biologists, naturalists and other natural scientists about whether evolution is focussed thoretically on individuals or on groups. The notion that a mutation, variation or adaptation *can* 'begin with an individual' sounds loose to me as a sociologist, since most human-social changes begin with individuals (the *most* makes my claim also soft! ;-). The gene-centric in biology model for example differs from the populations-first approach. You seem to be suggesting there is no debate or that it was already settled in biology-genetics fields. Is this a fair assessment of your position? (cf. D.S. and E.O. Wilson, "Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology," 2006)

Later you write:

"More generally, it's a mistake to tie theology to any particular scientific theory - the mistake many scholastics made with Aristotle."

Yes indeed, and this should lend credence to leaving open the *possibility* that a 'single couple' was indeed the source from which all present-day humans asended - a 'unified humanity' perspective, if you like, rather than a disunified 'multi-regional model' (see link below). Does this mean that you do not necessarily tie your theology to a group of first humans rather than to a pair of first humans? 

Personally, I'm fine with the latter such position (i.e. a single human original pair) as it seems to me theologically responsible to tradition and consistent with Scripture. Also, it is not only the Judeo-Christian tradition (including all three major branches, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant), but also the Islamic tradition and Baha'i. A bid to 'de-emphasize' Adam and Eve from the historical record is a bold move that 'science' moreso than 'religion' seems intent to make. Is it not the scientist in you speaking George about the 'almost certain group origin of humans' (my phrase) and not the theologian?

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/12/1212_021213_journeyofman.html

and also a less academic contribution on 'unified humanity':

http://www.bahaindex.com/en/news/1-general-news/1156-we-arent-same-religion-but-we-have-common-genes

Warm regards,

Gregory

  __________________________________________________________________ Instant Messaging, free SMS, sharing photos and more... Try the new Yahoo! Canada Messenger at http://ca.beta.messenger.yahoo.com/

To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Sat Dec 13 09:54:18 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sat Dec 13 2008 - 09:54:18 EST