Re: [asa] "Theistic Evolution" as a term

From: John Walley <>
Date: Fri Dec 26 2008 - 21:09:19 EST

To complement Boyle's quote below I recently ran across a great quote in the same vein from my favorite historical figure Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I was surprised to learn that he had quite a lot to say about the God of the Gaps argument.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: " wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don't know.[1]

--- On Fri, 12/26/08, Ted Davis <> wrote:

> From: Ted Davis <>
> Subject: [asa] "Theistic Evolution" as a term
> To:,,
> Date: Friday, December 26, 2008, 9:38 AM
> Gregory,
> I am home for the holiday and unable to respond with
> specifics to your
> various points. Shortly afterwards, I will be out of the
> country for an
> extended period and probably also unable to reply with
> specifics (though
> perhaps I will be able to, depending on how much has to be
> done in a short
> time).
> I agree that a history of this term would be very
> interesting. I've read
> extensively in the primary literature from the late 19th
> and early 20th
> centuries, and the concept that God creates through
> evolution--or,
> equivalently, that evolution is divinely guided--goes back
> at least to Asa
> Gray in the 1860s. It was probably not widely endorsed
> until a decade or
> two later, but by the 1890s it was commonplace for
> religious thinkers to
> speak that way. Did they use the actual term,
> "theistic evolution," to
> label the same concept that we now use that label for? An
> interesting
> question, and I think I recall seeing examples that early,
> but my notes are
> not here.
> There is no retro-diction going on here, however--at least
> with regard to
> the concept, and probably the specific term as well. What
> was meant by the
> term today, in general terms, is precisely what they meant
> then. In other
> words, regardless of the specific term(s) employed, there
> is generally no
> false attribution of a particular view to more persons than
> is suitable.
> (Yes, one can always find examples of an historical figure
> whose views are
> being distorted by a modern reader. No argument about
> that. But I could
> show you numerous examples of 19th century thinkers who fit
> a modern
> definition of TE.)
> Specifically now, I could show you fundamentalist cartoons
> from the 1920s by
> E.J. Pace, in which the term "theistic evoultion"
> is prominently present.
> Bryan also used the term at that point, famously saying
> that "theistic
> evolution is the anesthetic that dulls the pain while the
> faith is removed."
> (I quote from memory, but it's pretty close). Its use
> by Bryan and company
> would be consistent with Peters' comment below.
> Faculty at church-related liberal arts colleges were using
> the concept
> (evolution as "God's way of creating" is how
> it was typically put) for at
> least 30 years before this, and probably longer; specific
> places where I
> have seen this are Oberlin and The College of Wooster, both
> in Ohio where
> there was a lot of conversation about this in the late 19th
> century.
> As to MN, the term is probably from the 1980s (Ron Numbers
> has written about
> this at least twice), but the concept clear goes back to at
> least the latter
> part of the seventeenth century. Again, I've read the
> primary literature
> extensively. Robert Boyle, an outspoken advocate of ID,
> also clearly
> endorsed MN: in natural philosophy (= science), we ought
> not appeal to God's
> absolute power, he wrote in the early 1660s. We ought not
> go beyond what
> natural powers in their own sphere can accomplish. I
> paraphrase, obviously,
> but if you want chapter and verse you can read my article
> on Boyle in the
> Oct 2007 issue of "Science & Christian
> Belief." Miracles, in other words,
> are outside the domain of science. They are real and
> demonstrable
> historically, Boyle believed, but not to be brought into
> science, which must
> confine itself to discoursing about the properties and
> powers given to
> matter by God at the creation.
> Ted
> >>> Gregory Arago <>
> 12/24/08 10:41 AM >>>
> Hi Ted,
> Just a short note to say that I would be grateful if you
> could indeed find
> out who (supposedly) coined the phrase 'theistic
> evolution.' Who are you
> linking it to in the 1890s?
> I've searched around on-line and the most sensible
> claim I've found so far
> is by Ted Peters, who said that the term was coined by
> 'creationists' in
> regard to the naturalistic appeasement by TEs. If it is
> true (e.g. similar
> to the coining of 'fundamentalism'), then this is
> precisely the ground for
> starting a thread with this title. Likewise, the claim that
> "for 300 or so
> years methodological naturalism has been guiding
> scientifically-minded
> Christians" is another case of retro-diction. It is
> simply unsupportable.
> Great thanks to Antje Jackelen, after searching for who
> coined 'theistic
> evolution,' for her abstract to "A critical view
> of theistic evolution"
> (Theology and Science, Volume 5, Number 2, July 2007, pp.
> 151-165), where
> she says: "anti-evolutionism is about anthropology and
> morality more than
> about theism." Hope to read the article soon...
> The issue of retro-diction is a legitimate one because it
> shows a
> sociological attempt to gain a following or to attribute
> one's personal
> views to more people than is suitable. That's the
> point, Ted.
> <I have snipped the rest>
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Received on Fri Dec 26 21:09:57 2008

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