[asa] What is Darwinism? What is TE? (was: BioLogos - Bad Theology?)

From: Cameron Wybrow <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
Date: Wed May 20 2009 - 03:30:30 EDT


I can answer your question, but you are going to have to break your rule of not reading any post longer than three paragraphs. (If you aren't just asking a rhetorical question, but are really interested in learning what "Darwinism" is, you will find this post useful, I believe. In any case, I think this answer will be of use for others. And oh, just to keep you interested -- I issue you a counter-question of my own, further down.)

I find your confusion over the term "Darwinism" puzzling. Why should it be any trickier than "Freudianism" or "Marxism" or "libertarianism"? Are you suspecting something devious in my usage? If so, put your mind at ease. I mean the word merely descriptively, and my usage is far from uncommon. But since you seem worried about the way I'm using it, I'll tell you exactly what I mean by it.

I, like many other people, including Darwinists themselves sometimes, use "Darwinism" as a convenient, less wordy short form for any of the following three (different but related) views:

1. Charles Darwin's original theory of evolution, as he understood it himself: naturally occurring variation plus natural selection -- all occurring via chance or impersonal natural laws;
2. The various "updates", from about the 1930s on, of his theory of evolution, which trimmed away his errors about genetics, removed his hints of Lamarckianism, added in our knowledge of DNA, etc. -- "neo-Darwinism": random mutations to the DNA, natural selection, and some other stochastic mechanisms such as "drift"; again, all non-intelligent causes (chance, natural laws);
3. The extension of evolutionary thinking, very much in the spirit of Darwin's naturalism, to chemical-origin-of-life scenarios, to produce "molecules to man" cosmic scenarios such as one finds in Carl Sagan; again, all non-intelligent causation (chance, natural laws).

Now, I'll come to the application, and Bernie, I'd like your participation here. I gave an example to George Murphy the other night, like this:

"So if a meteorite the size of a pea whizzed through the window of a diner and landed in your coffee, splashing it all over you, no ID proponent, any more than a TE proponent, would argue that the meteorite was sent deliberately by God -- though if you'd said something nasty about ID at just the moment before the meteorite hit, the temptation would surely be strong. :-) But if several thousand pea-sized meteorites all landed in your backyard, and the pattern of holes was a copy of the Declaration of Independence, an ID proponent would insist that intelligent design was at work. And I don't you think would you deem the ID proponent unreasonable for doing so."

Now think about this, Bernie, and give me your opinion. If an ID proponent said, in the Declaration of Independence case above, that "this was no accident; this was a designed event", would you accuse the ID proponent of violating "methodological naturalism", of asserting "miracles" improperly in science, and thus of undermining the foundation of American science education? Would you say that the event could be explained entirely by chance? Or would you say that the ID inference was just plain common sense?

I will guess that you will answer that the design inference in that case is common sense, very reasonable, and doesn't threaten the very foundations of the modern scientific method. So, next, suppose someone could convince you that the degree of integrated complexity in a living cell or in the cardiovascular system or something else was a billion billion times greater than the degree of integrated complexity in the visual form of the Declaration of Independence. You now have two options: you can say: "I believe that it is improbable in the highest degree that such integrated complexity could have arisen through chance plus necessity, without the admixture of intelligent planning to some degree"; then you are a design theorist. Or you can say: I believe that it is perfectly plausible that such integrated complexity could have arisen through chance and necessity, without the admixture of any intelligent planning at all; further, I believe that this is exactly what happened"; then you are a Darwinist.

Now, to your question, who is a Darwinist? Obviously, Coyne, Dawkins, Forrest, Eugenie Scott, Mayr, Gaylord Simpson, etc. Further, the following Christian authors have made statements, on television, on blog posts, in books, or elsewhere, to the effect that chance plus necessity are all that is necessary for a complete and adequate scientific explanation of macroevolution, and therefore should be counted as Darwinists:

Ken Miller, Ayala, Collins, Lamoureux.

Now it's true that in every one of those cases, except perhaps for Ayala, these authors have said *other* things which appear to be backtracking from pure Darwinism as I have laid it out above, and to somehow slide design or intelligence in by the side door. That is what is so confusing about theistic evolutionism, evolutionary creationism, BioLogos, or whatever you call it; its lack of theoretical clarity.

For example, sometimes these people seem to be saying: (A) the world is designed by God according to theology, and that's totally true; the world is utterly without intelligent design according to science, and that's totally true, too. So the *same* world has two completely *different* explanations, in conflict, but both completely true. At other times they seem to be saying: (B) God designs and plans the whole world and watches over it providentially; and the means by which he achieves this designing, planning providence are Darwinian means (which by their very nature are the theoretical opposite of planning, providence, etc.). Again, at other times they say: (C) Yes, there is design in nature, and yes, it's put there by God, but he *never intervenes*. And then, when asked, "Oh, so the design must have been front-loaded, at the beginning, in the first DNA?", they say emphatically, "No! That would take away human free will!". So we somehow have design that is neither front-loaded nor inserted through intervention, but nonetheless real. Again, (D) Ken Miller, in his first book, spends most of the time championing a wholly naturalistic Darwinism, pooh-poohing any idea of a designer as "an engineer's God"; but then he peppers the work with sly suggestions that maybe God intervenes, steering things quietly underneath quantum indeterminacy, to get designed results, i.e., he allows God to be an engineer, after all, as long as he is a stealthy engineer. Do these examples give you some idea, Bernie, why outsiders find TE a very murky position regarding God and evolution, in comparison with YEC, OEC, ID, and pure Darwinism? Dawkins and Coyne are the very picture of clarity compared with any of the positions outlined in A through D above.

So your vexed exclamation, "What is a Darwinist?" could be countered with an equally vexed exclamation, "What is a TE?" Could you, Bernie, offer me a working definition of a TE, in basic English, one clear enough for the average educated person (who is neither a biological nor theological expert) to understand? One that is not filled with apparent contradictions or paradoxes? In fact, I pose this as a challenge to everyone here who considers himself or herself a TE. What is the definition of theistic evolutionism, in your mind? What are the three or four or five core doctrines that theistic evolutionists hold? I am betting that if everyone submits an honest answer, without collusion or waiting to hear what others say, there will be no clear consensus definition at all. Who will take me up on this challenge?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Dehler, Bernie" <bernie.dehler@intel.com>
To: <asa@lists.calvin.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 7:10 PM
Subject: RE: [asa] Darwinism (was: BioLogos - Bad Theology?)

> Cameron said:
> "I think that the attempt to bring full-fledged Darwinism under the wing of Christian theology is profoundly mistaken."
> I still want to know, what is "Darwinism?" Where is the textbook? Who teaches it and defends it? I know what evolution is, but what is "Darwinism???????" Please- I beg you- answer. Is it just a humongous strawman???
> ...Bernie

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Received on Wed May 20 03:31:14 2009

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