Re: [asa] What is Darwinism? What is TE?

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Wed May 20 2009 - 12:22:08 EDT


My simple answer to your question has always been, as follows:

theistic evolution = the belief that God used evolution to produce humans
and other organisms

This leaves a great deal unsaid--the precise mechanisms involved (natural
selection operating on "random" mutations, the inheritance of acquired
characteristics, or something else), and the precise way in which God is
involved (directly, as for Bob Russell, more indirectly, as for John
Polkinghorne or Conway Morris, or only by persuasion instead of coercion, as
for Ian Barbour).

When I teach about ID, I always make the point (taken accurately and fairly
from ID proponents, obviously) that ID is a "big tent," that is ID as such
deliberately avoids making any specific theological claims (such as those
made by most individual TE advocates) in order to achieve unity among people
with widely diverse theological beliefs (from Jon Wells to Mike Behe to Phil
Johnson to David Berlinski) who have a common enemy in "Darwinism." This
makes ID, at the level of theology at least, even more amorphous than TE.
ID's, as someone pointed out here (I think it was "Timaeus" a few months
ago, but maybe it was you more recently, Cameron, or someone else),
apparently have no obligation to point out how God is involved with putting
the design into nature at certain points (I don't believe that is an
advantage myself, since I don't believe that ducking that metaphysical
question makes ID more persuasive to anyone who realizes that the
"intelligent designer" of the bacterial flagellum can be none other than
God), whereas TE's are obligated to do so, and this can lead them into all
sorts of ambiguity and subtlety that is not very persuasive to critics.

Well, the point I really want to make here is that TE is just as much of a
"big tent" as ID, insofar as it does not spell out the kinds of theological
details that would cause many of its adherents to reject a well-defined
specific view (whether or not they use the label "TE," which many regard as
unsatisfactory). In fact, as I've stated again and again and again, the
differences among various TEs are profound--a Polkinghorne diverges
remarkably from a Peacocke, but the fact that there is a single convenient
label for both (namely, TE) makes it easier for an ID advocate to ignore the
great diversity of species among TEs and to lump them all together into a
single genus. My definition, which is I believe quite adequate for general
historical analysis (note that the word general is related to the word
genus, being a derivative of the plural genera), is not adequate to
distinguish diverse species--and one cannot understand them without
distinguishing them from one another: failure to draw the finer distinctions
leads readily to very inaccurate statements about TE in general. ID, on the
other hand, can be understood without distinguishing the various species,
which indeed are camouflaged by the intelligent designer(s) of the ID
movement. Those species do exist, of course, and if anything they might be
even more diverse than those in the genus TE (esp if one realizes that at
least one or two self-identified atheists are also ID advocates), but the
differences lie below the surface colorations.


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Received on Wed May 20 12:22:56 2009

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