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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu May 21 2009 - 03:05:42 EDT

Ted, if all TEs adopted your stripped-down, minimalist definition of TE,
many ID proponents (probably most, if we are talking about the more
theoretically advanced ID people) would have no visceral objection to TE.
They might not embrace it personally, but they would grant that it is
possible to believe -- without being blasphemous or heretical -- that God
employed an evolutionary process rather than a string of discrete creative

However, when ID proponents hear the phrase "theistic evolution", they also
generally hear two *other* things which you are (wisely, in my view) leaving
out of your definition:

(1) intelligent causes are completely ruled out of the evolutionary process,
because they are not "naturalistic"; God uses only nature's built-in powers
of chance and necessity (i.e., "Darwinian" means);

(2) it is impossible in principle to detect design in nature, because
science cannot do this, and/or because the Christian God is not a God who
would ever let his designs be detectable.

Your allowance that a TE position does not *have* to include either of those
two points creates a zone of overlap between ID and TE. I think that
Michael Behe inhabits that overlap zone (as George Murphy suggested the
other night). Michael Denton inhabits it as well (though it's unclear what
the "T" in TE -- i.e., God -- means to Denton). William Dembski has allowed
that an ID person could inhabit such an overlap zone. (Whether he is
personally there, I don't know, because I don't know whether he personally
subscribes to macroevolution, but at least he recognizes it as a legitimate
habitat.) For that matter, someone that many people on this list might
think of as a sworn enemy of TE -- Denyse O'Leary -- has stated in the past,
in one of her blogs, that she would class herself as a TE under a suitably
broad definition -- and you have just provided such a definition.

"God plus evolution" is not a combination that ID people automatically
reject. But what they are looking to hear from TEs is that "God" has a
real, definable role in evolution, and is not just an optional interpretive
gloss thrown on top of an account of Darwinian evolution that is no
different from Coyne's or Dawkins's regarding "how it happens". I think
that in the view espoused by yourself, Russell, and George Murphy (whom I
wasn't sure about until he clarified the other night), God has a real,
definable role in inserting intelligence into the evolutionary process,
whether that insertion is characterized as "intervention" or not,
"miraculous" or not. That doesn't mean that you and Russell and Murphy
would agree with ID-evolutionists on every point of theology -- certainly
there would be disagreements -- but it does seem that all of you are saying
that God "makes a difference regarding the outcome". That is perhaps only a
small start towards a fuller agreement between some ID and some TE people --
but it's a start.

P.S. Your other comments all seem reasonable to me, and I add only the
minor correction that I don't think Berlinski would call himself an ID
proponent. He is a Discovery Fellow, I believe, but I don't think he has
embraced ID. I think he sees himself as a Darwin critic with a duty to
expose the exaggerated claims of success made by neo-Darwinism, while
remaining agnostic regarding the ultimate explanation for life, evolution,


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ted Davis" <>
To: "asa" <>; "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Sent: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 12:22 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] What is Darwinism? What is TE?

> Cameron,
> 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.
> Ted

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Thu May 21 03:07:48 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu May 21 2009 - 03:07:49 EDT