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

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Thu May 21 2009 - 13:57:59 EDT


I am more than a bit pleased that you like, as well as appreciate, the definition of TE that I offered. First, let me assure you that it wasn't written for the occasion. I'm not looking for an irenical definition, simply the most accurate one. It reflects the understanding I have had of TE for more than 30 years, going back long before I would have described myself as a TE, and nothing I have seen since has led me to change it. (There was no ID as such in those days, obviously, so it was TE vs Atheistic evolution vs OEC vs YEC. I was on OEC at that time.)

I understand why many ID proponents include a lot more in their definitions of TE, based on what various TE advocates add themselves, but IMO they (and they must have company outside of the ID camp) are confusing some specific trees for the forest. I have no doubt that those trees exist, but the forest is much larger and it's the forest that constitutes TE.

IMO, obviously.

This could be one of those rare cases, however, in which perhaps my opinion and suggested definition ought to be given more weight than most other opinions and suggested definitions--whether put forth by TEs or IDs or anyone else. At the risk of appearing to be puffed up--pride (even arrogance) might be the most prevalent of the deadly sins among academics (avarice is almost certainly not prevalent) -- I think it may be true that I've seen more examples of "theistic evolutionists", past and present, than most others who are involved in this controversy. I think this b/c (a) I've taught students about origins for a very long time, since the late 1970s (before I went to grad school), and even at that time I was reading various TE authors (such as Richard Bube or Donald MacKay or Gareth Jones. (b) In my graduate work and subsequently I've read or skimmed a large number of books by authors who believed that God creates through evolution, written between 1800 and 1950, books t!
 hat have dropped off the radar screens of most other scholars who do not specialize in the history of science & Christianity, and in several cases I've seen unpublished documents (letters, graduate school theses, course syllabi, even student notes from courses taught by TEs) that no one has ever written about. (c) I'm probably more familiar with contemporary scholarship on science and theology (as vs science and religion, though I read that as well) than most non-theologians, esp those who are interested in ID but also most scientists (as vs theologians) who are TE. (d) There are only a handful of scholars from roughly my generation or older who have specialized for their entire academic careers in the history of science & religion, as vs some other aspect of science and religion or simply history of science or history of religion. And, among these, quite a few have not made origins issues a point of focus (Peter Harrison, a great scholar, would be an example). There are !
 a number of younger scholars doing this, but ipso facto they h!
 ave not
been at it as long and have probably seen less material in toto than I've seen.

I detest arguments from authority, and I just made one. If I may move instead to the authority of primary sources (which is much harder to dispute), to offer a couple of pertinent early examples of what TE is, and still is, I will borrow from the essay on Arthur Compton that is being published in the current issue of PSCF and the next two issues. Compton studied physics and philosophy at the College of Wooster, and a faculty member there in the 1890s held that evolution, including human evolution, resulted from “the interaction of certain forces operating in the direction of a progressive change from some unknown primitive condition of things.” This was simply “the divine mode of creation whereby God has wrought out the existing order of things through the continuous operation of His creative power.” (the quoted words are from a biology professor named Mateer) Some 20 years later, Compton's father, who taught philosophy and psychology, wrote that “God is in na!
 ture, but He is not a prisoner in nature. Evolution is not only His way of working, it is His way of creating.” Arthur Compton himself, as a student, held the closely related view, that “the uniformities of action in nature are easily explained on the supposition that these are uniformities in the way in which God acts.” Although he affirmed that God acts freely, at the same time “God the Master Thinker acts uniformly, thus accounting for the laws of nature.” Thus, “we may think of God developing the universe from the elementary electrons through the various stages to man.”

At almost the same time, B B Warfield wrote that, if evolution were treated carefully (theologically), it would be a possible view of "the divine procedure in creating man," not a substitute for creation but "a theory of the method of divine providence." Or L F Gruber, whom George Murphy has mentioned once or twice, a Lutheran theologian who wrote in 1941 that "God as the Great Personal First Cause would be the Author or Creator at every point throughout the whole life-history." (He did not actually accept TE himself, but that is how he understood it.) Bube in 1971 wrote that, for theological purposes, "it does not matter at all whether God created man in a process of evolutionary development or whether God created man in an act of divine fiat."

These are not formal definitions of TE, Cameron; they are only a number of specific examples of what a TE position entails, in terms of its basic attitude toward the origins issue. And that's what TE ultimately *is*, I would say: a basic attitude toward the origins issue, not a specific, detailed statement of a formal theology of creation as it pertains to evolution (though some authors will provide that).

Statements such as those I have quoted are far more common, in my experience, than any other type of statement I can think of, relative to "theistic evolution." If I keep using that label for them, it's b/c no other standard label really fits. If you want to say instead, e.g., that several of these are really tantamount to ID, I'm fine with that. Some forms of TE would fit very well under the ID label. As you've noted, Mike Behe is essentially a TE or an ID, depending on the details of the definition. I've said for many years that he's a TE, only to have it strongly denied in recent years by some people at UD and NCSE -- people who have not seen nearly as many examples of TE as I've seen. I've even had one pretty well informed person tell me that Asa Gray wasn't really a TE, either; rather, he was an ID before his time (I agree that Gray hoped that science would someday show that evolution was designed). I don't agree with that, not at all; if Asa Gray wasn't a TE, th!
 en the set of all TEs is empty. When TE and ID are defined in such a way as to exclude one another as a possible combination, then the history falls out of the bag and it's all politics. And, politics usually obscures rather than underlines the truth.

This is not to say that there are no good reasons why it has become so contentious today, this ID vis-a-vis TE thing. Both camps believe in design; it's impossible for me to doubt that as a generalization. But, these days, "design" is being defined in terms of science, pure and simple, such that those who think you can only make design inferences that go beyond science are not considered IDs. I think this is b/c of the politics: there is a strongly felt need to change public school science classes, and so it *has* to be science in order to count as ID, or else ID won't be able to affect the changes its advocates want. Prior to this happening (in the wake of court decisions concerning genuine "creationism"), I don't think there was any ID/TE distinction, and obviously there was no ID movement.

Well, I've said enough for one day. I've really been a cranky old man with too many ants in his pants.


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Received on Thu May 21 13:58:33 2009

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