Re: [asa] The term Darwinism

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Tue Jun 30 2009 - 16:28:54 EDT

I thank Douglas Hayworth for his clear and direct comments.

Some brief additions, disagreements, etc.:

1. Yes, Darwinism is traditionally heavy in emphasis upon natural
selection. Darwin himself was also extremely heavy on gradualism, and so
have most of his followers been, though of course there have been dissenters
like Gould. And Gould's motive for dissent is the best: the empirical
evidence -- the fossil record -- can only with difficulty be reconciled with
Darwin's gradualism. (Dawkins strives, in *The Blind Watchmaker*, to
achieve this reconciliation; but Dawkins is also on record as saying that
Gould is not the most reliable evolutionary theorist.) On the other hand,
huge leaps seem theoretically incoherent on Darwin's principles (see *The
Origin* for why). Michael Denton's second book is interesting in that it
offers at least a potential solution to the problem: Darwin might have been
right about the individual genetic changes accumulating gradually, but wrong
in assuming that therefore morphological changes would be gradual. Darwin
assumed a "one to one" correspondence between morphological change and
genetic change, and Denton explains why this correspondence has been
undermined: we now know that several genes can affect a single external
trait, and that single genes can affect several different external traits.
Further, Denton argues, genetic changes might be "saved up" in clumps, so to
speak, and released at certain times, allowing for greater morphological
leaps in a short space of time. This would be possible if the entire
genetic mechanism is, as Denton believes, the equivalent of a massive
computer program for the generation of species over time.

2. Check out my scenario #3. I didn't say that God's involvement had to be
an *alternative* to natural selection; I acknowledged that it could be
*supplemental to* natural selection and other Darwinian processes (as the
gardener's work in Don Winterstein's analogy is supplemental to the work of

3. You wrote, "We know that mutation occurs by real chemical-physical
mechanisms and produces variation in populations. When that variation
exists, N.S. (and other factors, such as drift) will in fact operate to
cause evolution." The first sentence is unobjectionable, but the second
sentence, without qualification, is an overstatement. We do not "know" that
N.S. will in fact cause "evolution", if by evolution is meant
macroevolution. At most we "know" that N.S. is one contributory cause to
microevolution. That N.S. or any combination of natural causes can produce
macroevolution is at this point simply speculation, as is evidenced by lack
of books and articles (already discussed by me in earlier posts)
demonstrating in genetic detail how macroevolution has in fact been achieved
in the case of any particular organ, organelle, system, or organism.

4. You made some remarks about Calvinism. Calvinism is not a unitary body
of theology, but a family of theologies based more or less on the writings
of Calvin. Calvinists have quite different understandings of various things
amongst themselves. George Hunter is a Calvinist whose theology differs in
important respects from several TE people here who are also Calvinist.
Other ID people known to me are Calvinists who would disagree strongly with
TE-Calvinists in many areas, starting with the notion of the character,
authority and interpretation of Scripture, and working up to the sovereign
freedom of God.

5. There is no reason why God could not choose to work through a
combination of natural causes and intervention, if he so pleases. Human
beings, especially Calvinists who (if they are orthodox) insist on God's
radical and absolute freedom, should know better than to stipulate how God
would create. Maybe God is like Don Winterstein's gardener who relies
primarily on the powers of nature, but likes to take a hand now and then,
and direct things. That is up to his good pleasure.

6. I have not read Conway Morris and therefore cannot comment on him.
Denton also asserts very strongly the anthropic principle, and agrees that
God does not intervene, but rather front-loads the universe so as to
guarantee that it will produce man. I have said that I am equally open to
front-loaded anthropic or interventionist explanations of evolution. Both
are compatible with ID. Regarding religious acceptability, interventionist
explanations are obviously entirely compatible with all orthodox forms of
Christianity; whether purely naturalistic front-loading is compatible with
orthodox Christianity, I am not sure. I have an open mind on that question.
However, note that Terry Gray, a Calvinist here, seems (based on his
comments on my scenarios) repelled by it. So it may be that you and Conway
Morris would have a disagreement with Terry Gray over the theological
implications of front-loading. I think it would be excellent if someone
here would start a thread specifically devoted to front-loading and its
compatibility with Christian theology. I would listen to people's opinions
with great eagerness.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Douglas Hayworth" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Cc: "asa" <>
Sent: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 2:41 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] The term Darwinism

> I've only skimmed the discussion in this thread, so I apologize in
> advance if this has already been said. Take it as another "vote" on
> what Darwinism means.
> Within evolutionary biology, the terms Darwinian evolution and
> Darwinism are generally understood to refer particularly to natural
> selection and/or (to a lesser extent) gradualism. A strong "Darwinist"
> is one who holds that N.S. is the primary factor shaping evolution; to
> such a person, mutation and random genetic drift, etc. are much less
> interesting (although no one nowadays denies the reality of these
> other forces of evolution).
> Notice that I said "within evolutionary biology". Within the
> scientific community, the label doesn't imply anything whatsoever
> about theism. It is a scientific paradigm/theory. It's only in those
> discussions that go on "outside" of science where the terms mean all
> sorts of far-reaching things. (The term is used outside by atheists
> who think the science is all there is, and by the creationists who
> fixate on the name Darwin because of its horror effect - like invoking
> the name of Hitler.)
> In any case, I don't see much benefit in Cameron's notion that there
> might be some valid God-constrained or God-channeled alternative to
> N.S. We know that mutation occurs by real chemical-physical mechanisms
> and produces variation in populations. When that variation exists,
> N.S. (and other factors, such as drift) will in fact operate to cause
> evolution. If God were entirely directing the mutational process or
> the breeding decisions, why do we see variation that results in
> differences in survival, and why do populations evolve in response to
> environmental changes that cause some individuals to die while
> allowing others to live on and produce offspring? In other words, if
> God is directly guiding the mutational and selectional steps, why do
> the data not look like that? Are we to believe that the variation we
> see is just the appearance of evolution (i.e., like the old
> appearance-of-age argument)? Of course, God could be making only
> occasional interventional "choices" -- too few for us to detect as
> non-random, but that option carries with it all sorts of difficult
> implications about God's activity in the world that neither a
> Calvinist or an open-theist would be comfortable with. Does he not
> uphold the mechanisms he created? How much intervention is enough to
> accomplish his purposes? How would we ever be able to detect such
> non-random directionality in evolution?
> It's one thing to use some form of the anthropic principle to show
> that a belief in God's providence is not irrational, but it is another
> thing to suggest that this providence occurred by direct intervention.
> From the little bit that I know about his work, Simon Conway Morris
> sets a good example here. He has argues that evolution need not be
> viewed as a mere "grand lottery", yet I am quite certain that he would
> not attempt to suggest that God was directly making and choosing
> mutations and breeding partners as a way to direct evolution.
> Doug

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Tue Jun 30 16:30:12 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Jun 30 2009 - 16:30:12 EDT