Re: [asa] Response to Baylor meeting

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Wed Sep 02 2009 - 18:45:32 EDT

Hi Greg,

I think we are largely on the same page here.

The central problem is, indeed, the ambiguity surrounding what one means to assert by the invocation of Darwin.

Within the scientific context I can only say that within the life sciences the terms "Darwinism" and "neo-Darwinism" do have reasonably clear delineation which doesn't include any necessary commitment to metaphysical naturalism or agnosticism.

In other contexts, the problem is more acute and I continue to acknowledge that from the perspective of the social sciences references to Darwin are problematic as such references can, and often do, carry a whole truckload of extraneous baggage.

I'd only like to make one observation drawn from your query about the use of "Darwinism and/or neo-Darwinism": I recognize that it's a bit of a mouthful, but it's intended to drive home the point that my post was NOT about some grand amorphous meta-narrative which applies to all aspects of existence but about two related but distinct theories of biological origins.

What I find bemusing is that those who are clearly capable of fine linguistic distinctions in other contexts seem to loose all grasp of the difference between Darwinism as a grand meta-narrative, and [neo-]Darwinism as scientific theories. One might almost think that there is an agenda behind claims that "Christian Darwinist" is an oxymoron - especially if the the one wearing the label "Christian Darwinist" has taken great pains to explain what "Darwinist" means in this context.

I don't know that there is a resolution to this problem, Greg. The fact is that most of your concerns are legitimate - as I have already acknowledged. But the problem simply doesn't take on the same dimensions for those within the scientific community where "[neo-]Darwinist" is pretty much a term of art which doesn't infer anything about one's religious beliefs.

I did, incidentally, mention that I don't personally wear the "Darwinist" or "neo-Darwinist" labels (although the later is much harder to shake: "neo-evolutionist" simply won't cut it). So you can hardly claim that I'm not trying!

PS: perhaps you might come at this problem from another angle: if the critics of biological evolution were to stop using the term "Darwinism" as though it necessarily involved an adherence to agnosticism or (worse) atheism, then many of the social science issues might resolve themselves. Perhaps its the critics of "Christian Darwinists" who need to review their position on terminology? That said, given that such critics range right across the religious (and areligious) spectrum, one has to recognize that there are a great many different agendas at play - not all of them openly and honesty articulated.


Gregory Arago wrote:
> Hi Murray,
> You wrote: "And I take "Darwinist" to mean roughly somebody who affirms
> descent with modification under the influence of natural selection and
> "neo-Darwinist" as one who adds to this the insights of genetics...I can
> only say that *my* Christianity is not at odds with *my* [neo-]Darwinism
> (not that I claim to *be* a neo-Darwinist - only that neo-Darwinism
> seems to me a justifiable inference from the available data."
> I wonder if there is anything to the fact that you won't call yourself a
> neo-Darwinist? That is, if you accept the 'science of neo-Darwinism'
> (meant and to be understood in a broad and unclear way, due to its
> variety of uses) but don't like the label, which is arguably about 'just
> the science' (i.e. not about Darwinian philosophy or Darwinian
> theology), then isn't it just a credibility problem with Darwin? I don't
> see many overlap opportunities between science, philosophy *and*
> theology in an approach that excludes the philosophy and worldview of
> Darwin when discussing his science. It doesn't seem to me like you mean
> to do this (give exclusion power to natural-physical science; by
> participating in dialogue one is trying to seemingly to overcome the
> exclusivity), so perhaps I am misinterpreting how you do actually
> involve Darwin's philosophy and theology in his/the 'science of
> evolution.' Certainly I agree with you that the 'which science?' and
> 'whose science?' questions are significant here.
> Darwin believed in/accepted 'moral evolution'. Does this mean anyone who
> believes in/accepts 'moral evolution' should call themselves a
> 'neo-Darwinist' or a follower of 'neo-Darwinian evolution'. No. At the
> same time, however, to leave out 'moral evolution' from the
> term 'Darwinist,' or 'neo-Darwinist,' as you have done, paints an
> incomplete (i.e. unholistic) view of Darwin's message to the world,
> scientific, philosophical and theological (or religiously agnostic). It
> is as if to say that 'implications' for morality inherent in Darwin's
> evolutionary theory don't matter (i.e. that 'just the natural-physical
> science' matters), a view which I know you are not endorsing.
> There are a few people on this list who would defend Darwin's agnostic
> 'faith' to the wall (actually, he could be a good substitute for the
> character Pontius Pilate in Bulgakov's wonderful "Master and Margarita"
> in being ultimately forgiven for what he did, according to the
> principles of American Evangelical Christianity), even beyond defending
> 'just the (natural-physical) science' of evolution. What is happening,
> alongside the Darwin-year celebrations, however, is a revisioning of the
> heroic history surrounding Darwin, that may help for a more realistic
> picture to be framed. As you know, Murray, my main challenge is not to
> Darwin, but to 'evolutionary theory' itself, which pre-dates and also
> post-dates Darwin. There are already post-Darwinian biological
> evolutionary ideas (e.g. Margulis) going on now outside of 'intelligent
> design' circles, and then there is post-neo-evolutionary anthropology.
> Yes, I think we've made some headway in this exchange. Perhaps you and
> Cameron should have a go at this: Is a 'Christian Darwinist' a
> contradiction in terms or not? (or however else you two decided to frame
> it.) My interest, as you both know, is to move beyond Darwin onto a new
> path in the human-social sciences. Unfortunately, even at this time, it
> is nearly impossible to do this, even in fields where 'just the science
> of Darwinism' is seen as a mysterious foreign creed. I have no problem
> with natural-physical scientists using the term 'evolution' or calling
> themselves 'evolutionists'. But I don't think it makes much sense to
> call oneself a 'Christian Darwinist' as a person living in not just
> natural-physical, but also in cultural, political and other ideological
> surroundings. There is simply no need to do so; it is merely (done in
> order to be) a rhetorical move because there are other terms one could
> choose to use instead and express nearly the same thing. It may simply
> be for the sake of attention that one calls themself a 'Christian
> Darwinist'. Is this a possibility too, Murray?
> The question 'what do most people mean when they say 'Darwinism'?" is of
> course a sociological one, involving at this point mere estimations. But
> I am a bit confused at your insistence on 'Darwinism' and/or
> neo-Darwinism, when there is no apparent need to do so. It is indeed
> possible to defend good science and to keep the name of Darwin in honour
> without contributing to an unecessary hegemony of ideas in the academy,
> where 'evolution' as 'just a science' easily slips into 'evolution' as a
> theory of everything. This is my offer always open to so-called
> 'theistic evolutionists' to continually draw limitations around the idea
> of evolution so that it is not used as their theological theory of
> everything. Some things just should be seen and said as being 'not
> applicable to/for evolution.'
> This is the question I would ask to Ruse in response to his question,
> "Can a Darwinian be a Christian?" I would ask him: "Why couldn't Darwin
> be a Christian?" Of course, this would open up the opportunity for
> Ruse's agnostic apologetics via Darwin's agnosticism, a strategy
> that some of the new atheists are doing now seemingly more than they are
> promoting science these days. Your work on the 'New Atheists' surely
> uncovered some of the links between agnosticism or atheism and
> acceptance of (certain features of) 'neo-Darwinian theories'. One can
> easily blame the Anglican Church for burying a self-acknowledged
> agnostic in their Westminster Abby. Maybe Bulgakov based his forgiveness
> of Pilate on their forgiveness of Darwin? Poor guy -he just wanted to
> live quietly in Down, England and make a contribution to 'science' and
> now people are pulling him, his ideas and his views in all sorts of
> different directions.
> Warm Regards,
> Gregory
> p.s. I'd expect Brits to defend Charles Darwin as far as possible, as
> his image is on their money. But all you Aussies have got to compensate
> for is a city in the North! ; - )
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *From:* Murray Hogg <>
> *To:* ASA <>
> *Sent:* Monday, August 31, 2009 1:17:00 PM
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Response to Baylor meeting
> Hi Greg,
> I think this a fair enough clarification - although it has to be urged
> that when Christians claim to accept "Darwinism" they are not claiming
> to accept the broad sweep of Darwin's philosophy of life.
> So, if the claim is that "Christian Darwinist" is a contradiction in
> terms because "Darwinism" means "agnostic" (in respects to the Christian
> view of God) then, fair enough.
> But, in reality, people generally restrict "Darwinism" to that
> scientific theory which Darwin laid out in "On the Origin of Species"
> and Christian Darwinists deny that such a theory necessarily entails the
> other metaphysical speculations in which Darwin otherwise engaged.
> Blessings,
> Murray
> Gregory Arago wrote:
> > Clarification, before anyone jumps on it:
> > "A Darwinian can perhaps *become* a Christian, [that is, if they
> reject] [while rejecting] the agnosticism in Darwin's extra-scientific
> speculations and ruminations."
> > This was meant to speak to the idea of 'unity of knowledge' or
> 'philosophical principles' which are betrayed when knowledge is entirely
> compartmentalised and there is no holistic theory to re-unite the
> fragmented pieces, sciences, philosophy and theology. Darwin's writing
> is filled with science, ideology and 'implications' for religion (since
> he refused to speak about religion or his theory's implications for it
> in public). We are now seeing this provocative language of
> 'implications' resurfacing to bite back upon those who would claim to be
> 'Darwinists' and also 'orthodox' in their religious faiths. There is
> nothing wrong with honouring the science that Darwin contributed; the
> problem is when one who claims to be a neo-Darwinian evolutionist can't
> answer fundamental questions, the answers upon which their theory is
> purportedly based.
> > Can evolutionary theory, as theory, become extinct?
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> > *From:* Gregory Arago <
> <>>
> > *To:* Murray Hogg <
> <>>; ASA <
> <>>
> > *Sent:* Monday, August 31, 2009 11:09:25 AM
> > *Subject:* Re: [asa] Response to Baylor meeting
> >
> > Hi Folks,
> > Just another short message as I have a deadline tomorrow and a lot
> of work to do to meet it. I've not read all of the messages in this
> thread, the question goes to the issue of extinction and evolution.
> > The questioner to Randy has a problem with evolution, extinction and
> stewardship. I would like to ask a simple thought experiment about
> whether or not 'theories' can become 'extinct' as well as 'species.'
> > Is it possible that 'evolutionary theory' could
> 'evolve/change-over-time' into something that is no longer itself? For
> example, if anomalies were found along with things that evolutionary
> theory cannot explain in its current forumulation (which, according to
> evolutionary theory is a 'fluid' definition, and not a fixed or absolute
> one, that is, because nothing in this world is fixed or absolute
> according to evolutionary theory), and another theory then 'migrated'
> into the niche left by evolutionary theories, would it be possible for
> evolution to become 'extinct'?
> > Would treating Darwin as an icon of agnosticism/celebrity of natural
> science become an obsolete practice?
> > Alongside this question, there is one for Murray: what is the
> difference or sameness in your view between 'neo-Darwinian evolution'
> and 'Christian evolutionist'? I see you challenging Cameron by
> suggesting that neo-Darwinian evolution (or 'the modern synthesis') is
> 'good science' (I am assuming this is how you would label it - i.e. best
> explanation of the evidence to date) and that there is nothing
> contradictory about being both an 'evolutionist' and a 'Christian' (or
> Muslim or Jew, etc.). But Cameron has made repeated points that the term
> 'Christian Darwinist' is a contradiction in terms. Do you disagree with
> him about this or is it a matter of clarifying our terms 'Christian
> evolutionist' and 'Christian Darwinist', along with what the differences
> between Darwinian and Darwinism, and evolution and evolutionism,
> actually mean? Ruse answers "Can a Darwinian be a Christian?" with a
> 'Yes.' I would answer that a Darwinist cannot be a Christian, but
> someone who follows *some* Darwinian principles will find them
> anti-thetical to their faith. To follow *all* Darwinian principles,
> however, is tantamount to becoming just as agnostic as he was. And this
> raises the question of whether or not it s possible for a religious
> person to become agnostic due to their contemplation and acceptance of
> certain aspects of 'Darwinian principles' to their logical conclusion. A
> Darwinian can perhaps be a Christian, while rejecting the agnosticism in
> Darwin's extra-scientific speculations and ruminations. However, it is
> also possible for a Christian to become agnostic (van Till?) as a result
> of their embrace of Darwinist ideology. TEs don't seem to highlight this
> 'reverse' possibility and rather highlight only the positive aspects of
> accepting 'biological' evolution or 'cosmological' evolution (and
> sometimes TEs even promote 'cultural' evolution). It is not difficult to
> realize why this is the case.
> > One might even wonder if TE might become an 'obsolete' theory. (!!!)
> But then again, I still haven't heard a coherent theory of TE (i.e. one
> that potentially 'could' become obsolete because it actually exists in
> the first place), other than ones which thrive on instrumentalist logic,
> i.e. "God 'uses' evolution". This is highly unsatisfactory language for
> many scholars, including Christian ones, in the academy.
> > Gregrory
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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Received on Wed Sep 2 18:46:22 2009

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