Re: [asa] The Definition of TE: Explicit versus implicit

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Fri Oct 30 2009 - 08:59:59 EDT

Cameron et al -

Interesting questions & I can only give my own impressions. 1st, in defence of my statement that "theistic evolution" is a broad & amorphous term, that's just the way the term is used in common conversation. When someone knows you're a Christian & finds out in conversation that you accept evolution they may say "Oh, you're a theistic evolutionist." Some have tried to give it a more precise meaning - e.g., Peters & Hewlett want to label their own version as "theistic evolution" - but I don't think that's going to work. Established terminology, good or not, is established. The big bang is the big bang & the US army's attempt during WW2 to define current as flowing in the direction negative charges move didn't stick. I've expressed my reservations before about being called a TE but that's how I'll be lumped & life is short. I have reservations about being called a "protestant" too but I know I will be.

Question 1 - why are TEs so opposed to YEC, often, it seems, more strongly than they're opposed to atheist views of evolution? John Walley's statement about the experience of many who've had to fight their way free of YECism is part of the answer. But also, to put it crudely, YECs are twice as wrong when it comes to evolution than are atheists. The latter are wrong about theology while the former are wrong about both theology and science. It's certainl;y true that at a more fundamental level a TE is closer to a Christian who rejects evolution than to an atheist who doesn't. YEC is not in itself heresy. As I've said before, if Ken Ham came to receive the sacrament at a service at which I was presiding I would give it to him. But simply on an intellectual level in dealing with evolution, he's doubly wrong.

On the ID & design questions I don't have terribly good answers. TE as I've defined it includes those who accept evolution but think that God intervened at some points in the process. I've left open that possibility myself in connection with the origin of life. But the reality is that many ID proponents, & especially prominent ones, are either not willing to accept evolution or do so only grudgingly or evasively. Behe is something of an outlier who in fact doesn't identify himself as a TE

In order to deal with the question of design itself I, at least, have to get more theological. I think that in order to claim that there's "intelligent design" (and not just functionality) we have to look at scientific results in a larger context, which for me means a theological one. From that standpoint I have no problem saying that there is design in & for creation. But that's not the same thing as inferring it from flagella, blood clotting &c.

I'me hestitating at this point to get into detailed discussions & debates because in a few days I'm going to have to leave the list for awhile - some major projects beckon. But I'll be here for a few more days & anyone interested can contact me privately after that.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Cameron Wybrow
  To: asa
  Sent: Thursday, October 29, 2009 10:16 PM
  Subject: [asa] The Definition of TE: Explicit versus implicit


  You said:

>TE isn't a philosophy but just a rough term designating people who think that belief in God and acceptance of biological evolution are compatible.

  I think Ted Davis has said the same thing on other occasions. And I think you yourself have said that Behe is a TE (presumably in light of this definition). I have no problem with this.

  However, I think that your statement, in the context of this list, could easily be misleading. It's true that the various TEs on this list have different emphases, and don't have "a grand philosophy" that's identical; yet to an outside observer, there are some important unifying features of the TEs here. First, many of them seem obsessed with YEC. It is one thing to disagree with YEC, or think it bad science; it is another thing to be constantly concerned to denounce it, defeat it, and humiliate it. People here spend more time lambasting the stupidity of YEC than Dawkins or Coyne or P. Z. Myers do. I am not saying that you in particular are extreme in this regard, but others here certainly seem to be.

  Second, the TEs here, with a couple of exceptions, seem almost to insist that part of the definition of TE is that it is "not ID". There is much hostility to ID here, almost as much as to YEC. There is also much misrepresentation of ID arguments, even misrepresentation of Behe's arguments (not by you), and there is great concern to show or intimate that ID is bad science and poor theology. These are leitmotifs running through posts on this list. Yet, based on the definition you have given above, and your granting that Behe is a TE, this makes no sense. If all that TE asserts is that organic evolution and belief in God are compatible, then many ID proponents would be TEs, and people here should not wish to antagonize ID in general, however much they might disagree with particular statements by a particular ID proponents, e.g., Phillip Johnson.

  Third, there seems to be an agreement among most TEs here that design is not detectable in nature, both because science cannot detect design in principle, and because it would be a bad thing for religion if science and reason could detect evidence of God. But this claim is no part of the stripped-down, simplified definition of TE that you offer above. It appears to follow from particular notions of science and of religion that are extraneous to the definition.

  When you add these things up, I think it is fair to say that an impartial, objective reader of the posts here would conclude that there is far more to TE than merely the positive assertion that God is compatible with evolution. The outsider would infer that TE requires a lot of negative assertions as well.

  Let me put some of the above points in another way. From the definition of TE you give above, which I (along with several other ID proponents) could subscribe to, an objective observer would infer that TE is open-minded regarding the following questions:

  1. Whether design in nature is detectable by scientific or other means;
  2. Whether Darwinian processes alone are sufficient to explain evolution;
  3. Whether the sum of all known stochastic processes (Darwinian and other) are sufficient to explain evolution;
  4. Whether evolution is driven entirely by natural means.

  Yet the same observer would get the strong sense that many TEs on this list have firmly made up their minds regarding some or all of these questions.

  My point is that it is not merely the formal definition of TE that makes an impression upon outsiders; it is the apparent actual contents of TE. In my particular case, it is the apparent actual contents of TE that put me off. I do not want to have to subscribe to a denial of the possibility of design detection, or to any particular Protestant theology (Lutheran, Calvinist, whatever) which is hostile to natural theology, or to an axiom that God would not have created a world in which there was pain and suffering, or to an axiom that stochastic processes alone can produce complex integrated systems, or to an axiom that the evolutionary process is entirely explicable within the realm of natural causes, in order to be counted a TE. And as long as these axioms, even if they are not part of the formal definition of TE, are very much held within the political and theological and scientific culture of TE, I have to remain aloof from it. It takes far too much time to explain: "I'm a TE, but I don't agree with Ayala, or Miller, or Collins, or Campbell, or Isaac, or Walley, or Siemens, or a good number of the other spokespersons who are the public face of TE; I'm a TE only in the pure and simple original sense of the term." It's much simpler just to say that I'm not a TE. I suspect this is why Behe refuses to use the term to identify himself, even though he surely qualifies under your definition.

  As I pointed out in a reply to John Walley a week or so ago (to which he didn't respond), I don't see any way of breaking the impasse between ID and TE as long as TEs in practice insist upon various beliefs (which I listed in that reply) that are not by their own definition strictly required.

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: George Murphy
    To: Gregory Arago ; asa ; Ted Davis
    Sent: Thursday, October 29, 2009 1:19 PM
    Subject: Re: [asa] ID question? - TE does or doesn't 'limit evolution'?

    You are apparently operating under the illusion that eveyone who is lumped in the amorphous category of theistic evolution actually holds a grand philosophy called "theistic evolution." Most don't - including, I think, all those on the asa list. TE isn't a philosophy but just a rough term designating people who think that belief in God and acceptance of biological evolution are compatible. Evolution is already limited as far as we're concerned so all your criticisms about our failure to limit it are irrelevant. Perhaps some of us can be criticized for not saying often enough, or loudly enough, that it's limited, but that has nothing to do with any lack of philosophical understanding.

    Probably the reason that there is "silence from the dogmatic TEs" is that there aren't any.


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Received on Fri Oct 30 09:00:40 2009

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