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

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Fri Oct 30 2009 - 10:57:36 EDT

1st an addition to my earlier post on this thread. Another reason why TEs who in particular are science educators to view YECs & IDers negatively is that they're the ones most likely to interfere with the teaching of science, today under the "teach the controversy" guise.

Then on Cameron's closing comments below. TE, as I've loosely defined it, is neither a "church" nor a "sect" (in sociological, rather than theological, terms). There is, to my knowledge, no "Association of Theistic Evolutionists" or "Journal of Theistic Evolution" & no graduate program in TE. There is no formal structure to TE, either churchlike or sectlike. Of course some organizations can be identified in various degrees as TE - CTNS or the Zygon Center pretty strongly, ASA somewhat less so - simply because of the preponderance of that general position among members. But there are few general statements that can be made about TEs beyond the fact that they believe in God and accept evolution.

& this is independent of the fact that some people I would lump together in this category don't want to be called TEs - Behe, Lamoureux & (I think) Ken Miller.

If someone wants to offer a better definition, go for it - bearing in mind my skepticism about the possibility of changing accepted terminology.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Cameron Wybrow
  To: asa
  Sent: Friday, October 30, 2009 9:30 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] The Definition of TE: Explicit versus implicit

  I thank John Walley for his frankness, his non-evasiveness, and his confirmation of some of my perceptions.

  I understand and accept John's account of himself as still smarting from wounds received during his time as a YEC. I am grateful for his self-consciousness about this. It suggests to me that he might be willing to concede that from time to time in the recent past, he may have been over-reactive. Indeed, in reading his posts over the last year, I think I discern a general reduction in reactiveness, and a tendency towards moderation and balance, and I applaud him for this.

  I believe that Behe disavows TE because of all the extra "riders" I have spoken of, and which John has confirmed. If all that TE affirmed was what George set forth yesterday, Behe would, I believe, call himself a TE. And Denyse O'Leary has stated in her blogs that she would, too. Thus, TE proponents have to decide whether they want to be (so to speak) a "church" or a "sect". As it is, from my point of view, TE looks more like a sect, even though, based on the definition set forth by George and Ted, it ought to behave more like a church.

  I would say to John that those who have rejected YEC because of evolution need not end up as TEs. They can stop off for a refreshing stay in the ID Hotel, and remain there as long as they wish. They are not required to dine or play shuffleboard with the YECs who are staying there. There are ID-evolutionists lounging around the pool and piano bar who would be glad to keep them company. And Dawkins and Hitchens never stay there, so the theology is more congenial and the manners are much more civilized. In that respect, at least, it is much more pleasant than the Darwin Resort and Spa where TEs seem to spend so much of their time.

  Best wishes, John.


    ----- Original Message -----
    From: John Walley
    To: Cameron Wybrow ; asa
    Sent: Thursday, October 29, 2009 10:33 PM
    Subject: Re: [asa] The Definition of TE: Explicit versus implicit

    I have to agree with Cameron on this. He is right that more accurately TE defined in practice by those that are most vocal on this list is George's definition + no YEC and no ID. I think it is fair to say that one of the primary reasons Christians choose to identify themselves as TE is to differentiate themselves from YEC. I think to a lesser degree this boundary is drawn between ID as well.

    I went through the same consternation when I first joined the list over the animosity toward ID. I didn't understand why at the time but I do now. Basically the objection I came to have to it is that it is theologically an extension of YEC. I was in the choir against YEC though so felt at home there.

    I think the things we are against reveal the things we were victimized by previously. Cameron can brush off YEC because he is from Canada and it is a non-issue there. He has never been led astray by that influence or felt the shame and scorn of having to hold the party line against intellectuals to defend the faith. The rest of us who have still remember. The wounds are still raw.

    I don't recall what I didn't reply to but I agree it is a little disingenuous to define TE so generously when we know we mean it with some significant qualifiers. In fairness though Behe doesn't consider himself a TE though. He disavows that in Edge.


    From: Cameron Wybrow <>
    To: asa <>
    Sent: Thu, October 29, 2009 10:16:15 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 10:58:10 2009

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