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

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Fri Oct 30 2009 - 11:11:27 EDT


I think there is another genuine position that is suggested by your list of
possibilities. You apparently want to leave open the possibility of ID.
There are other possibilities as well. By identifying oneself with any
particular group it seems that one simultaneously denies the possibility of
something else.

My position, as I have been trying for a very long time to clarify to myself,
is that of robust possibility (RP). The fundamental justification for this
position is my firm commitment to certain principles, including

1) God is absolutely free to do whatever He wills.
2) Man's knowledge can be utterly false.
3) God's Word is true, and that Word is held in Scripture.
4) God is actively immanent in His creation.

There may be more, but these are sufficient to begin describing the position.
The intention here is to uncompromisingly hold to certain truths regarding
man, God, and His Word prior to the investigation of any evidence.

With these commitments & given the many evidences available to man, I hold to
the robust possibility of all versions of evolution. Yes, I said all,
including YEC, neo-darwinism, ID, front-loading, etc. The only version of
evolution that I would reject is any that posits there is no Creator. I don't
believe neo-darwinism explicitly holds this position.

This perspective is evidenced in a number of other so-called theological
controversies. For example, I hold robust possibility with regard to the
existence of an independent soul (i.e., it's up to God not me or my reason to
decide) and to the classic view of God that He knows all times and futures.

Frankly, I find all of these arguments to be irrelevant to my fundamental
relationship with God, with Christ, and His Salvation. Any who disagree
employ deductive arguments based upon some definition of God and what He could
or couldn't do. I don't completely trust any of these arguments. This is
because I don't believe God, or any being, can be exhaustively defined, least
of all God. He is a Person, not an idea.

As I have been trying to formulate this position, I have realized that at
least some of my Christian friends have adopted a similar position. Many of
them were, or might still consider themselves, to be YEC. But what they do
not want to do, as I refuse to do, is to deny that some form of evolution has
occurred, thereby binding God by their interpretation of His Word.

I have been circulating a survey, and one of the questions on the survey asks
whether if evolution is true, then Christianity is false. I have found no one
that affirms this. I believe that there are few, if any, who identify
themselves as YEC who would believe that evolution and Christianity are

I would ask a similar question here:

If YEC is true, then is Christianity false?

I suspect that few, if any, would say so. Nonetheless I have found amongst
many who zealously oppose a YEC view the following kind of argument.

1) If YEC is true, God is a liar.
2) God is not a Liar.
3) Therefore, YEC is false.

This position is dangerously close to the following argument.

1) If there is a God, He is not a Liar.
2) If YEC is true, God is a Liar.
3) YEC is true
4) Therefore, there is no God.

The problematic premise in both arguments is that if YEC is true, God is a
Liar. This premise violates my principles (1) and (2) above. It is surely
possible, it seems to me, that God could have created the world in Six Days
exactly as literally described in Genesis 1-3 and that my reason and
understanding can be utterly wrong, no matter how plausible and trustworthy
they may seem to me or anyone.

What this means ultimately is that my position is more theological than
scientific. I have long held and argued that evolution could be "good
science" and even is "good science" and yet be utterly wrong. What this
suggests is the possibility that it is the "best that men can do."

My more fundamental commitments are to notions such as

1) Original sin
2) A Fall
3) God's intimate and direct participation and sustenance of His creation in
all its aspects.

I do not, therefore, hold that science or any evidence can overthrow them.
They are not up for grabs.

I suspect there are many who have similar commitments. I think that is
evident in ASA publications and discussions on this list. Often we see
authors struggling to cohere there commitment to some derivative of modern
science with those beliefs. Why would they do so if they did not hold them,
in some sense, to be more fundamental?

It is possible that in this endless debate regarding evolution and
Christianity that if we lay out our fundamental commitments, something
fruitful might result. It may be that we will find more agreement here than
we suspect.

What theology (however you define the term) do you suppose could be possibly
overthrown by man's natural knowledge? What would be the consequence of such
an overthrow?


Cameron Wybrow <> said:

> 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.
> Cameron.
> ----- 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
> 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.
> John
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------------

>   From: Cameron Wybrow <>
>   To: asa <>
>   Sent: Thu, October 29, 2009 10:16:15 PM
>   Subject: [asa] The Definition of TE: Explicit versus implicit
>   George:
>   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.   
>   Cameron.
>     ----- 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.  
>     Shalom
>     George 
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Received on Fri Oct 30 11:12:10 2009

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