Re: [asa] ID question? - TE does or doesn't 'limit evolution'?

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Sat Oct 31 2009 - 11:48:38 EDT

Gregory -


I'm busy as well, though mostly with self-imposed tasks, & because of that (as I noted earlier) am going to have to leave the list soon. I hate to leave lose ends dangling, even as I realize that some disagreements are going to remain unresolved. So I'll respond here briefly to your comments addressed to me.


1) You say, “I haven’t found many voices on the ASA list friendly to the importance of distinguishing ‘origins’ from ‘processes,’ but would certainly add this qualifier in wrt my ‘acceptance’ of ‘stellar evolution.’” I think that how one distinguishes them is critical. OTOH the naïve but popular idea that the theological doctrine of creation refers only to origins has to be resisted. A number of writers on science and theology, including myself, have drawn on the classical distinction between creatio ex nihilo and creatio continua in order to do this.


OTOH the distinction that some have tried to make between two types of science, “origins science” and “operations science,” is spurious. So-called “origins science” is “operations science” applied to origins.


2) Yes, I agree that TE in the bare way I've described it could be called "flimsy." Both belief in God and acceptance of biological evolution are possible with little understanding or commitment. Of course many people in the broad TE category have a deeper knowledge of both theology & biology, but they don't have to be TEs in the popular sense.


And as many, including you & I, have pointed out, nobody talks about "theistic embryologists" or "theistic gravitationalism". It's unfortunate that biological evolution has been singled out in this regard - unfortunate but understandable because evolution has, in fact, raised a great deal of religious controversy. Many have claimed that evolution makes belief in God unnecessary or even absurd so it's not surprising that the term TE has arisen. (& it’s worth noting that the term can be pejorative – “Oh, you’re a theistic evolutionist” isn’t necessarily a compliment!)


But as I've said before, I'm not enthusiastic about being called a TE, in part just because of the vagueness & "flimsiness" of the concept. I don't announce myself, even when talking about evolution & theology, as a TE. If someone asks me if I'm a TE I probably won't flat out deny it because that would cause confusion but I’ll usually try to explain, if only briefly, why the term is unsatisfactory. (Again a parallel in my case can be drawn with the word “protestant”.)


So don’t blame me (or Ted, whom you address about this) for the ongoing use of the term. As I’ve told you before, attempts to change established terminology, even when it’s unsatisfactory, seldom succeed. Sometimes quixotic battles are worth fighting & sometimes life’s just too short. You are, I think, a good deal younger than I & if you want to devote yourself to the eradication of the term TE, all I can say is “Lotsa luck.”


3) You object to my statement, ““The problem with that is that there is no scientific controversy about the reality of evolution.” There isn’t. I.e., the bare fact that biological evolution (the qualifier was clear from the context) has taken place is beyond dispute for the vast majority of scientists. There is, of course, lively debate about a lot of details about how the process has taken place & about its possible implications for areas like psychology, but that doesn’t touch the reality of biological evolution.


4) There seems to be some confusion about what I meant by “classes.” My reference (which I though clear from the context but maybe the word isn’t used this way in Canada) was to areas in an educational program – “courses” if you will – as in “I’m late for my psychology class” or “I have an 8 o’clock class.” I didn’t mean it in the sense of “class struggle,” &c. (I haven’t read a lot of Marx & his followers but I doubt that they had anything to say about the word in the sense I used it.)


5) I haven’t written anything about evolutionary psychology.


6) If proper qualifications are made, I can’t see a compelling reason not to speak of cultural evolution. Before you go ballistic about this it would be helpful if you would answer the question I posed to you - I.e., “Perhaps you could provide some information about how widely accepted (or rejected) the concept is among cultural anthropologists generally.” I respect your opinion on this as a social scientist but it would be helpful for me – and probably others – to know what the general opinion (if any) of others with expertise in this area is.



  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Gregory Arago
  To: George Murphy
  Cc: Ted Davis ; asa
  Sent: Saturday, October 31, 2009 9:02 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] ID question? - TE does or doesn't 'limit evolution'?

  The list is moving way too fast for me these days, given my responsibilities and duties here, so let me respond to just a few statements and questions and also give voice to some thoughts that people have expressed in recent days that I find inspiring.


  “it might be helpful if Greg met those who adhere to biological evolution half way and conceded that to speak of stellar evolution, cosmological evolution, or even cultural evolution constitutes an awareness that there are "evolutions" (plural) each with their own particular mechanisms (intelligent or otherwise).” – Murray Hogg


  Yes, I see the point here. The difference is between the meaning of ‘change’ and the meaning of ‘evolution’ or of ‘development.’ It is better in the cultural realm to avoid the concept of ‘evolution’ entirely. The term ‘development’ has a large discourse already built around it. Instead, those who promote ‘evolution’ are oftentimes ideologically invested in challenging theism or deism or even anything transcendental. They are cultural materialists (e.g. Marvin Harris and Stephen Sanderson). So, to agree with Murray’s point, yes, I do agree that there are ‘changes’ in culture, but not that there are ‘evolutions’ in culture. The latter concept is meaningless and is an example of a faulty transference of ideas.


  “one can legitimately speak of "biological evolution," "stellar evolution," perhaps even "cultural evolution" as long as one qualifies one's terms appropriately.” – Murray

  As above, no, I don’t agree. The term ‘cultural evolution’ is simply a misnomer and needs to be expelled from our English grammar (and there is also no ‘Progressive Conservative’ party in Canada anymore either). Biological evolution is acceptable, stellar evolution, with a qualification (below), but ‘cultural evolution,’ no, this is unacceptable.


  Here let me also answer to George’s question about whether or not I accept ‘stellar evolution.’ As far as I am not a professional astronomer or cosmologist, I cannot presume to ‘dictate’ to them what language is suitable for their realm. That said, I would immediately add a qualifier to say that ‘stellar evolution’ has *nothing* to do with ‘origins,’ just as Darwin didn’t write much about ‘origins,’ but rather about ‘processes.’ I haven’t found many voices on the ASA list friendly to the importance of distinguishing ‘origins’ from ‘processes,’ but would certainly add this qualifier in wrt my ‘acceptance’ of ‘stellar evolution.’


  “the consequence [of TE] is simply to bolster the notion of evolution as a grand meta theory.” – Murray


  Yes, I agree. But ‘they’ don’t see it this way. And one must put ‘they’ in scare quotes because the meaning of this concept duo (TE) is highly suspect. Many would decry it, in order to be a Christian in good standing and responsible to core beliefs.


  “Can the question be settled by everybody using an adjective in front of the word evolution?” – David Clounch


  Yes, I have asked for this clarification repeatedly in the past. Some have called it ‘pedantic’ and others have complained about having to type in an extra word (up to ten letters!), as if it really hurts their fingers. They say it is not important when speaking in a certain ‘context’ (as if ASA were unified or just made up of a certain single kind of scientist, and not others!) and then are surprised when I and others insist that the meaning of ‘science’ (i.e. not Science, capitalized in euro-enlightenment meaning) is either broader or narrower than they would admit. Really, is it so difficult to type in an extra adjective each time one writes the term ‘evolution’? I think not.


  “materialist orthodoxy [that] teaches that evolution is everything, that it's basic mechanisms are blind and purposeless, and therefore materialism is the only viable metaphysic.” – Murray


  Yes, and that is why I am concentrating my attention on the term ‘evolution’ for the moment. (And just yesterday I spoke with someone who is a PhD graduate of dialectical materialism in a philosophy faculty, so of course I’m not insensitive to materialism either! Let me nevertheless try to keep a priority and thus present a clearer case for ‘limiting evolution,’ without turning the discussion into materialism vs. idealism or vs. realism.) Opposition to ‘materialism’ crosses the YEC, ID, TE divide, so this is actually a topic for unity in an otherwise divisive conversation.


  When TEs speak, they tend to believe that ‘metaphysics’ are either not involved or are somehow ‘less important’ than science (i.e. it is because they are themselves natural scientists who have studied little philosophy, which is ‘love of wisdom’). When they say philosophy is ‘as important as science,’ then they are giving mere lip service, i.e. posturing with propaganda, or else they would actually read more philosophers, from around the world. Here is where ID is a clear advance on the weak philosophy of most TEs. ID is concerned about metaphysics and seeks to balance philosophy with science and theology. TE, on the other hand, is philosophically inferior (this is unarguable!) and doesn’t recognize the power of philosophy on its linguistic appearance. Ted Davis’ history is trumped immediately by philosophy because his retrodictions are based on trying to uplift TE to Americans today.


  “When, then, Greg asks what TE's are doing to combat evolution as a GUT, I think he's asking "in what way does the TE treatment of the theme 'evolution' serve to overturn rather than bolster the widespread perception within society that evolution can legitimately be appropriated as a GUT"?” – Murray


  Yes, I think that’s a great way to frame the question, Murray! I get the impression, however, that TEs, the few that will act to defend such an admittedly amorphous position, won’t *desire* to address it. It certainly says something about the communicative personality of those who like to take such a label. Ted has only said ‘we’re doing it,’ so far, but has not made a clear attempt to show exactly ‘how’ TE ‘limits evolution.’ He is bluffing, it seems to me.


  “one can legitimately call upon TE's to exercise care in their use of language, even to be clear that TE is not, metaphysically, identical to the theories of biological evolution put about by Dawkins et al and therefore does not lend support to their metaphysical claims.” – Murray


  Amen! And I think TEs do (seek to) distinguish themselves from Dawkins. On the other hand, their near-GUT applications of ‘evolution’ betray their position. They cannot limit ‘evolution’ because it is intimate with their theologies! They are so against wanting to appear ‘anti-evolution’ that they are ‘pro-evolution’ to a degree much stronger than they would like to be in a (three-in-one) Kingdom perspective.


  “the reigning social paradigm of "evolution of everything" - as a social scientist it is this social reality which arrests Greg's interest. Question is; where does the responsibility for this smooshing lie, and what are TE's to do about it?” – Murray


  Yes, this is a key point. And let me admit that I’m ready, open and willing to be directed to on-line resources (American and even English books aren’t found easily here) where TEs *are* actually ‘doing something about it.’ Ted suggests that ASA members are indeed ‘limiting evolution.’ If he can direct me to articles in the PSCF, I would indeed be grateful to read them.


  For example, I searched the PSCF archive for articles with the word ‘evolution’ in the title and don’t see much if anything there that would serve to ‘limit evolution.’ Here’s the link:


  Ted can probably come up with some things here, since he has been reading PSCF for decades, like some others here. What I would suggest to him is that there might be alternative sources that can offer a more poignant ‘limitation’ of ‘evolution’ that he has not (yet) considered, given the particular choir that he is listening to, and which sings similar songs. I’ve been extremely impressed by Russian scholars who easily reject the Malthusianism in Darwin’s writings, yet who likewise speak a language where ‘science’ does not mean ‘natural sciences-only’ and thus where a discussion of knowledge and scholarship involves a more holistic approach. Americans, Canadians, Brits, Aussies, New Zealanders, and other Anglo-centric participants will find this (German-Russian) view of ‘science’ something difficult to confront, though it nevertheless opens up new vistas for communication that otherwise wouldn’t exist. In other words (and I am not condescending here George), you need to listen to learn!


  Ted says: “the term "Theistic evolution" means quite different things to different people. In many ways it's not a satisfactory term. “


  Yes, amen! But then why do you continue to use it?!? Why not just drop it, and speak as a ‘theist’ who accepts certain aspects of ‘evolution,’ for example, the biological aspects, but *not* the cultural aspects? Let me repeat, but *not* the cultural aspects! I don’t think you (yet) realize the power your voices would have as ‘scientists’ (i.e. educated and erudite persons) if you were to open up a dialogue that asserted that ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’ are liberated from an evolutionary paradigm!!! Many YECs would respect you for this!


  The appeal to ‘familiarity’ is rather a weak one here, speaking as a sociologist to George’s defeatist ‘entrenchment’ approach. The sociology of science is indeed what I study (e.g. consensus, peer review, meaning of science), and few people here have offered anything new to me about this (note: Murray and Cameron recently on the peer review thread were brilliant!). I strongly believe in and have even seen/witnessed vocabulary change happen in one generation, i.e. on a short time scale. One must simply desire it and then do the work in correcting their linguistic habits. So George’s opposition sounds like fatalism to me (yet he doesn’t call himself ‘TE’ so this is a unique combination) and so I imagine that he is also willing to change if the better alternative were to arise.


  “As you may know, Gregory, the term "creationist" or even "creation" has been co-opted quite forcefully by the YECs, such that the rest of us who believe the universe is a divine creation have to take time to explain what we mean by "creation," in order not to be misunderstood when we talk about it.” – Ted


  Yes, I am aware of this and sensitive to it. As you may know, I’ve lived in America and have come in close contact with YECs in Canada. In human-social science, the terms ‘creativity,’ ‘creation’ and the verb ‘to create’ have not been held hostage by ‘young earthers.’ We (HSSs) are thus in some ways much ‘freer’ than you are as natural-physical scientists (NPSs). Though, Ted, it is well-known that you are an historian and not a ‘natural-physical scientist.’ So probably you should be more on my side than you pretend to be, especially if you have read non-Anglo-Saxon views of ‘science’ such as those about geisteswissenshaft?


  As ASA president, Ted writes: “It is people like us…who have routinely used the term "evolutionism" to separate legitimate biological theory from unwarranted extrapolations of it into other realms.”


  Well, so then I await more info or links to articles that demonstrate how this is so. It doesn’t appear that this is a strength of American Christians, especially given the prevalence of ‘scientism’ even among Protestants. The evidence that I’ve seen doesn’t warrant such a view that TEs at ASA have made a push to ‘limit evolution’ as you claim is present at ASA. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case, even in your PSCF journal. To you (folks), ‘evolution’ *is* simply a ‘scientific’ fact, but this ignores all of the ‘sciences’ that involve human beings.


  “Further, for ID not more, but fewer, questions fall under science's "purview". ID agrees with TE that questions of right and wrong, good and evil, politics and culture, spirituality and religion, etc., are not scientific questions. But ID grants what TE people do not appear to grant, that even certain questions about nature (e.g., questions about origins) may not be entirely within the "purview" of science. It is also unclear how TE, with its acceptance of the general reductionist approach of modern science, can prevent some branches of modern science, e.g., psychology, from intruding upon the realms of the ethical and the spiritual which TE wishes to reserve for religion, theology, etc. I have seen much railing against evolutionary psychology on ID web-sites, but very few objections to it raised here.” – Cameron


  This is exactly the way I see things as well and why I find it so difficult to dialogue with some people at the ASA list. Folks like Schwarzwald who obviously have made an effort to ‘go global’ and to look at the topic of ‘evolution,’ ‘creation,’ ‘ID,’ ‘origins’ and ‘processes’ of ‘change’ from the ‘outside’ are far ahead of the others on ASA list who are unfortunately predominantly insular. In this case, ‘insular’ means accepting the hyper-competitive viewpoint that ‘evolutionary’ thinking supports. I’ve no doubt that some of you insist on being ‘evolutionists’ simply for the same reasons that you insist you live in a ‘Democracy.’


  “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.” – George Murphy


  Yes, I agree with you entirely George. This is why I am throwing darts at the TE conception! There is no reason to use the concept duo ‘TE’ if it only means ‘accepting biological evolution’ as a theist. You’ve been led down a faulty path if you think the duo ‘theistic evolution’ is in any way ‘necessary.’ John Walley has no philosophical ‘leg to stand on’ when he addresses me, other than to oppose YEC, which I think he rightfully does. So, why not instead define himself not as TE, but rather as an anti-YEC theist who accepts certain features of biological evolution? There is no sense to call oneself a ‘TE’ when it is not necessary and especially so when it serves to ‘bolster evolution as a grand meta theory,’ as has been mentioned above. Yet ‘TE’s’ don’t seem philosophically prepared to acknowledge this or to abandon their label for something better! This is a great sadness!!


  “The E-word is meaningless without an adjective.” – David Clounch


  Hip-hip hurrah!


  “When someone knows you're a Christian & finds out in conversation that you accept evolution they may say "Oh, you're a theistic evolutionist”.” – George Murphy


  It is sad to think that this is the state of affairs in America. Really! : ( When someone knows you’re a Christian & finds out that you accept gravity or electromagnetism, do they call you a theistic gravitationalist or a theistic electromagnetist? There is special treatment of ‘evolution’ for good reason; one of them is how Darwin over-reached with “The Descent of Man” to propose *wrong* things about human beings. Here Darwin was being ‘unscientific,’ but that is often forgiven and forgotten by ‘evolutionists’ today. TEs perpetuate the myth of Darwin’s greatness by over-looking his damage to human-social thought. They don’t read Wilson, Diamond, M. Harris or S. Pinker, so they think that things are o.k. to ignore them. Yes, this is a sad state of affairs!


  “there are few general statements that can be made about TEs beyond the fact that they believe in God and accept evolution.” – George


  Then ‘TE’ is a pretty weak position, wouldn’t you say?! Indeed, the word ‘flimsy’ comes to mind; weak in philosophy. Why else would anyone want to take such a label upon them-self, if only to put up an appearance as being anti-YEC?


  “The problem with that is that there is no scientific controversy about the reality of evolution. There are social, religious & political controversies which might be discussed in other classes but not in science.” – George


  Now we get to a problem, George. You’ve gone too far, and this is the tendency in almost all TEs that I’ve seen. Again, is ‘evolutionary psychology’ a ‘science’ or not? If it is, then yes, there simply *is* a ‘scientific controversy’ about ‘the reality of evolution.’ Did ‘rape’ evolve as something ‘natural’ or is there something ‘sinful’ or ‘extra-natural’ about it? I find TE answers on this extremely weak! Please don’t pretend to deny it when you don’t read much about it! Or what do you mean by ‘class’? I’ve read Marx and his disciples, George, have you? But you are normally referring to a limited view of ‘science’ that really just means *only natural sciences* and in your mind are things like biology, chemistry and physics (your personal speciality). This is likely why you asked me about ‘stellar evolution.’


  What about you, George, have you written anything about ‘evolutionary psychology’?

  And do you accept ‘cultural evolution,’ George? Let's even the table...





  From: George Murphy <>
  To: Gregory Arago <>; David Clounch <>
  Cc: Ted Davis <>; asa <>
  Sent: Fri, October 30, 2009 5:24:35 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] ID question? - TE does or doesn't 'limit evolution'?

  I was fairly sure that you would reject the concept of cultural evolution but didn't want to put words in your mouth. Perhaps you could provide some information about how widely accepted (or rejected) the concept is among cultural anthropologists generally. My certainly inexpert understanding is that it is a widely discussed, though somewhat controversial, idea. As I already noted, cultural evolution - if the term is allowed - is certainly not just a sub-category of biological evolution.

  Your last statement about TE is certainly not true of TE in general. Here you are getting outside your area of expertise.

  For completeness, what's your stance on the legitimacy of "stellar evolution" as a concept?



  Yahoo! Canada Toolbar : Search from anywhere on the web and bookmark your favourite sites. Download it now!

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Sat Oct 31 11:49:30 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sat Oct 31 2009 - 11:49:34 EDT