Re: A new subscriber

Stephen Jones (
Sat, 11 Apr 98 09:57:57 +0800


On Sat, 04 Apr 1998 00:36:07 -0500, Ed Brayton wrote:


>>EB>A quick and basic introduction to my position on the subject
>>>at hand: I am a staunch advocate of the theory of evolution (I
>>>prefer Plantinga's phrase "Theory of Common Ancestry (TCA)",
>>>and a deist.

>SJ>Which "theory of evolution" in particular are you a "staunch
>>advocate of"?

EB>Geez, you start peppering the new guy with questions right
away! ><G>

Yes. Life is too short for beating around the bush! :-)

EB>If you are referring to the rhetorical battle between Punctuated
>Equilibrium and "phyletic gradualism"

No. I am not. I asked you to define what you mean by the "theory
of evolution" and I note with interest your attempt to deflect it.

I do not believe that the debate between PE and ND is "rhetorical",
but it reflects a real division between Neo-Darwinism *theory* of
what evolution *should be* (ND) and what evolution actually *is*
(PE). Ultimately, I believe that both ND and PE are wrong, and that
the true reality is best approximated by Mediate Creation.

EB>I am of the opinion that the difference is mostly rhetoric and
>differences of scale. I agree with both Dawkins and Gould in
>saying that PE lies well within the modern Darwinian synthesis and
>I think that both ideas are likely true when looking at different
>levels of evidence.

I know that Dawkins claims that "PE lies well within the modern
Darwinian synthesis" but I doubt that "Gould" would agree with that,
at least without a lot of qualifications on what he means by Neo-
Darwinian. Come to think of it, I know that Gould when pressed,
will admit he is a "Darwinian", I can't recall whether he has ever
called himself a "Neo-Darwinian". No doubt he probably has on rare
occasions, but its very rarity is proof that he really isn't. About
the only thing that the Dawkins and Gould agree on is that God
didn't do it.

>SJ>And why do you assume the "Theory of Common Ancestry"
>>necessarily entails a "theory of evolution"? As Denton points out,
>>common ancestry is compatible with "almost any philosophy of
>>nature", including "creationist":..(Denton M., "Evolution: A
>>Theory in Crisis", 1985, pp154-155)

EB>I would suggest that Denton has not supported his claim. He
>says that common ancestry is compatible with a "creationist"
>framework, but he doesn't say why or how.

He doesn't have to. It is quite clear that one can be both a
"creationist" and believe in "common ancestry". For example, I do!
All that requires is for God to have created new designs by
modifying existing ones. Ratzsch points out that supernatural
intervention by God in the history of life and common descent are
logically compatible:

"Suppose contemporary evolutionary theory had blind chance built
into it so firmly that there was simply no way of reconciling it
with any sort of divine guidance. It would still be perfectly
possible for theists to reject that theory of evolution and accept
instead a theory according to which natural processes and laws drove
most of evolution, but God on occasion abridged those laws and
inserted some crucial mutation into the course of events. Even were
God to intervene directly to suspend natural law and inject
essential new genetic material at various points in order to
facilitate the emergence of new traits and, eventually, new species,
that miraculous and deliberate divine intervention would by itself
leave unchallenged such key theses of evolutionary theory as that
all species derive ultimately from some common ancestor. Descent
with genetic intervention is still descent-it is just descent with
nonnatural elements in the process." (Ratzsch D.L., "The Battle of
Beginnings," 1996, pp187- 188)

EB>I would guess that they are only compatible if you narrow the
>term "creationist" to mean only "one who believes in god"; since I
>see no contradiction between evolution and the existence of god,
>by that definition, I'M a creationist.

That is *broadening* the term "creationist", not narrowing it. But
if you believe that there is a God who creates, then by definition
you *are* a "creationist"!

EB>I have a difficult time conceiving of a creationist TCA (as
>opposed to a "theistic evolutionist" TCA, which I can not only
>conceive of but have little problem with). The TCA clearly
>requires that new taxa derive from old taxa, which requires an
>evolutionary framework.

I just gave you an example of "a creationist TCA" from Ratzsch.
Your problem is you have not clearly defined what you *mean* by
"evolution". You seem to have bought the materialist's line that
creation means God making whole organism de novo, instantaneously
and "evolution" is everything else! Johnson calls this "the
"official caricature" of the creation-evolution debate":

"The Weiner article and book review illustrate what I would call the
"official caricature" of the creation-evolution debate, a distortion
that is either explicit or implicit in nearly all media and textbook
treatments of the subject. According to the caricature, "evolution"
is a simple, unitary process that one can see in operation today and
that is also supported unequivocally by all the fossil evidence.
Everyone accepts the truth of evolution except a disturbingly large
group of biblical fundamentalists, who insist that the earth is no
more than ten thousand years old and the fossil beds were laid down
in Noah's flood. These baffling persons either are uninformed about
the evidence or perhaps choose to disregard it as a temptation
placed before us by God to test our faith in Genesis. There is no
conceivable intellectual basis for their dissent, because the
evidence for evolution is absolutely conclusive." (Johnson P.E.,
"Reason in the Balance", 1995, p73)

Thus "creation" is defined so narrowly that it cannot be true and
"evolution" is defined so broadly that it cannot be false!

EB>It is true that that framework could, hypothetically, be
>Lamarckian, but since no one seriously argues for a Lamarckian
>framework anymore, it is reasonable to define the TCA (at least
>for the purposes of this discussion and this listserv) as a Darwinian
>theory. At any rate, MY position is in favor of a TCA driven >by
>Darwinian mechanisms.

You are confusing two things: whether common ancestry *could* be
Lamarckian and whether it *is* Lamarckian. The point is that
Lamarck's theory of evolution lasted for the best part of a century
and Darwin himself believed much of it:

"Even in the first edition of the Origin he [Darwin] had accepted
the auxiliary roles of Lamarckism and directed variation" (Bowler
P.J., "The eclipse of Darwinism," 1983, p28)

Clearly Lamarckism was compatible with common ancestry, since it was
not inconguence with common ancestry that disproved Lamarckism but
the facts of genetics that aquired characteristics were not directly
passed on to one's descendents.

>SJ>And as for being "a deist", could you please expand on this.
>>Traditionally deists rule out supernatural revelation and divine
>>intervention. Do you?

EB>I do not rule it out a priori, but I find no compelling evidence
>that the creator either has, or would, intervene in human history or
>deliver a revelation to mankind.

OK. You have packed at least four propositions into one sentence,
that are not neccessily the same thing. Let's unpack them in a
four-part question.

What would you accept as "compelling evidence" that "the creator":

1. "has":

1A. "intervene[d] in human history"?


1B. "deliver[ed] a revelation to mankind"?


2. "would":

2A "intervene in human history"?


2B "deliver a revelation to mankind"

>>EB>I do not accept the atheistic interpretation of evolution
>>>advocated by Dawkins and Dennett, nor do I think that evolution
>>>has any bearing on the question of the existence of god (though
>>>perhaps God is another matter depending on your specific
>>>conception thereof).

>SJ>OK. But do you "accept" the *facts* "of evolution advocated
>>by Dawkins and Dennett"?

EB>Provisionally, yes (though the word "fact" might need to be
>>defined here).

OK. If you "provisionally accept the facts of evolution advocated
by Dawkins and Dennett", and yet don't believe that "God has" ("or
would") "intervene in human history", on what grounds do you "not
accept the atheistic interpretation of evolution advocated by
Dawkins and Dennett"?

>>EB>I think the TCA is entirely seperable from abiogenesis theories
>>>and would not be a bit surprised to find out that the first life
>>>forms were placed on earth by a creator, though I personally tend
>>>toward an even weaker version of the anthropic principle that
>>that suggests.

>SJ>If you would "not be a bit surprised to find out that the first life
>>forms were placed on earth by a creator", would be surprised if
>>that self-same Creator also `genetically engineered' the appearance
>>of new designs by modifying existing designs, and `seelctively bred'
>>the results?

EB>Hmmmm. Would I be surprised? No, because what you are
>suggesting here is indistinguishable from evolutionary theory.

Why do you assume that "evolutionary theory" is the default
position? Why is not *creation* the genuine article and
"evolutionary theory" a materialist counterfeit imitation? The fact
is that "evolutionary theory" has *enormous* difficulties trying to
explain away the evidence that creation would just accept at face
value, ie. that things suddenly appeared fully formed and then
remained essentially as they were:

"The history of most fossil species includes two features
particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1. Stasis. Most species
exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They
appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they
disappear; morphological change is usually limited and
directionless. 2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species
does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its
ancestors; it appears all at once and "fully formed." (Gould S.J,
"The Panda's Thumb", 1980, pp150-151)

EB>I would say, however, that this idea is untestable and
>unfalsifiable by the methods of science

What is "untestable and unfalsifiable by the methods of science"
about mediate creation that does not also apply to "evolutionary

EB> and amounts to a form of theistic evolution.

Disagree: "theistic evolution" is an oxymoron. If it was genuinely
"theistic" (as opposed to deistic) then it wasn't "evolution", at
least in the sense that the word "evolution" means today.

EB> Again, I have little problem with this idea in the abstract,
>though I have a hard time conceiving of how such an idea might be

How would might fully naturalistic macroevolution "be tested"?


Stephen E (Steve) Jones ,--_|\
3 Hawker Avenue / Oz \
Warwick 6024 ->*_,--\_/ Phone +61 8 9448 7439
Perth, West Australia v "Test everything." (1Thess 5:21)