Re: A new subscriber

Ed Brayton (
Fri, 10 Apr 1998 22:44:39 -0400

Stephen Jones wrote:

> 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.

You might notice that my sentence began with "If". That is, I was making
the assumption that that was what you meant by your question, but
inviting you to correct that if you meant something different. For you
to jump to the conclusion that this was an "attempt to deflect" the
question might easily be interpreted as rash and discourteous on your

> 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.

What do you mean by "Mediate Creation"? I am not familiar with that

> 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.

Actually, Gould takes the exact same position as Dawkins on the question
of whether PE is within what is commonly called the Modern Synthesis. He
has expressed this in writing, and in personal conversation with me.

> >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)

Sounds fairly reasonable to me. My only questions would be that if you
accept this, why do you claim below that "theistic evolution" is an
oxymoron? You are advancing precisely that hypothesis here - evolution
from a common ancestor guided and insured by God.

> 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"!

I suppose that depends on your definition of "creationist". Creation and
creationism are not, in the real world, synonomous.

> 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!

This could quickly turn into an absurd game of semantics. I care very
little for what you call it. Ratzsch's theory sounds like theistic
evolution to me; to you, it is creationism. What label you or I choose
to put on it matters little. Clearly there is a continuum of possible
hypotheses here, from the atheistic evolution of Dawkins and Dennett on
one end to the literal 6 day special creation of Morris and Gish on the
other. Where you draw the line is relatively arbitrary. I just think
that saying that any idea that allows for the existence of god is by
definition "creationist" is to swallow the atheistic version of
evolution that you are so keen on opposing.

> >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"?
> "or"
> 1B. "deliver[ed] a revelation to mankind"?
> or
> 2. "would":
> 2A "intervene in human history"?
> "or"
> 2B "deliver a revelation to mankind"

My quick and easy answer to all of them is that I don't know what I
would accept as evidence of those things, but that I have not seen any
evidence that compels my belief up till now.
> >>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"?

Dawkins and Dennett both argue that evolution eliminates the rationale
for belief in god. I reject that idea entirely. I think that is an
unwarranted and illogical statement that they have grafted on to
evolutionary theory.

> >>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?

I don't see that those two things are the only options. I think you are
laboring under a false dichotomy.

> 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)

Gosh, that's the first time I've heard that quote from Gould. <G>
Frankly, I do not think that evolution has "enormous difficulties"
explaining stasis and geologically sudden appearance. I think, like
Gould, that PE explains it quite well and that the rationale follows
logically from Mayr's work in population genetics.

> 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
> theory"?

Given the penchant for defining terms to your benefit that you have
shown here, and your tendency to interpret an honest misunderstanding as
an "attempt to deflect", I think I'll reserve comment on that until you
tell me what you mean by "mediate creation".

> 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.

Again, it sounds as if you are making the same mistake that Dawkins and
Dennett make in assuming that evolution must be atheistic in order to be

> 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
> >tested.
> How would might fully naturalistic macroevolution "be tested"?

It can't, at least in the sense that science could determine whether
evolution was guided or unguided. Science is capable of answering (or at
least attempting to answer) the question of how evolution occured, not
why. If we are going to carry on a civil conversation, you are going to
have to stop assuming that I am advocating an interpretation of
evolution that I am specifically NOT advocating.