Re: What do you mean by the "theory of evolution"? (was A new subscriber)

Stephen Jones (
Sat, 18 Apr 98 11:00:09 +0800


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


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

>SJ>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.

EB>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 part.

I stand by my claim that you are trying to deflect attention away
from my simple request that *you* define the words "theory of
evolution" that *you* used.

Let me remind you what *you* said:

EB>...I am a staunch advocate of the theory of evolution...

And I asked you:

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

And you answered whether *I* was referring to "Punctuated
Equilibrium" or "phyletic gradualism"!

*I* was not referring to anything. I asked you a simple question
about what *you* mean by the "theory of evolution". Now what's
your problem in answering that simple question?

>SJ>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

EB>What do you mean by "Mediate Creation"? I am not familiar
>with that term.

Hmmm. I could deflect your request that I define what I "mean by
`Mediate Creation/", by saying something like: "If you are referring to
the rhetorical battle between" Progressive Creation and Fiat
Creation"...! But I won't. Basically by Mediate Creation I mean a
broad model of creation that fully accepts that God could work both
through natural causation and supernatural causation. The term itself
if a theological term:

"...the essential point is that creation involves a unique divine activity,
whether with or without the agency of secondary causes; quite
obviously, after Gen. 1:1 the narrative deals with mediate
creation...The fact that, after Genesis 1:1 the narrator deals with a
mediate creation, which involves the actualizing of potentialities
latent in the original creation, should caution us against the one-sided
invocation of divine transcendence. The new levels of being arise with
quite obvious dependence on the lower in the creation account."
(Henry, 1968 reprint, pp251,282)

"What distinction is signalized by the terms Creatio prima seu
immediata, and Creatio secunda seu mediata, and by who was 'it
introduced? The phrase Creatio prima seu immediata signifies the
originating act of the divine will whereby he brings, or has brought
into being, out of nothing, the principles and elementary essences of
all things. The phrase Creatio secunda seu mediata signifies the
subsequent act of God in originating different forms of things, and
especially different species of living beings out of the already created
essences of things. The Christian Church holds both." (Hodge A.A.,
"Outlines of Theology", Second Edition, 1983, pp238-239)

"In view of the Scriptural data indicated in the preceding, it is quite
evident, however, that this definition applies only to what is generally
known as primary or immediate creation, that is, the creation
described in Gen. 1:1. But the Bible clearly uses the word "create"
also in cases in which God did make use of preexisting materials, as
in the creation of sun, moon, and stars, of the animals and of
man....the definition does not cover those cases, also designated in
Scripture as creative work, in which God works through secondary
causes, Ps. 104:30; Isa. 45:7,8; Jer. 31:22; Amos 4:13, and produces
results which only He could produce." (Berkhof L., "Systematic
Theology," 1966 reprint, p129)

"The term "create" is used in two senses in Scripture: in the sense of
immediate creation and in the sense of mediate creation. Immediate
creation is that free act of the triune God whereby in the beginning
and for his own glory, without the use of pre- existing materials or
secondary causes, he brought into being, immediately and
instantaneously, the whole visible and invisible universe...Mediate
creation, on the other hand, is those acts of God which are also
denominated "creation," but which do not originate things ex nihilo;
they, instead, shape, adapt, combine, or transform existing materials.
God may himself directly shape, adapt, combine, or transform the
existing materials, or he may indirectly do this through the operation
of secondary causes." (Thiessen H.C., "Lectures in Systematic
Theology,", 1977, p111)

"But while it has ever been the doctrine of the Church that God
created the universe out of nothing by the word of his power, which
creation was instantaneous and immediate, i. e., without the
intervention of any second causes; yet it has generally been admitted
that this is to be understood only of the original call of matter into
existence. Theologians have, therefore, distinguished between a first
and second, or immediate and mediate creation. The one was
instantaneous, the other gradual; the one precludes the idea of any
preexisting substance, and of cooperation, the other admits and
implies both...There is, therefore, according to the Scriptures, not
only an immediate, instantaneous creation ex nihilo by the simple
word of God, but a mediate, progressive creation; the power of God
working in union with second causes. (Hodge C., "Systematic
Theology", 1960, Vol. I, pp556-557)

I will expand more on what I mean by Mediate Creation when you
define what you mean by "the theory of evolution"!

>>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.

>SJ>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.

EB>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.

Well Dawkins regards "The theory of punctuated equilibrium" as "a
minor gloss on Darwinism..."(Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker,"
1991, 250), but I doubt that Gould does. In fact Gould originally
regarded PE as "a new and general theory of evolution" (Gould S.J.,
"Is a new and general theory of evolution emerging?", Paleobiology,
vol. 6(1), January 1980, p119), and he regarded "the Modern
Synthesis" as "dead":

"I well remember how the synthetic theory beguiled me with its
unifying power when I was a graduate student in the mid-1960's.
Since then I have been watching it slowly unravel as a universal
description of evolution. The molecular assault came first, followed
quickly by renewed attention to unorthodox theories of speciation
and by challenges at the level of macroevolution itself. I have been
reluctant to admit it-since beguiling is often forever-but if Mayr's
characterization of the synthetic theory is accurate, then that theory,
as a general proposition, is effectively dead, despite its persistence as
textbook orthodoxy." (Gould S.J., "Is a new and general theory of
evolution emerging?", Paleobiology, vol. 6(1), January 1980, p120)

>>>SJ>...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.

>SJ>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:
>>"...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....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>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.

Firstly, you haven't even defined what you mean by "evolution" yet.

Secondly, I am "advancing" the "hypothesis" of *mediate creation*
(not 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.

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

A "creationist" is *by definition* someone who believes in a God
who created:

"In a broader sense, however, a creationist is simply a person who
believes in the existence of a creator, who brought about the
existence of the world and its living inhabitants in furtherance of a
purpose. Whether the process of creation took a single week or
billions of years is relatively unimportant from a philosophical or
theological standpoint. (Johnson P.E., "What is Darwinism?",
Symposium at Hillsdale College, in November 1992, Bauman ed.,
"Man and Creation: Perspectives on Science and Theology", Hillsdale
College Press: Hillsdale, 1993.

And obviously "Creation and creationism" are not necessarily
"synonomous". But neither are "creationism" and young-Earth
"creationism" necessarily "synonomous", unless you want to limit
"the real world" to the `Bible-Belt' of the USA!

>>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.

>SJ>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!

EB>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.

Disagree. It is *very important* that words are defined carefully and
used consistently. Actually, it is the evolutionists (like yourself) who
are playing the *real* "game of semantics" when they (you) refuse to
define up front what exactly they (you) mean by "evolution". Because
to date you have refused to define what "evolution" means, to you it
can (and probably does) mean just about everything else but the ICR's
version of creation!

EB>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.

I did not say "that any idea that allows for the existence of god is by
definition "creationist". One could, for example, believe that there is a
God who did not create. But I do say that if you believe that there is
a God who in some sense created then you are are by definition a

>>>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

EB>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.

How can you say you "have not seen any evidence" when you have
not stated in advance what such "evidence" would be?

>>>>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>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.

Agreed, but again it depends on what you mean by "evolution". If it is
defined as:

" unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of
temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural
selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing
environments." (National Association of Biology Teachers, 1995
Statement on Teaching Evolution, in Johnson P.E., "Defeating
Darwinism by Opening Minds", 1997, pp15-16)

then it *by definition* "eliminates the rationale for belief in god".

>>>>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.

>SJ>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?

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

No. Ultimately there is a "dichotomy" between "creation" (God
created and developed the living world) and "evolution" (the living
world originated and developed itself). It is because you don't define
clearly what you mean by "evolution", that you think that there is no
"dichotomy" between creation and evolution.

>SJ>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
>>"...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... 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-

EB>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.

Since you have not defined what you mean by "evolution" it is not
surprising that you "do not think that evolution has `enormous
difficulties' explaining stasis and geologically sudden appearance"!

First define what exactly you man by "evolution" and then I can
meaningfully assess your claim above.

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

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

EB>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

Good. I've defined "mediate creation". Now it's your turn to define

>>EB> and amounts to a form of theistic evolution.

>SJ>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

EB>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 evolution.

Again it all depends on how you define "evolution". Since to date you
haven't defined what you mean by it, I cannot tell what exactly you
are asserting when you say that I am "making the same mistake that
Dawkins and Dennett make in assuming that evolution must be
atheistic in order to be evolution."

>>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.

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

EB>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.

Again, it all depends on what you mean by "evolution". If it was
"guided" then it is more accurately described as *creation*, not

>>EB>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.

Well, first state exactly what you *mean* by "evolution"! Then I will
have some idea of what exactly you *are* "advocating"!


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