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Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 1

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August 15, 2012 Tags: Creation & Origins
Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 1
“Création ex nihilo,” from Charles de Bouelles, Libellus de nihilo (1510). God “inspires” (breathes or blows into) the universe, creating it out of nothing (ex nihilo).

Today's entry was written by Ted Davis. You can read more about what we believe here.

The dictionaries I checked don’t define the term, “theistic evolution,” so I offer my own definition: the belief that God used the process of evolution to create living things, including humans. Some might find this a vague definition, since (for example) it doesn’t include the adjective “Darwinian” before “evolution,” but that would eliminate most of the people prior to World War Two who would otherwise fit the definition. On the other hand, if we left out a specific reference to human evolution, then the category would be even larger, since a number of important Christian writers have accepted evolution among the “lower animals,” while explicitly rejecting it for human beings. We could argue endlessly about such things, and not pointlessly; my point here is simply to be clear about terminology.

“Theistic evolution” has been discussed by that name since at least 1877, and one of the first to do so was the great Canadian geologist John W. Dawson, in his book, The Origin of the World, According to Revelation and Science (1877). In the midst of a lengthy discussion of the animals created on the fifth day of creation, he says:

The long time employed in the introduction of the lower animals, the use of the terms “make,” and “form,” instead of “create,” and the expression “let the waters bring forth,” may well be understood as countenancing some form of mediate creation, or of “creation by law,” or “theistic evolution,” as it has been termed; but they give no countenance to the idea either of the spontaneous evolution of living beings under the influence of merely physical causes and without creative intervention, or of the transmutation [evolution] of one kind of animal into another. (p. 225)

As the final part of this sentence implies, Dawson was (ironically) a staunch opponent of both human evolution and the common ancestry of other animals; in short, by no reasonable definition was he a theistic evolutionist, even though he thought that a great deal of change had taken place naturally, “within certain limits” that he associated with the created “kinds” spoken of in Genesis. Indeed, references to “theistic evolution” are probably no less common among opponents of the view (including William Jennings Bryan in the 1920s) than among proponents, but I won’t attempt to enumerate further examples.

In recent years, however, some proponents of TE have endorsed alternative labels for their position(s). The most prominent example is Francis Collins, the geneticist who started BioLogos. Collins uses the term “BioLogos” itself as the label for his overall position, which fits well within my TE category. The evangelical theologian Denis Lamoureux, one of the most qualified of all writers on this topic (he has earned doctorates in both theology and biology), strongly prefers the term, “Evolutionary Creation” (EC), precisely because he thinks the noun “creation” ought to have more emphasis than the adjective “evolutionary,” something that the term “theistic evolution” does not accomplish. I recommend his book of that title to anyone who wants an authoritative analysis of both biblical and scientific aspects of the origins controversy. The main ideas are clearly presented in his web lectures. Another highly qualified proponent of TE, George Murphy, also has reservations about the term, but he recognizes its wide recognition and agrees with the idea itself, that “Evolution is God’s way of creating”. I will have more to say about Murphy, a very important voice, in a subsequent post.

Despite these quite reasonable objections to the term, I continue to use the “TE” term, partly because it has historical continuity and I’m an historian, and partly because it’s easily recognized. If anyone wants to object, however, they won’t get objections from me, unless their own reasons aren’t reasonable. My only request: define your terms as clearly as I’ve defined mine.

Because the term is broad and a bit hazy, more should be said about it. When we talk about “Intelligent Design” next month, I’ll tell you that it’s a “big tent” (something proponents of that view also say), insofar as it glosses over the biblical and theological issues that have usually separated Christians into various “camps” (such as the various positions we are now studying) when it comes to origins. TE is also a “big tent,” in that adherents differ strongly amongst themselves on theological and biblical issues. Unlike ID, however, theology is openly discussed—and competing theologies of God, nature, and humanity are openly advocated, not left implicit. We’ll say more about this next time. This column presents one type of TE, a type favored by many evangelical scientists and scholars. For example, the people I will discuss all accept (as far as I can tell) the Incarnation and Resurrection—that is, they are Trinitarian Christians who believe that Jesus was fully divine (and fully human) and that the disciples went to the right tomb, only to find it empty, before encountering the risen Christ in diverse places. They also believe in creation ex nihilo, the classical view (illustrated at the start of this column) that God brought the universe into existence out of nothing. There are other types of TE, some of which are not (in my opinion) sufficiently biblical, or even sufficiently Christian, to be part of this series. Please keep that in mind as we proceed: don’t tar all TEs with the same brush—something that happens all too often elsewhere. Let knowledge, not ignorance, be our guide.

Core Tenets or Assumptions of Theistic Evolution

(1) The Bible is NOT a reliable source of scientific knowledge about the origin of the earth and the universe, including living things—because it was never intended to teach us about science.

This reflects not only modern scientific knowledge, but also (more importantly) modern biblical scholarship. Peter Enns and some other evangelical scholars have recently stressed this point, initiating a firestorm in the evangelical academic community that, so far, has confirmed my view that evangelicals in general are just not ready to deal with this, even though it is consistent with the classical notion of accommodation. My own comments about the magnitude of the problem, written before the firestorm started, can be found here.

(2) The Bible IS a reliable source of knowledge about God and spiritual things.

Remember the quip that Galileo attributed to Cesare, Cardinal Baronio, “The intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.” (We discussed this earlier in the series). Evolution was not an issue in Galileo’s day, but this platitude is frequently quoted by advocates of TE—and often without proper attribution to Baronio. Commonality obviously lies in the attitude, not the topic. Many critics of TE are willing to adopt Galileo’s approach when it comes to the Solar System, but not when it comes to evolution: they are anxious to keep Galileo out of the garden of Eden.

Portrait of Cesare, Cardinal Baronio,
attributed to Caravaggio (1602-3) (Source)

(3) Scientific evidence is irrelevant to the Bible—it is simply not a science book.

See above. This needs to be stated separately, since some believers look to science for “proof” of the Bible, just as some unbelievers look to science for “disproof.” Proponents of TE stress that science and the Bible aren’t like apples and oranges; rather, they are more like apples and rocks: you can hold one in each hand without tension, but they have very little in common. We wouldn’t look for God in the phone book, or in an automobile repair manual. Don’t look for science in the Bible. In principle, scientific theories neither support nor threaten the Bible.

(4) The creation story in Genesis 1 is a confession of faith in the true creator, intended to refute pantheism and polytheism, not to tell us how God actually created the world.

This is meant to echo what we said about the Framework View. It is not necessarily true that all TEs accept the Framework View or something like it, but many do. Most would probably say that the Bible is not contradicted by any specific scientific theory of biological diversity—unless that theory oversteps its philosophical boundaries and functions as a kind of religion, what Conrad Hyers called “dinosaur religion.”

(5) The Bible tells us THAT God created, not how God created

Again, this sounds like the Framework View—or, at least, it should. Belief in God the creator is consistent with science, and even supported by some aspects of science; but, it is not a substitute for scientific explanations.

An Assignment: It’s Your Turn to Read and Write

Astronomer Owen Gingerich has written an eloquent little TE book, God’s Universe. A number of quotations have been compiled here. My review for First Things identifies some of the key theological and philosophical issues related to TE. Please follow these links, study what you find, and offer comments below. If anyone has actually read the book itself, your views would be particularly valuable to include.

Looking Ahead

In our next column in two weeks, we continue our discussion of Theistic Evolution, focusing on some crucial theological aspects of TE. In the meantime, please do the “assignment” and get back to us.

Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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Chip - #71908

August 15th 2012

Hi Ted,

Thanks for the quotations and the invitation to respond.  Let’s start with this one:

‘I contend that the current political movement popularly known as Intelligent Design is misguided when presented as an alternative to the naturalistic explanations offered by science, which do not explicitly require the hand of God. This does not mean that the universe is actually godless, just that science within its own framework has no other way of working.’ 7


If science “has no other way of working,” this essentially means that any discussion involving the use of science that might—even theoretically, conditionally or provisionally—point back to God as a cause of phenomenon X (biological, physical, or anything else) is ruled out a-priori.  Is it any wonder that naturalistic conclusions always win the game when only naturalistic suppositions are even allowed on the field?    


Beyond this, science “within its own framework” (ie, one that has nothing to do with theological concerns or origins controversies) clearly does have other ways of working.  While I’m not a fan of all of ID by any means, I do find the oft-mentioned references to forensics and SETI that some of its proponents make compelling.  Both are clearly science, and both employ the tools of science in an attempt to discern whether the phenomenon being studied was caused by completely naturalistic means or not.  Thus, the definition offered above is inadequate, or disciplines like forensics and SETI have to be defined as “not science.”  Can’t have it both ways.   

Ted Davis - #71912

August 15th 2012

Thank you for the comments, Chip.

The quotation you cite is from Gingerich’s book—I state that just to make sure that others are on the same page with us. I can’t reply on behalf of Gingerich, obviously, but I’ll reply for myself. I hope you get a chance to read the book itself, Chip; you’ll probably like at least one of the three chapters (“Dare A Scientist Believe in Design?”) very much.

I agree with you about the scientific status of forensics and (at least in principle) SETI (though it has not in practice produced anything thus far, and I suspect it never will), and I would throw archaeology into the mix as well. Where we may differ (I invite a reply) concerns the definition of “naturalistic” employed by you (in your final sentences) and by Gingerich. ID proponents (perhaps this includes you?) stress “natural” causation vis-a-vis “intelligent” causation. That is the relevant distinction you are making. No one thinks (for example) that a forensic investigation into a crime will literally put God in the dock; we aren’t talking about “supernatural” agency as the source of the “intelligence” being detected.

Gingerich *is* talking about “supernatural” agency, implicitly. That’s what he says science cannot investigate by its methods. I agree with him, and so did many of the Christian founders of modern science, including that great “grandfather of ID,” if I may call him that, namely Robert Boyle. I can provide a pertinent example from Boyle if you wish. In short, Boyle endorsed “methodological naturalism,” while at the same time he believed that one could draw design inferences from nature. Gingerich’s view is identical, as far as I can tell.

So, the relevant distinction is seen in these two comparions:

natural vs supernatural (what Gingerich talks about)

natural vs intelligent (what you are talking about)

When it comes to finding an intelligent cause for the whole universe (whether or not it’s a multiverse), or certain parts of it (such as the bacterial flagellum), then of course the only viable candidate is God—and God (at least the God worshiped by most ID proponents and many advocates of TE) is both “intelligent” and “supernatural,” not “natural.” TEs are quite happy to use that word, whereas IDs are in my experience much happier with transparent impersonal terms, such as “intelligent designer” or “unembodied mind” or “unevolved intelligence.” I admit to considerable frustration about this (it’s best simply to admit it, rather than just have readers infer it from this paragraph), and I don’t think it serves any genuinely useful purpose. And, I think it actually hurts ID as a strategy, since almost everyone who is “outside” the fold sees this as a silly obfuscation.

The irony here for me (as an historian) is profound: in the early and mid-20th century, a lot of the scientists who spoke favorably about “design” or “intelligence” in the universe were also reluctant to use the word “God.” However, the ones I am thinking of here (a nice example is geologist Kirtley Mather) were very, very liberal theologically; it’s not at all clear that they believed in “God” at all. Whereas in the contemporary situation, most of those speaking about “design” or “intelligence” in the universe are also reluctant to use the word “God,” yet they believe strongly in God. As I say, this is quite ironic. (I think this is driven by American jurisprudence since the mid-20th century, but that’s another topic.)


Chip - #71925

August 15th 2012

While I’m sympathetic to some of their arguments, I’m not an ID-ologue by any means.  Whether they should come out of the closet and admit that the “designer” is God is a tactical political consideration that I guess I don’t care that much about, although at times, I’ve felt as you do. 

What I do care about, and why I responded in this particuar thread, concerns the false dichotemy that so often is assumed in these discussions and that was represented in the Gingerich quotation: namely,  that we can have “the naturalistic explanations offered by science,” or “the hand of God,” as if these are mutually exclusive. 

I guess I see the intelligent/supernatural distinction that you are (or Gingerich is) making as largely academic.  As you say, if we’re talking about a finding an intelligent cause for the universe, and the only candidate for such is God, if we find intelligence, we get the supernatural for free.  If there’s a line between Hoyle’s superintellect the supernatural, it’s a fine one indeed.  But thanks for the article—I’ll read through it more carefully and get back to you. 

Finally, thanks for the dialogue—I find your posts on BL to be thought-provoking and enjoyable. 

GJDS - #71909

August 15th 2012

Dr Davis,

I cannot give a reasoned response in a short post, and so I want to highlight a problem when associating ‘theism or ‘theistic’ with ‘evolution’.

 “We at BioLogos agree with the modern scientific … as descriptions of how God created.”

 “Natural selection as described by Charles Darwin is not contrary to theism.”

(5) The Bible tells us THAT God created, not how God created

The statement ‘theistic evolution’ goes beyond science and makes a statement about God Himself. It attempts to provide an attribute of God (I cannot find another way of saying this, so here goes) as a laboratory worker or technician.

Evolution has undergone numerous modifications; presently neo-Darwinism is widely viewed by scientists from ‘a brute fact of science’ to ‘intellectually bankrupt’. These opinions are in the scientific literature.

An idea that undergoes such shifts and changes presents Faith related problems when it is associated with theism, regarding the attributes of God. This (attributes of God) has occupied the minds of devout Christians for almost 2,000 years. It is not a trivial matter, nor can we provide attributes of God as a matter of convenience, to allay the fears, doubts, or anxieties regarding Biblical accounts.

How would Christians react if in 50 years, an engineering or mechanistic view is used to understand bio-systems, and most of the historical data used to support Darwin’s view were re-thought? Scientists will say, ‘that is how science operates’. Religious people however, will need to deal with errors swallowed without questioning the truth content of the idea.

Scientists see natural selection as one of a number of possible ways to account for biological diversity. We read ecological systems have more to do with species diversity and survival than Darwinian notions. Scientists are undertaking meta-analysis of various bio-systems to correlate species diversity with various factors (selection process is often a weak correlation).

Others have stated, ‘evolution today is an unfinished theory. There are many questions about details it does not answer, but those are not grounds for dismissing it’. However there are strong grounds for questioning and doubting it.

To say ‘theistic’ is to put God into it. Theistic evolution portrays God as a sloppy technician, if His methods need to be revised so often. 

We may describe the creation and praise to God; we cannot describe how God has created. We were not there to witness God creating.

Christ ascended to Heaven so that the Comforter would come – God is neither ‘Theism’ nor ‘Deism’. We human beings are reconciled to Him because of Christ. God created everything by the power of His Word – this is it. We do not attribute a role to God as a lab technician (even if it is a bio-technician). I think I have clearly stated this point.

Ted Davis - #71914

August 15th 2012

You’ve made a strong case, GJDS. We seem to single out evolution for this type of attention (i.e., coining a term like TE, which has been in existence longer than anyone presently alive) for some reason; we don’t speak about “theistic gravitation,” or “theistic embryology,” or “theistic genetics.” The reasons are not hard to guess: many religious people found the views of Darwin and other, earlier proponents of “transmutation” (the notion that species have evolved from ancestors) completely unacceptable. There are many reasons for this, far too many to enumerate clearly here. The bottom line objection is probably naturalism, yet naturalism in gravitation or embryology or genetics doesn’t seem to bother anyone.

Eddie - #71918

August 15th 2012

Regarding “theistic gravitation” and “theistic embryology” etc., in each case, the science referred to is an operational, experimental science, whose claims and principles can be tested without bringing in historical speculations.  We have verified the operation of gravitation, embryonic development, Mendel’s laws, etc. experimentally.  In the case of “evolution” we are dealing with a hypothetical process inferred from certain data, not a phenomenon we can play around with in the laboratory.  One can imagine someone saying:  “I don’t believe in (macro) evolution”; one can’t imagine someone saying:  “I don’t believe in gravity” or “I don’t believe in embryonic development”.  So the phrase “theistic evolution” makes sense in a way that those other phrases don’t.

Of course, one can argue that the evidence for the process of evolution is so strong that evolution should be treated as a fact, like gravity or embryonic development or the laws of inheritance; but that is a particular judgment, and I’m speaking not of such particular judgments but of a logical or epistemological matter here.  An inferred process is not the same as an observed one, and a “science” based on experimental work with known mechanisms is not the same as a “science” whose mechanisms are largely hypothetical and vigorously debated with the community of experts.  We can experience, observe, measure, or experiment with “gravity”; we can’t do the same with “evolution.” 

As for the comment about naturalism, the reason that naturalism in gravity etc. doesn’t bother anyone is that it leaves origins untouched; God is still necessary to provide the origin of the natural objects in question—stars, planets, living things, various species, human beings.  Once origins themselves are explained naturalistically, God then become unnecessary except as a remote first cause who creates a mass of hydrogen, establishes the natural laws, and then retires—at least until Adam comes along—as the universe produces stars, planets, life and man out of its own capacities.  (One can of course piously imagine God as “concurring” with each new production, but such concurrence has no explanatory value, and therefore the Deistic tendency is almost impossible to resist.  The mental picture created, whether “divine concurrence” is affirmed or not, is one of God setting things up, then drumming his fingers for 14 billion years, swinging back into action again only when it’s time to give Adam his first instructions.  This doesn’t seem to a lot of people like the Christian or Biblical conception of God.)

The case is different for those theistic evolutionists who affirm that God is involved in the process of evolution in a hands-on way; but to my knowledge Russell is the only prominent TE in the past 20 years to affirm clearly, and without a whole string of ifs, ands, and buts, that God in fact steers or guides evolution.  All the rest seem to say either that God delegated the creative process to nature and its “created capacities” (to use the phrase of one TE) or that maybe God was involved in direct ways at various points, but even if he was, science could never tell the difference, so we can do our evolutionary theorizing just as if he wasn’t.  If you know of any TE, other than Russell, who *doesn’t* fit into one of these latter two categories, i.e., if you can name a prominent TE of the past 20 years who is explicit that God not just *might have*, but *did*, do something special in the cosmic or biological evolutionary processes, so that they would have turned out differently if God had not acted in that special way, I’d like to be directed to that TE’s writings.

If I’m jumping the gun here—if you are going to deal with these questions in future installments—my apologies.  But I thought I would record my response to your comment while it was fresh in my mind.

Ted Davis - #71929

August 15th 2012

An adequate reply to your important challenge would probably take a whole article. The problem is that many TEs are not very explicit about the specific topic of divine action in evolution, to the extent that Russell is. They usually speak briefly about it. This is not really surprising; divine action moved to center stage in the “science and religion dialogue” only about 20 years ago. That is, it was not until that point that a concerted effort was made by experts from different academic fields (mainly theology, physics, & philosophy) to articulate as precisely as possible what it means for God to “act” in the natural world; divine action in evolution falls within that much larger conversation. Russell’s work comes out of that conversation, which indeed he spearheaded.

I doubt that I could point to anyone else whose thoughts about this are as clearer or more insightful than Russell’s, although I’ll be the first to say that I could be forgetting someone, and that I have not read everyone I should have read. Several of the people involved in Russell’s project would agree with him, more or less, about God directing evolution. They probably all differ with Russell on one detail or another, but that’s just par for the course among academics who sit down and argue something through. (For example, Polkinghorne was originally inclined to emphasize chaos more than QM, though Russell was probably instrumental in getting him to re-think that aspect of his position.) If you look at multi-authored works such as these, you can get a better sense of the landscape, and I think you’ll come to the conclusion that Russell is not the sole member of the set that interests you: http://www.ctns.org/books.html.

I sense strongly that Owen Gingerich’s position is very close to Russell’s, though I don’t think Gingerich contributed to those books. If you read my book review of his book (see above), you should be able to get a sense of this. However, Gingerich doesn’t cite chapter and verse (as it were); he’s not a theologian, and divine action is not a topic he works on; he has no obligation to spell things out as clearly as Russell. But, everything he says is consistent with what Russell says. I recommend his book, which is only 113 small pages.

More coming…

Ted Davis - #71930

August 15th 2012

Many contributors to this book (http://biologos.org/resources/books/perspectives-on-an-evolving-creation) hold classical views of divine sovereignty, and I’d be suprised if they differ very much from Russell’s view. Again, however, it’s not the topic they were assigned to write about. I’ve already indicated my agreement with Russell. The chapter by Loren Haarsma “Does Science Exclude God? Natural Law, Chance, Miracles, and Scientific Practice”) does deal directly (though briefly) with the topic you are asking about, and I recommend it to you. Indeed, let me make an “assignment”. If you can acquire a copy of this book, please read Haarsma’s chapter and bring back a summary with your comments. We’d all benefit from the exercise, and I think in the process you’d find another example of the kind of TE you can’t seem to locate apart from Russell—but, that’s really for you, not me, to determine.

George Murphy’s chapter is not about God controlling evolution, and Murphy is known for his emphasis on “the crucified God” who submits to suffering (this will come up in the next part of this column). Amidst that emphasis, it’s not hard to ignore what he says in places, such as “A complete theology of divine action must emphasize that God actually does do things in the world,” or “From a theological standpoint, evolution is an example of the doctrine of providence,” or “God created this universe with the evolution of moral agents in mind.” Above all, his truly Incarnational approach to theodicy makes sense, only if God really is responsible for a world of suffering and death (Russell says the same thing), which suggests that God does control evolution: “I believe the problem of theodicy is stunningly exacerbated by all the proposals, including my own, that God acts at the level of genetics. ... Moreover, a world thus stripped of God’s special providence and tender, constant attention seems a much more troubling one to me than a world in which God is genuinely, even if inscrutably, at work, caring for every sparrow that falls.” Murphy’s concerns are not with divine action per se, but with theodicy and eschatology; nevertheless, it’s hard for me not to see him as a TE who believes in something like Russell’s picture. When Murphy’s work is discussed by ID proponents, it’s typically rejected because of his opposition to design arguments and his interpretation of Romans 1 in terms of idolatry rather than design. What is usually missed is his highly orthodox (IMO) theology of creation. Indeed, it’s hard for me to name anyone who has done more to advance a Christocentric theology of creation; classically, almost all theologies of creation did not take very seriously (IMO) the fact that the God who made heaven and earth is revealed most fully on the cross.

The final example I’ll offer (realizing that I have to stop somewhere) is Tom Tracy (http://www.bates.edu/philosophy/faculty/tracy/). His views differ from Russell’s only around the edges, as far as I can tell. He’s written about this fairly often, and a decent summary of the broader picture is at http://www.counterbalance.org/ctns-vo/ythom2-body.html. One of his own abstracts is http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9744.00319/abstract. Another one is at http://www.ctns.org/jkr_fellow.html.

So, Eddie, I’ve responded with some specific examples. I don’t know how many of these people are “prominent TEs,” as you requested, but all are TEs and I think all of them are in general agreement with Russell. No embarrassment if you don’t recognize them—they don’t tweet, they don’t advertise on television, and they don’t blog (to the best of my knowledge). But, they do publish in print media, and they’re all worth getting acquainted with. I appreciate your question.

Darwin Guy Dan - #72946

September 20th 2012


Eddie, while I generally agree with your views regards evolution and gravity, I think you will find that rigorous empirical scientists use “fact” even more distinctly than you have enunciated.  In my view, to characterize either evolution or gravity as a “fact” is what some philosophers might label a category error.  (Note, due to the multiplicity of definitions, I tend not to use “evolution” myself and only use “Evolution” when it is clear that common descent is meant.)  A theory might be considered well confirmed but ought never, in my view, be considered a “fact.”

As you well stated, evolution (my Evolution) is not an observable and thus not a fact.  In my view, Evolution is also false.  But while microevolution (however variously defined) can be said to occur and thus might be labeled “true,” not even microevolution ought to be labeled a scientific fact.  Perhaps some laws might be developed concerning microevolutionary processes and thereafter theories posited to explain these laws.

Similarly, and contrary to the many Evolutionists and IDers who have posited the cliché over the years, I would disagree regards the categorization of gravity as “fact.”  Technically, we don’t observe gravity.  Indeed, science doesn’t even have a good idea of what gravity (and mass) is.  What we do observe are apples falling (continuous snapshots of which we might record).  We can measure distances, times, and associated data in these regards.  You will find that this is generally the understanding of “fact” as used by the likes of Albert Einstein, Hans Reichenbach, philosopher Rudolph Carnap, and many other empirical scientists and some other philosophers.  Such a rigorous definition isn’t limited to the physical and chemical sciences. For example, in conjunction with some psychological research, Graziano and Raulin write this in their RESEARCH METHODS: A PROCESS OF INQUIRY (1989):

“[….] Those nonobservable inferred events such as gravity, electricity, intelligence, memory, anxiety, perception, id, and ego are all RATIONAL IDEAS THAT HAVE BEEN CONSTRUCTED BY THE RESEARCHER.  They are not facts!”

The authors continue to then introduce the term “constructs.”  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen this later term used much in the scientific literature. But it does seem to make sense that there be a differentiation between “gravity” as a construct, law, or theory.  These all are defined distinctly.

Dan, a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy / LocalTransportationGuy


George Bernard Murphy - #71910

August 15th 2012


“(5) The Bible tells us THAT God created, not how God created”

Now I think that is an EXCELLENT  statement!

George Bernard Murphy - #71911

August 15th 2012




Chip - #71915

August 15th 2012

‘Martin Luther would translate the Bible into German, and in 1514 he had had the audacity to print the Psalms without the traditional marginal references to the interpretations o f the Church Fathers. “Scripture alone!” became the slogan, and even Rome was driven to a defensive scriptural literalism.’ 10. Ps 104, ‘The Lord God laid the foundation of the earth, that it not be moved forever’ – surely this ruled out Copernican cosmology?

Indeed.  If Ps 104 “ruled out copernican cosmology,” then Ps 17:8 likewise rules out God as anything other than a chicken.  Or a buzzard.  Or maybe a penguin.  What’s the logic here, or the point if there is one?  I ask the question particularly in light of your earlier assertion that the Bible is “simply not a science book.”  If so, why the link to a writer who (apparently) thinks the psalms are an essay on Copernican cosmology? 

Ted Davis - #71916

August 15th 2012


You need to read Gingerich’s book, not just the passages taken from it in the link. (I don’t mean this to be critical, since I invited readers to comment on the material in the links. Nevertheless, I also recommended the book itself. Books get short shrift on the internet, which is not the great gift to education and learning that many seem to think it is.)

It’s a fact that Psalm 104 was cited against Copernican astronomy in Galileo’s day. Somewhat more than half a dozen biblical passages were used similarly. You can get a sense of the logic, Chip, by reviewing one of my earlier columns: http://biologos.org/blog/galileo-and-the-garden-of-eden-part-1, paying special attention to the linked letter by Robert Bellarmine: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1615bellarmine-letter.asp. Gingerich is one of the top scholars of the history of Copernican theory; he’s written about the biblical issues in many places, including a paragraph in this book, following the quotation you have. The Psalms were read (at that time) as a science book, but not (as you put it) as “an essay on Copernican cosmology,” rather as proof texts for pre-Copernican astronomy.

Chip - #71917

August 15th 2012

But stellar evolution is child’s play by comparison with the complexity of DNA. Agnostic Hoyle wrote ‘a common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature’. Lecomte de Nouy: ‘events which, even when we admit very numerous experiments, reactions, or shakings per second, need an infinitely longer time than the estimated duration of the earth in order to have one chance, on an average, to manifest themselves can, it would seem, be considered as impossible in the human sense.. To study the most interesting phenomena, namely Life and eventually Man, we are, therefore, forced to call on anti-chance, as Eddington called it; a ‘cheater’ who systematically violates the laws of large numbers, the statistical laws which deny any individuality to the particles considered’. 60.



In your opinion, is Hoyle’s reference to a “’superintellect’ [who] has monkeyed with… biology” (my emphasis) reasonable given the available scientific facts?  If you know, I’d be curious to know what evidence he was considering when he arrived at his conclusion.    

More broadly, why isn’t there more content of this nature explicitly called out at Biologos (this particular quotation is quite a distance “below the fold,”) or putting it another way, why does BL always seem to want to defend a position of de-facto naturalism, when even the non-theists are compelled by the evidence into such conclusions? 

Ted Davis - #71920

August 15th 2012


Gingerich is drawing on a famous article that Hoyle wrote for the Caltech alumni magazine: http://calteches.library.caltech.edu/3312/1/Hoyle.pdf. You can draw your own conclusions about the basis for his remark; I’d love to have you summarize it here for the benefit of other readers.

As for BioLogos and “de-facto naturalism,” I have only this to say. I’m a relative newcomer to BioLogos, which I did not follow regularly before coming on board six months ago. As the masthead for my columns says, the opinions here are mine, but obviously if BioLogos didn’t like them I wouldn’t still be writing for them as a Senior Fellow. Those appointments are not permanent, incidentally, but mine has already been extended beyond what I agreed to initially.

I should add that Gingerich’s book has been on BioLogos’ list of officially “recommended books” (http://biologos.org/resources/books) longer than I’ve been writing for them. Again, you’ll have to draw your own conclusions, but Gingerich’s views do represent the type of TE that is typical among members of the American Scientific Affiliation (http://network.asa3.org/default.asp?). I attended the ASA annual meeting last month, and I saw several BioLogos staffers. At least most, perhaps all, of the key people at BioLogos are ASA members, starting with Francis Collins and Darrel Falk.

George Bernard Murphy - #71919

August 15th 2012

Chip quoted,

“‘Martin Luther would translate the Bible into German, and in 1514 he had had the audacity to print the Psalms without the traditional marginal references to the interpretations o f the Church Fathers. “Scripture alone!” became the slogan, and even Rome was driven to a defensive scriptural literalism.’ 10. Ps 104, ‘The Lord God laid the foundation of the earth, that it not be moved forever’ – surely this ruled out Copernican cosmology”

There is a strong case for compatibility og the psalmist statement AND the Copernicus theory.

The earth precesses very little becase the moonstabilizes it like an outrigger on a canoe.

 Orinarily a spinning top in a gravitational force fiels would precess much more.

I read recently that without the moon the  earth would precess up to 80 degrees. Because it has the moon an forms a single  gravitational system it precesses only about 1 degree every 23.000 years.

 The moon formed when a planet hit the earth in what must have been the  most accurate shot  humanly imaginable.

 It started the earth spinning and formed the moon,...... which stabilizes the spin and holds it down.

The earth would never tip over as the psalmist promises.

 It is in a stable orbit around the sun on a stable axis.

 You can’t beat that.

So where is the contradiction?

Eddie - #71921

August 15th 2012


You wrote:

“TE is also a “big tent,” in that adherents differ strongly amongst themselves on theological and biblical issues. Unlike ID, however, theology is openly discussed—and competing theologies of God, nature, and humanity are openly advocated, not left implicit. We’ll say more about this next time.”

I look forward to what you have to say on this.  The reader of BioLogos up to this point would *not* get the impression that there was much theological variation among TE/EC people.  The main impression conveyed by almost all the BioLogos writers for the past few years is that (i) God works wholly through naturalistic mechanisms, or that if he occasionally intervenes (dubious), we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between that and naturalistic mechanisms; (ii) evolution works to a large extent through randomness, and Christian theology endorses and blesses randomness and sees no conflict at all between randomness and God’s governance, providence, omnipotence, etc.; (iii) God loves his creation so much that he gives it “freedom” or independence to do its own share of creation; (iv) God should not be thought of as a designer, engineer, draftsman, planner, etc., because those are low and un-Christian conceptions of creation; (v) the Bible, though in a sense inspired, is very much a human as well as a divine production, and therefore must be interpreted in light of the past two centuries of historical criticism which has set aside much of the previous Jewish and Christian interpretive tradition; (vi) while Adam and Eve can perhaps be retained as “federal heads” of the race, the traditional view that they were literally the parents of all subsequent human beings must be abandoned.  On these and other points, we’ve seen very little open conflict, or even hints of conflict, between the theologies of the various BioLogos writers.  So I’m looking forward to your presentation of some of the serious theological conflicts between different TE/EC advocates.    

Ted Davis - #71933

August 15th 2012


Unfortunately, I don’t plan to discuss the whole range of views one finds within the TE camp. As you probably realize, that would take a long book, not a couple thousand words on a web site.

I will however point out where appropriate how the type of TE I’m presenting differs from one or two alternatives. That can’t do the work of a good book, but it will at least give an indication of what I meant.

Views on your points (i) to (vi) will come up in places, but they won’t be the focus of my discussion. In short, I’m afraid you may be disappointed in my approach to the topic, but you’ll be the one to make that determination. Each of your points is (of course) stated in your language; I might or might not state it in the same way. Let me only briefly speak to (i), (ii), and (v). I suspect we could each write for days and not exhaust those topics, so (everyone) please keep in mind the brevity of my comments here.

On (i), all of the people I identified in my reply to your challenge about divine action would say that God *almost always* works in ways that are not “spectacular” (my choice of word), such that one usually can’t “tell the difference between [divine intervention] and naturalistic mechanisms.” I would say the same thing. This comes as a necessary consequence of the classical view that God acts sovereignly in all things, coupled with the classical view that God’s ordained power (to borrow a very old term that has been used since before modern science existed) is regularly exercised and trustworthy. At the same time, all of the people I identified believe that some divine acts, such as the Resurrection (and no, that is not the only instance), are indeed spectacular and incapble of description scientifically; nevertheless, they happened.

On (ii), the crucial thing is what “randomness” means. To quote one of the people I mentioned (Loren Haarsma), “When scientists use the concept of chance scientifically, they mean simply this: They could not completely predict the final state of the system based on their knowledge of earlier states. In a scientific theory, the term ‘chance’ is not a statement about causation (or lack of causation); rather, it is a statement about predictability.” As Haarsma notes, scientists can and do speak in other ways in their popular writings; they go well beyond a confession of ignorance into a philosophical position, but that position is not scientific.

On (v), I suspect that some readers of my previous column on the Framework View (http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-the-framework-view) might find approaches of that sort (I used the Framework view as a general category for “non-literal” views that emphasize the cultural and literary context for the Bible) as attacks on the divine inspiration of the Bible. I’m not attributing that view to you, Eddie, but the way in which you phrase this point suggests such a reply on my part. I’ve already said that TEs are fond of the Framework View (and other “non-literal” views). I doubt you’ll find much diversity on this one, at least not within the group I’m thinking about in my presentation of the position.

I will draw some comparisons between types of TE mainly in the historical part, which will probably be part 3 in about 4 weeks. When I do it, I’ll use the ecumenical creeds to help me sort things out. I won’t be focused on your points (i) to (v), but I hope you’ll see the validity of my own points at that point. Stay tuned.

Gregory - #71922

August 15th 2012

Hi Ted,

You gave your definition of ‘theistic evolution’ as follows: “the belief that God used the process of evolution to create living things, including humans.”

Can I inquire why you chose the past tense ‘used’? Did you mean God is not still using it/them? That leads to the second question: Are you saying you believe there is a single ‘process of evolution’ or do you accept the language/possibility that there are multiple ‘evolutionary processes,’ i.e. a question that Theodosius Dobzhansky insightfully asked? This opens up the issue of how theistic relates with cosmological, biological and (so-called) cultural evolutions. 

Regarding Dr. Peter Enns as a role model, I wonder first if you can confirm with whom/where he is currently affiliated. His ‘modern biblical scholarship’ views on this topic didn’t go over well at Westminster Theological Seminary. His wikipedia page notes about BioLogos, “They are moving in a more conservative direction, i.e., keeping Southern Baptists and other literalists on board,” making it seem like he is more ‘liberal’ than BioLogos would prefer. As far as Gingerich notes there is politics involved with the IDM, surely he is right; but there is also politics involved in the ‘big tent’ of theistic evolution. 

Re: 3) “Scientific evidence is irrelevant to the Bible—it is simply not a science book.”

That’s perhaps a bit blunt. Sciences that are relevant to the Bible include geography, geology, architecture, palaeontology, linguistics (philology), economics, anthropology, and many others. Sure, I understand that you don’t wish to ‘reduce’ the Bible to being “a science book,” which is laudable, given the (reactive/proactive) position of BioLogos vis-a-vis YEC and its so-called ‘creation science.’ But the opposite danger is isolating science and religion unnecessarily, whereas this site is dedicated instead to ‘integrating’ science and faith. And in so far as ‘reason,’ not just ‘faith’ is involved, science and the Bible actually would seem to have ‘much in common.’

Wrt John W. Dawson and his 1877 use of ‘theistic evolution,’ first, it is noteworthy that he says “as it has been termed,” which would mean that historians have more work to do to trace the roots of this term and how close or distant it is from what you and others mean by it today. Second, the next two sentences in Dawson’s text provide an interesting spin, which might intrigue some of BioLogos’ readers. So I duplicate it here:

“If we ask whether any thing is known to science which can give even a decided probability to the notion that living beings are parts of an undirected evolution proceeding under merely dead insentient forces, and without intention, the answer must be emphatically no.

I have elsewhere fully discussed these questions, and may here make some general statements as to certain scientific facts which at present bar the way against the hypothesis of evolution as applied to life, and especially against that form of it to which Darwin and his disciples have given so great prominence.” - John W. Dawson (my emphasis)

The other issue that I’m sure you’ll deal with in one of the next two columns is the relationship between history and science. The Bible does deal with historical events and persons, include the book of Genesis. How much does ‘theistic evolution’ offer clarity on which events and persons were ‘historical’ (i.e. ‘real’) and which weren’t?

Ted Davis - #71936

August 15th 2012

Peter Enns now teaches at Eastern University, near Philadelphia. Incidentally, his dismissal from Westminster Seminary had nothing to do with his involvement with BioLogos (which came only after he was dismissed). It was allegedly based on this book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Enns#Inspiration_and_Incarnation, but in fact the faculty as a whole affirmed the orthodoxy of his views (within their very conservative Calvinist tradition) by a substantial majority in an actual vote. (I do not report rumors; these are uncontested facts that I have from mulitiple, highly reliable sources.)

Having talked to many people with present and past affiliations with Westminster, my sense is that Enns was fired (to put it bluntly) arbitrarily, by a president who didn’t like his ideas, regardless of the fact that they passed muster with his own faculty.

Ted Davis - #71959

August 16th 2012

Let me reply now, Gregory, to this of yours:

Re: 3) “Scientific evidence is irrelevant to the Bible—it is simply not a science book.”

That’s perhaps a bit blunt. Sciences that are relevant to the Bible include geography, geology, architecture, palaeontology, linguistics (philology), economics, anthropology, and many others. Sure, I understand that you don’t wish to ‘reduce’ the Bible to being “a science book,” which is laudable, given the (reactive/proactive) position of BioLogos vis-a-vis YEC and its so-called ‘creation science.’ But the opposite danger is isolating science and religion unnecessarily, whereas this site is dedicated instead to ‘integrating’ science and faith. And in so far as ‘reason,’ not just ‘faith’ is involved, science and the Bible actually would seem to have ‘much in common.’

Yes, Gregory, I was a bit blunt. Remember: I’m expressing the basic tenets of a modern view, a type of TE. It’s true that (e.g.) geology, esp paleontology, has informed how adherents of this view approach the Bible. Ditto for biblical studies (even more so), which you didn’t list as a “science,” contrary to what you ordinarily might say, though you probably have that in mind under “many others.” However, the position as we find it today sees geology as irrelevant to the Bible, in that the discovery of (say) new types of extinct animals in China or a hithterto unknown ancient lake in Greenland or Antarctica would have no bearing whatsoever on the Bible. For OECs and YECs, by comparison, details about those animals or that lake might indeed have a bearing on how they read Genesis. For the TEs, Genesis stands (as it were) on its own, in its own cultural and literary context, and our understanding of the natural sciences shouldn’t influence our understanding of the text, which is pre-scientific.

And, of course (as you would probably know), by “scientific” evidence I really mean the natural sciences, leaving out archaeology but not physical anthropology (which would be seen as akin to geology). Those sciences dealing directly with historical times (as vs pre-historical times that also predate the Biblical period), however, are obviously relevant to understanding certain biblical events. You are using a very broad definition of the “sciences,” and I don’t object to that, but I’m implicitly using a much narrower range here.

Ted Davis - #71960

August 16th 2012

I respond now to this of yours, Gregory:

Wrt John W. Dawson and his 1877 use of ‘theistic evolution,’ first, it is noteworthy that he says “as it has been termed,” which would mean that historians have more work to do to trace the roots of this term and how close or distant it is from what you and others mean by it today.

Yes—Dawson’s language indicates that he didn’t invent the term. I don’t think we know who did, and it might be impossible to know that, because the first use might well have been spoken rather than written; and, even if it was in writing, we might not have found it yet and we might never find it. In most cases, all we can say about a word or term is that it was in use by a certain date. Sometimes, we can be pretty sure, even almost certain, that we’ve found the first use of a word in writing: “fundamentalist” is a pertinent example (first printed reference by Curtis Laws in 1920), but even “quark” is not quite as clean as it’s often assumed, since there is a cheese by that name (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quark_(cheese)), presumably called that long before James Joyce used the word, from whom Murray Gell-mann borrowed it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quark).

There is at least one other book from 1877 in which “theistic evolution” is used several times, and the term “intelligent design” is also in that book several times (http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/contest-who-invented-the-phrase-intelligent-design/#comment-423216).

Ted Davis - #71962

August 16th 2012

Finally, Gregory, I’ll answer this one of yours:

The other issue that I’m sure you’ll deal with in one of the next two columns is the relationship between history and science. The Bible does deal with historical events and persons, include the book of Genesis. How much does ‘theistic evolution’ offer clarity on which events and persons were ‘historical’ (i.e. ‘real’) and which weren’t?

I will touch on this in part 2, but I won’t go into much detail. There simply is no single approach to this question, even within the type of TE I’m presenting here. Some authors argue for the actual historicity of Adam & Eve and the Fall, without denying common ancestry (note the considerable diversity at http://biologos.org/topics/adam); others see large parts of Genesis (often chapters 1-11) as largely or entirely non-historical (Peter Enns is a good example http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/enns_adam_white_paper.pdf). I lean more toward Enns’ view: I think it’s awfully difficult, perhaps impossible, to place the first humans alongside cities and agriculture, as Genesis does.

Gregory - #71923

August 15th 2012

One more question, reminded by Eddie’s post:

“We’ll say more about this next time” and “In our next column in two weeks, we continue our discussion of Theistic Evolution.”

Are readers to understand that this is a collective BioLogos series or is this just your work alone, Ted; does it go through an editing process, which makes you write ‘we’ and ‘our’ or are you using an academic style that makes an ‘I’ into a ‘we’ for the sake of one’s school or argument?



Ted Davis - #71935

August 15th 2012


Your comments are very good, and I’d like to get to them all in time (I can’t promise to), but I can’t do it now. I’ve been answering others for about 3 hours, and I have to give it a rest right now. Please don’t interpret my silence as a lack of interest in what you said.

Ditto for comments from others, coming in below. I’m not ignoring you, but obvioulsy I can’t answer everything I’d like to answer. To be frank, I’m *delighted* to see so many excellent comments already. I wondered whether this might happen, once we reached TE and (next month) ID, so I’m not surprised, but that doesn’t diminish my pleasure.

I will say just two things for the time being. First, Gregory, my columns receive absolutely minimal editing, and they are solely my work. My choice of pronouns is purely stylistic. They are seen by others at BioLogos before they go online, but I say exactly what I think, not what others tell me to think; the only changes are purely editorial, for greater clarity. For this particular column, I added no more than five words after editorial scrutiny, and just one single word was added in response to a comment by someone else; the others I did on my own. CONTEST: Can anyone identify that one word? I’ll entertain guesses, if you care to make them…

Second, re your question above, I certainly agree that the doctrine of creation has a “then-ness” and a “now-ness” (my terms). Theologically, one can speak of creatio ex nihilo alongside creatio continua. I accept your criticism about using the past tense, even though I was writing about the “then-ness” of creation. The omission of any reference to the “now-ness” was not intentional, but still unfortunate. Mea culpa.

HornSpiel - #71924

August 15th 2012

Two quotes that, for me, get to the bottom of philosophical difference between ID and TE:

From Ted’s review:

Readers who like to associate design with repeated acts of special creation, including many supporters of the Intelligent Design movement,...for them, design is at bottom a scientific question, accessible by the ordinary methods of science, as long as scientists do not arbitrarily rule out all inferences to guiding intelligence.

From the Gingerich quotes:

Dawkins et al. go the other way. They use their stature as scientific spokesmen as a bully pulpit for atheism. Evolution as a materialist philosophy is ideology, and presenting it as such essentially raises it to the rank of final cause. It’s as wrong to present evolution as a final cause as it is to offer ID as a substitute for an efficient cause.

This last sentence I find particularly interesting as I had never thought of describing the errors of new-atheism and ID in that way. Essentially both approaches want to change the nature of science, one makes it God-hostile, and the other, God-friendly. Historically, it seems, the God-hostile faction was first and the God-friendly  response was an overreaction. What we need to maintain and keep saying is that science, as properly defined and practiced is God-neutral. As Gingerich points out, again from Ted’s review:

Like the distinguished Anglican physicist John Polkinghorne, he holds that design is “a metaphysical question, whose answer will come only out of metaphysical reasoning,” not from science itself.

One can imagine a world that is either God-hostile or, more easily, God-friendly as has been done in fantasy fiction. But that is not the world we live in.

Jon Garvey - #71927

August 15th 2012

As Ted says, both ID and TE are big tents, so any generalisation will likely be wrong in some sense.

but my understanding of the best of ID is that it by no means demands repeated acts of special creation, and some of its leaders have pointed that out strongly (William Dembski comes to mind - one would have hoped his correction would have been taken on board).

If one says, for argument’s sake, that design (as a non-material quality) can be detected in some way (say irreducible complexity or specified information), that says nothing about how that design was instantiated.

For example, if Rev Paley were to discover that his watch had been produced by an entirely automated factory (the efficient cause), it might push the role of a living designer back further, but would not refute his inference that the watch was designed, which comes from considering the object itself.

In living systems, if a convincing “natural” mechanism for the evolution of specific organisms were found (something that has been considered deficient in Darwinian processes by many since the theory emerged), the inference of design need not be affected.

In the case of something like irreducible complexity, one might argue that explicating the mechanism would refute the contention, but in fact Behe only argues against the adequacy of currently accepted Neodarwinian mechanisms. If a highly organised process were found that produced flagellae in one fell swoop, it would be the equivalent of Paley’s automated watch factory, ie the process itself would evidence design.

The original strength of Darwin’s theory was its plausible simplicity - even idiot cells could do it. As the processes of biology are seen to be more complex (by orders of magnitude), less dependent on “obvious” natural selection, and even teleological if the natural genetic engineering or self-organisation models gain traction, then the mechanism of evolution itself becomes in increasing need of explanation - evolution itself is Paley’s watch.

Gregory - #71931

August 15th 2012

Dr. Jon Garvey,

This is one of those occasions where I just don’t follow your logic.

This thread is about ‘theistic evolution.’ You call yourself a proponent of ‘theistic evolution’. And yet you spend this entire post speaking about ‘design,’ ‘designer,’ and ‘designed,’ Dembski, Behe, Paley, Neodarwinian mechanisms, Darwinian processes, etc.

Ted brought up ‘Intelligent Design’ (Big ID) simply to speak about a ‘big tent’ regarding TE and to state that theology is prominently involved in TE in comparison to it being (almost) non-existent in ID.

Likewise, he only indicated Darwin’s name only once in the OP, and that in the negative wrt ‘Darwinian’ re: his personal definition of TE. Shall we not let him define TE without reference to Darwin if that the way he wants it? 

From my experiences at your blog, you really like speaking about theology. But now, for some reason or purpose curious to me, you want to talk about biology, organisms, mechanisms, and ID. Why not wait a few weeks for Ted’s thread on ID and instead discuss TE here? Why not put forward your own (still unclear to me) views about TE, e.g. on features of Ted’s approach such as this:

“There are other types of TE, some of which are not (in my opinion) sufficiently biblical, or even sufficiently Christian, to be part of this series”?

Jon Garvey - #71934

August 15th 2012

Never a good idea to be a one trick pony, Gregory.

Gregory - #71948

August 16th 2012

Also not a good idea to sit on the fence or in the dividing bleachers and cheer on both sides against each other, Jon.

I see your #71944 is an attempt to move forward, rather than remaining stuck on a pony with too many tricks.

Jon Garvey - #71955

August 16th 2012

Tosh. #71944 develops from where #71927 leaves off.

Where some people erect fences, others see gates.

Gregory - #71956

August 16th 2012

Double Tosh. You chose to start in the negative. Don’t call that ‘development.’

You claim to be a TE, yet want IDist language to defend yourself and not TE. That’s a contradiction.

The gate analogy doesn’t work; you’re still cheering for two teams who are playing each other. Where I come from that’s naughty or neutral, the latter being basically irrelevant.

Walk through the gate then, Jon, take a real position.

Ted Davis - #71964

August 16th 2012

Gentlemen (Jon and Gregory), let’s please avoid getting too personal hear. See my comments (to Eddie) about TE vs ID, and let’s please leave the arguments at a level where Truth might emerge. Thank you.

Eddie - #71932

August 15th 2012


Your definition of theistic evolution is:  

“the belief that God used the process of evolution to create living things, including humans”

I think that this is a good, safe, general definition of theistic evolution, that would include all theistic evolutionists, past and present.  

I can’t help but notice, however, that this definition is broad enough to include the views of at least some ID proponents.  For example, it would seem that Michael Behe would be a “theistic evolutionist” under this definition.

I’m not raising this point to suggest that Michael Behe would acknowledge that label for his own position (he almost certainly would not, since “theistic evolution” would to him mean something narrower than what you mean); I’m merely pointing out that his views would fit within your minimalist definition.

My question, I guess, is whether there needs to be conflict between “theistic evolution” and “intelligent design,” if we adopt your minimalist definition of “theistic evolution.”  Under your definition, at least some people could be described as believers in *both* “intelligent design” *and* “theistic evolution.”  And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing!  But I get the very strong impression (warranted, I think, by the fact that there have been more columns written against the views of Behe on this site than against the views of any other individual, and that the writings and talks of Ken Miller, Denis Lamoureux, Denis Alexander, Francis Collins, etc. have so often singled out Behe for special attention and refutation) that most, if not all, of the most influential public defenders of theistic evolution do not want Behe as a member of their club.  That suggests to me that most, if not all, the most influential public defenders of theistic evolution are working under a narrower definition of “theistic evolution” than you are.  Do you see this narrower definition (whatever it may be) as a factor that tends to artificially isolate ID and TE into opposed camps, and thus tends to manufacture unnecessary culture-war tensions?

Gregory - #71949

August 16th 2012

“whether there needs to be conflict between ‘theistic evolution’ and ‘intelligent design,’ if we adopt your minimalist definition of ‘theistic evolution’.” - Eddie

When one group studies ‘origins’ exclusively and won’t (in principle) deal with ‘processes,’ there is a big challenge for potential cooperation. BioLogos accepts the (small-id) ‘intelligent design’ of the universe, according to Darrel Falk. How much ‘theistic evolution’ / ‘evolutionary creation’ IDers will accept is still a mystery.

“the most influential public defenders of theistic evolution do not want Behe as a member of their club.” - Eddie

This has more to do with politics and the so-called ‘revolutionary’ attitude of IDers. Dembski is most guilty/proud of this (e.g. vise grip on Darwin doll, “The Design Revolution,” “ID: THE bridge between science and theology,” declaring Waterloo at Baylor, etc.). If Behe wants to associate with self-proclaimed revolutionaries that’s his prerogative. But he must suffer the consequences of being excluded from groups that do not accept the politics and PR antics of his chosen associates.

I don’t see Ted’s broad definition of TE being a problem here. The ‘culture war’ is more between IDers and ‘new atheists’, while the attempt at ‘mutual aid’ (though I haven’t seen any public indication of the results yet) is between BioLogos and conservative, evangelical Christians who still accept a ‘young earth,’ flying in the face of insurmountable evidence. These are very different missions.

The agressors here imo are the IDers against TE/EC because TE/EC doesn’t accept the scientificity of ID. If Behe would detail his sympathies with TE/EC and explain specifically where he disagrees with TE/EC, aside from his political affiliations at DI, this could serve to potentially improve the relations between ID and TE/EC. Have you read anywhere that he’s done this, Eddie?

Gregory - #71950

August 16th 2012

Just to clarify: small-id refers to the idea that God-did-it, but we don’t know exactly how (and ‘science’ cannot prove it one way or another). This is accepted by a vast majority of TE/ECs; it is the basic Muslim, Christian and Jewish view. 

Big-ID otoh refers to the institution called ‘Discovery Institute’ (and its sputniks) as well as the view that ‘design/Design’ can be (and even has been!) proven by natural scientific methods, which is promoted by the ‘intelligent design/Intelligent Design movement (or community).’

Behe is a Big-ID guy; BioLogos is a small-id Foundation.

Eddie - #71952

August 16th 2012


Thanks for your answer.  I’ll withhold any detailed reply until I hear back from Ted Davis.

My impression as a bystander is that the aggression has been a two-way street, and that neither side’s hands are clean.

As for Behe, I think he has made it pretty clear that he accepts an ancient earth, an ancient human race, and macroevolution, including the evolution of the human body.  So he has met all the “demands” that TE people make (in vain) of YECs.  He’s also very gracious to TE opponents in debate.  But none of that has stopped him from being on the receiving end of constant attacks from TE people.  So I don’t get the impression that he threw down any gauntlet before the TEs.  Rather, I get the impression that he thought he was attacking Darwin, Dawkins, Coyne, etc., and was rather shocked at the hostile reaction he got from other Christians whose acceptance of both God and evolution he shared.  The attacks have often been personal, and some TEs have openly accused him of intellectual dishonesty.  I would guess that, given these things, he finds it hard to get into the frame of mind of detailing his sympathies with TE people.  But my point was not to justify Behe or approve of his ideas; it was only that he would be a theistic evolutionist by Ted’s definition.  And if he is, I don’t see that as a problem, but I think most other TEs would.  Let’s see what Ted has to say.

Gregory - #71954

August 16th 2012

“My impression as a bystander is that the aggression has been a two-way street, and that neither side’s hands are clean.” - Eddie

Yes, I agree with that, also as a bystander. I’m neither a TE nor an IDer. Do you associate with one of the two camps…or both?

“Let us see what Ted has to say.” - Eddie


I’m sure you’ll admit, nevertheless, that Behe allying himself with the Discovery Institute, taking their support as a CSC Fellow is not insignificant. It is guilt by chosen and continued association. Behe could renounce Big-ID just as easily as he could embrace TE/EC to set the record straight.

Thus, it may not be intellectual dishonesty as much as political and ‘cultural renewal’ dishonesty. The gauntlet is ‘revolutionism’ proclaimed by the IDM. 

BioLogos obviously thinks educating YEC evangelicals is more important than fighting (new) atheists and ‘Darwinism’. TE/EC is thus more about correcting gross under-education in the USA than about promoting a radical ‘new science.’ Behe taking the label of a (gentle, endearing, “very gracious”) ‘radical’ doesn’t help in the way TEs/ECs view him.

Eddie - #71957

August 16th 2012


Is there such a thing as “intelligently designed theistic evolution”?  Maybe I would fit in there.

Ted Davis - #71963

August 16th 2012


Thank you for such a perceptive question!

I’ve said often elsewhere that the views of Asa Gray, the first American proponent of evolution by natural selection (http://biologos.org/blog/the-questions-update-how-have-christians-responded-to-darwin and http://biologos.org/blog/author/miles-sara-joan), and those of Michael Behe, a leading proponent of ID, are awfully close. Both fall into the TE category as I have defined it.

Your comments about a rather stark separation between TE and ID today, with Behe seen as ID and not TE, are on target. One reason why Behe is “singled out” is because he’s such a clear and prominent exponent of ID—let’s not lose sight of that. He is widely influential within the ID community, and so he’s not a “straw man” to be toppled, but an intellectual foe to be reckoned with. So, the real question here (IMO) is this: why are ID and TE usually seen as quite separate genera, when historically they can be quite hard to separate?

Part of the answer might be expressed by taking this biological metaphor further. As Darwin noted, when two slightly different populations in close proximity compete, they tend to diverge over time into separate species that no longer interbreed. I think this happens a great deal in politics (since Darwin got his metaphor of selection by reflecting on political economy, perhaps I may be forgiven for bringing in politics), and helps (IMO) to explain the deadlock that we presently have in the American Congress. I do think this has happened to some extent, with regard to ID and TE—relatively small differences tend to be magnified. TEs in the early 20th century didn’t hesitate to talk about “design” or “intelligence” (as I’ve already said here recently), just as they didn’t hesitate to embrace common ancestry. Now, we find many TEs who hesitate to use the word “design,” just as we find many IDs who don’t hesitate to create doubts (in the minds of their readers) about common ancestry—which, in turn, leads those TEs to fly from the word “design,” since it has become associated with anti-evolutionism, whether or not that is officially part of the ID program.

I still regard Behe as a TE.

However, there’s more to it. “Design” is indeed at the heart of this—competing views on whether or not design inferences are scientific in nature, and whether (therefore) they must be part of the scientific toolbox (as ID philosopher Paul Nelson puts it). The TEs I’m talking about here would say, No: design inferences are legitimate, well supported conclusions, but they go beyond science into metaphysics and theology (both of which are 4-letter words for Coyne, Dawkins, and company). ID proponents, as far as I can tell, will all say, Yes (I invite correction if I’m mistaken), design inferences *are* genuinely scientific, *and* (in addition) we must have them as part of any genuinely scientific explanation of some aspects of the natural world. This, I am convinced, is the bottom-line difference between TE and ID—namely, one’s attitude toward the nature of design inferences and the role(s) they are to play in the actual practice of science.

This difference is subtle, but (I believe) quite real and significant. I’d say we’re probably seeing the emergence of separate species, heading perhaps toward separate genera. It’s what Owen Gingerich was talking about, with his comments on “ID” vs “id.” And, politics (in the context of American education and culture wars) has a lot to do with this. I don’t like to see myself as a culture warrior, primarily b/c Truth is often one of the first casualties in such combat—and Truth is mighty important to me. Others might think that I can’t avoid it, given the topic I’m writing about. I detest politically-driven conceptions of “truth,” regardless of the context in which the politics applies, but I’m enough of an historian to know that I can’t expect to be completely free of such biases myself. Help me stay on course, everyone.

Gregory - #71980

August 17th 2012

I don’t think it would be wise to ‘take the biological metaphor further’ into politics, Ted. As I understand it, the metaphor ‘selection’ is based on Darwin’s readings of Malthus (population studies and political economy, plus theology) and <i>also</i> on the notion of ‘artificial breeding’ (i.e. natural vs. artificial selection). And since Herbert Spencer’s evolutionary ideas precede Darwin’s, one could bypass the biology and natural science and speak ‘evolutionarily’ anyway without Darwin.

Let’s be clear with our language: ‘genera’ and ‘species’ do not properly apply to people, communities or movements; they are specifically biological or zoological terms. Taking the biological metaphor into politics and society is what socio-biologists used to do and surely you don’t want to involve TE with that, Ted.

What’s important is that you are attempting to explain the relationship or lack of relationship between TEers and IDers in your response to Eddie. But as I said before (below), I think it would be more productive to focus mainly if not wholly on TE in this thread.

What leads “TEs to fly from the word “design,” since it has become associated with anti-evolutionism, whether or not that is officially part of the ID program.” – Ted

In my view, almost any perspective associated with anti-evolutionism, I take as a good thing. And so it seems does BioLogos, which is against ‘evolutionism’ as ideology (T. Burnett, A. Louis, http://biologos.org/questions/category/the-biologos-view). If TEs perceived ‘design’ as just an ‘anti-evolution’ term or perspective that would be a different story and there would be good grounds to reject it. But anti-evolutionism imo *should* be part of TE too!

p.s. using Darwinian politics to explain the deadlock in the U.S. congress also might not be such a good idea; a better explanation for that is the (basically) two-party system in your country.

Ted Davis - #71991

August 17th 2012


I see you took the term, “anti-evolutionism,” to mean opposition to “evolutionism” rather than opposition to “evolution.” I meant the latter. It’s common for historians to talk about “anti-evoutionism” as a rough equivalent to “creationism.” I’m one of those who emphasizes that ID is not “creationism,” pure and simple (i.e., ID is not a type of YEC view), but that ID is a type of “anti-evolutionism,” since in practice nearly all ID proponents reject common ancestry.

In theory, ID can overlap with TE, and in Behe’s case I believe it does. Whether Michael Denton belongs in the same category is hard to say, since Denton’s relationship with ID has been marked by considerably ambivalence. Perhaps he also belongs there. I have the impression, however, that the overlap between ID and TE is very small, given that my definition of TE includes acceptance of common ancestry.

Gregory - #71994

August 17th 2012

“I see you took the term, anti-evolutionism,’ to mean opposition to ‘evolutionism’ rather than opposition to evolution.’ I meant the latter.” - Ted

Yes, I did, as a native reader of plain English. Would you do me a favour then? If you mean ‘anti-evolution,’ then please say ‘anti-evolution.’ If you mean ‘anti-evolutionism,’ then say ‘anti-evolutionism’ and not just ‘anti-evolution.’ That will help in our communication.

Three letters make a huge difference here, wouldn’t you agree?

I’m not a historian, nor are most people. So, if you want me to understand what is ‘common’ for you speaking as a historian, then you will have to spell it out more clearly, as you’ve done now in saying “I meant the latter”. I hope therefore you’ll respect and understand my request for your clarity regarding -isms.

If ID is ‘anti-evolutionism’ then I am pro-ID. If ‘creationism’ is ‘anti-evolutionism’ then I am pro-creationism. (And I am neither an IDer nor a creationist.) Like I said, Ted, being pro-evolutionism is a BIG problem here that I haven’t yet seen you acknowledge. You are not pro-evolutionism, just pro-evolution, right? You are not promoting ‘theistic evolutionism,’ but only ‘theistic evolution’ in this series, right?

This is said calmly and without offense intended, simply hoping that truth will emerge, as you have instructed.

‘Anti-evolutionism’ to me does not mean the same thing as ‘rejects common ancestry.’ It can be, but not always. There are many different fields of study involved in both topics, including not just natural sciences.

If you really think the overlap between ID and TE is “very small,” Ted, then we’ll see about this in your ID thread in a few weeks. I’m wondering if my advice to ‘keep this thread about TE and not about ID’ was worth sending or not. There are still many uncertainties about TE, expressed by Eddie, Jon, Roger, Chip and myself that it would be great if you could focus on them (and not yet on ID) to offer answers.


Eddie - #71989

August 17th 2012


Thanks for these comments.  They are very helpful.  The biological metaphors are helpful, too.

I’m glad I’ve understood your definition of TE, and it’s good to have confirmation that Behe would be a TE by that definition.  

I’m not sure what counts as a “genuinely scientific” explanation of a natural phenomenon.  Galileo rejected gravity as an scientific explanation of the tides because he thought that it was an appeal to “occult forces” or the like, but we now accept gravity as a scientific explanation for the tides and many other things; in fact, this “occult” force is central to modern scientific understanding.  So there is a danger that a present, narrow conception of scientific explanation may cripple our ability to understand nature.  I worry sometimes that “genuinely scientific” explanation ends up meaning “reductionist” explanation—whereby all phenomena are required to be explained in terms of a currently held but quite possibly narrow and inadequate understanding of the available sorts of cause.  But perhaps you will deal with this question in more detail later in the series.

Ted Davis - #71992

August 17th 2012


Your point about “genuinely scientific” is good, and Galileo is a pertinent example. I’d want to think about this more than I can presently. What counts as “science” and what doesn’t is, of course, not the same in all periods of history. ID probably would have counted as “science” in the Scientific Revolution, for example, but (at least for science as practiced in the scientific literature) it no longer does. I’m familiar with precious little literature about this question, but my sense is that “God” disappears gradually from scientific literature from the 18th century onwards, and that it probably starts in the physical sciences before moving into biology in the 19th century. Darwin himself (as seen in some of the notebooks and the early versions of the “Origin of Species”) suffered heavily from what I call “physics envy,” i.e., he sought consciously to make natural history as lawlike as astronomy and physics. The final paragraph in the published version of the “Origin” has a loud hint about this, with the reference to “the fixed law of gravity,” and I strongly suspect that for the same reason he added the quotation from Whewell’s Bridgewater Treatise opposite the title page.

GJDS - #71940

August 15th 2012

Dr Davis,

These discussions are thought provoking and very interesting. I make the following contribution in the space and time available.

An effective way to ‘learn from science’ would be by contemplating on the notion of law. Briefly, we are used to considering law as a legislated statement requiring compliance, accompanied with enforcement. Yet theologically, divine law requires intent and a spiritual dimension of seeking to be ‘like God’; this differs from our common understanding, and is accompanied by growth both physically (we are healthier and free from anxiety when we live in harmony with each other) and spiritually in that we grow before God in Grace and Knowledge. Acting contrary to the Law also brings the consequences of sin; these comments infer an ‘automatic’ aspect to the Law; we understand it as part of the revealed will of God.

Natural and scientific law however, differ from the previous notions. Scientific Laws are considered to state or approximate the Laws of Nature, and are stated as defintions and formulae.

Metaphysical discussions consider competing theories of Laws of Nature: (1) Regularity Theory; Laws of Nature are statements of the uniformities or regularities in the world; they are mere descriptions of the way the world is. (2) Necessitarian Theory; Laws of Nature are the “principles” which govern the natural phenomena of the world. That is, the natural world “obeys” the Laws of Nature.

I am sure Dr Davis would provide a detailed account of historical developments related to how the notion of scientific law developed over the centuries. I make one point, in that two significant figures are Newton and Boyle. Both of these scientists (especially Boyle) took a great deal of interest in Alchemy (and some have termed their thinking as neo-paganism) and their view is clearly heterodoxy; they sought an extra ‘something’ in nature, mostly to seek an explanation of what life is. This is the problem that science has failed to address.

These remarks point to problems in our discussions on science and evolution. To illustrate my point, imagine if you will, a chemist claiming to know and understand all substances on this earth, but when confronted with questions, confessed he did not understand what atoms and molecules are, and he did not have a periodic table of the elements. We would consider his stance as highly dubious– he may then talk of a philosopher’s stone and all of that, but scientific people would not take him seriously (regard this as magical or supernatural). ....... continued

Ted Davis - #71969

August 16th 2012

Just a footnote on alchemy. Alchemy (or alchymy, which gave rise to chymistry, giving rise to chemistry) *was* chemistry during the Scientific Revolution, and it resembles modern chemistry a great deal, if we focus on laboratory practices, hardware (glass receptacles, furnaces, stills, and other ceramic stuff), and even the general goal of understanding what matter is and how it works. The main differences involved attitudes about knowledge: keep it secret (which modern chemists also like to do, before they publish), even after you publish (by using words symbolicaly, decipherable only by other adepti, if at all); by a consequent tendency toward charlatanism (of which neither Boyle nor Newton was guilty); and, by the age-old, sensible belief (at the time) that gold can be manufactured from other substances (something we can do today by nuclear, not chemical, means). Those differences are important, but they don’t prove fatal to alchemy until the early 18th century—a time when (it’s worth remembering) there still was no periodic table, or even a modern list of elements.

Three of the greatest minds of the late 17th century—Boyle, Newton, and John Locke (who knew Boyle well enough to be an executor of his will)—were highly interested in alchemy, and at least two of them were immersed in it up to their ears, Newton perhaps even more so than Boyle.

GJDS - #71973

August 16th 2012

Your comments on alchemy are spot on Ted; I would add two points. The thinking of alchemists (and Boyle) was strongly influenced by ‘pagan’ thinkers (I am sure you can identify the prominant ones better then I can) and this makes them look ‘suspicious’ through the lens of history. Most (if not all) major advances in Chemistry (and I suspect science in general) strongly correlate with the apparatus available, most of which was the product of alchemists, or improvements on these. This is similar to the importance of the telescope to Galilieo and others.

GJDS - #71941

August 15th 2012

..... continued

Evolution claims to explain all bio-species on this earth but constantly faces insurmountable hurdles on dealing with life itself. It is a bio-science without the ‘bio-’.

What does all of this have to do with TE (or ID for that matter)? The project by ‘these tents’ cannot be divorced from science, metaphysics, and theology. I referred to the serious problem of attributes of God; Orthodox Christianity places attributes of God central to the Christian Faith.  God is not limited in some way to ‘twiddling His fingers’ while waiting for billions of years. How would this banal view differ is we envisage Him waiting for a few million years for the next variation in the evolutionary process; or do we decide to direct God to intervene from time to time so that we have a comfortable explanation/description. I use this language to emphasise a point; science provides us with data and observations. It is up to us to use or misuse what science provides. In my view, the heterodoxy of Newton and Boyle has continued to this day and is present in activities such as TE and ID.

Can we improve the situation? Can we deal with science without becoming conflicted with passages in the Bible? I think we can; however, we need to ‘step away’ from daily activities of science, and identify the fundamental precepts that science has provided thus far. We should seek what is true. These things include the Universal constants, such as the charge on an electron, the speed of light, the Planck constant, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, just to mentioned a few. I also think we should then ask a question that has been around for along time, “how is it that we can find these constant in Nature?” This question speaks to us as human intelligent beings. We may add, “Is this how the Creation speaks of God’s glory?”

It is a personal question and Christians may arrive at their personal view. And on what keeps God busy? I think saving humanity from it sinful ways would keep God and all of the Apostles very busy, work we would describe as 24/7.

Jon Garvey - #71944

August 16th 2012


It appears to me that a lot of the difficulties Christians have within, or about, theistic evolution involve a mismatch between different metaphysical systems, or to put it another way, importing a naturalist metaphysic along with the empirical part of “evolution” into the “theistic” part of the equation. This seems to be what people like Eddie and GJDS have been getting at in part.

For example, in naturalistic science “natural law” is an absolute. But natural law, as a concept, is a human, not a divine, construct. As a theological concept there is no basis for comparing it directly with the moral law that reflects his essential character. So natural law has only a loose theological basis in God’s preferred way of acting, his faithfulness and so on - there is nothing to say that he can’t bypass it to act in the world directly at any time. There are various theoretical approaches to that - I’m rather drawn to James Maxwell’s.

Yet many TE’s, adopting the naturalist view of law, make God subject to it either absolutely or, like Polkinghorne of Russell, require him to find “loopholes” like chaos or quantum theory, or be guilty of “breaking his own laws”. Divine action then becomes a suspect or difficult category quite unnecessarily.

Similarly, the discussion of randomness can involve naturalistic assumptions. Haarsma’s definition of random as “unpredictable” is fine, but many discussions on BioLogos have revolved around the idea that “unpredictable” is an absolute involving God as well as us. Where the unpredictability is simply because of our limited computational ability, then maybe God can foresee what we can’t, but only as part of a deterministic Newtonian universe. He can see, but can’t touch. Where the randomness is scientifically truly indeterminate, as in quantum mechanics, the default position seems to be (except in Russell’s case) that God to has to live with that indeterminacy too. He’s watching like the rest of us to see how the dice fall. That seems to me a direct case of naturalistic metaphysics trumpic the theistic metaphysics of ominsicience, omnipotence, etc that ought to underlie a truly theistic evoloutionary viewpoint.

Ted Davis - #71971

August 16th 2012


If I read you correctly, you’re suggesting that “open theism” resulted from “naturalistic metaphysics” winning out over traditional theism.

If so, I don’t agree.

Caveat: I know relatively little about “open theism” and less about its history. I’ve said that I don’t like to refer to wikipedia, unless I already know it’s accurate, but I’ll break that rule here, potentially at my risk. If they are even in the ballpark for accuracy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_theism), then open theism is rooted in theological currents that are very old, even if it emerged as an identifiable position only very recently. I’ve read some defenses of open theism and some debates involving open theism, and I don’t recall seeing any arguments coming out of “naturalistic metaphysics.” I’ve seen arguments from the Bible, and others based on the philosophy of religion (arguments that are about God’s character and knowledge, not upon nature or naturalism in any way), but none that would indicate that open theism has a basis in QM or naturalistic philosophy. Open theists might be encouraged by the standard interpretation of QM, but their concerns are quite different. I think it would be more accurate to say, that some open theists bring their theology to bear on science, rather than the other way around. Certainly this is true for Polkinghorne, who believes that it’s logically contradictory to affirm classical omniscience alongside genuine human freedom. He’s no Calvinist (as you probably know), so he resolves that by discarding classical omniscience. (This is similar to the way in which many ID people discard “Darwinism,” because they believe that genuine randomness in nature contradicts both biblical theology and divine sovereignty. Given their belief, the conclusion follows sensibly.)

Let me add that the list of Christian philosophers (leaving the theologians out of this) who are open theists (according to wiki) is pretty impressive. Perhaps some of them shouldn’t be there; I don’t know enough to say in every case, but I know several of them are accurately placed there, and I know some other leading people who should be on it. I’m not convinced about open theism, myself, but I’m convinced that it’s important to some very important Christian thinkers who are otherwise orthodox (in terms of the ecumenical creeds).

Jon Garvey - #71978

August 17th 2012


If I read you correctly, you’re suggesting that “open theism” resulted from “naturalistic metaphysics” winning out over traditional theism.

I wasn’t really considering Open Theism at all in my argument here. I was coming at it more from the scientific possibility of “design” in its broadest sense. I’m aware of some of the history of OT, and also that many TE’s even of a “naturalistic” bent don’t subscribe to it. The process I suggested, however, may perhaps explain why a disproportionate number of TEs are drawn to Open Theism.

I was considering more the deeply inculcated conviction in those trained in the natural sciences (including myself at one time) that natural law is inviolable axiomatically. That overlaps with a vague Newtonian idea of physical determinism in biology (many of us life-sciences people never needed to get our heads round relativity or quantum theory). Those are what I consider “imported naturalistic presuppositions” to TE.

Combine inviolable law with determinism and you have an evolutionary process that God “can’t” oversee directly because science (not theology) forbids it, but which he might send on its way adequately enough through the reliability of natural processes.

The very fact that divine action has been explored as per the Templeton article shows that the more hands-on traditional account of God’s activity is still very much on the table. My only objection is that the divine action project gives undue weight to the inviolability of natural law - it asks if God can act in the world, rather than simply hypothesising on how. To some extent I share the skepticism voiced by some in that article about how important actual mechanisms are - intellectually interesting, but less important than demonstraing philosophically (and affirming theologically) that God can act, ie that “theistic evolution” (as opposed to “deistic evolution”) is not an oxymoron.

The theodical issues are, in my view, separate, though views that seem to preclude direct divine action obviously provide a useful bolthole for those unhappy with the world as created. But as many have pointed out, God is not exonerated finally by saying he has granted creation autonomy - especially when that autonomy (in the non-human area) is a rather vague and insentient combination of law and randomness. The theodical problem of why God acts in a particular is simply replaced with another set of problems about why he lets his machine get out of control.

But as I’ve said before, the very fact of proposing any degree of divine action (via chaos, quantum mechanics or just having faith that he acts in some way) keeps those theodical issues in the frame - if he acts at all, why does he not act differently? Therefore theodicy seems not a good foundation for determining ones theory of creation: “God wouldn’t do it that way” is always a subjective judgement.

Regarding human free will, I still don’t accept that it necessitates “autonomy” in the non-human creation. Whilst not a philosopher, I suspect the “problem” of free will in this area only arises from post-Cartesian concepts of will as individual human autonomy, rather than the older ideas of freedom as the liberty to achieve ones true nature individually, in relation to others and in relation to ones Creator. I don’t really see why the field of theistic evolution should favour one particular theological view of freedom over another, when the principal object of study is biology, not anthroplogy.

Chip - #71958

August 16th 2012

Hello Ted,

One more, if I may. You say:

God used the process of evolution to create living things, including humans.

I was wondering if you might elaborate on this a little. God used it… how? Did he wind up natural selection and turn it loose to go its own way? Was it all programmed in advance to arrive at a certain predetermined outcome? Did he nudge or guide it along the way?  If so, how, when, why, and how do we know?  And finally, is any of this—even theoretically—scientifically detectable, or is the “God used…” part of the definition rooted in philosophical/theological assumptions alone? 

Thanks again for a good discussion, and the invitation to pose questions.

Ted Davis - #71966

August 16th 2012

For Jon and GJDS:

Excellent comments. I can’t hope to attempt a detailed history of natural law, even if I had the time to try (which I don’t), but it’s a very important and relevant topic.

For Jon: Conceptions of omniscience & omnipotence are equally important and relevant. TE does play into this, but for the type of TE I’m writing about here I don’t see TE driving the conceptions. Rather, I think it’s the other way around—theological conceptions formed for other reasons drive the interpretation of evolution. I say this mainly for those who formulate such views in the first place—the actual TE theorists, not the popularizers (most of us who write for BioLogos), people such as Russell and Polkinghorne, who work at the center of theology and science. They differ with one another about this, often fundamentally, yet they hold to a TE view similar to the one described here. For more about the divine action question (related closely to omnipotence & omniscience), see Zeeya Merali, “Physics of the Divine,” Discover (March 2011): 49-52 (http://www.templeton-cambridge.org/fellows/showarticle.php?article=744).

Ted Davis - #71967

August 16th 2012


I’m glad you find this conversation worth your time.

The answers I find most helpful are discussed at http://biologos.org/blog/series/the-god-who-acts-robert-russell-on-divine-intervention-and-divine-action.

I can’t do better than that myself, so I won’t try.

GJDS - #71972

August 16th 2012

Thanks for the link Ted. I may suggest the quote of the day,

“a lawyer with some training in physics, Saunders admits he is “not a fan” of such theories—not so much because they yield bad science as because they lead to bad theology.”

Francis - #71968

August 16th 2012

“How would Christians react if in 50 years, an engineering or mechanistic view is used to understand bio-systems, and most of the historical data used to support Darwin’s view were re-thought? Scientists will say, ‘that is how science operates’. Religious people however, will need to deal with errors swallowed without questioning the truth content of the idea.” – GJDS

Should historic, traditional religious ideas and truth-teachings be servant to science? (cf. Mat 24:35)


“… let’s please leave the arguments at a level where Truth might emerge.” – Ted Davis

How would we recognize the truth of evolution should such truth emerge?


“I don’t like to see myself as a culture warrior, primarily b/c Truth is often one of the first casualties in such combat—and Truth is mighty important to me. Others might think that I can’t avoid it, given the topic I’m writing about. I detest politically-driven conceptions of “truth” ” – Ted Davis

“What is truth?” – Pontius Pilate

Given that evolution theory has not been proven true, and that evolution theory does not have anywhere close to enough compelling scientific evidence to convince many (e.g. me) of its truth, then how could the “truth” of evolution so far revealed be anything other than  “politically-driven conceptions of “truth””?

Gregory - #71979

August 17th 2012

“Help me stay on course, everyone.” – Ted (#71963)

Here then is my advice; keep ‘design’ and ‘design’ plus ‘intelligence’ (both small-id and Big-ID) out of this thread and the next two in this series as much as possible. If not, then the notion will appear that part of the ‘theistic evolution’ definition you are proposing and promoting is that it is ‘not-design’ or even ‘anti-design.’ And I don’t think this is what you mean or wish to convey.

[It’s kind of like some Canadians; if you ask them what it means to be a Canadian, their first response will be given in the negative, to state what Canadians are not.]

Let’s have the focus here placed on (varieties of) TE and try to clarify what it (they) mean(s) to people today and what it (they) meant to people in the past and how these meanings differ or are similar. This would allow people like Jon Garvey to focus on and state their views as clearly and directly as possible because otherwise we will get no clarification on what TE means or could mean. I had thought that was (one of) the purpose(s) of dividing this series into topical sections.

For example, I asked if there is one single evolutionary process or multiple evolutionary processes involved in ‘theistic evolution’ and consider this a very important question, raised by T. Dobzhansky, J. Huxley and many others.

Once your ID articles are published, Ted, a flurry of comparisons and TE/EC and/vs. ID community talk can begin. Otherwise, we’d be getting ahead of ourselves, since we don’t know how you define ‘intelligent design/Intelligent Design.’ Likewise, much more work is needed to clarify what is meant about, as you say, “other types of TE, some of which are not (in my opinion) sufficiently biblical, or even sufficiently Christian, to be part of this series.” I think your message to Jon about ‘open theism’ helps on this front. No doubt he will have thoughts about TE and/vs. open theism to express.

Rather than speaking about ID, which is (debatable) marginally important to TE, this thread should instead work toward understanding TE, partly so that people “don’t tar all TEs with the same brush—something that happens all too often elsewhere.” 

How does that sound?


Gregory - #71981

August 17th 2012

Here are three questions/statements from commentors on the same theme, to which I add another question below:

“why does BL always seem to want to defend a position of de-facto naturalism?” – Chip

“Once origins themselves are explained naturalistically, God then becomes unnecessary except as a remote first cause” – Eddie

“importing a naturalist metaphysic along with the empirical part of ‘evolution’ into the ‘theistic’ part of the equation,” and of “naturalistic metaphysics trumpi[ng] the theistic metaphysics.” – Jon

My question: Is ‘theistic evolution’ a ‘naturalistic’ approach to origins and processes of change or not?

One answer to this is ‘obviously not;’ just look at the ‘theism’ qualifier. This is what it seems  many people miss in the capital ‘L’ in BioLogos. I interpret it immediately as (attempting to be) denoting a non-naturalistic approach to biology, even though biology is a natural science.

That raises another question that may actually come before the above question: is it even possible for a natural scientist, i.e. who uses natural scientific methods and works with natural scientific theories, to be a non-naturalist nowadays? And if so, how? This question gets at the possibility of how BioLogos natural scientists (i.e. not Ted Davis, Thomas Burnett, Mark Sprinkle, Stephen Mapes or Laura Landmann) can (and perhaps do) allow their theology to influence or to integrate with their natural sciences in the terms ‘theistic evolution’ or ‘evolutionary creation.’ As the above statements show, people are questioning if BioLogos natural scientists are able to do that.

Jon Garvey writes: “I was considering more the deeply inculcated conviction in those trained in the natural sciences (including myself at one time) that natural law is inviolable axiomatically… Those are what I consider ‘imported naturalistic presuppositions’ to TE.”

Doesn’t that mean that as a TE proponent trained in the natural sciences, Jon is also necessarily a ‘naturalist,’ i.e. that he also has ‘imported naturalistic presuppositions’ into his TE?

Adding methodological vs. metaphysical (or ‘open’) qualifiers to ‘naturalism’ simply serves to confuse the main issue, which is first and foremost to address (naked) ‘naturalism’ and ‘natural sciences.’ Doesn’t TE inevitably embrace ‘naturalism’ *because* it embraces ‘responsible’ natural sciences (e.g. CTNS)? How could TE possibly reject (or un-embrace) ‘naturalism’ while at the same time embracing ‘responsible’ natural sciences?

Jon Garvey - #71982

August 17th 2012


Wrt the three quotes from Chip, Eddie and myself. It must surely be legitimate to question what is actually entailed when someone combines the two words “theistic evolution”. The bare term does not guarantee that either word is being used legitimately or coherently.

A country may call itself “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” and still be an oppressive dictatorship. Less extremely, a genuinely entitled “democratic republic” may warrant external or internal criticism for acting in a less than democratic way in some instance, or even criticism for the esoteric model of democracy it follows.

When terms are instantiated in institutions, they become more than mere definitions. One can, and must, ask if the insitutions are restricting or distorting the understanding of the term and so on. Otherwise “The Orthodox Church” would be orthodox not because it guarded its apostolic doctrine, but because it was orthodox by definition.

“Doesn’t that mean that… Jon is also a naturalist…?”

I guess it would mean that only if someone who was “at one time” trained in atheism automatically imports atheistic presuppositions into TE, though they had been a Christian for half a century since. “Naturalism” in this context is clearly not “the study of nature” but philosophical naturalism:

Naturalism commonly refers to the viewpoint that laws of nature (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the universe, and that nothing exists beyond the natural universe, or if it does, it does not affect the natural universe (Wikipedia).

Such naturalism clearly is incompatible with theistic evolution, and would tend to distort it if elements of it were unconsciously assumed. Specifically “[supernatural laws] do not affect the natural universe” would mean that a theistic God who acts imminently in his universe would be excluded - a detached deistic God would be the most that could be admitted, which would render “theistic evolution” a misnomer for such a view.

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