Why I am not a ‘theistic evolutionist,’ etc., part 2

In the first part of this discussion, I objected to the idea that the modifier “theistic” in “theistic evolution,” might simply refer to the believe held by us theists of God’s pervasive providence.

The problem, we noted, is that if we’re talking about God’s constant presence in all things, that can’t explain the use of this word in this exceptional way. If “theistic evolution” means only that God is present in the process of evolution in the same way that God is present in the process of photosynthesis, then why should we feel compelled to speak of theistic evolution but never of theistic photosynthesis?

We don’t use that word that way. So how do we actually use this word “theistic”?

One way is in order to distinguish something from its binary opposite. We may say that something is “theistic” in order to clarify that it is not “atheistic.”

I think this brings us closer to what may be intended by this phrase “theistic evolution,” that it may be an attempt to clarify that we are not speaking of “atheistic evolution.”

But that begs the question instead of answering it. And yet again we find ourselves up against the implication that evolution is some kind of special case — specifically that, somehow, it carries some unique presumption of atheisticity (atheisticality?). And that, in turn, brings us back to the same problem: Why should we imagine some presumed quality attached to evolution when we do not make the same presumption about any of the myriad other natural processes we have also observed and studied?

Again, it would seem weird to speak of atheistic photosynthesis or atheistic quantum physics or atheistic fusion because we correctly understand that metaphysical claims of atheism or theism are wholly separate and distinct from what we can observe and learn and know about these physical processes. The same ought to be true for evolution, unless evolution is some kind of special case.

But evolution is not a special case. It is not magically imbued with some intrinsic metaphysical aspect that separates it from all of those other processes.

So what is it about evolution that makes us keep trying to treat it as an exception, as though it is a special case?

One guess is that it has something to do with the Bible — with the idea that evolution is unique because, unlike photosynthesis, it seems to contradict the words of scripture.

But evolution is not unique in this regard, and this still cannot account for why we seem so determined to singled out evolution and not, for example, the germ theory of disease, or a heliocentric model of the solar system.

In order to perceive the alleged conflict between the Bible — specifically, the creation stories in Genesis 1-3 — and the reality of evolution, one has to employ a particular hermeneutic, a particular system for interpreting the Bible. That hermeneutic is selectively and spastically literalistic, disregarding the metaphysical concerns of the ancient storytellers and twisting them into modern-style scientific and historical claims. Apply that same hermeneutic to the rest of the Bible and evolution will not be the only natural process that conflicts with “what the Bible says.” This hermeneutic also demands the thorough rejection of modern medicine, of meteorology and of astronomy. Yet few of the Christians who deny the reality of evolution “because of the Bible” seem equally eager to deny the reality of any of those other “unbiblical” natural processes.

And, more to the point, Christians who happily accept the reality of all of those other processes are not called on to qualify that acceptance by saying they only believe in theistic disease, or theistic meteorology, or theistic astronomy.

And that point also illustrates another reason I’m uncomfortable with the label “theistic evolutionist” and the term “theistic evolution.” Imagine you meet a local news weather forecaster at a party. “Ah, so you’re a meteorologist?” you ask.

“Well, actually,” she says, “I’m a theistic meteorologist.”

That distinction, you would reasonably suspect, implies that she’s referring to something distinct — that, whatever it means, “theistic meteorology” refers to something different from and something other than that which we typically refer to as simply “meteorology,” without such qualification.

Might something like that be what that odd phrase “theistic evolution” is meant to imply? Is it meant to suggest that we’re talking about something distinct from and other than simple, unqualified “evolution” — something other than the natural process we have observed and studied and fruitfully built upon as the foundation for all of biology?

I hope not, because then we’d be back to that old will-o-the-wisp of the god of the gaps. And that ever-diminishing entity doesn’t strike me as a deity worth bothering to believe in.

I noted in the previous post that we refer to people who believe in the existence of God — people like me — as “theists.” And we thus also refer to the beliefs of such people as “theistic.” But it would be idiomatically awkward and unnatural to describe a theist as “theistic.” That’s not how we use that word. “Theistic” is not an adjective we usually attach to people. It’s an adjective we usually use to qualify metaphysics.

And this is why that phrase “theistic evolution” — just like its counterpart, “atheistic evolution” — seems inelegant and strange. It begs the metaphysical question. It presumes that evolution is intrinsically metaphysical in a way that other natural processes are not. It treats evolution as a special case.

But evolution is not a special case. It is no more intrinsically metaphysical than photosynthesis, or condensation, or thermodynamics.

Just like those other processes, evolution makes no claims as to the existence or non-existence of God. Nor does it require us to make or to reject any such claim.

If a theist at sea level heats water to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the water will boil. If an atheist does the same thing under the same conditions, the atheist will get the same result. There is no such thing as the “theistic boiling point of water.” The boiling point of water is not contingent upon the metaphysical perspective of any given human who might be observing it. Nor is evolution.

Evolution is not a special case.

  • The_L1985

    Because for some people, belief in one or more gods gives a feeling of comfort.

    Because some people have experiences that they interpret as being of one or more gods.

    Because their parents believed in Deity X, so by golly they’re going to believe in Deity X, too.

    There are many reasons why people believe in gods, and they generally have more to do with emotion than reason.  Please do not discount the HUGE importance that such emotional influences can have on many people.

  • The_L1985

     Er…evolution was suspected by many scientists long before Darwin entered the scene.  Darwin just happened to be the first to publish a book detailing a verifiable method of evolution.

    See also: Lamarck, Linnaeus.

  • AnonymousSam

    But evolution is not unique in this regard, and this still cannot account for why we seem so determined to singled out evolution and not, for example, the germ theory of disease, or a heliocentric model of the solar system.

    Perhaps not en masse, but it most certainly is happening in small groups here and there. Christian Scientists seem to trip over germ theory on a regular basis, while Ken Ham feels the need to paint germ theory with a religious perspective (trigger warning: AAAAAARGHHHHHH).

    Likewise, I’ve had regular arguments with people on youtube who feel the need to argue that the Earth is not, in fact, orbiting the sun.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    You’re not the first to think so; there is a Marvel Universe character named The High Evolutionary, although he’s not always a villain.  He’s been, at various times, both an ally and an antagonist to the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and several other Marvel superheroes and heroic organizations.

  • The_L1985

     I was just giving an example, honestly.  I certainly don’t believe atheism originated in Greece and Rome, just that it existed there.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I’ll point out, as a parallel, that the Catholic Church considers the Big Bang theory to be entirely consistent with their understanding of scripture.

    At the time the Big Bang theory was first proposed, the major skepticism it faced from the scientific community was that it was silly and superstitious to suppose that the universe had a beginning, and hadn’t simply always existed for an infinite amount of time in the past.

    Atheism was a consistent position prior to Darwin, because “There was no ‘origin’ of species, they just always have been*” is an entirely consistent position. It wasn’t until *after* Darwin that it became sensible to frame the evidence we were seeing in the natural world as pointing to there being any sort of progression.

    (* Modulo “From time to time a new species might emerge or an old one die out but there’s no rhyme or reason to it”)

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Sorry, I wasn’t being clear–I was agreeing with you; I didn’t think you thought that.  :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    I’m not sure something that has “no role in the universe past or present” can be said to exist, at least not without stretching the definition of “exist” farther than I’d be willing to stretch it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    In what sense can’t the existence of love, beauty, art, basic human rights, or compassion be proven using scientific methods?  Human behavior, human perception, human mental states, and human social constructs are all things we can and do study scientifically, and the actual things that are denoted by the words you used each fall into one or more of those categories.

  • Flying Squid with Goggles

    Despite the wisdom of Pratchett’s Death shared above, Love is an emergent property of organisms and can be observed and (not ethically) subjected to experimentation; despite the inability to locate a molecule or atom of it.

    As to whether something outside the realm of experimentation on ethical grounds, much as the common descent of large eukaryotic organisms is outside the realm of experimentation on practical grounds, is still science.

    Observational study is largely overlooked in primary and secondary education as a part of the scientific method… But it is critically important to evolutionary biology, as it is to the closely related sciences of Loveology and Lustography.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    Here’s a better link for “regular arguments with people on YouTube.”  See also this and the alt-text to this.

  • AnonymousSam

    Bwahaha. Well, to be fair, my half of the argument tends to happen in private space where I’m not particularly concerned about getting a reply. ~_^

  • Bob Wheeler

    For what it’s worth Francis Collins professes to be a theistic evolutionist, which he also calls “BioLogos,” and distinguishes it from Intelligent Design.  His position is this: God engineered the Big Bang, and then evolution proceeded in a purely naturalistic fashion.  Human beings, however are unique, apparently the result of some sort of divine intervention.
    There are, I think, some problems with his position, however.  If we accept, for the sake of the argument, that a process of evolution took place, we have three options.  1) God engineered the original event, and then evolution proceeded through an long chain of causality so that the final outcome was predetermined.  But this involves a kind of mechanistic determinism.  2) Evolution is a guided process, with God acting through natural causes to guide the process.  3) Evolution is a completely unguided natural process, and God had nothing to do with the result.  For all practical purposes option # is atheistic — if God exists, He has nothing to do with the natural world in which we live. 

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Although quite credulous in other ways, Collins is quite useful for one reason: his position that the DNA evidence alone is quite enough for evolution, even if we ignore the fossil record.  It’s a nice point against those believers who think that fossils were planted by Satan to mislead us.

  • Carstonio

    My point has nothing to do with measurability, and I didn’t say that concepts or feelings were separate from objects or beings. I was contending that they were distinct classes. The first class is of things that depend on humans for continued existence, while the second class would continue to exist if humans ceased to exist. Money as a concept requires the existence of humans, and if either the concept or the humans disappeared, the bits of metal and paper formerly used as currency would still exist. 

    The second class also includes past events such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor. If humans lost all knowledge and records of the event, the bombing itself still would have happened. It wouldn’t be like someone went back in time and changed history so the bombing never took place, although the distinction might not have any practical relevance.

    What is relevant is that if a god exists, or if it doesn’t, this would be the case regardless of what humans believed or didn’t believe, or even if humans didn’t exist. The samek would hold if that god had any role in the creation of the universe or of life. The level of ability by humans to detect or measure an object or phenomenon doesn’t change its existence.

  • Carstonio

    I should have said no active role, since such a god could be a observer.

  • Carstonio

    Despite my respect for Collins’ scientific achievements, he’s just as guilty as anyone else of using god-of-the-gaps thinking. He strongly doubts that evolution can explain the existence of the moral sense.

  • Worthless Beast

    My sentiments exactly.  I don’t understand what’s so bad about being “one of the animals.”  I love animals. Beasts, birds and bugs are magnificent. Being connected to other forms of life is something I find a compliment.

    Or maybe it’s just that I wish I was born a cat instead of a human. There’s that, too.

  • swbarnes2

    What is relevant is that if a god exists, or if it doesn’t, this would be the case regardless of what humans believed or didn’t believe, or even if humans didn’t exist…  The level of ability by humans to detect or measure an object or phenomenon doesn’t change its existence.

    But it affects our ability to reasonably conclude that the thing exists.  We don’t have Platonic truth detectors.  We only have empirical reality-checking to get rid of wrong stuff.

    We have to stick with what we can detect.  If we drift away from that, we drift away from reality.  When we make mistakes, we figure that out when we are able to detect we are wrong.  But you can’t start out by assuming that things are the way you wish them to be when there’s no evidence that that’s the case.

    And again, this a strawman, because almost no believers believe in an undetectable God.  Most believers believe in a God who should be detectable, and one of the big problems with evolution is there ought to be evidence of a merciful and loving God, or at least some God who detectably creates life, but that’s not what the evidence is at all.

  • Carstonio

    I hope you didn’t mistake my post as an argument for assuming the existence of undetectable objects or phenomena. I’ve often said that I cannot reject the possibility of things that may exist beyond my perception, with the operative word bring “may.” I don’t know if they exist or not so I take no position.

    And I have almost no idea what constitutes a Platonic truth, except for this: http://newepicurean.com/?p=2517

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

    I’m aware that evolution is a solidly based scientific theory. My point is that the evidence for it in the present is subtle and/or small-scale. People who find it impossible to believe that humans are descended from fish will not be impressed by the relatively small changes in the Wikipedia article. They will probably describe them as “micro-evolution” or “change within a created kind”.

  • Jay

    Major scientific discoveries generally get attributed to a single person, despite having contributions from many people and usually concurrent discovery in multiple sites.  If I write about “Darwin’s influence”, please understand that it means the same thing to me as “the cultural influence of the theory of evolution”, but takes fewer characters to type.

    On the other hand, if you think there’s something relevant in Lamarck or Linnaeus that Darwin and subsequent scientists left out, please feel free to elaborate on it.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    I don’t know if they exist or not so I take no position.

    Of course, this isn’t always an option. If I adopt your stance, then I can’t reject the possibility of an omnipotent entity willing to subject me to an eternity of suffering because of my relationship with my husband. It may exist or may not.

    But that’s inadequate, really, because I have to make some decision about my husband, and my relative levels of confidence in the existence or nonexistence of that entity affect that decision. If I continue my relationship with my husband, it’s either because I don’t believe in such an entity, or because I think our relationship is worth an eternity of suffering… and, fond as I am of the guy, I have to admit it’s more the former.

    And like that, a host of other entities either exist or don’t, where their relationship to decisions I have to make one way or another requires that I take more of a stance than “may exist, may not.”

    In general, the stance I take is “in the absence of evidence indicating that it exists, I act as though it doesn’t.”

  • PJ Evans

    and Alfred Wallace.

  • Carstonio

    That stance is reasonable because the burden of proof is on anyone who claims that such suffering awaits. Fundamentalists in both Christianity and Islam make opposite claims about eternal suffering, one if the person believes Jesus to be mortal and the other if the person believes him to be divine, and apparently neither group considers the possibility that they’re both wrong.

  • Joshua


    The fossil record is never going to be that complete, and DNA evidence requires a great deal of interpretation 

    Well, the fossil record isn’t complete but it is extensive, and one-sidedly in favour of an evolving tree of life. DNA evidence requires interpretation, but as far as settling evolution vs young-earth creationism, the interpretation has been done and the results are in.

    People who find it impossible to believe that humans are descended from fish

    My understanding is that work done in comparison of DNA does indeed show the common descent of humans, fish, giraffes and indeed yeast and bacteria. In detail, and with a good deal of consistency.

    So I think evolution is pretty much as hard to challenge as meteorology or astronomy. The (many, many) parts of astronomy that directly conflict with young-earth creationism themselves rely on current snapshots of what are theorised to be long-term processes, just like evolution.

    And also, Disqus sucks for stealing the middle-click gesture for its own Satanic purposes. I lost most of this comment.

  • Joshua


    I work in evolutionary biology, and people occasionally ask me what it would take to make me stop “believing” in evolution.  I’m at a loss to answer. 

    In response to the crack-smoking YEC accusation that evolution is an untestable faith and not science, I’ve seen the answer that a rabbit fossil in a pre-cambrian stratum would disprove evolution. Your post seems to imply that you would disagree. So, if I may ask, how would a pre-cambrian rabbit, assuming you were made confident of the dating and that the fossil had been undisturbed since Cambrian times, change your understanding of evolution?

    Also,

    Genes that apparently come from the Neanderthal lineage appear in modern humans, and they appear specifically in populations whose ancestors shared territory with Neanderthals–not in southern African populations, for example.

    I thought that the idea that interbreeding between H sapiens and Neanderthals was possible was far from settled. Do you think that some kind of consensus has emerged, or is it still controversial?

  • Loki100

    The (many, many) parts of astronomy that directly conflict with young-earth creationism themselves rely on current snapshots of what are theorised to be long-term processes, just like evolution.

    I once pointed out to a young Earth creationist that light from multiple billions of years ago hits Earth. He claimed that the light was made en route. I pointed out that this means God created images of things that never happened (such as supernovas), which means he just claimed his God was a deceiver, and therefore not a being worthy of worship.

  • PJ Evans

     It’s apparently becoming more accepted. I was reading last weekend about Denisovian genes being more likely to show up in Pacific Islanders, and particularly Australian natives; apparently that group of people went southeast from central Asia.

  • Joshua

    The one I’ve heard a little more often is that the speed of light just used to be a lot faster than now, like, by a factor of billions.

    We don’t notice the change in speed of light now, because the speed of light has been set to a fixed value by the Satanic weights-and-measures people.

    Full-blown conspiracy theorists.

  • Loki100

    I’ve heard that as well. Except, from my admittedly limited understanding of physics, wouldn’t the speed of light changing effectively destroy the entire universe?

  • Joshua

    By Satanic weights-and-measures people, I’m being hyperbolic obviously. It’s not a direct quote. What the creationists were referring to I think is this: http://www.bipm.org/utils/common/pdf/si_brochure_8_en.pdf, Section 2.1.1.1

  • Joshua


    Except, from my admittedly limited understanding of physics, wouldn’t the speed of light changing effectively destroy the entire universe? 

    Well it would certainly blow some minds. I don’t know what current theories would predict would happen if the speed of light changed. I doubt Einstein’s Relativity could do it at all; as far as I understand it, Einstein assumed it was constant and went from there. Invalidating the assumption would invalidate the whole theory, making it unable to make predictions at all.

    However, the proof is in the pudding. If measurements actually supported c slowing down, it would be the theories that have to adjust to cope, since the universe hadn’t been destroyed last I checked.

    Disclaimer: Didn’t study much physics after high school, and not anything relevant to this discussion.

  • Loki100

    Well it would certainly blow some minds. I don’t know what current theories would predict would happen if the speed of light changed. I doubt Einstein’s Relativity could do it at all; as far as I understand it, Einstein assumed it was constant and went from there. Invalidating the assumption would invalidate the whole theory, making it unable to make predictions at all.

    Yeah. Again, limited understanding here, but from everything I remember, massive, massive chunks of physics are based on the principal that the speed of light is constant. If it was changing, as far as I could tell, it would pretty much invalidate all of physics (or at least require insane adjustment to basically everything).

  • Joshua

    I was reading last weekend about Denisovian genes being more likely to show up in Pacific Islanders, and particularly Australian natives; apparently that group of people went southeast from central Asia.

    I read about that. Actually, I read the Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denisova_hominin) which looked to me like one of the unusually weak ones. Maybe I need to read more widely about it. However, it seems to me that they’re inferring a hell of a lot from a very small amount of evidence, even assuming they really have sequenced nearly the entire genome of the sample they found. They’ve found, like, two or three small bones from two individuals. From that, they’ve inferred a new species, dates of most recent common ancestors, and talking about hybrids with both Neanderthals and H sapiens.

    Surely there can be no idea of the amount of variability of genes in the alleged species. If hybridisation is possible, and turns up twice when only two individuals have been found, you have to question whether it’s a separate species at all. Or if it is, the common characteristics between the Denisovian toe and Neanderthal’s toes came from a common ancestor rather than hybridisation. Or, you know, that particular Denisovian just had a funny-shaped toe. Sample sizes matter.

    Not having read the paper, I have no idea whether the similarity between the Denisovian genome and that of melanesians might be just a coincidence. However, it may be that they each just happen to preserve variants present in our common ancestor that other populations have lost.

    I mean, have we even sequenced more than just individual Neanderthal genes yet? They’re just as recent, in just as cold environments, and far better attested. I haven’t heard of it.

  • Joshua

    Oh yeah.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I thought that the idea that interbreeding between H sapiens and Neanderthals was possible was far from settled. Do you think that some kind of consensus has emerged, or is it still controversial?
     
    As awesome a read as Clan of the Cave Bear was (…I was in seventh grade stop looking at me like that), I thought expert opinion was tilting towards the commonalities between Homo sapiens and Neandertals being due to recent common ancestry rather than to interbreeding.

  • EllieMurasaki

    his God was a deceiver, and therefore not a being worthy of worship.
     
    Not necessarily contradictory–Loki, Anansi, Coyote. Though I do keep hearing people who believe in pantheons that include trickster gods saying things like ‘I am keeping a very clear separation in my head between Avengers!Loki and Norse!Loki because Norse!Loki finds me quite amusing enough already’, or ‘anybody who asks Coyote for help deserves exactly what they get’. So I suppose it depends on one’s definition of ‘worship’, and probably also on one’s definition of ‘god’.

  • Loki100

    Not necessarily contradictory–Loki, Anansi, Coyote.

    Hey, look at my user name.

    So I suppose it depends on one’s definition of ‘worship’, and probably also on one’s definition of ‘god’.

    I agree with all of this.  But there is a difference between a being in a pantheon of gods being a trickster, and an omnipotent monotheistic deity being intentionally creating a reality that looks one way when it actually isn’t, just for the sake of testing the beings who live in that reality’s faith.

    In particular the God that fundamentalist Christians claim to worship, can’t be reconciled with a deity who lies.

    Although I think there is an interesting idea for a book in all this. Where a trickster god convinces people that he is the monotheistic god.

  • Nathaniel

     Most recent thing I read on the topic indicated DNA evidence of Neanderthal ancestry for some Europeans.

    But I just read this in the papers, and I’m no scientist.

  • Mary Kaye

    Joshua wrote:

    So, if I may ask, how would a
    pre-cambrian rabbit, assuming you were made confident of the dating and
    that the fossil had been undisturbed since Cambrian times, change your
    understanding of evolution?

    It would be darned puzzling, but it wouldn’t disprove evolution–to do so it would have to challenge the experimental evidence for evolution, and it doesn’t.  (If you leave critters around in an environment, they evolve.  Every year or two the yeast cultures in the lab next to mine re-evolve the trick where they climb up the sides of the chemostat and into the sterile medium chamber, and that particular experiment has to be thrown out.)  And it would have to challenge the DNA evidence for relatedness, which it doesn’t.  (The genes that establish the segmentation in fruit fly bodies are distinctly related to the genes that lay out the “segmentation” in human rib cages.  That wasn’t expected, but it’s true.)

    Hypotheses I would consider before I’d consider evolution-doesn’t-happen:  Time travel.  Elaborate fraud by agencies human or non-human.  Alien life resembling a rabbit enough to fool us.  Billion-to-one freak accident creating a false fossil.  You cannot get DNA from a pre-Cambrian fossil:  DNA would bother me enormously more than bones due to the vastly greater information content.

    If evolution doesn’t happen why do I think there *was* a Cambrian anyway?  Practically everything known about paleontology must be wrong.

    I thought that the idea that interbreeding between H sapiens and
    Neanderthals was possible was far from settled. Do you think that some
    kind of consensus has emerged, or is it still controversial?

    I am personally convinced, but it’s certainly not completely settled.  Early reports that there was no interbreeding relied on mitochondrial DNA, and I and others worried that that’s a single data point (and one less likely than average to show interbreeding).  Recent work is more genome-wide and it looks very good to me, but it is probabilistic.  The Neanderthal Genome Project should tell the whole story eventually.  (Disclaimer:  I work in this general area but have not done anything with the Neanderthal data myself; I’m relying on papers and presentations.)

    The experiments I found convincing went like this:  Identify parts of the Eurasian human genome that have rare, highly divergent haplotypes (collections of alleles at adjacent genes).  Test for those specific areas in the Neanderthal DNA specimens.  Far more often than expected by our known common ancestor with the Neanderthals, the rare haplotype matches a Neanderthal haplotype.  This doesn’t happen with African genomes, where we have reason to believe on fossil/tool grounds there were no Neanderthal populations.

  • arcseconds

    OK, so one of the points that Fred seems to be making here is that he (and I imagine most ‘theistic evolutionists’) agree with everything the science says about evolution (or almost everything).

    And they don’t ‘believe’ the standard account in the same sense that they believe in America, or even Christ, they ‘accept and affirm it’s actuality’, just as they do physics or chemistry.

    So there is a strong sense that they agree with nontheist scientists.   They can read through any evolutionary biology textbook and say “yep, yep, that’s the way it is alright”.   They can teach the same science classes with a straight face and a clear conscience and no-one will notice (or care).

    So sure, theistic evolution isn’t some scientific alternative to atheistic evolution, or just plain vanilla evolution.  Whereas intelligent design and creationism definitely are.  Fred’s intending on collapsing the distinctions between people who accept textbook science certainly seems apt enough when it comes to textbook science.

    However, this doesn’t mean there’s no difference between theistic evolutionists and nontheistic ones.

    I also don’t think it’s right to say evolution isn’t a special case.  It may well not be for Fred, although that would make him pretty unusual, I think — and one of the things i don’t understand about his account is to what extent he’s speaking only for himself, and to what extent he’s speaking for theists (or Christians) who accept evolution.

    The thing is, Christians think humanity is special.  Even if they don’t read Genesis literally, they still think that humanity is in some way the crowning glory of Creation (maybe alongside other sentient beings, if they’re cosmopolitan enough), and worth God sending Their only begotten Son, &c.

    So they don’t think humanity is simply happenstance.    And evolution is how the theistic evolutionists believe the cosmos winded up having humanity in it, so it’s natural for them to look at that process and say “that was God’s plan”.   

    Atheists, however, do think that humanity is simply happenstance (as a rule).

    So already there’s a huge difference in attitudes towards evolution here, at least in so far as it ends up with humanity.

    This is most obvious with those theistic evolutionists who believe God is a being outside the process who actively interferes with the process.   They explicitly think that the causality of evolution (the phenomenon) isnot the same as what the nontheists take it to be: it’s not just random mutation, genetics and natural selection, it’s all of that plus divine meddling.  (would Fred be happy with labelling these folk as ‘theistic evolutionists’?)

    But all theistic evolutionists (including, it would seem, Fred, as he says he doesn’t have a problem with the tenants) think that God’s in some sense working through evolution, even if they’re careful enough not to express this causally.  Presumably they also think God is working towards (or has worked towards, or is currently achieving, or however you want to express it) some divine outcome, and humanity is an important part of that.

    So their beliefs about evolution (especially that of humanity) taken as a whole, are indeed significantly different from those of an atheist, therefore they deserve a special label.

  • arcseconds

    Now, I suppose someone (like Spinoza, or an occasionalist) might argue “all phenomena are equally caused by God and part of His Plan, so yes, I agree that my take on evolution is different from an atheist’s even though I agree with the atheist about all the scientific facts.  But I think this about all so-called natural phenomena – gravity and thermodynamics too! so evolution isn’t a special case”.

    But that’s not what theistic evolutionists typically say.  As I said in my previous post, they generally think humanity is an important part of God’s plan.

    But they don’t think malaria is.

    So not all evolution is equally God’s work, it would seem.

    Plus, evolution isn’t actually the only phenomenon where such people think God is somehow at work in, moreso in other phenomena.

    It’s also common for Christians to think God is at work in cosmology in a special way, too.

    And it strikes me that we could have (and, in some ways, are having) the same debate about meterology.  Atheists think the weather ‘just happens’.  Fundamentalists think that sometimes at least  God uses the weather to punish the sinful (their attitude may actually be quite analogous to that of many theistic evolutioners about evolution – often it just happens, but sometimes it’s God).   Liberal-theology Christians agree with atheists about the science but think that God is somehow working through the weather nevertheless.

  • The_L1985

     I was of the understanding that H. sapiens sapiens (us) and H. sapiens neanderthalis (Neanderthals) were different subspecies, not different species.

  • The_L1985

    What about us non-Christian religious types?  I’ve always supported the idea of the gods just sort of being like “Hey, let’s toss a meteor over that way and see what evolves after the dust settles.”  “Oh hey, intelligent life!  That’s pretty cool!”

    Please note that this idea rules out divine omniscience, which I’ve never been able to accept anyway.

  • christopher_young

    The whole “precambrian rabbit” thing annoys me, because everybody knows, including Haldane and Popper, that no such thing will ever be found. Haldane was an abrasive character, and this was basically just a way for him to tell Popper (or “a Popperian” in some versions) to FOAD. It’s not really a useful argument any more than if I said that if I saw somebody spinning straw into gold, I’d believe in Rumpelstiltskin. It doesn’t matter. Ain’t gonna happen.

    The evidence for an evolutionary process, both fossil and genetic, is as clear as the evidence for gravity. How that process works in detail, of course, is quite another thing.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    Why are you yelling?

  • D9000

    Om?  Maybe even Oz. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

  • alias Ernest Major

    There are people (all creationists?) who argue that anthropogenic climate change can’t be a problem because God won’t let it happen.

  • arcseconds

    Well, assuming I’m not doing huge violence to your worldview by reading you fairly literally there, it sounds like you’re in with the theists who think divine beings have a direct causal influence on an otherwise natural process?


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