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Monday, August 04, 2008

A sociologist's perceptive look at "theistic evolution"

Recently, I have been reading Warwick U sociologist Steve Fuller's Dissent over Descent: Intelligent Design's Challenge to Darwinism, and was intrigued by his comments about "theistic evolution", as understood by members of the American Scientific Affiliation and promoted by Francis Collins in The Language of God:
Theistic evolutionists ... simply take what Collins calls 'the existence of the moral law and the universal longing for God'' as a feature of human nature that is entrenched enough to be self-validating. But is their dismissal anything more than an arbitrary theological intervention? If humans are indeed, as the Darwinists say, just one among many species, susceptible to the same general tendencies that can be studied in the same general terms, then findings derived from methods deemed appropriate to animals should apply to us as well. Collins' own comprehensive but exclusive training in the hard sciences may explain why he believes in a God who communicates straightforwardly through the natural sciences but appears less willing to cooperate with the social sciences, including such biologically inflected fields as sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. Instead Collins finds intuition, anecdote, theology and sheer faith to be more reliable sources of evidence. Why God should have chosen not to rely on the usual standards of scientific rigour in these anthropocentric matters remains a mystery. (p. 104-5)

Collins is unlikely to understand the problem Fuller raises - why should anyone take Collins's faith as anything more than an evolutionary glitch?

I am glad that a sociologist is researching the debate, because ASA-style theistic evolution makes sense only as sociology. It doesn't make sense intellectually. As I have said elsewhere, it is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist (= how you can continue to believe in God even though the universe shows no evidence of design). But everyone realizes that the universe shows evidence of design. Design theorists must explain it, and materialists must explain it away.

The other, less benign role of theistic evolution is to confuse traditional religious people by implying that, for example, "you can believe in Darwin - and Jesus too!" Well, Darwin didn't.

The way you believe in Jesus and Darwin too is by keeping yourself in a permanent state of confusion about the basic issues, or, Collins-style, not really understanding them. Some clergy are happy to help.

A friend alerted me to this article which nicely illustrates the muddle in progress. The article features the efforts of the Vatican to address the current Darwin cult. My friend asked me for a comment, and I replied,
Well, I hope the reason they are trying to play all sides of the table (except Dawkins's) is that they know that “evolution” is in a state of meltdown.

If not, they will soon find out. I think the Church’s antiquity is partly the result of avoiding taking a position until necessary - and there is always the Galileo affair to remind us of what happens when we fail to adopt that course.

From the news article: “In his article, "Darwinism From Different Points of View," he explained that Darwinian theories of natural selection are only completely unacceptable to the church when they are used to become the basis for justifying certain social policies and ethical choices.”

The main problem here would be instantly identified by ID godfather Phil Johnson: If Darwinian theories are a correct account of our origin and nature, then it is reasonable to use them to justify social policies and ethical choices.

To refuse to focus on whether the Darwinian account is true raises the possibility that we regard our own bases of action as a pleasant fiction and theirs as an unpleasant one. But that is a matter of taste, surely, and the subject should be put to a vote.

If, on the other hand, we can say Darwin was wrong about human nature (for that is the point at issue), we can reject the proposed social policies that depend on them without further consideration. More important, we can defend our own proposed policies as proceeding from a correct estimation of human worth, not merely our preference.

About that question, the most obscure backwoods six-day-creation crank is far more clued in than many a Jesuit prof, I fear.
Basically, I think Fuller is right. Theistic evolution is for people who find "intuition, anecdote, theology and sheer faith to be more reliable sources of evidence" when it comes to religion, and flee the implications of design in nature. No wonder the atheistic evolutionists use them but don't respect them.

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