Because Jonathan Wells' name came up again on my blog, I am redating an old post I did on Wells.
· At 7:53 AM, Ahab said…
As a theology graduate student in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I learned that the anti-religious implications of Darwinism have profoundly influenced modern theologians. Even with only an undergraduate background in science, however, I knew that the evidence for Darwinism was not as solid as the theologians seemed to think. If Darwinism were solid science, its anti-religious implications would (in my opinion) be inescapable. The more I learned, however, the more it seemed to me that Darwinism was just old-fashioned materialistic philosophy masquerading as modern empirical science. Because of its profound and harmful consequences for religion, science and culture, I decided to devote my life to criticizing this philosophy and destroying its domination of our educational system.
Victor, this guy comes across as a real quack. How can you take him seriously?
Dawinism dominates our education system? Damn, a large percentage of people in our county don't even understand the basics of evolutionay theory because so little time is spent in school explaining it.
And the idea that theologians have been relying on Darwin is even kookier.
Again, how can you, or anyone, take him seriously?
These comments are certainly ones that I would not make, simply because using the term "Darwinism" without clarification is a recipe for confusion. It's a mistake to treat "Darwinism" as a package deal. At least Alvin Plantinga, in his well-known essay "When Faith and Reason Clash" , suggests five different claims made by “Darwinists,” which in my book I distinguish as the five points of evolution. These points are:
1. The Ancient Earth Thesis. The earth has been in existence for a very long time.
2. The Gradual Emergence of Species Thesis. Different species emerged gradually over this time-period.
3. The Common Ancestry thesis: All life is related to a single common ancestor that was the first life form.
4. Darwinism or the Grand Evolutionary Story: The claim that speciation occurred exclusively through naturalistic processes like random variation and natural selection.
5. The Naturalistic Origin of Life thesis, the claim that life itself emerged naturalistically, with no supernatural intervention.
One of my editorial readers at IVP suggested that I include a sixth point, that the initial conditions of the universe were not selected by design. This would make Darwinism explicitly atheistic. Without the sixth point, Darwinism is perfectly compatible with theism.
However, I am not sure that I understand the claim that people don’t understand Darwinism. There’s a “one-minute version” of evolutionism which I sometimes present in class, which says that if you have enough time, if you have a way for species to vary, if species reproduce, then it is theoretically possible to produce the effects of intelligent design without a designer in virtue of the facts that these non-designed products would not survive to pass their characteristics on to descendents if they didn’t have design-ish characteristics.
Evolution has certainly been a very influential idea in our culture, and it can be an influential idea without most people knowing much of the details of how evolutionary theory works or deals with the problems it faces. There are people in theology who have been greatly influenced by evolution; Pierre Teilhard de Chardin would be a good example. Lewis liked to distinguish popular evolutionism from the actual scientific theory, which he considered to be theologically benign.
Wells’ motivations and understanding of the role of evolution in Western culture are, however, independent of his claims concerning the strength or weakness of the evidence supporting it. The question I wanted to pose while getting into the discussion of the icons was: do the standard evolution textbooks make overblown claims about the “icons” of evolution. It seems to me that a person can have a good handle on the evidence surrounding Darwinian theory and at the same time have pretty flaky ideas about the social and philosophical implications of that same theory. I think Richard Dawkins is an atrocious philosopher; that doesn’t mean he can’t be a good scientist.