What is theistic evolution?

I have just finished reading Ken Miller’s new book Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul. Some intelligent design proponents reacted angrily to the publication of this book a few months ago (see Holy war!). Have a look at how upset Bill Dembski was in his Uncommon Descent post Theistic Evolutionists Close Ranks — Let the Bloodletting Begin! But I didn’t find anything in Miller’s book about theistic evolution.

First, let me say that Only a Theory is an excellent book. Ken Miller is a cell biologist well known for his biology text books and for his very effective role in defending evolutionary science against intelligent design (ID)/creationist attacks. He was an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover (2004-05) trial in Pennsylvania, USA which found attempts by the Dover School board to introduce ID in science classes illegal. Miller is also a devout Catholic and author of the book Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution. His writing is just as clear and enthusiastic as his lectures are.

“Only a theory”

I had expected the book to be a history of the Dover trial. It isn’t – but it does concentrate on the religious and philosophical reasons motivating those who attack evolutionary science – or feel threatened by it. He shows how ID activists have goals much wider than evolutionary theory. They are attempting to redefine science itself (as in their attempts to rewrite science standards in Kansas) and wish to achieve retrograde social and political objectives.

Miller’s subtitle is appropriate – much of the book does discuss the battle for America’s soul.

However, the book also presents recent findings in evolutionary science. These findings were very effective during the Dover trial in showing the bankruptcy of the ID arguments.

The fact that Ken Miller is a Christian, a theist, is irrelevant to these findings, or his science in general. It may motivate him to speculate about some sort of purpose in the universe (as in the chapter The World That Knew We Were Coming) – but that is just his personal speculation, something we all do. I can’t see anything in Millers science, in his description of evolutionary science, which warrants the label theistic evolution.

After all, religious belief amongst scientists is not uncommon. There are chemists, physicists, astronomers, etc., who hold theistic beliefs. Yet we don’t talk about theistic chemistry, theistic physics, theistic astronomy, etc. Scientific knowledge is (or should be) independent of the specific religious beliefs of the investigators.

There is nothing about Ken Miller’s understanding of evolutionary science that is different to Richard Dawkin’s understanding of that science. So why call it theistic evolution?

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2 responses to “What is theistic evolution?

  1. Good question. To me, when someone says that they believe in theistic evolution it sounds like they’ve conceded that the theory makes sense but that they don’t fully understand the scientific method. Either that, or possibly like in Frank’s case where it appears as an appeasement to an audience or to one’s own beliefs. A kind of keeping a foot in the door.

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  2. I am just searching around for someone to rationalize theistic evolution but keep finding sites who bunk it, so im not having much luck 🙂

    http://www.eacology.com/2012/05/theistic-evolution-christian-lenses.html

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