This term gets used a lot – but what does it mean?
In a recent discussion a local supporter (I think) of theistic evolution put it this way: Both “theistic evolutionists” and “atheistic evolutionists” accepts Darwinian evolution as true. Nevertheless – he describes these as two alternatives “theories.” But he admits: “the empirical evidence . . . will not provide reasons for one position over another. The two positions have to be decided then on other grounds.”
I think this person, and probably most other people who use the “theistic evolution,” label are confused. They are not talking about scientific theories. They are talking about their own religious beliefs. These “other grounds” are religion.
All these people are saying is: “I accept evolutionary science but I am still a theist.”
But why do that? There is only one reality and scientific theories are tested against that reality, not against religious books or opinions of religious leaders. So why attach one’s religious beliefs to your acceptance of scientific knowledge?
The fact is that only (some) theists feel the need to declare their religious beliefs in this way. We never hear people saying they accept “atheistic evolution,” do we? So it must be something to do with the religious community these theists inhabit.
I think this must arise out of the hostility towards evolutionary science, and sometimes science in general, common in many theistic circles. Certainly, in New Zealand the 20% of the population who reject evolutionary science are mostly Christian – and they comprise about 40% of the local Christian community.
Apparently someone who declares their acceptance of evolutionary science can sometimes be confronted with a very hostile reaction. They are probably considered “sinful” by many fundamentalists. I have heard of cases where such people are shouted down. Even where some families express concern about the children learning about science at school!
So perhaps it’s understandable that in this bullying atmosphere many Christians feel the need to add the “theist” adjective to evolutionary. But why give in to such bullying? In the long run bullies are only defeated by standing up to them.
When one gives in and resorts to calling oneself a “theistic evolutionist” isn’t it being cowardly?