Theistic evolution is not science: More misrepresentation of a survey on British beliefs about evolution

Yesterday I wrote a brief post about a story published in the Guardian (really The Observer, but they post on the same site) called “Would you Adam and Eve it? Why creation story is at the heart of a new spiritual divide”. It also bore the invidious subtitle, “Major survey reveals that it’s atheists who perpetuate the conflict between religious belief and science.” The YouGov survey and its analysis was funded by the Templeton Religious Trust and distorted written up in the Observer by Catherine Pepinster, a diehard Catholic. The point the article tried to make was that British atheists have an abysmal knowledge of what British Christians believe, thinking wrongly that the vast majority of the religionists are Biblical creationists. In that way, claimed the piece, atheists are largely responsible for promulgating the fiction that there’s a conflict between religion and science.

But the very data of the article—showing that many Christians, but few unaffiliated people or atheists, accept a form of God-driven “theistic evolution”—shows that the conflict is alive and well.  (There were also data that I didn’t mention, showing that a lot more believers than nonbelievers think that human consciousness and “the origin of human beings” cannot be explained by “evolutionary science” or “evolutionary processes”: 54% and 37% of religious people, respectively, see these phenomena as defying evolution). The lesson: many British Christians, but not nearly as many unaffiliated people or atheists, accept a watered-down form of evolution that not only invokes God’s action, but also claim that phenomena like human consciousness can’t be explained by evolution.

Theistic evolution, explained in the survey as “a process guided by God,” means that God somehow designed the process to go a certain way or, if you interpret the words explicitly, tweaked it from time to time to attain a given end. Thus the statement of ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams below is simply false:

“Christians need to be clearer about what the doctrine of creation does and doesn’t mean,” he said. “To say that all things depend unilaterally on the eternal action of God is not the same as saying that specific steps in the universe’s history must be the direct result of divine intervention.”

Williams also said this:

According to the British Attitudes Survey, religious belief is continuing to decline in Britain, but the former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord (Rowan) Williams, says the YouGov survey confirms that a presumed incompatibility between science and religion is “a phoney war”.

“The number of mainstream Christians – certainly in this country – who have qualms about evolutionary theory is very small indeed,” said Williams. “But perceptions are different, and the presence of US-style fundamentalism in the popular imagination means that a growing number who know nothing of the actual history of intellectual discussion of these questions assume that all religious believers must be committed to combating scientific accounts of the universe’s beginnings.”

But the large proportion of religious Brits who accept a role for God in evolution (68% of “religious/spiritual people” compared to 18% of “not religious/spiritual” folk and only 7% of atheists) does indeed show that there is a real divergence among these groups, and that believers are not, as Williams implies, completely down with naturalistic science.

But I want to refer you to an article by a reader here, “coel”, who’s analyzed the YouGov survey—and what believers say about it—in much greater detail. In a post on his/her website, coelsblog, “What Christians believe about evolution and the supposed naivety of atheists“, coel makes the following points (I’ll be brief because you need to read that not-too-long piece):

  • The article’s author, Catholic Catherine Pepinster, claimed that “According to the research, nearly two-thirds of Britons — as well as nearly three-quarters of atheists — think Christians have to accept the assertion in Genesis that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.”  This is a gross distortion. As coel shows, the real statistic is that 72% of British atheists and 60% of all Brits think that “a member of the public who is religious would have some degree of difficulty in accepting evolutionary science.” And they’re right! Even more than half of British Christians agreed with that statement, too! It’s simply a fact that far more religious Brits see God (or some other non-naturalistic process) as having had a hand in evolution (68%) than accept naturalistic evolution (24%). Nearly 7 out of ten British religionists, then, have a problem with naturalistic evolution, compared to people who are “not religious/spiritual” (18%) and  atheists (only 7%).

Pepinster, then, pretends that these dumb atheists see British religionists as young-earth creationists, but the real data reveal the indisputable fact that religionists have a problem accepting naturalistic evolution. These claims are not the same thing, and Pepinster either knows that and distorted it, or simply didn’t understand the results of the survey. This gives the lie to Rowan William’s claim, “The number of mainstream Christians – certainly in this country – who have qualms about evolutionary theory is very small indeed.” No, it’s not small: it’s 68%.

  • Having caught Pepinster in a misstatement (coel had to tweet her before they actually added the data to the survey’s results) concludes this:

 But Catherine Pepinster’s article overlooks this fudged compromise. As she reports it there are only two options, fully accept evolutionary science or be a Biblical literalist creationist:

According to the research, nearly two-thirds of Britons — as well as nearly three-quarters of atheists — think Christians have to accept the assertion in Genesis that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.

That is not what people said: they didn’t say that to be a Christian one would have to accept Genesis literally; they merely said that Christians would have some level of difficulty in fully accepting evolution. And that’s true, that’s what religious people say about themselves! Just over half of self-described religious people in the survey said that they themselves had difficulty accepting that humans had evolved and that human and apes had a common ancestor.

Yes, only 16% are full-blown creationists, but many more religious people are distinctly reluctant to accept the full findings of evolutionary science. Thus Catherine Pepinster completely misrepresents what atheists believe about religious people, because she totally ignores all the middle ground between fully accepting science and Biblical literalism.

Coel adds this:

The article then quotes Guy Hayward, research fellow at the Scientific and Medical Network, saying:

“It is clear from this survey by Newman University that non-believers have very little idea about what believers believe”.

Well no, not at all. The non-believers seem to be pretty accurate in assessing what religious people believe. When interpreted properly the survey results reveal a great deal of fudge and hesitancy in what religious people believe about evolution, and also show that non-believers are fairly perceptive in recognising that.

  • Finally, coel analyzes why religious people, at least in this case, are so eager to portray atheists as naive about religion. I’ll let you read the conclusions yourself. All I can add is that surveys show consistently that atheists know more about religious scripture and beliefs than do religious people themselves. That’s partly because many atheists were former believers, and left because they couldn’t deal with the palpable falsities of scripture and exegesis.

Let me close with some statements that we need to embrace (I’ll put this all in caps because I’m peeved):

ACCEPTING “THEISTIC EVOLUTION” IS NOT THE SAME THING AS BEING IN STRONG AGREEMENT WITH WHAT SCIENTISTS ACCEPT. “THEISTIC EVOLUTION” IS A BASTARD HYBRID OF THEOLOGY AND SCIENCE, AND ACCEPTS THE PRESENCE OF THE SUPERNATURAL AS PART OF BIOLOGY’S MOST IMPORTANT THEORY. WE SHOULD NOT SEE THEISTIC EVOLUTIONISTS AS BIG FANS OF SCIENCE. WE SHOULD SEE THEM AS PEOPLE WHO WANT TO BE SEEN AS SCIENCE-FRIENDLY, BUT CAN’T LET GO OF THEIR COMFORTING SUPERSTITIONS. 

THEISTIC EVOLUTION IS NO MORE SCIENTIFIC THAN IS THE IDEA OF “THEISTIC PHYSICS”, IN WHICH THE DECAY OF EACH ATOM IN A RADIOACTIVE ELEMENT WAS PRODUCED BY GOD, OR “THEISTIC CHEMISTRY”, IN WHICH GOD HAS A HAND IN WHICH CHEMICAL BONDS FORM DURING A REACTION. 

As Laplace is supposed to have said, “We have no need of that hypothesis.” But many British Christians apparently do.

h/t; Stephen Law

49 Comments

  1. Posted September 19, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    But the large proportion of religious Brits who accept a role for God in evolution (68% of “religious/spiritual people” compared to 18% of “not religious/spiritual” folk and only 7% of atheists) does indeed show that there is a real divergence among these groups, and that believers are not, as Williams implies, completely down with naturalistic science.

    Not defending the religious but their belief system seems a lot more consistent than the 7% of atheists who believe God had a role in evolution.

    They are doing atheism wrong.

    • Mark Reaume
      Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      I’ve seen this phenomenon in most surveys like this. I’m beginning to wonder if the survey questions weren’t well constructed.

      • Posted September 20, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        ITSM that there are two ways to do this sort of questionnaire. One would be to do a “conditional flow” and one would use other questions as a “sanity check”.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 20, 2017 at 1:28 am | Permalink

      It’s always possible that 7% of those surveyed are just that stupid.

    • Mark Mac Donald
      Posted September 20, 2017 at 5:23 am | Permalink

      Atheist, by definition, CANNOT believe a god had something to do with evolution. I have never heard anything so ridiculous! The only way to fail at atheism? BELIEVE IN A GOD!!!!

  2. Jenny Haniver
    Posted September 19, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    This twisting and massaging of facts and statistics is duplicitous and insidious, and I am grateful to have such fallacious practices exposed.

    However, I just went to “coelsblog” and, while I’m eager to read his post on this (as well as other interesting posts on his site — gotta read the one on Nazi racial ideology), I see that he runs something called the WASP-South transit search. Well, obviously, whatever that is, it’s something by and for WASPS(of the two-legged variety, i.e., “leucistic” giraffes, I mean homo sapiens) only and I’m surprised that no contingent of the f*twittery brigade over there has yet marched and protested against this blatant racial/ethnic discrimination.

    • KD33
      Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      I have a feeling I’m being set up … but WASP = wide angle search for planets:

      https://wasp-planets.net/story-of-wasp/

      • davidintoronto
        Posted September 19, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        And Coel, according to the “about” section of the blog, is a prof. of astrophysics with a special interest in exoplanets…

        😉

      • ploubere
        Posted September 19, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        I assumed it was an “American heavy metal band formed in 1982 by Blackie Lawless”:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W.A.S.P.

  3. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Pragmatist philosopher Sidney Hook (and occasional contributor to humanist publications) defined theology as “metaphysical speculation of a very low order of probability”.

    To which I would add, that if it gives propositions that cannot be tested then those statements are to a scientist or an engineer operationally meaningless.
    As such, God is never part of the theoretical framework of the scientist, however much God may make evolution seem more like dramatic theater.

    I don’t think I would I would call Theo-Evo a “bastard hybrid”, but to a scientist it is certainly a “sterile hybrid” that like a mule is not going to produce offspring of its own.

    I think in particular evolution goes against the classical Christian notions of fall and redemption and a single human couple-ancestor, and that neuroscience goes against the classic Christian dualist notion of “soul” (similarly found in Platonic philosophy and Vedanta Hinduism, though not in other religious viewpoints.)

    • darrelle
      Posted September 20, 2017 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      It seems to me that the primary reason Christians have such an issue with evolution comes down to human specialness. If evolution is true then humans aren’t the special creations that all the rest of creation is subservient to. All the rest of the issues, from the ones you mention to “I didn’t evolve from no monkey!,” stem from that desperate conviction that humans are Special. Special not just from our own perspective but from all perspectives.

      It seems to me that creating a need for this conviction and feeding it is the primary tactic of religious leaders for gaining authority over their flocks and maintaining it.

    • Posted September 20, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Back when I debated more, I used to ask the theistic evolutionist to be more specific – what do they think their god did, so I had some idea how *far* they were away from the scientific consensus. Impressionistically, a lot of partisans of theistic evolution were effectively deists.

  4. Liz
    Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Where did this term “theistic evolution” come from? Was this generated by the survey and then given to the religious as an option for a response? I would be surprised if an atheist didn’t at least respond with questions about what the gaps in explanations are in what ways our consciousness (or any animal) evolved. I don’t think there is any evidence that humans have souls but I at least question it. If you give reasonable people who are religious multiple choice answers to certain questions, of course they will answer in this way. “Theistic evolution” is aggravating to me especially since I thought Catholics (in the U.S. at least) understood evolution without any doubt and need for divine assistance. The people I know, at least, wouldn’t ask any questions about what role a divine hand might play unless given the option. Yes, it’s sad that people don’t think for themselves. I would say more atheists and religious people combined don’t bother to think for themselves.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Very good question this theistic evolution? Why not call it stone age evolution and show an old Flintstones cartoon. We have to give people these options in multiple choice as if evolution was a choice or could be had in degrees. Should you have a choice between fiction and non-fiction? Yes in a book selection but not between opinion and fact.

    • Posted September 20, 2017 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      It’s been around for years. It refers to the Theory of Evolution but with God intervening to direct it in the way he wants.So, perhaps God tweaks the DNA during the production of eggs/sperm or something. Or perhaps he subtly alters the course of asteroids in order to wipe out his mistakes.

      Anyway, it’s not science.

      • Liz
        Posted September 20, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        Thank you for the clarification.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 20, 2017 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      The RCC doesn’t support the scientific TOE. They once made a propaganda effort to portray the church as accepting the TOE, but when it comes to humans, or any conflicts with core doctrine, it’s still “Goddidit” per official church doctrine.

      And who could expect anything else from them? To fully accept the TOE would be an admission that their doctrine is complete bullshit, all the way down. That the centuries of RCC rule has been for nothing but the exercise of power by and for a powerful elite. Sort of like the mafia only an order of magnitude, or two, worse.

      So they can’t admit that. They’ll use the rhetorical tools of carnies, politicians and propagandists since time immemorable to encourage people to think they accept the TOE while carefully downplaying, dodging and misdirecting about the exceptions they have, and depend on the human penchant for comfortably holding very contradictory views with ease.

  5. Laurance
    Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Oh my. All this sounds like my best friend who is “spiritual but not religious” and believes that evolution is real, but that what makes it happen is that god kind of nudges things along. There’s gotta be some sort of higher power…

    I don’t argue. We’ve have a workable situation in which we don’t hassle each other about certain differences, and we’ve been good friends for years now.

    I don’t feel a need to set her straight. I see no value in struggling to convert her and quite likely damaging the friendship. She doesn’t try to convert me. We have other things in common that are important to us and this particular topic is not worth hurting the good friendship.

    • Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      What’s your friends name? I’ll have a ‘chat’ with her.

      • Liz
        Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        Same here. I love chatting with new people about these topics. In terms of my own family and friends, they think I am a “crazy atheist” which isn’t how I usually describe myself.

    • Historian
      Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      I think that the profession of many who claim to be spiritual but not religious is really an attempt to get the best of two worlds. On the one hand, the person can find psychological solace in believing that there is “something out there” that somehow impacts human life. Also, on the chance that there is some sort of afterlife, the extraterrestrial being may favor them getting there. On the other hand, the person’s life need not be bogged down by the pesky obligations imposed by organized religions. To an extent, I find the “spiritualists” more hypocritical than those who belong to a religion. At least the latter make a commitment in time and money to what they believe in, no matter how delusional the belief may be.

      • BJ
        Posted September 19, 2017 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

        I think there are just plenty of people who believe in a higher power, but don’t believe in any organized religion. I really don’t think most people who are “spiritual” but not religious have any particular motives behind this.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 20, 2017 at 12:31 am | Permalink

          I’d agree. We have a natural sense of wonder which anyone can feel. (Dawkins deals with this in ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’). That naturally suggests that there may be something ‘beyond’. Many people are content to leave it at that without having to investigate it exhaustively.

          I’d absolutely disagree with Historian that that makes someone more hypocritical just because they don’t swallow some organised religion’s absurd and phony answers or waste large chunks of their life attending pointless church services. Sincerity in the pursuit of stupidity is not a virtue.

          cr

  6. Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    The difference between evolution and ‘theistic evolution’ is equivalent to the difference between a casino that rolls dice and a casino where the management ‘decides’ what the die rolls will be.

    I think theistic evolutionists have only the barest hint of what the evidence for evolution is and no notion that an understanding of how it happened is integral to the evidence. To them its perfectly reasonable to tack on any explanation for how it operates depending on ones personal preference.

  7. Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Re “In that way, claimed the piece, atheists are largely responsible for promulgating the fiction that there’s a conflict between religion and science.” Have you ever noticed scientists whining about how science wasn’t as close to religion as we would want in any of the myriad science organs? No? It seems only theists whine about the separation of faith and science.

    Could it be that science, once in chains to the church (suck up to the Pope or God or become Catholic Barbecue) has shrugged off its chains and in the last 400 years provided many, many improvements to the lives of humans? In that same period, faith has … what? So, now the church wants to draft on science, causing them to be sucked along in its wake, because there is no real dispute between them?

    Hello? There is no overlap. Science is the insistent but gentle questioning of nature. As we learn, we benefit. Faith, is the anti-theist of questioning, it is acceptance of what is not understood as being true and correct. No good can come from it. The conflict between science and faith exists only because faith is losing.

  8. Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Atheists don’t perpetuate the conflict. They are simply the only ones who are willing to point it out. The conflict is there regardless. It’s not an issue of manners.

  9. Posted September 19, 2017 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for highlighting my blog article Jerry! 🙂

  10. Steve Pollard
    Posted September 19, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Very good takedown by Coel.

    As David Harper noted in a comment on the earlier thread, Catherine Pepinster is a professional Catholic apologist who uses her journalistic privilege to further the cause of her faith.

    As he also observed, we Radio 4 listeners to “Thought for the Day” are regularly subjected to her highly partial assertions. Her last three offerings were (I over-simplify only slightly):

    a. Only Christians are really charitable.
    b. Non-Christians are incapable of appreciating sacred music (Bach etc) properly.
    c. Wasn’t Cardinal Murphy O’Connor wonderful?

    Nothing on TftD is ever questioned, so she, and all the other regulars, can get away with the most egregious nonsense (some of which is even worse than the above).

  11. David Evans
    Posted September 19, 2017 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    A closer equivalent to theistic evolution might be “theistic celestial mechanics”: the planets generally move in Newtonian orbits but occasionally God has to intervene to keep them on the desired path. Which Newton himself believed.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted September 20, 2017 at 4:35 am | Permalink

      The need for clockwork tinkering perhaps places Newton closer to Intelligent Design than to Theistic Evolution. The fact that he thought in such clockwork terms suggests that it never occurred to him that the universe could have developed over time, as Kant would later suggest.

      • Posted September 20, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        I have spent a bit (but not much) on the question of why Newton (and not Leibniz, who was more of an idealist in the metaphysical sense) thought that perpetual divine intervention was necessary.

        I came to no clear conclusions, but had some thoughts:
        (1) Perhaps he really was worried about friction.
        (2) I somehow get the impression (and Leibniz called him on this too) that he took the “*in* god” of the Gospels literally. (This is going beyond the usual debate about “sensorium”.) In which case, Newton is much more of a pantheist than one might think – and would also explain why he was a unitarian (no capital).

  12. Nobody Special
    Posted September 19, 2017 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Is there any indication whether those polled were just a random sampling of the public or drawn from a specific demographic?
    If it was a random sampling, I would suggest that the results are less about what the religous are taught to believe about evolution and more about what they weren’t taught at school.
    I went to an average Secondary Modern school (U.S. equivalent is, I believe, a public high school) with no particular religious affiliation, and left at age 16 with a Grade A ‘O’ level in Biology, yet was taught nothing about evolution except the very basics, such as that animals change over time and humans are related to apes, but little else. Because I was interested in science generally, and biology and physics particularly, I continued reading and learning after leaving school and it’s only through my own efforts that I have an understanding of evolution.
    If my education to that point was the norm for state schools in general then I’m not surprised with the poll results. Not everybody continues to educate themselves once school is done, unless one counts job training and so on, but certainly not just for the enjoyment of learning; Hell, a lot didn’t want to learn when they were there. So I’d guess that a lot of people don’t have anything beyond the barest understanding of evolution, so it’s almost inevitable that if they are also religious and are polled about the mechanics of evolution, they’ll go for the answers that make most sense to them. Those answers will be either full-on creationism or God directed-evolution simply because they can’t understand something so complex could happen by natural causes alone.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 20, 2017 at 1:50 am | Permalink

      “…I would suggest that the results are less about what the religous are taught to believe about evolution and more about what they weren’t taught at school.”

      A very good point. Having observed what my kids were taught concerning evolution in one grade school and two high schools I doubt that very few if any leave those classes with any idea of the importance, nay, necessity of understanding basic evolutionary theory to have any understanding of the world around them. IMO evolution should be taught throughout the course as the unifying framework of all biology, whereas in fact it’s usually tacked on to the end of the year/semester for a week or maybe two if one’s lucky. And this isn’t necessarily because the teachers are wanting but more often out of fear of controversy with religious parents, and is often dictated not by the teacher but by administrators careful not to “rock the boat.”

  13. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 20, 2017 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    ” Thus the statement of ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams below is simply false:
    ‘Christians need to be clearer about what the doctrine of creation does and doesn’t mean,’ he said. ‘To say that all things depend unilaterally on the eternal action of God is not the same as saying that specific steps in the universe’s history must be the direct result of divine intervention.’

    I disagree that Williams’ statement is false. ‘God did *everything*’ is quite different from ‘God tweaked bits from time to time’.

    They’re both wrong IMO, but not identical.

    In a different context –
    “WE SHOULD NOT SEE THEISTIC EVOLUTIONISTS AS BIG FANS OF SCIENCE. WE SHOULD SEE THEM AS PEOPLE WHO WANT TO BE SEEN AS SCIENCE-FRIENDLY, …”

    My response would be, at least they are well-intentioned towards science, which is orders of magnitude preferable to the fundies and climate-change deniers who are openly hostile to science. In practical terms I don’t care if they think God made it, so long as that doesn’t translate into destructive behaviour towards the world because “God made it for our benefit” or “the rapture is coming” or suchlike crap.

    cr

    • Posted September 20, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      I’ve been told that the traditional doctrine (shared by Catholics and Anglicans) is that god “sustains” everything. That this results in direct concurrence with everything that happens never occurs (heh) to anyone when they say this – it is occaisonalism. Leibniz saw this problem, and tried to weasel his way out.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 20, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        As I said, I think the second option (God tweaks things behind the scenes) is wrong, but it’s not as absurdly, patently ludicrous as most ‘creation’ myths.

        In fact I’m not even sure the ‘God tweaks things’ is ever disprovable, other than ‘absence of evidence is evidence of absence’ which IMO is not the most logically conclusive argument.

        cr

        • Posted September 21, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

          It runs afoul of conservation laws, which *could* have restricted scope, but appear not to.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted September 21, 2017 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

            Yes, but to appreciate that, you need a reasonable appreciation of physics. They’re not obviously and immediately apparent to the layman.

            Whereas, magic apples? Talking snakes? Worldwide flood (where did the water come from? Where did it go to?) Puh-lease…

            cr

  14. Peter
    Posted September 20, 2017 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    “To say that all things depend unilaterally on the eternal action of God is not the same as saying that specific steps in the universe’s history must be the direct result of divine intervention.” (ex-Archbishop of Cantebury.
    Read it again. That is, theistic evolutionists are fully aware of scientific evolution, and fully accepting scientific evolution. They additonally believe in God, not as an explanation in science but as a source of comfort in this world.

    Perhaps it should be better known that these theistic evolutionists are fully accepted professional scientists. Francisco Ayala, Simon Conway Morris, Kenneth Miller, the people at BioLogos – one cannot say they are not scientists. The statement in capitals is mistaking their position.

    • Posted September 20, 2017 at 6:00 am | Permalink

      I disagree with your statement, on the grounds that

      1. If the Archbishop claims that God created everything in the first place (no evidence), that is actually ONE BIG INTERVENTION and thus overturns your claim. Or if he’s claiming that the cosmos’s existence somehow depends on God being around but not doing anything (even dumber), then he’s mushbrained.

      2. Many, many theistic evolutionists either say explicitly or imply that God continually tweaked evolution to adjust it. ID advocates, for instance, accept microevolution but say that God had to interfere to create “big groups” (whatever they are). Also, Catholics accept such interference: the Church has no problem with evolution EXCEPT that God tweaked Adam and Eve to be our only literal ancestors, and (this is not negotiable or metaphorical) also tweaked H. sapiens so that only our species have souls. Lots of people have no problem with evolution but (as a lot of Muslims think) had to interfere specificially to create out species. Catholics are theistic evolutionists and their misguided view that God gave us a soul has led to all kinds of mischief, not the least of which are blanket prohibitions on abortion.

      Also, the people you list are indeed scientists, but if they’re theistic evolutionists, they’re not accepting science the way evolutionists do. But you don’t seem to know your people: Ayala has never commented since he became a scientist whether he even believes in God, and Miller has made explicit statements that he believes in the possibility of “tweaking” (read his first book where he suggests that God undetectably moves electrons around to effect evolution). As for Conway Morris, I’m not aware of what his views are on the issue of intervention. You need to learn what these people think before saying they’re evolutionists.

      Finally, reread my statement in bold: I didn’t say these people aren’t scientists: I said that theistic evolutionists hold a position that blends superstition and science and it not naturalistic science nor evolution the way we teach it. In their own work they can of course behave like scientists and produce science.

      • Peter
        Posted September 20, 2017 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        “ID advocates, for instance, accept microevolution but say that God had to interfere to create “big groups” (whatever they are).”

        Perhaps this is the starting error: ID advocates are not theistic evolutionists.See Pigliuccion this point.

        “Although Ayala generally does not discuss his religious views, he has stated that “science is compatible with religious faith in a personal, omnipotent and benevolent God. ” (his wikipedia page). That is a typical theistic evolutionist stance.

        Basically, theistic evolutionists do not take God as any part of a scientific explanation. They separate science and belief, much more than convinced atheists separate science and belief.

  15. Posted September 20, 2017 at 3:54 am | Permalink

    You really have to question the reliability of a survey that concludes that 7% of self-identified Atheists believe God played a role in evolution.

  16. Leigh Jackson
    Posted September 20, 2017 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    I’m loving this one. Credit to Coel – whose blog I read yesterday.

    Pleased to see the vile anti-scientific “theistic evolution” getting a good kicking.

    I deplore the accommodationist tactic of giving TE a soft ride for the supposedly greater good of defeating the supposedly more egregious forms of creationism like “intelligent design”.

    Science shows us that “God” had no part in evolution. Meaning that there is absolutely no gap available to be filled by an invisible agent, in the evolutionary process. Origin of life is different, we don’t yet know how that happened. We do know how evolution happened.

    The religious are welcome to place their faith in theistic abiogenesis, for as long as that gap in our scientific understanding exists. They should know that their faith in theistic evolution is a delusion as far as science is concerned.

    • Posted September 20, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Indeed – people in general aren’t aware there just aren’t any gaps for the “god of the gaps” to do anything, because of conservation laws (and hence the eternity of the universe in the etymologically correct meaning of the word), etc.

  17. Posted September 20, 2017 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Excellent Coel and Jerry! Ultimately, the corruption is in premises all they way down, and which gets propagated across all levels of emergence.

    The body of knowledge refined by the scientific method is an interlocking pattern that cannot have a place for the supernatural.

    Reality is not a foam of natural and supernatural stuff, which then somehow produces an ordered landscape of knowledge, with some holes in it, that could only be filled with religious “explanations”. How absurd this notion is, when you conceive of a universe that really was that way as religious people feverishly imagine.

    The notion gets even more ridiculous considering that reality is not discrete, except for the foundation far down below in the quantum realm. Not only are there no “outlines” that could be filled with superstitious material, it’s also a fractal or recursive pattern of not-knowing.

    On each “level” you look at, some is known quite well, some remains elusive. You look into the not-so-well known part, and find yet more degrees of known and no-idea yet. The known or unknown are also not two discrete states, but there are intermediary states of confidence that some “truth candidate” might yield greater explanatory power than another. And there are not even “levels” to look at, as far as reality is concerned. You look at something more like a cloud, where after zooming in, you encounter a self-similar situation again.

    Aside of there being no actual “holes” or “gaps” anywhere but the human way of perception, there’s another problem.

    Without a referent to point at, it is impossible in principle to “know” anything, hence the conflict between science and religion is most fundamental. The supernatural, almost by definition, is an epistemological dead end.

    You cannot measure, see, hear, etc anything. It doens’t leave a trace, casts no shadows, and announces its presence in no other way but deluded individuals whose condition is at once fully explainable. Every human who has ever lived has feelings, sensations, quirky ideas, wants to belong to something, find purpose and and most importantly is often misguided. We also fully know that humans have vivid imagination. You again see a recursive kind of pattern here. Humans are evolved etc. they have invented cultures, they grew up in certain circumstances, have a certain mindset, all of this encroaches from all sides on the “gaps” (because we, too, are part of that reality).

    Perplexingly, religious people know on some level that they don’t really care about what is true. They want to identify with a heritage, or vague cultural traditions that may or may not actually be rooted in their belief. They think truth is some sort of pixie dust, or “persuasion force” and they want it to persuade themselves and others, fundamentally misunderstanding something about the world.

  18. Posted September 20, 2017 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    As an aside, for USian readers, “Adam and Eve” in the context of the title of the Guardian piece, is rhyming slang for “believe” in the UK.

    • Nobody Special
      Posted September 20, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      In Brighton it’s ‘Adam and Steve’, or ‘Madam and Eve’, depending on which club one happens to be in.

    • Posted September 20, 2017 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      Ah, Cockney rhyming slang! I didn’t know that one. I better have a butcher’s at the slang dictionary.


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