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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ken Miller Is Not a "Theistic Evolutionist"

Ken Miller, on a train to New York City for a radio interview about his new book Only a Theory, just sent us this quick note from his iPhone:

"I always reject the term 'theistic evolutionist.' I am a theist and an evolutionist, to be sure, but the combined term makes no sense to me. Never heard anyone described as a 'theistic chemist,' have you?"

Thanks, Ken, for setting the record straight. What do you think: Is there value in the term "theistic evolutionist"?


Thomas Jay Oord said...

I think I understand Ken's reticence to adopt the label, "theistic evolutionist." Labels suffer from imprecision, and this one is surely imprecise.

I find the label "theistic evolution" generally helpful, however. It combines two very important concerns: belief in God and affirmation of the general theory of evolution.

Unfortunately, many in our society equate "evolution" with "atheism." I teach in an Evangelical university, go to Church with self-described Evangelicals, and generally hang out with such folk. A huge number of people in North America accept the Evangelical label. In these circles, "evolution" is frequently identified with atheism.

"Theist evolution" is a short-hand way to move the conversation past what many Evangelicals think are the only two options: 6-day creationism and atheistic evolution. While I'm sympathetic to efforts to decouple the two and in fact have devoted significant effort myself toward that endeavor, the label "theistic evolution" cuts through confusion better than most other labels.

So... while I understand Ken's concern, I think there is rhetorical merit to the label "theistic evolution."

Thomas Jay Oord, Ph.D.

Karl W. said...

I don't know what to think. I agree with Ken that "theistic chemist" is a useless term. And, it seems to me that theistic evolution should have accomplished something if it was of any value, given how long it has been around as a supposedly meaningful term.

But, given the colloquial equation of evolution and atheism it does seem like we need to be careful not to be saying something that would be interpreted as "I am an atheist."

I do like "theistic evolutionist" better than "spineless appeaser" which is the term that Dembski and the ID people seem to like.

Richard Colling said...

Theistic evolution, like many other terms used today conveys different meanings to different groups of people. I think it is useful, since it places belief in God first, while acknowleging evolution. Are there other descriptors that could be used to define those who believe in God and also evolution? Probably. Evolutionary creationists might work, but this would be regarded by many in the conservative Christian community as even more lacking than theistic evolution. Alas, all we have are words to describe ourselves, our understandings, and beliefs. We do the best we can.
I, like Tom Oord, appreciate Ken Miller's reticence to use this expression, but it is a descriptor that has meaning to many people, and until a more precise set of words become commonly understood to characterize those who believe in evolution and God, I am reticent to discard it.


adude said...

karl w.

Regardless of your thoughts on whether or not we evolved, one can still believe in not bearing false witness--or misattributing quotes and exaggerating currency.

Google "Dembski" and "spineless appeasers" and you'll find that the only link is to a quote from the ex-Marine, non-Theist Dave Scot. Google 'site:uncommondescent.com "spineless appeasers"' and you'll the same single quote from Dave Scot.

So it's hardly preferred by Dembski nor is it a term that has a vogue at UD.

Now, if you meant it simply as a ironic aside, I can understand that. I would then apologize for jarring anyone with the "false witness" angle, other than as an attention-getter and a means of establishing where there should be agreement, regardless of paradigm.

If it is simply the exasperation that comes with not being heard on one's own terms, then I think it reflects on the conversation as a whole where the non-creationists (by their own stipulation) feel frustration at not being heard.

On the other hand, as a number of TEs have already expressed dissatisfaction with Millers stipulation. Thus he rejects a reasonable description of his worldview (if it is his worldview) simply because of what the term might imply professionally. His answer really doesn't have a lot of thought behind it, and hardly justifies the title proclaiming as fact what he stipulates.

It's quite clear: Nobody describes themselves as having a "chemistry" worldview. Nobody asserts that chemistry and God are harmonious, despite the seeming randomness of Brownian motion. There's little interest in arguing the contrary.

Yet despite the usefulness of it, Miller rejects the term on the possible inferences, and it all smacks of a sort of peer pressure. But God has appointed me the judge of no man, so if it smacks to me of peer pressure, it just does so.

Peace be with you.

Keith said...

Theistic Evolution has an actual definition which seems to be lacking here. To be a theist simply means that you believe in a theology. You could be a polytheist (think Zeus, Apollo), a Muslim, a Christian, even a Satanic. To be an evolutionist means you believe that evolution is how we and all other forms of life came to be on Earth. To be a Theistic Evolutionist means that you believe that your God(s) used Darwinian Evolution as the method of bringing life to existence.