To what brand of TE is the new Theistic Evolution book objecting?

@Paul_Nelson is kindly ensuring I get a review copy of this book. I look forward to reading it with anticipation.

I notice that “Theistic Evolution” in this book, seems to be a particular brand of TE / EC. I say this because they choose to includes the theistic evolutionist Michael Behe as an endorser, writing:

Theistic evolution means different things to different people. This book carefully identifies,
and thoroughly debunks, an insidious, all-too-commonly accepted sense of the phrase

and also even go to define what has gone wrong with TE in this iteration. One of the final chapters is titled…

Additional Note: B. B. Warfield Did Not Endorse Theistic Evolution as It Is Understood Today

I’m curious to read this book to understand what exactly they think the problem is, and if it can be reconciled. If the issue is just that they do not like the type of TE they see currently, perhaps they could grow a new type that they theologically find acceptable, but still affirms evolutionary science. Perhaps the conflict here is just a theological fight being imported into science (not just by them, to be clear, but many of us).

To the forum, what do you think the answer to this is. What is it about the brand of TE they see today that they dislike? How much of this accurate or misrepresentation? How much of this is resolvable or not?

I moved this to a new thread because it sounded like a good question and it was buried 50 posts deep in the other discussion.

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I know @jstump has been thinking about this a bit. I wonder what he would come up with.

They dislike the idea that TE doesn’t require God to act outside of natural laws. They believe that God can only exist if there are things in this universe that couldn’t be produced by natural processes.

I don’t see how the two sides can be reconciled until they decide that God is allowed to act through nature instead of counter to it. I think I may abuse a Darwin quote one more time:

It can hardly be supposed that a false theory would explain, in so satisfactory a manner as does the theory of natural selection, the several large classes of facts above specified. It has recently been objected that this is an unsafe method of arguing; but it is a method used in judging of the common events of life, and has often been used by the greatest natural philosophers … I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one. It is satisfactory, as showing how transient such impressions are, to remember that the greatest discovery ever made by man, namely, the law of the attraction of gravity, was also attacked by Leibnitz, “as subversive of natural, and inferentially of revealed, religion.” A celebrated author and divine has written to me that “he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws.”
— Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (1859)

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Do you think this is an adequate explanation? BioLogos has always allowed for divine or miraculous actions by God… in addition to normal lawful processes.

Are there really any Creationists who think God only works through miraculous activity?

This is brings us back, once again, to how God makes it rain. Are you actually suggesting that YEC’s will not permit the notion that God makes rain by means of evaporation and the water cycle?

BioLogos follows the evidence, and if the evidence points to natural causes then they believe that God acted through nature. If the evidence was inconsistent with natural processes and consistent with the miraculous then BioLogos might lean that way, but that isn’t the case. BioLogos lets the evidence speak for itself, as it were.

The ID crowd can’t allow God to act through nature because the emergence of species has to be miraculous (i.e. not natural) in some way. At least that is what I am seeing from them. They start with the belief that God did not act through nature, and any path that leads them away from that belief is equated to atheism.

No one is accusing them of being consistent. :wink:

This is what they say in the book:

“In brief summary form, then, the form of theistic evolution that we are respectfully taking issue with is this belief:

God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes.” (p. 67)

@BradKramer and I interacted publicly and privately with contributors to the book (and others from DI) at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting a couple of weeks ago. We said, we don’t know anyone affiliated with BioLogos who would accept that definition. That came as a surprise to some; others seemed to know that but kept pushing the same rhetorical strategy anyway.


In a Facebook group, a Wheaton prof said that the EC vs. TE term came up at a question-answer session they had put on for students last week after a student group sponsored a screening of the Is Genesis History movie. One prof said that none of them were theistic evolutionists because that described a deistic view. Other profs said they still used the TE term to self-identify but expressed willingness to go with “the new labeling system” (i.e., evolutionary creationist) used by BioLogos and others if it was going to communicate respect for biblical authority and belief in miracles. I think “theistic evolutionist” has become similar to “Evangelical.” It doesn’t always mean what people using it think it means and the people saying it might have totally different ideas about what it means than the people hearing it. And who gets to arbitrate what the label really implies?


@BradKramer and @jstump could you explain more? What actually happened there?

I agree, also, that that is a strawman interpretation of TE. How exactly do they insist on that when BioLogos points out that they do not hold that position? Honestly, it sounds more like Behe’s position that BioLogos (see his cosmic fine tuning, pool trickshot analogy).

“In brief summary form, then, the form of theistic evolution that we are respectfully taking issue with is this belief:
God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes.” (p. 67)

Just another example of a Red Herring approach … they might as well say we actually have devil tails too… but keep them well hidden!

If a group coins a term to describe themselves, then I think they should be the ones who arbitrate what that term means. The whole point of using labels to describe a group is to accurately portray what that group is, what they believe, and the positions they hold. Inventing a strawman to beat on may be a rhetorical strategy some people adopt, but it is not a constructive way to enter into the debate.

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Right. I think the position they are describing may be held by some people who call themselves theistic evolutionists. The problem is when they explicitly state that BioLogos is the main proponent of the view they describe, which is not true.


It seems a key part of the clause is “empirically detectable,” by which they will likely mean “scientifically detectable.”

Who at BioLogos believes that God’s action is empirically detectable in science, in the language of science? I certainly do not. Not because God is hiding himself, but because science is profoundly limited. Of course, there is immense of amount evidence for God, it;s just hat science is blind to it. With that clause, it is possible this is better than a strawman?

I would point out too, that if this is where they conflict lies, on detectability in science, then this has very little to do with Scripture or theology or philosophy. Even Jim Tour one of the authors would disagree:

Though 350 years since Pascal penned his dilemma, as a modern-day scientist, I do not know how to prove ID using my most sophisticated of analytical tools. I share Pascal’s frustration. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if, when scientists had obtained the first molecular resolution images of human DNA, it had self-assembled (a thermodynamic process) into the Hebrew script to say, “The God of Heaven and Earth was here.”? But it did not, and I suppose that the wonder would have elicited no love from the skeptic anyway. Therefore, God seems to have set nature as a clue, not a solution, to keep us yearning for him.

It does appear detectability is the issue, but that means might becoming to the table with the presumption they will find scientific evidence for God’s action, before they even have seen such evidence in science. We will see though. Look forward to reading the book.


Interesting stuff. It seems that some of the motivation is related to “demonizing” ET in the eyes of the uninformed, another reason to use the term EC to describe what Biologos represents.

I wonder how they rationalize the search for detectability with Jesus’ words in Matthew:

Matthew 12:38-40New International Version (NIV)
The Sign of Jonah

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

I thought these quotes from Jeanson/Lisle, both YECs, might be useful as a different way of asking what is TE/CE. I’ve been working on the a manuscript looking at how the YEC view of speciation is hard to distinguish from TE other than the scientific data don’t support it. Consider some observations from an article by Jeanson and Lisle in ARJ (AiGs journal) about the origin of eukaryotic species. In this paper Jeanson and Lisle propose a creationist speciation mechanism—to explain how so many species could have formed in each kind—which they call the CHNP (Created Heterozygosity and Natural Processes) hypothesis. Read these quotes and tell me how Jeanson and Lisle aren’t practically TEs with respect to how species are created.

Quoting from the paper “the CHNP hypothesis proposes that diploid individuals were created heterozygous, and that natural processes since this event (including recombination, gene conversion, mutation, natural selection, etc.) have distributed and/or added to the original created genetic diversity, thus producing the genotypic and consequently, phenotypic diversity we observe today.”

JD note: interesting that he uses the term “add to the original created genetic diversity.” Could that be construed as adding new information to the genome by natural means?

Jeanson/Lisle: “To be sure, this is not a deistic process. Under the CHNP model, God doesn’t create and then abandon His creation. Rather, the CHNP model recognizes that God is actively involved in His creation, providentially upholding it to this day, and the model recognizes that God works via means, including via the environment and the natural processes that He supernaturally designed and upholds.”

JD note: So how is this different than evolutionary creation? Any evolutionary creationist could make the same statement. How might an OEC or ID advocate feel about this statement?

Jeanson/Lisle: As an additional point of clarification, our CHNP model does not reject the operation of mutations, transposition events, or the like. Instead, we propose that “kinds” started with heterozygous genomes and that the genetic variety in these genomes was modified not only by recombination and other reshuffling processes but also by mutation processes—only at rates consistent with documented genetic processes and parameters.”

In other words our model invokes a single, biblically-justified miracle of creation during the Creation Week, and then invokes observable natural processes thereafter. Thus since our model is free of ad hoc miracles and otherwise unobservable natural processes, our model meets the first half of the criteria for the third test above, genetic plausibility at the level of the individual program.”

JD note: It appears to me that their hypothesis is that naturalistic evolution happens after initial creation and that evolution should be apparent by studying observable natural processes.

Maybe even more interesting, they don’t seem to be able to say how such mechanism would NOT lead to new “kinds.” Quote: “hence, robust YEC explanations for the origin of a vast number of species must explain not only how genetic mechanisms produce many phenotypes, but also how these processes did not transform one “kind” into another.”

Think about that for a moment. If natural mechanisms can produces such incredible phenotypic diversity in a short time how does it stop itself from making new kinds? That is a good question? But also think about how the very definition of “kind” makes no sense here. A kind is simply an original created organisms and all of its offspring (we call that a monophyletic group). If that original kind diversified into all the canines then it doesn’t matter how different they are from each other, right? They would still be one kind even if you might identify subsets within that kind like cats, dogs and bears. How are they going to know when massive genetic change has gone too far? And what would it mean to go too far anyway?


This is the part of the definition that most confuses me. How is evolution a process that can be described wholesale in the past perfect tense? God didn’t intervene in a detectable way until all things had evolved? At what point in time was evolution completed? That presumes that creation as we observe it now (or as it was at the beginning of redemption history maybe?) is God’s completed creation instead of an ongoing work.


This may be part of the conflict that exists between the Discovery Institute crowd and EC’s. The Discovery Institute wants their claims to be considered science and be taught in science classes. One could argue that the founding principle of the Discovery Institute was to push YEC/OEC creationism into public school science classes after previous court rulings had banned overtly religious descriptions of creationism.

EC’s are content with agreeing with the science and holding religious beliefs that deal with the areas outside of the limits of science. This is a direct threat to the position held by the Discovery Institute. From the famous Wedge Document:

“We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

Many of the same people who were around the Discovery Institute when that document was written are still there, or still hold sway. I would think that this is still their mission as an organization. They have deemed science as a “materialistic worldview” and when they find Christians like those at BioLogos who don’t view science in this manner it ruins the conflict they have tried to create. The see EC’s as appeasing their enemy, and that can’t be tolerated. This is what leads them to compare EC’s to atheists because they see them as being on the same side of the Culture War they are trying to fight.


I just noticed from @Christy’s point that these two claims are here. Now, I do not know actually if anyone in BioLogos holds that view. It also seems (though I cannot be sure) that there is a conflation/equivocation between God’s action and detecting God’s action. I do not think that God’s action is scientifically detectable, but I do believe He acts. Science has not demonstrated we evolved by purely natural mechanisms; even many of my secular colleagues (the honest ones) grant that.



The conflict is not just with detectability:

Let’s have another look at the Red Herring Award [award at bottom]

**“In brief summary form, then, the form of theistic evolution that we are respectfully taking issue with is this belief: **
God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes.” (p. 67)

[a] to cause any empirically detectable change; and !!!

[b] until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes" < !!!

It’s one thing to dither around with the idea that we are in a position to detect all, most or any of God’s non-natural miracles.

But I am quite certain there is nothing in the BioLogos mission statements that requires this last condition.

No doubt there are a few here or there who hold to the view that the most miraculous thing God can do is to accomplish all his goals using natural processes. But this is not the conventional position.

The whole point of God “guiding” evolution is that he may or may not be nudging things by obvious and not so obvious miracles…


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There is a jaw-droppingly amazing (in the “can’t look away from the car wreck” way) thread over at Uncommon Descent that everyone should check out:

Just a snippet of one of the comments:

“Thanks Stephen you have hit the nail on the head with respect to BioLogos community and all theistic evolutionists. Their thinking process is based on the worship of scientific materialism with all of is false assumptions and therefore fallacious conclusions. Tragically as it is written “Although they claimed to be wise, they have become fools”. It is mind boggling that they cannot recognize why it is irrational to believe that any process cannot be both random and directed simultaneously. TEs for the sake of pride and acceptance into the club of the self-ordained intellectual elite, have divested themselves of rational thinking, and when confronted with both the logical and theological absurdity of their position usually run and hide.”

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