Friday, 13 September 2013

A Christadelphian attempt to philosophise evolution away.

Christadelphian attacks on evolution are almost always based on recycled special creationist mendacity from the usual suspects from Answers in Genesis, Creation Ministries International or the Discovery Institute. A relatively new approach has been to try to wrestle the problem into the philosophical domain and thus render evolution ineffectual. As Samuel Johnson is claimed to have said, when rebutting Bishop Berkeley's thesis on the non-existence of matter, "I refute it thus." Attempts to rebut evolution with philosophical legerdemain are doomed to fail simply because reality has a bad habit of not going away when cloaked with philosophical rhetoric.

There's a new Christadelphian entry into the evolution-creation battle, which is "really only interested in philosophical appraisal of the ideas of creation, evolution and intelligent design." Such an approach does not bode well for the rigour of arguments advanced, something which is evidenced by this post:

The language of intentional action is very different to the language of natural process. If the verb 'create' in Genesis is the language of intentional action (referring to speech acts) it is not the language of evolution which is about natural processes. The tag 'evolutionary creationism' would therefore seem a category mistake and the older tag 'theistic evolution' would seem more accurate for that point of view.
This argument presupposes that the grammatical objects of bara' are exclusively material, whereas as OT scholar John Walton has demonstrated, when a list of the objects of bara' in the OT are compiled, these objects cannot be unambiguously classed as material:
In contrast, a large percentage of the contexts require a functional understanding. These data cannot be used to prove a functional ontology, but they offer support that existence is viewed in functional rather than material terms, as is true throughout the rest of the ancient world. [1]
Walton's thesis that Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology which is function-oriented (creation of time, weather and food) comports well with the ancient Near Eastern background of Genesis, [2,3] and allows the exegete the opportunity both to interpret Genesis 1 in its sociocultural context, and avoid fighting a losing battle in denying the reality of common descent and large scale evolutionary change.
Given this, the claim that evolutionary creationism  is a category mistake is false since it assumes that creation predicated on a functional ontology is incompatible with evolution, and no evidence for this assertion is given.

I need to emphasise that I am not saying that philosophy has nothing to say about evolutionary biology. Far from it. As Rosenberg  and McShea note:
Darwin's theory of natural selection and its subsequent scientific elaboration more fully combines explanatory relevance to human affairs with independent scientific confirmation than any other theory in science. And this is what makes the theory a potential lightning rod for public controversy. Exploring its implications for humans, some see in it the gravest threat to religion generally or theism in particular. Others find in it the rationalizations for the worst excesses of capitalism. Some treat it as destructive of the very essence of our humanity, on which our values and the very meaning of life depend. Still others see Darwinian theory and the biological understanding it inspires as finally providing the basis for an enduring moral concern for all living things and the planet on which we and other living things find ourselves.
Whether or not Darwinian theory has any such implications is a question that biology certainly cannot yet answer. It may turn out to be a question that biology can never answer. And that of course is what makes the question a philosophical one. And it explains why the philosophy of biology has become so consequential a subject, so consequential that among all the technical subdisciplines of philosophy it is about the only one to find itself represented on bestseller lists, to be expounded in courts of law examining constitutional issues of church and state, and to be the subject of debate in popular culture generally. [4]
This is however completely different from faux-philosophical speculations aimed at trying to distract attention away from the genuine facts which show the reality of common descent. No amount of allusions to Grice or Searle will make the fossil record documenting large-scale evolutionary change or the genomic record of evolution demonstrated by shared retrotransposons in humans and apes vanish, which makes this latest Christadelphian attempt to explain away evolution stillborn.


1. Walton J "The Lost World of Genesis 1" (2009: IVP) p 43
2. Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. (2006: Grand Rapids, Baker Academic)
3. Walton John Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology, (2011: Eisenbrauns)
4. Rosenberg, Alex; McShea, Daniel W. Philosophy of Biology: A Contemporary Introduction (2007: Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy), p 8