Saturday, 2 January 2016

If you prefer the term 'Evolutionary Creationist' then you're in good company.

Evolutionary creationism, as I have pointed out on a number of occasions, is by far a better term to use to describe theists who regard evolution as the means by which God created than the term 'theistic evolutionist', a point that the 20th century geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky pointed out in his 1973 article in The American Biology Teacher when declared, "I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God's, or Nature's method of creation." The term rightly places emphasis on the fact we are creationists, something the term 'theistic evolutionist' completely fails to do, while differentiating the evolutionary creationist from the special creationist. Furthermore, it does not share the major failing of the term 'theistic evolutionist'; one does not prefix the term 'theistic' to all other branches of science, so why should one do the same for evolution?

Yet another major player in the evolution-creation discussion has weighed in on this subject. Palaeoanthropologist James Kidder, author of the splendid Biologos series on the fossil evidence for human evolution has commented on points made in the book Long March of the Koalas by Christian commentator Fred Clark. Clark asserts that the term 'theistic evolutionist' is meaningless:

Clark's reasons, as summarised by Kidder are:

  • It does not necessarily apply to all who might be Christians that accept evolution—it includes people that are not scientists, despite making use of the “ist” suffix. 
  • He argues that we cannot apply the word “theistic” to the word evolution.  It is an inappropriate use of the word because it is being applied to the discipline of evolution, which is non-theistic. He writes: “Sir Isaac Newton earnestly believed in God's active, pervasive providence, but he never saw fit to christen his theory as “theistic gravity.” 
  • His final argument is that when we merge the two terms “theistic” and “evolution,” we conflate the metaphysical understanding of the process and the observational understanding of it.
I would agree with points two and three, particularly the second for reasons I have already highlighted. Point three provides another reason for why those like myself who reject the term 'theistic evolutionist' in favour of 'evolutionary creationist' -  it does not conflate observational and metaphysical understanding, but rather simply qualifies what sort of creationist we are.

As for point one, the bigger problem I would argue is the use of the term 'evolutionist' which not only is sloppy - people are evolutionary biologists, palaeontologists, molecular biologists, experts in systematics and bioinformatics, but not 'evolutionists - but carries with it considerable opprobrium when used by YECs. 'Evolutionist' is a term that I distinctly disavow for those reasons.