Theistic evolution, theistic evolutionism or evolutionary creationism is the view that religious teachings about God are compatible with modern scientific understanding about biological evolution. Theistic evolution is not a scientific theory, but a range of views about how the science of evolution relates to religious beliefs. Supporters of theistic evolution generally reject the conflict thesis regarding the relationship between religion and science – that is, they hold that religious teachings about creation and scientific theories of evolution need not contradict each other. Historian Ronald Numbers describes the late 19th century Christianised Darwinism of George Frederick Wright as Christian Darwinism.
Theistic evolution has been described as the position that "evolution is real, but that it was set in motion by God", and "Theistic evolution, which accepts that evolution occurred as biologists describe it, but under the direction of God". The term was used by National Center for Science Education executive director Eugenie Scott to refer to the part of the overall spectrum of beliefs about creation and evolution holding the theological view that God creates through evolution. It covers a wide range of beliefs about the extent of any intervention by God, with some approaching deism in rejecting continued intervention. Others see intervention at critical intervals in history in a way consistent with scientific explanations of speciation, but with similarities to the ideas of Progressive Creationism that God created "kinds" of animals sequentially.
Evolutionary creation (EC, also referred to by some observers as "evolutionary creationism") states that the creator god uses evolution to bring about his plan. Eugenie Scott states in Evolution Vs. Creationism that it is a type of evolution rather than creationism, despite its name, and that it is "hardly distinguishable from Theistic Evolution". According to evolutionary creationist Denis Lamoureux, although referring to the same view, the word arrangement in the term "theistic evolution" places "the process of evolution as the primary term, and makes the Creator secondary as merely a qualifying adjective." Scott also uses the term "theistic evolutionism" interchangeably with "theistic evolution".
Static views of nature were disrupted in the early 19th century by Georges Cuvier's analysis of fossils and discovery of extinction, confirming geology as showing a historical sequence of life. British natural theology, which sought examples of adaptation to show design by a benevolent Creator, adopted catastrophism to show earlier organisms being replaced in a series of creations by new organisms better adapted to a changed environment. Charles Lyell also saw adaptation to changing environments as a sign of a benevolent Creator, but his uniformitarianism envisaged continuing extinctions and replacements. As seen in correspondence between Lyell and John Herschel, scientists were looking for creation by laws rather than miraculous interventions. In continental Europe, the idealism of philosophers including Lorenz Oken developed a Naturphilosophie in which patterns of development from archetypes were a purposeful divine plan aimed at forming humanity.
These scientists all rejected transmutation of species which was seen as materialist Radicalism threatening the established hierarchies of society. The idealist Louis Agassiz was a persistent opponent of transmutation and saw mankind as the goal of a sequence of creations, but his concepts were the first to be adapted into a scheme of theistic evolutionism. In Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation published in 1844, its anonymous author (Robert Chambers) set out goal-centred progressive development as the Creator's divine plan, programmed to unfold without direct intervention or miracles. The book was a best-seller and popularised the idea of transmutation in a designed "law of progression". It was strongly attacked by the scientific establishment at the time, but later more sophisticated theistic evolutionists followed the same approach of looking for patterns of development as evidence of design.
The prominent scientist Richard Owen, now leader of the scientific establishment, had earlier opposed transmutation. When formulating homology he adapted idealist philosophy to reconcile natural theology with development, unifying nature as divergence from an underlying form in a process demonstrating design. His conclusion to his On the Nature of Limbs of 1849 suggested that divine laws could have controlled the development of life, but he did not expand this idea after objections from his conservative patrons. Others supported the idea of development by law, including the botanist Hewett Watson, and the reverend Baden Powell who wrote in 1855 that such laws better illustrated the powers of the Creator. In 1858 Owen in his speech as President of the British Association said that in "continuous operation of Creative power" through geological time, new species of animals appeared in a "successive and continuous fashion" through birth from their antecedents by a Creative law rather than through slow transmutation.
On the Origin of Species
When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, many liberal Christians accepted evolution provided it was reconciled with the design argument. The clergymen Charles Kingsley and Frederick Temple promoted a theology of creation as an indirect process controlled by divine laws. For some strict Calvinists, as natural selection did not entail inevitable progress it was welcomed since humanity could be seen as a fallen race needing salvation. Darwin's friend Asa Gray defended natural selection as compatible with design.
Within a decade most scientists had been won over to evolution, but from the outset there was opposition to natural selection and a search for a more purposeful mechanism. In 1860 Richard Owen attacked the book in an anonymous review while praising "Professor Owen" for "the establishment of the axiom of the continuous operation of the ordained becoming of living things." Sir John Herschel apparently dismissed the book as "the law of higgledy-piggledy", and in 1861 he wrote of evolution that "An intelligence, guided by a purpose, must be continually in action to bias the direction of the steps of change–to regulate their amount–to limit their divergence–and to continue them in a definite course". He added "On the other hand, we do not mean to deny that such intelligence may act according to law (that is to say, on a preconceived and definite plan)".
In the 1860s theistic evolutionism became a popular compromise in science, and gained widespread support from the general public. In 1866–68 Owen published a theory of derivation proposing that species had an innate tendency to change in ways that resulted in variety and beauty showing creative purpose. Both Owen and Mivart insisted that natural selection could not explain patterns and variation which they saw as resulting from divine purpose. In 1867 the Duke of Argyll published The Reign of Law which explained beauty in plumage without any adaptive benefit as design generated by the Creator's laws of nature for the delight of humans. Argyll attempted to reconcile evolution with design by suggesting that rudimentary organs were being prepared by the laws of variation for a future need.
According to Eugenie Scott: "In one form or another, Theistic Evolutionism is the view of creation taught at the majority of mainline Protestant seminaries, and it is the official position of the Catholic church", despite studies showing that acceptance of evolution is lower in the United States than in Europe or Japan (only Turkey had a lower rate in the 34 countries sampled).
Hominization, in both science and religion, involves the process or the purpose of becoming human. The process and means by which hominization occurs is a key problem in theistic evolutionary thought, at least for the Abrahamic religions, for which the belief that animals do not have immortal souls but humans do is a core teaching. Many versions of theistic evolution insist on a special creation consisting of at least the addition of a soul just for the human species.
Scientific accounts of the origin of the universe, origin of life and subsequent evolution of pre-human life forms may not cause any difficulty (helped by the reluctance of science itself to say anything about what preceded the Big Bang) but the need to reconcile religious and scientific views of hominization and account for the addition of a soul to humans remains a problem. Theistic evolution typically postulates that there was a point at which a population of hominids who had (or may have) evolved by a process of natural evolution acquired souls and thus (with their descendants) became fully human in theological terms. This group might be restricted to Adam and Eve, or indeed Mitochondrial Eve, although versions of the theory allow for larger populations. The point at which this occurred should essentially be the same as in paleoanthropology and archeology, but theological discussion of the matter tends to concentrate on the theoretical. The term "special transformism" is sometimes used to refer to theories that there was a divine intervention of some sort, achieving hominization.
Several 19th century theologians and evolutionists attempted specific solutions, including the Catholics John Augustine Zahm and St. George Jackson Mivart, but tended to be attacked by both the theologicial and biological camps, and 20th century thinking has tended to avoid proposing precise mechanisms.
Relationship to other positions
A number of notable proponents of theistic evolution, including Kenneth R. Miller, John Haught, George Coyne, Denis Alexander, Simon Conway Morris, and Francis Collins are all critics of Intelligent design.
The major criticism of theistic evolution by non-theistic evolutionists focuses on its essential belief in a supernatural creator. These critics argue that by the application of Occam's razor, sufficient explanation of the phenomena of evolution is provided by natural processes (in particular, natural selection), and the intervention or direction of a supernatural entity is not required. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins considers theistic evolution as a superfluous attempt to "smuggle God in by the back door".
Young Earth creationists criticise theistic evolution on theological grounds, finding it hard to reconcile the nature of a loving God with the process of evolution, in particular, the existence of death and suffering before the Fall of Man. They consider that it undermines central biblical teachings by regarding the creation account as a myth, a parable, or an allegory, instead of treating it as historical. They also fear that a capitulation to what they call "atheistic" naturalism will confine God to the gaps in scientific explanations, undermining biblical doctrines, such as God's incarnation through Christ.[better source needed]
- Numbers 2006, pp. 34–38
- Evolution Vs. Creationism, Eugenie Scott, Niles Eldredge, p62-63
- Numbers 1993, p. 36
- "Building bridges". Nature 442 (7099): 110. 2006. doi:10.1038/442110a.
- Stipe, Claude E., "Scientific Creationism and Evangelical Christianity", American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 87, No. 1 (Mar., 1985), p. 149, Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association, JSTOR
- The Creation/Evolution Continuum by Eugenie Scott, December 2000, National Center for Science Education; see also Scott, 271 for another definition
- Evolutionary creation, Denis Lamoureux
- Denis O. Lamoureux (2003). "Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution". University of Alberta. Retrieved 25 April 2012. "The most important word in the term evolutionary creation is the noun “creation.” These Christian evolutionists are first and foremost thoroughly committed and unapologetic creationists. They believe that the world is a creation that is absolutely dependent for every instant of its existence on the will and grace of the Creator. The qualifying word in this category is the adjective “evolutionary,” indicating simply the method through which the Lord made the cosmos and living organisms. This view of origins is often referred to as “theistic evolution.” However, such a word arrangement places the process of evolution as the primary term, and makes the Creator secondary as merely a qualifying adjective."
- Scott, 271
- Bowler 2003, pp. 108–109, 113–118, 133–134
- Bowler 1992, pp. 47–49
- Bowler 2003, pp. 125–126, 139
- Desmond & Moore 1991, pp. 428–429
- Bowler 2003, pp. 203–205
- [Owen, Richard]. 1860. Review of Origin & other works. Edinburgh Review 111: 487-532, p. 500.
- Bowler 2003, pp. 186, 204
- Bowler 2003, pp. 204–207
- Miller, J. D.; Scott, EC; Okamoto, S (2006). "SCIENCE COMMUNICATION: Public Acceptance of Evolution". Science 313 (5788): 765–6. doi:10.1126/science.1126746. PMID 16902112.
- Devine, Philip E. (2008). "Creation and Evolution". Religious Studies 32 (3): 325. doi:10.1017/S0034412500024380.
- For example, the Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas attributed "soul" (anima) to all organisms but taught that only human souls are immortal. See: Peter Eardley and Carl Still, Aquinas: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: Continuum, 2010), pp. 34–35. Other Dharmic religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism) teach that all biological organisms have souls that pass from one life to another in the Transmigration of souls. See "Soul", The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001–07. Retrieved 12 November 2008.
- Including the Catholic Church, see Rahner, section "Hominization" by Karl Rahner in entry on "Evolution", 484-485; Scott, 271-272. Note that "special creation of man" in Catholic references is a far more restricted concept than "special creation" (q.v.) in typical Creationist usage.
- Rahner, 484-488; see also Artigas, 19, 23, 24, 35 etc
- The six leading examples are the subject of Artigas's book. Each of these has a chapter in Artigas: Léroy, Zahm, Bonomelli, Mivart, the English Bishop John Hedley, and Raffaello Caverni. All are also covered by Brundell.
- Kung, 94-95
- Krauss, Lawrence M. (2012) A Universe from Nothing Free Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-4516-2445-8 p.146 f.
- Numbers(2006) p374
- answersingenesis.org: 10 dangers of theistic evolution
- Artigas, Mariano; Glick, Thomas F., Martínez, Rafael A.; Negotiating Darwin: the Vatican confronts evolution, 1877–1902, JHU Press, 2006, ISBN 0-8018-8389-X, 9780801883897, Google books
- Bowler, Peter J. (1992). The Eclipse of Darwinism: anti-Darwinian evolutionary theories in the decades around 1900. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-4391-4.
- Bowler, Peter J. (2003). Evolution:The History of an Idea. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23693-9.
- Brundell, Barry, "Catholic Church Politics and Evolution Theory, 1894-1902", The British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Mar., 2001), pp. 81–95, Cambridge University Press on behalf of The British Society for the History of Science, JSTOR
- Kung, Hans, The beginning of all things: science and religion, trans. John Bowden, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007, ISBN 0-8028-0763-1, ISBN 978-0-8028-0763-2. Google books
- Numbers, Ronald L. (1993) . The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520083936.
- Numbers, Ronald (November 30, 2006). The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, Expanded Edition. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-02339-0.
- Rahner, Karl, Encyclopedia of Theology: A Concise Sacramentum Mundi, 1975, Continuum International Publishing Group, ISBN 0860120066, 9780860120063, google books
- Scott, Eugenie C., "Antievolution and Creationism in the United States", Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 26, (1997), pp. 263–289, JSTOR
- Collins, Francis; (2006) The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief ISBN 0-7432-8639-1
- Michael Dowd (2009) Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World ISBN 0-452-29534-3
- Falk, Darrel; (2004) Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology ISBN 0-8308-2742-0
- Miller, Kenneth R.; (1999) Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution ISBN 0-06-093049-7
- Miller, Keith B.; (2003) Perspectives on an Evolving Creation ISBN 0-8028-0512-4
- Corrado Ghinamo; (2013) The Beautiful Scientist: a Spiritual Approach to Science ISBN 1621474623; ISBN 978-1621474623
Accounts of the history
- Appleby, R. Scott. Between Americanism and Modernism; John Zahm and Theistic Evolution, in Critical Issues in American Religious History: A Reader, Ed. by Robert R. Mathisen, 2nd revised edn., Baylor University Press, 2006, ISBN 1-932792-39-2, ISBN 978-1-932792-39-3. Google books
- Harrison, Brian W., Early Vatican Responses to Evolutionist Theology, Living Tradition, Organ of the Roman Theological Forum, May 2001.
- Morrison, John L., "William Seton: A Catholic Darwinist", The Review of Politics, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Jul., 1959), pp. 566–584, Cambridge University Press for the University of Notre Dame du lac, JSTOR
- O'Leary, John. Roman Catholicism and modern science: a history, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006, ISBN 0-8264-1868-6, ISBN 978-0-8264-1868-5 Google books
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- Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution by Denis Lamoureux (St. Joseph's College, Edmonton)
- About: Agnosticism/Atheism on 'Theistic Evolution & Evolutionary Creationism' by Austin Cline; overview of various viewpoints
- Creationism: What's a Catholic to Do? by Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M.; critical assessment of creationism and intelligent design from a Roman Catholic perspective.
- What is Creationism? by Mark Isaak, presents various forms of creationism
- What is Evolution? by Laurence Moran, presents a standard definition for evolution
- Answers In Creation Old Earth Creationism, with section on theistic evolution
- Evolution & Creation: A Theosophic Synthesis Surveys critical problems in Darwinist explanations and common theistic views; explores ancient and modern "excluded middle" alternatives
- The Vatican's View of Evolution: The Story of Two Popes by Doug Linder (2004)
- Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes on evolution and "intelligent design"
- Spectrum of Creation Beliefs From Flat Earthism to Atheistic Evolutionism, including Theistic Evolution
Proponents of theistic evolution
- Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution by Theodosius Dobzhansky (see also: Wikipedia's article)
- Kenneth R Miller's homepage
- Thank God for Evolution Michael Dowd's evolutionary ministry
- God and Evolution at the TalkOrigins Archive
- Evolutionary Creationist Ghinamo Corrado's homepage
- Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: On Evolution subtitled "Truth Cannot Contradict Truth", by Pope John Paul II, 22 October 1996.
- On Cosmology and Fundamental Physics, by Pope John Paul II, 3 October 1981.
- Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God Statement on creation and evolution from the International Theological Commission headed by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), 23 July 2004.
- Science Does Not Need God, or Does It? A Catholic Scientist Looks at Evolution transcript of talk by astronomer George V. Coyne, S.J.
- Perspectives on Theistic Evolution An examination of both the theological and scientific aspects of theistic evolution.
- The "Clergy Letter" Project signed by thousands of clergy supporting evolution and faith
- DMD Publishing Co. home page Essays arguing that even a literal treatment of Genesis requires theistic evolution.
- Denis R Alexander, Can a Christian believe in evolution?, The Evangelical Alliance, 12 May 2006
- Let There Be Light: An Orthodox Theory of Human Evolution For the 21st Century, John P. Maletis, Theandros, Vol. 5 No.3
- Norman Hughes, Professor Emeritus of Biology, Pepperdine University. See his letter to the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation and the response by Apologetics Press.