Eddie, Evolution, and Consensus

Hi Eddie -

Having observed Joshua’s behavior and arguments, I am not sure I agree with your characterization of @swamidass’ stance. For example, he has stated that he agrees with Behe about descent with modification, yet he has argued at great length, numerous times, that Behe ought not to reject the mechanisms that biologists have summarized in the theory of evolution. As just one example, see the thread he started on “constructive neutral evolution”.

The notion that you can claim to subscribe to a scientific theory, yet at the same time deny the explanatory power of the mechanisms described by the theory, strikes me as exceedingly odd.



A non sequitur. You were speaking about “fundamentalists,” not “large, denominational, confessional churches.” I am well aware of the denominational, confessional churches such as the Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox. But these are not fundamentalist churches in the normal American meaning of the term (though perhaps having spent your life in Australia and Taiwan you are not aware of typical American usage).

Nor is “evangelical” a subset of “fundamentalist,” as your sloppy grouping above seems to imply.

Most of the Baptists and Baptist-type denominations (there are hundreds if not thousands of such denominations) known to me do not subscribe to the classic Lutheran, Reformed, etc. confessions, and have no confession of their own, beyond a generic Protestant statement of belief in God (often with the Trinity affirmed, but no elaborate doctrine of Trinity presented), in salvation through Jesus Christ by faith alone, and in the Bible as the true, inspired, trustworthy, and inerrant (sometimes qualified by “in all that it teaches”) word of God. Sometimes they mention the Apostles’ Creed, rarely the other two major Creeds. I married into a mainline Baptist family, and none of the creeds are ever read in the services. That is not to say they are repudiated, but no emphasis is put on them. The emphasis is all on Bible, Bible, and Bible.

Finally, the vast majority of Pentecostals and charismatics I know of barely give a fig for creeds, confessions, etc. – their whole emphasis is on “religious experience.”

Another non sequitur. “Fundamentalist” does not equal “pre-modern.” Thomism is a pre-modern religious stance, but it is not fundamentalist. So are the stances of C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, etc. “pre-modern,” but they are not fundamentalists. I’m very proud to describe myself as holding a “pre-modern” theology – I’m in the best imaginable theological company (the Greek and Latin Fathers, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin…), and I make no apology to you or anyone else here for that. But I’m certainly not “fundamentalist” in any normal sense of the word, as I reject typical fundamentalist interpretive methods and avoid churches with anything like a fundamentalist culture as far as possible.

First, I have not made specific ID arguments here (irreducible complexity, etc.) I have merely rebutted common misconceptions about what ID people say and think.

Second, it is outright false to say that I have consistently argued against evolution. Joshua has already corrected some people on this when they have accused me of it. I define evolution as “descent with modification” and accept that as my working understanding of the earth’s biological history. As always, in your inability to handle nuance of any kind (a characteristic I have found very common among autodidacts, who tend to see everything in black and white terms), you fail to distinguish between “denying common descent” and “expressing skepticism that proposed mechanisms A, B, etc. are capable of accounting causally for the transformations they are supposed to have produced.” Elementary logic should enable you to see the difference between “I believe that Mr. Boddy was murdered” and “I am skeptical that the knife wound was responsible for the death; it looks to be in the wrong place for a fatal wound; it may be that he was poisoned by his wife, who then stuck a knife in his back to make it look as if a housebreaker did it.” One can believe that X happened while being unsatisfied with any current causal account of how it happened.

Third, you have proved incapable of expressing in your own words the specific claim of “the modern evolutionary synthesis,” or even of justifying the word “the” in that expression, given that there are many quite differing views of evolutionary mechanism floating around in the field. You’re in no position to accuse me of “refusing to accept” a position that you personally can’t even define.

Finally, accusing me of

is absurd. You might as well accuse Darwin of the same thing, since he used the term “descent with modification” rather than “evolution” in the Origin, and only adopted the term “evolution” later when it became current. It might help if you read some actual primary texts of evolutionary theory, instead of relying so much on the opinions of others. Your posts show no indication that you have ever cracked the spine of any book by Darwin, Wallace, Gould, Gaylord Simpson, etc.

Not one of the examples you gave allows unlimited independence of thought and expression. And laughably, you chose as one of your examples the Adventists, one of the narrowest of all religious groups – and in fact one of the major drivers of American fundamentalism, which you so despise. You seem very badly confused.

There is no retreat. That is what I meant in the first place. Every Christian tradition has non-negotiables. To that extent, every Christian tradition is as guilty of putting apologetic interests above freedom of thought as the “fundamentalists” are. It’s merely a difference of where the boundaries are. For the Orthodox, the Trinity is beyond question. For others, it’s not. But all have their limits to “freedom of expression” within the church. Your implied distinction between “anti-intellectual apologetics” and “responsible Christian theology” is much harder to maintain than you imagine. The word “apologia” means “defense,” and every Christian tradition has a position it must defend. To that extent, all Christian theology is inevitably “apologetic.” Christianity isn’t an open-ended, Socratic discussion about the truth. There are boundaries. But those people who have boundaries you don’t respect, you call “fundamentalist” or anti-intellectual or the like. Those people who have boundaries you do respect, you leave alone. Your pretense that you are open to any conclusion someone might derive from the Bible is just that – a pretense. You are just as agenda-driven as anyone else posting here, and your affectation of pure scholarly neutrality will not fool anyone.

That’s not my position, but it’s not as stupid a position as you imply. Arguably the damage done to Christianity by the post-Lutheran anarchy of 10,000 denominations was greater than the damage done by the Medieval church with its total authority. I don’t make a final judgment on that, but the verdict is not clear. A Christian world in which people regard someone like Aquinas as laying out the true theology is much better than a Christian world in which people regard someone like Ken Ham or Hal Lindsey or Herbert W. Armstrong as possessing the correct understanding of the Bible, or in which the cowardly and nebulous nothingness taught by the clerical and intellectual leaders of The United Church of Christ or the American Protestant Episcopal Church passes for Christian belief. If forced to live with theological error, I would rather live with pre-modern theological errors than the errors introduced either by the post-Enlightenment prostration of Christianity before secular modernity or by the misguided (if understandable) fundamentalist reaction to that prostration.

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Hi, Chris.

Joshua has said that he accepts “descent with modification” as the simplest and least loaded meaning of the word “evolution.” But there is a difference between “evolution” and “a particular theory of evolution.”

You are confusing a process with a theory that accounts for the process. Joshua doubtless, in addition to accepting the process of evolution, accepts a good number of the proposed mechanisms as the cause of evolution. I was not claiming that Joshua agrees with everything I have said about mechanisms. I was claiming only that he agreed with my definition of the term “evolution.”

If you want an analogy, think about gravity. One can accept that there is such a thing as gravity, while doubting that Newton’s account of how gravity actually works is adequate. Indeed, physicists still argue about the nature of gravity. But they do not deny that gravity exists, or that its effects can be calculated, for practical purposes in our daily life, using Newton’s equations. Or think about magnetism. The ancients accepted the fact that the lodestone could attract metal. But they did not have a clear theory about how such a thing could happen. In the Middle Ages theories started to emerge. Those medieval theories are finally polished and expressed in the work of Gilbert, ca. 1600. But not everyone accepted Gilbert’s interpretation of magnetism at the time. Everyone believed in “magnetism” but not everyone believed in “Gilbert’s theory of magnetism.”

Thus, I can accept “descent with modification,” while reserving judgment on the question whether Coyne or Andreas Wagner or Gunter Wagner or Scott Turner or James Shapiro or Dawkins or Margulis or anyone else has adequately explained the process.

I don’t see why so many people here find this distinction so hard to grasp, when it’s pretty basic.


Hi Eddie -

If I understand you correctly, you are stating that you accept evolution (defined as descent with modification) while reserving judgment on the theory of evolution. Please let me know if I have misunderstood.


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Let me put it in my own words, to avoid confusion: I accept the existence of a historical process called evolution, without necessarily endorsing any particular account of the mechanics of how that process works.

The problem with your question is that it is ambiguous. Is “the theory of evolution” the theory that all life-forms on earth have descended from one or a few simpler original forms? Or is “the theory of evolution” the theory that all life-forms on earth have descended from one or a few simpler original forms via a particular combination of proposed mechanisms (which, depending on the theorist asked, could include random mutation, natural selection, sexual selection, drift, self-engineering of the genome, horizontal gene transfer, self-organization, etc.)?

That’s why I think the phrase “the theory of evolution” tends to muddle matters. I prefer to talk about process and mechanism. I accept the process, and reserve judgment regarding particular proposed mechanisms.

I suspect that to you “the theory of evolution” has some obvious meaning, and that this is why you are puzzled by my reticence to embrace it. But it doesn’t to me have an obvious meaning. To me it is obvious that nearly all biologists accept evolution as a process, but it’s equally obvious that if I ask 10 evolutionary theorists (from a sufficiently diverse sample) for the exact set of causes involved, and their relative weightings, I will get 10 different answers (and possibly more than 10), and the answers are changing every day as new knowledge of biological mechanism comes along.

So what is the “contemporary evolutionary theory” that I am being asked to sign on to? The view of evolutionary mechanism endorsed by the pseudonymous T. aquaticus, who by his own admission isn’t a scientific specialist in evolutionary theory? Or the view endorsed by Jerry Coyne? By Larry Moran? By James Shapiro? By Andreas Wagner? By Eva Jablonka? By Richard Dawkins? By Craig Venter? Or some sort of compromise between those views, a sort of “average” view of evolutionary mechanism that no one theorist actually holds personally, but might be found in, say, a high school or freshman college biology textbook which smooths over significant differences among the theorists? I’d rather just agree on the existence of the process, and let the theorists fight it out among themselves regarding the possible mechanisms and their relative weightings, and see what emerges over the next 10 years or so.


Hi Eddie,

You are vastly overemphasizing the disagreements at the periphery of biology and thus are missing the large consensus at the heart of the field, in my opinion. That consensus is not a mathematical average; it is more like the large area of overlap in the middle of this Venn diagram…:
…except that the disjoint area is even smaller in the field of biology.

Every field of science has areas of disagreement at its periphery. That’s how scientists broaden theory (or on rare occasions, shift the paradigm). Naturally, this is where scientists focus most of their energy, so it is easy for outsiders to give too much attention to that kerfuffle at the periphery. You are missing the forest for the trees by focusing on the disjoint area at the periphery, in my opinion.

Of course, our conversation is a conversation between auto-didacts. I would be curious to get the opinion of professionals in biology such as @swamidass, @T_aquaticus, @Art, @Rumraket, @glipsnort, @NLENTS, @mercer, @Argon, @AndyWalsh etc.


EDIT: Oops, sorry I missed this:

As far as I can tell, the Wikipedia “evolution” page is a pretty good summary of the field. It lists the sources of variation (mutation, sex and recombination, gene flow) in the context of inheritance. It lists 5 mechanisms (natural selection, biased mutation, genetic drift, genetic hitchhiking, and gene flow) and 5 outcomes (adaptation, coevolution, cooperation, speciation, and extinction). Natural history such as the “last universal common ancestor” also figure in the theory.

The Wikipedia article has a short paragraph on origin-of-life research full of may’s, “is thought to have”'s and other vagueries. Thus it is premature to induct OOL speculations into the area of agreed-upon theory, if I’m reading the situation correctly.

Again, I would appreciate input from the pros!


It appeared that Eddie found the large consensus which is descent with modification.

The consensus is vastly larger that that, as I indicated by my edit. I was editing as you were replying, so feel free to edit or extend your comments as you see fit now that my edits are public. :slight_smile:


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What is missing here is an agreed upon mechanism that you can model creating a complex adaption such as an eye. We all agree eyes appeared (descent with modification) what we don’t know is how.

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Depends on who’s doing the agreeing. If you’re talking about the community of Ph.D. biologists, the agreement (as far as I can tell) is overwhelming that the identified mechanisms account for complex adaptations such as an eye.

On the other hand, if you think that Ken Ham and David Klinghoffer should have equal voice with Ph.D. biologists, you might reach a different conclusion.

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As @Chris_Falter suggests, if you take the consensus view of all of these, with the possible exception of Shapiro, you’ll have a very large amount of evolutionary theory on board. Even where researchers like these differ, it’s usually about the importance of different mechanisms, or about how best to conceptualize processes that all agree on.


The biggest problem is people like to erect an evolutionary strawman and take great swings at it. For example, over at ENV they claim that “Darwinism” is in big trouble because some morphological changes were not driven by natural selection:

James Shapiro does the same thing. Shapiro pretends as if the theory considered small indels and substitution mutations as the only source of genetic variation, which is ludicrous. He points to these complicated mechanisms that mutate DNA and pretends as if it is something that violates the theory of evolution when it clearly doesn’t. The mechanisms he points to produce neutral, beneficial, and detrimental changes that are filtered through selection and contribute to neutral drift, just as all other mutations do.

The scientists at the periphery are all pointing to natural and spontaneous mechanisms, so I really don’t see how they help ID/creationists. The only reason I can see for @Eddie and others creating a tempest in a teapot is to create the false impression that there is something wrong with the theory.


Hi Chris,

Your opinion is correct, in the view of this biologist. You’ve hit the nail on the head in diagnosing Eddie’s misunderstanding and/or misrepresentation.


It appears that you are missing the point completely.

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You also do a nice summation!

1] mutation,
2] sex and recombination,
3] gene flow in the context of inheritance.

(1) natural selection,
(2) biased mutation,
(3) genetic drift,
(4) genetic hitchhiking, and
(5) gene flow.

The outcomes of Evolution:
1- adaptation [no speciation],
2- coevolution,
3- cooperation,
4- speciation, and
5- extinction.

@Chris_Falter, how is Cooperation treated as distinct from Adaption?

What is the basis for their opinion? Where is their model? How is it tested?

We have answered these questions multiple times in other threads.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”–Albert Einstein

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I asked for a model. Not your assertion that you have answered this before.

The issue is you don’t have a model for building a complex adaption. If you did we would not be having all these discussions.

You have been given the model many times.

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Ok maybe the problem is that we have different ideas of what a scientific model is.