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Why is there no controversy surrounding theistic embryology?

Author: Steve Matheson, Professor of Biology
Christian Perspectives in Science Seminar Series
Posted on: Jun 10, 2009

This presentation was given on May 1, 2009, in the Christian Perspectives in Science Seminar Series at Calvin College.

Those who simultaneously express Christian belief and affirm evolutionary theory are said to espouse a position called “theistic evolution.”  The view holds the peculiar distinction of being reviled by both hard-line creationists (who call it “appeasement”) and prominent atheist commentators (who deride it as fallacious).  I argue that these critics typically fail to articulate objections that are specific to the view.  Most creationist critics of theistic evolution object to one or both of these characteristics of the view: 1) its reliance on naturalistic explanation, a feature common to all scientific theorizing; or 2) its embrace of “random” causal events, a feature common to myriad scientific explanations.  Most atheist critics of theistic evolution object to its openness to supernatural explanation, a feature of religious belief in general.  Such criticisms, valid or not, fail to address anything specific to theistic evolution.  In other words, attacks on theistic evolution are usually attacks on theism or attacks on evolution, but rarely represent specific criticisms of the theistic evolution position.  To better understand the controversy surrounding theistic evolution, I propose that critiques of the position be considered in light of a lesser-known position we may (with tongue in cheek) call “theistic embryology.”  Theistic embryology describes the thinking of those who simultaneously express Christian belief and affirm basic theories in human developmental biology.  Although the logic is indistinguishable from that of theistic evolution, the view is uncontroversial and the term “theistic embryology” is practically non-existent.  I suggest that critiques of theistic evolution be subjected to the “theistic embryology test.”  Most critiques that claim to identify weaknesses in theistic evolution make arguments that are equally damaging to “theistic embryology” and so fail the test.  Critiques that fail this whimsical test are likely to be arguments against belief, or against naturalistic explanation, and should be considered as such.

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