Human Extension and Theistic Evolution/Evolutionary Creation – What Happens When ‘Neo’ Comes?

Much of what I wrote in the previous post can be likewise directed toward the two positions called ‘theistic evolution’ (TE) and ‘evolutionary creation’ (EC). These two similar views are particularly popular among monotheists of the Abrahamic faiths who have little problem with the natural-physical science of evolutionary biology and at the same time who reject ‘young earth’ (YE) arguments based on a literal reading of the first two chapters in the Book of Genesis. As Robert J. Russell says, “evolution is God’s way of creating life.” (2003: 336) This ‘camp’ of thinkers called TE or EC is more openly religious than ‘intelligent design’ (ID) proponents due to the fact that they include ‘theism’ or ‘creation’ in their respective labels.

TE and EC as positions or labels basically constitute those people who believe that the Creator guides or directs the processes of change-over-time that we observe ‘in nature,’ even if we cannot scientifically prove the guidance or direction (cf. Teleology). They represent the vast majority of religious persons today who see no conflict between evolutionary biology and religious belief or spirituality, between accepting an ‘old Earth,’ studying theology and/or being a person of faith. Where the discussion becomes most complicated and full of tension is when evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, ethology and cognitive studies (e.g. origins of consciousness) are involved and when (neo-)Darwinian evolution is turned into an atheistic and oftentimes anti-theistic ideology called ‘(neo-)Darwinism.’ 

The strongest challenge to TEs and ECs is for them to openly identify ‘limitations’ of evolution as a natural-physical scientific theory that should not dictate to their theology. There are, after all, no Theistic Gravitationists or Uncertainty Creationists; people don’t often feel a need to share the stage of their theology’s validity or lack thereof with most other natural scientific principles or laws. Why then do certain Abrahamic monotheists feel a need to partner their religious faith with a naturalistic scientific theory such as evolutionary biology? Why do they elevate evolution from cosmology, geology and biology to technology, ethics, economics and religion? It is because ‘evolution’ is a special theory, unique for what it claims that does indeed challenge traditional or classical theology.

The need for an alternative to TE and EC is based responsibly upon rejecting the extremism that takes place under the name of evolutionistic ideology or ‘universal evolutionism.’ Those who subscribe to TE and EC, just as with universal Darwinists (e.g. R. Dawkins. S. Blackmore, D. Dennett), tend to exaggerate the number of fields in which ‘evolution’ should be considered as valid, based on an outdated or primitive (read: Anglo-American analytic) philosophical approach to ‘science.’ They accept almost the same views of the elevated status of natural-physical sciences as do atheists and agnostics in regard to ‘evolution.’ They tie evolutionary theory tightly together with their theology, committing the error of embracing evolutionistic ideology as part and whole along with naturalistic science. Their theology is thus highly biased (i.e. towards process thought) and oftentimes evasive with respect to possible ‘interventions’ or actual ‘guidance’ by the Creator ‘in nature.’ It often discounts the common and specific human belief in supernatural or extra-natural ‘miracles.’

The pure naturalist, neo-Darwinist camp commits a similar error in not giving pride of place to human interventions into our biology, above the level of natural-physical change-over-time. They deem the ‘artificial’ as simply ‘natural.’ They elevate the term ‘evolution’ into culture, values, beliefs and ethics, adding a triumphalist tone to the assumption that evolutionary biology (or genomics) is the king or queen of the sciences. This exaggeration of ‘evolution’ into fields that involve human beings is a classic case of academic transferability fraud, easily seen in the examples of socio-biology and ‘memetics.’ The neo-Darwinist allegiance to science is often fueled by anti-theism, denying the possibility of studying or exploring anything not ‘natural’ according to their definition. The arrival of Human Extension is meant to curb the excesses of evolutionism and naturalism by offering an alternative language of expression and a new method for social sciences, centred on human choices and their consequences in nature and society.

Human Extension as a neo-id approach points out that materialism, naturalism, and scientism, lack coherent meaning as ideologies once human beings are reflexively, personally involved. One can use scientific methods to study nature and material objects without necessarily extrapolating science into a disenchanting worldview. Muslims, Christians, Jews and Baha’is may accept ‘natural evolution’ as a suitable category to use ‘in biology’ and in some other natural-physical sciences. But they may also conclude it is an unacceptable category to apply to meaning in human life, as studied in social ‘sciences,’ which requires an ‘enchanted’ world of purpose, choice and plan.

Human Extension thus cuts across the divide between TEists, ECists and IDers, the latter who believe that science can be said to prove that ‘design/Design’ is not just imaginary, but actually real ‘in nature.’ Non-theists, agnostics and atheists are also welcome to consider the meaning of Human Extension in their lives and in the human societies, cultures, communities and families in which they live. There is no reason to call Human Extension an example of neo-Theistic Evolution or neo-Evolutionary Creation because once evolutionary theory is seen as a limited natural-physical scientific approach, the reasons for tightly coupling it into a label for one’s self-identity fall away.

For this author, the purpose of constructing a ‘neo-id’ theory has been not to seek ‘cultural renewal’ (primarily in the United States), but rather to indicate a clear, coherent and responsible scholarly view of reality that maintains the integrity of a fruitful, cooperative dialogue between three major realms: science (including both human-social and natural-physical), philosophy and theology (also welcoming religion and/or worldview). What is thus sought is a fresh start, with new terms, instead of banging one’s head against a polemical dialogue wall, based on ‘culture warring’ mentalities.

‘Design’ is real; it exists and is ‘scientifically’ detectable in some spheres, if not in others. Human Extension, however, is a more powerful term than ‘design,’ worthy to be considered as an alternative to evolution that inherently involves teleology, choice and action. Without extension, none of us is moving or going anywhere!

Human Extension says ‘No More,’ to the USA’s evolution-creation-design Culture War; this is something for which appeasement-oriented TEs and ECs who seek meaningful truths in science and scripture can get on-board.

References:

Miller, Keith ed. Perspectives of an Evolving Creation. Eerdmans, 2003.

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4 Responses to “Human Extension and Theistic Evolution/Evolutionary Creation – What Happens When ‘Neo’ Comes?”


  1. 1 camelhump 21/04/2012 at 15:39

    Thanks for these two posts, Gregory, which cover a great deal of ground. One thing occurs to me particularly with reference to neoID’s role respecting both ID and theistic evolution.

    Whatever their particular agendas and shortcomings, whether overt, hidden or socially contingent, the thing that both are fundamentally opposing is the metaphysical pretension of materialistic naturalism to explain all reality without reference to ultimate purpose.

    That metaphysic sometimes impinges on the human sciences by the various attempts to explain away human purpose: human extension potentially dilutes or defuses that by dealing with human purpose as axiomatic, in that it is far more useful than convoluted evolutionary explanations.

    Yet many materialists are happy to be less doctrinaire regarding human purpose: they would accept its existence, yet maintain that it evolved as the result of the usual blind, purposeless mechanisms. Phenomenologically, it now exists, they might say, so may be employed as a useful explanatory tool for secondary, human, events (just as Rosenberg, for example, is happy to use the tools of mental persuasion to argue that the mind does not “really” exist). That position is no less incoherent now than it would be were HE to become accepted, but whilst humans remain human they will continue to act as if human purpose is real.

    So I am saying that materialistic naturalism could remain materialistic naturalism even after conceding the reality of HE, and could remain dominant by making that strategic concession. If so, the concerns of ID and TE over ultimate purpose would not have been addressed at all: man might have got his foot back in the door, but God would still be left outside in the cold. TEs and IDs would still need arguments about the origin of human purpose being the result of a higher purpose, if bare faith is to be supported by academic endeavour.

    It’s not yet clear to me how Human Extension might explore this matter of ultimate, as distinct from human, purpose.

    • 2 Gregory Sandstrom 01/05/2012 at 18:45

      Hello camelhump,
      Thanks for your supportive words and insightful comment.

      A couple of things to say in response: First, while I agree that both ID and TE or EC keep open references to ‘ultimate purpose,’ at least with ID this is mainly kept in the background. The foreground, to which we are asked to pay serious attention, is the supposed ‘natural science’ of ‘design detection,’ using specified complexity, pattern recognition, etc. Since many IDers pride themselves in pointing out that a select few agnostics and even non-theists embrace their ‘scientific’ idea, it is not clear what kind of ‘ultimate purpose’ that ID has in mind/Mind.

      On the other hand, it is quite obvious that TE and EC are more openly concerned with ‘ultimate purpose’ than ID, by virtue of the fact that TE and EC are admittedly a philosophical perspective (even if a relatively weak one), which attempts to bridge natural science and religion and/or theology, rather than to build a new meaning of ‘science’ and thus to ‘renew’ society through science.

      Next, you are correct in noting that human extension treats human purpose, as well as intentionality, as axiomatic. This means accepting ‘free will’ within a realist approach to science, philosophy and religion discourse. I’m not as concerned with so-called ‘materialists’ as either the IDM or TEs/ECs seem to be because once Human Extension is allowed to open the door to purpose and choices as axiomatic, materialists have already granted something onto the playing field that they previously disallowed.

      Finally, as far as materialistic naturalism ‘remaining dominant,’ I don’t see this pessimistically and the vast majority of people I speak with are actually not materialistic naturalists. Do you personally know many or any ‘materialistic naturalists’? Sure, I’ve met a few in my work and travels, but imho it is only a very small percentage of people, perhaps mainly academics (a new scholasticism of the late 20th and early 21st century), who’ve swallowed some disenchanting logic of ‘material uber alles,’ that operate with such a closed understanding of the universe and their lives in (and possibly beyond) it.

      It is not the main responsibility of Human Extension as a sociological contribution to open a new (yet another) market regarding ‘ultimate purpose.’ Nevertheless, the history of the language of ‘extension’ includes scientific, philosophical and theological (or worldview) themes, there is no reason why disqualifying ‘higher meaning’ from the discussion table would be necessary. Indeed, if we are to have a holistic dialogue table open, we can indeed admit that origins, meaning, purpose and teleology should all be involved on topics related to human persons.

      Gregory

      • 3 camelhump 01/05/2012 at 19:09

        Thanks for reply, Gregory.

        Just on whether I know materialistic naturalists, the answer is “a few”, but my personal circles are fairly limited nowadays, in retirement. Maybe more of concern, personally, is that MN seems to be a prevailing ethos, almost independent of individuals’ own inner worldview. In public discourse, it’s “OK” to talk about physical things, but somehow “taboo” to go beyond that.

        Since faith (conventional or esoteric) is, in this way, seldom on the public radar, it’s more that MN contaminates us all to an extent, like consumerism or hedonism.

        If that’s true, I’m really not sure if MN is the project of a cabal, or just the spirit of the age.

      • 4 Gregory Sandstrom 06/05/2012 at 09:31

        Hello camelhump,

        While I agree with the thrust of your observations, there are a couple of points to note where we disagree.

        You wrote: “MN seems to be a prevailing ethos…”

        This statement has no evidence to support it that I’ve found as a sociologist of science, which is the main field that would study ‘the prevailing ethos’ regarding ‘methodological naturalism’ (MN) as what ‘science (supposedly) does.’ It may be that you’ve accepted the wrong opinions on this or are speaking with people who have misunderstandings. I’ve met many creationists, IDers and ‘new atheists’ who try to use MN for their own purposes in a ‘culture war.’ But that is not my purpose at this Human Extension blog and talk of MN by such figures is not supported here.

        Let me compare your usage of MN with the IDM. They commonly talk about R. Dawkins, D. Dennett, S. Harris, J. Coyne, M. Ruse, P.Z. Myers, L. Krause, L. Moran, E. Scott, N. Matzke, et al. *as if* they are seeking legitimacy by convincing these people in particular that their view is right, valid, true, ‘scientific.’ Iow, they are inviting a culture war mentality, whether they realise it or not, instead of doing the important groundwork in the scientific, philosophical or theological realms. I find this attitude to be misguided and counter-productive. W. Dembski understood this in 2003, when he realised the ‘cultural renewal’ project of the IDM was getting ahead of so-called ‘ID-science.’ But very little progress (if any) has been made since then.

        Likewise, one doesn’t overcome ‘(neo-)Darwinism’ by repeatedly talking about ‘(neo-)Darwinism’ (i.e. what ‘reification’ means in human-social sciences – you reify it by talking about it); instead one overcomes it by showing that one needn’t talk about Darwin’s relevance or contribution on certain topics anymore and by not talking about him because his views are outdated. The IDM wishes it could do this and that it could advance to this point, but they have shown time and again incapacity; they are still fixated on Darwin, as some people are fixated on MN. One doesn’t overcome MN by constantly appealing to it, as if it is an attitude that ‘practising’ (natural) scientists actually do or should hold. I find such a reifying approach to MN and (neo-)Darwinism counter-productive to progressive dialogue.

        “In public discourse, it’s “OK” to talk about physical things, but somehow “taboo” to go beyond that.”

        I guess it depends which ‘public’ you mean and what role ‘going beyond that’ might serve or play. For example, taking a minute of silence for prayer is quite common in most G8 countries, probably in most G20 countries (I only saw the news from the G8 at the time of the example in mind), after significant national tragedies or historic events. Indeed, supra-physical, supra-organic or ‘cultural’ themes are welcomed globally as legitimate and necessary topics of discussion; they are not ‘taboo’ in the least, once humanity is re-humanised from a physicalistic, naturalistic, reductionistic or scientistic view of things. Many local, national and regional customs and traditions go ‘beyond the physical’; it may be that instead of talking about these things on the street, however, one needs to do it sitting around the table with people for tea and biscuits. Humanity’s ‘more than physical’ reality seems to me and by statistics to most people as impossible to escape from when in close personal encounters.

        Indeed, I would argue that ‘faith’ is *always* on the public radar in one way or another. To give a mundane example, ‘consumer confidence’ in the field of economics, is a simple example where ‘faith makes a difference.’ So, I’m a bit unclear where you’re getting your impressions from; I thought the U.K. had an established church, y’know, where Will and Kate got married? ;) So many ‘more than merely physical’ things occurred before, during and after than wedding, right? One could easily speak of Human Extension instead of evolution or biologically-oriented ID to draw important parallels with faith, reason, emotion, intuition, etc. on this historic event.

        At BioLogos you wrote: “What I see science bringing to the table is an agenda that deals (by choice) only with the natural, not the spiritual.”

        This demonstrates a particular Philosophy of Science (PoS) that deals only with ‘natural sciences,’ instead of with other sciences. When you say “only with the natural, not the spiritual” in regard to what ‘science brings to the table’ you are actually committing yourself to MN, whereas in the bigger picture there is no need to do that. Indeed, there are non-natural sciences that do not appear to be on your radar, which if acknowledged would likely change your PoS significantly, as it would have also with Paul de Vries, who coined the term MN.

        In a nutshell, it seems that I don’t ‘value’ MN nearly as much as you do. In fact, I think MN is poor PoS, that people who use it simply haven’t done their homework, that Paul de Vries was nowhere near qualified to write about PoS in the first place, that his article was myopic (read: un-holistic) about ‘science,’ that MN is not actually something that has been done ‘for ages’ or that is being done now without obvious prejudice, and that people ought to look to the East for more mature understanding of PoS in ‘post-atheistic’ societies. I find it helpful to remind people that ‘naturalism in natural sciences’ is as near a tautology as ‘biologism in biological sciences,’ ‘behaviorism in behavioural sciences,’ ‘socialism in social sciences’ or ‘formalism in formal sciences.’ To put it politely in response to your question, MN is at best the spirit of a bygone age that doesn’t deserve to belong on peoples’ tongues today. It might be that a post about MN will be added here in the future, but generally it isn’t really a topic that excites me.

        As it is, I do support your caution that the philosophical assumptions of natural sciences should not dictate to theology or religion, which is precisely why this blog is dedicated to a cooperative and collaborative dialogue between science, philosophy and religion as its core modus operandi.

        These recent posts were mainly focussed on ID, TE, EC and the difference Human Extension – the ‘Neo’ – makes by entering the field. Any comments, questions, criticisms or challenges on this topic are most welcome.


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