In “What’s in a Word? “Randomness” in Darwinism and the Scientific Theory of Evolution” (Evolution News & Views, April 2, 2012) Jay W. Richards replies to Alvin Plantinga, in a linked discussion. Plantinga argues that Darwinism is compatible with purpose and design in the universe.
Darwinism is no more compatible with purpose and design than Marxism is compatible with civil rights and personal property. And in fairness, the top people promoting these ideas have never entertained the idea that they were. It’s their apologists who claim such things. Richards notes,
Plantinga says that “if we think of the Darwinian picture as including the idea that the process of evolution is unguided, then of course that picture is completely at odds with providentialist religion [which holds that everything that happens is intended or permitted by God]. As we’ve seen, however, current evolutionary science doesn’t include the thought that evolution is unguided; it quite properly refrains from commenting on the metaphysical or theological issue” (p. 55). And then he defines “Darwinism” in such a way that it does not “seem to cut against providentialist religion” (p. 55).
This is a perplexing claim, especially since Plantinga cites in a footnote on the previous page Casey Luskin’s article in God and Evolution. Luskin demonstrates that leading biology textbooks over and over and over and over again explain biological evolution in just the way Plantinga claims “current evolutionary science” does not. In fact, as the editor of God and Evolution, I asked Luskin to remove many of the examples he provided in the first draft of his chapter. He had provided far more examples than were necessary to prove the point. Do all these leading biology textbooks fail to teach “current evolutionary science”? Not likely. Thomas Kuhn rightly referred to textbooks as “pedagogical vehicles for the perpetuation of normal science.” Normal science, for Kuhn, doesn’t involve cutting edge discoveries that threaten to overturn the reigning scientific paradigm, but is rather the paradigm itself.
The denial of design and teleology in biology is an essential part of Darwinism and, unfortunately, it is how the modern theory of biological evolution is taught, explained, and understood by the vast majority of its champions and critics.
Of course, there were some who tried early on to reconcile Darwin’s theory with teleology, but they mistook Darwin’s intention in doing so. Asa Gray is the most prominent example. He sought to reconcile Darwin’s theory with natural theology, and urged Darwin to allow that God oversaw which variations would occur and when. Darwin famously rebuked — even mocked — Gray for making this suggestion, which Darwin insisted was no part of his theory.4
Similarly, Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of natural selection who later broke with Darwin, wrote a book entitled Darwinism in 1889. He continued to consider himself a “Darwinist” even after he rejected Darwin’s materialistic applications to man, sentience, and the origin of life. He had a personal relationship with Darwin and so was more inclined to criticize Darwin’s surrogates, such as Haeckel and Huxley — a tradition that continues to the present. When Herbert Spencer received his complimentary copy of Darwinism, however, he wrote to Wallace, “I regret that you have used the title ‘Darwinism,’ for notwithstanding your qualification of its meaning you will, by using it, tend greatly to confirm the erroneous conception almost universally current.”5 The erroneous conception was that Darwinism and Wallace’s teleological or intelligent evolution were compatible. Spencer understood that they were not.
The real question is why so many Christian scholars feel a need to pretend that there is some compatibility. Thoughts?