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Biologist Wayne Rossiter on non-religious doubts about universal common ancestry


Wayne Rossiter, author of Shadow of Oz: Theistic Evolution and the Absent God, talks about predictable claims from theistic evolution:

To catch people up to speed, in a facebook conversation, [Jim] Stump made the statements,

“Common ancestry [here he means Universal Common Ancestry] is a multiply confirmed theory that explains the observable data in detail. So asking what kind of evidence would contradict that is about like asking what kind of evidence would it take for you to accept geocentrism.”


“The fossil record continues to be uncovered, and continues to show more and more what you expect to see if common descent is true. At all of the major transitions, there are intermediates found in just the right places.”

I responded on that thread, and then decided to convert those responses into a blog. The major thrust was that multiple origins of life is a viable and growing option for many biologists, and that the fossil and genetic data are not as clear and unequivocal as he had suggested. I made no apologetics arguments, and didn’t even mention god. I just offered scientific evidences that his positions were debatable.

In private discussion with a friend (on who’s page this conversation took place), I then made a prediction:

“Personally, I just don’t think that the doubt about UCA is religiously motivated. Too many secular biologists are skeptics (and for too good of reasons). Just because UCA is false, it doesn’t follow that anyone is saying ‘god did it.’ That’s Jim Stump’s fear. They SOOOOOO fear the god of the gaps fallacy.”Wayne Rossiter, “Answering the theistic evolution go-to playbook” at Shadow of Oz

It’s not really a religious issue, except insofar as the claim for universal common ancestry is a metaphysical claim. Claims for ordinary common ancestry rest on evidence of similarities; a claim, for example, that today’s cattle and bison come from a common ancestor is made on the basis of detailed evidence from the history, behavior, and biology of those animals.

The claim for universal common ancestry is a leap of faith, faith in That One First Cell.

Did it ever exist? Who knows?

The great Carl Woese, the discoverer of Archaea, never made that leap of faith. And it certainly wasn’t for religious reasons.

It’s not too far a stretch to say that the leap of faith about universal common ancestry belongs to a different order of thinking from claims about specific common ancestry. UCA would have much greater appeal among theistic evolutionists.

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See also: Wayne Rossiter: Revolving the evolving God at BioLogos


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