Theologians Lobby Successfully to Change Definition of Evolution

By Sean Carroll | February 21, 2011 6:53 am

If anyone wants an example of why some of us object strongly to the “accommodationist” strategy of downplaying the incompatibility of science and (many types of) religious belief, Jerry Coyne’s blog post will help you out. A bit too much, actually — the more you really think about it, the angrier it will make you feel. No wonder why these atheists are all so strident!

Apparently the National Association of Biology Teachers characterizes used to characterize the theory of evolution in the following way:

The diversity of life on earth is the result of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.

That’s a good description, because it’s true. But some religious thinkers, along with their enablers within the scientific establishment, objected to the parts about “unsupervised” and “impersonal,” because they seemed to exclude the possibility that the process was designed or guided by God. Which they do! Because that’s what the theory of evolution says, and that theory is far and away our best understanding of the data. (Dysteleological physicalism.)

The shocking part of the story is that the objectors won. The National Association of Biology Teachers officially changed their description of evolution, to better accomodate the views of theologians.

This isn’t a brand new story, but I had never heard it before. Jerry seems a lot more calm about it than I am, so you should read his post for more. I’ll just quote one short paragraph from him:

In my classes, however, I still characterize evolution and selection as processes lacking mind, purpose, or supervision. Why? Because, as far as we can see, that’s the truth.

The truth still matters.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion, Science, Top Posts

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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