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Difference Between ID Proponents and Theistic Evolutionists

For lack of time, I'm once again going to recycle my comments from a comment thread on another site for this week's blog entry.

Some of the more extreme atheists whose writings I've read seem to want to lump those that accept theistic evolution into the same group as those that accept Intelligent Design (ID). In a very broad sense, I can understand the reasoning, but I think there is an important distinction between the two concepts. Here is the first of two comments I left in a thread discussing this issue.

I know I'm late to the party (I was on vacation), but I'll have to agree with the posters who've said that theistic evolution is not nearly the same thing as intelligent design. I know ID advocates are usually pretty vague on what ID actually entails, and it's a big tent, but here are a couple quotes from Of Pandas and People, the ID textbook that was going to be used in Dover (this is recycled from another comment thread [discussed on this site here]).

First, in discussing tetrapod evolution on page 22, the book said:

Instead, fossil types are fully formed and functional when they first appear in the fossil record. For example, we don't find creatures that are partly fish and partly something else, leading gradually, in the dozens of characteristics which they exhibit, to today's fish. Instead, fish have all the characteristics of today's fish from the earliest known fish fossils, reptiles in the record have all the characteristics of present-day reptiles, and so on.

In discussing the incompleteness of the fossil record on page 25, the book said:

There is, however, another possibility science leaves open to us, one based on sound inferences from the experience of our senses. It is the possibility that an intelligent cause made fully-formed and functional creatures, which later left their traces in the rocks.

That's quite a bit different from theistic evolution, where people believe that evolution occurs just like it really does, but that God's nudged the process somehow.

As others have pointed out, it's hard for a theist to accept evolution and not believe in theistic evolution. It's like the old joke of the guy caught in a flood on his roof. Most theists see God being involved in everything, so it's no surprise that they think he was involved in evolution, as well, even if they don't have an explanation for the exact mechanism. As long as theistic teachers stick to the secular explanations of topics in school, I don't see it as a huge problem.

After a couple people posted comments disagreeing with me, I posted another comment.


You're right. There is a possibility that somebody could be a deist. But honestly, how many deists are there in this country? Most people who have been indoctrinated into Christianity believe in an active god who intervenes in the universe.


Theistic evolution is not functionally the same thing as ID. As I pointed out with the quotes above, and as most people already know, ID is little more than creationism that refuses to unambiguously state that God is the creator. It's a tactic to get creationism taught in schools. Theistic evolution is for people who have been indoctrinated into believing in an interventionist god, but who are rational enough to recognize that evolution must have happened.

Look at it this way, to an ID advocate, if you take away the 'designer', evolution is impossible. The designer has to be there to poof irreducibly complex systems into existence, or add specified complexity, or whatever other gobbledygook they come up with. To someone who accepts theistic evolution, if you take away the god, evolution continues to happen. It's just that without the god's guidance, evolution may not have resulted in the organisms we have now, particularly humans. Yes, the god is superfluous in that case, but that's what theistic evolution is. Whereas ID tries to force the evidence to fit God, theistic evolution tries to force God to fit the evidence.

I agree that if you just drop God it makes the whole thing easier, but that indoctrination can be really hard to get past.

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