A while back I did a post criticizing the idea that theistic evolution is a form of intelligent design. My argument was that theistic evolutionists accept modern evolutionary science as essentially correct, but also believe that it is not the whole story. This is relevantly different from those who say that modern science is rotten to the core. In the political arena theistic evolutionists are on the right side of issues in science education, whereas the ID folks are on the wrong side. For those reasons, it is simply unfair to equate the two. Or so I argued, at any rate.
I stand by that post, but lately I’ve been noticing theistic evolutionists themselves seem determined to undermine my argument. Consider, for example, the subtitle of this article from Christianity Today:
How two evangelicals—one a young-earth creationist, the other an evolutionary creationist—have lived out their faith and professions.
That phrase “evolutionary creationist,” has been appearing more and more lately. I find it disturbing, and frankly it’s the kind of thing that makes me worry that I need to rethink my earlier post. Part of the problem is the use of the word “creationist.” That word is nowadays so debauched and disreputable, that if you insist on applying it to yourself you should not be surprised when people lump you in with the fundamentalists.
But that’s not the main issue. The distinction between the two expressions is this: In the phrase “theistic evolution,” it is the evolution that is front and center. The theistic part is an add-on. It’s saying, in effect, that the science is paramount and that any talk of God is something you do at night after you leave the lab. I approve of that formulation. It puts the emphasis where it belongs. I have all sorts of criticisms to make of theistic evolution, but I do not see it as anti-science or anything like that.
Contrast this with “evolutionary creation.” Now the emphasis is on creation. The focus is on what God did. Science’s contribution, the evolution part, is to reveal something about God. It is a throwback to the bad old days when science was just the handmaiden of religion. Mind you, this is not me overanalyzing things. This is precisely how the defenders of the term “evolutionary creation,” explain the distinction themselves.
The problem with creationism and ID is not just that its adherents make fallacious arguments about science. It is that the philosophy underlying anti-evolutionism is dangerous and contemptible. The bad arguments are the symptom, the disease is believing that science is secondary to faith. It was a disease the theistic evolutionists were formerly keen to abjure.
Folks can describe themselves however they want to, of course. But if those who would reconcile evolution and religion are absolutely determined to blur the line between their view and ID, and to declare through their choice of label their intellectual kinship with anti-science forces, they cannot then complain when folks fail to make a distinction between the two camps.