Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 493-517

First online:

The role of theology in current evolutionary reasoning

  • Paul A. NelsonAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Chicago

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A remarkable but little studied aspect of current evolutionary theory is the use by many biologists and philosophers of theological arguments for evolution. These can be classed under two heads: imperfection arguments, in which some organic design is held to be inconsistent with God's perfection and wisdom, and homology arguments, in which some pattern of similarity is held to be inconsistent with God's freedom as an artificer. Evolutionists have long contended that the organic world falls short of what one might expect from an omnipotent and benevolent creator. Yet many of the same scientists who argue theologically for evolution are committed to the philosophical doctrine of methodological naturalism, which maintains that theology has no place in science. Furthermore, the arguments themselves are problematical, employing concepts that cannot perform the work required of them, or resting on unsupported conjectures about suboptimality. Evolutionary theorists should reconsider both the arguments and the influence of Darwinian theological metaphysics on their understanding of evolution.

Key words

natural theology imperfection suboptimality homology methodological naturalism creationism panda's thumb pentadactyl limb Stephen Jay Gould Darwin's theology