Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 493–517

The role of theology in current evolutionary reasoning

  • Paul A. Nelson

DOI: 10.1007/BF00138329

Cite this article as:
Nelson, P.A. Biol Philos (1996) 11: 493. doi:10.1007/BF00138329


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 theologyimperfectionsuboptimalityhomologymethodological naturalismcreationismpanda's thumbpentadactyl limbStephen Jay GouldDarwin's theology

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul A. Nelson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of ChicagoChicagoU.S.A.