David L Wilcox – another man on the money

Theistic evolution is potentially a very satisfying position for Christians interested in science. It’s sad, then, that it’s so very rare to find TE writers who don’t wander off down all kinds of theological byways – hence my love-hate relationship with BioLogos, which seems particularly fond of hacking through the doctrinal undergrowth. One has to go back to B B Warfield to find an authoritative figure with a good understanding of science and a biblically sound theological position – and he died nearly a century ago, being largely ignored today. As shown in other posts, I was pleasantly surprised by Robert J Russell’s position on divine action and many other things, though the nods he gives to the whole science and faith enterprise tend to dilute the best of what he has to say.

Ted Davis, however has again turned up trumps by pointing on BioLogos to a letter by David L Wilcox, who is not only a TE, but a population geneticist – usually, it seems, the most naturalistic variety of TEs. The letter, in turn, links to this article.

It’s from 1987, but like so much in this field says things which ought to have changed the game, but instead have been largely forgotten or ignored. I won’t comment that much on it, advising you instead to read it for yourself. But the article is based on the case that there are three worldviews which, in Wilcox’s estimation, can be implied by the label of “theism”. These are firstly God as primary cause, imposing as in mediaeval theology a kind of platonic order on rebellious matter; secondly God as a craftsman in the Enlightenment mould, creating a world with varying degrees of autonomy and, often, stepping back thereafter; thirdly, God as King, as in the biblical description, working his eternal purposes out by an intimate, and total, control of every natural process. It’s a useful set of distinctions.

To me Wilcox’s key points are that (a) he places the distinction not at a trivial level, but at the governing category of “worldview”, which is in my opinion absolutely the case. And (b) he concludes that only the third alternative can be considered “theistic” in a full sense. That, as far as I can see, places him a long way from the theological stream in which BioLogos is floating. Consider, in his 1994 letter to the ASA, this statement:

Theistic evolution by definition means the directed realization of God’s eternal decrees by his absolute control of all natural processes. [Italics original]

Imagine the response someone like me would get if I posted such a definition on BioLogos. (Probably none, actually, if experience is anything to go by – perhaps I should have asked you to imagine the amount of agreement I would get.) To be a little evenhanded, it would also be interesting to see which of the three worldviews predominates on Uncommon Descent as well. But I think Wilcox would get some support there, even though his third worldview sits a little at odds with the usual understanding of Intelligent Design, which fits more closely with his second category. But somehow I don’t think the definition will appear on the BL “view” page. I can dream though…

 Theistic evolution by definition means the directed realization of God’s eternal decrees by his absolute control of all natural processes.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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