- James H. Fetzer (2011). Evolution and Atheism: Has Griffin Reconciled Science and Religion? Synthese 178 (2):381 - 396.The distinguished theologian, David Ray Griffin, has advanced a set of thirteen theses intended to characterize (what he calls) "Neo-Darwinism" and which he contrasts with "Intelligent Design". Griffin maintains that Neo-Darwinism is "atheistic" in forgoing a creator but suggests that, by adopting a more modest scientific naturalism and embracing a more naturalistic theology, it is possible to find "a third way" that reconciles religion and science. The considerations adduced here suggest that Griffin has promised more than he can deliver. On (...)
Not Fit For Survival: Fetzer’s “Reading” of Griffin’s Theistic Evolutionism
James Fetzer’s recent article, “Evolution and atheism: Has Griffin reconciled science and religion?” (Synthese  178: 381-396) purports to offer a well-founded critique of David Ray Griffin’s philosophical arguments for “a version of theistic evolutionism that can do justice both to the facts that count in favor of evolution and those that count against the neo-Darwinian theory of it” (Griffin, 2000, p 243). Fetzer claims that Griffin’s detailed characterization of neo-Darwinism is inaccurate, “exemplifying the straw man fallacy, where an exaggerated version of a position is presented in order to knock it down” (p. 382). Fetzer not only makes strong claims for the inadequacy of Griffin’s work on evolutionary theory, but also asserts that Griffin has made fundamental errors of logic and argument and is not “morally justified” in holding the views he propounds. Fetzer’s article, however, fails to back up these claims.
Amazingly, Fetzer does not provide any evidence that he has actually read Griffin’s major work on the subject under discussion, Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts (Griffin, 2000). Chapter 8, “Creation and Evolution”, is the longest chapter in the book, at approximately 29,000 words a short book in length in itself. Although the book is included in Fetzer’s References section, he does not make any specific citations to it, and his argument is entirely based on a very short pamphlet (Griffin, 2006; approximately 5,000 words), written for religious laypersons, not for a scientific or philosophical readership. This is easy to determine because Griffin’s book and pamphlet differ in terminology and in the order and density of argument. Because Fetzer’s article does not engage Griffin’s ideas directly or in detail, as a genuine response to the book would require, and because Fetzer employs the pamphlet’s terminology and sequence, it would seem that the pamphlet is all he read of Griffin’s work. Although in his References section four titles are attributed to Griffin, in reality only three were written by him (Fetzer’s “Griffin, D.R., 1999” is misattributed), and on the evidence of his article, only one was read by Fetzer, the short pamphlet described on its back cover as one of the “Fresh Approaches” series of “big ideas in bite sizes.”
Fetzer would have done well actually to have read the book by Griffin, who in his writings is a model of clarity. Perhaps because of this failing, Fetzer repeatedly shows that he has misunderstood Griffin. In the introductory section, he says: “Insofar as Darwin appears to have believed that evolution and theism were compatible, one of the most important contributions of Griffin’s argument, provided it is well-founded, will be to demonstrate that Darwin was wrong” (382). But this is a point on which Darwin and Griffin agree. Griffin’s argument is based not only on a critique of neo-Darwinism’s atheism (as well as its materialism and sensationalism), but also on a conception of theism which is adequate to the established facts of evolution. Griffin does not criticize Darwin for being a theist; he seeks, like Darwin, to show that evolution and theism are compatible. Like Darwin, Griffin argues against supernatural interventions by God in the creation of new species. But unlike Darwin, he does not have to resort to the dodge of restricting God’s influence on the development of life to the “initial creation.” Griffin proposes a version of theism that is fully naturalistic, in which God’s influence operates in the present just as it did in the past.
Then Fetzer admits that his own previous point is wrong, saying “Strictly speaking, Griffin does not claim that Darwin was wrong or that evolution and theism must be incompatible, but rather fashions his argument on the basis of his version of ‘Neo-Darwinism.’ Most contemporary biologists … would be neither inclined to adopt his definition nor to affirm the incompatibility he asserts.” Fetzer here falls far below the standard of clarity maintained by Griffin. Fetzer seems to be trying to say that most contemporary biologists would reject Griffin’s characterization of neo-Darwinism as atheistic. He says that this is merely an assertion by Griffin, which implies that Griffin does not back up the claim. And it is true that in the pamphlet relied upon by Fetzer, there is no quotation from established spokespeople for neo-Darwinism. But in his booklength presentation of his argument, Griffin documents this aspect of neo-Darwinism, showing that it is portrayed as atheistic by many neo-Darwinists, such as William Provine, Richard Dawkins, John Hedley Brooke (on the enthusiastic response to Darwin’s naturalistic theory of evolution by contemporary proponents of atheistic science, e.g. John Tyndall), Heinz Pagels, and Steven Weinberg (Griffin, 2000, 242, 247-249).
Fetzer claims to be writing as a “philosopher of science.” He asserts that Griffin “offers thirteen theses for distinguishing Neo-Darwinism from Intelligent Design. These fall into three broad categories, namely, science, metaphysics, and morality. No doubt it will come as no surprise that a philosopher of science might differentiate between them differently by sorting them into ontological, epistemological, and axiological instead” (382-383). But the first task for the philosopher of science, before “differentiating … differently” surely must be to know what he is “differentiating.” For in fact, Griffin’s fourteen (not thirteen – the pamphlet again!) dimensions of neo-Darwinism are not “theses for distinguishing Neo-Darwinism from Intelligent Design.” They are dimensions of the complex theory of modern neo-Darwinism per se. Nor does Griffin in Religion and Scientific Naturalism divide them into categories as described by Fetzer; a more complex breakdown into categories than Fetzer’s description was used by Griffin in his pamphlet to help readers control the quantity of ideas presented. Fetzer seems to suggest that this device is somehow central to Griffin’s argument, but this is just another indication that he did not read the book.
In section 1 of his article, Fetzer says: “The position presented here will be that the justifications Griffin provides for his ‘third way’ are more illusory than real, that there are more plausible versions of evolution that are less amenable to his critique, and that his third way confronts an imposing challenge in the form of William K. Clifford’s ‘ethics of belief’…. According to Clifford, we are morally justified in holding a belief only if we are logically justified in holding that belief – meaning, we are not morally entitled to hold any belief unless we have sufficient evidence to warrant that belief” (383). These are very severe criticisms. Fetzer here explicitly says that the “justifications Griffin provides” for his version of theistic naturalism are illusory; that Griffin’s portrayal of neo-Darwinism is inaccurate and that his criticisms don’t apply to neo-Darwinism accurately understood; and that Griffin is not morally justified in believing what he does believe about neo-Darwinism.
One would expect that Fetzer would need to make careful demonstrations to back up each of these claims. But he does not in fact do that at all. He does not present any counter-argument to the arguments in Griffin’s book for his version of theistic naturalism. Evidently his restriction of his reading to the pamphlet has resulted in his own unjustified belief that Griffin has not provided solid “justifications” for his proposals, but in fact Griffin has done so in detail, not only in Religion and Scientific Naturalism, but in several other books as well, including Whitehead’s Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy (SUNY Press, 2007), Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism (Cornell University Press, 2001), Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the Mind-Body Problem (University of California Press, 1998), and Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality (SUNY Press, 1997). Nor does Fetzer specify the tenets of his “more plausible” versions of neo-Darwinism, or cite even one proponent of the neo-Darwinism which he claims would not be subject to Griffin’s criticisms.
Fetzer shares some of his own ideas about the philosophy of science in his attempt to suggest that there are logical errors in Griffin’s approach to evolutionary theory. But the errors are all on Fetzer’s side. He shows his own remarkable ignorance of the scientific study of evolution when he claims that “science is the discovery of laws of nature on the basis of which events that occur during the course of the world’s history are subject to systematic explanation and prediction (or retrodiction)” (384). The science at the root of the study of evolution on earth, paleontology, is a historical science, not an experimental one. It does not seek to make predictions (let alone “retrodictions”). Evidently Fetzer’s own theories of science are particularly inadequate to deal with the science of paleontology. And the adequacy of the “systematic explanation” provided by neo-Darwinism, a body of theory built on (a subset of) the facts provided by paleontology, is precisely the subject of contention. Furthermore, Fetzer fails to support his assertion that his own preferred “abductivist conception” of science is applicable to paleontology, let alone to Griffin’s critique of neo-Darwinism.
Fetzer consistently misunderstands Griffin’s arguments, i.e., Fetzer’s own arguments against Griffin are full of errors. He says, “When Griffin attempts to recast the course of evolution as a manifestation of divine actuality, it is difficult to discern a difference between them” (385) Although what the word “them” refers to in this sentence is unclear, the best guess would seem to be that it refers to the two theories of evolution, neo-Darwinism and Griffin’s theistic evolutionism. Fetzer continues, “There appears to be no way to determine if one sequence of events is more or less in accord with divine actuality than any other.” But now the best guess to make sense of the previous sentence is undermined, as Fetzer seems to be talking about specific sequences of events in earth’s history. Fetzer appears instead to be saying that there is no way to distinguish between sequences of events which have been influenced by the “divine actuality” and those which have not. But this is again a misunderstanding of Griffin’s entire argument, which is precisely that all events in earth (and universal) history have been influenced by God.
The question is how best to interpret the data provided by paleontology. Griffin bases his critique on aspects of these data that neo-Darwinism fails to interpret convincingly, and in his book he does so at great length. But Fetzer has no stomach for the task of taking on Griffin’s arguments fairly, saying “I am more interested in the general features of Griffin’s position than I am in most of its details. For example, I shall not resist his non-standard use of the term ‘Neo-Darwinism’” (385). Yet earlier he had claimed that Griffin’s version of neo-Darwinism amounts to a “straw man” designed to be easily “knocked down,” so his leniency at this point in the article is quite odd. Fetzer next asserts that Griffin has both “acknowledged” and “ignored” discoveries in molecular biology that have been integrated into the “modern synthesis”, and then lists “causal mechanisms of evolution,” implying that Griffin has ignored some of them, but not specifying which. Fetzer actually includes genetic engineering and artificial selection in the list, indicating again that he does not himself have a strong grasp of the subject on which he opines. A more serious failing here, however, is that all the “mechanisms” he lists operate only in the dimension of microevolution and do not address the areas where neo-Darwinism so spectacularly falls down: the complete lack of intermediary forms in the fossil record, the trend toward increasing complexity, and the origin of life, all treated in detail by Griffin in Religion and Scientific Naturalism.
Fetzer next provides a potted overview of Griffin’s careful characterization of the major dimensions of neo-Darwinian theory. He starts his summary: “I am focusing on the thirteen theses – which exclude the thesis of predictive determinism he endorsed in Griffin (1999) – used to define the position he calls ‘Neo-Darwinism’ as presented in Griffin (2000, Chap.8, 2006)” (385). This is strong proof that Fetzer did not read Religion and Scientific Naturalism, where predictive determinism is in fact treated as dimension seven (Griffin, 2000. 249-250). Of course there is no legitimate reason to exclude this dimension of Griffin’s argument. This false claim by Fetzer enables him to restrict his inaccurate summary of Griffin’s argument to the remaining thirteen dimensions, which he renames as “theses,” organizes in a different sequence and dismisses with almost no actual examination or pertinent argument. A sample of the quality of his treatment is his statement, in discussion of Griffin’s dimension two, macroevolution, that “I am sure that I am not the only one to have observed that much of the resistance to Darwin’s general hypothesis [i.e. ‘descent with modification’] might have been mitigated by the use of the phrase, ‘ascent with modification’ instead, where our species thus represents the pinnacle of evolution rather than some kind of residual outcome” (386). If this is not a joke and inappropriate, it is a remarkable semantic lapse. In all versions of Darwinism, “descent” is a technical term, not a metaphor.
Fetzer makes no attempt, as a careful scholar should, and as Griffin habitually does, to summarize his opponent’s arguments accurately and to respond to them directly. Instead, Fetzer repeatedly shifts the focus from Griffin’s arguments to areas of his own (perhaps) expertise, which almost always are side-issues when they are not completely unrelated to Griffin’s concerns. Even with this approach, and providing a measure of his discomfort in the task he has set himself, he continues to make gross errors of understanding and argument. Take as yet another example his summary of Griffin’s fourth dimension of neo-Darwinism, uniformitarianism. First, Fetzer lifts Griffin’s definition from his pamphlet word for word: uniformitarianism “holds that only causal factors operating in the present can be employed to explain past developments.” Then Fetzer interprets the term as follows: “This suggests that laws of nature may obtain at one time during the history of the universe but not at other times” (387). He has completely reversed the meaning of Griffin’s sentence. The point of uniformitarianism is that the laws of nature are assumed not to change over time and space, to provide a basis for inference, measurement, and other methods of scientific reasoning.
As another example of the quality of Fetzer’s argumentation, take his next thesis, positivism, which is upheld by neo-Darwinism but which Griffin rejects. Positivism is the doctrine that “all causes of evolution must be potentially verifiable through sensory observations” (Griffin, 2000, 248). Fetzer makes the following erroneous and irrelevant statement: “Even classical mechanics can only be subjected to indirect tests based on the paths of the planets, the orbit of the moon and its influence on the tides, and the fall of apples from trees, for example, because gravity is a non-observable force that affects all of these phenomena.” Fetzer is evidently unaware that gravity is a measurable quantity, that varies over space and time, and is continually measured by scientists for many different purposes. He then concludes, “Thesis (T5) is not an element of any serious theory of science” (387-388). I would hope readers would not take this conclusion on faith after an argument of this caliber. As Griffin explains, positivism “is still thought by many to be essential to truly scientific explanations [and] is virtually identical with the insistence on exclusively physical or material causes, in that only such causes are in principle detectable through the physical senses” (Griffin, 2000. 248-249). It is indeed very hard to understand how Fetzer can categorically assert that positivism “is not an element of any serious theory of science.”
Fetzer, who again quotes from Griffin’s pamphlet to define “atheism” (Griffin’s fifth dimension of neo-Darwinism; 2000, 247-248), infers from his limited reading that Griffin, a “distinguished” theologian (as Fetzer admits at the outset), cannot distinguish between atheism and agnosticism: “Griffin is hardly the only thinker to confound atheism with agnosticism” (388). Surely warning bells should have tinkled in Fetzer’s mind before committing to an accusation like this in writing. Could it never have occurred to him that such a fundamental error is a very unlikely one for Griffin to make, and that perhaps he doesn’t understand Griffin’s argument? (I have already noted above the various scientific authorities quoted by Griffin in Religion and Scientific Naturalism who have heralded the atheistic explanation of life provided by neo-Darwinism.)
Enough has been said to indicate the extraordinarily low quality of Fetzer’s engagement with David Ray Griffin’s ideas, and further examples might only try the reader’s patience. Suffice it to say that the essay does not improve as it runs down to its end. Fetzer continues to misunderstand, distort or dismiss Griffin’s arguments, on neo-Darwinism’s gradualism, nominalism, nihilism, and amoralism, random variation, and evolutionary progress, simply asserting that they are “either trivial or false” (390) where he is not talking, often erroneously, about something irrelevant. In fact, however, Griffin makes detailed, careful arguments for every one of his fourteen dimensions of neo-Darwinism, quoting extensively from the most prominent proponents of the theory to support his characterizations. In addition, his book as a whole makes a powerful case for a naturalistic theism that supports his proposal for a theistic evolutionism better able to explain the full range of paleontological evidence.
It is Fetzer’s own claims that are totally unsupported. David Ray Griffin’s important work in this field should not be dismissed by readers of Synthese on the basis of Fetzer’s “critique”, which, as I have shown, is wholly inadequate. It is indeed hard to understand how his article could have been published after peer review. Let me quote Fetzer himself in this regard: “If you bias an argument by committing elementary fallacies, it is difficult to be taken seriously, since your conclusions will not be justified even if they follow from your premises” (389). It is clear that it is Fetzer, not Griffin, who commits “elementary fallacies.” In contrast, for an example of scholarship of the highest quality on this topic of the highest importance, I recommend the genuine intellectual adventure which Griffin’s extraordinarily fine book Religion and Scientific Naturalism provides.
Griffin, D. R. (2000). Religion and scientific naturalism: overcoming the conflicts. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Griffin, D. R. (2006). Evolution without tears: a third way beyond neo-Darwinism and intelligent design. Claremont, CA: Process and Faith, (pamphlet)
Not Fit For Survival: Fetzer’s “Reading” of Griffin’s Theistic Evolutionism
Reply to Tod Fletcher
University of Toronto
I am sure that this is very useful to those who want to assess the quality of Fetzer's response to Griffin. But I can't find in it any actual argument in support of a thesis held by Griffin, or even an explicit statement of what he believes (aside from the fact that he is in favour of some version of "theistic evolution").
No doubt you have some views regarding particular disagreements between Fetzer and Griffin. If so, and if you want to spark discussion of a particular point of contention, it would be helpful if you would lay out some argument or thesis in a self-contained form, readable in ten minutes or less, and let people have a go.
Personally, I'm not particularly interested in Griffin per se, and I am not motivated to find out whether Fetzer misinterpreted him or not. But I'd welcome a clearly stated view that I could understand, assess, and discuss.
Not Fit For Survival: Fetzer’s “Reading” of Griffin’s Theistic Evolutionism
Reply to Mohan Matthen
Thanks for your interest, and for an excellent suggestion. I will write and post a succinct precis of Griffin's naturalistic theism and theistic evolutionism. I look forward to your comments on it. The complete absence of such a statement in my response to Fetzer derived from the fact that Fetzer himself never engaged with Griffin's ideas, and my purpose was to demonstrate that fact. The response was written as a Letter to the Editor to Synthese, which rejected it for publication. I am very grateful to PhilPapers for accepting it.
Not Fit For Survival: Fetzer’s “Reading” of Griffin’s Theistic Evolutionism
Reply to Tod Fletcher
Philosophical Problems of Neo-Darwinism
In Chapter 8 of his book Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts (SUNY Pr., 2000) David Ray Griffin applies a version of naturalistic theism, based on the ideas of Alfred North Whitehead, to the intractable problems experienced by the dominant modern theory of biological evolution, neo-Darwinism, in its attempt to explain the development of life on earth without resort to any form of divine influence. Before focusing on evolutionary theory, Griffin carefully lays out the complex history of the conflict between modern science and religion, and presents his Whiteheadian versions of scientific naturalism and naturalistic theism as potential solutions to this ongoing conflict. Here I wish to focus on his critique of the philosophical underpinnings of neo-Darwinism, in keeping with Prof. Matthen’s suggestion that a short statement of Griffin’s positions would be useful.
Griffin’s Chapter 8, “Creation and Evolution,” before focusing on philosophical and scientific problems raised by neo-Darwinism, first lays out a detailed, multi-dimensional characterization of the principal tenets of the theory. Some of these tenets Griffin shares, agreeing that microevolution (involving minor genetic and sometimes phenotypical changes within a species, or the transformation of one species, by reproductive isolation, into another) occurs and is uncontroversial; accepting neo-Darwinism’s claim that macroevolution (“descent with modification”) is a correct “general theory” of evolution (thus indicating that Griffin does not belong in the “creationist” camp); agreeing that a scientific theory of evolution must be fully naturalistic (meaning that it must not invoke any miraculous, supernatural interruptions of normal causal processes); and supporting neo-Darwinism’s ontological uniformitarianism, according to which only causal factors operating in the present have acted in the past.
With other major tenets of neo-Darwinism, however, Griffin disagrees. For brevity’s sake, here I will focus on a subset of these which are philosophical rather than scientific: neo-Darwinism’s positivism/materialism, predictive determinism, nominalism, and atheism. Griffin first establishes that these doctrines (which he terms “dimensions”) are widely accepted as necessary components of neo-Darwinism by its proponents, and that they are mutually reinforcing and entail one another. He then focuses on the problems raised for the theory by its allegiance to them. For a proper understanding of the theory and its philosophical difficulties they must be differentiated and considered individually.
By positivism Griffin means that doctrine “according to which all causes of evolution must be at least potentially verifiable through sensory observations” (p. 248). Griffin explains that positivism entails materialism: “This insistence on explanation in terms of nothing but causal factors that are observable through the senses … is virtually identical with the insistence on exclusively physical or material causes, in that only such causes are in principle detectable through the senses” (248-9). Neo-Darwinism has inherited ontological materialism and its epistemic corollary positivism from 19th Century Darwinism; as Griffin explains, the rapid adoption of Darwin’s theory was “simply because his theory, in being fully naturalistic in this materialistic sense, fit into the program of Victorian naturalism by suggesting that the existence of life and even human culture could be understood in completely materialistic terms. … A significant part of the argument in favor of Darwinism by its advocates from the outset … was philosophical. The argument … has been that, because we need a materialistic theory of evolution and Darwinism is the only or the best materialistic theory, our ‘antecedent presumption’, as [George] Romanes put it, should be that it is true. This type of argument can be turned against neo-Darwinism, to wit: If materialism has proved inadequate for other issues, then our antecedent presumption should be that a fully materialistic theory of evolution will probably be inadequate. We saw, for example [in Chapter 6, “Science, Naturalism, and the Mind-Body Problem”), that materialism is inadequate for the mind-body relation. This inadequacy cannot, in fact, be considered external to the problem of evolution [and is] simply the most obvious part of the fact that materialism provides an inadequate framework for science in general” (249, 266).
The broader inadequacy of materialism and positivism for science is most evident, from a philosophical standpoint, in that they provide no way to understand the reality of non-physical things such as consciousness and thought, laws of nature, and mathematical and logical norms, a reality which is inevitably presupposed by science. Griffin argues for what he terms “hard-core commonsense notions”, that it is “self-contradictory to deny in theory what we inevitably presuppose in practice. … Science necessarily presupposes the reality of logical and mathematical norms, which are not objects of sense-perception. Close behind in obviousness is the fact that scientists necessarily presuppose the reality and importance of that (nonmaterial) ideal known as ‘truth’. Also, in appealing to norms such as simplicity and elegance, scientists presuppose the reality and importance of that ideal traditionally called ‘beauty’” (266-7).
Neo-Darwinism’s predictive determinism is another feature inherited from Darwinism. For Darwin, materialism meant that “the world is, without exception, a deterministic system of causes and effects. … Darwin accepted the idea, which had been growing since the eighteenth century, that science requires predictability, which in turn requires determinism, which in turn requires the exclusion of all teleology or final causation in the sense of purposive causation” (249). For Darwin, materialism also entailed the denial of free will: human thoughts and decisions are determined by the brain. Further, determinism entails ontological reductionism, “according to which all vertical causation goes upward, so that every ‘whole’ is determined by its parts. Darwin’s acceptance of the idea that any properly scientific theory had to be deterministic was also one of his reasons for excluding any theistic influence in the evolutionary process” (250).
But, as with positivism/materialism, neo-Darwinism’s predictive determinism contradicts our hard-core common sense. Human beings, even materialist philosophers, inevitably presuppose the reality of freedom. It is irrational to deny this freedom: “If we inevitably presuppose the reality of freedom in practice, including the practice of developing a philosophical or scientific theory, we violate the law of noncontradiction if the content of the theory denies the reality of freedom. A theory of evolution cannot be adequate, therefore, unless it portrays the evolutionary process as producing human beings with genuine freedom” (269).
Neo-Darwinism’s nominalism is the rejection of realism about forms, “according to which forms, archetypes or ideas are really real, being somehow inherent in the nature of things. The traditional view has been that these essences or forms, not being able to exist on their own, ‘subsist’ in the mind of God. … Nominalism … is the doctrine that the names for these forms are merely names, not pointing to entities that really exist (or even ‘subsist’) in any sense” (256-7). Not only does nominalism buttress the atheism of neo-Darwinism (discussed below), it also supports the gradualism of the theory, by removing any possibility of forms acting as “attractors” for evolutionary saltations, sudden jumps to new forms of life. The apparently sudden appearance of such new forms in the fossil record is just that, mere appearance; according to the theory of neo-Darwinism, all evolution results from the gradual accumulation of small morphologic changes which the fossil record is too imperfect to reveal.
Nominalism is also closely related to neo-Darwinism’s predictive determinism. “Nominalism, by positing the unreality of forms, implies the unreality of formal-final causation (that is, self-determination oriented toward the realization of particular forms). Nominalism thereby supports the all-sufficiency of efficient causation and thereby determinism” (270). But nominalism can be rejected for the same reasons that undermined the plausibility of materialism and positivism: the undoubted existence of mathematical, logical, aesthetic and moral forms, which argues for the “equal reality of the geometrical, temporal, and other types of forms that seem to be manifested in the various species of living things. Indeed, the well-marked character of the pre-biotic world, which has been revealed by physics and chemistry, provides good reason to suspect the living world to be equally oriented around distinct forms of existence. The nominalism of Darwinism provides, therefore, yet another reason for an antecedent presumption against its adequacy” (270).
Neo-Darwinism’s atheism is not an inheritance from Darwin himself, for he was not an atheist. He did rule out theistic influence in the evolutionary process after an initial “creation”, however, and his theory was atheistic “in spirit.” But neo-Darwinism as now expounded by writers such as Weinberg, Dawkins, Pagels, Gould and Provine, is fully, explicitly atheistic. Richard Dawkins has made the point succinctly: “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” (quoted p. 247). The atheistic spirit of Darwinism was responsible for its quick acceptance in scientific circles and is a principal reason for its wide acceptance today.
Within neo-Darwinism the dimensions of atheism and nominalism have been mutually supportive. Griffin shows that the denial of realism about forms eliminates one of the main arguments for the existence of God, “an omnipresent experience in which the various types of forms could subsist. On the other hand, the conviction that there is no such Divine Reality provides a reason for the nominalist denial that various types of forms immanent in actual things have any reality transcending those particular things. Because of this connection, the realization that nominalism is problematic should lead to a reconsideration of neo-Darwinism’s postulate that a completely nontheistic theory of evolution can be adequate.”
Griffin concludes his philosophical critique of neo-Darwinism with its implications for the scientific claims of the theory: “In sum, the fact that neo-Darwinism is a materialistic, positivistic, deterministic, nominalistic, atheistic theory of evolution not only gives us no antecedent reason to suppose it, on its more scientific side, to be true, but it also gives us very strong antecedent reasons to suspect it probably to be false” (270-1). He proceeds to discuss scientific difficulties of the theory (focusing on the issues of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, the lack of intermediate forms in the fossil record, and the origin of life), which I shall pass over here. He then presents his own suggestions for solutions to these difficulties, solutions made possible by his version of theistic evolutionism.
I will close with a brief outline of Griffin’s positive philosophical proposals that would avoid the inadequacies of neo-Darwinism which he has identified. These proposals are based on Whitehead’s scientific and religious naturalism, expounded in detail in Chapter 4. Whitehead and Griffin are concerned with what they view as the central task of philosophy, which is “to develop a position that shows how the various notions that we inevitably presuppose in practice can all be true” (101). (I can only give the most minimal sketch of selected elements of Griffin’s ideas here. Interested readers should consult his book, and the other books listed in my post at the head of this topic thread, to see his detailed arguments for forms of naturalism and theism that are adequate to the task of solving intractable problems in modern science and philosophy.)
The primary modification to the dominant version of scientific naturalism (exemplified by neo-Darwinism) that is needed, based on this commitment to “hard-core common sense”, is a “fundamental reconception of the ultimate units of nature” (98). These ultimate entities are to be understood as occasions of experience, with not just a physical, but also a mental aspect or “pole”. Griffin’s term for this view is “panexperientialism”. The doctrine is a refutation of the dominant view, reductionist materialism, which sees nature as comprised of what Whitehead called “vacuous actualities”, bits of inert stuff without any inner experience. Panexperientialism opens the way to the affirmation of the reality of genuine freedom, moral and religious experience, divine influence in nature, and life after death.
With respect to the philosophical problems of neo-Darwinism, Griffin suggests not only this ontological replacement of materialism by panexperientialism, but also the following: the replacement of positivism by a non-sensationist doctrine of perception (which allows us to know and perceive by means other than our physical senses); substitution for predictive determinism by the recognition of the reality of free will and the possibility of at least some self-determination of the entities of nature; adoption of a realist theory of forms for neo-Darwinism’s nominalism, in which unrealized forms are entertained in the mind of God, the soul of the universe, and offered ongoingly (and non-sensorily) as lures to novelty appropriate to each natural entity; and the replacement of atheism by a naturalistic theism, in which God can and does continually influence the world without interruption of normal causative processes (i.e., God’s influence is a normal part of them).
Griffin in his several books on the subject of a new, Whiteheadian philosophy of nature and religion has made a very strong case for a theistic naturalism, which can be fully adequate both to religious experience and the scientific search for knowledge. His books are necessary reading for philosophers of science or anyone concerned to understand the nature of reality.