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Theological Arguments by Naturalists

Papers examining the essential use of theological arguments in support of naturalism.
If that sounds strange, you are correct!

Chris Cosans, Was Darwin a Creationist? (cc)

Throughout the Origin of Species, Darwin contrasts his theory of natural selection with the theory that God independently created each species. This makes it seem as though the Origin offers a scientific alternative to a theological worldview. A few months after the Origin appeared, however, the eminent anatomist Richard Owen published a review that pointed out the theological assumptions of Darwin’s theory. Owen worked in the tradition of rational morphology, within which one might suggest that evolution occurs by processes that are continuous with those by which life arises from matter; in contrast, Darwin rested his account of life’s origins on the notion that God created one or a few life forms upon which natural selection could act. Owen argued that Darwin’s reliance on God to explain the origins of life makes his version of evolution no less supernatural than the special creationist that Darwin criticizes: although Darwin limits God to one or a few acts of creation, he still relies upon God to explain life’s existence.

Stephen Dilley, Charles Darwin’s use of theology in the Origin of Species, BJHS, 2011 [erratum] (cc)

This essay examines Darwin’s positiva (or positive) use of theology in the first edition of the Origin of Species in three steps. First, the essay analyses the Origin’s theological language about God’s accessibility, honesty, methods of creating, relationship to natural laws and lack of responsibility for natural suffering; the essay contends that Darwin utilized positiva theology in order to help justify (and inform) descent with modification and to attack special creation. Second, the essay offers critical analysis of this theology, drawing in part on Darwin’s mature ruminations to suggest that, from an epistemic point of view, the Origin’s positiva theology manifests several internal tensions. Finally, the essay reflects on the relative epistemic importance of positiva theology in the Origin’s overall case for evolution. The essay concludes that this theology served as a handmaiden and accomplice to Darwin’s science.

Stephen Dilley, Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of theology?, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 2013 (cc)

This essay analyzes Theodosius Dobzhansky’s famous article, ‘‘Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution,’’ in which he presents some of his best arguments for evolution. I contend that all of Dobzhansky’s arguments hinge upon sectarian claims about God’s nature, actions, purposes, or duties. Moreover, Dobzhansky’s theology manifests several tensions, both in the epistemic justification of his theological claims and in their collective coherence. I note that other prominent biologists—such as Mayr, Dawkins, Eldredge, Ayala, de Beer, Futuyma, and Gould—also use theology-laden arguments. I recommend increased analysis of the justification, complexity, and coherence of this theology.

Cornelius Hunter, Darwin’s Principle: The Use of Contrastive Reasoning in the Confirmation of Evolution, HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science, 2014 (cc)

I address Elliott Sober’s reconstruction of the confirmation of evolution and offer a seemingly minor but important correction. I then survey evolutionary thought in Darwin as well as both before and after Darwin to demonstrate my modified reconstruction. Finally, I explain how this correction reflects the richness of evolutionary thought.

Adam Shapiro, Darwin’s foil: The evolving uses of William Paley’s Natural Theology 1802–2005, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 2013 (cc)

This essay traces the divergent readings of William Paley’s 1802 Natural Theology from its initial publication to the recent controversies over intelligent design. It argues that the misinterpretation of the Natural Theology as a scientific argument about the origins of complex life—which Darwin’s Origin of Species refutes—did not develop all at once. Rather this reading evolved gradually, drawing from a variety of uses and appropriations during the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This study demonstrates the fluidity of ‘‘science’’ and ‘‘religion’’ during these centuries, and highlights the role that genres of science popularization play in altering the meaning of those categories.

Theological Arguments by Naturalists