Monday, 14 September 2009

Clarification of Terminology

I figured it might be useful to give a brief 'glossary' of some common terms, especially those which are similar, and of alternatives too. Some of these I have used in my writing here and others may just be helpful.


Theistic Evolution:
I won't bother to define this, as I talk about it a lot. Instead I shall briefly discuss alternatives.

Theistic Evolution is the most common name for this position, favoured by most scientists and theologians who support it. However, it runs the risk of relegating the theistic aspect to being simply tacked on to the theory of evolution instead of emphasising it.

Christian Darwinism is a term which is usually used to refer to early Christian proponents of Darwin's theories. In connection with world views Darwinism is often considered a pejorative term for theists, making it a difficult title to adopt.

Evolutionary Creationism is favoured by many proponents as it puts emphasis on the belief in a Creator whilst clearly stating that evolution is the method. The risk with this term is that creationism is often only used to refer to the young earth variety.

BioLogos is a term coined by Francis Collins. This is short for Bios through Logos, or life through the Word. It is a bold attempt by Collins, but so far the term has only been embraced by the website of the foundation which is proving to be a good resource. As the other titles can be used as titles, how would we apply BioLogos? We surely can't call ourselves BioLogists! BioLogians is a bit cumbersome. Perhaps we are only proponents of it or believers.

Many other suggestions have arisen, though usually variations on the others. Evolutionary theism is still not quite right and of course something like 'crevolution' would be plain ridiculous.

Evolutionary Christianity is a term from Michael Dowd (who also has bizarre terms like crea-THEIST and cre-ATHEIST). It appears to abandon many Biblical teachings for insight from evolution. For a review of his book look here.

Intelligent Creation is a very misleading term. It is another name for theistic evolution, though could also be used for deistic views too. Keith Ward gives a good explanation of it here, but the words used conjure to mind the ideas of creationism and Intelligent Design rather than an acceptance of evolution as the methods of God.

Other world-views:

Intelligent Design can be another misleading term as it essentially has two meanings. The most common, ID, is the concept that there are biological systems which could not be achieved by evolution by natural selection and so required a designer to step in. Intelligent design as a philosophical view can also mean the same as intelligent creation; that there is an intelligent mind behind the creative processes found by science.

Young Earth Creationism (YEC) should not need defining, though I was tempted to link to the first chapter of Genesis and tell you to read in a dry fashion as though it is a historical and scientific description of an event some 6-10,000 years ago.

Old Earth Creationism (OEC) comes in two flavours, Progressive Creation and Gap Theory. Both views maintain that they take Genesis literally whilst accepting the scientific age of the earth. Progressive creationism takes the day-age approach and claims that the days of Genesis are not literal days and instead represent thousands or millions of years. Gap theorists believe that there are indeterminate gaps during Genesis creation which allows for such long times.

Not a term I use for just anyone who accepts evolution, except when talking about theistic evolutionists. If I use this term it will only refer to those who study or have studied the theory of evolution professionally. Stephen Jay Gould would therefore be considered an evolutionist.

Methodological materialism:
This is the viewpoint scientists use in approaching their scientific studies. It is not to be muddled with metaphysical materialism. It uses materialism as the most effective (and only logical) model of study of the natural world. I believe such a view is supported by a Biblical understanding of creation.

Metaphysical/philosophical materialism:
This is the belief that only matter exists and that science is the only method of discovery. Scientism is a term often employed by apologists in reference to this position, but it is one I do not like. It paints science in a negative light and contradicts the point it is trying to make; surely a proponent of scientism is a scientist - which is what they are claiming is not true by coining the term.


Natural Theology starts from the natural world in order to come to revelation or understanding of God. There can be seen to be two variations of natural theology. There is the evidence approach, in which the natural world is seen as evidence of God. This has been found throughout Christianity and all teleological and cosmological arguments are types of natural theology. The ID movement and YEC embrace natural theology as its main proof and predictably I reject this form of natural theology. The second form is descriptive instead of deductive. It looks to nature to tell us about God, often citing examples such as cosmological fine tuning and the presence of beautiful aspects of creation such as music, as insight insight into the creator. Richard Swinburne is an ardent supporter of natural theology and I need to read Alister McGrath's recent work on it.

Theology of Nature is a similar term with a very different meaning. Theology of nature starts with belief in God and works outwards, trying to understand creation in terms of theism. I use it personally as covering all aspects of God's involvement in creation, from start to finish. This is the area I explore the most in my writing.

Theological Cosmology is a term used by Alejandro Garcia-Rivera in a book due out soon. I have not quite grasped yet what the term means, though he does say it is neither natural theology nor theology of nature, but more like Augustine's City of God. From what I can tell it is very concerned with 'the Garden of God', the new creation, which I have always included in theology of nature. Perhaps I am missing something....

Creation Theology is concerned with our relationship with creation. It is deeply involved with care of the creation and what the Bible has to say about it. For further reading I recommend the Green Bible, and you can help out here if you wish.

Theology of Creation (yes, I know this may be getting confusing) refers only to theology around how God created. It is a key aspect of theology of nature and probably the most discussed. The earlier definitions from theistic evolution to YEC are mainly concerned with how God created.

Synonymous terms:

Chance and Necessity:
I often use these terms as I first realised they applied to theistic evolution after reading John Polkinghorne's work. I intend to avoid going stale by using other terms.

Chance can be easily swapped with terms like dynamic, freedom and flexibility.

can easily be swapped with lawfulness, stability and orderliness.

Opportunity is another term which goes well with these and can easily be swapped with fertility or fruitfulness.

That is all for now. Phew!

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