The BioLogos Forum is a useful venue for exchanging ideas about creation and evolution, and religion and science generally. But it is not as useful as it could be. Though it features many columns which spark discussion among its readers, in very few cases do the writers of those columns engage effectively with the BioLogos readers.
The BioLogos columnists can be divided into two groups: Ted Davis, and Everyone Else.
Ted Davis uses his column space to give the reader historical background in science and religion questions, or to present the views of those leading evolutionary creationists – John Polkinghorne, Robert Russell, Owen Gingerich, and others – who operate mostly outside of the BioLogos orbit and rarely if ever produce new material specifically for BioLogos. Davis engages frequently and usefully with commenters on his columns. He not only concedes points in discussion with his critics, but sometimes even modifies his columns, correcting factual errors, adding information submitted by his readers, etc. His columns provide a model for what a BioLogos Forum column could be and should be.
Now we come to Everyone Else. The Everyone Else category can be subdivided into Dennis Venema, and The Rest of Everyone Else. Dennis Venema’s columns on genetics and evolution are well-informed and well-written. He concentrates on convincing evangelicals that common descent has in fact happened. He provides useful diagrams and explanations. And he sometimes interacts extensively with commenters – but only on strictly biological questions. His interaction on theological questions varies from very little to none – even where he provokes reader comments on theology by inserting theological obiter dicta into his writing. It is as if he does not feel nearly as confident in defending his theological views as his biological views; but whether the reason is that, or something else, his columns often initiate science-faith discussion which is left hanging by his absence.
Regarding the columns written by The Rest of Everyone Else, they include: the infrequent columns written by BioLogos President Deb Haarsma; the nearly nonexistent columns written by BioLogos Senior Scholar Jeff Schloss (and what few columns Schloss has written appear to have been originally written for some other venue, not fresh for BioLogos); a horde of “reprint” columns by Ard Louis, Kathryn Applegate, etc. (i.e., columns which have appeared in exactly or nearly the same form years earlier on the site); and one-shot columns by various guest writers. A striking feature of all these columns is that there is virtually no engagement by the writers with the BioLogos readers who comment on them. Deb Haarsma’s very few replies are rarely or never concerned with science/theology questions or comments, but are more “Presidential” or pro forma (thanking readers for their input, etc.). Schloss has not engaged once with readers since taking up his exalted position – even though his celebrated claim that God is “hands-on” in creation has been repeatedly discussed, inviting his clarification. As for the “reprint” columns, even in their original versions, they very rarely contained interaction with commenters – Applegate’s responses were always few and limited in theological depth, and Ard Louis’s responses not much greater; and in the reprints these writers engage not at all. Also, in the reprint versions all the original comments from readers are not reprinted, so the newer readers of BioLogos are not presented with the excellent criticisms of those columns and with the manifest failure of Louis and Applegate to deal with objections to their positions. Finally, the vast majority of the “one-shot” columnists either do not respond at all, or respond only once, and then the response is usually more like “thank you for reading my article” than any substantial engagement with critics.
It is not as if the BioLogos team is being maltreated by its critics. The questions and comments are generally fair; the criticisms are usually above the belt. And this particular commenter has gone out of his way to give credit where credit is due, complimenting Darrel Falk and Deb Haarsma on some of their 2014 columns and encouraging them to enter into further dialogue – in one case by writing an extended response to Deb Haarsma, here:
Such calls have been of no avail. Haarsma did not respond to my extended and peacable column, even though it gave her an ideal moment for bridge-building – something she claims to be very eager to engage in. And Falk, after being praised by me for being fair to Stephen Meyer, was so intimidated by the aggression of very junior evolutionary biologist (and de facto atheist) Nick Matzke that he ignored my encouragement and partly backtracked on his praise of Meyer:
The exchange with Matzke indicated a bit of backsliding by Falk – which unfortunately is not new for him, as he has always seemed overly concerned to gain the intellectual respect of atheist evolutionary biologists, whether they be Matzkes or Coynes or Dawkinses. But it was an opportunity lost. Given the chance to build on his overture to the ID people and thus bridge the gap between the two largely Christian camps (ID and TE/EC), he was overly deferential to a non-Christian scientist 35 years his junior. Similarly, Falk did not answer the two incisive questions I posed to him under one of his more recent columns, here:
Critics of BioLogos who are sympathetic either with ID or with traditional orthodox Christianity have a hard time. When they try to engage BioLogos writers on the BioLogos Forum, they are met – subject to the exceptions noted above – with silence, evasion, or shallow answers to major theological and philosophical questions. This has, of course, been the case with BioLogos all along – the major exceptions being Pete Enns and Ted Davis and (on biological questions) Dennis Venema; but one had hopes that under the new management of Haarsma, things would change. Yet, despite some very positive formal statements by Haarsma, and despite the steady quality of the material of Ted Davis, very little has changed. BioLogos still largely misrepresents ID, and still largely bashes natural theology out of historical ignorance, still largely avoids discussing the classical Protestant evangelical position on providence, divine sovereignty, etc., and still largely avoids detailed discussions of the primary sources in the history of Christian thought. It still largely avoids saying that God designed anything – or else concedes pro forma that God designed things without being clear how design harmonizes with neo-Darwinism (which is inherently anti-design).
BioLogos is currently celebrating 2014 as a great year. My evaluation is different. I see 2014 as (for the most part) another year of evasion and inadequate engagement with the non-fundamentalist, orthodox Christian critics of the BioLogos form of evolutionary creation. At least as regards the BioLogos Forum, the year 2014 should go down in history as The Year of Missed Opportunities.