2014: Another Year of Failure to Engage at BioLogos?

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:

http://potiphar.jongarvey.co.uk/2014/08/26/response-to-deborah-haarsmas-constructive-new-column-regarding-id/

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:

http://biologos.org/blog/thoughts-on-darwins-doubt-reviewing-darwins-doubt-darrel-falk-part-1

http://biologos.org/blog/thoughts-on-darwins-doubt-reviewing-darwins-doubt-darrel-falk-part-2

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:

http://biologos.org/blog/on-coming-to-see-lifes-history-in-a-new-light-reflections-on-darwinism-and

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.

 

Edward Robinson

About Edward Robinson

Edward Robinson (Eddie) started his university career on a science scholarship, but ended up as a philosopher/theologian researching the relationship between religion and natural science. He has published several books and articles on religion/science topics in both mainstream academic outlets and denominational and popular periodicals. He has also taught courses in various departments in several universities.
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27 Responses to 2014: Another Year of Failure to Engage at BioLogos?

  1. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Eddie – I’ve become less and less willing to comment at BioLogos, simply because I now know that there will seldom be any serious response to serious comments.

    Given the level of funding they have, they’re astonishingly hands-off in their interaction with interested parties. Perhaps they’re just living out their theology of divine activity?

  2. pngarrison says:

    I would guess that there are a lot more lurkers than commenters at Biologos, and I think they see those people as their real audience, not so much interested in getting the theology just so, as just deciding whether evolution, etc. needs to be seriously considered at all. Biologos has made it pretty clear that they aren’t going to take an organizational position on some of the issues that exercise you (Jon & Eddie.) I can understand why they would take that position; maybe they feel that if someone is exercised about particular issues they should start their own blog and draw their own crowd (bravo, Jon!)

    I do think the question of whether God is directing/intending the final results is one that they should make themselves clear on, at least as individuals, since there is no way that evangelicals can or should accept a God who somehow lets creation do its own thing, not to mention that it is a ridiculous theodicy. Unlike you, Eddie, I don’t see any need for them to specify how God does accomplish things, since that is inevitably a business of forming hypotheses that can’t be tested. Those who want tenure in philosophy can discuss if they wish. The rest of us can admit that we don’t know and work on other problems that are solvable.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Hello, PNG.

      I’m glad you agree with me that, as individuals, TE/EC leaders should make themselves clear on the question of intending and directing final results of evolution. I appreciate also your comments on the expectations of evangelicals, and on theodicy, with which I agree.

      As for the rest, I’ve never asked “how” God accomplishes things in the sense of “By what metaphysical magic do God’s powers work?” — and there is no way that Falk, Venema, etc. could possibly have thought I ever meant that, if they have basic reading comprehension skills, since I’ve repeatedly said that no investigation into the secret powers of God is necessary to answer my “how” question. I’ve asked whether, in their opinion, God, e.g., “guides” or “front-loads” evolution — and the answer to those questions requires no secret knowledge of the nature of God or how his divine power works.

      I can have the opinion that the stage magician has somehow secretly marked my card, without being able to specify exactly how and when he marked it. What I can’t have is the opinion that he neither secretly marked my card by some perfectly natural means, nor supernaturally manipulated the cards to make the right one appear, but still knows for certain what card I picked. And that’s in effect what many TE/EC leaders are claiming — that God neither marked the card in any way so that it would have to reveal itself in time over the shuffling and sorting and counting process (“front-loading”) nor manipulated the cards by non-natural means so that the right card would appear (“tinkering” with the mutations etc.), but still could guarantee that the right card (man) would turn up.

      I’ve also said umpteen times that I’m not looking for any proof for their opinions, or anything resembling “science” to back up their opinions. I just want to know whether or not the folks at BioLogos, speaking each as an individual, conceive of God as “tinkering” in some way, or as keeping his hands off from any direct manipulation, and relying entirely on natural causes (e.g., random mutations plus time) to build up the necessary machinery to produce complex higher animals. They should be able to answer that directly and without fudging. If they can’t answer it directly, then they can’t accurately recount the thoughts they hold in their own heads, and if their minds are that muddled, a subject as difficult as theology/science is not for them. And if they can answer it, but won’t, i.e., if they are perfectly clear about the thoughts in their own heads but don’t want to impart those thoughts to anyone else, I’d say they are terrified to say what they think for fear of repercussions (e.g., losing funding for BioLogos from conservative sources, losing their jobs at the various confessional places they teach, taking flak in their home churches, etc.).

      I’m not looking for hypotheses that can be tested. That is the business of natural science, not theology. I’m asking the TE/EC leaders for their *theology* regarding creation, sovereignty, providence, determinism, etc. It’s precisely their theology that is obscure — I suspect often deliberately so. I don’t much like the views or the personal attitudes of Ken Ham, but he far outstrips most TE/EC leaders in theological directness and personal courage. You always know what he means, what he’s for, and what he’s against, in Christian theology. The same can’t be said of Falk, Venema, etc. I actually could have a more substantive and theoretically advanced theological conversation with Ham than I could with most TE/EC leaders — he knows both the Bible and the basics of Protestant theology better than they do — and that fact should be an embarrassment to TE/EC, but apparently it isn’t regarded as such.

      The irony here is that both my Genesis exegesis and my acceptance of common descent resemble the position of BioLogos far more than the position of Ham, yet I’m constantly at odds with BioLogos and finding myself allied with supporters of people like Ham. BioLogos should be trying to enlist me (and Jon) as supporters of “evolutionary creation,” but they appear to be too proud to concede even the smallest point to our theological criticisms. Apparently scientists who dabble in theology, and get caught making mistakes in theology, don’t appreciate being corrected in public on theology. So much for the Christian humility that BioLogos constantly calls upon everyone to practice.

      I wouldn’t mind if the scientists at BioLogos disagreed with me theologically and gave reasons; but they simply duck most of the important theological questions I’m concerned about, and, when challenged on points, go silent or leave the room. Refusal to defend one’s intellectual position is — at least in the serious academic world — always a sign of weakness in that position. I can only infer that Falk, Venema, Applegate, Louis, etc. just aren’t up to defending their theological opinions, or even to making them coherent, but want to maintain them anyway. If my inference is wrong or unjust, all the BioLogos folks have to do to change that inference is open their mouths and deal with the objections.

  3. Jim Stump says:

    Gentlemen, Google Alerts notified me that a conversation about BioLogos was taking place over here. I guess at some level we’re flattered that you care enough to go on such rants about us. I wonder, though, where you get the time to do this? And it seems as though you think we at BioLogos are on the same sort of schedules that you have, as though we sit at the computer for hours a day reading blogs and intentionally avoid you. Perhaps your interaction with BioLogos began when we were basically a group of a few people who spent a lot of time writing blogs and responding to the few people who read them. We’re not that kind of organization any more. We’ve had two million people to the website this year. We have grant programs to run and conferences to set up. We meet face to face with lots of people now. We have to raise money. The comment about our level of funding betrays a profound ignorance about how Templeton money works. We have very tight budgets and we all have more on our plates than we can keep up with. So, please take no offense at my informing you that writing individual replies to the several of you is not very high on our priority list right now. Having said that, I wonder how you would compare our level of response to that of Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute on their blogs??

    As for divine action, I’m sure I responded in the comments section about this before (and I’m sure my answer did not satisfy you). BioLogos does not speak for all TE’s, and I don’t speak for all of BioLogos, but I don’t know of anyone associated with BioLogos who would disagree with the following statement: God intentionally created humankind. I think Eddie’s forced dichotomy of “tinkering with” or “relying entirely on natural causes” is wrong-headed. Undoubtedly he thinks it isn’t. Resolving that is not going to happen in the comments section of a blog.

    When my colleagues are called “too proud to concede even the smallest point”, I can only say that there is a radical misreading of the situation. Other similar comments that border on slanderous is what make us hesitant to jump into the fray that you seem to enjoy so much.

    I do hope that you have a happy New Year!

    • GD GD says:

      Ordinarily I would not respond to a blog such as this by Eddie, but I feel compelled to compliment Mr Jim Stump for his response.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Hello, Dr. Stump. Welcome to the Hump!

      Let me echo your wish to us for a Happy New Year.

      I neglected to mention your recent contributions to BioLogos. I believe that it is true that you have tried to interact with BioLogos readers more than most of the others. I can also add (though it is not germane to the point of my column), that so far your moderation at BioLogos (and that of your recent colleagues) has been better and fairer than that which preceded it. So to balance my critique of BioLogos in 2014, let me say that as far as moderation goes, 2014 has been a year of great progress at BioLogos.

      I understand your point about the change in focus at BioLogos. I understand that BioLogos folks have things to do other than reply to commenters. On the other hand, the theoretical reconciliation between science and theology is not some sidelight, some indulgence that BioLogos “doesn’t have the time to address” because it is too busy administering grants, etc.; that would be like saying that putting out fires is something the fire department “doesn’t have time to address” because it is so busy writing up documents pertaining to the procuring of new fire hoses and fire engines. Showing that Darwinian evolutionary theory is harmonizable with orthodox evangelical theology is the heart and soul of what BioLogos is (or should be) about, and BioLogos must *make* time to do that job right.

      So when a critic who happens to have *read* Calvin or Augustine or Paley, or Genesis in Hebrew or the Gospels in Greek, points out that a BioLogos columnist has made an error in theology, or said something superficial or misleading or only half-true about theology, that is not something that should be brushed aside, but should be addressed. Addressing critics on this level is not something that BioLogos (other than Ted Davis) has done very well during its tenure of existence.

      I of course do not blame a biologist who has spent his entire academic career studying cells and genomes for uttering a theological howler, or for having only a superficial knowledge of theology; I do, however, think it is blameworthy for a biologist to utter theological statements on a website read by thousands, and then, when challenged, to back out silently. I think it is even more blameworthy when the biologist, a few months later, in another discussion, makes use of exactly the same refuted point, as if to “slip it by” a new audience which will not have seen the original correction.

      BioLogos claims to be putting together science and theology in an intellectually respectable way. The columns of Ted Davis certainly do this. So do the writings of the people (Russell, Gingerich, etc.) whose thought Ted Davis represents. But the theological musings of a number of BioLogos columnists and executives, past and present, are not responsible intellectual harmonizations of science and theology, because they are not based on theological knowledge, but only on a superficial reading of out-of-context theological statements, used as proof-texts.

      As a Christian I place intellectual honesty very high on the list of moral priorities. I do not think people should “lie for Jesus,” as some YEC people do; nor do I think that they should “lie for Darwin,” as some TE/EC people sometimes appear to do. People who claim to be offering the world a workable synthesis of Darwinian theory and Christian theology have to be entirely honest; that means telling “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” about such subjects as Providence, divine sovereignty, the teaching of the Bible about theodicy (which is very different from the teaching of the Enlightenment and of some TEs about theodicy), the role of natural theology in Christian tradition, the full teachings (not just proof-texts) of Calvin, Augustine, Origen, etc. on various subjects relevant to origins, etc. I have found that many TE writers, whether they base themselves geographically on BioLogos or not, tell very much less than the whole truth about theological matters, emphasizing only what they like from the Bible and tradition — the parts that can be drawn into the service of neo-Darwinism — and omitting what they don’t like.

      Here at the Hump our emphasis is different from that of BioLogos. We accept evolution as at the very least a working postulate, but our goal is not to get evangelicals to believe in evolution; our goal is to avoid “throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” i.e., to make sure that, when Christians accept evolution, they don’t accept formulations of it that clash with core affirmations of Christian tradition. That means that “getting straight exactly what Christianity teaches” is a high priority here. The columns here on Calvinism, the early Fathers, etc., thus tend to be much more detailed and text-focused than what is found on BioLogos. Glib remarks about God using randomness, or God giving nature its freedom, etc., are not made here; the theological tradition is considered more carefully and with more scholarship. Primary sources are given relatively more weight than they are at BioLogos.

      I am aware that BioLogos folks would say that God intentionally created mankind. The difficulty, of course, is how that intentionality is achieved through a neo-Darwinian process which by its very nature thwarts all intentionality. In neo-Darwinism neither the mutations nor the selection process can intend anything, or have any forward-looking power; I am sure that Dennis Venema and Darrel Falk will confirm that for you. So the question is, how does God — if he restricts himself to natural causes (which is implied by all that Falk, Venema, Francis Collins etc. write about evolution) — use nature to produce a desired outcome when nature resists all desired outcomes, but goes its own way? Such attempts to address this problem as have appeared on BioLogos — and I have read them all, often several times over — have been inadequate and very superficial from both a logical and a metaphysical point of view, as well as a theological point of view.

      Again, Jeff Schloss has said that God is “mightily hands on” in evolution. I have not seen any description of God’s action in evolution on BioLogos that I would describe as “mightily hands on.” I have seen what I would call “delegation”: God creates nature with all its power, and then delegates cosmic and biological evolution, including the origins of life and man, to those natural powers, which in and of themselves operate without any end in mind. In other words, as far as the physical origin of everything is concerned, the teaching of BioLogos is point-for-point the teaching of Carl Sagan, etc. All can be explained “as if God were not given” — to use the expression of a leading TE who does not often write for BioLogos. That is how the teaching of BioLogos appears to the vast majority of evangelicals. It would be a gross misuse of the English language to call this a “hands-on” notion of God in creation.

      But possibly I have misunderstood the teaching of BioLogos — or, if there is no individual teaching of BioLogos, but only the views of individual columnists, possibly I have misunderstood all of them. If that is so, I invite clarification.

      So, Dr. Stump, why does BioLogos speak of God as “hands-on” in creation? In what sense is he “hands-on”? In creating the first matter and natural laws? That is not “hands-on” as the phrase is normally used. In sustaining the natural laws that so that e always equals m times c squared? That again is still not “hands-on” as the phrase is normally used. “Hands-on” contains the idea of personal direction, on-the spot decision-making, etc. A “hands-on” board of directors of a corporation interacts with the executive, sometimes overruling its decisions; a “hands-on” management of a business wanders around the floor, looking over the shoulders of clerks and correcting them, sometimes taking the cash register or picking up a broom to sweep the floor itself. I have seen no evidence that any BioLogos TE, or for that matter any ASA TE, regards God’s actions in evolutionary creation as “hands-on” in this normal English sense. So why use a phrase that is bound to mislead the audience in the evangelical churches? Why not speak more accurately and precisely?

      Dr. Stump, if you think my dichotomy of tinkering and relying on natural causes (language which I did not invent, but took from TE writings themselves!) is wrong-headed, you may suggest another schema for thinking about these matters. In 5 years of operation, BioLogos has been unwilling or unable to provide an alternate schema.

      Dr. Stump, I have said nothing slanderous. It is not an unreasonable inference to suggest that pride is involved when in five years non-theologians such as Drs. Falk, Venema, Applegate, Giberson, Collins and Louis have failed to concede a single theological correction to people vastly more versed (and academically published) in theology than they are. But I am willing to withdraw the suggestion if a better explanation can be found.

      As for what I “enjoy so much” — that would be honest, open-ended intellectual conversation about theology and science, not driven by a pre-mandated conclusion (i.e., that Christian evangelicals are bound to accept neo-Darwinian biology and should modify traditional Biblical exegesis and traditional, orthodox systematic theology in order to accommodate that biology).

      I have not found such a truly open-ended conversation from the columnists on BioLogos, except on occasion. I have pointed out those occasions. I have praised Ted Davis. I have praised Dr. Haarsma’s recent statements about the design of the universe for intelligent life (very much the ID position). I have praised Dr. Falk for his fair and open-minded treatment of Meyer’s new book (even if he did retreat a bit in the face of the partisan criticisms of the unbeliever Nick Matzke). I have praised other recent columnists, including the young fellow studying in Britain. I would praise you and your colleagues for purging BioLogos of a certain very nasty atheist (pretending to be Christian) biologist who made constant insulting digs at other commenters. I would praise BioLogos for running a forum for theology/science discussion, a forum which has attracted some interesting and thoughtful commenters. But I cannot praise the theological comments of the majority of TE/EC leaders whose academic fields are in the life sciences. I think that for the most part they are dabblers and dilettantes when it comes to theology, and that they mislead evangelical audiences about what historical Christian theology teaches because they do not themselves know enough Christian theology and are not willing to take the time to learn it. They are so eager to “save Darwin” theologically that they take a shortcut on the homework side.

      If these life scientists are too thin-skinned to take theological criticism, whose fault is this? Gould and Dawkins didn’t complain about each other’s hurt feelings when they disputed evolutionary mechanisms; Barth and Brunner didn’t complain about each other’s hurt feelings when they disputed Christian theology. Falk should not complain about hurt feelings when his historically indefensible characterization of the Wesleyan position (as it relates to the events of nature) is challenged with reference to Wesley’s actual writings, and the writings of Wesley’s major lieutenants. He should go to the sources and determine whether or not he has in fact made an error, and if so, alter his position accordingly. Louis should not complain about hurt feelings when the selective nature of his Christians sources (i.e., their fideistic, anti-natural-theology bias) is pointed out. The idea that Christians should not criticize each other’s theological positions, for fear of hurting the feelings of those other Christians, is to me a non-starter. Once you enter the theological arena you should be prepared for theological criticism, and tough criticism.

      I’ve not denied that the people I’ve mentioned are firm Christians, good people, etc. I am sure they are all sincere in their faith and I would trust them to pay back money they owed me and so on. I am not attacking their moral character, their spirituality, etc. I am criticizing their statements on Calvin, Augustine, teleology, randomness, Biblical exegesis, etc. And if, from time to time, under the extreme provocation of willfully ducked criticisms, I speculate about the intellectual motives that people have for ducking, you could charitably chalk that up to years of frustration.

      I come from a very strong and high-level academic background where ducking out of discussions when one’s thesis is challenged is not permitted. It can cost one a job, tenure, etc. The problem with the theological evasions of TE/EC biologists is that such evasions cost them nothing. They earn their living in biology, not theology, so they never have to face the judgment of theological peers. This allows them to be much less scholarly, much less responsible, in the things they say about the Bible and tradition. I see my role as to employ my advanced theological and historical training to inform evangelical Christians that the TE/EC leaders frequently tell half-truths about the Bible and tradition, and that there is another side to the story. That should not hurt anyone’s feelings. Such criticism should be welcome, not resented.

      If I made a biological mistake — if I confused a protein with a nucleotide, for example — I would thank Dennis Venema or Darrel Falk for the correction, and would never repeat the error again. I have not found any similar response to the theological corrections offered by me or others to TE/EC leaders. The same errors and exaggerations and half-truths are repeated over and over again, in venue after venue, even when the authors have been informed of the problem. If you wish me to cease speculating about motivations, then fine, I will not say that the cause of this is pride. Rather, I will say that the behavior is intellectually unacceptable and should cease — but it is not ceasing. So I will end by asking you why TE/EC leaders trained in biology etc. insist on standing up in public as informed about Christian theology, when in many cases their knowledge is very spotty and inaccurate, and I will ask you why they are consistently unwilling to respond when the defects in their statements are pointed out by people trained in the field.

      Again, I wish you a Happy New Year.

  4. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    Eddie, I know you’ve repeated these things umpteen times, so I covet your patience as I ask for yet one more (short) summary or clarification about the theological sticking points between you and so many Biologos columnists/TE leaders.

    Here is my impression of the difference for you to affirm or correct as necessary.
    The TE leadership (or at least the part with which you find fault) claims that there is a false dichotomy set up between what we call “natural processes” and “God’s action”. So they claim that to understand natural processes (to the extent that we do) is to more deeply understand God’s action. They (distressingly to you) fall silent on how a natural process could possibly be a direct action of God in any managerial or sovereign sense that would distinguish clear intent on God’s part from just hope that a random process will eventually turn up something useful. And finally they (TEs) largely believe in scientific demarcation where science is limited to investigations that do not include any form of teleology at all (hence their typical rejection of strong ID claims and hopes).

    In contrast, (and now I’m much less clear –though through no fault of your own I’m sure given the volume of your writings and responses, about which I share in Mr. Stump’s apparent awe) here is my take on your side of this (theological?) sticking point. You think it irresponsible and contrary to studied Biblical understandings established through long and respectable tradition to claim that naturalism can have any claim to any sort of “completeness” as an explanation about the origins of human life. And you see the TEs in question as implicitly, if not explicitly making this claim (though in fairness I doubt many of the Biologos folks would accept this latter claim as I’ve worded it with the metaphysically loaded word “naturalism”. It seems to me you attribute something to them which they probably refuse to claim, and yet cannot (or you say “will not”) clarify how they are different.

    Is that a fair assessment of the situation? And if so it may only be fair to point out that the dispute is only partly addressed (it seems to me) by traditional theological studies and is more in that nebulous interface between theology, philosophy, and science.

    All this said, I think one of the most strategic moves Biologos could make would be to hire you on as their resident theologian to help bring the desired theological clarity to the discussion.

    Echoes of happy new year all around and all that … and may the new year find us climbing to new heights of theological clarity and perhaps even more importantly, charity towards each other.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      You have a pretty good understanding of my position, Merv. Let me restate my position briefly, using your words, just to get us exactly into line.

      1. “The TE leadership (or at least the part with which you find fault) claims that there is a false dichotomy set up between what we call “natural processes” and “God’s action”. So they claim that to understand natural processes (to the extent that we do) is to more deeply understand God’s action.”

      Yes, and I agree with the TE leadership about this. I agree that there is a sense in which all action accomplished through “natural laws” is an action of God. There is no quarrel between ID and TE over this point, though TE writers often make out that there is, because they tend not to be very good listeners where ID is concerned. (When the word “ID” appears, many of them immediately go on autopilot into their “repel creationists” mode, and all listening stops.)

      However, while I agree that there is action through natural laws, that does not exhaust the possibility of divine action. There is the possibility of direct divine action — recognized by all orthodox theologians of all denominations and confessions. Direct divine action does not employ natural laws because it does not require them. All TEs, in agreement with myself and Jon Garvey, grant the possibility of direct divine action, even during the creation of the world. However, they tend to *dislike* the idea of direct divine action in the creation of the world. They strongly prefer to understand the creation of the world entirely in naturalistic terms, and to resort to direct divine action only in reference to Biblical miracles such as the Resurrection, parting the Red Sea, etc. The basis for this preference is not entirely clear, because TEs rarely even acknowledge that it *is* a preference of theirs, and therefore don’t feel the need to justify it.

      As for myself, I have no preference, one way or the other; what I object to is not the investigation of purely natural possibilities but the inclination against supernatural possibilities. The inclination against supernatural possibilities is much more characteristic of an Enlightenment than a Hebraic mind-set. Every time a TE says “It would be more glorious for God to create through a seamless natural process than for him to do a series of miracles like a stage magician” that TE is theologizing, and theologizing in an Enlightenment rather than a Hebraic manner. Such theologizing has nothing to do with any discovery of modern science, but is a religious or aesthetic preference, and further, not a preference associated historically with American Protestant evangelical faith. Yet BioLogos, and TE/EC generally, see themselves as within the Protestant evangelical tradition.

      2. “They (distressingly to you) fall silent on how a natural process could possibly be a direct action of God in any managerial or sovereign sense that would distinguish clear intent on God’s part from just hope that a random process will eventually turn up something useful.”

      The second part of the sentence captures my meaning: I find it impossible, based on the accounts given by TEs, to distinguish between clear intent and hope that a random process will eventually turn up something useful. This is especially the case when several of them, including Ken Miller, Falk, and Venema talk about the “freedom” of nature and “Wesleyan” theology as opposed to “Calvinist” theology (with “Wesleyan” theology supposedly leaving evolutionary outcomes more open). One cannot tell whether the TEs are saying (a) that God *doesn’t* guarantee outcomes, and this is good, because he’s a nice, freedom-loving Wesleyan God as opposed to a tyrannical Calvinist God; or (b) God does guarantee outcomes, but he guarantees them, paradoxically, through a process which has no mechanism for guaranteeing outcomes. Sometimes TEs seem to be saying one thing, sometimes another. Theoretically there is no coherence to the TE position when it comes to the question whether God guarantees some, none, or all outcomes of evolution.

      3. Regarding what I find theologically “irresponsible” for TEs to claim. I find it irresponsible for TEs to claim to speak for orthodox, traditional, evangelical Protestant Christianity when the majority of them will not take the time to read and study the primary sources of Western Christian theology. They dip into authors now and then, grabbing proof-texts: Newman and Barth against natural theology (but have they read anything of Newman and Barth *other* than those remarks against natural theology?), Calvin on the waters above the heavens (but of course ignoring Calvin’s endorsement of natural theology), Augustine on how Christians should keep up with science (but have they read anything else by Augustine, or even the treatise in which the statement about science is found?). Theology seems to be a quarry for proof-texts for them, and a broad theological understanding of Calvinism, Lutheranism, Augustinianism, Thomism, Orthodoxy, etc. is not something any of them seem very interested in. Their interest in systematic theology seems utilitarian, without the purity of true theoretical motivation. They want to *use* snippets of theological authorities to vindicate Darwinism, not to understand Christian theology correctly for its own sake. I find that deeply offensive, both as a scholar and a Christian.

      I don’t think lab biologists should be dipping into theology in a superficial manner to support their pet scientific theory. They should either learn theology properly before speaking about it, or not speak about it at all. Certainly they should not be wandering around the USA speaking to evangelicals in their churches, saying that all is well between Christian theology and Darwinism, then they don’t have deep knowledge of Christian theology.

      I’m pulling no punches on this one, even if it offends Dr. Stump, because he needs to hear the truth — that Collins, Venema, Giberson, Falk, Applegate, Louis and several other important TEs are in fact theological quacks and dilettantes, not qualified to make the historical and theological statements they are making. They do not know even their own denominational traditions very well. E.g., Falk is always talking about Wesleyanism but doesn’t understand Wesley’s thought on creation at all. And the Calvinists in the TE movement are a far cry from the Calvinism of Calvin himself. And the Thomist TEs, such as Beckwith, directly contradict explicit statements of Aquinas — and when challenged with the actual passages, leave the room rather than stay and admit correction, because what Aquinas says is plain and there is no way around it.

      This is the root of the problem. It is not theistic evolution itself that I object to. It is that many of its champions are not theologically competent and not historically informed, and further, unwilling to change their minds in the face of textual evidence. What I like about the Hump is the theological competence that Jon has brought to discussions of evolution. I have learned more about historical Christian theology for the brief time that Jon has been posting than I have learned from all the theological columns published in 5 years on BioLogos. It’s a question of making sure one does one’s homework before one sets oneself up as a public teacher of theology. And every time BioLogos makes theology/science claims, it is implicitly making theological claims as well. I want it to defend those claims with texts, or stop making them. But instead, BioLogos columnists keep making the claims, while refusing to defend them before competent critics. That’s unacceptable.

  5. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Some comment from me seems in order, since Jim has addressed points I made in response to Eddie’s post. I won’t defend the OP, as Eddie has his own viewpoint, especially in relation to ID, and is quite able to answer for himself. But the core point – a non-responsiveness on the part of BioLogos writers to serious and informed comment – is the main reason The Hump of the Camel took its present form a year or more ago. I should say from the start, though, that our interest is Creation and all its implications; any comment about others, including BioLogos, is subordinate to that, and not to any liking for controversy. BioLogos happens to be, and to brand itself as, the major player in popularising theistic evolution, so must expect to be held to account by those who also own that label.

    I appreciate that professional pressures prevent people being glued to keyboards all day simply to answer individual online commenters. But to be fair the two of us who decided to shape this blog as it is are people whom BioLogos had already asked to write articles for them, so our thinking in the field is not considered completely irrelevant. At least one of our distinguished supporters, too, is currently engaged in BioLogos-initiated work. Many of our frequent commenters too are working scientists, theologians and educators: the kind of people whose grass-roots knowledge will help move science-faith issues forward. Many (three on this very thread, if I’m not mistaken) have been as active in the discussion, since the days of the ASA discussion forum, as those now holding positions at BioLogos.

    Merv, in his pacific manner (hooray for that Mennonite tradition!) has rightly pointed out the need to engage not only with science and theology, but with their interaction with philosophy and metaphysics. To which I would add the importance of a serious historical awareness about how science, theology, philosophy and metaphysics have developed, if we are to be sufficiently critically aware to be of use in the world. If BioLogos does not address these in trying to be serious about the science-faith interface – and I agree that Ted Davis is the exception that proves the rule here – then others must and will.

    Time is a pressure for most of us. I am the only writer here who no longer has to work to live, but when I was the head of a twelve-thousand patient practice (also responsible for fund-raising) and simultaneously a church leader, I still felt that responding personally and fully to individual issues was of central importance. I guess we all set our own priorities.

    I still consider communication a priority here on The Hump, even when I disagree with commenters great or small. Admittedly we’re a much smaller concern that BioLogos. Jim says they get a million visits a year, whereas we only had a few thousand more than 300,000 in 2014. About equal numbers of those came from BioLogos and Uncommon Descent, and rather fewer (as far as the stats tell me) from Creationist links. <ake of that what you will.

    Since it now is the New Year (as I know from a gruelling gig last night), I can be the first to wish all reading this blessings from 2015.

  6. GD GD says:

    Jon,

    The comments made since the posting of this blog article by Eddie have been thought provoking (at least to me) for the following (I am no commenting on how BioLogos conducts itself nor on the way you manage your activities):
    1) Although much can be said concerning the faith-evolution (Darwinian outlook) discussion, and a great deal of it can be critical, I have not seen any opinion or concept that would compel one to seek a new theological position – this means the articles and comments are of interest to a wide range of outlooks and denominations, but real conflict is found in the argument between those who believe in a six day creation and those who consider themselves evolutionists and want to include phrases such as “this is how God went about creating”.
    2) Besides point (1), most of the intellectual activity is focussed on maintaining the general Orthodoxy of the great Christian traditions, while striving for a better understanding and comprehension of the physical and bio-science, and for those who may have the resources, some grounding in the current philosophical debates.
    3) Point three covers a vast area of human activity and understanding, and it is within this context that I think some of the (overly) critical remarks made to BioLogos seem ill directed.
    4) I think positive remarks are more appropriate in these exchanges, and again I think many comments get negative and argumentative (including my comments on occasions) – I do not expect responses to negative comments, but agree that it is our right to make them.
    5) In the spirit of Merv’s pacific approach, I offer an opinion, regarding the apparent disagreements you and Eddie have with BioLogos (beside your desire to engage in some type of dialogue/comments exchange): the major point is that of what is random instead of directed. This point has been expanded to include the Sovereignty of God, and imo much of what I have read in such comments is vague and does not constitute a theological argument, but a series of opinions on how random and directed may be understood. Aquinas reasoning seems appropriate imo, but the notion of what is meant by random and accidental has generate much heat theologically.

    I again emphasise my particular approach – the general discussion is best summarised as faith-science, and the basis is the outlook of Christians who believe in God, as opposed to atheists who do not believe in God.

    The questions posed by advances in the bio-sciences are at times fascinating as they impact on our understanding of life, the planet, and what constitutes our physical and biological make-up. Nonetheless, biology is one of a number of disciplines, and faith covers a vast area of human conduct, understanding and way of life, and we all agree that biology is not up to the task of addressing such areas of human concern.

    Finally, if you and Eddie have a theology that fits in with Orthodoxy and would advance our understanding of some areas of the faith-science discussion, then I urge you to put THAT in print. I know I would find it interesting, and I suspect people at BioLogos would also. This approach would conform to Mr Stump’s wish for a happy New Year (and all of us), and would move these somewhat critical and often fruitless comments/discussions to a more productive area.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      GD

      I agree that one of the most substantial issues to be explored in divine governance of the created order is that of randomness. I don’t think I’ve been particularly remiss on doing so here, including following Thomas’s approach: if you search “randomness” and “chance” it will give a hefty reading list, but these two pieces, from 2012 and 2014, show some of the issues I’ve covered: Thomas Aquinas on theistic evolution and More on Aquinas and contingency. I’ve frequently (and politely) raised them when relevant on BioLogos too, when articles opened the matter, as far as being a mere visitor permitted. Hence my frustration at the lack of response from the articles’ authors: it seems a central issue covered very superfically.

      On your last para, would you really say that I’ve neglected to do the theology in articles here? I count 510 posts in the “theology” category. Admittedly subjects tend to get covered over time as my study programme dictates, and recently there’s been a lot on the relationship of mind and matter – metaphysics is important too. But I did a complete series on Christological Creation in 2012, for example, which I know one of our regular commenters drew to the attention of BioLogos since he thought it would be relevant to their mission. It’s no problem to me that I never heard anything more, as I never had a wider ambition for it, but clearly they didn’t feel it was interesting.

      That’s their privilege, of course.

      • GD GD says:

        Jon,

        The article you refer to is one that I made a number of comments, and we discussed at some depth our notions of law. I suppose what I mean to say is “if you and Eddie have a novel or new theological outlook” that deals with the problems of evolution (by this I mean seeing Darwinian thought within the dogmatics of Christianity). Thus your previous comment, “Evolution as a bare process can fit with that, but evolution as an undirected, purposeless mechanism never can.” needs some further elaboration – after all what is evolution as a bare process? and just how does this add to our general view regarding faith and science?

        My attempt(s) to articulate a position which maintains the dogma of Orthodoxy, while accepting the (in relative terms) speculation that includes Darwinian thinking, has not made any impact (that I can note). Yet I feel that fruitful discussions that would place Darwinian thinking on the level needed for specific theological discussions within Orthodoxy, are extremely difficult. It is within this context that I tend to sympathise with BioLogos and the way they articulate their position (and why I am reluctant to discuss Darwin beyond biology and its paradigm).

        In any event, such discussions can be useful.

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          GD

          I’m reluctant to reply at length here because this thread has a specific and quite narrow purpose: I suspect its 3 possible fates are to become heated, to go no further or to wander off course.

          I’ll risk the last because I want to engage with your ideas, whilst still finding them difficult to understand fully from the vantage of my mindset. I’ll launch off from your word “speculation”.

          One theme of Owen Barfield I didn’t raise in the recent posts was that, in mediaeval thought, the idea that one might dig into nature and find “actual reality” was laughable. Rather, one could find theories that were useful in describing how things seem, ie they “saved the appearances” (which became the title of Barfield’s book).

          In that intellectual system it wouldn’t matter if Darwinian evolution (or variations thereon) are “true” – and in fact such a framing of the matter would seem strange before those like Galileo insisted that “the appearances”, properly described, are “the reality”.

          Hence Jesusits happily used Copernican cosmology as a “speculation” useful to navigation, the alternmative being the Ptolemaic “speculation”.

          But in modern Western thought science needs to be ultimately “true”, and so Darwinian theory, if true, has to be “the way God did it”. If questions such as I’ve asked about whether its suggested unguided mechanisms are logically compatible with God’s creative intention and wisdom are not answered (in that framework), then incompatible truths are left coexisting in watertight compartments.

          That’s not a problem for the mediaeval mind, since Darwinism, like any science, isn’t required to be “true”, but a useful “speculation” (ie, a description of what is “seen” – Lat “speculare”). But I don’t think BioLogos is seeking to embrace mediaeval categories of thought, is it?

          Does that train of thought relate in any way to yours?

          • GD GD says:

            Jon,

            Regarding BioLogos, I think they state their beliefs, and use words such as God sustains, God works through chance, and similar notions that we can find on their web site. Further discussion would seem pointless, and I do not want a heated exchange, especially because I have (and continue) to enjoy the New Year celebrations.

            I gather there may be confusion regarding the way I use the term ‘speculation’; to try to make a clear answer for you, I will refer to discussions amongst colleagues when carrying out research, which inevitably brings us to what may or may not be fully understood. We often use the term ‘we may idealise this or that’, which often means we seek to present our idea (or research subject) in as clear a manner as we can, fully cognisant of the fact that we do not have a complete grasp of the matter at hand (often this is simplification). I will not give examples as these will probably not mean much to you. This way of thinking and working is routine to me and others I have worked with. So, terms such as ‘speculate’, ‘simplify’, summarise what ‘we know and what we wish to find out’, and are often used in discussions which commence with defining, or setting out, a particular goal in a research project.

            I also acknowledge that the term ‘speculation’ is often used to mean conjecture that is unsupported by evidence – this usage is rare in my experience, as research builds on previous evidence or data, but also recognises the need for further research (thus the notion of inadequacy in our current understanding).

            I am not sure that I can add more to this – modern western thought regarding science is discussed by many philosophers of science, and I do not agree with you that it must be considered true – the general belief seems to be that ultimately we may all agree that certain aspects of science are factually correct, and this is mostly confined to the exact sciences. In light of this, I am reluctant to say science shows how God works, nor do I seek things of God from science (I am not suggesting anyone is). I commence with the belief that God created the heavens and the earth, and science provides insights of that creation (which I think is not that different to BioLogos). So I guess the difference I sense from my perspective is the confidence one may place on Darwinian thinking regarding the bio-world, and from that decide if one should examine or even revise some aspects of theology (e.g Adam and Eve, was mankind intended or is he an accident) – I am in that camp that thinks Darwin is not that important when considering such matters.

            I am simply suggesting that you and Eddie may have many points to make, but these have not crystallize into a coherent theological statement that puts any specific areas of science into focus for such discussions – be this design, or whatever.

            • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

              GD

              There seems at least slight overlap between your use of “speculation” in science and the mediaeval use to which I referred. Neither, as I suspected, is about baseless conjecture, but about recognising limitations to current knowledge (and maybe even what knowledge is possible), whilst still saying something useful.

              In biology in particular, though, there does seem a lack of full awareness of the relative involvement of your kind of speculation, “truth”, the provisional status of current understanding and so on.

              Oft-seen statements like “Evolution is a fact” raise all kinds of questions, including (as you mentioned above) exactly what is meant by “evolution” in relation to “Darwinian evolution”, and to what extent biologists themselves see “speculative” elements as “settled science”.

              It’s a fact that scientists who advocate evolutionary mechanisms perceived as non-Darwinian are seen as challenging “truth”, not as speculating on a level playing field.

              It’s not helped much by general statements like “we know evolution is true, but the details may need adjustment”, when no agreed understanding of the meaning of “evolution” and “details” exists.

              In practice (as we’ve discussed many times before) it seems that “evolution” is often inseparable from “Darwinian thinking” in people’s minds, and so it can’t be left out when examining the relevant theology. Or at least, it isn’t left out by most theistic evolutionists influencing public thinking, which seems to make some controversy inevitable.

        • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

          Speaking only for myself, I am not advocating any “novel or new theological outlook”; my point is that BioLogos was founded by and is maintained by American Protestant Christians who consider themselves “evangelical”; and the evangelical tradition in America has always — at least until very recent years — been a conservative tradition, looking to the great conservative Protestant theologians — Luther, Calvin, and the various American conservatives. One would expect, then, that any reconciliation of religion and science on BioLogos would display a conservative Protestant attitude. But this is far from the case.

          On BioLogos, despite its protests that it gives both religion and current science their due, it is clear that current science has veto power over Biblical interpretation and systematic theology (e.g., regarding the doctrine of Adam, Eve, and the Fall as interpreted through St. Paul). It is also clear from the statements of many of the frequent columnists and guests that current TE/EC ideas what God would do or should have done in creation are far more influenced by the Enlightenment notion of God than by the Bible or by the theological tradition. In these respects, BioLogos is not, in my view, faithful to the American evangelical tradition which it claims to represent and from which it receives much of its funding, directly or indirectly.

          Of course, if “evangelical” means nothing more than “I really love Jesus” or “I like hymn-singing at science-religion conferences with other Christian scientists” etc. — if it denotes nothing more than a strong joyous feeling about being Christian and being saved — then it need not be conservative. It can embrace Darwin, the Enlightenment, Marx, Freud, modern reductionist sociology and psychology, same-sex marriage, abortion on demand, feminism, and everything else that is modern. But such a form of Christian faith (as long as you love Jesus, what you think about theology doesn’t really matter) has no interest for me — and, as the numbers show, has very little interest for most American evangelicals, which is why BioLogos is having such a hard time selling its wares.

          What I’m interested in is how science/theology interaction looks from the perspective of the classical forms of Christian faith: Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Calvinist, Lutheran, etc. So “new” or “novel” theological perspectives are not what I want to talk about here. We’ve had a bellyful of “new” and “novel” theology in the past 50 years, and in fact, since the Enlightenment, and for the most part such theology has contributed to the degeneration, not the strengthening, of Christendom and of Christian faith.

          As for Orthodoxy, GD, you are more than welcome to give your exposition of Orthodox thought on creation here. Such remarks as you have made, I have found sketchy and unsystematic. If you wish to hold forth at length here on what the various Orthodox writers have taught about creation, nature, etc., by all means do so. You will not find me automatically hostile to Orthodox ideas. Far from it.

          • GD GD says:

            I do not consider myself sufficiently knowledgeable on Evangelical thought and outlook, so I make sketchy comments at best. I have on occasion quoted from established Orthodox teachings, and on a couple of times I referred to web sites that discuss at length Orthodox thinkers on Darwinian evolution. I must confess that I have spent an unusual amount of time on this site and BioLogos, mainly because it provided a window to evangelical activities and thought.

            Much as I would like to present a systematic treatment of the subject (creation and biology) from an Orthodox perspective, I simply cannot find the time for this – I have added to my Notes and may even revise some parts of my book, but that will take a lot of time and effort from me.

            I suppose it sounds like an excuse, but to put this in context, I have spent periods of time spanning over 30 years on this project – purely because I want to better understand faith and science. This is out of interest – so from your point of view, I am an enthusiast in this area. Professionally I have written many papers, very lengthy reviews, and many many reports, and I need great motivation to significantly add to my writing work load. So I think my excuse is valid.

  7. Jim Stump says:

    Jon, Eddie, GD, Merv

    This morning I checked into the comments here again, and repeat my concern about the amount of time it takes to keep up with you guys! I do appreciate the thoughtful critique of BioLogos (and GD’s sticking up for us). Let me offer a few more thoughts.

    When BioLogos hired me 15 months ago, they were specifically looking for someone in philosophy or theology. BL was started by scientists, and they brought in Bible scholars to help with understanding the parts of the text that are problematic from an evolutionary creation standpoint. But that’s not the same as high level theological work. They recognized that. So, my degree is in philosophy, but I’ve taken graduate level work in theology, and I’ve published a book on the history of Christian thought on an academic press. But I’m still a full time professor at a small institution with heavy teaching loads. It would be great if Templeton would give us a bunch of money to sponsor a think tank where a several of us could focus on nothing but theology for a few years. But that’s not how things work. So instead, we take baby steps. Our new content editor, Brad Kramer, is fresh off an MDiv and adding to our theological literacy as well. I’m hopeful that in 2015 you’ll see some more serious theological reflection on the blog, but much of it will come in other forms.

    So, here’s my next point: you may end up writing the same post at the end of the year that you did this year if your criterion for engagement is the amount of time that BL blog authors spend in the comments section. My vision when I started was for each blog author to commit to interacting in the comments section. That goal has proved elusive so far, and a lot of that has to do with the medium itself. When there is an open comments policy, there is a lot of wheat and tares going on. Both the tone and the content of comments are all over the map. You must have seen the very conservative Catholic (pre-Vatican II??) commenter this year who responded to every post for awhile. He’s changed his login name multiple times and won’t take no for an answer. That kind of stuff really, really saps the will of staff and authors to “seriously engage” the comments section. Every word you write is savagely dissected by someone out there, and rarely does the principle of charity have much purchase among the gallery of commenters. It is just exhausting to have a “conversation” with so many different people at once. We’re talking about some different models that we’ll hopefully roll out in the early part of the year.

    Finally, another element to our resistance to do what you want is our increasing emphasis on the development of relationships with our critics. The internet makes a great place for detailing arguments. Fairly consistently, though (especially in an open forum), arguments turn nasty. Or even if they aren’t intended as nasty, they are perceived that way by other people. I am much more concerned about the spiritual formation of our community (both our friends and “enemies”) than their intellectual assent to a set of propositions about science (or theology). It is genuinely a dilemma for me to try to engage some of the nastier folks out there in this format, knowing that in doing so, I’m providing another opportunity for them to treat people with callous disrespect. I’m afraid the internet will not go down in history as one of the great leaps forward in manifesting the Kingdom of God. So, we’re finding that much more productive dialogue happens in the context of developing friendships.

    Now, unfortunately we can’t become friends with everyone out there. (We are hosting a public conference this summer, though, and would love to see you in person there!) We’ll keep trying to do what we can on the web. The mission of BioLogos is moving forward. It may not look exactly like you want it to. Thank you, though, for your interest in what we do. Blessings on the Hump of the Camel.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Thanks for this considerate reply, Jim. One hopesthat despite sometimes critical comment we don’t count as “the nastier folks” – at least, we’ve occasionally had to deal with Tridentine Fundamentalists too, and speaking for myself I have always tried to move engagement with issues forward, and can only remember actually losing my cool with trolls rather than BL people.

      I may have to send apologies for absence to the summer conference – not only do I have a third grandchild due, but it’s a mighty long swim at my age.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Dear Dr. Stump:

      Thanks for your gracious reply.

      Believe me, I can understand and accept much of what you say. I know that it is impossible for you and others to respond to every single comment posted on BioLogos. I would never ask you or anyone else there to attempt such a thing.

      Also, I am sympathetic to your despair about responding to “one-tune” commenters who are constantly pushing a pet theory — whether it is the need for Papal supremacy or the need to abolish “Western dualism” from Christian thinking — under every column, whether their theory is relevant to the theme of the column or not.

      However, I don’t think that I (or Jon or others here) are expecting endless dialogue with us under every column. We are just asking for occasional responses where a point central to the mission of BioLogos — the construction of a historically faithful Christian theological response to the discoveries of natural science — is at stake. And such replies need not be long, in many cases.

      For example, take the case (a real one) where a BioLogos columnist says or implies that God does not guide all the outcomes of evolution because he is a “Wesleyan” God who believes in giving his creatures freedom, as opposed to a “Calvinist” God who does not offer such freedom. Now imagine (as has actually happened) that someone who has actually read Wesley’s writings on creation writes in, and points out that the “Arminian” free-will theology of Wesley was meant to be applied to *man*, not to sea-worms or bacteria or dinosaurs, and that it is a category error to translate a theological doctrine relevant to human beings to the realm of sub-human beings. Surely the proper thing for the columnist to do in that case would be either (a) to admit to being guilty of sloppy thinking, hurried writing, or both, and retract the application of Arminian free will to subhuman beings; or (b) to stick to his guns, and show how the extension from beings with free will to beings without free will is a logical one. But in the case cited, the columnists involved did neither. They simply ignored the criticism (offered politely and in good faith, from one Christian to another) and there was no further discussion. As little as two minutes’ investment of time in a decent answer — even something like “You’ve got a point there; let me think about it over the next month or so and I’ll try to reformulate my thoughts on this” — would have been far more useful, and less slighting to the critic who has invested time and thought in making an important point.

      If this were only an isolated incident, I would not mention it, but it is in fact a pattern. Time and again, regular or frequent columnists on BioLogos (and I exclude Ted Davis and Pete Enns who have been models of constructive dialogue), when criticized on points with theological, philosophical, or historical contents, have ducked out of discussion, leaving strong refutations unanswered, neither agreeing, nor denying, nor even promising to think about it. Thoughtful theological criticism is met with silence.

      Time and again on BioLogos, natural theology has been attacked directly or indirectly (with the hidden implication that ID is poor theology for the same reasons that natural theology is), and time and again the same trinity of Newman, Barth, and Pascal is invoked. But the large number of very competent and influential theologians who allow for a limited natural theology is never even mentioned, and when a commenter brings up Calvin or Aquinas or various early Fathers, no acknowledgment is given, not even “Well, maybe I oversimplified” or “Well, perhaps my allegiance to the fideist side of Christian theology is biasing me here.”

      Once a columnist wrote that the evolutionary theory of Stephen Jay Gould, with its radical contingency (cf. remark about rewinding the tape and getting a different result) was particularly suited to Christian theologies with a *strong* doctrine of providence! Strong? In the same breath with radical contingency? That makes no sense. It would make sense with Conway Morris, perhaps, or Denton, but not Gould. But when the statement was challenged — the columnist was gone from the scene — back to his science lab. There was no clarification of the theological reasoning, not even one coherent paragraph. And not a single classical Christian text that discussed providence was cited.

      Many BioLogos columnists have implied (without saying so directly) that early Patristic exegesis of Genesis was largely non-literal and that literalism is a recent phenomenon. Well, it certainly is the case that literalism of the American type is a recent phenomenon, but literalism in itself is not. Most of the early Fathers, most of the time, read most verses in Genesis 1-2 literally-historically. This is a demonstrated result of scholarship on the early Fathers. Now one doesn’t have to agree with the early Fathers; one doesn’t have to be bound by their interpretation of Genesis; but it’s wrong to convey to BioLogos readers the false impression that most of them were non-literalists, because that is not true. Yet when protests regarding this are offered — silence reigns.

      I could go on and on. The point is that responding to these very serious theological points need not take gobs and gobs of time. A 10-minute composition of a two-paragraph reply would be enough to indicate that the criticism was received and is being seriously considered. I’m not demanding agreement with all my criticism, just decent scholarly acknowledgment that they are reasonable criticisms and need to be met. And in some cases, where there is plainly a historical error, one sentence would do: “I admit that Wesley did not mean what I suggested, and I promise not to appeal to Wesley on that point again.”

      When I speak of refusal to engage, this sort of thing is what I have in mind. But I get the strong sense that the BioLogos columnists who are working scientists — as opposed to those who are historians or Biblical scholars — do not think they should have to invest even the most minimal time in defending or even clarifying their historical claims about Christian theology; and I get the impression — from the fact that six months after a claim has been refuted, it may well appear in another BioLogos column or an ASA journal article by the same author — that the biologists-cum-amateur-theologians have planted their feet on some issues, and aren’t really interested in fraternal correction from fellow-Christians who have studied theology in more depth than they have. This is the sore point for me — the combination of silence and obtuseness which to me is incompatible not only with Christian humility, but even basic academic or intellectual humility.

      As you will probably discern from my comments, none of them apply to your own contributions. It is others whom I have in mind. I think you must have my point by now, so I will stop. Best wishes to you.

  8. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    I realize that my comment about biologos needing a theologian such as Eddie could be taken as a slam against credentialed theologians already there, Mr. Stump. I didn’t intend it in that spirit, but more in the spirit of Abe Lincoln who often ‘dealt’ with his detractors and harshest critics by appointing them to posts within his administration.

    Just a fun thought about harnessing the enthusiasm and labors of those who do pour themselves into it and then some.

  9. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    Well –to hear Eddie tell it, Biologos may have a position open for a resident atheist.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      I don’t get the joke here, Merv. I must be slow on the uptake. 🙂

  10. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    …nothing much to get, Eddie … It was just a take-off on your comment where you had some “damning praise” for Biologos for “purging a certain very nasty atheist …”

  11. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    And sorry if more word play just made it worse. I shouldn’t be cavalier (much less sarcastic) when speaking of presumed spiritual states of real people.

    You gave some (quite real) praise to Biologos for getting rid of someone that you accuse of only pretending to be a Christian while really being an atheist in disguise. I don’t imagine Biologos knowingly employs atheists, hence my attempt at humor.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Sorry for the confusion, Merv. I thought I had indicated that I was talking about an atheist *commenter*, not an atheist *columnist*, but I see I left out the word “commenter.” I was congratulating the BioLogos moderators for banning a baiting, taunting, insulting commenter who is (if he can be believed) a biologist by training, and also a Christian, while behaving consistently in an utterly un-Christian manner to everyone he disagreed with. I’m of the view that this commenter was not a Christian at all but was only pretending to be one in order to seem to be on the side of BioLogos against ID and TE people.

      Under the old regime of Darrel Falk, this commenter was given a free hand to insult all ID and creationist posters on the site, frequently calling them liars, hypocrites, cowards, and violators of the commandment not to bear false witness. One new poster, a young Christian woman, was so offended by this man’s behavior that after a few encounters with him, she objected to his manners, then left the site, never to reappear again. It was pointed out to BioLogos personnel that this behavior was going on and that it was incompatible with the stated desire of BioLogos for a — shall we say — “Lawrence Welkish” mode of Christian dialogue. But BioLogos “looked the other way,” and this person in fact served as an unofficial bully against ID and creationist folks, saying things that the management could not permit itself to say.

      The new BioLogos management has cleaned this up; the double standard is gone; atheist and TE commenters are now bound by the same rules of politeness that ID and creationist commenters are. I thank Jim Stump and anyone else involved in implementing this decision. Indeed, there has been a housecleaning over the past year, especially in the past couple of months, and all the “one-note” hobbyists who used to plague the site are gone. Good call on the moderation team’s part.

      BioLogos is a useful site, despite its flaws. I just think it could be better. The first step would be for it to emphasize “good historical theology” as much as it emphasizes “good science.” After all, the claim of BioLogos is that evolutionary theory is completely compatible with sound, historical, evangelical Protestant theology. If so, its claims should be able to stand the test of close examination of the writings of Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Wesley, and all the great American evangelical theologians of the 19th and early 20th centuries. And also, of course, the test of close examination of Augustine and the other great Fathers to whom the magisterial Reformers looked. That’s why it’s so disappointing that so far, the treatment of the theological tradition by BioLogos has largely been one of proof-texting: grabbing isolated snippets out of works which seem to support randomness in nature or non-literalism in Genesis exegesis or anti-natural-theology or whatever else BioLogos is defending in the particular column. The very strong impression created by that procedure is that BioLogos starts from a scientific theory (Darwinian evolution) as ascertained, and then quarries the Christian tradition, determined to find a theology that will vindicate the scientific theory. If BioLogos wants to dispel that impression, it needs to publish much more systematic writing on Christian theology. Columnists should own up to where in the tradition they stand and what texts, confessions, etc. are informing their thoughts on science and faith. So far, this has almost never been done.

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