You see more on a camel

As regular readers will know either from moonlighting on Biologos, or from the heads up in the comments on a previous post, BioLogos moderator Caspar Hess started a thread there questioning why The Hump should both feel the need, and dare, to exist.

The way that thread has developed is the answer, as far as I am concerned, and explains why I don’t bother to discuss much there now, even on a thread about me.

Jim Stump intervened in a post that mentioned the changes in metaphysics since the time of … well, the olden days, I suppose, and I asked him what changes in that area he felt most significant in the matter of theistic evolution.

His reply, which he described as a treatise despite its brevity compared to many of our comments here (and those of our guys over there!), was nevertheless a good response to the question. He happened to mention in a sentence that one can’t go back to Aristotle, though he has useful ideas to contribute, without serious reworking of his concepts in the light of events since the 4th century BC. Which is very true, as the Neo-aristotelians will tell you whilst they go about doing it, and analytic philosophers like Thomas Nagel will do in practice even though they don’t mention their debt to Aristotle. One actually needs to distinguish between his science and his metaphysics, which distinction is too often neglected, and that may have been part of what Jim had in mind.

So I was very happy with Jim Stump’s reply. But not with the responses to it. Roger Sawtelle chastised Jim, and me, for visting the altar of Aristotle at all – basically on the grounds that he is old and, worse still, Greek, culminating in : “You can’t use Aristotle to explain new scientific realities. His time is past.

Jonathan Burke added to Rogers dismissal of Jim’s considered correction with “He wrote so much junk.” Turning his attack on me (quoting a one-liner from Beaglelady who doesn’t do Aristotle, but who was after a biblical proof text that God created planets, in order to prove I was a Fundamentalist – or maybe a failed one, if I couldn’t turn one up) he also dragged in the name of “Galen the gibbering Greek”.

Now what do you notice as missing in any of these replies? It’s any reasoned discussion of a single idea of Aristotle, and especially in the field of metaphysics, which was where things began in the “discussion”. On BioLogos (and this really hasn’t changed much over the years) it’s enough simply to assert that some source of knowledge is wrong, without ever actually having to say how he’s wrong and why – unless that he’s old, or Greek, or gibbering.

There was no indication in any of the posts that anyone had ever read, let alone, understood Aristotle – nor, come to that, that they had read or understood the point I had made about him. Better to throw the word “fundamentalist” around than think about how one can be one of the class “a human being” if Aristotle was wrong about essentialism. Or, by the same token, how God can be God, if he has no essential nature.

Now me, I prefer to try and assess people’s ideas first hand. I’ve read a little Aristotle, though not on metaphysics, and rather more of Aquinas’s Christian re-interpretation of him. If you look up Aristotle’s collected works, it amounts to two volumes of about 1200 pages each. On Amazon’s league table, that book is still in the top 300 or so books about philosophers, 2300 years after he died. To sum that up with “Junk” or “His time is past” without attempting further discussion is not worthy of reply. So I won’t.

As for Galen (who didn’t have a dog in this fight at all), you will easily find in Wikipedia that “Arguably the most accomplished of all medical researchers of antiquity, Galen influenced the development of various scientific disciplines, including anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, and neurology, as well as philosophy and logic.”

But you will look in vain for any historical reference to him gibbering. Enough of that, however, goes on at BioLogos, I find.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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9 Responses to You see more on a camel

  1. Ian Johnston says:

    Jon

    This comment does not need to be shown on-line … it is simply the only way I can connect with you, short of bugging your friends for an email address.

    I have been reading your blog for a couple of years, and greatly appreciate your insights. The latest entries, with your book chapters, are a wonderful gift which I will be sharing with my students in the Fall Semester, when we explore our Christian faith alongside our biological disciplines … thank you!

    I have certainly picked up on your frustrations with BioLogos, and it troubles me because of my generally high respect and gratitude towards its administrators. But I know none of us are perfect, so I expect to learn from critics as much as from loyal followers. So help me out here … can you give specific links to what you are referring to in this current entry?

    By the way, your story in the CAM magazine invoked some real nostalgia for my own days at Cambridge, I am a Cath’s man from 1967.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Hi Ian, and welcome.

      Initial comments here come to the author (in this case me!) for moderation, so may appear a little late, especially in transatlantic passage. You’ll be OK from now on, I hope.

      I should have included a link to the thread in the OP, of course, especially as BioLogos appears a bit labyrinthine in its geography nowadays. My bad. Here.

      Glad you liked the CAM piece. It’s actually generated a bit of interest from alumni, to the extent that an ex-folkie Prof at Calgary University is toying with the idea of a reunion back at Cambridge later in the year. I’ll have to grow my fingernails and remember how to perform without a PA!

      Your use of the material here for students is great news – that’s what it’s all about, in the end.

  2. Sy Garte Sy Garte says:

    I dont really know what’s going on at Biologos. After my last post on the forum, in which I reposted a comment from last November, in an attempt (futile, Im sure) to demonstrate my support for the mission and people there, I have decided to wait and see what happens next, before any further involvement. The attack (and yes, I do consider it an attack) by Hesp is the latest in a number of things (not all of them related to the forum) that has left me scratching my head.

  3. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    Ahhh come now. There is no sustained “attack” form Hesp over at Biologos –he was just curious and initially feeling a bit defensive before being aware of perfectly valid motivations for other projects –and he acknowledged this. Charity may be in short supply amongst a few commenters over there (a “merry band of anarchists” after all, Jon?) Let’s not go on to demonstrate that charity is on short supply over here too.

    That said, I can understand the difficulty in being patient with commentors who so abruptly dismiss so much without displaying any apparent warrant. But perhaps a nutrition analogy may help keep things in perspective. Not everything that goes into your mouth can be an essential nutrient. Some of it must be roughage that will move on through. Just let it go as chaff in the wind while you set about digesting any kernels you find. And often both things are in supply from the same source! Hence the need for charity. There are very few people over there or here about whom I can say I never learned something from what they wrote. And even if one or two come to mind, I would be loath to declare their contributions worthless in general. Such judgments would reveal more about me than them.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Sy, Merv

      As I said before, I’m inclined to take Caspar’s original enquiry as innocent, and the general level of reponses as indicative of the lamentable level of Internet discussion in general, and BioLogos specifically, since that’s where I would post more frequently were it not the case.

      Yet it’s still interesting, on consideration, that a complete BioLogos thread was set up, as it were, to test our credentials to either exist alongside BL, or for our people to comment regularly there. Conclusion from Caspar, “I guess you’ll do.” Conclusion from others, “There’s no smoke without Fundamentalism”.

      Conclusion from any BioLogos staff – zilch. Not “It’s good there is more than one group of us tackling this issue.” Not “Glad to see you dealing with things in more depth,” or “Glad to see your slightly different focus of interest.” Or even “There’s plenty of room for valid alternative views, such as a more conservative theological one.”

      Jim Stump gave an endorsement of the validity of Peter Enns’ or Kenton Sparks’ “Incarnational Errantism”, and of Karl Giberson’s Open Theism. But neither on this thread nor on any other has anyone said, “And there’s a BioLogos-spinoff site that discussed this subject last year…” (I except from that Ted Davis’ citation of the Church-history section of my book, for which he graciously sought my blessing).

      I get the impression we’re regarded about as much as a “co-worker in the theistic evolution field” as is Michael Behe or Michael Denton. Yet if you search intelligent Christian sites on the web, you’ll find a lot fewer worries about our theological orthodoxy than you will that of BioLogos. I’m not sure it’s really us who need to be proving our bona fides!

  4. Sy Garte Sy Garte says:

    It’s hard to be in the middle. Especially if one is small. The two great armies of modern culture, warriors of the truth representing atheist scientism on one side, and fundamental creationism on the other have convinced most of the public and the media that one must choose sides. Thus we have an absurd debate between Ham and Nye. And no even knows that there exists a middle way (actually many versions of the middle way from Enns to Behe).

    So what should we do, as a small cadre of proponents of peace and reconciliation between science and faith? We should grow. Our numbers are pitiful. We should unite. We should evangelize, and publicize. We can argue and discuss, but we should NOT split. As you said, Jon, and as I believe Jim and others at BL agree, diversity of views is good, not bad, and dogma (of any kind) is bad, not good.

    Whether Hesp meant to attack or not is immaterial. I saw the thrust and tone of his first two posts as you did, Jon. His “question” assumed that alternative views might be dangerous or too unorthodox (in a different sense than you mean, see below), or simply subversive. And look at our reponse (mine in particular). We tried (successfully I believe) to reassure him and BL, that we are not a splinter group of rebels leading to some embarrassing heresy.

    The reason being in the middle is so hard, is that there is always the possibility that one might lean toward (or be perceived as leaning toward) one side of the other. In the past BL might have been seen as leaning too much toward liberal or open theology, it shifted, and then some saw it as going too far in the other direction.

    For some time Eddie has been leading the charge against the apparent leaning of BL toward a view of evolutionary science that is thoroughly consistent with the neo Darwinism of the major atheists. I tend to agree that it often seems that BL is more tolerant of atheists on the site than of frank creationists, but I also acknowledge that unlike almost everyone there, my background in atheism as opposed to creationism leads me to be much more hostile to the atheistic side of the war than the creationist one. I prefer to consider my Brothers in Christ, as opposed to my Brothers in Science. (and sisters of course) as potential allies. And I think that the creationist backgrounds of the BL folks naturally steer them in the opposite direction.

    The bottom line is that we are at the stage where we must unify, despite disagreements over almost everything. Expressions of contempt and disdain, which have come to be quite common on BL are not only unfortunate but destructive of such efforts. I am not sure what the moderators actually do, but I dont see nearly enough warnings and deletions of such comments (with a major exception on my book review thread, which I’d rather not rehash) on BL. At the facebook group Celebrating Creation by Natural Selection, where I am one of about a dozen moderators, we are much more vigilant in enforcing rules of mutual respect and tolerance. And it works. Atheists, YECs, and everyone in between are members and follow our rules. One of which is that no one is allowed to question the truth of Christianity or theism directly. I have suggested this approach to BL, when I first returned to the forum, and it was not accepted.

    So what we have is a the acceptance of a variety of views skewed in one direction, along with the acceptance of divisive and dismissive behavior, (Eddie has been a stalwart target of this for a very long time), but a paradoxical intolerance of anything that smacks of ID or creationist leanings, especially among fellow ECs.

    I think that eventually all of this will get sorted out. I strongly agree with Eddie’s comments on the BL forum that a good first step would be more (they already began with Ard Louis’ post, and my book review) attention to modern evolutionary theory. I have decided not to participate in the BL forum, unless directly addressed for the time being. So expect to see more of these rambling incoherent statements from me here, instead of there.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Don’t get me started on incoherence, Sy! 🙂

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Hi, Sy.

      I sympathize with your frustration, and agree with you wholeheartedly that the people “in the middle” (i.e., neither literalist-inerrantist fundamentalists nor materialistic reductionistic atheists) need to work together, being tolerant of each other’s various “middle” positions rather than attacking them.

      I think that Casper Hesp’s original post *could* have been taken as aggressive against the Hump and its posters, but I have decided that this was not his intention, for a few reasons:

      1. First, he clearly had just discovered the Hump and was not speaking out of any long-time animus against the Hump or its folks; he was just surprised to find out about the double life of some BioLogos posters, and wanted to know what it meant for where those posters were coming from.

      2. Second, when Jon and others clarified their position, he seemed to soften and to drop the tone of alarm, and he seemed grateful for the clarification.

      3. Third, I have found Casper perhaps the most traditionally Christian and conservative of all the BioLogos moderators, and the one with the fewest preconceptions against ID and other non-BioLogos positions. He took up my side (and Christy’s, I’m happy to report) when certain liberal Christians and non-Christians among the BioLogos commenters were rejecting the idea of demons and demonic possession, and showed a hesitation to simply dump the Gospel accounts.

      4. Finally, I have found Casper to be pretty dialogically open — to be willing to give and take points, perhaps even more so than Christy, who herself seems a little more flexible than some of the other folks at BioLogos.

      I see the appointment of Christy and Casper as moderators to be a positive sign from BioLogos. They seem to be younger folks with less invested in the old battles which scarred so many YECs and TEs of the Henry Morris and Duane Gish generation. They don’t seem to want to talk about the past quite as much, and seem to be willing to at least listen when an ID proponent or a conventionally orthodox Protestant or a Darwin critics says something, whereas the old guard at BioLogos — Collins, Giberson, Falk, Louis, Venema, Applegate — seem to be rigid and inflexible in their reactions to ID and to what they perceive as the evils of “Calvinism” and to criticisms of neo-Darwinism generally. I’d like to believe that as time passes, the torch will be passed to folks who are looking for a constructive middle and aren’t interested in prolonging the ID versus TE/EC “battle to claim the middle.”

      Personally, I hope you keep publishing things on BioLogos. You are respected there as a scientist who endorses evolution, and your differing perspective on some issues will force some of the people there to think more carefully. Many of them won’t take me seriously as I am not a scientist, but they can’t brush you aside. So don’t give up! You’re valuable on both sites, the Hump and BioLogos.

  5. Sy Garte Sy Garte says:

    Thanks Eddie. I appreciate your support. As for me and BL, we shall see.

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