The commenter “Bilbo” recently stirred up a very constructive hornet’s nest at BioLogos with his thread on the origin of life (OOL). I appreciated the way he held the feet of the materialists (and of those ECs who lean to a materialist portrait of nature) to the fire on this question. However, he doesn’t always achieve constructive results, as can be seen from his new thread on the alleged sneaky machinations of people associated with Discovery.
Bilbo begins by objecting to the term “Kremlinologist” employed by David Klinghoffer in an article posted at the Discovery Institute. I gather that Bilbo finds the implied comparison of the BioLogos organization with the workings of the former Soviet government to be polemical and unwarranted. For the record, I agree with him about that. BioLogos has many faults, and I’ve been one of those who has documented them, but I don’t think we can fairly impute sinister plans for world domination, or even for domination over American evolution/creation discourse, to BioLogos. I sometimes wish that Discovery’s columnists would pull back on the rhetoric; employing it leaves ID folks on the low moral ground, when they should seek to stay on the high. I think it’s better to show by evidence and reason that some positions taken by BioLogos writers exhibit bad science, bad history of science, bad philosophy of science, and bad Christian theology, than to impute dark motivations to the BioLogos organization.
Thus, if Bilbo’s complaint had stopped there, I would have agreed with him. But he was tempted to go on, and do the same kind of motive-imputing to Discovery that he found unfair when the target was BioLogos:
“I suggest a little investigating of ENV is in order. For example, while Dr. Ann Gauger has no reticence of mentioning here at BioLogos that she thinks Adam and Eve may have existed over a million years ago, and may have been members of Homo erectus, I’m pretty sure she’s never made mention of that at ENV. A need to hide things from their YEC audience?
“Likewise, you will often find attacks against the idea of common descent at ENV. But as far as I know, not once has it been mentioned there at Prof. Michael Behe argues for common descent in his book, The Edge of Evolution. Why? Again, could it be because of their YEC audience?”
A little thought, plus a little more industrious research regarding Discovery, would have indicated to Bilbo that his reasoning here was flawed, and his implied charges unreasonable.
First of all, anything Ann posts on BioLogos is public, and just as accessible to YEC readers as anything she posts on the Discovery site, and in fact many YECs frequent BioLogos and therefore can read her statements there. If she were really concerned about hiding her views on Adam and Eve from YECs, she would not publish them anywhere, not even on BioLogos. So the suggestion that she might be playing a double game, saying one thing for one audience and another for another, does not hold up. The internet now makes it possible to hold anyone to any statement they have made anywhere.
Second, the YEC constituency of Discovery is well aware that many leaders of the ID movement are Roman Catholic, and that Roman Catholics do not generally interpret Genesis with the strict literal-historical approach that YECs use. They know that Behe, Richards, O’Leary, and Ann Gauger (and several other Discovery folks) are Catholic. There is no reason why they should be shocked if Ann entertains the possibility of an Adam and Eve who lived much longer than 6,000 years ago. It’s exactly what they would expect of a Catholic ID proponent. So there is no reason why she should hide such a view from ENV readers. So even if she has never directly advocated on ENV for a very old Adam and Eve, that is no evidence that she has concealed her views on the matter.
Third, there are many statements on Discovery, e.g., here, indicating that ID is compatible with common descent, and Discovery has never hidden the fact that Behe and other ID folks endorse common descent. I don’t know where Bilbo has been in the past two years, but during that time Discovery has published three books by Michael Denton, who endorses common descent in all of them. The idea that Discovery might be trying to hide the existence of ID proponents who accept common descent, or an old earth, or an Adam and Eve a million years back, lest young-earth creationists get angry and drop their support for ID, is simply lacking in evidence. Everyone in the creationist community understands that ID is a “big tent” which includes evolutionists as well as young- and old-earth creationists. Those in the creationist community who refuse to dwell in that big tent aren’t obliged to, and some of them (like Ken Ham) bad-mouth ID. But Discovery has stood its ground, maintaining a body of Fellows who are Jewish and Catholic as well as Protestant, and who accept as well as reject common descent. Discovery has proved quite willing to forgo income and support from the sort of YEC who likes Ken Ham. There is no secrecy, no deliberate attempt to conceal anything from YECs.
Now someone might say that Bilbo was not offering these charges seriously, but only trying to give Discovery folks the taste of Klinghoffer’s rhetoric against BioLogos, to teach them a lesson. Well, that’s hard to be sure of; Bilbo’s words read to me as genuine claims about Ann Gauger’s and Discovery’s motives. But even if that’s the case regarding Bilbo, it’s worth making the points I’ve made, because Bilbo is not the first to suggest that Discovery is controlled by a YEC agenda. In fact, it’s an extremely common charge coming from atheists and ECs alike. And it’s not a credible charge. Three books by Michael Denton (an agnostic or at best a Deist who never appeals to or even mentions the Bible), all advocating a naturalistic account of evolution, and YECs are in control of Discovery? The promotion of two books by evolutionist Michael Behe, and a vigorous defense of Behe’s claims in numberless Discovery columns, and YECs are in control of Discovery? A President of Discovery (Bruce Chapman) who is Catholic, and YECs are in charge of Discovery? Only an addict to conspiracy theories would try to maintain such an absurdity.
Are YECs a constituency of which Discovery is aware? Yes, certainly, but they don’t call the tune. The most important people at Discovery, in terms of day-to-day operation — John West, Stephen Meyer, Ann Gauger — aren’t YECs, and understand their task to be that of holding together the big tent, which includes others beside YECs. Indeed, if there is any institutional bias at Discovery, it’s probably toward OEC; an informal count suggests that more of the key people at Discovery, both among the Fellows and in everyday operations, are OEC than anything else. Bilbo and some other people need to do a more careful study of the organization before they offer their criticism.