Paging Dr. Applegate: Please Call Dr. Haarsma

After nearly 10 years of reading the writings of American TE/EC leaders, especially those at BioLogos, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is an unwritten code of conduct (probably the product of unconscious consensus rather than conscious collusion) which governs the public behavior of ECs. This code of conduct is rarely breached, at least on BioLogos (though Joshua Swamidass’s challenge to BioLogos regarding Adam and Eve provides a refreshing counterexample, and Darrel Falk’s principled dispute with Robert Bishop over Stephen Meyer’s second book constitutes another), and it could be stated in the form of a rule: “No EC leader shall directly contradict another EC leader in public, or at least, not in any public setting where ID or creationist people might be listening and taking note of the disagreement.” In my experience, this rule holds about 90% of the time.

Thus, for example, though some EC leaders are at least formally within the Calvinist theological tradition, and other EC leaders are clearly and proudly within what they call a “Wesleyan” tradition, we almost never see those EC leaders debating each other, arguing from their differing traditions over how God’s sovereignty is related to the process of organic evolution. Thus, under the Falk-Giberson dispensation at BioLogos, when Darrel Falk and others asserted a “Wesleyan” view that God would not “tyrannize” over nature but would leave nature to its “freedom”, no Reformed or Calvinist EC uttered a peep, even though that assertion must have struck any Calvinist as a gross misrepresentation of the traditional Christian doctrine of divine sovereignty.

The example I want to talk about today, however, concerns not theology but science. The BioLogians have for a long time now sung the praises of the purported creative powers of “randomness” in evolution; probably over a dozen columns have used “random” or “randomness” in their titles or have “randomness” as their main subject. Ard Louis, Kathryn Applegate, and others, most recently Loren Haarsma, have returned to this theme. What is interesting, however, is that Loren Haarsma’s most recent statement on randomness actually amounts to a partial correction of Kathryn Applegate’s view of the matter. Haarsma does not himself draw attention to the disagreement, perhaps due to not knowing of her earlier statements, or perhaps due to the aforementioned unwritten rule regarding EC-EC public discourse. But the disagreement is instructive, and I think it should be set forth.

As a sample of Applegate’s public statements on the creative powers of randomness, I take this column from April 8, 2010 (reprinted on March 16, 2013, with the original comments from readers stripped away).

In the column, Applegate argues that evolution can be driven by randomness because random events can produce elaborate forms of order. She offers video clips to illustrate this. The clips (which seem to mysteriously alternate so that now one, and now the other, is available in the box inserted within her article), purport to model viral self-assembly. A group of shaped pieces, all magnetized, are shaken in a jar, or tumbled in a sort of lottery machine, and after (in the first case) less than a minute or (in the second case) about three minutes of recombinations and fallings-apart, they stabilize into one (in the first case) or two (in the second case) roughly spherical viral capsids with regular pentagonal faces.

Now, Applegate wants the reader to draw the conclusion that since “randomness” can assemble viral capsids, “randomness” could also drive evolution from bacterium to man — or perhaps even from non-life to man. But let’s pause for a moment. How “random” is the behavior described in these models?

First of all, in the models, the parts are magnetized (as an analogy of the electronic attraction between the parts of real viral capsids); but the builder of the model hasn’t magnetized the parts with just any old degree of magnetic strength; too much attraction, or too little attraction, and the parts would never cohere into the final shape, or might eventually cohere but take a vastly longer time. The degree of magnetic strength is selected by the model designer, who is intelligent and takes into account his goal of having the pieces end up together in the right shape within a length of time suitable for instructional purposes. Second, the shape and size of every piece is exactly the same, and such that the pieces will fit tidily into the final capsid shape. Were the shapes and sizes of the pieces generated randomly, it would be much less likely that even with the magnetism they would come together into the capsid shape. In other words, both the pieces and the forces are designed by the model-maker in such a way as to “tilt” the behavior of the model toward order, and in fact toward a particular order. While the motion of the tossing and jumbling pieces is “random” in the sense of undirected and unpredictable, the properties of the pieces are such that they have a predisposition, even under random shaking, to come together in a certain very particular kind of order. They never come together in the shape of an elephant, or the Eiffel Tower, or the head of a famous movie star or US President. The only coherent form they ever achieve is that of the viral capsid, and this unique orderly end dictates to the model-builder the shape and size of the pieces and the strength of the magnetic force.

So this example is not akin to, say, a rockslide of a million randomly-shaped and randomly-sized boulders which one might set in motion in hopes that at the bottom of the hill, the rocks will spell out the Declaration of Independence. In the case of the rockslide, no model-designer has imbued the rocks with a calculated attractive force to cause them to line up in any particular way, or ensured that their shapes and sizes are such that they can form straight lines to make up the strokes in English letters. It’s for this reason that no human being has ever seen, or ever will see, a rockslide that spells out the Declaration of Independence, whereas the model with the magnetized pieces, with its designed features, easily produces the capsid shapes.

But, one might object, “Wait! Isn’t it the case that that the magnetized-piece model is based on biological facts, i.e., the geometrical shape of viral capsids, and the attractive forces that actually exist between real viral capsid-fragments, and the randomness of the motion of the capsid fragments as they tumble about in the cell? And if so, can’t one say that nature itself behaves ‘randomly’ in producing the capsids?”

The answer is: Yes and No. To the extent that no conscious agent in the cell is steering or tinkering with the scrambling motion in order to achieve a desired outcome, randomness is involved. But why is it that the capsid fragments have the shape that they do, and why are the attractive forces between them exactly are what they are? Those facts aren’t explained by “randomness”, but by other things, including physical/chemical laws that determine molecular shapes, and by electronic properties of atoms and molecules determined at the time of the origin of the universe. So one logically consistent interpretation of the event is that the universe is “set up” to be capable of producing the forms of living things such as viruses. A different universe, with different rules, might not, and likely would not, have that capacity. So along with “randomness”, it may be that cosmic “fine tuning” is partly responsible for what happens in the formation of viral capsids. (For development of this general line of argument, see Michael Denton’s Nature’s Destiny, a book which argues for both design and evolution.)

Now this line of criticism was expressed by the commentator “Rich” under Applegate’s column (though as mentioned earlier, the comments having been stripped away, the criticism is no longer visible). Rich’s comments were limited to empirical and rational argument, and free of ad hominem comments or personal abuse of any kind, but at the time, Applegate remained silent and did not engage Rich’s argument. (Odd behavior for a scientist whose model is being coherently criticized, but as Applegate’s dialogical behavior is not my subject here, I let that pass.)

Now, however, Applegate’s article faces a new opponent — this time no ID proponent, but a prominent EC leader who, in addition to being a major EC figure in the USA (important in ASA circles and a contributor to the key EC book Perspectives on an Evolving Creation), happens to be married to BioLogos’s current President. The EC I’m speaking of is Loren Haarsma.

Haarsma has currently been running a series of columns on randomness in evolution. See here, here, and here.

When I read the first column by Haarsma, I was disappointed, because it seemed as if he was going to repeat the well-worn tropes employed by Applegate, Ard Louis, and other EC leaders about the unlimited creative power of randomness. I commented (in agreement with Joshua Swamidass) on the inadequacy of Haarsma’s first column here. However, reading his second column, I see that he is aware of the considerations I’ve explained above. He writes:

“In order for complex things to self-assemble out of simpler components, several things must be in place. First, there needs to be a steady input of orderly energy (such as sunlight). Second, something must cause the pieces to move about randomly and encounter each other in a variety of ways (such as thermal energy). Third, the pieces themselves must have the right properties so that, when they encounter each other in just the right way, with neither too much nor too little energy, they remain stuck together in new combinations.” [emphasis added]

He later in the piece refers specifically to the “magnetized-pieces-in-a-jar-become-model-virus-capsid” example (even providing the same video clip), and writes:

“Another man-made example of self-assembly is this set of plastic pieces with embedded magnets which, when put into a jar and shaken, self-assembles into a spherical construct. This sphere was inspired by how the protein coats of viruses self-assemble. For self-assembly to happen, the individual pieces must be crafted properly, with pieces of the right shapes and magnets neither too weak nor too strong, and the amount of shaking must be neither too small nor too great. This is yet another example of the importance of fine-tuning.”

It certainly must provide a sense of vindication to “Rich” when one of America’s leading TEs, and the husband of the head of BioLogos, confirms the analysis which he presented to Kathryn Applegate 8 years ago, i.e., that randomness alone, in the absence of constraints, does not create elaborate and sophisticated systems of interacting parts.

But will Dr. Applegate read Dr. Haarsma’s analysis? Will she see the point? Will she write a new column, indicating that her previous columns on the subject, which exaggerated the creative powers of sheer randomness and failed to mention the non-random structures and rules operating in the relevant environment, were oversimplifications and need modification? Time will tell.

In the interim, it seems, the unwritten rule I mentioned above still applies. Dr. Haarsma, in stressing the need for certain conditions in which randomness must operate, did not (as one would expect when previous BioLogos statements claimed something different) add, “I have to disagree with my esteemed colleague Dr. Applegate on this point”; he did not mention the defects in the discussion of randomness in her earlier columns, or in the writings of Ard Louis. To be sure, as I said above, it is possible that he had not read those specific columns, and it might be over-interpreting his silence about them to suggest that he was delicately avoiding public disagreement; yet, as Dr. Haarsma has long been one of the leading ECs in America, and knows just about everyone in the movement (having met most of them multiple times at ASA conferences and in other contexts), and knows all the typical arguments that have been advanced by EC leaders over the past 20 years, and is married to a woman who works in the same office as Dr. Applegate, it’s hard to imagine that he isn’t aware of exaggerated, unqualified claims for the power of randomness coming from her and from others in the EC camp. One would therefore expect him to refer to these claims, if only in an aside, and to gently chide those ECs who make them. But if he has done that here, I don’t see it. The important disagreement is passed over in silence.

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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40 Responses to Paging Dr. Applegate: Please Call Dr. Haarsma

  1. swamidass says:

    You know, I am not an EC leader. I am not even EC!

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Well, Joshua, if “EC” has some bad connotations for you and you don’t like to use the term, you can let me know what a better descriptive phrase for you would be. But you’ve said that you accept evolution, understood as descent with modification, and that you believe in the Christian God. Those two elements, put together, make you a “theistic evolutionist” or “evolutionary creationist” in at least a broad sense. That’s what I meant by calling you an EC. I didn’t mean that you subscribed to the BioLogos version of EC. In fact the point of my reference to you was to note that you had some public differences with BioLogos folks, and thus were an exception to the unwritten rule that theistic evolutionists / evolutionary creationists should keep their differences with each other behind closed doors.

      • swamidass says:

        I’m a Christian that affirms evolutionary science, but finds myself (at least for now) at odds with BioLogos. I was, for that matter, ejected from BioLogos precisely for violating the rule of which you speak. I publicly criticized Dennis Venema’s science, as professional scientists often do. It seems that was not tolerable.

        • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:


          I’d say that your criticism has led to some good. The long discussion about Adam and Eve (over 1,000 comments now, which I think is the BioLogos record) contains some informed discussion by several people who really know something about biology, and that discussion would never have appeared on the site had not you (and Buggs and Gauger) stirred the pot a little.

          I appreciated the way you tried to be fair to Gauger, who was greatly outnumbered in the discussion by commenters who did not agree with her. Certain of the people there (to be sure, mostly not the science-trained people) tried to shoot her down rather snarkily, but you kept pushing everyone to hold to the dialogical high ground. I respect you for that.

          Also, it is important for people to see science as a process rather than as a set of assured dogmas about the world. In the discussion, one could see the various scientists engaging in give and take (well, some “giving” on their position less than others, but still …), and learn that “science” is not some massive “given” about the universe, but a product of human inquiry and mutual criticism and hence subject to change in light of new information.

          From the discussion over the genetics related to Adam and Eve, the BioLogos readers can learn that even highly competent experts, with Ph.D.s and many peer-reviewed publications, often disagree about the interpretation of data, about the soundness of particular models, etc. And that’s true not only regarding evolution, but regarding cosmology, climatology, and all other scientific subjects, so there is a general lesson to be learned from the exchange. Lay people should learn to respect the scientific process more, and to revere current scientific conclusions less, than they tend to do. The attitude, formerly promulgated on BioLogos by people such as Karl Giberson, that whatever the majority of scientists in a field think, should be taken as true, and dissenters both inside and outside of science should shut up and cease raising objections, is not the scientific attitude at all. It’s the attitude of rigid ideological orthodoxy.

          • GBrooks12 says:

            What doctors Gauger and Bugg were compelled to concede is that there is no genetic evidence to support the idea that there could have been a bottleneck of a single mating pair of humans any time within the last 10,000 years – nor within 300,000 years.

            Doctors Gauger and Bugg continue to explore what might be true beyond the 300,000 year time frame. This continued pursuit puzzles those who wonder what the point of the marathon search might be – – if I.D. proponents are not open to the idea that humanity is dramatically older than 10,000 years.

            • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

              Hi, George. See my general welcome in my other reply, below. On this one, just some quick points:

              First, the man’s name is “Buggs”.

              Second, just to clarify regarding your “if” statement: There is no ID doctrine that human beings go back only around 10,000 years. As ID proponents have said many times, ID has no commitment to a young earth, or a young human race. The young earth and young human race commitments held by YECs come from a particular reading of Genesis, and ID is not based on the interpretation of Genesis, but on signs of design in nature. Those signs of design have nothing to say about how old the earth is, or how long human beings have been around, so there is no reason why ID as such should take a position on that.

              So Dr. Gauger, who accepts the standard age of the earth, is free as an ID proponent to explore the possibility of an origin of human beings 300,000 years back or more.

              • GBrooks12 says:


                Thank you for correcting my typo with the Dr’s name: Buggs. I regret the error.

                Secondly, I don’t find your your comment (that “… ID has no commitment to a young earth, or a young human race…”) compelling. I have discussed my concerns with Dr. Gauger regarding her blunt criticisms of evolution – – all the while accepting a very old Earth. I find her inconsistent application of scientific findings to be quite bewildering. The principles of nature that convince us the Earth is old are the same ones that convince us that Evolution during Earth’s history is also real.

                The book she criticizes was not written as a refutation of Old Earth Creationism; it was written with the assumption that Common Descent is the most reasonable interpretation of the genetic evidence, and to corroborate that there is no human bottleneck during the full range of conventionally cited timeline for human existence (i.e. Homo sapiens): from now to 300,000 years ago.

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          Denis addressing Buggs on a current BioLogos thread says that he no longer writes officially for BioLogos.

          Does that mean there is no longer a BioLogos “official position” on the science, or has Denis just joined the ranks of the “disappeared”?

          • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

            Hi, Jon. It’s my understanding that the contracts of Dennis Venema and Ted Davis to write regularly for BioLogos have expired, and I would guess that this has something to do with funding arrangements with Templeton, but I do not know any details regarding the original deal or why it was terminated.

            I gather that the change does not indicate any disapproval of the views of either Ted or Dennis, since both Dennis and Ted are now members of the BioLogos Advisory Council. I think you will still see occasional (as opposed to regular) columns by both men in the future.

            In lieu of regular columns by Ted and Dennis, BioLogos seems to have switched to a “question of the month” format, where it focuses each month on a particular issue regarding evolutionary creation, with the discussion being led by BioLogos staff or guest columnists. That’s how seems to me, anyway, but I’m just an observer and claim no authoritative understanding of the new BioLogos plan of action.

  2. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    It’s good to read more from you here, Eddie.

    Regarding any implicit or explicitly understood rules, surely those in an (often publicly maligned) organization can be forgiven for wanting to celebrate any unified front such as they have available to enjoy — especially if they are still an endangered minority in many settings. We all tend to come to church in our Sunday best, and don’t want to air internal disagreements and squabbles in front of visiting guests. Is that so bad? Perhaps it is hypocritical — it can certainly lead to that; but bulldozer honesty is probably rarely a path of wisdom when mindlessly pursued.

    You might respond that this disagreement (if indeed they will own it as such) is no minor issue, and perhaps you are right. But what you deem to be in need of immediate attention and airing may rate differently on the importance scales relative to relationship and organizational health considerations of the parties involved.

    All that said, it would be interesting to hear their reaction to your observation, as I think you raise good points and make astute historical observations.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Thanks for your response, Merv.

      I think your response makes good sense — I’m sure it captures some of the considerations involved in the way members of organizations behave. And I admit that open warfare among members of an organization does not further the organization’s mission.

      On the other hand, there are ways of expressing disagreement that don’t require internal belligerence. I gave such a suggestion above: Dr. Haarsma could say something like, “With all due respect to my esteemed colleague Dr. Applegate, I think that her account overestimates the role of randomness and underestimates the role of fine-tuning in evolution.” That wouldn’t be an out-and-out declaration that Dr. Applegate was entirely wrong, but it would offer a gentle correction, and show the public that ECs aren’t beholden to one party line on the role of randomness, and more generally that different EC scientists are permitted to weight the various factors in evolution differently.

      The same thing could be done regarding religious disagreements. For example, when Darrel Falk was pushing the “God who respects his creatures’ freedom” line, a Calvinist EC could easily have written, “While I respect the sincerity of Dr. Falk’s genuine Christian faith, I find myself differing from his formulation of the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and God’s providence, and I don’t think there is any need for God to leave evolution open-ended and indeterminate in order to prove that he is not a tyrant.”

      Not only would such polite disagreement between friends leave the organization and its mission intact; it would actually advance the organization’s aims. In the example above, the perception of many readers about EC would be changed, and in a positive way. Those who were “turned off” by BioLogos EC because of Darrel Falk’s particular “Wesleyan” formulation of a “hands-off” God (bordering perilously on Open Theism to some people’s ears), would be relieved to hear that not all ECs endorsed Darrel’s particular theology. Given the fact that Darrel was the acting President of the organization (with Collins incapacitated by his government post), Darrel’s view of things, when not contradicted by anyone else in the organization, was likely to be understood by readers as representing the view of many if not most in the organization. Had ECs of Reformed or Thomist sympathies weighed in at that point, to indicate the full range of views that ECs might hold, that would have made BioLogos look better, not worse, in the eyes of its target audience.

      A few weeks back (or was it a few months now?) Terry Gray, who used to be one of the leading ECs in the ASA before the rise of BioLogos, wrote a comment on BioLogos (I believe, though I won’t swear to it, the first and only comment he has published there), addressed directly to Deb Haarsma I think, indicating that Reformed folks of a traditional persuasion do not feel comfortable with the theological positions typically advocated on BioLogos. In other words, Gray’s perception was that despite the claim of BioLogos to be a theological big tent, it tended to be skewed theologically in a certain way. An occasional airing of theological differences (differences relevant to evolution and science/theology discussion, I mean) would give the public a clearer impression that BioLogos really is a big tent and that there is room for those who have more conservative views on God’s sovereignty, providence, omnipotence, etc. I don’t see how that could hurt BioLogos’s mission, given that their main “target audience” consists of people who tend to have conservative views on those subjects.

  3. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    You wrote:
    “Not only would such polite disagreement between friends leave the organization and its mission intact; it would actually advance the organization’s aims. In the example above, the perception of many readers about EC would be changed, and in a positive way.”

    Very reasonable, Eddie. These are good points, and I feel the same way.

  4. GBrooks12 says:


    As a frequent contributor to the BioLogos forum and fora, I find the topic of randomness as a part of Human Evolution to be eclipsed by the idea that God guides evolution, especially in regards to the emergence of primates and humans per se.

    Those who write about randomness tend to be the atheists who are interested in defending the scientific field of Evolution against the accusations of Young Earth Creationists. I find I frequently have to remind the atheist writers (and the Young Earth Creationists who criticize the field of Evolution) that they are on comment pages where most of the Christian supporters of BioLogos accept the idea that God guides evolution, just as God guides the rain clouds that bring rain to lands near and distant.

    Sometimes a Young Earth Creationist registers surprise that Christian defenders of Evolution are not defending Darwinism…. but defending the idea that God and Evolution are compatible.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Welcome to The Hump of the Camel, George (or, if this is not your first posting here, welcome back).

      I find myself having to disagree with you on the first point. You suggest that the idea that God guides evolution has been prominent on BioLogos, but there is little evidence to suggest that over the years. Certainly there is no BioLogos policy statement that “God guides evolution” (or any equivalent expression, e.g., “God steers evolution” or “Evolution is directed by God toward certain specific outcomes”). Nor has any BioLogos columnist or management figure ever averred in plain, direct, unambiguous language that God guides evolution — until Ted Davis’s recent statement under Jim Stump’s column. (A statement for which, by the way, I’m very grateful.) Even Jim Stump’s new statement is ambiguous, since he doesn’t seem to mean by “guidance” what the average American man on the street would mean by the term.

      And it’s not simply the lack of positive statements about guidance that leads one to this conclusion. Reinforcing it is the fact that whenever the biologists at BioLogos — Venema, Falk, Applegate — have given their description of how the evolutionary process works, they have given a classical neo-Darwinian statement about random mutations, selection, etc. But that view of evolution is the antithesis of a “guided” view. Neo-Darwinism acknowledges no teleology, no direction to the evolutionary process.

      It’s true that BioLogos’s official statements contrive to give a vague sense that God is somehow, in some unclear way, behind the process of evolution, e.g., by “ordaining” that evolutionary change should take place, but never have they given any sense that the outcomes of evolution are coaxed into realization by God. To say that God ordains an evolutionary process is not to commit oneself to the view that God guides that process after it gets started, and BioLogos, both as an organization and in the columns of its regular writers, has avoided any commitment to the latter point.

      I don’t want to be dogmatic about this, so if you could provide me with passages where BioLogos or its major figures explicitly state that God guaranteed any particular outcomes of evolution, guided evolution, steered evolution, etc. , I would modify my view.

      In contrast with the BioLogos silence about guidance, there is the view of older TEs, such as Asa Gray, who were explicit in saying that evolution “was led along beneficial lines.” Darwin rejected that suggestion when Gray made it, and, as far as I can tell, so do Venema and most of the other BioLogos scientists. And another leading TE/EC proponent, Denis Lamoureux, who earlier on had some affiliation with BioLogos (even if he was never a regular columnist) flatly rejected the notion that God “guides” evolution; I heard him do it on an interview.

      Among the commenters, beaglelady has belittled the idea that God guides evolution to specific outcomes. She would not agree, for example, that man (exactly as we know him) was guaranteed, and suggested that man might well have had six fingers rather than five, that God did not direct evolutionary outcomes at that level, but left much to the bounces of random mutations. When asked whether or not God directed evolution to produce elephants, or in some way guaranteed that evolution produced elephants, she would not commit herself; she would commit herself only to the idea (I paraphrase) that God ordained an evolutionary process that would produce lots of different kinds of life, no particular kinds being required by God’s general ordination. And when it was brought to her attention that one of her heroes, Ken Miller, had argued that evolution might by chance have produced on earth an intelligent mollusk instead of man, and God would have accepted that “bounce” of random evolution, she did not speak against Miller’s view. (Another of her heroes is Denis Lamoureux, by the way, so her lack of commitment to guided evolution has both Miller and Lamoureux for inspiration.)

      To understand the source of this resistance to the idea of guidance by the biologists (and their fans), you have to understand 20th-century biology’s professional hatred of the notion of teleology, as the antithesis of the non-teleological science the biologists where championing. All of BioLogos’s leaders were trained as scientists in that 20th-century paradigm.

      I hope I have said all of the above in a measured and polite tone, and without any personal aggression. It is especially important to me that you don’t feel personally attacked by my intellectual disagreement, since now the other shoe is about to drop. 🙂

      I find that I also have to disagree with your other point, about randomness. You suggest that it is usually the atheists, not the TE/EC folks, who emphasize randomness. This is unfortunately not in accord with the facts. If you read my column above, you will see that I discuss an article by Applegate which stresses randomness in evolution. In fact, Applegate wrote more than one article on randomness, as you can see by looking her articles up on BioLogos, under her name. Further, Ard Louis wrote about it on BioLogos as well, and at one point I did an informal count, and came up with something like a dozen BioLogos articles that focused on the creative powers of chance or randomness — with the word “random” sometimes featured in the title of the article. In contrast, I have found not one article (excepting the current one we are discussing) since BioLogos began (about 9 years ago!) with a title like “How God Guides Evolution” or “The Outcomes of Evolution Are Planned”; nor have I found any articles that argue for such a conclusion.

      By way of contrast, if you look at those ID proponents who accept evolution, such as Behe and Denton, you will not find that they attribute nearly as much creative power to “randomness”, “chance”, blind searches through evolutionary search space, etc. as the TE/EC folks do. They are much more likely to speak about “laws of biological form” (Denton), which, being laws, are not “random”, or about “design” (which also is a conception opposed to “randomness”).

      All that said, I am pleased to see that Ted Davis openly affirms God’s guidance of the evolutionary process, and that Jim Stump has finally acknowledged that BioLogos’s ambiguous stance on the question of guidance is a problem that needs to be addressed in a dedicated column. So there are rays of hope.

      Perhaps ironically, it seems to be that the new book by Crossway against theistic evolution was one of the things that spurred BioLogos into action on this front. BioLogos has complained (see the columns of Stump and Deborah Haarsma) that the new book misrepresents the BioLogos position, and perhaps it does; but one way of preventing such misunderstandings in the future is to write clearly rather than ambiguously on the question whether and how far God guides the evolutionary process to particular outcomes.

  5. GBrooks12 says:


    Nowhere in my comment did I say that God-guided Evolution has always been in the ascendancy. I said that my experience (which started only a few years ago) is that the ascendancy of the idea is a current fact.

    And so, I concur with the beginning of your 2nd to last paragraph:
    “All that said, I am pleased to see that Ted Davis openly affirms God’s guidance of the evolutionary process…”

    Much of the rest of your column dwells on “randomness” in such a way that it might give some readers the impression that BioLogos currently fixates on “randomness”. As I wrote above, the topic of “randomness” seems to be mostly from pro-Evolution atheists who visit the site, and Young Earth Creationists who come to the site to argue against the “randomness of Evolution”. The former is understandable; and I frequently remind them that they are on a site where God-guided Evolution is generally supported by BioLogos supporters. And as for the YECs, I also remind them that they appear to be arguing with the atheists… not the Christians… who support Evolutionary theory.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:


      You write:

      “I said that my experience (which started only a few years ago) is that the ascendancy of the idea is a current fact.”

      I’m sorry, but I still have to disagree. Even during your tenure almost no BioLogos management figure or columnist has endorsed the proposition that God guides evolution. They have been asked to do so many times, and have always ducked the question, changed the topic, or responded with irritation to being asked the question. Until a few days ago, when Ted Davis endorsed the proposition, not a single BioLogos figure had clearly indicated a belief in guided evolution.

      I know from past discussions that you imagine that this is the BioLogos view, but there is simply no textual evidence for it, that I know of, other than Ted’s recent statement, and Jim Stump’s “God sort of guides evolution and sort of doesn’t” stance, which he, too, has only articulated in the past few days.

      Again, all you have to do to show me that I am wrong is produce the passages where Applegate, Deb Haarsma, Venema, Falk, Bishop, Kramer, etc. have explicitly stated that evolution is guided, steered, or manipulated by God to achieve particular outcomes.

      As for randomness, at least once a month or so some BioLogos columnist protests (even if only in a paragraph, rather than in an entire column devoted to the subject) that “randomness” is no barrier to God’s providential control of things, or the like. I would of course be able to point these out as they happened, were I not banned from commenting on BioLogos. But while I was there, I pointed out such passages innumerable times; and the fact that Jon Garvey and I (who had no previous knowledge of each other’s existence before we “met” on BioLogos) have independently detected this as a constant theme on BioLogos from its inception to the present time indicates to me that I’m not imagining things.

      Some years back, a commenter on BioLogos named “crude” (who was not myself, by the way) asked quite innocently of Dennis Venema whether he thought God guided evolution. There followed a series of dodges, feints and evasions which would do Cyrano de Bergerac proud. After days of back and forth, with the questioner several times further explaining or modifying his question in order to satisfy Dennis’s objections to the question, the question remained unanswered. When Dennis abandoned the thread, Darrel Falk went to bat and tried to answer the question, but his answer was half-baked and ambiguous and at the end there was no clarity — from the men who were then the two lead biologists on BioLogos — on the question whether God is doing anything to guide all those mutations and all that selection. That’s the last time I can remember anyone on BioLogos making even a token effort to answer the question, until Ted spoke up the other day, and that was somewhere around 4 to 7 years ago.

      These are the empirical facts about what has been written on BioLogos; the texts by the management and columnists are all there on the website to prove it; or rather, the absence of the texts (that support God-guided evolution) is there to prove it.

      Again, all you have to do is provide the statements which support your interpretation, and I will revise mine. I don’t want to engage in a contest of wills, but in a discussion of textual evidence.

  6. GBrooks12 says:

    Eddie [correcting a software glitch which mislabeled “Eddie” posts as coming from “James”]:

    As far as I can tell, you seem quite determined to take any opportunity to turn someone’s words into a platform to wack at BioLogos. Have your lives become so empty?

    Here are my words:

    “As a frequent contributor to the BioLogos forum and fora, I find the topic of randomness as a part of Human Evolution to be eclipsed by the idea that God guides evolution, especially in regards to the emergence of primates and humans per se.”

    I stand by them.

    And I reject your interpretation of what you think they should mean. My point is that when randomness is discussed, it is usually done so by either a YEC or a pro-evolution atheist.

    So… while I can humbly admit that randomness has been discussed here and there, and sometimes by an official spokesperson of BioLogos, the topic of God-Guided-Evolution (aka, “EGG” or Evolution-Guided-by-God) comes up more frequently and has a greater influence on the ebb and flow of people who criticize the random aspect of Darwinianism.

    As it is frequently mentioned on the boards of BioLogos, BioLogos does not exist to defend Darwinianism. It exists to defend the idea that Christians can comfortably embrace evolutionary science. This is so for many different reasons, but certainly including the fact that BioLogos does not think E-G-G is logically incompatible with the evidence of Speciation, or of Common Descent, or incompatible with being a devout Christian.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      George, you wrote:

      “And I reject your interpretation of what you think they should mean.”

      I wasn’t reinterpreting your meaning. I left your meaning as I found it. I was contesting your claim. Your claim that BioLogos has defended guided evolution is factually false, or at least without substantiation. You have not a shred of evidence to support it. I asked you for passages, and you provided none; you merely repeated the claim. I want to see the passages that have led you to your conclusions.

      You also wrote:

      “As it is frequently mentioned on the boards of BioLogos, BioLogos does not exist to defend Darwinianism. It exists to defend the idea that Christians can comfortably embrace evolutionary science.”

      But by “evolutionary science” the BioLogos columnists — certainly the scientists, anyway — mean Darwinian and neo-Darwinian theory. That is how they conceive of evolution. So their claim is that Christians can comfortably embrace neo-Darwinian theory — and that is not so certain.

      Of course, there are other versions of “evolutionary science”; but many of those versions the BioLogos people either reject, or ignore, or refuse even to read about. They aren’t interested in Shapiro’s view of evolution, or Wagner’s, or J. Scott Turner’s, or Denton’s. If they were open to versions of evolution other than the Darwinian, they would get much less pushback from some of the ID proponents (who study and respect some of those other versions), and from me.

      You suggest, and Jim Stump suggests, that the goal of BioLogos is merely defensive, i.e., to make a space within evangelical Christianity for acceptance of evolution. If I thought that were true, I would be wholly sympathetic with BioLogos. But that is not the case. BioLogos writers are on record as saying that the traditional Augustinian reading of the Fall cannot be true, because modern genetics has proved that there was no single couple ancestral to all human beings. But that Augustinian reading underpinned traditional American evangelical faith, and indeed all of Western Protestantism, and Roman Catholicism as well. So BioLogos’s claims are not merely defensive; they constitute an attack upon the traditional Western Christian theology of the Fall. They are not merely asking for a place at the evangelical table; they are saying that some doctrines that evangelicals have taken as central are actually false.

      You wrote:

      “BioLogos does not think E-G-G [evolution guided by God] is logically incompatible with the evidence of Speciation, or of Common Descent, or incompatible with being a devout Christian.”

      I’m glad to hear that BioLogos thinks “evolution guided by God” is not incompatible with those things. Now provide me with the evidence that BioLogos (as opposed to the lone example of Ted Davis) endorses “evolution guided by God”. We are back to square one. You have not provided a single passage from BioLogos to justify this claim.

      Since we are just spinning our wheels on this, I am going to drop this discussion, unless you provide me with quotations from BioLogos writers that provide evidence for your claim. If I see such quotations, I will reconsider my position. If I don’t see any, I will infer that you were unable to find any. I think that is a reasonable procedure.

  7. GBrooks12 says:

    Typo in the final sentence: “or of Common Descent dead-end,” <== the phrase dead-end did not get deleted from that sentence like it was supposed to be. My apologies.

  8. GBrooks12 says:


    You write: “I’m glad to hear that BioLogos thinks “evolution guided by God” is not incompatible with those things.” Good. But then you quickly move on to what you really want to argue about:

    “Now provide me with the evidence that BioLogos (as opposed to the lone example of Ted Davis) endorses “evolution guided by God”. We are back to square one. You have not provided a single passage from BioLogos to justify this claim.”

    Eddie, I have no intention of arguing the point. It’s not what I signed up to discuss when I responded to your distorted analysis of BioLogos.

    But you and anyone else can read the latest words of BioLogos on the subject:

    Does God Guide Evolution? By Jim Stump (April 18, 2018)
    In the article’s conclusion we read: “Would we say, “God used science to create things”? Instead, I think we have to say two things: 1) God created human beings, and 2) evolution is the best scientific description for how human beings came to be. Science and theology are our descriptions of things, and each is perspectival and limited.”

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:


      Your quotation from BioLogos is a perfect example of the approach that BioLogos has taken all along to the question, “Does God guide evolution?” BioLogos could, with Denis Lamoureux, answer “No”; it could, with Robert Russell, answer “Yes”; but it chooses (this time through Jim Stump) to answer:

      “Instead, I think we have to say two things: 1) God created human beings, and 2) evolution is the best scientific description for how human beings came to be. Science and theology are our descriptions of things, and each is perspectival and limited.”

      You maintain that this means “We believe that God guided evolution.” I (along with the vast majority of the American evangelicals that BioLogos seeks to persuade) beg to differ. I think it engages in desperate contortions to avoid making that claim.

      It is interesting that the only BioLogos figure to clearly endorse “guided evolution”, Ted Davis, is the only BioLogos figure who has had sustained intellectual contact with the theistic evolutionists who don’t hang out at BioLogos, e.g., Polkinghorne, Gingerich, Russell, and Robin Collins. This shows that it is not “evolutionary creation” as such that is the problem, but the particular scientific and theological culture of BioLogos.

      As I’ve said before, many of the leading figures of BioLogos are converts from creationism, usually Young Earth Creationism. This is true of Deborah Haarsma, Karl Giberson, Darrel Falk, Dennis Venema, Brad Kramer, and others affiliated with BioLogos from time to time such as Randy Isaac. It is interesting that those who used to be Young Earth Creationists but now have set their face against it are the ones who are the most unwilling to say outright that “God guides evolution,” whereas some of the ECs who weren’t brought up as Young Earth Creationists (e.g., Ted Davis and Robert Russell) have no problem saying so. Something about the idea of God “guiding” anything really bothers people who used to be creationists and vehement anti-Darwinians, but now are vehement anti-creationists and eager to “save Darwin” (the title of one of Giberson’s books), and that’s why such people choke on the words “God guided evolution”, where other Christians don’t. You yourself, George, don’t come from creationist background, but from Unitarian Universalism, and that may explain why you don’t have the Pavlovian resistance to the word “guided” that is exhibited by the BioLogos team.

      You’ve indicated that you have no intention of supplying passages (other than the recent statement of Ted Davis) where BioLogos writers directly and unambiguously endorse God-guided evolution, and I infer from this that you have never seen any such passages and suspect that they would be hard to find. I agree with that, and so we can bring this discussion to a close.

      • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:


        I’m always more interested in whether things work than in who made them, or whether they did or didn’t. In essence, Evolutionary Creation is a theory, or set of theories, of origins that needs to embrace the scientific, philosophical and theological, and do so successfully. Its common denominator is “God created life through evolution”, but that doesn’t really say anything solid, so one needs to look at what is actually proposed in terms of who God is, what “creation” means, what “evolution” means etc – and that, especially as shown in the last week or two, covers a great many options.

        Likewise, to say that God guides evolution – or, as you have rightly pointed out, more often to hint at something like that – needs flesh on the bones, and that’s where things get problematic to me.

        For example, Deb Haarsma’s critique of the “TE Tome” suggests that he main, or even sole, locus for “guidance” is “laws of nature”. Loren Haarsma’s recent series adds “chance” to that. But if, as I believe, the usual scientific understanding of laws is insufficient to account for evolution, and chance, however defined, simply adds to the problems, the theory fails in one or more of its scientific, philosophical or theological areas.

        I have completely uneducated friends who, understanding none of the issues, are happy to believe that God can create through evolution if he likes – but BioLogos exists to do more than say “Evolution is true, and God is true.”

        Ted Davis (all power to him) follows Asa Gray’s model of evolution. But Gray fundamentally disagreed with Darwin on the need for guidance RATHER than chance in variation. And both recognised that contingency, rather than natural law alone, must underpin evolution on Darwin’s model.

        If somebody had said to either that thy could resolve their difference by saying variation was random, but that God was so powerful that the outcomes would be his anyway, they would have replied, in chorus, that you can’t have your theistic cake and eat Epicureanism too.

  9. GBrooks12 says:


    You write: “You’ve indicated that you have no intention of supplying passages (other than the recent statement of Ted Davis) where BioLogos writers directly and unambiguously endorse God-guided evolution, and I infer from this that you have never seen any such passages and suspect that they would be hard to find. I agree with that, and so we can bring this discussion to a close.”

    As usual, you like to paint your canvas with the darkest colors possible. The reason I’m not answering your question is multi-fold: 1. Your question is framed in a way that implies this was the original question I was attempting to answer. It is not.
    2. I’m not sure your question is very relevant to the future of BioLogos. And 3. I’m a little busy right now.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:


      If you are too busy to find passages right now, and want to reply later, that is fine with me. I’m not demanding instant action on your part. I’m merely indicating what you need to supply if you want me to change my view.

      As for your Points 1 and 2, they are non-sequiturs. For two or three years now you have repeatedly stated, in fact emphatically insisted, that BioLogos endorses and promotes God-guided evolution. For two or three years I have been asking you for statements found on the BioLogos site — whether official BioLogos position statements, or statements of individual BioLogos people (Stump, Kramer, Venema, Deb Haarsma, etc.) — to support that claim. For two or three years now you have been unable or unwilling to supply such statements.

      The question for me is, why do you believe that BioLogos endorses God-guided evolution when you cannot find any statements to support that belief?

      As I said at the beginning, if you are busy at the moment and can’t take time to put together a set of quotations, that is fine with me. But since you have been asked for this evidence for over two years now, I suspect that your current busy-ness isn’t the reason for the lack of documentation. If you haven’t been able to provide the documentation at any point over the past two years, it is unlikely that you are going to be able to come up with it now. Still, I remain open. If you find me some passages at any time in the next few weeks, I would not complain about the delay. Just send them along here, and I will read them with an open mind.

      Until then,
      Yours, Eddie.

  10. GBrooks12 says:


    You write:
    “As for your Points 1 and 2, they are non-sequiturs. For two or three years now you have repeatedly stated, in fact emphatically insisted, that BioLogos endorses and promotes God-guided evolution.”

    I don’t believe I have been writing “promotes” for 2 or 3 years. I believe I have said that the BioLogos mission statement **allows** for God-guided Evolution, and that BioLogos seeks to be a “big tent” that accommodates lots of different views. I believe I myself have been a promoter of God-Guided-Evolution ever since I began participating on BioLogos boards.

    You also write: ” For two or three years I have been asking you for statements found on the BioLogos site — whether official BioLogos position statements, or statements of individual BioLogos people (Stump, Kramer, Venema, Deb Haarsma, etc.) — to support that claim.”

    Haven’t you been gone from BioLogos for about a year now? Or is it longer? Before your exit, I did the best I could for you. No doubt you considered my discussion of the matter to be inadequate. No surprise there.

    Eddie, you then conclude the paragraph with: “For two or three years now you have been unable or unwilling to supply such statements.”

    Let’s go with “unable”… since this would be consistent with your determination that whatever I wrote you was considered inadequate. And it’s rather irrelevant, don’t you think? As you can see, BioLogos is **presently** moving in that direction.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:


      On many occasions you said that BioLogos endorsed or affirmed the view that God guides evolution. I can’t remember even one time where you said only that it “allows” the possibility of guided evolution, but assuming you did so once or twice and I’ve forgotten, I can grant that without retracting my general statement.

      Your view first came out when you argued that Francis Collins, founder of BioLogos (who gave it its name as well), endorsed God-guided evolution in his book The Language of God. I disputed that claim, asking you for passages from Collins supporting that view. The only passage you could find was one where Collins affirmed that God had foreknowledge of how evolution would turn out — which, I pointed out, was not the same as saying that God guided the process of evolution. You argued trenchantly that it was legitimate to read the latter notion into Collins’s text. The argument went on at great length, over many exchanges. That was our first disagreement on the subject.

      On many occasions afterward, you affirmed that BioLogos believed in guided evolution. On many of those occasions I challenged those statements with a request for official statements or statements from the leaders. They were not forthcoming.

      I agree that you yourself have promoted God-guided evolution on BioLogos. I never opposed you for doing so. My opposition was consistently against your projection of your own view of evolution onto Collins and the others, when their words gave no warrant for that projection.

      I don’t think I could have mistaken your position. I already knew that BioLogos “allowed” for guided evolution, long before you appeared on the scene, so there is no reason why I should have engaged in repeated and protracted arguments with you if that was all that you affirmed.

      I won’t speculate about your reason for suddenly moving the goalposts; it might be that you simply don’t remember how you argued, or that you didn’t think it was important enough to clearly distinguish between “allows for” and “endorses” and therefore wrote in an inaccurate way, but now see the need to be more precise. But you did on more than one occasion impute to BioLogos the view that God guided evolution. If you now retract those imputations, we have nothing more to discuss.

      As for, “BioLogos is presently moving in that direction”, that is a tremendous overstatement. Ted Davis, who has stepped down as a regular columnist, has now personally endorsed divine guidance in evolution. (Whether his new status as non-columnist has made him feel freer to make that endorsement, I don’t know.) We haven’t heard from any of the others yet.

      Jim Stump has given only a vague affirmation of “guidance” — and only after making sure we know that by “guidance” he doesn’t mean God’s acting beyond or outside of natural causes; that is, he doesn’t mean what “God’s guidance of evolution” means to most lay Christians in the pews.

      What I see as hopeful is that Jim Stump and BioLogos have finally seen fit to address the question openly, instead of ducking it every time it is asked — which was the regular procedure at BioLogos from about 2009 when the store opened its doors until April 2018.

      I think that what prompted them to do this was the offense they took to the Crossway book (which some of them mistakenly treat as a Discovery book), in which some (not all) of the authors made out that theistic evolution posits an inactive God who starts the ball rolling, and maybe sustains natural laws, but otherwise is a spectator as natural laws and chance do all the creating. Both Haarsma and Stump were moved to deny this characterization, and that led to the current discussion, which is one of the most useful BioLogos has had.

      I will grant you this much: if BioLogos follows up on this discussion with further explorations of exactly what God does in evolution, and if individual BioLogos leaders speak their own minds as Ted Davis has done, then things are looking up. But the current discussion may be just a temporary blip, motivated by temporary irritation from the Crossway book, and BioLogos may go back to business as usual in a few weeks, with the columnists mouthing the usual vague phrases about God “ordaining” a process of evolution. Time will tell.

  11. GBrooks12 says:


    I couldn’t make it past the first paragraph. The contention-density was just too high for me. Your willingness to debate issues from years ago leaves me exhausted, empty and a little nauseated. In fact, the whole point of your recent post was to officially debate issues from the past – – and how it made you doubt any progress for the future.

    I look forward to someday discussing your thoughts on something positive and helpful.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:


      The reason that I keep bringing up issues from the past is that errors are never corrected, or even admitted.

      In this case, had you early on admitted, “Yes, I frequently imputed God-guided evolution to BioLogos, and I admit that I never had any texts to support the imputation”, I would never have felt the need to respond to you with the long corrective posts of mine that you so dislike.

  12. GBrooks12 says:


    You would be a happier man of God if you didn’t try so hard to prove your potential allies wrong. This is where you will say that BioLogos is no potential ally of yours. And this is when I will know I am correct in my opinion.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:


      First, I’m not looking for allies; I’m looking for truth.

      Second, I don’t challenge people for the joy of proving them wrong; I challenge people where I think that their statements, if left uncontested, will mislead the public.

      You were spreading a falsehood — that BioLogos endorses God-guided evolution — which might mislead some Christians into thinking that BioLogos conceives of the evolutionary process differently from the way Dawkins, Coyne, etc. do. But in fact, if we go by their written statements (as opposed to any private conceptions they hold in their hearts but keep hidden) most of the leaders at BioLogos conceive of evolution in exactly the same way as those others, i.e., as a process explicable entirely by natural laws and chance, requiring no guidance of steering of any kind to turn primordial slime into man. And it’s fine with me if BioLogos leaders conceive of evolution in that way, but Christians have the right to know that, before they decide to buy what BioLogos is selling. Suggestions that BioLogos is really about God-guided evolution give undecided Christians a false picture.

      Those Christians who are willing to entertain the idea of evolution only on the condition that evolution is conceived of as guided by God, need to know which of their Christian leaders truly believe that evolution is guided by God, and which of them believe that evolution is a 100% natural process which God sets in motion but does not tinker with, manipulate, direct, steer, guide, etc. It’s not doing those Christians a service to teach them that Francis Collins or Dennis Venema or Kathryn Applegate have endorsed God-guided evolution. The best service we can render to such Christians is to inform them that these people have never endorsed guided evolution, have refused to say whether or not they endorse it when directly asked, and have defended a conception of how evolution happens (the neo-Darwinian conception) that renders the notion of guidance incoherent. Then the undecided Christians can make up their own minds whether or not such positions are acceptable to them.

      Your interventions, by offering your own personal speculations about what Collins, Venema, Applegate, Haarsma etc. think, in the place of accurate reports about what these people have said, have not clarified the waters, but muddied them. Hence my opposition — not to your view that evolution is guided, but to your claim that the BioLogos people agree with you.

  13. GBrooks12 says:


    Oh? And so, then, which person (or organization) do you think is more clear in their defense of God-Guided-Evolution **and** which endorse the following:

    1) Humans emerged on Earth through God-Guided speciation,
    2) dramatically more than 10,000 years ago, as a branch of the Primates,
    3) sharing millions of years of common descent from the animal kingdom.

    Eddie, I get the distinct impression, now and then, that you support Intelligent Design in a kind of vague way, in order to hide an inclination that God created humans by means of special creation only, with no speciation and no common descent.

    I get this impression because I don’t remember (please (!) correct me if I’m wrong) you stating unequivocally that humans and other primates share common descent from the animal kingdom, and that if there was a great flood recorded in the Bible, it is a story derived from a regional rather than a global flood.

    If you are not able to affirm that you do hold to these positions (despite my poor memory), then I must conclude your opposition to BioLogos is not because you want the organization to be more specific, but because you reject all aspects of their mission statement.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:


      Glad to answer your questions.

      “Oh? And so, then, which person (or organization) do you think is more clear in their defense of God-Guided-Evolution **and** which endorse the following:

      “1) Humans emerged on Earth through God-Guided speciation,
      2) dramatically more than 10,000 years ago, as a branch of the Primates,
      3) sharing millions of years of common descent from the animal kingdom.”

      Answer: Since BioLogos does not offer a “defense of God-guided evolution”, it would not be hard for another organization to surpass it on that front, but regarding the other points, numbers 2 and 3 are defended here on the Hump of the Camel, and number 1 is not mocked as a possibility, i.e., you don’t hear Jon or myself or the other columnists ridiculing the idea that God would “tinker” with evolution, or calling “guidance” a shoddy “God of the gaps” explanation — mockeries one often hears on BioLogos. (Beaglelady used to use a sarcastic “Poof!” as her “clincher” when arguing against God’s direct involvement in evolution.)

      Further, the Hump offers additional endorsements which BioLogos lacks:

      4) The Christian God is not the God of Open Theism (i.e., Oord is wrong),
      5) Not merely the Bible, but also the Church Fathers, Aquinas, Calvin, etc. should be studied before one pronounces on what Christian teaching is,
      6) “Randomness” is not the cause of anything, but merely a statement about our ignorance,
      7) “Consensus Science” does not guarantee truth, and should not be made the object of uncritical reverence.

      So at the Hump, you get more for your money! It’s actually a better place for orthodox Christians to discuss the theological implications of evolution.

      “Eddie, I get the distinct impression, now and then, that you support Intelligent Design in a kind of vague way, in order to hide an inclination that God created humans by means of special creation only, with no speciation and no common descent.”

      I see. So, just as you read into Collins, etc., a doctrine of “God-guided evolution” that they never affirm, you read into my statements a doctrine I’ve never affirmed, and, worse, a doctrine I’ve explicitly opposed many times on BioLogos.

      I haven’t kept an accurate count of how many times I debated Young Earth Creationists on BioLogos, and I haven’t kept track of how many times I said that I don’t read Genesis 1-3 as literal news reports. At least some of these statements were made after you started visiting BioLogos, so you have no excuse for not being aware of them.

      “I don’t remember (please (!) correct me if I’m wrong) you stating unequivocally that humans and other primates share common descent from the animal kingdom, and that if there was a great flood recorded in the Bible, it is a story derived from a regional rather than a global flood.”

      As I’m trained in philosophy, I am too careful to present hypotheses, even fairly well-supported hypotheses, as irrefutable facts, so I can’t give you the satisfaction you are demanding. All I can say is what I have said before:

      a. I consider the evidence for common descent to be strong, and I take it as my working hypothesis, and make no opposition to it. Further, I don’t think common descent, in itself (detached from certain speculations about mechanism) is in conflict with Christian doctrine. So I have no motive to oppose common descent on either scientific or theological grounds. What you are noticing is a tonal difference; BioLogos, an organization founded by scientists, and especially by biologists, tends toward dogmatism in tone regarding anything to do with evolution, whereas philosophers by nature and training like to leave room for the possibility, however small, of alternative conclusions. But you shouldn’t take proper scholarly caution as opposition.

      b. As a trained Bible scholar who can read both Greek and Hebrew, and who has taught both at the university level, and as a former academic specialist in the stories of Genesis 1-11 (I was doing Walton-like, Enns-like, and Lamoureux-like studies of the text long before any of those men got started in the Old Testament field), I think I am entitled to a nuanced judgment on questions of Biblical interpretation, and I don’t consider myself answerable to self-taught internet debaters with not even an undergraduate degree in religion, literary theory, etc., so I don’t recognize your authority to interrogate me and tell me what I have to accept about Genesis before I’m to be considered a reasonable person. But I will say that your conclusion strikes me as unsound; I don’t think that we have to assume that the story of the Flood was derived from any real event, global or local; the sciences of comparative myth and literature show us examples of Flood myths from places nowhere near the Babylonian flood-plain that is supposed to have inspired Genesis. That said, if you want my opinion on whether there was ever a global Flood, I will say that I don’t think there was — which you should know, because you were on BioLogos when I argued for days against a guy who insisted on a global Flood.

      “you reject all aspects of their mission statement.”

      Not all aspects, probably not even most. But everything is stated either too vaguely (regarding God’s role in evolution) or too dogmatically (regarding the degree of certainty of the conclusions of modern historical sciences). I’d like to see much tighter theological statements, and much more intellectually flexible statements about what modern science knows for certain. But given the sort of people who founded BioLogos (Collins, Falk, Giberson — biologists and physicists with no theological training), the theological vagueness and the professional scientist’s tribal dogmatisms are probably to be expected.

  14. GBrooks12 says:


    I am pleased with many of your acknowledgements that you posted above. They seem sound, well articulated and a good fit with the difficult area of Evolution as well as a devoted Christian stance.

    You spend more than a mention chastising me for not remembering well (or at all) some of your earlier statements you made at BioLogos. My memories of your exact positions have faded in many places, perhaps overwhelmed by the minutia that we ended up disputing at rather high intensity levels and shrill semantic tones. Eventually, all I could remember about what you believed or didn’t believe is that your main mission on the BioLogos boards was to criticize, belittle and shame the officers of BioLogos.

    So I accept your surprise that I couldn’t remember what your positions were. And I apologize on a personal level that I couldn’t do better with my memories of your discussions with me specifically. I have made such an apology more than once in recent years with people that wished their interactions with me were held more vividly in my brain. I want to offer you the very same regrets and the same apology that I have given others.

    In some places in your response above, you seem to imagine that I am measuring your position against what I think is correct – – when, actually, I was more measuring your position against what I expect is normative in some circles (even though I personally hold more obscure or idiosyncratic views).

    I come to the conclusion (rightly or wrongly?) that you interpret your highest and best use of your internet work is pin-pricking significant actors in the Evolution/I.D. dialogue to adopt positions that you think are more rigorous, or more precise, or more strategic or tactical in the disputes with Young Earth Creationists. I can’t dispute that such a view of “highest value” isn’t valuable. You should certainly prioritize what you want to spend your time on.

    But I think you might still be posting at BioLogos if you were willing to devote some of your valuable time endorsing some of the accomplishments of various pro-BioLogos supporters and/or officers. Christians are humans… and when the “screed volume” gets too loud, or too persistent, humans shut down. You know for a fact that I frequently stop reading some of your posts within the first paragraph. Why? It is usually because you have prefaced your main point with some agonizingly minor point … rather than simply limiting your discussion to the One Important Point you wanted to make. Many times, if the key point you were hoping to make wasn’t in the first paragraph, then I simply didn’t have the energy to wade through each rhetorical jagged toothful – – with the optimistic outlook that you will eventually get to something more juicy and important. Instead, I leap to the conclusion that you are starting your discussion with the most important point, and that after the first paragraph or two, things are only going to become less important and more arguable.

    I have intentionally re-arranged the paragraphs of this particular posting so that I could be a little more consistent with my own proffered advice. These 2 paragraphs were once the very first ones of this posting:

    Have you ever heard the anecdote about the President who would receive a visiting delegation, and had to disagree with the delegation’s request – – but most of the delegation came away from the meeting feeling appreciated, understood and a friendly bond with the President – – even as they were refused. But another President could receive a delegation, agree with their request, and the delegation would come away feeling alienated, frustrated and more likely to oppose the President in the future.

    This is something most of us have control over. But I sometimes worry about your excruciatingly precise way of using words that seem virtually certain to upset, offend and alienate your correspondent.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Thanks, George, for your attempt here to listen to what I actually said. In the past, you (and others at BioLogos) have imputed views to me, and then objected to a stance I haven’t actually taken. This has been one of the main problems.

      For example, the column which led to my ban from BioLogos was one about anthropogenic global warming. In that discussion, a number of people misrepresented my position as anti-AGW, even though I made clear from the outset that: (a) I granted that the earth had warmed a couple of degrees in the past 150 years; (b) I granted that human activity could have had something to do with the warming, maybe a considerable amount of the warming; (c) I granted that the production of greenhouse gases could be one of the causes of the warming; (d) I granted that the majority of climate scientists agreed with the first three points. The people responding continued to answer me as if I differed on those points.

      Where I actually differed was over a claim derived from a survey which supposedly established that 97% of “climate scientists” agreed that human beings were responsible for “most” global warming. I pointed out that the survey results did not specify “most”, and therefore that the most cautious interpretation was that 97% of climate scientists agreed that human beings were responsible for “some” (% unspecified) degree of global warming. For that careful qualification, and for things I said later about the AGW issue, I was attacked with indignation by a number of posters, including, I believe, by yourself.

      In fact, I did not deny AGW, but only questioned the degree of certainty about the % of the warming caused by human activities. And I never said that the minority of scientists was right and the majority was wrong; I only pleaded for freedom of scientific debate (which as I showed was being curtailed by bullying from within the climate science community).

      For making these points, I was called “one-sided”. Every one of those objecting to me was objecting not to what I had actually argued, but what they imagined I was arguing. And they imagined wrongly, because they did not read carefully.

      Of course, it’s no accident that those who misread me on AGW had misread me previously on many other issues. Beaglelady and Burke and Benkirk had all frequently called me a creationist, for example, despite my clear refutations of creationism and my indications of support for Behe and Denton who were evolutionists. Often in these debates, the misreading seems to be willful.

      You complain about my demand for the precise use of words, but when the claims people are making *depend* upon a particular construction of certain terms (e.g., providence, guidance, design, natural theology), it becomes important to establish exactly what is meant by the words. I don’t think anyone should pose as an “expert” on science/theology questions and then use crucial terms in confusing or erroneous ways.

      I think part of the problem is that, overwhelmingly, the people who founded and run BioLogos are scientists, not philosophers or theologians or students of literature; and scientists, while precise about the use of technical terms in their fields, are not necessarily precise in their language when they wander outside of their field, e.g., into theology, philosophy of science, history of Christian thought, etc. So quite often BioLogos leaders have used inaccurate, confusing, or misleading language. And that would be OK — except that they resent being corrected on their language by someone with a Ph.D. in a relevant field.

      And if you answer, “Well, you should know enough about human nature that people will resent being corrected in public,” I answer, yes, I know this perfectly well, but when the public is being misled on important religious questions, I am willing to be disliked by the people I’m correcting. Popularity is not important; truth is. To me, it is not really very important someone like Falk or Applegate thinks I don’t use language that is evangelical-syrupy-sweet in intellectual debates, and it’s not really very important that BioLogos leaders go away from a debate (in which they have taken dogmatic positions) miffed that someone has corrected them in public view on a subject they don’t know very much about (theology, history/philosophy of science, etc.). To me, it’s far more important that the Christian readers of BioLogos are aware of weaknesses and errors in what BioLogos columnists and commenters try to promote.

      You write:

      “I come to the conclusion (rightly or wrongly?) that you interpret your highest and best use of your internet work is pin-pricking significant actors in the Evolution/I.D. dialogue to adopt positions that you think are more rigorous, or more precise, or more strategic or tactical in the disputes with Young Earth Creationists. I can’t dispute that such a view of “highest value” isn’t valuable. You should certainly prioritize what you want to spend your time on.”

      Exactly. I have the right to use my time as I see fit. For you, it seems, the most important thing in the world is shooting down YEC creationism. I don’t carry any brief for YEC, so if you want to do that, go ahead. But to me a far greater danger to current Christianity than YEC is theological liberalism, and I think that evolutionary creationism as a movement is permeated by themes derived from liberal theology, themes adopted often without consciousness by the EC leaders themselves. So I’ve joined hands with Jon Garvey in trying to combat, not “evolution” per se, but the fusion of evolution with non-orthodox theology.

      I think that here your Unitarian commitments come into play. You have admitted that you don’t uphold many of the tenets of traditional, orthodox, mainstream Christianity. Therefore, you are not going to have the priority that Jon and I do. (This is true also of beaglelady, benkirk, and Burke, all have whom have denied or slyly ridiculed many beliefs held by traditional Christians.) Your priority is to uphold belief in evolution, not to defend classical Christian theology within a Protestant world which is rapidly departing from it. So we have quite different goals. I think your frustration with me is partly due to the fact that you wish I had the same goals as you, when I don’t. But there is nothing I can do about that.

      Similarly, my critique of BioLogos comes from the fact that I don’t have the same goal as BioLogos — which goal appears to be to harmonize Christianity with evolution at almost any cost, rather than to conduction evolutionary speculation within orthodox Christian bounds. Again, you are frustrated that I don’t try to find more common ground with BioLogos, but I can’t find more common ground, because I don’t agree with the priority of science over theology that I find at BioLogos, and I don’t agree with the particular formulations of Christianity of the majority of its leaders. And I don’t think it’s nearly as important that all Christians accept evolution as that Christians accept a broadly classical formulation of Christian teaching. I think evolution can be formulated to harmonize with Christian teaching, but if push comes to shove, though I accept evolution it’s not so important a part of my world view that I couldn’t live without it, if the cost of accepting it meant the surrender of key Christian doctrines. I don’t accept the implicit premise of BioLogos that Christianity *must* change to keep up with the scientific times, on evolution or anything else. I think BioLogos puts the scientific cart before the theological horse. In its reaction against creationism (and in its largely unnecessary reaction against ID) It has far overemphasized the Bio and underemphasized the Logos. Jon has here tried to achieve a rebalancing between the claims of science and the claims of theology, and it’s here I feel at home. What he does here won’t be to the taste of those who think that Christianity should change to keep up with modern science, but I think he’s on the right track, so here I stand.

  15. GBrooks12 says:


    You write: “… and I don’t agree with the particular formulations of Christianity of the majority of its leaders. And I don’t think it’s nearly as important that all Christians accept evolution as that Christians accept a broadly classical formulation of Christian teaching. ”

    Well, Bingo!

    Does it ever get this elegant, or this easy, all at the same time? BioLogos, by most anyone’s understanding, is not in the business of crafting “a broadly classical formulation of Christian teaching.” And so I have to think you were swimming in the wrong pool… full stop… period.

    In retrospect, isn’t it easy to conclude that you and BioLogos were never ever ever going to be in agreement? BioLogos, rightly or wrongly, exists to build a “big Christian tent” over Evolution, plain and simple, leaving each Christian to decide what flavor he prefers for his or her Christianity.

    You write: “… though I accept evolution it’s not so important a part of my world view that I couldn’t live without it…” Now, if BioLogos was concerned about getting everyone to the same state of redemption or reconciliation or even saved, I think your point would be perfect.

    But BioLogos embraces Christians in a “come as you are fashion” – – and is interested in showing that Evolution can fit most all Christian denominations.

    I don’t really see how you thought you could nudge BioLogos into being more specifc.

    As for the climate warming controversy, I think I can explain a fundamental aspect was probably not clearly laid out at the time (it is rare when it is clearly laid out). I spent time and energy “de-briefing” a climate scientist to understand exactly how the machinery of warming (and cooling) works – – and how it consistently cycled eight times in 800,000 years.

    In eight continuous cycles, without any human industrial activity, the Earth’s CO2 levels went from 280 ppm to 180 ppm and back up to 280 ppm. This is possible only because the Earth’s continents and resulting ocean currents appear to have settled into a “sweet spot” where a shift of just 100 ppm was able to virtually denude Earth of its glaciers, or build glaciers one mile or more high over New York City!

    Taking into account natural activities like volcanoes and non-human animal populations, and determining that these are for the most part within nominal levels, the fact CO2 levels are now at 400 ppm, and showing every indication of continuing higher, it is relatively simple math to show that all the CO2 above 280 (or 120 ppm, or 42% higher than the Earth has ever experienced in the last 800,000 years), means that **ALL** the additional CO2 is due to human industrial activity. This can even be cross-checked by comparing the isotopes present in natural CO2 vs. man-made CO2; and amazingly enough, the numbers jive.

    I am happy to go into the details of what exactly happens to trigger the cyclical rise and fall of CO2 in a pre-industrial Earth. But maybe you would rather do that in another thread? But, in short, there really is no doubt about the source of the excess 120 ppm. Under the circumstances, your attempt to avoid sounding like a left-wing climate zealot unintentionally made you sound like a climate change denier.

    Since there really is no middle ground on the source of the excess CO2, you basically threw yourself off the rhetorical cliff in your attempt to sound objective and moderate.
    I’m happy to spend as much time on this topic as you like … in whatever forum you prefer.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      In your comment on the religion of BioLogos, you forget that BioLogos also claims to be true to the tenets of evangelical Protestant Christianity — to accept the Creeds and the authority and truth of all (not just parts of) the Bible. And evangelical Protestant Christianity has always, from its inception, accepted the main Augustinian account of Christianity common to both Catholics and Protestants. That’s just a historical fact about American evangelical religion.

      So when BioLogos starts rejecting parts of classical Protestant evangelical faith, it becomes untrue to its own claims of allegiance — and alienates the traditional evangelical folks in the very churches that are its target for its message.

      If BioLogos had from the outset said, “We are a group of Christians who accept evolution, and we think that the truth of evolution means that traditional Christian doctrine on a number of issues is just plain wrong and has to change, and we intend to lobby for that change without apology” — you never would have heard a peep from me on BioLogos. It was the claim that what they were doing was in the best evangelical tradition that aroused my ire.

      Oh, and don’t bother trying to show me that they never made the claim about being true to traditional evangelical faith in their formal mission statement. They made the claim in numerous side-comments, replies to commenters, columns, etc. They have always presented themselves as onside with the traditional evangelical understanding of Christianity, wanting only to read Genesis less literally so as to make room for evolution. But in fact, not only regarding Adam and Eve, but also regarding God’s sovereignty and providence, and other issues, they have departed on many points from what American evangelicals used to believe.

      And again, I would not object to that if it was announced bluntly and without apology. What I objected to was the constant suggestion of “We’re evangelicals just like you, who share the traditional views you’ve always sung about and prayed about in church, only we also believe in evolution.” That is simply not the case. BioLogos statements about theology — uttered in the course of harmonizing faith with evolution — have frequently stepped outside of traditional evangelical beliefs — and that’s precisely why American evangelicals (except the liberal ones who were already onside with evolution anyway) have resisted BioLogos for so long. They’re less upset about the evolution than about the loose attitude toward traditional theology.

      This is not the place to discuss global warming. Our topic here is theology. In any case, Judith Curry, who has something like 160 climatology papers published in peer-reviewed journals, and knows far about it than you do (and probably far more about it than the friend you consulted), disagrees with you. (And she used to be a staunch AGW proponent, so she knows all the arguments.) And in any case, my point was never that one side was right and the other wrong, but only that in science no one should ever be shouted down, threatened, banned, etc. Everything should be conducted in a rational scientific atmosphere where evidence is presented, varying interpretations aired, arguments made and rebutted, etc. But on BioLogos climate change debate is settled by shouting down anyone who had a different view. And the people on BioLogos are merely imitating the attitude of the pundits in the papers and on TV and on blog sites, and those in turn are merely echoing the swaggering and bluffing of climate scientists who at climatology conferences and as journal referees try to shout down all opposition, when the proper job of the scientist is to refute opposition with data and argument.

      You wrote:

      “Under the circumstances, your attempt to avoid sounding like a left-wing climate zealot unintentionally made you sound like a climate change denier.”

      I’m sorry, but this is no excuse for the brutal, bullying treatment I received on BioLogos. There was no reason for anyone to say, “You sound as if you believe X” when I made very plain that I was not affirming X. “Reading between the lines” is exactly how Burke, beaglelady and benkirk decided I was a creationist even though I denied creationism. “Reading between the lines” is, generally speaking, practiced by those who are very poor at reading the lines themselves.

      AGW is not merely a scientific position any longer; culturally speaking, it has become a cult, a religion, with its orthodoxy and its heretics. Judith Curry, when she opposed the climate change skeptics, was a heroine of orthodoxy; once she joined the skeptics (not regarding the fact of global warming, but regarding the causes), she became an apostate. And as is the case in religion, it isn’t enough to say that you don’t deny something; you are expected to enthusiastically endorse it, and to enthusiastically persecute all those who show any doubt about it. So for the people in BioLogos, anyone who doesn’t enthusiastically denounce climate change skeptics must (even if he admits the earth has warmed and that human activity has played a role) be a secret “denier”; just as for the people on BioLogos, anyone who shows any doubt about the ability of blind search to create cells from scratch, to create new phyla, etc., must (even if he confesses an old earth and common descent) be a secret “creationist”.

      It’s this black-and-white, you’re with us or you’re against us, mindset that needs challenging. Truth requires nuance, careful balancing of many factors. You don’t usually get that in internet discussions, because the kind of people who post on the internet are usually the committed partisans, not the thoughtful, cautious people.

  16. GBrooks12 says:


    You write: “In your comment on the religion of BioLogos, you forget that BioLogos also claims to be true to the tenets of evangelical Protestant Christianity — to accept the Creeds and the authority and truth of all (not just parts of) the Bible.”

    I have to reject your thesis. By definition, any group endorsing Evolution is also going to suffer the same slings and arrows… how can it true to the tenets of Christianity if they are Evolutionists?!

    You cannot successfully use their mission statement against them, for it is obvious that their mission includes being good Christians **and to endorse the science of Evolution**. It will be up to each Christian, in their turn, to decide what it takes to endorse “good Christianity” PLUS Evolution. Conversely, as soon as they attempt to satisfy someone such as yourself, to be more specific about the kind of Christianity they prefer, they instantaneously risk offending some other kind of Christian.

    You have already written too much on this theme, Eddie. It is not sustainable. When the Wonder Bread company makes its “delicious bread”…. it is a mission to make a bread as bland as possible, but that will still be permeable enough to run through the bread cutting equipment without effort, and yet strong enough to support that double-meat ham sandwich! There are those who curse Wonder Bread, for its blandness… for its lack of commitment to a the sacred metaphysics of **flavor**.

    But statistics show that in a country of many different kinds of bread, there is a market niche for something that looks like bread, can function like bread, but – indeed – tastes like nothing!

    You are cursing BioLogos for making no firm commitment to your most desirable form of Christianity. But in a country that has more Protestant denominations and Non-denominational churches than the country has brands of bread … there is really no other choice.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      I’ve never “cursed” BioLogos, George.

      The number of denominations in America doesn’t matter, for my purpose. I’m concerned only with those evangelicals in however many different denominations (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, whatever), who have affirmed mainstream Protestant faith. Being a lifelong Unitarian, you aren’t very familiar with the church life of such evangelicals. I am familiar with them, and I know what sort of theological doctrines and speculations would make their ears prick up with alarm. I’m telling you that they won’t go for Open Theism (Oord, Polkinghorne) and they won’t go for a non-historical Fall (Lamoureux). They also don’t like all the statements and hints that there is something wrong with the Bible (Giberson saying the Old Testament appears to have a savage, immoral God, etc., beaglelady implying the Bible has all kinds of factual and moral errors, etc.). Evolution offends such people less for what it is in itself and more for the theological adjustments that are made to accommodate it, and for the theological deviations that frequently seem to be found in its vicinity.

      Don’t confuse “evangelicals” with “fundamentalists”. The fundamentalists oppose evolution period, simply because it opposes their literal reading of Genesis. End of story. But the evangelicals are a broader group, and not all committed to a literal reading of Genesis. So evolution *could* be acceptable to them — if Christian theology weren’t deformed and distorted to accommodate it.

      Here on the Hump, evolution is affirmed within a theological framework that most American evangelical Protestants of a traditional kind could live with. But at BioLogos, which has flirted with ideas of Oord, Enns, Sparks, etc., evolution is prevented in a much more theologically open-ended framework. That’s why it meets with such resistance, even among those evangelicals who might be brought over to evolution.

  17. GBrooks12 says:


    I understand your position. Your position doesn’t work with my position. I will accept this.

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