Editing history

Back in early September 2017 I was writing a Hump piece  on Aquinas and the special creation of humanity. Providentially I stumbled on a YouTube video posted just the week before in which Tim Keller, Russell Moore and Ligon Duncan discuss their “non-negotiables” on creation.

Tim Keller having written at BioLogos on being relaxed about evolution, I was surprised that the special creation of Adam was one of his sticking points, so I explored what he might mean by it in my blog, provisionally given the brevity of his comments, and did so in the context of the Genealogical Adam paradigm that Joshua Swamidass had revived at BioLogos that April.

I mention all this to show that my post was unrelated to anything happening concurrently at BioLogos. However, four days after my post, Deborah Haarsma published a piece there in which, in essence, she critiqued Keller for believing the unbelievable – the special creation of a sole pair of human progenitors at the start of mankind. This belief was, apparently, to the detriment of science, and to the stumbling of those outside the church who, it seems, have some inexplicable aversion to the concept of special creation, but not to the gospel of salvation from sin by repentance and faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. Odd, that, as it’s the latter that is usually more of a stumblingblock.

The significance of this, in the broader context, is that Swamidass, at that time an “official” BioLogos speaker, tried in vain to get the BioLogos article corrected, both as to what Keller did and did not affirm, and as to its statements on the findings of science, which completely ignored the work Swamidass had been doing on Genealogical Adam, in full view of BioLogos, for several months.

The affair led to the departure of Swamidass from BioLogos, amidst some private and not-so-private rancour. So it is not too surprising that now, 17 months later, some belated alterations to the BioLogos piece, labelled as “minor edits,” should disturb his equanimity somewhat. You should read his thread on Peaceful Science  about it, and also the timeline to which he links it, showing that BioLogos was well aware of the commencement of a literature on Genealogical Adam by one of their own, and yet chose to ignore it.

Now, I have been in good standing at BioLogos since 2010, and have never actually been silenced, nor held an offical position there (though I did write one essay for them). In 2017 I was long-disillusioned with their theology of creation anyway, and so I have no personal reason to share Joshua’s feelings of disgruntlement. However, I do have a dog in the fight in that I had been waving an occasional flag at BioLogos, and more often The Hump, for what is now called Genealogical Adam, and had received scant support there. Additionally both Swamidass and I have now written books on it, his being due out towards the end of this year, and mine at the beginning of the next. So I care about the history of the idea and its treatment by others.

I’ll restrict my comments, then, to a few personal observations on the BioLogos piece as it now stands.

The first thing to say is that belatedly making subtle changes to correct the core errors of the piece, and terming it “minor editing,” having refused to do so for nearly two years, is a little … disingenuous. Sadly, BioLogos seems to have a long history of affirming its orthodoxy without actually retracting its former problematic positions. One example is its long flirtation with Open Theism in and after the days of Karl Giberson. A second (mentioned in this very piece) is the affirmation of the goodness of creation, when the case made by Francisco Ayala, in his invitation Noview of Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell in 2011, hinged largely on the evils of creation. This piece has since simply disappeared, but both Karl Giberson and Darrel Falk, when they led BioLogos and since, have also denied God’s role in many “evil” aspects of creation from viruses to cats that catch mice.

So which is it for BioLogos? Is creation good, evil, or like the curate’s egg, “good in parts”?

Then again, the only real point of the Haarsma piece appears to have been to tut-tut at Tim Keller’s affirmation of special creation in the face of the clear findings of science that “it couldn’t have happened.” But one of their new “minor edits” more or less demolishes that main argument by saying it is possible, but only given a theory like Genealogical Adam, involving interbreeding with an existing race, which for all we know Keller supports:

An early couple could have been created miraculously, but their descendants must have interbred with the surrounding population (e.g. here and here).

I pass over the fact that creation is not “miraculous”, but … well, creative. But if Adam and Eve’s creation is now admittedly possible, what exactly is the problem with Keller’s position? Haarsma appears to be simply agreeing with him.

The two articles linked from the quote above are, firstly, the original piece on Genealogical Adam by David Opderbeck, posted at BioLogos,which aroused the support of myself, but very few others, in 2010; and Swamidass’s 2018 article for Sapientia (rather than the work he did pre-dating the BioLogos piece, which was well-known to the organisation.) Is this, then, to be seen as a change of mind disguised as a minor edit, or as a claim that the whole idea of Genealogical Adam originated with BioLogos anyway?

OK, so at least, and at last, the misrepresentation of Tim Keller’s views, and the sidelining of Joshua Swamidass’s objections, has been corrected. I’ve been known to correct errors in old blogs quietly myself, simply because they were quiet blogs that raised no objections at the time, but might mislead people in future. But I dislike the quiet rewriting of history when it has all the appearances of trying to save face.

That aside, though, even the article, as it now stands, still marches to the turgid Enlightenment tune of “Natural causes (undefined) good: Supernatural causes (equally undefined) bad.” That, to me, is the greatest stumbling-block to an adequate Evangelical theology of nature, and it remains largely unaddressed at BioLogos.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Creation, Genealogical Adam, Science, Theology of nature. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Editing history

  1. James McKay says:

    The BioLogos discussion about Tim Keller’s video was quite an eye opener to me. I watched the video myself three times and it quickly became clear that he wasn’t anywhere near as dogmatic or confrontational as he was being made out to be. I posted a response to that effect on the forum discussion at the time (here: https://discourse.biologos.org/t/essentials-of-creation-a-response-to-the-gospel-coalition/36663/3?u=jammycakes). The first reply I got to my response was quite telling: the author insisted on comparing Dr Keller to Ken Ham (a completely unfair comparison if ever there was one), and then quote mined him.

    Up to that point, I’d come to view BioLogos as being a bastion of factual accuracy and scientific rigour in the creation and evolution debate. I still get the impression that they score significantly higher in that respect than most of the other “sides,” and for that they are to be commended. But seeing this discussion, and the subsequent fracas between themselves and Dr Swamidass, left me with the distinct impression that there is a kind of theistic evolutionary orthodoxy or groupthink at work, and that factual accuracy, while important, still has to play second fiddle to it.

    More recently, I seem to have run up against the groupthink effect on another thread that I started yesterday, in which I questioned the factual accuracy of some of the points in their critique of “God of the gaps” thinking. (Here: https://discourse.biologos.org/t/god-of-the-gaps-arguments-and-the-limitations-of-science/40188) I get the impression I may have trodden on a few toes there as well…

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Hi James, and welcome to The Hump. Please hang around and add your wisdom.

      I like, and am very sympathetic to your “increasing scientific gaps” argument – I wrote a piece on that back in 2015, and had already critiqued the BioLogos FAQ on “God of the Gaps” two years earlier here. Neither piece attracted any attention at BioLogos, nor (as far as I know) lessened the knee-jerk “G.O.T.G.” critiques, or modified the FAQ. There you go.

      As you may have noticed, I seldom frequent BioLogos now, having at one time been one of their two most frequent posters. That’s partly because The Hump’s 190K+ hits a year is of the same order of magnitude as theirs, and partly because more diversity of opinion and serious thought occurs elsewhere (notably at Josh’s Peaceful Science, where although there may sometimes be inconsiderate treatment of some opinions – notably ID – it is recognised as a human problem, not treated as a scientific virtue).

      Mainly, though, as a bog-standard Evangelical, I noticed early on what you call the “theistic evolution orthodoxy,” and felt vaguely unwelcome when I questioned it – even by drawing attention to actually orthodox TEs such as B B Warfield, Asa Gray or even Alfred Russel Wallace. More intriguingly, that “orthodoxy” actually changed over time as the leadership of BL changed, regular scientific posters lost their faith, and so on.

      It reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s “inner circle” idea (if you’ve come across that, eg in “That Hideous Strength”), in which there seems to be a “correct” view on things, but you’re never quite sure what it actually is, and even less sure if you’re considered to be part of it, or if you’re suspected of heresy.

      This isn’t the place for sociological speculation, but I have a suspicion, as a non-academic, that the phenomenon reflects the way that academia in general – and particularly scientific academia – works. If you wander around The Hump a bit, you’ll find a number of pieces about the long history of suppressed dissidence (or better, imposed orthodoxy) within science. It’s not pretty. It’s even less pretty when Christian faith is made to subserve it.

  2. Jay313 says:

    Hello, James. Welcome to the Hump. I’ll start with your comment: “The first reply I got to my response was quite telling: the author insisted on comparing Dr Keller to Ken Ham (a completely unfair comparison if ever there was one), and then quote mined him.”

    Quote mined? Really? Pretty serious charge. As the author in question, I would encourage everyone to follow the link you provided and decide for themselves whether I quote mined Keller. If you look at my post and what you said above, I’d say the quote-mining runs the opposite way, my friend. I started by quoting your summary, “The first thing I noticed was that it isn’t as confrontational as its title makes it out to be. In actual fact, he’s quite gracious about the matter,” and then I replied: “Yes, everything you’ve said is true. But the organization chooses the title, and Keller is a VP of that organization. Neither Keller nor Duncan are to be confused with Ken Ham. They are thoughtful, well-spoken men. Nevertheless, both are doing what Ham does, which is to make the special creation of Adam essential to the gospel, or as Keller calls it, ‘the Pauline understanding of salvation.'” I stand by those words. In that very post, I even went to the trouble to type up a transcript of the portion of the video in question, which Sy Garte verified was accurate. The Gospel Coalition title still remains, “The Non-Negotiable Beliefs About Creation,” and Keller still says what he says, which is that “I would say not only was there an actual Adam and Eve, but otherwise I do not understand how the Pauline understanding of salvation works….”

    As I said at the end of that post: “It seems a fairly inescapable conclusion that the video portrays belief in a literal Adam & Eve as a boundary marker for orthodoxy. Like Deborah Haarsma, I would hope that The Gospel Coalition is not making that their official position.”

    The rest of this is in reply to your post, Jon. I’ll put the material that I am quote-mining from your essay in italics.

    However, four days after my post, Deborah Haarsma published a piece there in which, in essence, she critiqued Keller for believing the unbelievable – the special creation of a sole pair of human progenitors at the start of mankind.

    Why do you try to restate the reason that she wrote the essay? She didn’t critique Keller for “believing the unbelievable,” the special creation of Adam and Eve. In essence, stated the reason in the article’s conclusion, which I’ll quote to avoid misunderstanding: “We encourage the Gospel Coalition to continue proclaiming the theological and biblical essentials of creation, but to place evolutionary science as a point on which Christians can disagree. Christians can sincerely disagree about human evolution and yet sincerely affirm each other’s orthodox faith.”

    So it is not too surprising that now, 17 months later, some belated alterations to the BioLogos piece, labelled as “minor edits,” should disturb his equanimity somewhat.
    Take a look at Swamidass’s post: https://discourse.biologos.org/t/essentials-of-creation-a-response-to-the-gospel-coalition/36663/19. It has 17 edits to it, including many wholesale additions and deletions. His equanimity was disturbed? What equanimity? Every time I poke my head into Pieceful (sic) Science, there’s another new thread about the Wicked Witches of BioLogos. You call it equanimity; I call it obsessive cyberstalking.

    Sadly, BioLogos seems to have a long history of affirming its orthodoxy without actually retracting its former problematic positions.
    This is just rich. If BioLogos edits an old piece to be more accommodating to your position, you complain, find fault, and accuse them of bad faith for making such changes without appropriate fanfare, rather than celebrating. If BioLogos steers more toward Calvinism and less toward open theism, you complain, find fault, and demand retractions, rather than celebrating. It’s the children in the marketplace all over again:
    ‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.’

    But if Adam and Eve’s creation is now admittedly possible, what exactly is the problem with Keller’s position?
    The same thing that was always the problem with it. Just as The Gospel Coalition’s title says, “The Non-Negotiable Beliefs About Creation.” The problem appears when you say the special creation of Adam is a non-negotiable belief of orthodoxy or of “the Pauline understanding of salvation.” This is a far more important matter than whether Haarsma should’ve originally said “Homo sapiens” instead of “humans.” Swamidass made it all about himself and Genealogical Adam, just as you are doing here.

    But I dislike the quiet rewriting of history when it has all the appearances of trying to save face.
    Remember, brother (if I still qualify, having given up the “non-negotiable belief” in the special creation of Adam), that you and your internet buddies have only heard one side of the story. The other side has chosen to remain silent about the reasons that they and Swamidass went their separate ways. Your facts are only as good as your sources.

    • James McKay says:

      Thanks for your response Jay. I apologise for my injuducious choice of words: since the video is easily accessible from the extracts that you cited, and therefore easy to fact-check, it was indeed inappropriate for me to describe it as “quote mining.” (Real quote mining tends to obfuscate its sources to make it harder for people to fact-check them.)

      However, I did think that your quote — and your comparison of him to Ken Ham — didn’t accurately reflect his position, taking into account both what he said at first and the tone with which he said it. Here’s a transcription of what he said immediately after the part that you quoted:

      But I’d even say, Look, I know what my Christians who are scientists tell me, and that is, they say, that all human beings were not genetically related to a human couple. That’s right now the consensus. I’ll be honest—I’ll just say, they say that’s not the consensus: there was a little group of people somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, and that’s where everybody came from. But, when I read the text, I say it sure looks to me like it says that God created Adam and Eve, and he didn’t just adopt a former – you know – human-like being and adopt and put the image of God, it doesn’t seem like that’s saying. It says he created out of the dust of the ground. And I do think in the end, even though I could be wrong in reading that text, I feel like I’ve got to have my reading of the text correct my understanding of the sciences. I mean, science is a way of telling me truth, and the Scripture is a way of telling me truth, but if they are clashing, even though the science might show me that I’m reading the Scripture wrong—and that has happened in the past, where the science came in and said “are you really reading—do you really think—is it really—does the Bible really teach that the Earth—the sun revolves round the Earth?” So it’s possible for the science to ask, “did you read the text right?” But if you go back and read the text and you come to your conclusion as far as you can say before God, “I’m trying my best to read this as what I think the Scripture says, right now it says to me, you know, there was an Adam and Eve, and everyone came from Adam and Eve, and they were special creation,” and so, even though I don’t have an answer to my science friends, that’s where I stand.”

      From this excerpt that followed, it seems clear to me that he understood what what his scientist Christian friends had told him about the scientific consensus. He fully respected their position; he did not disparage them; he did not question their faith; and he did not attempt to misrepresent the science or twist it to make it conform to his theology. Rather, he merely said that he personally felt compelled to reject the scientific consensus on this specific matter. Listening to his words carefully, and typing out the transcript, I find it very difficult to interpret his own position as a demand on the whole Body of Christ rather than a statement of personal conviction (though to be fair, it seems clear that Moore and Duncan expressed a somewhat stronger view).

      Even if you aren’t comparing Keller to Ken Ham, I still think it’s a bit unfair to describe him as “doing what Ken Ham does” just because he’s setting boundaries. The fact of the matter is that we do need to draw the boundary lines of what constitutes orthodoxy and what doesn’t somewhere. If we didn’t, then the Flying Spaghetti Monster people would be able to call themselves evangelical Christians, and that would confuse everybody.

      • Jay313 says:

        Fair enough. Haarsma objected to making the special creation of Adam a boundary line of orthodoxy. I agree with her, but it was an exaggeration for me to compare Keller to Ham. Moore and Duncan, on the other hand … haha.

    • swamidass says:

      Jay313, for the record, the “other side” has not been silent about why we went separate ways. There was a fairly vicious whisper campaign against me. They just did not like what I was saying about science and Adam. Very unfortunately really.

      • Jay313 says:

        A “vicious whisper campaign” against you? Really? Well, I certainly can’t accuse you of that. You’ve wasted no opportunity to air your grievances and play the martyr. It’s easy to engage in revisionist history, as you do, when you have the floor to yourself.

    • swamidass says:

      You raised a point to address. Yes, I did edit that post at BioLogos 17 times. As is well known, I am prone to typos and most my edits are inconsequential fixes to these typos. Also, in the very post you linked, I note a major edit prominently and clearly, because it was important to correct. In contrast with the BioLogos edits (“minor” and unexplained), you are comparing apples with oranges. I have been upfront and honest through this exchange, and I will continue to do so.

      It seems like you are pretty upset about how things shook out. If and when you would like to work it out, I am available. I continue to invite you and BioLogos into dialogue. I continue to seek reconciliation, and I hope at sometime in the future that desire would be reciprocated. As one of the BioLogos forum moderators, you know I am no longer welcome at BioLogos. Nonetheless, both you and others from BioLogos are welcome to the table at BioLogos whenever you would like to come. We are a big tent, and Evolutionary Creationists are certainly welcome, even though I am not in your camp.

      I understand you are likely to remain hostile to me. I’d prefer we continue this offline when you are ready to seek reconciliation. It is important not to let conflict like this brew. It can do great harm to you. Peace.

      • Jay313 says:

        Yes, I did edit that post at BioLogos 17 times. As is well known, I am prone to typos and most my edits are inconsequential fixes to these typos. Anyone who desires can click on the 17 icon and go through them one-by-one.

        It seems like you are pretty upset about how things shook out. If and when you would like to work it out, I am available.
        No, Joshua, I’m not upset that you were asked to leave the organization. I had nothing to do with it, and it has no effect on me or anything that I’m doing. I do, however, get upset when I see good people attacked with lies, exaggerations, and innuendo. If and when you decide to conduct yourself with a modicum of grace and honor, then I’m available.

        I continue to seek reconciliation … Wow. You have a warped view of reconciliation. From the outside, it sure looks a lot more like revenge that you seek. Do you still stalk Dennis Venema into every corner of the internet?

        As one of the BioLogos forum moderators, you know I am no longer welcome at BioLogos.
        Actually, I stopped doing moderator chores months ago, and the moderators are volunteers, not employees. I do have firsthand knowledge of the reasons your account was suspended, but I choose to keep it to myself, rather than spewing it all over the internet in an effort to make you look bad.

        both you and others from BioLogos are welcome to the table at BioLogos whenever you would like to come. We are a big tent, and Evolutionary Creationists are certainly welcome, even though I am not in your camp.
        Thanks for the invitation to the BL table. (You’re certainly going to keep the editors at IVP on their toes. haha) Evolutionary Creationists are welcome at your table? Tell that to Dr. Gary Fugle, whom you treated shamefully on your “peaceful” site.

        Peace? Why do you continue to use that sign off? Have you never noticed that controversy and conflict follows you everywhere? The peace that I seek isn’t the kind that you peddle.

  3. swamidass says:

    Excellent post Jon. Thanks for guarding the history here. Who things here. 1. Opderbeck’s article is great but says nothing about de novo Adam and Eve. So why did they include it? 2. I’m not disgruntled. Moved on as you can see.

  4. Robert Byers says:

    I agree what is the point is whether biologos like or dislikes conclusions and then more serious claims about character and motives are made and then, sometimes, severe reaction.
    Whatsoever man sows that will he reap the bible says.
    The standard here should be a higher christian one. Morally and intellectually.

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