I’ve often criticized BioLogos on this site, but, wishing to give credit where credit is due, I can recommend the latest series hosted by Ted Davis, written by historian of science Stephen Snobelen with some bits of introduction and commentary by Ted. It examines the claims of the New Atheists and connects their work to the “Warfare Thesis” of White and Draper. There are plenty of quotations, links, etc. to enable non-historians to get up to speed on what Snobelen is talking about. It’s a great takedown of the New Atheists as well as of the Warfare Thesis.
You can follow forward or backward from any point in the series. Here is the link to the column on Francis Collins and the New Atheists:
My comments here are not directly about Snobelen’s writing, but more like a theological footnote on a comment of his. Here is one interesting passage from the column:
It is rather striking how Dawkins and other New Atheists echo (consciously or not) the views of the second-century theologian Marcion, who condemned the God of the Old Testament as morally evil and guilty of acts of evil, such as violence and war…. Atheist biblical studies scholar Hector Avalos penned an entire paper on this theme and entitled it, “Yahweh is a moral monster”…. Ex-evangelical pastor Dan Barker uses the Dawkinsian line in the title of his 2016 book God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction, for which Dawkins penned the forward. It is a common claim, often repeated.
Yes, there is a Gnostic strain in much of the New Atheist literature. Of course, it is selective Gnosticism, because the Gnostics affirmed that while the Old Testament God was a wicked Demiurge, the God pointed to by Jesus Christ is good and should be followed. The New Atheists love to denounce the Old Testament God, but instead of replacing that God with the higher God who is love and who offers freedom, they opt for no God at all. But Snobelen knows this. He is not claiming that the New Atheists believe the whole scheme of ancient Gnosticism. He is merely noting a significant thematic similarity between the two views.
What Snobelen does not note, however — and for this I don’t blame him, because his column’s focus in not on EC/TE as such — is that evolutionary creation / theistic evolutionism often makes use of arguments with a similar Gnostic feel.
Francisco Ayala, who used to be one of the darlings of BioLogos (for unclear reasons, they have distanced themselves a bit from him lately, rarely quoting or referring to him any more), argued that Darwinian evolution must be true, because if God created the world we see directly, he would be a moral monster. What kind of God would deliberately design, and directly will, the creation of something as horrible as malaria? Therefore, not merely creationism but even “intelligent design” (ID) is theologically unacceptable. Pain and suffering in the biological world not only were not directly created by God; they were not even designed by God. So “evolution” must have done it. God sits back at a distance, keeping his hands clean of all nastiness, while his lieutenants (natural causes, randomness, natural selection, evolution, etc.) do the actual work of making life, species, etc. Thus, as in Gnosticism, the stainless reputation of the good God is preserved, because he doesn’t directly make anything nasty, but merely allows evolution to produce it.
Now one might say that Ayala is not a good example to use, because he is no longer Christian and at best some kind of pantheist. (Which may be why BioLogos has in recent years mentioned his name much less.) But Kenneth Miller, who claims to be “100% Darwinian and 100% Catholic”, is still a Christian and he has used exactly the same argument: if God designed nasty things like malaria, God can’t be good; therefore such things must be non-designed, a blind product of Darwinian processes. So nature can be bad, but God is always good.
No BioLogos columnist, from the founding of BioLogos to the present, has ever challenged this Miller/Ayala argument on theological grounds. And yet it’s essentially a Gnostic sort of argument. There is the good God who wills only good, and there is the Demiurge (in this case, “evolution”) in charge of the actual world, and he can and often does will the bad. So in effect, natural science is studying the work of the Demiurge, not of the good God; and this of course fits in very well with the science/faith compartmentalization so often displayed in BioLogos TE/EC.
The problem with this division, of course, is that BioLogos also claims to be representing traditional, orthodox, Protestant evangelical faith. But in that faith God created the world and found it good. All those critters created in Genesis 1 are good. There is no suggestion that God created the world by hiring some incompetent Demiurge, a Demiurge who was unable to make a world free of bad lower backs, poorly wired retinas, parasites that attack little children, etc. And BioLogos columnists repeatedly exhort their readers to praise God for his beautiful, marvelous, wonderful universe. So they are sending a self-contradictory message: (1) We mustn’t expect to see God in nature, because nature is a series of blind processes which often produces bad design and suffering; (2) We can see God in nature because nature is so complex, marvelous, beautiful, etc. As scientists they write as if God created entirely by hiring out a Demiurge; as believing Christians they write as if God is responsible for every last bit of creation himself. We are supposed to praise God on Sundays, but then, back in the lab on weekdays, treat Creation as the product of the bungling Demiurge. The BioLogos folks (or a good number of them; I don’t say all) are thus torn between an orthodox and a Gnostic view of creation.
Again, this does not take away anything from Snobelen’s excellent series or Ted’s work to bring Snobelen to BioLogos. But I wish that the BioLogos folks would start to connect some dots between the claim that evolution is a blundering, blind search, yielding much inefficiency, pain, and cruelty, and the claim that “God creates through a process of evolution.” They cannot consistently argue that ID is theologically horrendous for making God the designer of malaria, while exhorting us all to praise God for the wonders of evolutionary creation. “We praise Thee, O God, for in Thy wisdom not designing anything directly but instead leaving the task of design to heartless, ruthless chance processes which can produce good results only irregularly, and only at the cost of much dysfunction and horrible suffering” does not exactly sound like a rousing American evangelical hymn.
I anticipate that one or two people on BioLogos, perhaps Joshua Swamidass for instance, may write in here to say: “I absolutely reject the position of Miller and Ayala; it’s bad Christian theology.” If so, that’s great, and I will applaud any such gesture. But why should TE/EC folks wait until critics of EC/TE point out these heresies? Why aren’t they regularly policing their own camp theologically without any prompting from creationist or ID critics? For example, when Oord uttered his string of heresies in the Divine Action series, why didn’t Applegate, Venema, Schloss, Haarsma, etc. jump in (politely of course, and without any nastiness) to state that while Oord was entitled to his opinions about God, those opinions did not reflect their own personal Christian theologies and in no way should be regarded as normative for EC/TE, or even typical of EC/TE? For that matter, why weren’t there protests from apparently evangelical commenters like glipsnort, socratic.fanatic, etc.? Does their silence imply agreement with Oord? Or are they more or less indifferent to accurate theological characterizations of God, and thus willing to treat both orthodox views such as Plantinga’s, and heretical views such as Oord’s, as part of a range of views acceptable within evangelical faith?
Again and again it looks as if BioLogos sees its mission as to promote evolution to evangelicals, with at best a secondary concern to make sure that evolution is incorporated into a traditional and orthodox form of Christianity. If one makes a slight slip in biology, the BioLogos columnists and commenters are all over one, denouncing one’s bad science; but if a columnist blatantly rejects the mainstream Protestant and Catholic conception of God, they treat it as no big deal. Their priorities seem clear.
My extended footnote now being complete, I can return to the beginning and again recommend Snobelen’s series, and in fact just about any of the series on BioLogos written by, or sponsored by, Ted Davis. The columns are good, and often the comments section is very good, too, because Ted always sticks around for a while to keep things on a high intellectual level, even when certain of the usual suspects try (as in the present case) to drag down the discussion by constantly introducing their pet religious peeves. But that’s just part of life at BioLogos, that a core of theologically unorthodox commenters with infinite time to kill tends to dominate the comments section. And Ted is better than anyone else on BioLogos at stopping such people from drawing the discussion off into unprofitable directions.