A curious thing about the only two negative book reviews I’ve received…


From @NLENTS site:

(Retired Professor & Minister.) #2

How discouraging. The way Dr. Lents is treated really saddens me.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #3

I am saddened by it too @NLENTS. I’m sorry it has been that way. I find it entertaining nonetheless that you left out all the negative reviews from creationists to claim there was “only two” negative ones :slight_smile:

(Jacob) #4

The second “review” was more a cheap personal attack on Dr. Lents (from the very first sentence!) than it was an actual book review.

(Nathan H. Lents) #5

Wow, thanks so much for these supportive comments. I find it strangely reassuring and affirming, especially coming from Christians, whom I don’t always have an easy time trusting. The truth is that I wrote that post back in October and it was just sitting in “drafts” all this time because I was really worried that it sounded whiny and/or that I was lashing out at negative reviews. (I sure hope that’s not my true subconscious motivation, obscured by false bravado that “we academics/writers are so used to critique that it never bothers us.”) But both of them seemed so reactionary to me, rather than serious and thoughtful. I just had this nagging feeling that one of them was driven by resentment (or worse) of gays, and the other by resentment (or worse) of progressives. Glad it’s not just me that sees that.

(Nathan H. Lents) #6

Well I don’t consider those serious enough to count, but not because I disagree with them. So far, there hasn’t been an actual “book review,” just web posts that are reactions to my articles or speeches about the book. And I think it’s pretty much only the DI, right? In fact, to my knowledge, they’ve never discussed the actual thesis of the book. They take umbrage with it because they see it as an attack on ID, but as I’ve said a bazillion times, I never intended that. I wrote the book for an audience that accepts common descent and the thesis is this: this quirks and glitches (“seams” as Josh calls them) can often reveal very interesting things about our past and show us ways to live in better harmony with our body. To my knowledge, they’ve never even touched that idea, one that Behe/Axe/Nelson probably wouldn’t have any issue with, since I don’t discuss any evolutionary mechanisms. So no, I don’t count the DI posts as book reviews because they’re not. And I don’t think they would claim they are either, though they might consider them as worthy “criticism” and that’s fair enough.

Ken Ham put out a post that reacted to a press release about my first book and acknowledged that he hadn’t read it. Obviously that doesn’t count. And none, to my knowledge, of the dozens of articles from the DI are anything resembling a book review. It all started with a post about my WSJ article when the book wasn’t out yet and then it became a back forth with their website and my blog, again, nothing resembling a detailed look at the book. And they had gone after my blog before so I wasn’t totally unknown to them. If there is anything resembling or even calling itself a “review” of Human Errors, I either missed or forgot it. But I don’t think even the folks at DI would say that they’ve done an actual book review. (Not that I think they should. I’m still somewhat surprised that they chose to spend time writing about me and the book at all. I’m glad they did, but I still don’t really get why they think it was something they had to respond to.)

But since we’re talking about this… “Christianity Today” did just put an article out about my book and it is, at its core, critical. However, I shared it on Twitter and Tumblr as a wonderful example of how a writer can disagree without being disagreeable, can challenge ideas without mischaracterizing them, can critique a way of thinking without insulting the thinker.

I’ve not met Liuan Huska before and we probably don’t see eye to eye on my life’s work. But I respect her thoughtful writing and her commitment to her point of view, even if I don’t share it, and I wrote her on Twitter to say as much. She called “So-called design flaws…’ opportunities for relationship and grace.” So they are.

(Nathan H. Lents) #7

Thank you for that solidarity. As I said before, it means a lot to me. But I’m pretty tough. I was organizing for marriage equality, even going door-to-door, in a red state in the 1990s. Let’s just say that you get pretty thick skin that way. :slight_smile:


You’re a good man, Dr. Lents.

(Nathan H. Lents) #9

Thanks a lot! And same to you. These messages were a nice way to wake up this morning and a salve for my aching head. You see, yesterday was my 7th wedding anniversary and we decided to get a babysitter and celebrate our “lucky 7” in style, eating and drinking at the places we did on that fateful day. It was a great time. But… ouch. :slight_smile:


Hey, congratulations.

And, really, I know it’s easier said than done, but I really wouldn’t get riled up about this kind of idiocy. It’s just another supposed push back against the mythical SJW agenda that became too common in the last years.

I’m aware that there are progressives who sometimes go way too far and are thus classified as SJW’s but they are far less numerous than those who constantly moan about them.

(Retired Professor & Minister.) #11

The negative reviews saddened me on many levels. As an academic, I am so fed up with the all too popular Argument from Negative Associations fallacy, especially when deployed as the ad hominem fallacy. In that regard, Dr. Lents, I was viscerally struck by these segments:

But first, there is one sentence thrown in that has absolutely no relevance to anything else in the review or anything in the book. At the end of the second paragraph, Dr. Jacques Derek Charlwood tacks on this sentence, “ The book is written for a US audience and in a politically correct manner uses ‘she’ and ‘her’ whenever referring to human behaviour.

That sure sounds like a dog-whistle argument to me,a very conniving form of the Argument from Negative Associations fallacy. Charlwood knows that there are many conservative types who respond to gender-inclusive language with mental images of “screaming feminists” and “campus liberals.” I think Charlwood understands that this propaganda tactic sends a signal to some types of people who are receptive to this implied unspoken message: “You are hereby informed that Dr. Lents is not on our side. He is the opposition and can’t be trusted on his science or anything else. He’s probably a godless scientist. You know the type!”

Of course, the same could be said of The European Legacy review, of which you commented:

The very first sentence of the review is, “ Nathan Lents comes out of the closet flying in Not So Different , acknowledging his “always- encouraging husband Oscar” (ix) in his Acknowledgments, and…

The closet reference is clearly a dog whistle. Of course, Dr. Lents recognizes this but I’m including these excerpts for the benefit of readers who quickly skim these threads and don’t always read the linked articles. I also include them to highlight the depth of the problem, as I exhort my Christian brethren to show courtesy and respect to our fellow human beings and to recognize that such dog whistles and jabs are logic fallacies when reviewing books and articles about science written by scientists. Science is about evidence. Political and theological differences are not relevant to the quality of the science. Also, I exhort Christian authors to quit inserting “team loyalty” cheerleading and propaganda jabs into every book review, especially when the book being reviewed is devoted to science and not politics.

I subscribe to Christianity Today and had read the Liuan Huska article before reading Dr. Lents post—and I didn’t really notice all that much undercurrent on her part. Yes, she probably didn’t feel comfortable with the use of the word “accident”, but from a theological-philosophical perspective I see that as largely an dispute over word choice. Lots of theologians are comfortable with viewing “accidents” within the overall sovereignty and plan of God, whether they use that word or some other. I’m a Molinist, so I’m a Christ-follower entirely comfortable with talk of mutations as accidents, yet within God’s plan for the universe he created. (Of course, there are plenty of fundamentalist and even some evangelical Christians who would consider me a dangerous heretic as a result!) Truly, from a human and scientific perspective, “accident” is not an unreasonable word choice.

For those unfamiliar with Molinism, it asserts that God considered all of the possible “reality paths” for the universe and chose the one we all observe. As a result, what may be characterized as an accident by humans is not only not a surprise to God but something he considered and decided to include in his sovereign plan for his creation. This is easier to grasp when one views God as entirely outside of time (which is an attribute of the matter-energy world) and God is not bound by the arrow of time. All that humans experience sequentially is one big is for an omniscient God who is omnipresent in all times as well as all places.

Anyway, I didn’t read the Christianity Today article as critical per se. I think it was more of an “OK, but there is more to this story in terms of associated theological perspectives.” Indeed, from my perspective science is science but there is often theological and philosophical ramifications that surround a science topic. And that is not necessarily a negative.

(Herculean Skeptic) #12

Thank you, very much, for sharing these reviews and comments @NLENTS!! It is tough to read disappointing off-topic commentary, but the mere fact that neither “review” contained any substantial objections must make you feel good about your work.

Thanks, especially, for sharing this. This is what I both love and hate about participating here at PS. That such a diverse group as this can articulately discuss such potentially explosive topics with grace is so encouraging. That we can slip into personal attacks indicates, as with the reviews you’ve highlighted, that there’s either nothing to be said in response, or that the individual lacks the imagination, intelligence, and articulation to say anything substantial. But in the end, people from across the spectrum of ideas can disagree in a respectful manner. In doing so, they actually maintain an open dialog and build bridges.

Again, thanks.

(Jordan Mantha) #13

@NLENTS, your post has been on my mind all day. I read @Patrick’s post first thing this morning and I still can’t shake it. If I didn’t know you, if we hadn’t had such a good conversation in St. Louis at @swamidass’ workshop, it might have just rolled by. But I have seen the way you talk about your family, I have seen your humility and eagerness to understand those who disagree with you. I know you care about people in a way that, frankly, I wish more Christians would. In fact, part of why this is so hard for me is that I’ve seen Christ in you more than I have in lots of so-called Christian leaders. I hope you take that as a compliment and not as offensive.

So, when people, who may have religious or political positions closer to my own than to Nathan’s, make such unprofessional, unacademic, and frankly just petty, personal attacks in a book review of all places, I makes me a little sick inside.

P.S. I thought about sending this to @NLENTS privately because I really don’t know how people in my sphere, including my employer, might react. But I decided that if Nathan can have the courage to be “out”, as a gay, progressive, atheist as he engages in dialog with Christians, then the least I can do, as a straight, relatively conservative, Christian, is publicly say “I’m sorry that happened to you, you deserve better.”

Making Space For Differences
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #14

Honestly they missed out, both on an opportunity of friendship with you and on an interesting public conversation.

I’m not going to complain too much though, because their joint attack on us is how we met! DI brings people together. :slight_smile:

(Retired Professor & Minister.) #15

About a century ago, the founder of what is now called Biola University started a project culminating in The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. This excellent collection of essays spawned a movement, Fundamentalism, which in some ways eventually left behind some of the best ideals of the original authors. Some fundamentalists embraced believing the right things but not doing the right things.

I think that explains where some Christians in America today err: They focus on believing the right things but not doing what Jesus emphasized most: love and righteousness.

I usually describe myself as a Christ-follower because the word Christian in actual practice doesn’t necessarily entail following Christ’s example.

(Nathan H. Lents) #16

I am once again blown away by these responses. Thank you, @Djordje. I agree with you 100%.

@AllenWitmerMiller, yes I agree. I heard those dog whistles loud and clear. And I also agree that there was nothing substantial in the reviews, nothing really I could respond to in a scientific way even if I wanted to. And, because times have changed so much, we don’t hear people talk about “closets” that much anymore, but in the last century, we did. And they are excruciatingly awful places. I’m glad that the position of the CT article may be even more congruent with my own than I had thought. I don’t mind differences of opinion and interpretation, but I do celebrate common ground.

@Michael_Callen - I am right there with you. There have been very frustrating PS threads that make me just want to walk away. But all of the people on this thread keep me coming back. :slight_smile: (And some others, of course)

@Jordan - Thank you so much for your heartfelt message of support and solidarity. I am happy to have met you, brother.

@swamidass - you’re right. It was the DI that brought us together. God works in mysterious ways!

Allen, that is a very brave thing to say. I don’t want to get too far off topic with this thread, but with all the olive branches being extended my way, I should hasten to say that the problem of creedal hypocrisy - of believing in a certain set of principles but having those principles poorly align with behavior - is in no way unique to Christians. I see academics vigorously defend academic freedom and speech (except when they disagree with the speech). I see atheists insisting on the authority of evidence (but reducing themselves to mean-spirited ad hominems when in conversation). All of us can and must do better.

To all of you, this has been an inspirational and uplifting experience, and one that will lead to much reflection on my part. I hope you all enjoy your Sunday and have a lovely week ahead.

(John Mercer) #17

This. And the far more troubling thing is that the things they believe in most fervently are the teachings of their church, not the teachings of Jesus.

(Herculean Skeptic) #18

100% agreed. This is a travesty. There is also a universal problem among all affinity groups. Liberals v. conservatives. Dems and Republicans. Those with and without faith. However, for Christians, and I’m one of them, it is the most problematic because it is a tenet of our faith to not act that way. Jesus commanded us to love one another.

(Curtis Henderson) #19

Ah, the joys of discovering our bodies really are aging! :stuck_out_tongue:

(Curtis Henderson) #20

This is absolutely true. Unfortunately, I have heard too many conservative Christians say things like “Sometimes love means speaking harsh truth to others”, or something similar as a way to excuse hateful words and behavior. Jesus was VERY clear in teaching the two greatest laws are 1) Love God with everything we have and 2) Love others as we want to be loved.

@NLENTS I’m sorry you’ve seen poor and un-Christlike behavior from Christians up close and personal, but I’m also glad you’ve been able to meet genuine Christ-followers (not copyright protected, is it @AllenWitmerMiller?) like Josh and Jordan. I will count it as a genuine pleasure, should we have opportunity to meet at some point.