BioLogos, MTE, and the GAE

I agree completely with this. I think that’s the main problem. There’s not much academic exploration and speculation, only public education.

I also think their audience (mostly evangelicals, or former evangelicals) tend to come from that background where their systematic theology is relatively simple, vague, and/or and malleable. Contrast that with Catholics, who have a more well-defined set of integrated circle of beliefs that they must stay inside of.


I agree with all of this, Daniel.

You’re right that it’s not just the scientists at BioLogos; it’s a problem everywhere. There is a fragmentation of study now. It’s hard to find a general language that all educated people are fluent in, as opposed to a multitude of specialized disciplinary languages which often look like Greek to outsiders. However, since the scientists at BioLogos undertook to bridge the divide between theology and science, I would have expected them to show a little more openness to philosophical questions about evolution than they did. Philosophy is the natural go-between for theologians and scientists.

Some of the problem had to do with differing definitions of “faith and science” or “religion and science” or “theology and science” that followed from differing conceptions of faith, religion or theology themselves. When I started reading BioLogos, it was dominated by Nazarenes. The two top executive figures were Nazarenes and many of the guest columnists they brought in were Nazarenes or Wesleyans or Methodists etc. There were also a lot of guest columnists from little community churches that did not put much emphasis on systematic theology. It was clear that for that these people “faith” had much more to do with personal emotions, personalistic Jesus-talk, etc., than would be the case for, say a Catholic Thomist, a Hooker-style Anglican, and classical Calvinistic Reformed theologian, an old Scottish Presbyterian theologian armed with his Knox and his philosophers, etc. For me it was just plain obvious that any “faith and science” discussion had to include a heavy dose of metaphysics and epistemology. But that isn’t the case for a certain kind of evangelical scientist. So often the conversation got nowhere because the two sides were playing completely different “language games” so to speak.

Anyhow, I salute you for studying Aquinas and I agree that the study of pre-modern thought is vital for the kind of questions you and I are both interested in.

As difficult as is the lack of academic rigor, it is not the main problem. After all, we need good public-engagement organizations in the end.

It is important to keep in mind that what they claimed was mainstream consensus “science” wasn’t actually mainstream science. When this was pointed out, they did not correct it, but kept repeating fairly clear scientific errors. This is a serious integrity issue that is not acceptable for science organizations oriented around educating the public.

This in my view is a far more serious a problem, and it is not yet resolved.

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It may have changed over time. When the Forum opened around 2009 or so, BioLogos was headed by three scientists – Collins, Falk, and Giberson. Collins had to keep his distance, but Falk and Giberson, both scientists, were in charge. Falk brought in nearly half a dozen Nazarene and Wesleyan guest columnists, most of whom were scientists. Venema and Applegate were scientists (albeit not very prolific ones, in terms of publications). Frequent guest columnists included Denis Alexander, a British biochemist, and Ard Louis, an Oxford physical chemist. Ayala was brought in to undermine Meyer. Miller had a column or two. A Scandinavian biologist – can’t remember his name – was brought in as a hired gun for a multi-column attack on Behe. There was some theological coverage, almost exclusively Biblical stuff – systematics was ignored. Pete Enns was the usual Biblical guy then. Ted Davis had not yet started his historical columns, so history was covered very poorly – in fact, not at all. Jim Stump was not there yet; there was no resident philosopher. It was definitely dominated by scientists, even if they were scientists who frequently offered off-the-cuff opinions about theology and Bible passages.

There was some shift to include more than science under Haarsma, but even then, except for Ted Davis, the Big Three at BioLogos were Haarsma, Applegate, and Venema – all scientists. Even Jeff Schloss, who dabbled a bit in philosophy and theology, was basically a biologist, and he was Senior Scholar (though he spent no time on the Forum or responding to BioLogos readers; what he did do, I have no idea – probably run around the country giving talks). But the hiring of Stump and Kramer did shift the discourse to philosophy and theology more. Still, the positions taken by Stump and Kramer on God and evolution were in the end not much different from the positions that had been taken before by Venema, Falk, and Giberson. Even Walton’s more orthodox interpretation of the Bible (in comparison with Enns’s) didn’t change much: Walton essentially agreed with Enns that Genesis had nothing to do with actual physical origins and that physical origins as a subject belonged entirely to science. So I saw no essential shift.

I agree with you, however, that the science presented on BioLogos was popular science, not research science. Very few of the BioLogos science-trained people had active science research programs. Applegate abandoned science research almost immediately after her Ph.D., in favor of family life, and Dennis concentrated on teaching and writing undergrad science education materials (very good ones, I’m told), producing almost no peer-reviewed articles in technical journals. Falk published a few articles early in his career, but once he left his first job for the Christian college world, that was the end of his research. By the time he took over BioLogos he had not been a genuine researcher for years. Giberson went straight from a Ph.D. in Physics to teaching at a Nazarene college (not much lab equipment at a college smaller than many high schools), and that was the end of his career in actual science as well. Deb Haarsma did do science while at Calvin, but once she took over BioLogos as a full-time job, I don’t believe she did more than token work in her scientific field again. So basically the core of BioLogos has always been absentee scientists (Collins), retired scientists (Haarsma), science graduates who never actually became working scientists (Applegate), or scientists who overwhelmingly taught undergrads in Christian colleges rather than published research (Venema, Falk, Giberson). And one wonders whether a group of absentee scientists, retired scientists, never-started scientists, and no-longer-active scientists, is the right group to teach the world what “real science” or “consensus science” has to say about faith and science – or about anything to do with science at all.

Agreed. That was why I was so consistently disappointed with them. The focus was on how to combat hostility to evolution in churches and church colleges. Whatever theology was offered was thus makeshift theology, a set of ad hoc patches. Whatever Biblical or theological arguments worked, to alleviate the hostility, and allow people who believed in evolution to keep teaching Sunday school or keep their jobs as pastors or Christian college biologists, those arguments were permissible – even if from a historical, philological, or theological point of view those arguments were abominably incompetent. If logically flawed arguments from Ayala (the existence of evil falsified ID and verified Darwinian theory) did the trick, that was great. If textually and historically false statements about the beliefs of Wesley (i.e., that he taught the “freedom of nature” to evolve, when in fact he was virtually a Genesis literalist) made evolution acceptable to conservative Nazarenes, that was great, too. If fabrications about what the Church Fathers taught (e.g., the deliberate suggestion, easily falsifiable with only a few hours of library research, that most of the Church Fathers didn’t think of Genesis as historically true) would do the trick, they were OK, too. If really bad proof-texting worked (e.g., “Let the earth bring forth living creatures – hey, the Bible teaches evolution!”), then really bad proof-texting was OK, too. The goal was always pragmatic, never principled. Not one of the scientists at BioLogos had the slightest clue how serious academic theology proceeded. Nor did they care.


@eddie, this is why I think the GAE should be more important for you.

It ends up as a test case which demonstrates your academic standards in theology were not at all impossible to reach, and met in fact by a biologist with no theological training. That is important, because it validates your concerns.

I wonder if you’d get more headway by emphasizing positive ways forward over expressing frustration (however justified it might be).

But I suspect that this attitude may be related to the fact that they hope to push on a certain narrative, and admitting errors may be embarrassing. Furthermore, many people who are from the Biologos “camp” seem to presume a positivist epistemology where absence of scientific evidence is evidence of absence. Thus the hostility towards GAE-type models.

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I don’t understand the “but” there. What I said is likely true alongside what you wrote. :slight_smile:

It’s important to me in the sense that it shows that some Christian scientists who accept evolution are willing to say that a Biblical creation story might be really about the physical and historical world, and not just about the realm of “purpose, value, and meaning.” That’s a refreshing change. In reaction to ID, American TE/EC retreated into the compartmentalization of truth, and as a result it alienated the very people it was hoping to win over – conservative evangelicals. Your suggestion has at least the hope of winning over some moderate conservative evangelicals. If I were a conservative evangelical, I would consider it as a possibility.

But I’m not a conservative evangelical. I regard the form of the Adam and Eve story as mythical (meaning myth in the technical sense, without any pejorative connotations), and have no interest in trying to prove that the details of the story correspond in a precise way to a set of events that actually happened in the past. I’m not trying to rescue Adam and Eve. So I’ve no need to try to find a way of working a specially created Adam and Eve into an overall evolutionary account of the origin of living things on the earth.

To me, a historical Adam and Eve (as distinct from an ontological claim about our “fallenness”) is not a theological hill to die on. A theological hill to die on is the claim that the world really is designed. If the world is not really designed, then there is no point maintaining Christianity or any form of theism at all. That the world is designed can’t be just a personal emotional preference that resides only in the realm of “values and meaning”; it must be conceived of as an objective truth. (Whether the design is demonstrated by “science” or by some other means is a separate question.)

The only positive ways I see forward would be stoutly resisted by a large number of your frequent posters here. There is no collective way forward for the PS community as a whole. If one constantly has to keep fending off complaints by people who reject the existence of God or the truth of Christianity, one can never make any progress in theology/science harmonization. I personally would like to see PS split into two different “rooms”; in Room 1 atheists and believers would argue endlessly about whether God exists, whether the Bible is revealed, whether the Christianity is true, whether Christian morality is good morality, whether the world would be better off without religion, whether fundamentalism is bad for US politics, etc. In Room 2 all such arguments would be strictly forbidden. Room 2 would be for those who believe that Christianity is true, and who are interested in discussing with other Christians evolution and various other religion/science questions, trying out various proposals, getting criticism from each other, etc. I believe great progress could be made in Room 2 under such a division. The discussions on science and theology would not have to constantly loop back to proving first principles, and foundering when it becomes clear that there are irreconcilable differences regarding those principles.

9 posts were split to a new topic: Two Rooms in the Forum?

They are interested in State 2 questions, and have been very supportive of me and Peaceful Science. Murray, in particular, is an accomplished scholar in this area. See this review of one of his books:

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Perhaps it is just a bout of wishful thinking … too much of my imagination maybe … but it does seem that there is more “room” for you to write your views here at PeacefulScience.Org … compared to the greater “confinement” you experienced at BioLogos.

Am I reading too much into your current writings? Or do you sense a little more commodious accommodation as well?

Oh, yes. Joshua is much more tolerant of people who disagree with him, and much more respectful, than were Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson, Jim Stump, Brad Kramer, etc. He’s much less defensive. But the culture of many of the posters here is not much different from the culture at the old BioLogos; it’s still the same old game, with the atheists and TE/EC folks ganging up on, and bashing, anyone they perceive as ID or creationist, and with frequent digressions and attacks on Christianity, or theism, or religion, or conservative Protestants, or conservative politicians, or those with conservative moral positions, etc. I don’t blame Joshua for the existence of this internet culture, since it long predated his entry into the field. But as you have pointed out, aspects of it can be very wearying and distracting.

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