The Tripwire in April 2017

(Retired Professor & Minister.) #1

I have long followed the Biologos forum and so I observed (as a non-participant) what Dr. Swamidas experienced there. I found it all quite bizarre and unexplainable (by me, at least.) I got the impression that Dr. Swamidas had triggered some sort of trip-wire. The reactions from the leadership seemed out of proportion to what I had observed. So I simply assumed that I must not have understood what was going on (or that there were other issues at work behind the scenes.)

I like and appreciate Biologos. So I mentally filed away that episode under “Life’s Many Mysteries” and left it at that.

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Discomfort With Messiness of Science at BioLogos
(George) #2

@AllenWitmerMiller

As a lurker, you certainly knew that I was pretty active… and I didn’t know something had “unhinged”
in connection with @swamidass until months later.

I raised a question about something that seemed odd to me … and all of a sudden, I was in the eye
of the storm.

In PMs with Swamidass I got a brief orientation for what had happened… and I was surprised too,
like you were Allen. What I thought had been a barely comprehensible “dry as dust” dispute was in
fact a dispute over the very scenarios that I had found were perfect for my own sense of where to
go next with Evolutionary narrative for Christian audiences!

I expect that I will be spending ever more time on these boards here - - at Peaceful Science - -
but with a close affinity for BioLogos as well.

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(Retired Professor & Minister.) #3

I recall a brief but strong “outbreak” on one of the Biologos threads, and it seemed to end with Dr. Swamidas expressing surprise at their strong reactions (can I risk saying “excessive” reactions?) about his position. I had no private contact with Dr. Swamidass at that time but it was clear to me that something somewhat major had occurred. (Of course, “major” is a very subjective word. I’m just saying that the “management” at Biologos usually strikes me as firm but cordial—but in that instance something more serious appeared to be at work.)

At my age I don’t always have a great memory but the episode made a big impression on me at the time. I found it impossible to overlook.

(Postscript: Do I vaguely recall some posts being deleted after the episode? Perhaps what I remember is explained by individual posters removing their comments to keep things as positive as possible. That is something I don’t recall for certain.)

This is a potentially delicate topic so I’m trying to be careful with my choice of words—and I probably have little more to contribute to this specific sub-topic. As to whether Biologos dislikes the messiness of Science, my impression is that they are concerned about the messiness of the dialogue dynamics surrounding science-and-the-Bible topics. Beyond that, I simply don’t have enough information to know.

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(George) #4

@AllenWitmerMiller

That’s a pretty good characterization! I don’t know who named this thread, but I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything at BioLogos that suggests any discomfort with Science’s “messiness”. What does that even mean?

People are messy … and I suppose science can be “fuzzy” … but the whole point of practicing science is to take the “messiness” of nature, and develop clean lines of certainty where possible, and clean lines of investigation when certainty isn’t possible.

Nature … people… very messy.

(Guy Coe) #5

Do you suppose that Lucy, Schroeder, the ever-present teacher, the principal, and the other Biologos’ authority figures have come to consider Joshua as the latest intrusion of Pig-Pen into the supposedly clean room of their scientific outlook --only to discover that he could be, instead, their next Charlie Brown? Which of us, or are all of us, the red-haired girl, and who is Linus?
Thanks for tolerating my completely non-scientific questions! I like Pig-Pen, by the way… : )

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(Retired Professor & Minister.) #6

Just don’t move the football at the last moment before the kick.

One other memory of the Dr. Swamidas “episode” at Biologos: I got the impression that some considered Dr. S’ position somehow dangerous. (Is that an exaggeration on my part??) At the time I concluded that something had probably “flown way over my head” and that I had somehow missed it.

Perhaps that is more clear than my previous explanation of my impressions.

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(Guy Coe) #7

Pretty sure that was Lucy, moving the ball, before our own Charlie Brown got the chance to kick it. At least she can say she thought it might be Pig-Pen trying to kick it… : ) Anything that would allow the non-BioLogos crowd to “stay in the game” was what she might have considered dangerous.

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #8

So, @AllenWitmerMiller, you are exactly right. I hit an unexpected trip wire. That is what happened, last year, over Easter Week. I remember it like it was yesterday. I’m going to tell this story, because I think it is important. This is the reason why I was asked to leave BioLogos that summer.

To give some context, this forum topic ended up being pulled from the forum, and I was banned from the forum. This all happened literally the day before I gave this talk on Adam and the Genome, and about a week after I sent my first draft of my Sapientia for review by the BioLogos staff (as a professional courtesy, I thought), where I first presented the Genealogical Adam.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #9

If you are going to read this, please read it in entirety. Remember that I forgive everyone involved in this already. Only one person is named, for good reason, below. All the rest should be kept anonymous. I am sharing this story because I believe it is important to know, even though it includes deeply personal and difficult things.

The Forum Exchange Summarized

So what happened, well, as I remember it…

Someone claimed,

Evolution ruled out a traditional view of Adam and Eve.

I responded,

This is false. That nothing in evolutionary science unsettled the view that Adam and Eve, ancestors of us all, were de novo created 6,000 years ago in a Divine Garden. The only way science presses on that story is by suggesting, alongside Scripture, that there were people outside the garden, with whom their offspring eventually interbred.

And proceeded to explain all the science that is now published on this topic by me. One of the moderators, reacted strongly (and consistently with the official BioLogos position on Adam), saying:

We have to be honest with people that traditional theology is not compatible with evolutionary science, or we risk being called “wolves in sheeps clothing.”

He directed people to the official BIoLogos page (The De Novo Creation of Adam and BioLogos). I responded,

Well, I hold a traditional view of Adam, and I am on the BioLogos Voices program. What are you going to do with me?

Another person objected very strongly,

What you are saying cannot be true, because we have never heard it before. Everyone knows what you are saying is false.

I responded, calmly at the time,

I’m sorry, but respectfully, they are all wrong. Look at the articles and science I’m citing here.

Then entered Dennis Venema. He said, dropping the gauntlet,

This inevitably leads to calling other people sub-human.

To be clear, I had talked to him for over an hour, making sure I had represented him correctly in the Sapientia piece. He had not raised this objection once with me privately. I was angry, and said:

That is just false. You lack imagination. This is not racist.

It went on from there. I was deeply (am still deeply) offended by being accused of racism by a bunch of white people. I could not believe the race card was being played on me by (I thought) a friend.


Then the thread was made private.


Now, in private, I unloaded on Venema and the staff member who said I had no place in BioLogos. I told that I did not appreciated being accused of racism.


Then I was booted from the forum.


Aftermath

I received a very angry email demanding I apologize to everyone. Apparently, the narrative became “Josh became toxic” and “was misrepresenting science” and is “falsely saying he was accused of racism.” Several people stated that they were angry that I had publicly criticized Venema on the forum. I was told it was inappropriate to publish the Salientia piece criticizing him.

Of note, right after this happened, I gave the talk reviewing Adam and the Genome. I encourage you to watch it. It is the FIRST talk on a genealogical Adam, and I’d be surprised if anyone can detect anything but professional kindness to Venema.

Any ways, I decided to take the high road. I apologized to everyone involved. No one apologized to me, until at least two months later (and it was all emphasizing that this was all my fault).
.

Then three months later, Deborah Haarsma kicked me off the BioLogos Voices program, putting this episode at the center of her reasons. She made it a referendum on my character, but I understand it as honest recognition that a Genealogical Adam was wildly outside the BioLogos tent. It was striking how even in that moment, she emphasized that this was 100% about character flaws in me, and absolutely nothing to do with my views on Adam. I’ve found that this is a common tactic. Instead of dealing with with unsettling findings, attempting shift attention to referendums on character can be a very effective strategy.

And that is how I was kicked of the BioLogos Voices program.

Leaving BioLogos

In November, the Tim Keller fiasco took place (http://peacefulscience.org/defense-tim-keller/), and I left.

They let me back on the forums, but then a few months ago kicked me off again, it seems because I accidentally demonstrated Venema was wrong again. I say accidentally, because I was surprised that Buggs and @Agauger (ultimately, if not alwasy in their precise arguments) were right. The evidence changed my mind.

Thoughts on Racism

I have to say, this was one of the most damaging experiences I’ve ever had. It was not easy. It is very hard to explain the helplessness and anger that comes from (1) being the single dark-skinned person in the room, (2) being silenced by “concerns of racism” by a crowd of white people, (3) being asked to apologize for offending the white people by expressing anger about being called racist.

The only person I am naming here is Dennis Venema. The rest of the people should remain nameless, and I do not think they did this on purpose. I think they were genuinely surprised, and maybe even scared, of my position. I do not think they woke that morning planning to beat on the dark man, but that four months was among the most bruising experiences of racism I’ve every experienced.

Now, to moderate that again, I do not think they saw it at the time, or perhaps even now. I do forgive them. It is just a reflection of the brokenness of our society. White people are often more concerned about posturing about racism, than protecting the voice of minorities. The biggest injustice they seem concerned about is being falsely accused of being racist.

It was an eye opening experience. In a very visceral sense, I came to feel we need to seek peace in science, yes, but also on race. Our society is deeply broken on race. That is one reason I ended up writing this:


So, that was was very personal and sensitive things to share publicly. I have personally forgiven everyone involved. Things have developed since then, and I think it is important to have this part of the story in the public record.

I hope for reconciliation with BioLogos, but it will require working through this too. The fact they have banned me again recently from the forums does not give me hope for anything in the near term. It appears I am more of a problem to manage, than a voice to value. That is okay. It is probably for the best that we have parted ways.

Peace.

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #10

I should point out my surprise during this that some of the most sensitive and kind people to me during this time were ID advocates (e.g. @Agauger, @bjmiller, etc.). They were concerned for me, my family, and my tenure process. They understood I was at professional risk, and really wanted to make sure I was safe.

Honestly, I was deeply touched.

I also emphasize that several BioLogos scholars reached to me and were kind. @TedDavis, Jeff Schloss, Jeff Hardin, Darrell Falk, and @sygarte, among others.

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #11

This, also, ended up being an archive worthy thread:

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(George) #12

@Guy_Coe

You may be approaching the nub of the issue!

For many years, BioLogos was focusing on purely the science side of things… hence the shock when I suggested that even though Science can’t prove it – God very well could have specified exact mutations by hitting a chromosome with a gamma ray.

That spooked some because I was putting God “into the scenario” - - even though I knew I could never use Science to prove that. To me, it was a theologically obvious point to make.

Then @swamidass introduces “special creation” of Adam and Eve as compatible with a purely scientific scenario - - even though (as with me) Joshua knew “he could never use Science to prove that”.

But that is the sheer beautify of Joshua’s work! It makes sense, even if Science can never prove it! To the YEC’s waiting for Science to prove even a small piece of Special Creation is completely beside the point!

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(George) #13

@swamidass

Joshua,

I can’t think of a good reason why BioLogos can’t embrace these scenarios as part of the “Big Tent” approach to Evolution.

If someone were to publish an article next week that 100 YECs and 100 Pro-Evolution Christians signed an accord where they can accept the idea of a Special Creation of Adam & Eve in the midst of 10,000 humans evolved from non-human primates - - I would think a miracle had occurred!

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #14

It is possible they will change their official position in the coming months.

How are they going to rebuild trust with me?

#15

You don’t need Biologos. You are a great person, a skilled scientist, a MD, a caring person, an accomplished educator. Your reward for living a good life? A good life. Live long and prosper. Continue doing what you are doing in the way that you are living your life. You made your father proud, now make your children and grandchildren proud of having you as their GA.

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(George) #16

@swamidass

Once they figure out how to go public in endorsing your scenario as “one of multiple excellent choices”… re-building trust with you should become relatively straightforward.

But until they know how to embrace your scenario in the privacy of their own closet… there isn’t anything they can say or do that would make much of a difference to you.

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(Guy Coe) #17

@AJRoberts , please read the few short posts above, if you get the chance, before Friday’s call with Josh; it’s very important and personal and contextual information. Might help explain a thing or two; by his own admission, he changed his mind about the evidence’s meaning due to @Agauger 's arguments and observations. It’s galling to be pigeon-holed by stereotypes; but Joshua seeks to follow the evidence, wherever it may lead. That’s extremely admirable, and he’s been more than willing to pay the price for being different.

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(Retired Professor & Minister.) #18

Thank you for summarizing the events. It is reassuring to know that my memories were not inaccurate.

I considered sharing more of my reactions, then and now, but I think that many of my observations would be more appropriate to private conversation, especially considering that I don’t want unintentionally to create any stumbling blocks or risk being unfair towards Biologos. I’ll just say that what I observed (in part) that Easter season on that forum was some sort of breakdown in communication on the part of a few that seemed to overlook the merits of clarification and even constructive criticism—and that there was perhaps too much P.R. concern on the part of management. (Personally, I think Biologos would have more impact if it was a broader tent and sought larger engagement.)

Yes, the various “origins ministries” do each tend to take the position of “We must look out for our position because nobody else is going to protect it.” But I felt that Biologos had and still has the opportunity to rise above being just another faction or school of thought. They could be a true open forum and still accomplish their mission, even though I realize that that would require a lot of wisdom and effort to do well. Yet, consider the alternatives. The forums at Answers in Genesis, for example, are very strictly policed and dutifully censored when anybody deviates from Ken Ham’s party line. As a result, it is mostly just an echo chamber where only the most obnoxious anti-theists and anti-religionists are allowed a degree of free speech. That serves AIG’s polarizing purposes and reinforces their “atheists and evolutionists are evil” theme. Meanwhile, thoughtfully sincere Christians of various non-YEC persuasions, or even someone with an intelligent but embarrassing question, gets deleted from AIG’s webpages within twenty minutes. It is all engineered to encourage their false dichotomies. Very little is ever learned there about why other Christ-followers happen to hold different positions from that of AIG.

Thank you also for the informative links to lectures and videos. Do you happen to know if any of those
lectures are available in audio-only format? I ask because for those of us who are on high-cost satellite links or low-bandwidth Internet in remote areas, videos can be expensive and/or use up our monthly allocation quickly. (Obviously, some videos display important data charts and PowerPoint presentations, but there’s a high data transmission cost to be paid for 45 minutes of a “talking head” at a podium when the audio would be sufficient.)

As I watched the aforementioned events play out last year, I thought about how I’ve had audiences and students who seemed to struggle with fully appreciating the differences between the following:

(1) “I know of nothing in science which rules out position X.”

(2) “I know of nothing in the Bible which rules out position X.”

(3) “I personally hold to position X because it is the superior position and most in harmony with what I know of the scientific evidence and the scripture evidence.”

Some audiences have been prone to automatically leap from #1 and/or #2 and assume that Professor AWM is declaring position X as the only correct position. That drives me nuts! I have to be overly repetitive to get them to see that my lecture point is about the reasonableness of position X and that presenting it in a positive way doesn’t mean that I’m recruiting them to join position X.

On the other hand, some students do indeed understand the differences but express frustration that I often refuse to tell them (a) my personal position, and/or (b) what position they should hold. I explain to them that I’m presenting the evidence and the pros and cons of the various positions so that they can weigh the merits for themselves. Accordingly, I am far more likely to spend a lot more time and energy explaining #1 and #2 than #3.

I guess it is human nature to want someone else to do the hard work and then reduce it all to just “Believe position X.”

Of course, if an issue is controversial and someone is emotionally invested in the topic and an impassioned personal position, they can be prone to thinking that they are hearing advocacy (and even aggressive recruitment) for position X even when that is not at all the case. Projection can happen. Projection does happen.

I was absolutely delighted last year when I started reading about your genealogical Adam ideas. For the past decade or so I had been kicking around related ideas but mostly from a theological-exegetical position (with my modest levels of scientific grasp thrown in)----and your genealogical Adam discussions leap-frogged me by miles. I had concluded long ago that even though the Bible treats HAADAM as the first Imago Dei creature, other “humanoid” tribes leap out of the Genesis text in several passages. But the main idea I lacked for a good synthesis was supplied by your discussion of how the MRCA of all humans who are alive today was far more recent than I had ever considered. I’d never dreamed of that! (I hadn’t grasped enough of the mathematics of it to appreciate such a possibility before you laid it out on the table.)

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #19

The slides: https://www.asa3.org/slides/ASA2017Swamidass2.pdf, and the audio:

@AllenWitmerMiller, this talk is also significant. It is the first scientific talk I gave on the Genealogical Adam, at the ASA conference June 2017, just a week before I was kicked off BioLogos voices.

So the story of this talk is interesting. I decided to wave the red cape at the bull at this talk, to suss out if there were any legitimate objections before I put my neck on the line. So I intentionally wrote the title and abstract to evoke Young Earth Creationism: The title of the talk:

The Recent Common Ancestry of All Humanity about 6,000 Years Ago

ASA Annual Meeting 2017,

Theological objections to evolution commonly center on Adam and Eve. The scientific account and the traditional biblical account seem to be irreconcilable. However, we might share a common ancestor as recently as 3,000 years ago. Consequently, all humans in recorded history might share common ancestry with a historical Adam and Eve as recently as 6,000 years ago.

This surprising result makes sense only once several key terms are precisely defined: mitochondria Eve, Y-chromosome Adam, common ancestry, and sole progenitorship.

Our aim here is to explain this seminal study, and explore its implications for the dialogue of faith and science. From this clear starting point, we see the genetic data is entirely consistent with a very a recent historical Adam and Eve who are ancestors of us all, but not our sole[-genetic] progenitors.

In light of this result, we urge caution in overstating the scientific evidence against a historical Adam and Eve. Nothing in science rules out that they were real people in our recent history who stood at the headwaters of the human race.

So, what happened at the talk? Well, I was the last talk in the session. And people started filling in from other sessions. It was standing room only, in a room filled primarily with Theistic Evolutionists and a few Old Earth Creationists. The entire room, honestly, the entire room was the bull charging at the cape.

I gave the talk with just 6 slides, 10 minutes of lecture, and 20 minutes of questions. It was a minimalist talk. Not one sustainable or legitimate scientific objection arose. It was remarkable, however, how many theological objections arose to a purely scientific point. Listen to the talk, and you’ll see. I’m really glad it was recorded. Anyone up for transcribing it? =)

At the end of the talk, about half the room was convinced I was right. The other half was totally confused. This, by the way, is when @sygarte was first convinced. When people get it, its like this amazing euphoria of seeing something beautiful in plain site. A totally counter intuitive but real feature of the world. @sygarte is a population geneticist, but had missed it.

It was really at the end of this talk that I knew:

  1. I really was right on the science.
  2. That this might be closest to a paradigm shift I’d ever been.
  3. I was, in the end, going to win.

It is really at that point that my “killer” instinct kicked in, and started writing the PSCF article. And you heard that right. A week later, they kicked me off the BioLogos Voices program. And a week after that Dennis Venema called a Genealogical Adam racist in print (see: http://potiphar.jongarvey.co.uk/2017/10/06/the-racist-adam/).

It was a surreal time.

You are very kind @Patrick. That week was one of the last weeks I had a phone call with my father. He gave me the exact advice you are giving me right now. I was so hurt and injured. Bewildered. The science was amazing, but I could not figure out why I was being so callously attacked. At the time, I had so much respect for BioLogos, and could not imagine being the public square in conflict with them. It was terrifying.

My Dad, however, told me exactly as did you. Do not hold any thing against them. But you do not need them. They need you. Just be faithful in your work, and do not be vindictive. Serve the common good. Do not be afraid. I remember that phone call distinctly. It brought me to tears. My wife was so angry about this too, and kept telling me the same thing.

Honestly @Patrick, you really remind me of my father. Not just this comment, but others too. Thank you.

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #20

This website can make the conversion for you, https://y2mate.com/youtube/dS16yem65v4

For this video, for example,

You should be able to access it here: