Differences within EC... Classic Providential Naturalism?

(Casper Hesp) #1

Fairly recently, it has come to my attention that a number of frequent contributors on the BioLogos Forum have united themselves as the Hump of the Camel. They hold to a manifesto published in 2014, which they summarize with the term Classic Providential Naturalism. Their “who we are” page lists @Jon_Garvey, @Sy_Garte, @Mervin_Bitikofer, @Eddie and another person I do not know. In the manifesto, they expressed a clear desire to distance themselves from the approach of BioLogos [in the form that it had in 2014]. They especially criticized BioLogos [back then] for being too deistic.

Now my question is, why the need for separation? Can’t this kind of nuance be articulated within the network of BioLogos and affiliates? Don’t we have enough divisions already? I view BioLogos as an organization that promotes a work in progress, an ongoing conversation, welcoming constructive contributions. So why the necessity to distance yourselves from it altogether? How about having an all out conversation on this topic?

I understand that maybe not all Humpists will be in the occasion to share their motivations / views here, but I’m just interested to hear more about it.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

I do participate at Jon’s site, but I never thought of it as a kind of exclusive or reactionary club with a manifesto – and certainly (speaking for myself) have no desire or need to distance my self in any way or form from Biologos. In fact your impression here catches me by surprise. I went back to read the page you link and can’t find where you get the impression that Jon or any of the others formally express this need. At times criticism has been expressed for views of various writers hosted on the Biologos site, but I hope we haven’t come across as habitually contrarian.

Maybe others there feel differently than I do, but I feel free to come and go, and intend to keep doing so with affirming (and critical) participation at both sites. For the record I hold to some views that Jon or others there would not share in, but that doesn’t limit the benefit of our exchanges (especially for me).

So let me just be clear: I value and cultivate my own participation in both of these online communities that I think to be par excellent in the world of blog writers around these kinds of topics. And to the extent that writers there (and I am one of those, even if the opposite of prolific) may have at some point set themselves against Biologos generally, then I do not join them in that. And knowing Jon, I’m pretty certain that this isn’t the case anyway. Of course he has and continues to express frustration and criticism of views that he sees as deficient, maybe even in some important ways. But when Jon writes – I read, since I have immense respect for his scholarship. I think both of these communities have much in common and a lot of excellence to contribute. I deplore the thought that anybody participating at either place would take this in a deliberately adversarial direction.

Steel sharpens steel. And when any community is reduced to only those who are carefully corralled within narrow party lines, then that community is effectively reduced to an intellectually stagnant “pep-rally” atmosphere such as is already found at too many creationist sites around the net. I appreciate the breadth of what is allowed and tolerated around here, even if I join in my own complaints and push-back about some of it.


It seems natural for Protestants to split. I think it’s baked in.

(Casper Hesp) #4

I must say, Mervin, it also caught me by surprise. The contributions that I have read from those listed above have in most cases come across to me as being sympathetic to the approach of BioLogos. But I got a completely new impression from a number of statements that were made on the Hump of the Camel. Let’s see if I can compile a short summary of quotes.

@Jon_Garvey published the manifesto with the following introduction:

When The Hump was relaunched with multiple authors around last October, after various events at BioLogos, I cobbled together a kind of working brief to the prospective writers whimsically entitled The Hump Strategy (or “Evolutionary Creationism in a cheap camelskin coat”). The reference to a certain infamous wedge should be obvious to those in the know. In the light of Sy Garte’s call to arms in a comment yesterday I fished this document out for inspiration.

In this manifesto, Jon Garvey summarized the position of Evolutionary Creation in the following way, especially to make clear that “Classic Providential Naturalism” is different from that:

Theistic Evolutionism (aka BioLogos [Collins] or Evolutionary Creation [Falk]) is the re-branding, with a completely new recipe, of Warfieldian Theistic Evolution, which for various reasons scarcely survived the twentieth century. All its titles are arguably misleading, since (to cut the long story we all know short) it is more deistic than theistic, has little place for the Logos of God (and often a marginal one for the Bible as logos) and delegates much of creation to “Nature” as an unacknowledged Demiurge.

I encompass within this category not only the core of BioLogos itself, but many working scientists (eg those in ASA or the British equivalent CiS) who have read the popular TE literature, and much of the science-faith and divine action work in academia. Apart from what I regard as the intellectual and theological shortcomings of this view, unlike CPN it has, by its nature, tied its theological cart to an evolutionary horse, both narrowing its legitimate field of view and rendering it guilty of allowing a scientific theory (a narrow Neodarwinianism) to direct its theology.

That description (especially the parts emphasized in bold) is what seems to frame BioLogos in a way as if it is something to leave behind rather sooner than later. So then I went to check out the comment of @Sy_Garte to which he referred in the introduction. Most notably Sy’s comment directed at Jon read:

What should we call ourselves? (Dont say Christian, that is too easy). I think you are probably too modest to allow us to call ourselves Garveyites, but I wouldnt exclude that. Perhaps conservative TE? (as opposed to the Biologos liberal brand)?

I am not being totally flippant here. I would go so far as to say that it might be a good time to propose a “What We Believe” statement, which I dare say would be quite different from Biologos. I invite you to consider posting such a draft and asking for input. I mean, why not?

A part of Jon Garvey’s reply read as follows:

So maybe there’s a case for trying to formulate what it is we’ve been feeling towards here and on BioLogos and seeking positively to represent it in the public arena.

The “What we are” page, as you know as an author here, is a “soft” manifesto that exists already. As a blog, I’ve seen The Hump (a) as having a focus on creation doctrine as a whole rather than solely the origins question, though the latter predominates, and (b) as being broader than a single-issue campaign to create a new origins “position.”

I understand that my quotes have been made selectively, but it’s just to illustrate the parts that have given me the impression described above. Namely that the Hump of the Camel aims to explicitly set itself apart from (and avoid being associated with) the approach of BioLogos and even seems to frame it with specific terms (such as “semi-deistic”).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a proponent of keeping each other sharp by allowing space for variety and criticism. However, this presentation feels almost like people jumping off a train because they think it’s heading for a sure collision. I’m not saying that this characterizes your intentions in any way, but it is just the impression that these formulations have triggered in me.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #5

I wouldn’t make too much of this, Casper, in terms of being concerned that some sort of conspiratorial group is forming to specifically undermine Biologos or even its general mission (though everybody in their own way is busy about trying to undermine those specific things that we strongly disagree with – that is sometimes a part of productive debate, is it not?) Or if so (the conspiratorial part) --then I’m not a part of it, and have no intent to be, and highly doubt the others are either.

If anything, Biologos seems to be “esteemed” here to be in pretty broad company along with the ASA or other western TEs generally. If Biologos has become representative of current western Christian trends (for better or worse), then it might also become the “representative target” of reference for those who see problems with that. Don’t take it personally. If prophetic voices raise issues against what is becoming mainstream acceptance, then why not listen? Especially if those voices are biblically informed and scientifically informed. I don’t think Jon (and some of the writers) are trying to target Biologos specifically so much as a broad idea they (rightly or wrongly) think Biologos happens to be championing for (and reflective of) a large western audience. I think Biologos has proven itself big enough to survive and thrive from such criticisms. It may have not yet answered them to the satisfaction of the various disputants, of course. But I will continue to think of it as more of a potentially productive exchange than a division of the body. Jon has written lots of articles for Biologos – I don’t know how recently. But he has certainly been an active participant and I expect will be weighing in here before too long.

I suppose I may get myself in trouble here since Jon is probably still sleeping across the puddle there and will wake up needing to catch up on a few exchanges. He may have to correct or clarify a few things I’ve said since I don’t officially speak for his site. Maybe it will be good to get the scoop straight from the horse’s mouth (or camel in this case).


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(Casper Hesp) #7

Thanks for the clarifications and kind response Mervin. As I said, I was just curious to hear more about the background from you guys personally. I surely never viewed that group as “conspiratorial” in any way, so don’t worry about that. I actually really liked the content of the Hump of the Camel website. I think it is a very useful resource for people wanting to learn more about Christian thoughts concerning Creation, science, and origins.

I repeat, I do not consider the group as consisting of “separatists” or being a conspiracy of any kind. I was just interested to hear a bit more about your approach because there were some elements that struck me as surprising. I’m completely agreeing with you there that the Hump of the Camel can provide an opportunity for productive exchange. Also, if prophetic voices are speaking up against a certain worrisome trend, we certainly should listen carefully.

I do know that if I had been completely unfamiliar with the approach of BioLogos, I would have gleaned a rather pessimistic view of it from the descriptions presented there. But the proposal itself, Classic Providential Naturalism actually aligns nicely with my own perspective on the matter. I think it is important that this perspective is represented in the discourse among ECs and on the Forum here.

I would surely be happy if @Jon_Garvey would also give his take on the matter. I hope he’ll forgive me for any misrepresentations that might have occurred on my part. I didn’t mean to “accuse” anyone.

(sy_garte) #8

As a point of historical information (which Jim Stump and Kathryn Appleton can verify), the “activity” you refer to happened at the time that Biologos had decided to suspend comments to blog posts. Many of us frequent commenters were disturbed by this, since it meant that there was no internet forum for discussion of important issues in the science/faith area. I (and others) wrote to Deb and Kathryn asking for a reversal of this policy. I even met with Jim around that time to discuss this and other issues.

Jon Garvey, as Merv says, is a brilliant scholar in this field and has maintained his own blog The Hump of the Camel for many years. At the time when Biologos cut off comments, Jon, Eddie, Merv, myself and others, began thinking of the Hump as an alternative site for comments (not as a competition to Biologos, but as a replacement).

Fortunately, Biologos staff reversed their decision within a couple of months, and in fact with time came up with the entirely new forum that you see today, thanks in large part to the efforts of their staff, including Brad Kramer.

Most of the commenters like Merv, Eddie and I came back to Biologos (I had to wait a bit until my retirement from the NIH) and became again loyal commenters and posters (I posted a book review less than two months ago) on Biologos. Jon has also made many comments here.

I echo Merv, that at no time have any of the people you named felt in any way detached from Biologos, nor that our participation at Hump is in any way part of some division. As Merv said, we all have different views on many of the detailed issues of the faith-science dialog. Eddie and I have disagreed many times on ID, and I have not always been swayed by Jon’s theology, although I will again echo Merv, and say that in my opinion he is always well worth reading and thinking about.

I hope this clarifies somewhat the historical record. I would also suggest you dig just a bit deeper into the history of the involvement of some of us in the Biologos mission. Speaking for myself, the idea that I could be any part of some attempt at division of the CE community, or that I would be antagonistic to Biologos, is absurd.

(sy_garte) #9

Jon will most likely be sleeping at the moment (midnight in UK).

(Casper Hesp) #10

Thanks Eddie! Actually I was also surprised by some older content published by BioLogos (e.g., this short series presenting a complete physicalist view struck me as going too far). I also read some things on developments within BioLogos, I’m happy that it apparently developed to turn a bit more to the “classic” side of Christianity.

Actually, the description of intelligent design that you present above I can completely affirm. The only problem might be with observability… It seems to be a hard task to “objectively demonstrate” a divinely chosen outcome. But that’s more of an observational issue. I would agree that evolutionary processes devoid of any planned form of intelligent design would lead to God being aloof or deistic. For example, I suppose all Christians believe that the relationship between husband and wife was “designed”, “chosen”, “prepared”, “foreseen” by God. I think that’s also completely in line with the whole idea of Evolutionary Creation.

(Casper Hesp) #11

Thank you Sy, it’s very interesting for me to hear the story behind things. If that is how it went, then it seems that the “what we believe” statement of the Hump of the Camel might need to be slightly updated to represent its current relationship and attitude towards BioLogos? Anyway, seems things improved for the better since then. That’s good :slight_smile: .

BTW, I used the word “distancing” because distancing yourself from something is not the same as being antagonistic towards it. The words of you and Jon didn’t come across to me as hostile or anything.

Yeah, I’m living in the Netherlands so it’s one hour later here than in the UK :dizzy_face:. I guess sleeping would be the wisest thing for me to do, too.


Just fyi, Jon Garvey believes that God is responsible for the attacks on my country on 9/11. Just read his article Manhattan and the Book of Revelation . He also bashed the Japanese architect of the Twin Towers, associating him with the Tower of Babel.

Very disturbing, to say the least!

(Jon) #13

You’re not wrong. :fearful:

(George Brooks) #14


I thought this paragraph was awfully interesting - - going to have to research the terms more!

"[1] Theistic Evolutionism (aka BioLogos [Collins] or

[2] Evolutionary Creation [Falk]) is the re-branding, with a completely new recipe, of

[3] Warfieldian Theistic Evolution, which for various reasons scarcely survived the twentieth century.

[4] All its titles are arguably misleading, since (to cut the long story we all know short) it is more deistic than theistic, has little place for the Logos of God (and often a marginal one for the Bible as logos) and delegates much of creation to “Nature” as an unacknowledged Demiurge."

I don’t know if I can agree with the content of text [4] … doesn’t sound like the BioLogos I know…



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Wow, even the kidnapping, imprisonment for 18+ years, and repeated rape (resulting in 2 pregnancies) of little Jaycee Dugard? Seems a bit harsh. Her rapist even delivered her two babies.

Her first book: A Stolen Life


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(Scott Jorgenson) #18

Personally, if it comes down to (A) honoring God’s goodness and love at the expense of his omnipotence, sovereignty and providence, or (B) honoring God’s omnipotence, sovereignty and providence at the expense of his goodness and love, I’ll choose (A) every time. I need a good and loving God; if God’s attributes must be reduced to the level of human understanding, I need a God for whom the words “good” and “loving” are most operative. I don’t need an omni-everything, in-charge-of-it-all, ultra-sovereign God nearly as much, nor does such a God make sense to me.

(Jon Garvey) #19

Well, Good Morning Caspar, and all. Informative answers from my colleagues at The Hump, and the usual well-poisoning from Beaglelady. How to account for something over a million words of blog without creating another million? Perhaps a thousand or two will do.

As some of the posts have made clear, you’re a little late to the battlements. BioLogos was founded in 2007. I started lurking in 2009 after reading Francis Collins’ book, was posting regularly by 2010, and started my own blog, The Hump of the Camel, at the instigation of a few of the regular BioLogos commenters, in February 2011. I wrote my first (and only) article for BioLogos four months later. So we’ve operated 55% of the period of BL’s existence, and been regular commenters here ever since.

From the start (before coming to BioLogos) my concern was to see how historic Christian doctrine both meshes with current science, including origins science, and also how it critiques it, as Christianity must always critique cultures. Subsequently I realised the necessary remit was broader - to enumerate a clear and biblical understanding of the fundamental Christian doctrine of Creation, in relation to a whole plethora of things including the history and philosophy of science, historical theology, the sociology of evolution and science, epistemology and the nature of nature, the nature of randomness in relation to the historical doctrine of providence, and new developments in the scientific picture like what is now called “the extended synthesis”, information theory, the role of essentialism and formal causation, and the clarification of teleology in nature. To name but a few. A lot of very productive reading followed there, and some attempts at writing to bring it to wider attention.

All that was necessary to make “evolutionary creation” something more than an oxymoron, or at best a slogan.

BioLogos, in contrast, seemed to be more concerned as an organisation with selling the reliable truth of traditional Neodarwinism to Creationist Evangelicals, and adapting the truths of Christianity to current western science’s philosophical worldview. Remember, these were the days of Enns’ and Sparks’ incarnational (aka humanly fallible) Scripture, and of Giberson’s Open Theism. (While we’re talking of “distancing”, I note that whilst BL’s theological position has apparently modified, it has never done any distancing of its own from such views).

Sadly, a number of the things that appeared to me (and others) as big issues were consistently ducked, over a period of years, by BL’s own spokesmen. A few examples, if I may. By 2011, we were discussing the exciting new work of Jim Shapiro (and later others like Denis Noble) - but their writing, and its implications, has never been seriously discussed in articles here, except for being somewhat summarily dismissed as not kosher, in much the same way as ID. The first introduction of structuralism - which few now realise was more prominent than Darwinian adaptation in the early 20th century - was by Sy in his review of Denton’s new book, just a month or so ago. Now the Royal Society is organising a conference on them, and BioLogos is a few years late to the party, together with the Evangelical theistic evolution of which it is the major representative.

Theologically, the johnny-come-lately kenotic theology has often been assumed in articles, but critical arguments against it seldom were, if ever, responded to. Even more centrally, the essential incoherence, not to mention the theological weakness, of what is sometimes called “free-process theology”, which is fundamental in many of the current versions of theistic evolution, has been argued in comments repeatedly over several years, but those arguments have never been seriously engaged by the staff authors of the relevant articles.

For example, Darrel Falk insisted to me in discussion that the Christian God would not create viruses, parasites and so on (I gather that in his book he targets mouse-eating-cats, too), and that the BioLogos position was that nature, though sustained by God in existence, had its own freedom to co-create and so to make errors and evils. He added that it was possible that God might rarely “intervene” in the evolutionary process - a position which David Wilcox (prominent in the ASA but never an author here) calls semi-deism, and which leads inevitably to the gnostic idea that some other agent than God (a demiurge, in this case automomous evolution) is subcontracted to make, and partially botch, the creation .

I seem to remember that at the time The Hump became a multi-author venture, one reason the comments were closed appeared to be my persistence (not matched by any replies) in chasing the issues raised by an article in which God’s wisdom in creating a particular bit of brain function was rightly lauded. But this closely followed several articles in which the outcomes of evolution, including human evolution, were clearly said to be observed, not determined, by God. Both cannot be simultaneously true (like the related pairing that “God answers prayer” and “God was not concerned about how many limbs humans evolved”), but BL has been chronically silent on engaging the historic doctrines of providence, concurrence and so on which alone would resolve them.

Neither has it been especially eager to offer a platform to others to raise them. A while ago I did an entire_Hump _ series on “The Christological Creation”. A reader (not a Hump author) who has regularly commented here, and before that on the ASA board, e-mailed me to say he thought BL would be interested to repost it, and that he had contacted the leadership to suggest it. He never heard back, and needless to say, neither did I. Not that it matters to me - I never sought the platform of BioLogos for it. But since there are big gaps in what it is interested in publishing as articles (as opposed to the merry anarchy of the comments board), it’s hardly fair to criticise us for making such stuff available to serious thinkers elsewhere.

Hey, that’s less than a thousand words!


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