Let's talk about what happened over the weekend in the "Neo-Darwinism" comment board

Hello All,

Over the weekend the comment board related to the blog post reviewing Michael Denton’s book devolved into some bad behavior. When I check the board this morning (I don’t do mod stuff on the weekends, usually), there were flags left and right and several people had messaged me and @Christy in concern. By the way, thanks to those who used the flagging system. It is indeed the fastest way to get the mods’ attention.

So a couple of minutes ago I deleted 80 posts from that thread. That’s a lot of posts. I’ve never deleted that many before, but the problems I saw there were egregious enough to warrant this action. If you had your posts deleted, I’m sorry, but my job is to enforce the rules of the Forum, and this is how I chose to do it. For reference, the following rules were repeatedly violated in this weekend’s exchange:

  1. Commenting about the actual topic of the thread. Some of you have herculean difficulty staying focused on the topic at hand. If you want to talk about something that isn’t directly related to the OP (original post, or topic of the thread), that’s fine, but you need to create a new thread to say it in. Any user can create new threads to talk about something!! Simply press “reply as new topic” beside any post, or press “new topic” on the homepage.
  2. Not using inflammatory language or broad stereotypes in reference to other commenters. Please, don’t call someone a “troll” in a public post. That helps no one. Nor should you say, “you seem like you belong to “x” group, and people in this group are always like this, so your motivations must also be this or that.” That’s not conducive to gracious dialogue.
  3. Respecting someone’s level of self-disclosure. This forum does not force anyone to reveal their real name or other info about their identity. They also are allowed to self-disclose their personal beliefs in whatever way they wish. Nobody should feel pressured to reveal any of this information in ways they don’t wish to do, especially as it relates to someone’s real name, institutional affiliation, or beliefs. You may ask someone for this information privately if you wish in a non-confrontational way. But public calls for someone to “out” themselves are inappropriate and will be deleted. This rule is important if we are to be a safe place for those of any belief about faith and science to contribute without fear.
  4. Staying away from nit-picking each other’s posts ad nauseum. The overwhelming majority of the posts I deleted were nit-picking in the extreme. If you don’t have something substantial to say about the topic at hand, then don’t say anything. Picking apart every word of someone else’s posts guarantees that the discussion will devolve into arguing about arguing (which the final state of decay in online discussions).

I’m not asking for finger-pointing here. But let’s do better, please.

Brad and the Mods (@Christy and @jstump)


I recognize upfront that it will not mean one wit to Biologos, but I can’t believe you just dumped 80+ comments - an entire conversation. Did you not think Sy was capable of defending himself? Do you not trust your regulars to come to understand the nuance involved? In the real world, theists who want to be able to defend their position are not going to have someone magically deleting the opportunistic and uncharitable comments of others. How do you expect them to understand the landscape if you deprive them of the opportunity of watching a trained person defend his position? And if a theist puts a toe over a line somewhere (which I am not suggesting is the case here) then they can see him or her deal with that as well.

While I completely understand and agree with the desire for civil debate, I suppose I am just a bit perplexed by the training wheels you seem to want to place on the conversation. I am also slightly amused that on a thread where I am chastised for having an “emotional” response to the uncharitable reading of my words, that the person doing the chastising is suddenly doing the same thing for the same reason. These are actual human issues that we all deal with, I don’t know if you truly gain anything by trying to sterilize them of what they are. But then, when you lay on top of it, the simply fact that you as a moderator will enter an exchange for no reason other than to attack someone, and also allow other regulars (with a particular sarcastic tone) to bounce from one thread to another with impunity,-- what is it that you end up with? Civil debate?

The decision to delete a bunch of comments had absolutely nothing to do with whether Sy is able to defend himself or with putting training wheels on a conversation. It had everything to do with our lack of resources to moderate the discussion according the values you mention. Many of the weekend comments clearly violated those values. If that line of commenting had started during a weekday, we would have reined it in before it got to where it did. But I’m not going to ask Brad to sit at his computer all weekend to watch what you all keep saying. And I don’t even want to ask him on Monday to sift through those 80 comments to find the ones we can keep (though he did do some of that). That just isn’t a good use of his time. Perhaps you have a vision of BioLogos as a Templeton-funded non-profit that has money coming out its ears. That is just not how things work. We have funding for specific projects, and beyond those we’re a small non-profit where everyone has more to do than can reasonably get done most days. We can’t devote a staff person to constantly patrol the comments, so we have to make some sweeping decisions like this one. Sorry you feel that it affected you negatively.

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The one thing we all have PLENTY OF here at BIoLogos, is narratives just waiting to get posted.

Deleting posts is probably the least toxic response to bad posting behavior.

The behaviour of BioLogos towards the contributions by Sy is lamentable (the best term I can think of), and betrays a weakness that has been evident to me over a long period. Here we have an expert who has something significant to say, and he contributes his time and expertise freely, on a topic that staff at BioLogos have constantly claimed to be central to their mission. When Sy was attacked, and he responded in a measured and academically correct manner, BioLogos refused to step in and restrain atheists and trolls from indulging in, what was obviously, an attack on Sy as an expert in his field.

I have to ask, “what is BioLogos hoping to achieve by adopting this policy?” If you want an informed and Christian outlook that would help evangelists in your blessed USA obtain a better understanding of evolution as it sits within the major scientific theories, you should applaud Sy. Yet you are keen to make as much room to atheists, even when they are putting forward utter rubbish. The so called RNA world is wishful thinking by these people. Yet I do not see one comment by a moderator for an accurate assessment of such comments - and this is just one point in this odd exchange by atheists/anti-Christians.

My speciality is outside biology, so I refrained from making comments - yet I too have experienced this lopsided response from moderators who seem to be sensitive to how we respond to rubbish put forward by atheists (who are in fact anti-Christians). I recommend BioLogos accept this criticism regarding Sy, and endeavour to lift their standard - otherwise I doubt if any Christian scientist would waste his/her time on this site. If you want high level input, you must have some capacity to understand its significance.

I just observe that there seems to be a pattern that those with most to contribute to the interaction between serious theology and serious science end up being those stung into being cautious to support BioLogos overall. That limits your usefulness to real progress.

Attitudes are more inportant than resources here.

Thanks for the statements of support, but there is no question that my response to criticism was rude, unjust, and outside the Biologos guidelines. I have apologized to one of the offended parties, as well as to Biologos staff for this lapse. I intend to spend some time in prayerful reflection, and I sincerely hope that the Spirit will show me the way to move forward, and to continue to bless the efforts of all who seek God’s truth. Peace of Christ.

While I understand what Brad has done and why, I do not think that it is as simple as that.

The topic that we were discussing was the future of evolutionary science. It seems to me that BioLogos does not fully understand the emotions and issues aroused by this issue, especially when talking about random variation.

This does not excuse what happened, but it does mean that we need to address the issue. I hope that Sy will post his excellent article and the reference to long article so we can discuss them again. They are very important to anyone who cares about science.

Mod Squad -

Thanks for all you do! And I know that your job is neither easy nor highly remunerated.

While the conversation had excessive heat, it also contained a good bit of light. I learned a fair amount about “RNA world” from the comments, and I was actually planning to go back and follow some of the links which are, unfortunately, no longer available.

Another organization I have belonged to handled this situation by allowing a commenter to edit a comment after it had been embargoed by the moderator. If the commenter abused the opportunity by leaving inflammatory language in the re-post, the moderators could bar the commenter from further participation in the thread, or even from the entire discussion board for a few days. To use a hockey analogy, it was like sitting in the penalty box.

This approach has many advantages:

  • Moderators aren’t responsible for separating the wheat from the chaff in the comments; the commenters are.
  • Useful commentary is not discarded along with the acrimony.

The ability to do this involves software/administrative capabilities that your system may or may not have, and you would have to adjust your moderation workflow. I hope you will consider this suggestion anyway! :smile:

Grace and peace,
Chris Falter

There was certainly some unnecessarily caustic phraseology. On the other hand, those who disagreed with Sy seemed to have some expertise in the field, and introduced some important evidence and arguments. The distinction between randomness with respect to fitness and randomness with respect to mutation rate seemed particularly important. I have no idea whether or not it’s a winning argument, but the distinction seems worth considering. So I would not want to characterize them with a pejorative label.

I do appreciate the contributions you have made on this discussion forum, @GJDS, and I hope that you will continue making them. I, for one, find them to be very helpful.

Grace and peace,
Chris Falter

FYI, I just restored a couple of comments from that “batch delete” that were actually on-topic, so this will be slightly less of a carpet-bombing. :airplane::bomb::boom:

Thanks, Brad! Is it possible to move some of the off-topic posts to their own thread?

Technically, yes, but the issue is more than just that the posts were off-topic.

Brad, I suggested that Christian de Duve’s book, “Genetics of Original Sin: The Impact of Natural Selection on the Future of Humaity” should be germane to this topic. Do you agree?
Al Leo

It depends what you mean by “this topic”. The thread I closed was full of discussions on all sorts of topics. If you want to start a new discussion about the ideas in the book, go ahead.

I tried. Was it accepted? I can’t find it.
Al Leo

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Hi Brad

I must conclude that I am a poor judge of what the BioLogos community wants to discuss. I thought that the primary objection by evangelical Christians to (neo)-Darwinian evolution was that it depended so much on chance and (seemingly) refuted any teleological arguments. However, if any Lamarkian type of evolution is actually operative, these two objections may be (at least partly) overcome. Since a Nobel Prize winner has put the subject up for discussion, I thought the BioLogos community would want to participate. Was I just wrong, or did I just title it badly?

Thanks for letting me post it, regardless.
Al Leo


10 posts were merged into an existing topic: God’s interventions?