So what is BioLogos' problem with Dr. Swamidass?


#1

In another thread Jim Stump assured me that BioLogos does not decide policy in a dark and smokey back room. He also reassured me that BioLogos has no problem with God intervening in natural history.

Given all that, what exactly does BioLogos object to in Dr. Swamidass’s hypothesis that there was a recent special creation of Adam and Eve?


(Peaceful Science) #2

It is not clear exactly why, because there is no evidence against it. Even the secular colleagues I’ve discussed this with at WUSTL appear to have no problem with it. Technically, I do not think that BioLogos is supposed to take official positions on Adam. Though, the common questions pages are not consistent with that ideal.

My guess is that the resistance is a combination of two factors.

  1. A recent, genealogical, de novo Adam sounds very literal, concordist, and traditional, and in general BioLogos members (speaking for themselves usually) are skewed non-concordist, non-literal, and non-traditional. I have no problem with this personally, but it appears that this is also anti-concordist, anti-literal, and anti-traditional. For those reasons, many are organizationally opposed to this for entirely hermeneutical and theological reasons. As important as theology is, however, it shouldn’t dictate science.

  2. Likely because of #1, there has been an effort to characterize genealogical science and the observation that there is no evidence against de novo Adam as merely “one view among many”, rather than what it is: science that applies to everyone. This might explain why there has been unwillingness to admit that there is no evidence against a de novo Adam and this is entirely consistent with evolution. Ultimately, this dismissiveness is not really tenable, but that is where things stand right now.

In defense of BioLogos, this is something that really everyone had wrong. It is a surprising and non-intuitive finding. The really encouraging observation, however, is that secular scientists I know do not have the same theological hang ups, and they are often embracing this as a way to communicate science more effectively to the public. In the end, that is a really good thing. Everyone should agree (and secular scientist do) that theological objections are not a valid reason to withhold accurate science from the public.

Eventually, I expect BioLogos will catch up with the science, but for now it appears they are behind. Give them a year or so, and they might turn a corner. Remember, most people on staff at BioLogos are not biologists, most are not even scientists. It will take a while for it work through their system. Sadly, Venema appears opposed to this for very unclear reasons. On a positive note, the steady stream of objections sent my way certainly made my paper stronger!

For all Venema’s opposition, most of the other biologists (all?) in the network, as far as I can tell, are entirely convinced and also recognize that this is a new observation of high relevance to the conversation. None of them, however, are on staff. So it will take some time.

Once again in defense of BioLogos, the theologians who are going to care about this are all going to be some combination of concordist, literal, and traditional. Those theologians, to put it delicately, are not in the BioLogos tent. For that reason, BioLogos was never really the right organization to take this forward anyways. There really is not space here for those with different theology, at least not right now.

At some point, I expect BioLogos will have to decide if wants to be a big tent or not. Right now, not everyone can join the theological agenda, even if they affirm evolutionary science. For now at least, that is why I had to part ways.

In the meantime, we are pursuing this with other partners. Follow the progress on my blog.


(Chris Falter) #3

Hi Joshua @Swamidass,

I was very happy to see your post! I have always enjoyed your contributions here.

I do have a question about the topic of this thread, the most recent common genealogical ancestor(s) for humanity. I recently read in another source (can’t remember where, I am sorry that my 56 year old brain is so rebellious!) that the notion of recent common ancestry across the globe is due largely to the explosion of intermingling that accompanied colonialism and modern economies. When I read the unnamed source, it did not seem to have a theological axe to grind, so I have no a priori reason to doubt it.

If this observation is true, this would seem to pose severe difficulties for your thesis. Paul’s statements about Adam were written in the Greek logical equivalent to our present tense, but it would be almost 2000 years before they would be true in a genealogical sense.

I suppose the common genealogical ancestor notion could be saved if we are willing to go back to the H Sapiens population in Africa 50,000 years ago. On the other hand, this poses severe difficulties in finding concordance with Genesis 1-3, which places Adam and Eve in a Mesopotamian agricultural setting.

I rather imagine that you have already considered these ideas, and have a response ready. I would be quite eager to hear your response.

Thanks,
Chris Falter


(Peaceful Science) #4

This is false.

It is not true.

It is not necessary to go that far back, but even if we needed to this would be helpful for a lot of people. For example many in the RTB camp (and Tim Keller) are entirely okay with dilating the timeline. The best way to explain them, perhaps, is as “selective literalists” or “minimal literalists.” Whether or not that is a valid way of interpreting Genesis is a separate issue (not really important for this conversation), but within that framework the 50,000 years ago is not really a probblem.

Yup! Did you read the preprint of the paper yet? It’s all there.

http://peacefulscience.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/GenealogicalAncestry-Swamidass.pdf


#5

Dr. Swamidass,

(1) Were you kicked out of BioLogos, or did you leave voluntarily?

(2) When you say that you are no longer an evolutionary creationist, what do you mean by that?

(3) Assuming there was a recent creation of Adam and Eve, what,if anything, do you think this must say - both scientifically and theologically - about the other pre-Adamites?


(Peaceful Science) #6

It is “complex” and out of respect for Francis Collins and my colleagues who remain at BioLogos, I wish to remain silent about the details. I can say, however, I hope at sometime that BioLogos becomes a big tent that can accomodate me and dedicated to accurate science. I hope to be brought back in.

Regarding my distance from EC, in its current iteration it is a largely theological movement, with a static scientific backdrop. It is an important voice that should included in the conversation, but I can only affirm it as one theological voice among many. I hope EC or BioLogos “evolves” into a big tent and active engagement with science, but there is no space for me right now.

As for my distance from TE, those who have followed me know that I have never been intent on convincing people to affirm evolution. For this reason, I am not well defined as an “evolutionist”, because my worldview and identity does not rest on evolution; it rests on Jesus, the one who rose from the dead. I am not well defined as a “theist” either, because I see great evil in this world justified by generic (or specific) theism; and I follow Jesus, who is much greater than theism.

I’ve often struggled with the right “name” for my position, sometimes saying Scientist Christian or A Follower of Jesus in Science. My time with theologians has clarified my identity a great deal. Call me a confessing scientist, a scientist in the Church and a Christian in science, serving with a truthful account of what I have seen. Of course, I do still affirm evolutionary science, but I found something greater than evolution.

It depends who “you” is. For most people in the Church, I think it is sufficient to affirm:

  1. All people over the last several thousand years are equally human in a biological and theological sense, even if we do not know precisely now.
  2. There is an inviting mystery about our origins that we want to participate in with our imagination and curiosity. This can be a type of worship that brings us together. I would point to Religion and Rocketry as CS Lewis’s example inthis ( http://scientificintegrity.blogspot.com/2010/04/religion-and-rocketry-by-cs-lewis.html ) and also plug my first public statement of this vision in April 2017 (see brief youtube below)
  3. Given mystery here, resist dogmatism. Work out possibilities if it is fun, but always welcome new approaches.

For scholars in the conversation, we have some higher standards and an opportunity for real contributions. We are so early in the game, however, that we cannot even enumerate all the key questions yet. Here is what I think needs to be some key changes here.

  1. Retraction and revision of mistakes we have made in the science, especially when they have been made recently and in public. (e.g. http://peacefulscience.org/defense-tim-keller/ ). Retraction is a time honored scientific tradition, that many find personally difficult, but this is a real test of intellectual honesty…
  2. Thinking through the theological significance of non-genetic but genealogical relationships, especially in regard to the transmission of original sin.
  3. Thinking through an acceptable range of theological possibilities for those “outside the garden” that does not lead to large problems, such as inferring bestiality or naming others as sub-human when they are not. We already have some solutions, but there are more.
  4. Offering coherent olive branches to those with different theological starting points than us, and in this way advocating for the empty chair.
  5. Entering a true dialogue with science, instead of resisting engagement with what we have uncovered here, as sadly has been the typical pattern by established voices. This takes a great deal of humility that will be difficult for many many, especially those who are used to having the scientific authority as wind on their backs.

For organizations, especially BioLogos, many are going to have to reassess our priorities and strategies going forward.

  1. Some groups will become less anti-evolution as they realize there are coherent evolutionary scenarios compatible with their confessions.
  2. BioLogos will have to decide if they want to become a big tent and start welcoming and forefronting concordists, literalists, and traditionalists. Or, if they choose, they can decide to remain theologically uniform and fade into a much less relevant role as single, narrowly focused theological voice among many. That fate, sadly, may be inevitable if they do not catch up on the science rapidly.
  3. Several groups intent on proving the plausibility of an Adam and Eve (e.g. @agauger, Buggs, Sanford, etc.) in a genetic context may find less reason to continue. Though of course, for scientific curiosity, I hope they continue and hope they can be successful. At least the stakes are lowered for them.
  4. Down the line, there may even be opportunity to adjust how evolution is communicated to the public by secular organizations like the NCSE and AAAS and more. Secular scientists, it seems, are very amenable to what I have presented here, probably because they do not have any theological agendas here.

In general, for at least 20 years (all of BioLogo’s existence), we have just been focused on the wrong questions in the Adam debate because of scientific error in our understanding of how theology and evolution interact. It is going to take a long time for some organizations to reconfigure. Those that can respond quickly are going to play starring roles.


(Peaceful Science) #7

Advocacy for the empty chair is an act of love I hope to see become common practice on the forums.

The Empty Chair is a symbol of those who could join our conversation, but have been excluded by our lack of hospitality, or even intentional exclusion ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/11/world/europe/11nobel.html?pagewanted=all ). Right now, in this conversation, there are large parts of the Church that could be in the conversation. We could invite them to join us, even though they are different. However, after so much time of opposing them, they are not going to join the conversation unless we advocate on their behalf to make this a safe place first.

Instead of advocating for our own theological agendas, as is the norm, I hope we can turn to advocating for the empty chair. In this way, let us welcome the full diversity of the Church into an accurate account of science. We will still have our disagreements in theology, but we can come to be defined by our love for one another instead.

On this, too, I wanted to invite comment from some key people at BioLogos that share similar views: @TedDavis, @JeffSchloss, @DarrelFalk, @benmc, @praveens, @Sy_Garte, @Jon_Garvey, @AntoineSuarez, @Antoine_Suarez . We have a real opportunity for rapprochement here. Let us not be on the wrong side by opposing a bid for peace.

http://www.taps.org/globalassets/our-stories/2009/15-4-chair.jpg


(sy_garte) #8

@Swamidass Joshua

Thank you for including me as a key person at Biologos, as unwarranted as that might be. As you know I have been following this discussion intently for several months. I became an early convert to your scientific position after your talk this summer at ASA, and I agree (and I don’t know of any scientist at this point who doesn’t) that the genealogical approach is sound scientifically. I am confident that once your technical paper is out, there will be very few detractors.

I think most of the contention, as you have said or implied, is of a theological nature. Some of these questions, as those from @Bilbo and @Chris_Falter regarding the timing of the MRCA (taking into account Paul’s life) can be dealt with by simply pushing back the timeline to start with the time of Christ rather than now, which does not require going all the way to 50,000, ya, but probably something like 10-15,000. (I haven’t done the calculations, so that’s a rough guestamate). Anyone who objects to that kind of date based on Biblical literalism, would probably not be interested in the general hypothesis anyway.

Which raises the issue of the big tent. One thing your hypothesis does not counter is the universally (by scientists) agreed upon fact that Adam and Eve could not be the first single pair of humans. For some (not all) creationists, this will not be acceptable, even if we agree that all humans are descended from one pair, and science cannot rule out a special creation of Adam and Eve. So the tent will be restricted to some extent, but that is unavoidable.

And here is where I get to the main point – Biologos. I agree with you that it might be useful for Biologos to host some new discussions on modern evolutionary and biological theory and consider updating some of their basic scientific positions. I am sure @DennisVenema would be happy to lead or at least participate in that, along with many other Biologos associated biologists.

But I don’t entirely agree with your comments about the size of the Biologos tent. My reactions after hearing the plenary talks at the recent Biologos Conference gave me the opposite sense from what you have expressed. The talks by @jstump and Andy Crouch in particular were geared toward theological inclusion, and were completely Christ centered.

So where do the tent boundaries start? I know that you and I, and all the scientists associated with Biologos in any way, including commenters here, agree with the vision of Francis Collins (who started this whole thing about 10, not 20 years ago) to demonstrate to Christians, to young people, to those losing faith, and to those with doubts, that good science and Christianity are not mutually exclusive and that the two books theology can be defended and maintained. I think there is no doubt that that enterprise has in the past decade been surprisingly successful, thanks in great measure to the work of this foundation, website and forum. Just last month a student wrote to thank me for writing a Biologos blog post back in 2013 that helped her when confronted with an atheist professor in class. She said that she went right to this site, typed in her question in the search bar, and there were several resources available for her to quell her rising doubts. Harbingers of hope like this are common for the Biologos staff, and I think are worth celebrating.

Do we disagree on many things here? Yes, which is a good thing. Is Biologos perfect, either scientifically or theologically? Who is? Should we expand the EC tent in both areas? I think so, yes. I (and others, I believe) was quite impressed with the level of conversation here recently between @agauger and Dennis Venema and others. Like you, I pray for the possibility of finding common ground with some parts of the ID movement, and of course we all salute Deb for reaching out to Hugh Ross, and others who are still outside the tent, but perhaps are looking in.

The point is quite frankly, despite what the Discovery Institute newsletter called “trouble in paradise” when referring to your recent disagreements with Dennis, there is much more that unites us all, than divides us (to coin a phrase). Your voice is important and vibrant. I pray that it will be heard often throughout Christendom, including here in this forum.


(Peaceful Science) #9

To be clear, I have no problem with the BioLogos vision and mission. I only hope that BioLogos would live up to that mission, and makes its rhetoric a reality. BioLogos is supposed to be a big tent, but it is not.

This is not a precise statement of the science, though I do know what you mean. “Human” is a loaded term without scientific any precision. There are theologically coherent examples that falsify your contention (see John Walton’s model).

A better way to put it is that our ancestors arise as a large population that never dips down in size to a single couple. Depending on how we define “human” it can be true that Adam and Eve “where the first single pair of humans.” Recall, “human” is an ambiguous term in the distant past in both theology and science. Its use in making scientific claims only creates confusion, and should be avoided entirely if we seek to give theology the legitimate autonomy it needs. Therefore there is to much imprecision in your statement of the scientific claims.

@Sy_Garte we agree on the science here, but the imprecision in stating the claims of science with the word “human” creates avoidable conflict. We should no longer do this.

No disagreement here about the rhetoric here @Sy_Garte I entirely agree that BioLogos is meant to be a big tent and this is the aim and it is frequently stated as such. That is why I joined BioLogos in the first place.

I think also it is obvious that there are no voices embraced here for literal, concordist, and traditional points of view. Why is that? Because this BioLogos is not neutral on these positions, but promotes a very narrow range of theological/hermeneutical solutions, so this should be no surprise to those who have been here for a while.

[Correction: originally said “single” when it is really a narrow range]

I’ve demonstrated, whatever our theological positions, that this theological close-mindedness is not required by science. Any resistance to literal, concordist, and traditional points of view are entirely motivated by non-scientific concerns, and work against BioLogos functioning as a big tent, as it is supposed to.

Turns out that many are unwilling to update the science because of theological objections to concordism, literalism, and traditionalism. Some of course, are willing (you included), but that is not organizationally happening now. Right now, here, theology trumps science.

I agree with that goal entirely. And continue to believe that BioLogos is an important voice in the conversation that is doing a great deal of good. It will do even more good if it can live up to its original purpose. That is all I hope for, and I am sure you do too.

You are exactly right. This is a theological dispute about what it means to live up to the true mission of BioLogos. At the center of it is two questions:

  1. Is the tent big enough to include literal, concordist, and traditional views of Genesis as dignified members? The answer right now, as I understand it, is “no.” I think we need an answer that welcomes the full diversity of the Church as full and dignified members.

  2. Is theology/hermeneutics a valid veto on accurate science? The answer right now, as I understand it, is “yes.” I think we need an answer that places truthfulness in science in service of the Church over our personal theological/hermeneutical agendas.

That is some large theological differences from my point of view. These are also large scientific differences, as I reject the attempt to make science subservient to theology/hermeneutics this way. I am an advocate for diversity, so these answers leave me outside the tent.

Unfortunately, the things that divide us are very strong right now. There is no space for me here. I hope to be brought back in the tent. Let us hope it happens sooner rather than later.

I only hope that we can, one day, together welcome the full diversity of the Church with an accurate account of science.


(Peaceful Science) #10

Very relevant to this conversation is this critique of @DennisVenema’s position at a Nature sub journal discussion group by Richard Buggs.

https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/users/24561-richard-buggs/posts/22075-adam-and-eve-a-tested-hypothesis

I want to emphasize that Buggs is a legitimate scientist, more accomplished than most scientists I know, including the vast majority of those I’ve met at Biologos. There will be disagreement with his point of view, but he deserves everyone’s respect and honest consideration of his ideas, even if they are heterodox within mainstream science.

@DennisVenema should be honored that a scientist of his stature engaged his arguments, no matter who ultimately is demonstrated correct. It takes great personal risk to to make statements like this in public. Remember that Buggs is at a secular institution, as am I. We need to understand this for what it is. Buggs is a leading scientist making a truthful statement of how he sees the science, at real professional risk. Respect it, even if you must disagree. Bugg’s actions takes great character and leadership. Respect.

@paulnelson58 @agauger


(Christy Hemphill) #11

You are not talking about theological solutions when you talk about concordism and literalism, you are talking about hermeneutical approaches. Different hermeneutical approaches can lead to very similar or even the same theological conclusions. I think it is fair to say that BioLogos has a preferred hermeneutical approach. But it is inaccurate to say that preferred approach constitutes a single theological solution.

@Swamidass Also, I wonder if you ever notice how many of your posts are peppered with pronouncements what others “should” or “must” do. I ask this with all respect and friendliness (and with zero authority or influence as a “BioLogos representative,” speaking just as a conversation partner), but doesn’t it ever occur to you that those kind of pronouncements don’t serve to foster a “big tent” either?


(Peaceful Science) #12

We are all making statements like this, but just have different values. I think we should doing this one way, and others things we should do them another. Ultimately, this just reveals different values. I have no control over Biologos (and neither do you), and we both want the best for this place. I have no animosity here.

I think BioLogos continues to fill an important roles and is a valuable voice. I will continue to advocate that you are included as a voice at the table, just as I always have.

I agree that “single theology” is not precisely correct. A better way to put it is “artificially restricted” set of theological and hermeneutical approaches. Sometimes I’m rhetorically tempted to collapse theology and hermeneutics into just theology. That is not accurate, and you have been good about correcting me on that. I will try and better about it. When I make mistakes like that in the future, just PM me and I’ll edit. Thanks.

Regarding concordism, it is well known that there are several definitions of this. Not all definitions are hermeneutical. Some are making a valid theological claim when they affirm concordism. If I was to affirm concordism, I would affirm it in that sense primarily, as a theological claim that “we expect there to be coherence (concordance) between the world we see in Scripture and in Nature.” This is one label that some people, for example, apply to the Two Books theology. The BioLogos accepted synonym for “concordance” in this sense, is “harmony.” Which is not a hermeneutical claim but a theological assessment or claim.

The point is, and you seem to agree, is that there is a prefered approach. This prefered approach, however, is not required by the science and excludes people who find it an anathema. As for you, which is more important? Maintaining the prefered approach? Or inviting new approaches in? Remember, the science does not dictate our answer here.

Here, of course, I am inviting you to explain your “should”. We are all entitled to our own positions here.


(Jon) #13

Yep, as an observer I’ve noted this has been a distinctive feature of the Biologos position.


(James Stump) #14

Let’s hit the pause button on this conversation. BioLogos leadership will respond publicly to the situation next week. Until then, I’m temporarily closing this thread. No one’s posts will be deleted.


(Brad Kramer) #15