12 November 2010

Biologos and Christian unity: mission accomplished?

And so, last week, some of my friends from BioLogos and Calvin College participated in this Vibrant Dance thing. These are people I hold in very high regard, people pursuing goals that I consider to be among the most important projects a Christian scientist can tackle. But mistakes are being made, and in a previous post I pointed to one of the biggest ones: overemphasizing "Christian unity" in an environment of rampant dishonesty, an environment poisoned by apologetic propaganda.

And, as anyone could have predicted, the Discovery Institute (DI) used the conference as a propaganda-generating vehicle, to such a grotesque extent that Darrel Falk of BioLogos pulled out of one of the events after the DI shamelessly trumpeted it as a gladiatorial debate. Reasons To Believe (RTB) is not the sleazy outfit that the DI is, but their distortions of evolutionary science were undeterred by their participation in the Vibrant Dance: during the conference, they posted a typically inaccurate attack on evolution on their website. In the aftermath of this unsurprising outcome, many are saying "I told you so," or more accurately, "Matheson told you so." At Panda's Thumb, RBH called my previous post "prescient," and Jim Kidder said "Steve, you were right" in a post that explains the episode.

But BioLogos participants are defending their involvement, and claiming that their mission was accomplished. So, who's right? I think it would help to put my criticism into focus. It could be paraphrased as follows.

To overemphasize "Christian unity" in the presence of significant misconduct is to abdicate moral responsibility. Given the chronic abuses of the DI and RTB (most especially the DI), to refer to a primary goal of Christian unity with those organizations – unless the unity talk is accompanied by frank commentary on the misconduct and its consequences – is meaningless at best and offensive at worst.
That was the point of my criticism of Darrel's sweet talk of Christian unity before the event. And as near as I can tell, neither Darrel nor Dennis Venema disagrees with me on that. What Darrel and Dennis are saying about the event is that it accomplished a very important goal: BioLogos and its pro-evolution perspective was heard in a venue specifically associated with evangelical Christianity. Dennis wrote this in a comment at the Panda's Thumb:
...you have to realize that this audience already feels that the DI and RTB are the best thing since sliced bread. I doubt anything Biologos did could raise the credibility of the DI with that audience.

On the other hand, by being present at the conference and acting in a Christian manner, and simultaneously presenting hard data and vigorously contesting the DI / RTB approaches, there is a very high probability that Biologos will, for some in the audience, lower the credibility of the antievolutionary groups. I know from my own interactions with attendees that this was in fact the case.
What I'm trying to do here is make it clear that I don't think that Darrel Falk and Dennis Venema and Deb Haarsma were mistaken to participate in the Vibrant Dance or to call for respectful engagement with those there who disagree with them. I'm saying that they must make it clear that the DI and RTB regularly violate standards of intellectual integrity. Both the DI and RTB promulgate falsehoods, and they do it knowingly. It should go without saying that such behavior is unacceptable among self-described scholars; that the scholars in question are Christians, functioning as public Christian apologists who seek to influence the thought and actions of millions of fellow Christians, only amplifies this concern.

So, yes, we're both right, and I think Dennis and Darrel agree with me. Their goal of being heard among evangelicals was advanced by their appearance at the Vibrant Dance. And our collective goal of opposing openly dishonest anti-science tactics among Christian apologists? We're working on it. Together, I hope.

Steve Matheson, Calvin College

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