23 March 2010

Love. Peace. Unity. Or?

Last month, I read that Biologos (a Christian "think tank" that advances evolutionary creation) and Reasons To Believe (a Christian "think tank" that advances old-earth creationism) were reporting on a dialogue between their two organizations that was intended "to discuss areas of agreement and disagreement" with a particular focus on "the biological record of the past 700 million years."

This is very interesting to me. My position is very closely aligned with that of Biologos, so naturally I often disagree with the opinions of Reasons To Believe (RTB). But as I've explained in detail before, my big problem with RTB has nothing to do with their preference for miraculous intervention during biological evolution. It has to do with their proclivity for the crafting and promulgation of falsehoods, and I have asserted that their statements on various aspects of evolutionary science amount to misconduct that calls for intensive reform.

And so I'm quite curious about how Biologos and RTB interacted. The joint statement reports that "significant progress was made in clarifying similarities and differences" and that the two groups seek to model Christian disagreement that is characterized by "civility, grace, and unity." The comments are full of joyous praise for the effort, and the statement cites classic proof texts calling for Christian unity and mutual respect.

And who could disagree with that? Well, I'm going to try.

First, let's get the easy stuff out of the way. Yes, of course I want dialogues between people who disagree to be characterized by mutual respect. I work with all sorts of people, who disagree with me about all sorts of things, and nearly all of these relationships are characterized by mutual respect. I'm not suggesting that Biologos treat RTB with contempt, or that Biologos treat RTB with anything less than common decency.

My concern is that all the proper talk about unity and respect masks a very serious problem that can – and should – influence Christian unity. That problem is a lack of intellectual and professional integrity on the part of RTB, manifested by their dissemination of obvious falsehoods that are difficult or impossible to dismiss as mere mistakes. I've documented some of the worst of these lapses, any one of which would – if left uncorrected – compromise RTB's integrity and thereby its claim to the kind of respect that should be reserved for those in positions of Christian "leadership."

And so I'm not convinced that the dialogue between Biologos and RTB is such a good thing. If the discussions create the impression that the two organizations are just two groups of Christians who differ on interpretations of theological or scientific claims, then they will serve to obscure the troubling fact that RTB manufactures bogus folk science for use in defending its theological commitments. In other words, the kind of dialogue that I would support would only secondarily touch on preferred modes of scientific explanation or preferred interpretive approaches to biblical creation narratives. It would primarily deal with the fact that both organizations – as public Christian ministries – have serious obligations with regard to truth-telling.

One commenter seemed to be getting at this very point. He is probably referring to an "Apologetics Seminar" at Biola University.
How exactly does Biologos expect to dialogue with an organisation whose ‘evolution expert’, Fuz Rana, gave a talk last weekend entitled “Human Evolution: Confronting the Myth” explaining how “Darwinism has become bankrupt as a paradigm to understand human origins?”
Darrel Falk of Biologos answers (in part):
Great question! However, think of it this way: What do we gain by not talking?
Here's my answer to Darrel's rhetorical question: It depends on what you're talking about.

I would prefer a dialogue that results in reform at RTB. RTB's opinions on evolution I acknowledge to be worthy of respect even if I find them unacceptably contrived and even potentially damaging to faith. But RTB's misrepresentations of evolutionary science are very serious problems, and until those matters are tackled, dialogues about the role of miraculous creation events are, in my opinion, counterproductive.


Darrel Falk said...

Hi Steve,

Just so you know, we have spent much time talking about their "out of touch with reality" views on evolution.

They know our thoughts on this. Still we have had three private conversations which we hope will lead to some public ones. We think they are sincere people and we respect that.


George said...

RTB's commitment to an anti-common descent position is as ingrained as AIG's or ICR's commitment to a young earth. As the evidence against these positions increases so does the level of misinformation required to defend them. RTB says promotes it "promotes harmony between science and the Bible" but all it promotes is 'science' it can find to wedge into it's pre-determined conclusions based on how they read they Bible.

As you have pointed out, their manifold mistakes in writing about evolutionary science cannot be attributed to simple ignorance. They continue to use their "repeated design" model as an attempt to explain the genomic data, even though Francis Collins explained to them shortly after the sequencing of the human genome why this fails. Todd Wood has even criticised Rana's writings on this in his paper on the chimp genome but Rana doesn't seem to engage with his critics. It would be interesting for Rana to be asked why he is still using a explanation young-earth creation biology researchers rejected four years ago. I wonder how challenging the questions were at Biola, an institution not exactly at the forefront of modern scientific research (and former home of biological luminaries such as Cornelius Hunter).

Just last week there was a discussion of human chromosome 2 in one of their podcasts which Dennis Venema commented on. Rana is still promoting falsehoods.

Hugh Ross's recent forays into evolutionary science have not improved either.

Their writings on the fossil record are outrageously flawed. When attempting to respond to the ever-growing list of transitional fossils, Fuz Rana's response appears to be to claim that the time frame was too short for the transition, claim that the particularly fossil is "well designed," and explain that he can see no reason why God wouldn't create creatures with a mosaic of features. This from an organisation that expects to be taken seriously in scientific circles.

Moreover, they continue to promote the idea that "genetics has proven that all mdodern humans are descended from one man and one woman," as an integral part of their model. No reconciliation is possible. Expecting Hugh Ross and Fuz Rana to have a scientific discussion of evolution is just like expecting Ken Ham to have a scientific discussion of the age of the earth.

Greg said...

That was my comment over at Biologos. I lost patience with RTB long ago. The ID guys (well Casey Luskin anyway) are back onto junk DNA. I referred a few people who are promoting that piece around the blogosphere over to your series on the subject.

All the best.

Jimpithecus said...

I remember reading Hugh Ross' Fingerprint of God and being so impressed with how he was willing to take on the young earth creation group by showing how one could accept an old earth and yet be a committed creation. His book spurred me on to get interested in the topic. It is, therefore, sad to see how badly misinformed He and RTB are about basic evolutionary theory and how willing to engage in the same sort of intellectual dishonesty that groups like the ICR and AIG do.

Rana's lack of engagement of his critics reminds me of the Discovery Institute's tactics. I have never seen a reputable scientific institute not publish their members' email addresses or allow comments on their articles, yet that is exactly what the DI does. Further, their members have a very bad track record of responding to valid criticisms of their work.

I believe that you are correct, Steve and George, that this is not simple ignorance, but actual dishonesty. In an organization that purports to be Christian, as RTB does, this is simply unacceptable.

M said...

These Christian lies about something as easily looked into as evolution is one of the reasons why I lost my Christian faith. For the past 3 years I have tried to regain this faith I lost. Recently, I was going to start looking into the design of the cosmos and Hugh Ross’s name keeps popping up. However, if he is so willing to misrepresent evolution, what are your feelings regarding his comments about cosmology?

Symmimex said...

I appreciate the concern expressed on this blog for truthful discussion. However, why is it that so little attention is given here to any fallacies to be found in arguments promoting evolutionary science? It would be very helpful for non-scientists such as myself if the parameters of valid scientific discussion were more frequently articulated rather than assumed; at times, what is written appears to be merely ad hominem attacks rather than reasoned arguments.

In regard to the original post under discussion: The desire for unity is good - diversity need not lead to division. With this in mind, let all discussion temper truth with grace. Hope for agreement, work to resolve disagreement, avoid folly, pray for wisdom.