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


Alan said...

Does anybody have any idea when the sessions will be made available? I'm interested to see how the discussion periods went. I'm also still waiting for some sort of a response by RTB to Dennis's recent article at Biologos. Rana made a comment there but they appear to have otherwise ignored it.

Jimpithecus said...

I was very disappointed to read the post by Darrel about the DI session. I keep hoping that the DI will somehow understand that they are increasingly being seen by practicing scientists as a dishonest organization and a roadblock to a Christian understanding of the data.

Dennis Venema said...

Hi Steve,

Good thoughts all round. I agree fully.

My article over at Biologos (that Alan has linked to above) is in the vein you're after here: it's an attempt to make something blindingly obvious to specialists accessible to a lay audience. We'll see how (or if) RTB responds in any significant way. So far I'd guess their responses would seem unsatisfactory to many, even for their adherents. At least I hope so!

Dennis Venema said...

oh, I forgot to mention: my essay-length review of Meyer's SitC will also run in the December issue of PSCF. It's a pretty blunt review.

So, RTB this month, the DI the next. So many critiques, so little time. The trouble is, it takes a while to craft a careful critique. What I find frustrating is that these groups can throw together stuff so quickly since there is no requirement for accuracy. Nobody is going to hold Rana to account on the science within RTB, nor is anyone fact-checking Meyer (as far as I can tell).

John said...

Dennis wrote:
"oh, I forgot to mention: my essay-length review of Meyer's SitC will also run in the December issue of PSCF. It's a pretty blunt review."

I hope that you highlighted this bit of rank incompetence and/or dishonesty:

“A protein within the ribosome known as a peptidyl transferase then catalyzes a polymerization (linking) reaction involving the two (tRNA-borne) amino acids.”

Dennis Venema said...

Yep, that's covered. Pretty hard to miss that one.

Dr. Nick Tavani said...

It is good when Christians worship God together for, where two or three are gathered, "there am I in the midst of them".

SWT said...

Steve Matheson’s latest essay has more characteristic personal attacks against DI:

"rampant dishonesty"
"apologetic propaganda"
"sleazy outfit"
"distortions of evolutionary science"
"DI and RTB promulgate falsehoods, and they do it knowingly"
"openly dishonest anti-science tactics"

They aren't personal attacks if they're factually accurate.