BioLogos is hurt, really hurt

This morning I got an email from Darrell Falk, president of the Templeton-funded website BioLogos, who was upset because I had supposedly misconstrued a recent post on Adam and Eve.   The author, preacher Daniel Harrell, had offered a way to reconcile science with the existence of a historical Adam and Eve, suggesting that perhaps Adam and Eve were real people but had God-given DNA that was tricked out to make them look older than they really were.  His other suggestion was that perhaps Adam and Eve were still real people, but two very special, God-chosen people that were embedded in the evolutionary lineage of Homo sapiens.

It’s not true, said Falk, that all of us at BioLogos believe the apparent age hypothesis, and he asked me to retract my statement implying that they did.

I won’t retract it. If you read Harrell’s post, you’ll see that in no way does he deny the “apparent age” theory; he leaves it as an open possibility for Christians. And that was the post I was criticizing.  Other BioLogos folks apparently do reject it, because it’s simply dumb and also implies a duplicitous, manipulative God.

But I also criticized Harrell’s second suggestion, because there’s simply not a shred of evidence that Adam and Eve, even in the “specially-selected-human” sense, ever existed.  If BioLogos is really anxious, as it claims, to harmonize science with scripture, taking the scientific facts as paramount, they’d simply and flatly reject the existence of a historical Adam and Eve on the grounds of no evidence—just as they’d presumably reject the existence of unicorns, or the Loch Ness monster, or Santa Claus.

The reason they don’t jettison the whole Adam and Eve story is, as several commenters have pointed out here, because the historical existence of this pair plays a critical role in the Christian myth of sin and redemption.  If they didn’t exist, what did Jesus die for?  And so BioLogos makes a fool of itself trying to comport science with superstition.

I didn’t publish Falk’s email because I don’t put private emails on this site, but Richard Dawkins, who got a similar email, has posted it, presumably with Falk’s agreement, and adds a link to BioLogos’s “explanation” that they didn’t all subscribe to the “apparent” age theory adumbrated by Harrell.  And Dawkins adds his own email response to Falk, telling him in no uncertain terms how fatuous it is to waste time trying to show believers how science could accommodate Adam and Eve:

Dear Dr Falk
Certainly, I am happy to suggest that our website people might post your article, and I am copying this letter to them to call it to their attention. But I didn’t misunderstand Daniel Harrell’s essay. It never for a moment occurred to me that he, or Biologos, could possibly be supporters of Option #1. Of course I understood that he was advocating the marginally less fatuous Option #2. It was Option #2 that I was referring to as ‘ridiculous’, because it is an attempt to reconcile science with the book of Genesis. Why on Earth would anyone want to reconcile science with Genesis, given that there is no historical reason to suppose that the author of Genesis, a scientifically illiterate scribe writing probably as recently as the 8th century BC, had any knowledge or authority to pronounce on the subject of human origins? I still earnestly hope – and believe – that Francis Collins would disown the article, or at least feel embarrassed by it. If he would not, he is unfit to hold high office in the scientific establishment of the United States.
Yours sincerely
Richard Dawkins

Now I don’t for a moment expect that BioLogos will admit the sheer silliness of their many posts on Adam and Eve, or stop their attempts to show that Biblical superstitions are credible even when supported by NO evidence, but they are feeling the sting that comes from seeing that they look ridiculous.  They should realize that this kind of desperate apologetics turns thoughtful people off on religion, as several ex-Christians have testified on this website. And I wonder if the Templeton Foundation, which is desperately trying to distance itself from this kind of woo, is aware of how their BioLogos money is being used.

35 Comments

  1. pjmad
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    “they’d simply and flatly reject the existence of a historical Adam and Eve on the grounds of no evidence—just as they’d presumably reject the existence of unicorns, or the Loch Ness monster, or Santa Claus.”

    . . . or gods.

  2. Sajanas
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    This nicely dovetails with what I read from Dan Dennet’s Breaking the Spell last night. He was discussing how, while religious believers reject the idea of a physical man in the sky type god, like Zeus or Odin, at the same time an intangible, un-gendered benevolent spirit isn’t really useful either. So they keep referring to their god as “Him”, or “The Lord”, and believe that the universe spanning entity is deeply interested in taking attendance and measuring prayer length. Intellectually, it is easy to dismiss the ideas of 800 BC Israel, but doing so removes a lot of the appeal of the religion. Why bother having Genesis at all? Why not have Aesops fables instead, since they’re both the same level of truth.

    I find the people who try and come up with scientific justifications for their religious fables a little sad. Like the people that try and figure out if the Arc of the Covenant could kill people, or if the Red Sea could part. Certainly there are more interesting things to do with science than try and find some way to justify the tall tales of ages past… better to study the actual archaeology instead.

    • Janet Holmes
      Posted June 25, 2010 at 1:29 am | Permalink

      I think there’s a lot more truth in Aesop’s fables than anywhere in the bible. I’d much rather build a system of ethics around them!

  3. Insightful Ape
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    But if Adam and Eve and original sin are metaphors for a “deeper truth” it means Jesus did actually die for the original sin, after all!
    Cue the V troll 3…2…1

  4. Posted June 24, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I have to admit, I do almost feel bad for the BioLogos folks. I skimmed the beginning of their “On Living in the Middle” post, and it is true that they are very much in the middle, and it is true that that is a very difficult place to be. On that level, I empathize with them.

    Of course, as has been pointed out numerous times, truth is not determined by splitting the difference between the two poles of public opinion. Furthermore, as Sean Caroll recently pointed out, letting one’s opinion reside at one of the poles does not necessarily make one an “extremist” either — the truth is blind to all that.

    I do feel for the BioLogos guys, they are in a difficult place to be, with attacks coming from both sides. OTOH, they chose to put themselves there, and they happen to be wrong. I’m sure they view themselves as the nice guys trying to find an appropriate middle ground. But when it comes to the faith/science divide, vaccine/autism manufactoversy, AGW, gay rights, and on and on, seeking the middle ground will only propel you farther from the truth.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      I am so glad the suffragists and abolitionists did not settle for “the middle ground”. They too were taunted as “radicals” in their day.

      • Posted June 24, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        Reminds me of this.

        It may even be true that pulling more of the fundies towards BioLogos’ “middle ground” is the best we can realistically hope for in the short term. That does not imply that we should advocate for the middle ground, not even as a temporary strategy.

        Social reform moves in small increments, brought about largely by the advocacy of those who want revolutionary change.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 24, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

          Well, I’m certainly not one to understand how to model societies. But it seems to me that social movements is shored up by economics, in that they empower them directly and indirectly (by diversifying markets; say, by gender products such as cars designed for “women taste”). This is co-evolving with better education.

          And indeed, atheism correlates with national wealth and education. Such processes knows no “middle ground” either.

          Accommodationism and its middle ground advocacy _on any time scale_ is then a loss-loss position.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted June 24, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

            Oops, lose-lose position.

  5. Tyro
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    When reading the BioLogos site, I often wonder if this is the “sophisticated” theology that we hear so much about. It’s headed by scientists and has decent funding yet the things they say seem as bone-headed and laughable as any other apologist.

    (And yes, I did re-read the original and follow-up pieces. I’m at a loss to understand how they think it makes anything better.)

  6. Andy
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I find the people who try and come up with scientific justifications for their religious fables a little sad.

    Me too. It’s also quite sinister.

  7. Andy
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I find the people who try and come up with scientific justifications for their religious fables a little sad.

    Me too. It’s also quite sinister.

  8. Kevin
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Infuriating. Using the Hurt Feelings Card because someone actually read and responded to the ENTIRE essay.

    It still boggles that this essay was offered by a non-scientist, espousing a hypothesis as devoid of logic and reason as it was of evidence. And yet somehow, we’re supposed to divine that the author didn’t “really” advocate the apparent-age hypothesis (a favorite of Young Earth Creationists for at least a century)?

    Or that mentioning (and not even rejecting) the apparent-age hypothesis somehow then automatically lends credence to the equally fact-and-reason-free hypothesis of some supernatural ensoulment ceremony happening involving the creator of everything and two distinct individuals who then went on to author the ENTIRE HUMAN RACE?!

    Seriously, WTF?

    If you folks over there at BioLogos want to try to reconcile science with religion – here’s a tip. STOP WASTING OUR TIME ON ANTI-SCIENCE NONSENSE! If some preacher comes to you with an essay declaring that he knows how many angels reside on the head of a pin, SEND HIM PACKING.

    Alternatively; if you believe there is merit to the idea, then propose it as a null hypothesis, do the genetic legwork (surely, not too difficult for someone as learned in this area as Dr. Collins, no?), and publish the results in a peer-review journal.

    Honestly, did you REALLY expect us to smack ourselves on the forehead and cry out “OF COURSE! How could I have been so BLIND?” after reading such patent nonsense?

    I find myself in complete agreement with Dr. Dawkins on this matter: If Dr. Collins does not forcefully and explicitly reject this preacher’s screed as being utterly wrong in BOTH hypotheses, I would call for his resignation as head of the NIH. He doesn’t belong in the halls of science, and certainly not in control of millions upon millions of dollars of taxpayer monies.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think it was the emotional shouting; but I suddenly got a vivid picture of a tared and feathered book-thumping priest sent packing out of town on a shouldered rail. Good job!

      [And kudos for appropriate use of null hypothesis. I recently had to point out the reverse non-standard use on an article by Brasier et al on the isolated (i.e. further fail) hypothesis of non-biogenic origin of suspected microfossils in the astrobiology course I was taking. Which amazed me, since biology use more statistics than I'm used to! :-o Now I'm happy again.]

  9. Zach Voch
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Options:

    1. Omphalism.
    2. Conjecture.

    … up to epistemic concerns, the distinction escapes me.

    Has anybody noticed that “metaphorical” has become a euphemism for “fiction my audience likes”? Clear statements like “the story is false” simply will not do. The implications of that are far too unpleasant for mythologies-in-the-other-magisteria, so we’ll be euphemistic about our opinions.

    In the spirit of this, let’s try this: “Adam and Eve do not correspond to two historical personages, as science forces us to say, but there could be a special(?) historical couple that we could call Adam and Eve. This solves the problem!”

    When I read this sort of dribble, I wonder if the author feels anything but contempt for the intended audience. He does not take himself, the audience, and/or the subject seriously. Nothing has been demonstrated. It’s conjectural garbage which is pseudoscience when not vacuous, a sort of “this will do for now, my worried believers” posturing that would make Pangloss blush.

    Nonsense with placating keywords.

  10. Adam
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    The article says that the idea that Adam and Eve were just two humans selected by God to begin his relationship with humanity “is sound — both scientifically and theologically”. But it doesn’t seem that way to me. Wouldn’t it blow the whole idea of ancestral sin out the water if Adam and Eve are almost certainly not our ancestors? How could all of humanity fall based on the actions of just two members?

    The only escape I can see is the claim that Noah’s flood must have really happened and wiped out the other gene lines, but I don’t think even Biologos would go that far.

    • Chayanov
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      After reading your post, I suddenly had this vision of God showing up and pulling two people randomly out of existing society and setting them down in the Garden of Eden, which becomes the first gated community.

      • Josh Slocum
        Posted June 24, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        Ha! “First gated community”=win.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      Scientifically ridiculous, and theologically unorthodox.
      And the biologos people are kidding themselves if this is their idea of being in the “center”.

  11. Luke
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    God, that Richard Dawkins.. always with the ‘shrillness.’ He needs to learn some civility, that man..

  12. Eric MacDonald
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    What Biologos, as well as Christianity in general, must explain, is why we should expect there to be an interpretation of the Bible in terms of which what it “says” must be true. There is no reason why this should be so, and only the institutional drag of the churches can explain why some think that there should be such an interpretation. A good book to read in this connexion is Hector Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies, which makes it perfectly clear that, after several centuries of critical study, the Bible no longer has any claim to serious attention as a source of truth. It is a collection of ancient writings of fairly doubtful provenance, cobbled together by hopeful scribes who thought that life and death must make some kind of overall sense looked at from a great height. (The writers of the books themselves may not have thought or imagined any such thing (see Job or Ecclesiastes).) The problem is, there’s no way to get up there, and everyone who tries — whether the authors of the biblical books, Mohammed, Zoroaster, or any other prophet, priest or king — ends up being — what else? — menschlich, allzu menschlich!

    • Tulse
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

      What Biologos, as well as Christianity in general, must explain, is why we should expect there to be an interpretation of the Bible in terms of which what it “says” must be true.

      Because God wrote it.

      Or…umm…inspired it…ummm…or something…

    • Posted June 25, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      “It is a collection of ancient writings of fairly doubtful provenance, cobbled together by hopeful scribes who thought that life and death must make some kind of overall sense looked at from a great height…The problem is, there’s no way to get up there, and everyone who tries — whether the authors of the biblical books, Mohammed, Zoroaster, or any other prophet, priest or king — ends up being — what else? — menschlich, allzu menschlich!”

      A very nice two-sentence essay.

  13. Doc Bill
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Dear Darrell Falk,

    Adam and Eve is a myth.

    People who believe in it are wrong.

    Wrong.

    Grow up, bud.

  14. articulett
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    I hope that they are angry in addition to being hurt– since, studies show that pissing people off can change minds (so much for accommodationism): http://www.bakadesuyo.com/can-pissing-people-off-make-them-more-open-mi#comment

    • Wowbagger
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      But surely all the accomodationists wouldn’t be continually attacking atheists for pointing out problems with religion if they didn’t themselves have evidence that a confrontational approach was counterproductive, would they?

      Because, you know, that’d mean they were nothing more than whiny, dishonest pissants…

  15. Posted June 24, 2010 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    What the Biologos guys do not understand is that for any reasonable person trying to reconsile Adam and Eve with science, is EXACTLY like trying to reconsile Odin creating the universe out of Ymir’s body with science.

  16. Michael Kingsford Gray
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    Biologosists & Mooneyists are joined at the bollocks gland.

  17. H.H.
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Why limit Adam and Eve to just two people? If the “days” in Genesis can mean “eons,” just pretend that Adam and Eve are archetypes for all males and females. So the story is really about all of humanity. Metaphoically speaking, of course. Problem solved.

    Apologetics is simple when words can mean anything you say they mean. This sort of “reconciliation” is trivially easy to accomplish, which is also why it’s generally considered to be rubbish.

  18. GeorgeG
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    “you’ll see that in no way does he deny the “apparent age” theory; …it’s simply dumb and also implies a duplicitous, manipulative God.”

    There are other possibilities besides this conclusion. Think about it for a bit and you’ll find other, different, possible implications.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 28, 2010 at 2:23 am | Permalink

      The duplicitous god seems to be the straightforward implication, which is what we need to consider.

      If there were any important alternatives you would have told us. This is but a variant of gods in the gaps – gods are in the mumbling (fuzziness).

      • GeorgeG
        Posted June 30, 2010 at 12:07 am | Permalink

        “which is what we need to consider”

        No, it is but one thing we need to consider.

        “If there were any important alternatives you would have told us.”

        Not if I wanted you to think for yourself. And not if I didn’t have the time.

  19. Rayl
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Whenever I get into with someone about the Adam and Eve story, I focus on the talking snake part and won’t let go of it. That usually produces an interesting reaction.

    • GeorgeG
      Posted June 28, 2010 at 1:29 am | Permalink

      Why would a talking snake be any more challenging to religious fellow than a talking donkey?

  20. Posted August 31, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    The Templeton Foundation makes be shudder especially when I see that the Templeton-funded website BioLogos has on it’s staff one of the worst quacks ever, KEN HAM who I am ashamed to admit was a teacher in a State School in Queensland, AU. I often wonder if he was “eased out” then went to America to help spread the God Virus. We all know about his “Creation Museum” near Petersburg, Kentucky.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] in turn, gotten the attention of popular atheist websites. Jerry Coyne, for example, succinctly skewered BioLogos this way: If BioLogos is really anxious, as it claims, to harmonize science with scripture, taking [...]

  2. [...] bloggers tried to debunk creationists this month.  At Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne criticized a group that tried to reconcile evolution with the Adam and Eve story, and [...]

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