BioLogos eliminates reader comments

The end is nigh, and by that I don’t mean the Second Coming but the First Going.  What is going—and has been going for some time—is the credibility and efficacy of BioLogos, the Templeton-funded organization founded by Francis Collins to help evangelical Christians embrace evolution.

It’s been apparent for a while that the matchmaking between Jesus and Darwin has not been a rousing success.  Several of the BioLogos’s bigwigs, including Karl Giberson and Pete Enns, the vice-president and head Biblical scholar respectively, have jumped ship, I suspect because of disagreements about the organization’s increasing fear of offending evangelicals.  BioLogos, for instance, takes no stand on the historicity of Adam and Eve, despite the manifest genetic evidence that the population size of human ancestors could not have been smaller than several thousand individuals in the last million years. They don’t want to offend evangelicals by speaking the truth: that Adam and Eve are complete fictions.

It is in fact BioLogos’s failure to take the hard line when it comes to science that has led to its failure. Rather than insist that the science is right, and then cajole Christians into accepting it, BioLogos has been moving itself toward the Christians, waffling on crucial scientific (and theological) issues rather than offend its audience.

I suppose this was predictable. In fact, I suspect the BioLogos mission was doomed from the outset.  Evangelicals are simply not going to cede crucial issues affecting their faith to science.  If Adam and Eve were metaphorical (one interpretation offered by BioLogos in the ludicrous “federal headship” model), then Jesus died for a metaphor. That simply won’t do. Well-intended as they were, Giberson and Collins didn’t know what they were up against.  Karl, I think, has finally seen the light, but BioLogos continues to move more and more towards apologetics and farther and farther from science. So much for the accommodationist strategy of “If we don’t insult the dogma of Christianity, creationists will come around to evolution.”

BioLogos’s latest desperation move is to turn off all reader comments, allowing instead a small selection of comments to be vetted, published, and answered by the editors.  According to a description rationalization of their new comments policy, outlined by content manager Jim Stump:

We’ve been talking about how well our current open comments policy on the blog serves the purpose of facilitating discussion within the BioLogos community. So we did our own study, and it turns out that our comments section does very well at facilitating conversation among very few people. We have multiple tens of thousands of unique visitors to our site per month. During the month of September, 93.7% of the comments made on the blog came from .026% of our visitors. That leaves a lot of voices “cowering in the back of the classroom” (in a virtual sense, of course). So we’d like to try something different.

Beginning next week, comments on the blog will typically be closed (there may be some exceptions to that policy for certain posts). Instead, we’ll invite readers to submit their comments and questions to an email address (comments@biologos.org). Then, every so often we’ll ask the author of the blog post to respond to some of the best of these, and we’ll feature them in a “Letters to the Editor” format on the blog. We want to see if this encourages more people to join in the dialogue about origins. Perhaps we’ll revert to the open policy at some future time, but we thought we’d give this a try. For now our Facebook page will remain open for comments. And comments to this post are open for one last time.

I’m not sure how to take this, but one thing it means is that there won’t be free discussion, but rather discussion slanted toward what the editor wants.  And I’m not sure, either, whether this policy will encourage more people to comment—or at least to take issue with either BioLogos’s views or views of other readers.  Why would someone be more likely to comment under this new policy, particularly if the comments aren’t anonymous (BioLogos says nothing about that)?

I can’t imagine turning off comments on this site for two reasons. First, I learn a ton from those comments. I think people see that there’s a huge range of expertise on my site—expertise that often either takes issue with what I say or finds errors in my reasoning or statements.  Although I do ban people for rudeness or micturation on the carpet, I try not to stifle free discussion—so long as it’s civil. I’ve learned a lot from those discussions, and a lot of thinking inspired by my readers will be on tap in my next book. (Thanks, folks!)

Second, what good is it to put something out there and not allow people to have their say? My guess is that readers come here at least as much to speak their piece as to listen to mine. And if people disagree with me or others, they want to voice their dissent. I hope that in the end there’s been more light than heat.

The reaction of BioLogos readers to the new policy is mixed, but mostly negative. Here are two comments:

Picture 2Picture 5What I found most interesting, though, was a comment by the post’s author, James Stump:

Picture 6

This, it seems, is the real explanation: people were arguing back and forth about how God interacts with the world, and those comments apparently turned people off.  Atheists showed up, and so did young-earth creationists: precisely the people BioLogos doesn’t want. And “sophisticated” Christians, like those who run BioLogos, don’t want that kind of discussion for two reasons. First, it emphasizes how little (i.e, nothing) any of them know about God, and may shake their faith. Second, if the nonbelievers and yahoos get their say, it will show clearly why BioLogos will never sway most evangelicals.

And of course neither BioLogos nor the new comments policy are ever going to settle the issue of “how God interacts with the natural world.”  But in the end, that’s exactly what BioLogos has to do if it is going to draw Christians toward evolution.  It is going to have to admit the science: straight evolution, no evidence for theistic guidance, no guided mutations, no Adam and Eve. It is going to have to say that there is no evidence that God does interact with the world, and then proceed on that basis.

I’m amused at Stump’s statement, “Not everyone within BioLogos agrees on how God does this.” Doesn’t that show the ultimate futility of their mission? Scientists can agree on stuff like evolution, but Christians won’t agree on whether it really happened and, if so, how God did it. Some of Biologos’s commenters don’t believe in God, or at least in the Christian God (the readers include Jews).

Commenter “Eddie” cuts through all the crap (I’ve left off the last two bits of his comment):

Picture 2

All that Templeton money, all those electrons expended in the service of accommodation, and what does BioLogos have to show for it? Have they offered a consensus view on how God works through evolution? (For example, does God make mutatons? And why all those extinct species?) Have they brought even one evangelical and creationist Christian around to evolution? In terms of converts per dollar, I suspect that Richard Dawkins is infinitely more efficient than BioLogos.

The reason BioLogos won’t succeed is because they have no consensus view to offer evangelicals: just an array of speculative and untestable options which are in various degrees unpalatable to everyone. Templeton should stop throwing money down this empty well.

55 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    sub.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted October 26, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      si

  2. Posted October 26, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    BioBogus yearns for every thread of the cosmos to be infused with immaculate paternalism.

  3. Alex Shuffell
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    “During the month of September, 93.7% of the comments made on the blog came from .026% of our visitors.”

    That sounds like a normal figure for the comment/reader ratio of any website that allows comments. It would be interesting to see the same numbers for WEIT website. Turning off comments is a horrible idea, most of the blogs/websites I read I don’t comment on. It’s just as fun/educational reading the comments as it is the original article.

    • David Duncan
      Posted October 26, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      If only a tiny minority comment turning off comments doesn’t seem to be the way to increase the ratio of commentators.

    • Posted October 27, 2013 at 3:08 am | Permalink

      I always read WEIT but never comment because there are already so many comments. My voice will get drowned out, I figure. It’s tough to have a coherent conversation with 100 people, but with just 10 (the number of active commenters I figure they had) you can have a nice interactive discussion.

      • Bob J.
        Posted October 28, 2013 at 12:46 am | Permalink

        Keep writing John. For all the 100’s of comments, the lone bit of insight often makes the most impact. Indeed, the commenter who waits and thinks is usually a gem to read.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 28, 2013 at 5:51 am | Permalink

          What Bob said! If you have something to say go ahead and say it because you could bring something new to the conversation.

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I think this site is in the sweet spot for moderation and commenting. The sites that are unsuccessful fall into two buckets: 1) those that have too many rude commenters and trolls that take over the whole thing and push out all others who don’t want the hassle of interacting with them (I think we all have examples of those sites) 2) those that cut off all discussion (often because of the reasons listed in 1) either with too much moderation or with the suspension of commenting altogether. Sometimes 2 is preferable.

    From my personal experience, when I first started reading this site, I cringed at what the comments might be, but was elated to see that the comments were not only civil but very smart. I was delighted at the quality of replies and how witty and intelligent the commenters are! Jerry is right that we come here to read both what he writes and what the commenters say in response (at least from my perspective). I’ve learned a lot by participating in conversations here.

    I think this site is a rare one and its all to Jerry’s efforts to keep it that way so that people who want to participate are not drowned out by bullying trolls. Kudos, Jerry!

    • Posted October 26, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      What she said!

    • µ
      Posted October 26, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      RE: “comments [at WEIT are] not only civil but very smart”

      I visit here largely for the comments, the unexpected tangents. Love how the comments stir the pot. I learn more from the comments than from the main articles to [hopefully] become better instructor of Evolution.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 26, 2013 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Read, read!

    • Posted October 26, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Professor ceiling cat could juts post your comment as an addition to his comment policy and it will be good! It’s a good site to visit.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 26, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      + 5 !

    • Posted October 27, 2013 at 3:11 am | Permalink

      You forgot another huge category of unsuccessful blogs – those with zero comments, because the few readers are uninspired.

  5. michieux
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Not much of a surprise, really. In my experience, the “true believers”, whether it be in gods or “complementary medicine”, or whatnot, tend to look for “evidence” that shores up whatever they believe in, where a rational person might look for evidence that may falsify a questionable belief.

  6. Posted October 26, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    By replacing direct comments with those passing muster, they are assuring revealed truth unlike some site which allow every view to be posted.

  7. Max
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    It’s morning here and my eyes aren’t fully functioning so I read the first sentence as “I don’t mean the Second Coming but the First Gong,” and was thinking it referred to “The Gong Show” from the late 70’s. And it made sense, because I pictured the site getting gonged and losing.

    Of course, they couldn’t ask the celebrities why they gonged them because comments are disabled. :-)

  8. Posted October 26, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    If there’s one word that both describes and defines the fungelical mindset it’s this: chickenshit.

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Bertrand Russell noted that many theologians who retained (marginal semi-)credibility simply flat out denied the historicity of Adam and Eve. (1st chapter of “Religion and Science” and chapter 7 “Mysticism”)

    However, he noted that all liberal theologians retain a sense of Cosmic Purpose (Russell’s phrase and caps) often claiming that this actually worked through evolution. He then argues well as to why close examination of the cosmos fails to show any sign of cosmic purpose (though he thinks pantheistic views relatively more credible than theistic ones.)

    On the question of how one can be a Christian and not believe in a historical Adam, some Christians hold that even without Adam there has to be some sort of primordial “Fall” (CS Lewis), but this seems to be utterly unsupported by any anthropological data. (Other schools of Christianity seem to dispense with a primordial Fall altogether, in which case Jesus died to absorb all of human evil in some broad generic sense.)

    The persistence of this type of thinking is ironically illustrated by Sigmund Freud’s(!!!) secularization of it with an equally fanciful speculation of a primordial first murder of father by a group of sons, which Freud at one time serious suggested was a ancient historical event the source of all of mankind’s subsequent psychological problems!!! (Source: Totem and Taboo and “Civilization and its Discontents”).


    I’ve always greatly admired Francis Collins (as have Michael Shermer and Christopher Hitchens), but wondered if BioLogos was going to shipwreck eventually or not.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      I’ve seen liberal apologists get so helpful in offering reasonable interpretations for the claims of the Bible (“so wouldn’t that make sense?”)in order to get what Greta Christina calls “the Atheist Seal of Approval” that they end up endorsing a sort of dressed-up humanism.

      Maybe this is the fear driving Biologos. Too many atheists in the comments challenging their position and the writers risk a slow and gradual slide into what may be the Accomodationists own form of accomodationism (“there’s no necessary conflict between science and religion if you just minimize the religion till it sounds the same as atheism.”)

    • Moarscienceplz
      Posted October 26, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      As a child, I was forced to sit through years of boring United Methodist sermons. I’m not sure Original Sin was ever specifically addressed but my impression is that they rejected it. I think Inherent Sin might be the way to describe their beliefs, as in, “Look the Savior of the World came to give his Gospel to us and ourresponse was to torture him to death. We surely are wicked sinful creatures.”

    • Sines
      Posted October 26, 2013 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

      Adam and Eve always seemed to me to be unnecessary for Christianity.

      I mean, if disobeying god is all it takes for everything to go to shit… then we do that all the time. It didn’t need to be a specific woman named Eve, to engage in a specific fruit-eating act.

      In fact, it makes a lot more sense that god thinks we all deserve to be tortured for the minor disobediences of our own, and the minor disobediance of a distant ancestor. You take Adam and Eve out of Christianity, and you end up with rather a more coherent theology.

      Granted, you then have to ask why Jesus and Paul acted as though Adam and Eve were real people, but Christians already have to explain away so much by metaphor I see this as a trivial problem.

      Getting rid of the idea of a literal Adam and Eve seems to me to be a net win for having Christianity make more sense. And given how little sense it makes in the first place, it can use every bit it can get.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 27, 2013 at 3:11 am | Permalink

        I’d agree. I’d think that while almost every Christian believes in Jesus (because that’s virtually what defines Christianity), many – possibly a majority – of non-Fundamental Christians would regard the garden of Eden and Adam & Eve as metaphorical or mythical.

        As for why Jesus spoke as if Adam & Eve were real – he was giving his message for the people of his time (who believed in Adam & Eve) in terms they would understand. If he was preaching today, he would give his message in modern terms. I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I should think any theologian worth his salt could get around that one very easily.

  10. Posted October 26, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    In terms of converts per dollar, I suspect that Richard Dawkins is infinitely more efficient than BioLogos.

    To knit a pic, division by zero is undefined, not infinite…though, granted, I suppose it might actually be infinite over the countable domain rather than the domain of reals….

    b&

  11. Posted October 26, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    One of my favourite writers on biological topics is Dennis Venema, on Biologos. How he reconciles his lucid exposition of evolution as natural process, with his belief in the redeeming power of Jesus, is his problem, not mine. So if Biologos crumbles, I hope he will find some other outlet.

    • Posted October 26, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

      I also really liked his clear explanations of evolutionary theory. They are very useful to present to religious evolution-deniers.

    • Karen S.
      Posted October 27, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Yes, Dennis Venema is a great guy who teaches good science, and BioLogos is not worthy of him. He teaches genetics at Trinity Western University in Canada. I doubt he thinks that God pushes genes around, but he’s probably forbidden to say this outright in his BioLogos columns. He has been awarded a grant by BioLogos to write a book (along with a New Testament scholar) about “the evidence for evolution and population genetics, with informed theological reflection on how these issues interact with orthodox Christianity.”

      Really? We’ll see what happens.

      • Posted October 28, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        TWU is a bit of a strange place – I wouldnt’t be surprised if his employer would want him to keep his own theology quiet, because they do get a fair number of fundamentalist students.

  12. Posted October 26, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    If the good professor may possible make use of stuff he learned from his WEIT blog in a future book, pretty please include my more crackpot hypotheses. For example the one about the fact that the same human personality types can often be seen throughout the animal and bird kingdom. Y’all know that cats are people, Give’em a shave, a pair of shoes for the hind legs, a good degree from Chicago University and you could have a Democratic contender on your hands. Or you could shave a goose, push his feet into Wellington-boots, give him a gun, and send him to Liberty University for a degree (easily obtainable, I hear), and you would have an outstanding contender for the Teaparty. All good, clean fun, but the hypothesis will be mainstream soon.

    • Posted October 26, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Not sure how inquiry into finding human personality types in the greater animal kingdom will survive real science scrutiny. Too many variables. But maybe personalities of various d*g breeds could be fruitfully compared to human personalities. The first thing that comes to mind are the frenetic ‘workaholic’ behaviors of Border Collies and other working breeds. Those and some others sure remind me of people I know.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 26, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Don’t forget plants! I used to play that when I was a girl:

      “If you were a flower, what kind of flower would you be?”

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 26, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Oh, you have such hypotheses and a book you’re pushing? I had no idea!
      ;)

      • Posted October 26, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

        News to me, too!

        /@

      • js
        Posted October 26, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        I read it that George was offering his hypotheses to Dr Coyne in any future books.
        N’est-ce pas?

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 26, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          IIRC, he’s mentioned a book of his before here…

          • Posted October 26, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

            Once. Maybe twice… 

            /@

            • Posted October 27, 2013 at 3:49 am | Permalink

              I’m not pushing a book, I’m pushing an hypothesis. ‘Human Sub-Set Theory’, which proposes that humans are not intellectually homogeneous, gives a complex and engaging explanation for religion. Once you grasp the idea, then so much of what is unknown about the world begins to fall into place. There is, of course, a blockage in human understanding, called ‘Class Theory’. But once you get that the classes are, in fact, different types of humans each with their own Brain Operating System, than the great Lamarckian blockage is removed, and human understanding can progress.

              Not one of you has offered to follow-up, experimentally and shave a cat or a goose, and insert them among those who share their personality-type, so my hypotheses will remain untested.

  13. madscientist
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Ooooh boy. I especially like the bit about there being many defensible positions about how god interacts with the world. Mr. Stump has a strange notion of defense. Mr. Stump must naturally believe in the many defensible positions about which god is real – or does he?

  14. Michael Fugate
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    BioLogos has been censoring comments for quite some time. My last time at the site was when I attempted to comment on their paean to Conor Cunningham’s book “Darwin’s Pious Idea” and they sent me an email asking for clarification – it was all very nice, but even after my reply it was never posted. I think Jerry might have commented on Cunningham and if you don’t remember here is part of blurb on the book jacket: David Bentley Hart (a theologian with no biology training)”…in the literature of contemporary evolutionary biology (of which he provides a far better and far more probing general treatment than does, say, Richard Dawkins).” Arrogance? Ignorance?

    As Jerry points out it rapidly became a site more interested in apologetics than science. It is always more important that believers remain believers than to it is for them to accept scientific findings. Anything that might lead someone “astray” must be censored – it is akin to PC on steroids.

    • Posted October 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      My recent experience with BioLogos was different. I think there was a change of management (or else the management simply stopped caring about the comments) between your experience and mine. I often took a strong atheist position, and though I was often insulted by a couple of the other commenters, I was never censored, and often treated civilly. In fact, one of the BioLogos writers (Ted Davis) actually chastened one of the Christian commenters for his treatment of me. I found the site to be one of the best and most civil for debating these fundamental questions. I especially enjoyed my exchanges with Eddie, the guy whose comment Jerry quotes at the end of his post. I will be sorry to see it go. I do not know of another Christian-majority site that allows both theists and atheists to have civil, respectful dialogues.

      • Michael Fugate
        Posted October 26, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

        That was January 2011 – never darkened their door again.

  15. Leigh Jackson
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    They tried to censor one of my posts so I told them where to go and have never been back. Not too long after that Giberson moved on. Probably no connection but if it was because of the censorship there then good for him.

  16. kennyrb
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    “We want to see if this encourages more people to join in the dialogue about origins.”

    Sending comments through an authority screen relates to dialogue in the same way that “God working in nature” relates to natural selection.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 26, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Good point!

  17. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    It has a certain (religiously mystic, of course) Star Wars theme going for itself:

    – I felt a great disturbance in the Logos, as if 0.026 % of possible voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

    – As I have foreseen.

    My reflection is that it is striking how theism has become indistinguishable from deism, and both indistinguishable from homeopathy, as science has progressed.

    With inflation theism could claim, not omnipotence, but somehow being responsible for producing a relatively utterly minute spacetime “a long time ago”. While deism could claim somehow being responsible for the laws producing it. Potato, potatoe.

    But in both cases the pre-inflation spacetime supposedly magically produced or not, is now known to be diluted to < 10^-50 parts by non-magic spacetime produced by the inflaton field.

    As the extent of the bubble containing the local universe and its contents of structures are both produced by quantum fluctuations in that field, the deist idea of somehow 'imprinting' a deterministic outcome from the initial volume is indistinguishable from homeopathic claims. It used to be a claim of impossible finetuning, now it is just impossible.

  18. Mattapult
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant, if all comments are sent to an inbox, they don’t have to answer any of them. Just post a few softball questions they wrote themselves, and it they can appear to be holding a dialog with real people. Seems representative of theology in general.

  19. Ken Pidcock
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Hey, I would love to see Templeton continue throwing money down that empty well.

  20. Moarscienceplz
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    “just an array of speculative and untestable options which are in various degrees unpalatable to everyone.”

    Best definition of religion I’ve ever seen.

  21. 413sylvia
    Posted October 27, 2013 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    The biggest problem Biologos has are not atheists, agnostics or creationists but fans of the ID movement: they would agree to evolution but only under the premise to see God’s action “around every corner”, or at least, in every complex organism. It’s a very mechanistic view, but rather easy to grasp, without deep philosophical background. This make is bad science, bad philosophy and bad theology.
    My guess is that Biologos has a difficult stand to differentiate itslf from ID, since they are evangelical; Roman Catholics have an easier stand here, because they have a clearer concept of metaphysics.

  22. John Schneider
    Posted October 27, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Those few of us who are well aware of need to abandon belief in a historical Fall and to give an account of how the randomness, waste, and brutality of evolutionary systems and processes could be compatible with belief in a morally good God (Karl Giberson, Pete Enns, and myself, for instance, have been all but banished from the conversation at BioLogos. IMO it has become just another extension of the Sunday School that evangelical Christianity passes off for serious education. The last comment cited in Jerry’s piece is devastatingly on target.

    • Karen S.
      Posted October 27, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      Don’t forget Denis Lamoureux.

    • Posted October 27, 2013 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      I again want to emphasize that something had changed over the last couple of years, and quite hostile (but still civil) comments by myself (atheist) and by Eddie, the commenter mentioned above, were uncensored.


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