Biologos and Peaceful Science Forums Address Timely Evolution/Creation Issues

There are a number of on-line resources for finding information on the technical issues raised by opponents of evolution such as proponents of young earth creationism and of Intelligent Design (ID). The venerable TalkOrigins archive has a well-indexed set of many articles on creationist claims, but this site has had few new articles or revisions since around 2005. Reddit has a wide variety of discussion threads on different, sometimes obscure topics. For instance, when I wrote an assessment of a recent presentation by Sanford, Reddit was the only place I found detailed current critiques of John Sanford’s claims that the course of the “Spanish flu” pandemic was evidence against evolution, and of the validity of his “Mendel’s Assistant” program which tends to show that populations always crash due to accumulation of harmful mutations. Panda’s Thumb has an ongoing series of relevant articles, and knowledgeable commenters. On Reddit and Panda’s Thumb, the original postings (while overall civil) sometimes have an element of sneering towards opponents of evolution (who are nearly all conservative Christians), and the comment threads may get downright nasty. This all may be off-putting for inquiring religious folks, who are the audience which most needs to engage this material.

Two sites which are perhaps more believer-friendly are Biologos and Peaceful Science. 

Biologos has long had an internet presence with a pro-science, explicitly Christian point of view. Not only have do they publish an ongoing series of articles, but they moderate discussions on a vast variety of topics on their “Open Forum”.  The search function on the Biologos site helps you find discussions on subjects you are interested in. The posted rules for these discussions include, “Participate with an aim to gain deeper understanding about orthodox Christian faith and/or mainstream science, and constructively explore the relationship between them”, and “Focus on discussing other people’s ideas, not on evaluating their character, faith, communication style, or perceived ‘tone.’ “  It looks like any user who follows the rules can initiate a new topic. Here is a random snip of some recent Biologos forum topics:

A newer internet presence which also maintains a rigorously civil space is the Peaceful Science forum. It was founded in its present form in 2019 by S. Joshua Swamidass, a scientist and an evangelical Christian. (Swamidass has notably argued that a proper understanding of genetics allows for the possibility that all living humans might be the genealogical descendants of a single human couple, even if some other humans may also have existed thousands of years ago.)   

Peaceful Science has different emphases than Biologos. Peaceful Science is not explicitly Christian, though its rules of engagement similarly enforce civility: “We want to make space for differences with a civic practice of science, aspiring to humility, tolerance, and patience. Questions, we believe, should be welcomed with courage, curiosity, and empathy.”    It tends to have relatively less purely theological content than Biologos, focusing somewhat more on the science and with fewer total discussion threads. Swamidass has intentionally partnered with atheist and agnostic scientists, while also giving some voice to young earth creationists and ID proponents.  A wider spectrum of scientists moderate and contribute to the Peaceful Science discussions, giving them a different sort of credibility and visibility. The non-religious scientists who participate seem to recognize the tactical value of not insulting those who are skeptical about evolution.   I was unable to get the site search function to work consistently for me, though I was able to find articles by an external (Google or DuckDuckGo) search by entering “Peaceful Science” along with the actual technical topic. For instance, when doing research for an article I wrote on whale evolution, I found a very helpful Peaceful Science discussion thread, which complemented a Biologos dialog on that topic.

Sometimes the technical issues raised by opponents of evolution spur the Peaceful Science participants to do some ad hoc counter-research of their own. In a Panda’s Thumb post in March, Dr. Swamidass recounted their experience in countering the publication of Michael Behe’s  book Darwin Devolves :

In this book, Dr. Behe argues that adaptive evolution proceeds almost entirely by degrading or damaging genes. Even when evolution increases the fitness of organisms, it does so by destroying information in the genome, so evolution is a self-limited process that cannot explain the diversity of life.

The month before his book was published, in January of 2019, Richard Lenski, Nathan Lents, and I published an 800-word review that was critical of Darwin Devolves together in Science.

We expected a reaction from the Discovery Institute (DI).

There certainly was a strong reaction. In the ensuing weeks, the DI published over seventeen articles. In just days, they flooded search engine results with thousands and thousands of words written in response to us. These articles were written by Michael Behe himself and other scientists associated with intelligent design (ID). Some articles were unsigned without identifying any authors by name.

This sort of “squid ink” response to criticism is surely unorthodox, but do not underestimate its effectiveness. It performs a particular public theater, one that benefits the DI in its quest to promote ID. The cloud of articles attracts attention. The DI and Behe can claim to have “responded” to all the criticism directed at them. Most non-scientists cannot follow the details or assess the quality of the responses. Some might interpret the exchange as a legitimate debate.

This theater is normally where it ends.

Facing this ink cloud, most scientists just do not have the time or platform to respond. Most scientists find the flurry of articles off-putting, but the public might see evolutionary scientists abandoning a scientific debate.

In this particular case, however, Dr. Lents and I anticipated what was coming. We were prepared. We did not have millions of dollars of funding and a team of staff. But we did have the Peaceful Science forum. That forum made all the difference.

The forum is fairly small, with only 50 or so active participants each day, but it is closely watched by several people in the origins debate. It is also an open forum, where anyone can join the conversation, adding information, expertise, and questions. As an open forum, it is also chaotic and unpredictable, not fully under our control. Still, it proved to be an effective platform, turning the tables on the DI’s typical public theater.

Swamidass described how as part of their response the Peaceful Science crew worked through the details of, e.g. polar bear genetic evolution. For many of them it was a stimulating learning exercise. As a team, they were able to stay abreast of, and even ahead of, the Discovery Institute’s (DI) stream of articles defending Behe’s work:

The DI had a turnaround time of days, but the forum had a far quicker turnaround, in minutes at best and hours at worst. Many of our contributors are scientists, and that became important. Quick analysis and rebuttal of DI articles was possible, at the moment when the public was watching, and these rebuttals did not depend on just the three co-authors of the Science review.

The DI did technically respond to our review in Science. On the forum, several of us explained in detail why their responses were not “responsive” and why they did not convince us. That response disrupted the story DI wanted to tell. In that way, we interrupted their theater and told a better story.

…The never-ending debate over ID can tax anyone’s patience and often seems pedantic. But the quick back and forth of a forum was different. With other scientists to help us along, responding to the DI felt more like play than pressure.

The DI still uses this same strategy, so we will not be the last to face the cloud of ink. Next time you are caught in the cloud, come join us at Peaceful Science. Together we might succeed turning the theater around.

While I think there is still a role for the individual blogger, for influencing public opinion there is much to be said for pro-science folks to participate in sites like Biologos and Peaceful Science which garner a larger readership.

About Scott Buchanan

Ph D chemical engineer, interested in intersection of science with my evangelical Christian faith. This intersection includes creation(ism) and miracles. I also write on random topics of interest, such as economics, theology, folding scooters, and composting toilets, at www.letterstocreationistists.wordpress.com . Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, a year at seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Since then, conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and an inventor on over 100 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas. Now retired and repurposed as a grandparent.
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5 Responses to Biologos and Peaceful Science Forums Address Timely Evolution/Creation Issues

  1. Thanks for the kind endorsement.

    One minor quibble. I did show that if AE were 500 kya, their lineage did not need to interbreed with others. But my book also shows that if we allow for interbreeding, even if they were less than 10 kya, we would all descend from them.

    One pragmatic question. What were the issues you had with our search function? With some clarity on your experience, we can fix it!

    • Hi Joshua,
      Thanks for the clarification on A&E. I revised that sentence in my post. (I had relied on the W L Craig’s summary of the matter, https://peacefulscience.org/wlc-genetic-challenge/ , which only discussed the 500 kya option).
      BTW, I was in the audience at the ASA discussion on this topic I think in 2018…glad to see they have tried to make it right with you.

      On the site search function – – I was looking for material on whale evolution, and when I enter “whale” or “whales” or “Whale evolution” I just get: “No posts to display”, even though I know (from a DuckDuckGo search) that your site has a great discussion thread on the genetic evolution of whales. And a search on “beneficial” and on “adaptive” only turned up two hits each, and no hits for “duplication” – – that seems odd for a site devoted largely to defending the efficacy of evolution. But there were eight pages of hits on “Adam”.

      Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks for the correction. It can be hard to keep track of because many scientific errors were being proffered by evolutionary creationists. Quite a few scenarios they ruled out are entirely consistent with the evidence. In the end, that’s good news. We are spoiled for choice.

      You were there in 2018 for the workshop? Or in 2017 for the talk I gave? Both were standing room only. It was quite an experience in 2017 to have a whole room think I was crazy, to leave wondering if I was actually right!

      Yes, I also am glad that the ASA made this right. Hopefully the other parties involved will do so too. It was a long time coming with the ASA. With the other parties, if it comes, it will be a longer time.

      • I think it was 2018, since I recall there were several speakers. Yes, I recall being squished into the room. I could not follow the details, enough to form my own judgements. I recall that you were presenting things that seemed pretty counterintuitive, and were getting some serious pushback, but seemed to be holding your own. I left not sure what to think, but thinking that maybe you did have a case.
        It’s easier to grasp the 500k yr case; the <10kya case (genealogical vs genetic ancestry) case is harder to see. I think you have shown that it is theoretically possible. It seems like a vastly improbable outcome (why should THAT particular man and woman, out of thousands of other men and women back then, end up as our genealogical ancestors?) but maybe that is just a providence of God thing.

        On the search function…maybe it just searches on the keywords or tags which you have assigned to the articles or discussions…so maybe it's a matter of going back and expanding the keywords for the individual articles, or else enabling search within the text.

  2. Pingback: Scientists’ Responses to Stephen Meyer’s Return of the God Hypothesis | Letters to Creationists

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