BioLogos and Theistic Evolution: Selling the Product

Editor's Note: The following is the first piece in a four-part conversation between Dr. William Dembski and Dr. Karl Giberson, concerning Giberson and Francis Collins' new book, The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions. Find more resources and discussion surrounding the book at the Patheos Book Club.

Read Dr. Giberson's response to this review here.

In intellectual enterprises, much of the work consists not just in coming up with ideas but then also in selling them. Giberson and Collins' newest book is largely an exercise in marketing the BioLogos brand of theistic evolution. Now there's nothing wrong with marketing ideas—in fact, the intelligent design community, of which I'm a part, has done quite a bit of this and quite successfully. But, as with all marketing, consumers have a right to expect truth in advertising. And here, in my view, this book signally fails.

The product that's being sold is theistic evolution, the view that God brought about the complexity and diversity of living forms, once first life was here, via the Darwinian evolutionary mechanism of natural selection acting on random genetic mutations. More briefly, they are marketing a mix of Christianity and Darwinism and using the BioLogos website and educational foundation as their distribution outlet (Collins founded BioLogos and Giberson is its vice president). Early in the book, Giberson and Collins gesture at evolutionary theory as something more general than Darwinism (biological evolution, they contend, has come a long way since Darwin). But soon enough, they make clear that the core of evolutionary theory that they are defending is in fact Darwinism: ". . . Darwin's theory of evolution, now that it has been confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt by science . . ." (89).

Throughout their book, Giberson and Collins overconfidently proclaim that Darwinian evolution is a slam-dunk. Thus one reads, "There has been no scientific discovery since Darwin—not one—which has suggested that evolution is not the best explanation for the origin of species" (21-22). No theory is that good. Every theory admits anomalies. Every theory faces disconfirming evidence. Repeatedly readers are informed that mountains of overwhelming evidence support Darwin's theory and that the authors are "unfamiliar with any premier scientists who reject evolution." And just so there's no doubt, in that same paragraph, they reiterate, "There are certainly a few scientists who reject evolution . . . But these are never premier scientists."

Oh, you reject Darwinian evolution; you can't be a premier scientist. What counterexample would convince Giberson and Collins to retract such a claim? How about Henry Schaefer's signature on a "Dissent from Darwin" list? Schaefer heads the computational quantum chemistry lab at the University of Georgia, has published over a thousand peer-reviewed journal articles, and is one of the most widely cited chemists in the world. Then again, Giberson and Collins look askance at this list (according to them, it has too many emeriti professors and not enough biologists). But why engage in such posturing about scientific pecking order in the first place? The issue is not who's doubting Darwinism, but what are the arguments for and against it and whether they have merit. Giberson and Collins' constant drumming of mainstream and consensus science is beside the point—science progresses by diverging from the mainstream and by breaking with consensus.

Giberson and Collins bemoan that many of the critics of Darwinian evolution are not biologists. But then we read in the preface that Francis Collins "fully completed his contribution in the spring of 2009" and "did no further work on this project after he assumed the directorship of the NIH" (9). Given that the book was just published (2011), it follows that the bulk of it was written not by biologist Francis Collins but by non-biologist Karl Giberson, who is a physicist. Moreover, if we are to believe this disclaimer, then Collins didn't offer any feedback on the manuscript as Giberson was writing it (if he subsequently read portions of the manuscript and offered editorial suggestions on how they should be changed, then it's not fair to say Collins' work on this project ended in 2009). So either this book was not properly vetted (at least not by its biologist co-author) or Collins was in fact providing input right along, which this disclaimer denies. Either option is problematic.