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Theology at BioLogos: The Curious Case of the “Wesleyan Maneuver” – Part 1


As readers of UD know, the organization called BioLogos is dedicated to the harmonization of modern science – by which it means, mainly, neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory – with Christian theology. One of the problems that has always bedevilled the BioLogos project is that its leading science-trained figures – directors and columnists alike – have displayed a combination of philosophical ineptness and historical ignorance regarding Christian theology. Their discussions of Christian doctrine tend to be sporadic, brief, and undeveloped; their historical documentation for theological claims is generally non-existent, and only rarely amounts to more than proof-texting (with two endlessly repeated quotations from Calvin and Augustine-via-Galileo constituting almost the entire primary-source case for their arguments); their theological reasoning about matters of creation, nature, time, eternity, randomness, causality, etc. is generally thin, strained, and apparently hastily improvised; and finally, their writing betrays an almost complete lack of concern for fidelity to the major Patristic, Medieval, and magisterial Reformation positions in either Biblical or systematic theology. For this reason, it is not surprising that BioLogos’s theological positions have been frequently attacked by YEC, OEC, and ID people, and even by a number of TE/EC people whose respect for Christian tradition is such that they cannot let modern travesties of Christian teaching pass for traditional or orthodox faith.

Now this situation, though it has prevailed for years, may be changing. The recent columns on BioLogos of Dr. Ted Davis and Dr. Robert Russell – both of whom have considerable academic background in theology and in the historical relations between theology and science – suggest that BioLogos has felt a need to strengthen itself on the historical and theological side. Those ID proponents who are Christian should all acknowledge and encourage intellectual commitment of this sort.

Nonetheless, the predominant theological views aired on BioLogos, and the predominant ways of arguing about theology, are still those we have seen for the past five years. And one of the most peculiar features of BioLogos theological argumentation is a ploy which, for want of a better term, we may call “the Wesleyan Maneuver.”

The Wesleyan Maneuver is generally executed when a BioLogos columnist or official is backed into a corner in a discussion of God’s control over the evolutionary process. The sequence of discussion, though varying slightly in each individual case, generally takes the following form:

1. A commenter asks, in a non-belligerent tone, what a particular BioLogos author believes about God’s control over the evolutionary process.

2. The BioLogos author attempts to deflect the question in one of a number of ways (answering an entirely different question; accusing the questioner of making theologically heretical or “Enlightenment” assumptions in the very form of the question; or asking the questioner a question about what the question means).

3. The commenter tries to get the discussion back on track by responding in an appropriate way to whatever deflection is offered, so that the original question can be answered.

4. The BioLogos author continues to deflect the (original or reformulated) question.

5. The commenter, perhaps starting to show slight impatience but remaining polite, reformulates and explains the question in as many ways as necessary, determined not to leave without an answer.

6. The BioLogos author, if he does not exit the thread altogether (and thus leave the question unanswered) finally gives some sort of answer, but an inadequate one, partly sketchy and partly off-topic, and conveying a strong impression that he does not want to fully commit himself.

7. The commenter presses the question, demanding a clearer answer.

8. At some point, the BioLogos author, weary of the chase, gives a final answer – an answer which, though still unsatisfactory due either to theoretical muddle or deliberate reticence, is as clear an answer as he is ever going to give to the question.

9. The commenter points out that the answer offered seems to indicate a relationship between divine action and the evolutionary process which does not do justice to the omnipotence, governance, or providence of God.

10. The BioLogos author employs “the Wesleyan Maneuver,” passing off responsibility for the incongruous theology on the Wesleyan tradition.

In what follows, I try to provide a detailed account of one example of the Wesleyan Maneuver, and an assessment of the value of this argumentative device. However, because of the length of the example and the assessment, I have decided to split the column into three parts. In the next installment, Part 2, I will describe and critically analyze the example; in the final installment, Part 3, I will give my assessment of the Maneuver itself.

To be continued …

Thomas - This is what I have always been frustrated over on most theistic evolutionary positions. You might be interested in an article I wrote on my blog: (Almost) Believing in Divine Action When you can't imagine how your view of 20 billion years of cosmic and biological evolution is different because you believe in God (other than to provide some additional fluff words), do you really believe in divine action at all? I have no problem per se with a Christian believing in theistic evolution - there are some reasonable evidences for evolution in general (meaning common descent). But if you're view of evolution is indistinguishable from the atheists, you have to wonder if you really believe in divine action at all. johnnyb
I'm ready for part two now... ...you can post it any time. ;-) Chance Ratcliff

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