Commenting, Evolution, and Public Forums

Another prominent website in the evolution/creation debates has changed its comment policy.

As you may recall, Popular Science announced recently that it was shutting off public comments entirely.  Now BioLogos has decided to vet, edit, and publish only select comments, along with author response.

For those new to the scene, BioLogos has made itself the leading voice for theistic evolution, what its leaders often call “evolutionary creationism.”  Founded by evangelical scientist Francis Collins, the organization has hoped to spread the idea that good science and good religion do not need to conflict.  Bible-believing Christians, BioLogos believes, can still embrace evolutionary science.

But that does not mean, apparently, that good manners and blog commenting can go together.  BioLogos’ Content Manager Jim Stump explained their reasoning for changing their public comment policy.  Too much of the online discussion, Stump said, was dominated by a few voices.  Instead of merely leaving comments open, editors will solicit email comments.  Those comments will be organized into a more coherent back-and-forth between commenters and original authors.  The hope is that this model will encourage more participation from more people than the open-forum approach.

Will it work?

If it does, is it worth the price of restricting open dialogue?

Ferocious critic Jerry Coyne called this a “desperation move” by an organization foundering on the shoals of reality.  Too many commenters, Coyne argued, were asking awkward questions and making persuasive arguments.  The real questions—about how God interacts with the world—proved threatening to BioLogos’ position on the compatibility of science and faith, Coyne said.  Too wide a chasm yawned between real science—which recognizes the extremely unlikeliness of humanity deriving from only two people—and evangelical religion—which insists on an historical Adam & Eve.

I don’t share Professor Coyne’s contempt for the BioLogos mission.  I believe the evolution/creation debates have plenty of room for scientific belief that rubs along with religious belief.

But I agree with Coyne that shutting down comments to preclude dominance by a few voices doesn’t make much sense.  The purpose of this sort of online publication is precisely to allow a free flow of ideas and discussion between people who might not otherwise meet one another.  If a few vociferous voices dominate that discussion, so be it.

A better way to include the unincluded would be actively to solicit short columns and opinion pieces by a wide spectrum of readers.  That way, more voices could be included from people who might shy away from the hurly-burly of an active and combative open-comment forum.

 

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4 Comments

  1. This is another step in the evolution of BioLogos, and as we know, not all evolutionary changes have positive outcomes. The BL blog started with open comments, changed to registration-required comments, then began monitored-comments with some folks being banned, and now closed/selective comments. I believe that they should have followed Coyne’s procedures at WEIT – simple log-in and clear-cut rules that are monitored and enforced by Jerry. Another facet of the BL evolution is the departure of progressive voices such as Giberson and Enns and what I believe is a retrograde departure from the initial vision of Collins and his colleagues. As is Templeton’s wont, the Foundation exercised considerable influence on the form and function of BioLogos, and sadly, I believe that closing comments is another small step toward oblivion for the foundation.

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    • Thanks for the background. You’ve also mentioned in the past that the historicity of Adam & Eve was the reef that sunk a project to bring real evolutionary science to evangelical Protestants. Professor Coyne mentions that as well in his post. Forgive my ignorance, but what’s the big deal? Why is that such a divisive issue?

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  2. Adam – you will get a much better answer from Pete Enns, and even might find a blog entry and discussion about this at Pete’s blog. However, my understanding is that for many conservative evangelicals, if Adam and Eve were not real people whose sinful actions were not the literal cause of the fall, then Jesus’ life and death did not directly address an actual event. Coyne would say that Jesus thus died for a metaphor. Of course many serious Christians do not predicate their acceptance of Jesus on the literal reality of Adam and Eve.

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  3. I am guessing they just don’t want to be a social networking site and have to deal with the increased bandwidth (without more unique visitors and thus page views and ad revenue) and moderation hassles. It’s worth noting that creationist and conservative websites have been censored for years. Creationist videos on youtube routinely disable or censor comments, and websites like conservapedia are a farce. I’ve contributed (politely) to two creation vs evolution forums, and was blocked from both within a day or two – the first I was blocked from after a few posts. I posted a few comments on ICR’s “that’s a fact” website awhile ago and while there are tons of positive comments mine (which simply point out factual inaccuracies in their videos) are permanently “awaiting moderation”.

    Why isn’t this considered scandalous? Because only one side is held to any sort of intellectual standard.

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