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Symposium? Or Firing Squad?

Douglas Axe

Doug Axe reflects on a symposium organized to consider the merits of his book, Undeniable. I have to add my own voice, because in saying that the “deck was stacked against me,” Dr. Axe has somewhat understated the situation.

There are a number of peculiar things about the “symposium,” published by the Carl F.H. Henry Center and its journal Sapientia. One, as I’m informed, is that the Center’s namesake, theologian Carl F.H. Henry (1913-2003), founding editor of Christianity Today, was a critic of Darwinian orthodoxy who wrote approvingly of forerunner arguments for intelligent design. But times change.

As Axe notes, the four reviewers of his book are theistic evolutionists. It’s more than that, however. The first participant is Dennis Venema, best known for having a longstanding ax to grind against intelligent design. Venema criticizes Doug Axe at length in his book Adam and the Genome, as well as Stephen Meyer and Michael Behe. As we pointed out this morning, there is a tendency to citation bluffing on Dennis’s part. No less a scientific authority than distinguished geneticist Richard Buggs has shown as much in an ongoing exchange with Dennis regarding claims in his book. Axe demonstrates the same problem with Dennis’s review of Undeniable for the Sapientia symposium. Citation bluffing means tossing out references to research that sound impressive but, on closer inspection, don’t actually support the point you are trying to make.

Dennis Venema is affiliated with the group BioLogos, which advocates for theistic evolution and whose website describes him as a Fellow of Biology. His contribution was published this week. Next week, Cara Wall-Scheffler of Seattle Pacific University will respond to Axe. She is a BioLogos grant recipient who also sometimes teaches for the Faraday Institute, the British version of BioLogos, or maybe the “British equivalent of Templeton,” as Jerry Coyne puts it, referring to the John Templeton Foundation, which has lavishly supported both.

Moving along, a week later comes reviewer Joel Duff from the University of Akron, a writer and speaker for BioLogos. He is followed, still a further week after that, by Keith Fox, the Faraday Institute’s Associate Director. Dr. Fox has already negatively reviewed Doug Axe’s book, as well as debated him on the radio.

Do you see a pattern here? All four are tied to BioLogos, Faraday, or both. Two reviewers have already criticized Axe. Fox already wrote about Undeniable itself, and Axe has answered him here at Evolution News. If you wanted a team of biologists guaranteed to attack Doug Axe’s book, while putting a Christian gloss, of a certain type, on it, this would be a logical lineup to get that job done.

Axe himself, meanwhile, will not be allowed to respond to the group until March 5, a month after Sapientia published Dennis Venema’s review.

A symposium implies a diversity of perspectives with at least the reasonable hope of open minds, everyone arguing freely, and no one held back or held down while others pummel him. This is not a symposium. It’s a firing squad — shooting blanks, so it seems so far.

Photo credit: Chris Hayles [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.