What role does the Freedom from Religion Foundation play in the evolution, creation and intelligent design conversation?
I ask for feedback on this here because it would seem that one of the main ‘partnerships’ at what Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass calls ‘Peaceful Science’ (his description is scientistically utopian, but let’s leave that aside), appears to be mainly a politically convenient one between Dr. Swamidass and an atheist named Patrick, who is a representative for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. If was difficult to figure this out because as a non-USAmerican citizen, that organisation is off my national radar.
‘Born Again Skeptic’ https://ffrf.org/about/getting-acquainted/item/13994-jackie-douglas
Yet, when the official link with FFRF is visible, much makes sense regarding Swamidass’ evangelical-political motivations. Patrick is a self-described “militant atheist” that Dr. Swamidass surprisingly actually encourages in his active atheism for the purposes of the current PS media experiment. For his part, Patrick has reciprocated by showering Dr. Swamidass with effusive praise & glowing, sugary language, such as recently proposing him as a future chair at Oxford University for communicating science. Joshua at the same time allows Patrick to post disparaging things against Christians and other Abrahamic theists on his website as a kind of devil’s pact to keep the conversation moving forward. https://discourse.peacefulscience.org/t/christians-doing-unchristian-things/357
It has become clear that this alliance is mainly a political one, in that Joshua is almost 100% USA-focused & aware in his mission (though that doesn’t mean he has non-USA-based dialogue partners, e.g. Vincent J Torley, who will publish his first academic paper soon with Dr. Swamidass, and retired MD Jon Garvey doctoring himself into “Science & Religion Discourse” from Anglican purgatory), thus sharing the national focus of FFRF, which Patrick is ‘representing’ at ‘Peaceful Science.’ In this, Swamidass comes across as highly provincial in his thinking and rather unaware of discussions happening beyond narrow evangelicalism.
So folks, one of the funny things about it – because one needs to have a sense of humour about some of this tragicomic stuff, c’mon! ; ) – is that Swamidass seems to want to promote a ‘peaceful-inside’ like his local St. Louis evangelical megachurch. Yet he has proven to be an incredibly abrasive & control-seeking figure when it comes to ‘peaceful-outside’ (where he rarely ventures, other than having a ‘secular/public’ employer), while also representing a marginal religious community that has historically positioned itself as ‘anti-science.’ Joshua doesn’t seem to recognise, or at least doesn’t seem yet ready to face, the depth of disgrace that his local sectarian church has wrought in what Joshua calls ‘the Creation Wars.’ Until he can own up to the guilt of his own church in the sometimes bloodly history of this topic, Joshua’s destiny will likely be as a man of war in the discussion, not as a man of peace.
Swamidass’ main production outputs are at evangelical forums. We do not even have an example yet of him on a ‘secular’ stage attempting to promote a “Science of Adam.” Thus, it should not be considered unfair that Joshua is still on the bunny hill and hasn’t actually faced a serious, precise, accurate and fair critique of his ‘Science of Adam’ language. And this is also why just ‘doing good science’ alone (let’s see if he doesn’t go the wayward path of Behe in this…) is not enough, when he has shown himself that an ideologist comes along with the bargain that wants to ‘make famous’ on a topic like genealogy or genetics to the masses. Such natural scientists, who eventually realise the basic limits of their specialised scholarly field, actively seek ‘relevance’ and ‘popularity’ by moving beyond it. Thus, when acquiring institutional power, they realise a desire to ‘become political’ in order to get peoples’ attention (just like Dawkins’ did with now failed miserably memetics). And thus, ‘Peaceful Science’ was born, along with the (pride of the evangelical individualist) “Science of Adam”.
In other words, Swamidass is now taking a primarily political stand at PS, one that aims to usher in a new evangelical attitude towards ‘real genealogical Adam [& Eve, his afterthought]’ while he contends with what he perceives to be injustice and even actual racism perpetuated against him by fellow evangelicals at the BioLogos Foundation, particularly Deborah Haarsma and Dennis Venema, along with Jim Stump. It’s been a crazy period to watch this happening, as if they don’t imagine people are watching them! All that this friendly and welcoming Canadian can say to Joshua: sorry you live in that country because here that kind of racism you are experiencing at the hands of BioLogos (though Venema is also Canadian; Joshua seems to have misinterpreted Dennis’ words & first raised the term ‘racism’ himself) is a much more rare (though of course not non-existent) occurrence.
Dr. Swamidass thus now seems to have made a politically convenient alliance, after having been banished by fellow evangelicals at BioLogos, with Patrick of the FFRF. Together, they are presenting a certain kind of evangelical Protestant (with Patrick allowing this ‘religious frivolity & fantasy’ as his dutiful part of ‘the pact’) scoop dialogue that intentionally pluralises and relativises Adam, rarely speaks about Eve, claims ‘genealogy’ has far more scientificity than it actually does, regularly uplifts science into scientism when discussing human beings, and then, for the cream of the crop, takes on issues of justice with the topic of racialised science. Here we see clear & present political aims at play in almost all of Swamidass’ approach.
And there will also be a fun irony for Joshua’s future legacy, when he changes his tune and starts to respect women more than he currently does. At that time, Joshua will rightfully rename his idea and speak of “Genealogical Adam and Eve” (GAE). And yes, the acronym GAE will help distinguish it from ‘genetic algorithm; Joshua’s idea is actually GAE. The irony is that the ‘militant atheist’ Patrick was the first person to use the term ‘Genealogical Eve’ on Joshua’s site. Joshua obviously has other gender priorities.
Likewise, Joshua’s meaning of ‘human,’ a term he likes to ‘command’ as his own, comes across to this social scientist and humanist as rather ‘uncultured.’ Did they really teach him how to grunt those things he says about people in a natural sciences laboratory? ; ) If so, it goes along now with continued self-glorification of ignorance regarding ideology, especially his own that he denies holding, displaying a grotesque symptom among certain natural scientists who try to popularise (read: imperialise) their ideas that I will gladly discuss here as someone who has been watching scientists closely in professional settings for more than a decade. Joshua is non-scientifically angry with me because I am analytically watching his actions and stand ready to expose any absurdities & contradictions in his race for fame after getting tenure at Washington University. This ‘rising protest star’ displays a shocking turn of events for Christian evangelicals to self-reflect on, as their YECist echo chamber now crumbles around them & ‘accusations of racism’ appear as one of Joshua’s signature carrying cards.
As a sociologist of science, I will be watching these new political developments involving creationists & ‘theistic evolutionists’ in the USA as carefully as possible. From my view in Canada, a nation obviously much more sane and balanced on this topic than his country of birth, Dr. Swamidass seems to revel in posing as an underprivileged, isolated, unjustly treated black sheep in the USA who nevertheless sits pompously, even scientistically (though he’ll emotively deny it) on an Empty Chair. Swamidass seems to want to become an oracle for evangelicalistic Science to recover from IDism; which in the end may indeed Trump ‘fideism’ even in most anti-science radical protestant sects. So, I for one am supporting Joshua’s efforts by writing about them.
Yet sadly, most unfortunately, even in his desire to ‘get back’ at BioLogos and Dennis Venema, Joshua does not appear to possess a clear and convincing enough message to actually become the ‘Fifth Voice’ that he is so loudly proclaiming himself as being already now. He has taken to self-referencing with the “Swamidass Model”, which seems pretentious to claim such precedent, one that seems like it would utterly fall apart without the special packaging that Joshua is requesting from fellow loyal evangelicals. *ONLY* because Swamidass just got tenure is this attempt at WUSL of course even possible.
As for me, while I carry no personal animosity to Swamidass for promoting study of the origins and processes of life, including human beings, I’m scientifically skeptical of his so-called ‘strictly scientific model’, just as I am ethically skeptical of his political alliance with the FFRF’s Patrick simply in order to give atheism a ‘seat at the table.’ The latter amazingly appears to most recently include Joshua creating special “atheist back channels” for him apparently to manipulate, as one TSZ member experienced there.
I would hope and prefer to maintain a healthy skepticism of this new development and trust that Joshua won’t do things to exacerbate the stubborn incoherence of his current position. My experience with Swamidass at BioLogos was far from positive – all he could do was dig in with his ‘I’m a scientist, so I have/am knowledge’ heels & insist against my line of questioning without ever answering it, based on lack of knowledge & background training – and I can certainly understand why BioLogos pushed him out quickly and as soon as that ego could get out the door with his pretentious “(genealogical) Science of Adam.” Yet it is surely possible for Swamidass to lower his disruptive claims and make a calmer, clearer, more coherent explanation for why an “evangelical Christian alliance with the FFRF” through this tacit agreement between Swamidass and FFRF’s Patrick actually does make sense. If he can actually explain why ‘militant atheism’ is a welcome ideology at Peaceful Science, then perhaps people will be able to better see the contradictions Joshua is now juggling in himself.
Perhaps he will even come back here to a dialogue space he can’t control, in order to be able finally to speak freely about it. But I doubt he’ll wish to take the focus off of himself and his own site, at least until September when school starts again.