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Keeping Things Civil

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January 6, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity
Keeping Things Civil

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team. You can read more about what we believe here.

Since we first began our blog in April 2009, we’ve been amazed by the depth of the discussions that have taken place in the comment sections of our posts. While our readers don’t all share the same views on the relationship between science and religion, these discussions often remain both open and civil.

However, occasionally, debates can become rather heated. As our blog continues to grow, the need to keep comments civil, open, and balanced, and for commenters to demonstrate good manners and follow our Commenting Guidelines (see right sidebar), is even more important.

As one reader shared with us:

“The more closely I follow debates on the internet, the more I find myself drawn to a different but related topic: how comment posts are worded, and how debates are conducted. I'm often surprised by the occasional lack of good manners in such posts, despite the best efforts of your moderators. It's rare for me to find detailed comment threads that don't contain multiple instances of less-than-kind expressions, usually between Christians. Given this is all in public view, it seems to me that the very goal of these Christians - presumably to further God's Kingdom - is being undermined by the means by which they pursue this goal.”


The BioLogos Forum is so thankful for our readers, and we look forward to many more engaging, productive, and, above all, civil discussions on the harmony of science and religion in the coming year.

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John Kwok - #1819

January 6th 2010

This was posted over at Panda’s Thumb on December 30th and I concur with this poster’s observation (Out of respect to your posting policies, I have edited a certain word.):

A word about civility:

Which is civil?

1. There are many virtues to the good citizen Joe Jones, but he wears white socks so his position on Health Care Reform must be rejected.

2. Joe Jones gives a f**king stupid argument on Health Care Reform because he considers only physician visits and not hospital stays.

Position 1 is expressed in gracious language, but the reasoning is irrelevant. Position 2 uses foul language, but it attacks the argument and not the person. I consider statement 2 to be civil and statement 1 to be uncivil.

John Kwok - #1820

January 6th 2010

As a postscript to my previous comment, I think it is civil for me to note that the Discovery Institute, while it claims to be “democratic”, has demonstrated, by virtue of its past and ongoing activities, that it is really an organization interested in promoting the establishment of a theocratic Fascist dictatorship here in the United States, as demonstrated via the voluminous writings of biologist Paul R. Gross (a fellow conservative BTW), philosopher Barbara Forrest and others. I will concede that this observation may be regarded as inflammatory by some, but that is a questionable interpretation IMHO, and anyone reading this comment should realize that I am trying to be civil while stating what should be considered obvious to anyone who has reviewed carefully the Discovery Institute’s history.

Glen Davidson - #1835

January 6th 2010

Why you appalling fascist twits. 

‘K, just kidding.  I like civil discourse as well, when possible, and it usually is here.

Actually, while I appreciate John’s point, it’s not clear that either of his examples is truly civil.  What we can say regarding terminology is that the first statement is an ad hominem attack (fallacy), while the second one is not.

I am not in favor of the second statement so long as other people are using more civil language.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #1836

January 6th 2010

What dooms civility in many of these “discussions” is the fact that IDists and other creationists basically have to claim close-mindedness, ulterior motives, and persecutorial tendencies and actions on the science side.  Of course they have no evidence for it (usually simply pointing out that the science is favored over their pseudoscience and implying that the two ought to be treated the same) any more than they have for a designing hand in life.  But that’s it, they have to claim that they have all of this evidence, but the atheists/pagans on the other side are not allowing it to be explored and presented.  Take this from an interview with Meyer:

” Yeah on the global warming debate I think you see—this nature worship to that animates a lot of the and the Darwinian that the Darwinian world view I think leads him to the idea that nature is the end—be all—some people take that even further but.—a big interest in connection for me is the in the arrogance of the scientific consensus of this whole climate—thing in England does.”

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #1838

January 6th 2010

Continuing from above:

The address for the quote above is:


(it’s a machine transcript, so the wording is not perfect.  However, the audio is at the same place.)

Sure, he doesn’t say that nature worship is behind all of “Darwinism” (another bit of name-calling there), but he claims it’s behind much, sans evidence and, indeed, contrary to all actual evidence of the usual desire to do good science in biology.

How do you counter this except by noting that this is dishonest rhetoric?  And the moment we say that, we’re supposedly “uncivil.”  What is definitely true, though, is that such false accusations and their disregard for evidence in general is as uncivil as it is unscientific—that is, not even fitting science with respect to language.

Glen Davidson

RJS - #1864

January 6th 2010

Glen Davidson,

I don’t understand “civil” or “uncivil” this way. To take your example - criticism is not uncivil as long as it is fair and makes a point, and is a point you might make in company over coffee with Dr. Meyer present.

To use John Kwok’s examples - I would say that #1 is not uncivil - it is just a poor argument and a poor reason for rejecting Joe’s position on health care. If John wants to convince me that Joe’s position isn’t right he better give me a better reason. The statement reflects more poorly on John than Joe. (I know - just an example)

#2 is only slightly uncivil - if you dropped the expletive and modified the word “stupid” it would be entirely civil - and you could even keep the word stupid for emphasis although I probably wouldn’t because it stops conversation.

Civility is the approach one would (hopefully) take if sitting down with friends (or students) who disagreed with you and you actually wanted to persuade them that you were correct.

Pete Enns - #1865

January 6th 2010

John #1819

For #2, the issue is not really dropping the f-bomb. How about this: Joe Jones’s argument for Health Care Reform is unconvincing because he considers only physician visits and not hospital stays.

I understand your point, and I don’t mean to press your examples too far, but you ought to leave yourself more than the two options. Why not *go out of your way to make sure you don’t offend others* by how you describe their views?

Also, I have found that people who are otherwise open to to listen are actually less likely to be convinced by approaches that appear insulting rather than just hard hitting. Sometimes the line between hard hitting and insulting can be thin, but I think it is worth the expended effort to keep the two separate.

John Kwok - #1868

January 6th 2010


Yours are valid points, though I will be the first to say that I didn’t come up with these examples. Someone else did. I will admit that I have wrestled with the very issue of whether I am more effective by emphasizing hard hitting, or whether it would help too if I added some invective. Have been literally all over the map on this, and all I can say is that where and when it is possible, I would prefer to be civil and hardhitting.

BTW, coincidentally, The Intersection, the Discover Magazine blog of science writers Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, has been discussing the issue of internet civility lately. I thought interested readers may find quite intriguing the remarks that have been posted there so far:


Appreciatively yours,


Pete Enns - #1869

January 6th 2010

Thanks for that link, John. I’ll check it out tomorrow.

Glen Davidson - #1870

January 7th 2010

I listened to the audio on one of my posts up on this thread, and realized that while Meyer does start saying that nature worship is behind most “Darwinism,” he does stop and say something much less offensive.  I don’t really consider what he wrote to be the objective truth nonetheless, but felt the need to correct myself on that score.

Well, perhaps I jumped the gun, or anyway, felt too rushed at the time to check the transcript against the audio.  No real matter, the fact is that there are a host of false statements on the CSC’s blog, for which Meyer is at least indirectly responsible.  Then there are more direct smears by Meyer against “the Darwinists,” like this one:

The public has been intimidated into thinking that “non-experts” have no right to question “consensus” views in science. But the scandal in at the University of East Anglia suggests that this consensus on climate may not be based on solid evidence.

Quote continues in my next comment

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #1871

January 7th 2010

Continuing with the Meyer quote:

But what about the Darwin debate? We are told that the consensus of scientists in favor of Darwinian evolution means the theory is no longer subject to debate. In fact, there are strong scientific reasons to doubt Darwin’s theory and what it allegedly proved.


No, they have not been “intimidated” by the truth that consensus is the sociological measure of the success of a scientific theory or assertion, nor by the fact that you really must have knowledge and evidence if you are going to question a theory such as evolution.

Meyer managed to leave out an important qualifier to the usual statement that “Darwinian evolution” is no longer subject to debate, which is “within the scientific community.”  Clearly any assertion that it cannot be debated in the public square, or that it is fully off-limits to discussion, is false, and not commonly stated by real biologists. 

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson - #1872

January 7th 2010


And there are not “strong scientific reasons to doubt Darwin’s theory,” at least if by that he means the present theory which has moved considerably past Darwin (it’s difficult to respond to such sloppy writing, perhaps one reason for it).  That is an assertion that he cannot back up.  As an isolated statement, I would not complain much about that claim, as it is his opinion, but here it falsely props up his defamation of scientists as people who stymie discussion.  A mere unsupported opinion (no, his misrepresentations of the Cambrian radiation does not support his implication of suppression) does not properly back up this attack upon the scientists who are subject to checks on dishonesty in a way that none of his CSC fellows are.

I was searching for a quote such the one above when I stumbled into the interview transcript, which I then thought was sufficient for showing that Meyer relies upon unsupported attacks upon his opponents.  That one is not so good, in fact, but the present one is.

Glen Davidson

Dan - #2619

January 14th 2010

Some background to this post is that (1) I’m a physicist, and (2) I don’t drink coffee or tea.

If a position is illogical, contrary to fact, or unsupported by evidence, the civil thing to do is to come right out and say it.  If you cloak your criticism in pretty words or fawning phrases, then it’s hard for your readers to figure out what you really mean.

Many people think that “civility” means pretty words that soften the blow and obscure the message.  I take the opposite position: civility means direct and straightforward communication.

What is uncivil is to give a mixed message by wrapping a critical message within a flowery package.

Dan - #2627

January 14th 2010

I’m going to add to my comment above.

It is never civil to lie.  It is never civil to hide your position.  (This last is just trickery.)

So if a position is illogical, contrary to fact, or unsupported by evidence, you should just come out and say so.  To do otherwise is either a lie or a trick, and hence uncivil.

beaglelady - #2640

January 14th 2010

Good point, Dan. And lying/deceit can take other forms as well, such as quote-mining, failure to mention critical points, deliberate exaggeration,  and so forth.

Gregory Arago - #2751

January 16th 2010

Yes, I agree with Dan and beaglelady on this.

Trying to find a single meaning of ‘civility’ however is difficult.

If I say that ‘non-physical things’ have ‘values’ that ‘physical things’ don’t have. How would you respond to this, Dan? Would you uplift these ‘values’?

For example, I think there *are* strong reasons to doubt Darwin’s theory that human beings are *only* different in ‘degree’ but not in ‘kind’ from the ‘rest of nature.’ Is it ‘civil’ to say this? Is it anti-biological or anti-zoological?

The cultural-spiritual level of humanity is beyond the natural-physical level of objects that sciences study. Thus, there should be nothing uncivil in saying that ‘Darwin was wrong’ on this aspect of his ‘science.’ Not all of what Darwin wrote was ‘science,’ after all.

I don’t know who or what beaglelady represents. One can be a fence-sitter and simply comment and criticise, without holding a point of view. Is this civil? Yes, for some it is normal. For others it is marginal and unimportant. How to decide?

Curious - #4487

February 14th 2010

I would rather be interested if Science and the Sacred feature posts by “qualified scholars” on the subject of global warming:  How accurately has the media depicted the scientific consensus on this matter?  How does this one assess the scientific consensus-its accuracy, soundness, etc.?  How should Christians act regarding global warming?

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