Darwin and Dr. Mohler: The Truth Comes Out
Editor's Note: This is a response to an open letter posted by Dr. Mohler on his website. Karl's original piece at The Huffington Post can be found here. For more BioLogos responses to Dr. Mohler, see our three part series "How Should BioLogos Respond to Dr. Mohler" by Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson, and Pete Enns.
Dear Dr. Mohler:
Thanks so much for this thoughtful response. I felt a bit like a schoolyard bully posting an aggressive piece on The Huffington Post but, when you didn’t respond to my more constructive piece on the BioLogos site, I felt I had to metaphorically poke you in the chest, or take your pencils, or insult your mother to draw you out. The internet playground is a cruel place.
You asked why I posted at Huffington, suggesting that it strokes my ego to post there and get “favorable attention” from the friendly atheists. You must not have looked at the comments I get there. As a Christian defending faith to that audience I find myself constantly covered in digital vitriol. I might be too liberal for you, but I am nowhere near liberal enough for them. I think that song my kids used to sing -- “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me….” -- was written for poor souls that try to reconcile Christianity and evolution.
Our mission here at BioLogos is to seek God’s truth as best we can, a humbling enterprise. I imagine that you would say the same thing about your seminary. Not unlike heliocentrism in Galileo’s day, we believe that the scientific evidence so strongly supports evolution that we must take it seriously and, if this brings us to new understandings of the Bible, then we will wrestle with those, fully aware of the challenges. I understand that your conviction about Biblical inerrancy convinces you that the Gospel is at stake and therefore our project is an enemy of that Gospel and so must fail. I interact regularly with Christians who share your views. In fact, one of them just scolded me quite vigorously via email for treating you so shabbily at The Huffington Post!
My personal passion for this topic derives from my long experience in Christian education, watching students struggle as they come to terms with modern science. Sadly, there is a history of many of them leaving the Christian faith over the topic of evolution. Having been raised to believe they must make a choice between evolution and their faith—the very choice you continue to promulgate—many of them, unfortunately, find that, when the rubber meets the road in their science classes, they have no choice at all. The scientific evidence compels them to accept evolution, and the logic of their faith tradition pushes aside their faith.
When I spoke at a leading evangelical college in the Northwest about my book Saving Darwin, a young woman approached me, almost in tears. “I was taught in my Baptist church that I could not believe in evolution,” she said. “And now that I have learned in my biology classes that it is true, my faith has collapsed.” Her pleading eyes met mine: “I want my faith back,” she said, with powerful emotion. “I want to be able to believe as you do, that evolution and my faith can go together.”
I hope that you are wrong when you say that there can be no reconciliation, for I fear for our church if simple education in well-established scientific ideas becomes a well-lighted exit from our faith. To perpetuate this either/or choice is to guarantee that this exit will continue to be filled with disillusioned young people.
In speaking with young people over the years I have become greatly frustrated at the misinformation being fed to them in their churches. If people want to have all the facts and draw a different conclusion than I have, then I am fine with that. But when our young people are being told falsehoods as a way to keep them from taking evolution seriously I am very concerned and upset. And yet this is almost universal in our churches. I often ask my students questions like:
How many of you have heard that Darwin repudiated his theory on his deathbed?
How many of you have heard that Darwin was an atheistic crusader against religion?
How many of you think Darwin invented evolution to prop up his atheism?
Hands go up on all counts. Sometimes all hands go up which means that every single one of my students was told something false about Darwin in their church.
When you made the statement that “Darwin left on his expedition to prove the theory of evolution," it was a powerful trigger for me. I was reminded first hand of just how hard it is to dislodge these false notions that are being widely employed to poison our young people against evolution before they even have a chance to consider it. You are well-read and, judging from the references you have made, you are reading some of the best material out there. I am grateful for that. But still you easily slipped into that common misrepresentation, which you have now acknowledged. I am encouraged by that.
One of your defenders has pointed out my irrationality in identifying you as a crusader for truth in my BioLogos post and then saying the opposite at Huffington Post. Your response, albeit tardy, inclines me to my former evaluation. I especially note that you agree that your statement “Darwin left on his expedition to prove the theory of evolution" misrepresents the actual situation. You note, in your defense, that this was but one sentence in a long address, which is true. But it is a critical hinge on which much of the discussion turns.
Many anti-evolutionists deny that there is such a thing as evidence for evolution. Phillip Johnson notoriously claimed, in his mischievous but very influential book Darwin on Trial, that evolution was not based on facts and observations but rather is promoted to “persuade the public to believe that there is no purposeful intelligence that transcends the natural world.” The message in Ken Ham’s museum is based on the same idea—the disturbingly postmodern idea— that one’s “assumptions” determine what conclusions they draw from inspection of the natural world. So, although I highlighted a single sentence, that sentence is a hook on which many anti-evolutionary arguments—and perhaps a noose for poor Darwin—have been hung.
I am contented that we can disagree, although I think you have hyperbolically over-stated the incompatibility of evolution and Christianity. There are literally hundreds of millions of Christians who are not threatened by evolution despite the various challenges that I outline in my book. (As an aside, I should tell you that my publisher came up with that subtitle despite my objections that the book was not a theological “how to manual” for reconciling Christianity and evolution.) I do not think it is helpful to the church for you to insist so strongly that this cannot be done, for it is precisely that rigidity that drives many of our thoughtful young people away.
Let me conclude by responding to your charge that what I “have actually succeeded in doing is to show how much doctrine Christianity has to surrender in order to accommodate itself to evolution.” As a theological layperson, I hesitate to engage a trained theologian on this question, but let me rush in where angels fear to tread and offer that “doctrines” are human constructs, much like “theories” are in science. They are not facts—they are explanations or interpretations of facts.
You seem to equate your understanding of how the Bible should be read with plain-fact Christian orthodoxy. There we must part ways, and I suspect that at the end of the day, this may be the real point of contention. I do not think that I am showing how much doctrine Christianity has to surrender, but how problematic fundamentalist literalism is for engaging science. But even this may imply more disagreement than there needs to be.
Here is an example of what I am talking about. You and I both agree, as a simple matter of fact, that we are sinful creatures. I look within myself and see dark tumors of pride, greed, mean-spiritedness, lust. I covet the praise of all those atheists over at The Huffington Post. I suspect you can say the same thing, perhaps forgoing the praise of the atheists. On this factual matter we agree. I think we might also agree that the salvation that God has provided in Jesus empowers us to rise above those things and to not be weighted down with the terrible knowledge of just how sinful we are. We are forgiven as we embrace the saving power of Jesus. Is it not here that we find the central truth of our faith? Our sinful nature is a simple reality. G. K. Chesterton said it was the only empirically verifiable truth of Christianity. And it is certainly a clear biblical teaching. But is it not possible that we might have different ideas about how we came to have that nature? Does the saving power of Jesus vanish if sin becomes something that developed through natural history, rather than appeared all at once in the Garden of Eden? It seems to me that there is a conversation to have here, beyond simply drawing a line in the sand. Satisfactory answers to questions like these are truly “How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution.”
At BioLogos we have made our peace with evolution, and it has been liberating and even faith-affirming. We encourage conversations to further that agenda and make no excuses for that. We are not destroying Christianity. We are saving it.
Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.