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Darwin and Dr. Mohler: The Truth Comes Out

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August 26, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Karl Giberson. You can read more about what we believe here.

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:

  1. How many of you have heard that Darwin repudiated his theory on his deathbed?

  2. How many of you have heard that Darwin was an atheistic crusader against religion?

  3. 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.

Sincerely,

Karl Giberson


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.

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Rich - #27933

September 3rd 2010

Victor J:

I haden’t read that article before; it’s a good one, and I second your recommendation.  I’ve been trying, independently of that author, to make the same distinction here on Biologos.  I’ve found great resistance to it here.  I’ve observed that the columnists here fall into three categories:  (1) biologists and other life scientists; (2) scientists from outside of the life sciences; (3) Biblical scholars, clergy and others not trained in the natural sciences.  I’ve also noted that the writers in the last two categories have only a very fuzzy idea of what has gone on historically, and what is going on today, in the study of evolutionary biology, and seem to have vaguely equated Darwinian theory with evolutionary theory, unaware that they are related to each other as species to genus.  Finally, I’ve noted that the life scientists seem to be strongly committed to traditional neo-Darwinism, and seem to believe that neo-Darwinism only needs some minor tweaking in order to explain everything.  What I don’t get is why most of the commenters seem willing to accept without qualification the notion of evolution that the columnists are promoting, even when non-ID, non-creationist alternatives are pointed out to them.


Kimba - #28001

September 3rd 2010

Dr. Mohler,

Believes that we accept evolution because we want to appease atheist.  I thought I believed in evolution because I want to believe in the facts.

Here is what he says about Francis Collins

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100903/the-predicament-francis-collins-human-embryos-
evolution-and-the-sanctity-of-human-life/


Trevor K. - #29746

September 13th 2010

Scientific FACT: evolution is true. Fact.
So it’s a scientific fact that a solid piece of iron doesn’t float on plain ordinary water. Test that by throwing a nail or screw into a bowl of water to confirm it.
It’s also a scientific fact that the earth doesn’t stand still just to let some of us tardy ones catch up with our lagging work.
It’s a scientific fact that people get burnt when they fall into fires. No one without lots of protective clothing has been observed to come out of a raging, blazing fire unscathed.
It’s a scientific fact that if you only have two loaves of bread and two fish you cannot feed 5 thousand people.
It’s a scientific fact you cannot put a staff into the river and expect the waters to part at that point and build up on the sides to let people cross on dry ground.
It’s a scientific fact that you cannot walk on water with your bare feet without sinking into it.
It’s a scientific fact that virgins cannot just fall pregnant and give birth to babies.
It’s a scientific fact that water doesn’t turn into wine at someone’s word.
It’s a scientific fact that once someone dies and is confirmed dead, s/he does not rise up again to live after 3 days.
Science is clearly incompatible with the bible.


Trevor K. - #29747

September 13th 2010

So which scientific fact are you going to ignore so that you can believe in the bible? If you believe in the scientific fact of evolution you must surely also believe in the other scientific facts as outlined above in order to be consistent in your belief in science.
You cannot choose part and ignore the others. To do so is to show yourself to be irrational.
So either believe in the bible as it stands or else throw the whole thing out. Or else believe in evolution and the science it supposedly comes from and leave the bible alone.
It doesn’t make sense to sit on the fence. You’ll only hurt yourself and confuse a whole lot of others you’re trying to convince to believe in both.


brgulker - #29764

September 13th 2010

In response to 27605: http://www.biologos.org/resources/albert-mohler-why-does-the-universe-look-so-old

Mohler goes to great lengths to argue theologically and exegetically that the Earth is young.


MyGoatyBeard - #30523

September 17th 2010

Trevor K
The problems I have with taking an ‘either/or’ approach as you suggest is that there is a significant body of evidence which shows that, (1) I personally can be mistaken about things, (2) The rest of humanity, including science, can be mistaken about things and (3) Scientific facts, especially those which are held up as particular exemplars for the purpose of arguing a metaphysical position, are rarely as profoundly important to me as an individual fact about my relationships with others or about who I am.

More pointedly, if God has spoken in a way which is not within my immediate control (which he would) then I’m inclined to let the rest (i.e. this sort of website & blog) be up for grabs while I deal with my response to God.

Now you (whether you are an ardent atheist or a full-on creationist) might consider me to be sitting on the fence from your perspective.  But in fact I am most definitely focussed on what I’m here for.  Well, that’s what I’d like.  Meanwhile, the bickering on here is a valuable insight into what drags me and many others away from that focus.


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