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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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merv - #27317

August 28th 2010

with the resurrection, Christians are not making some grandiose claim about how the earth works or how old the entire enterprise is—- no, instead we are making a claim about a *single* special event.  Science doesn’t have any capacity to recognize, verify, or deny special events of this miraculous sort.  All it can do is stand back, scratch its head and admit—- “yeah—if that happened then it would be really anomalous because things don’t happen that way ordinarily.”  And the Christian would be in TOTAL agreement with that assessment that Jesus’ death and resurrection was special.  There is no such thing as scientific evidence that Jesus couldn’t have been special.  Only scientific silence.  (which some mistake for evidence).  But science certainly is NOT silent on the 6000 year old earth.  For that we would not only have to claim special miracle, but then a multitude of follow-up miracles to carefully craft all the evidence to tell a different story and conceal the original miracle.  Why would God do all that?  Many Christians think he wouldn’t.  That’s would be a big difference between an original creation miracle and the resurrection miracle.

—Merv


Michael W. Kruse - #27320

August 28th 2010

Martin Rizley - #27188 eddy - #27178

I will come at this from a slightly different angle.

Genesis is from a pre-scientific ancient Near Eastern culture. Physically there is a flat earth with dome separating waters from above. God wants to communicate his purposes in the world and for humanity. God has two choices:

1. Give a science lesson correcting all their misunderstanding about the nature of the physical environment in which they live so they can receive a factual account of their origins.

2. Accommodate the message to to level of “scientific” and “historical” understanding the community has using the genres of story and metaphorical theology that permeated their culture, and powerfully communicate theological truths they need to know.

I’m saying it is #2. It isn’t lying. It isn’t error. It is incarnation and accommodation.

are essentially saying is that unless he chose #1 above ... that to be trustworthy he was compelled to give them a “reporter on the ground” account of science and history ... and that that must therefore be what we have in front of us.

Continued ...


Michael W. Kruse - #27322

August 28th 2010

... continuation

The world of the New Testament was a very similar world to to that of the ancient Near East in these regards. Jesus incarnates the NT world. He is a product of that culture. He has his Father’s guidance but we are still as the same question: Correct the science or accommodate.

That Jesus and NT writers would refer to OT folks as seemingly historical says nothing of there actual historicity. Both NT and OT folks are operating in the same pre-scientific culture God accommodated his message to.

Genesis 1:6-10 clearly is drawing on ANE cosmology. God accommodates this account to their understanding. By comparing against God’s other revelation, nature, we can see that the world is not flat, not shielded from water by a dome, and a great deal more than 6,000 years old. Whatever Genesis 1 is it is not a “reporter on the ground” report.


Karl A - #27327

August 28th 2010

Excellent and concise explanation, Michael.  We will continue to be cultural imperialists if we insist Genesis was written to us, by someone just like us.  It was not written to us.  It was written to the Israelites in a very different age than we live in now.  Yes, I believe God wanted us in the 21st century to have Genesis too, but we are not the primary recipients.

Coram Deo, interesting question about how God will create the new heavens and new earth.  I agree with Christopher Svanefalk and Merv’s responses.  You know, as a YEC and later a OEC, I had read scientific literature for years, but it was reading Jared Diamond’s accounting (in Guns, Germs and Steel) of the domestication of plants and animals where it finally dawned on me that my modernistic reading of Genesis 1-3 had some serious things to account for.  I didn’t know what to do yet, but it started me searching.  (continued)


Karl A - #27328

August 28th 2010

The current understanding of anthropologists, archaeologists, geneticists, historians, etc.: The hamster was domesticated in the U.S. in the 1930’s, cockatiels in Europe in the 1870’s, the goldfish in China in the 300’s AD, the turkey in Mexico 180 AD, the llama in Peru 2400 BC, the horse in Eurasia 4000 BC, donkey Egypt 5000 BC, chicken SE Asia/India 6000 BC, cow various places 8000 BC, sheep SW Asia 11,000-9000 BC.  How about fruits/vegetables?  Vanilla Central America 14th C AD, eggplant Asia 1st C BC, olives Near East 4000 BC, wheat Near East 8500 BC, rice East Asia 9000 BC. 

So did God create livestock like Genesis 1 and 2 say?  Yes, through his image-bearers, it turns out.  (Of course even for that the “raw materials” came from pre-existing wild animals.)

Many of us love horses, dogs and/or cats.  We can’t imagine a new heavens and earth without them.  Will God accommodate us and create them de novo, or will we have to domesticate them all over again?  I’ve actually asked God this silly question, but he hasn’t answered me, at least directly.  I’m pretty sure it will be the former, because how else am I going to be reunited with my childhood dog Cocoa?


Karl A - #27329

August 28th 2010

To those of you responding negatively to Dr. Giberson’s “schoolyard bully” remarks, if you didn’t pick up on it he was being hyperbolic and self-deprecatory.  Take his remarks as given with a bit of a grin.  Dr. Mohler had criticized BioLogos in a public speech, then BioLogos spent the good part of a week giving careful and respectful responses.  Dr. Mohler’s response was 2 months of silence, hence Dr. Giberson’s poke in the ribs, “hey, let’s keep this conversation going”. 

To those complaining that Dr. Giberson didn’t address Dr. Mohler’s open-letter critiques, fair enough.  Neither did Dr. Mohler address those from BioLogos 2 months ago.  Maybe both sides are playing to their strengths and avoiding their sensitive spots.  Or maybe people are busy.  Of course, if one takes into account the past several months of posts on BioLogos, maybe Dr. Mohler’s critiques are being addressed, just in a more drawn-out and thoughtful way.  Maybe.  Let me know what you think.


Christopher Svanefalk - #27332

August 28th 2010

Coram Deo,

I agree with you, but my question is this: who gives you, or me, or anyone, a monopoly on Biblical interpretation?

As I have written earlier, I fully affirm the historical reality of Adam and Eve as actual, miraculously created individuals and the first human beings, made in GODs Image.

However, in your opinion, where does the NT affirm that the earth is young? I am not saying I do not believe this to be true, but where do you read it?


eddy - #27341

August 28th 2010

Michael Kruse, so your basic argument here is to say that we are seeing a different reality in nature to what we are seeing in scriptures, so God must be accommodationist.  I, for one, maintain that if both Scriptures and Nature are of the same Author they cannot teach us different messages about the same Author. Evolution, for example.

Both you and biologos are saying that when we carefully observe through the nature in general, and life in particular, we see the reality of randomness and purposelessness and shabbiness in such a way as to give an impression that things look to have appeared through unintentional processes, rather than being carefully deliberated by intelligent conscious being(s).

Scriptures, ironically, tell us a different - and quite the opposite - story, that if we are going to read the Scriptures and read the Nature, we must essentially get the same basic message of the Nature singing God’s glory as much as the Scriptures do.

Whether one believes in flat or round earth, old or young earth, the firmament or whatever - nowhere this is going to affect the glory of God or the gospel message. But when it comes to evolution, God is rendered far distant and non-involved at best and a deceiver at worst.


Mike M - #27347

August 28th 2010

Hi, I am new here. Please forgive any blogospheric faux pas by jumping in here when the heavyweights are on stage. I could use some help with two issues which I don’t think have been addressed yet.

merv - #27316 wrote: “...God *could* have done it in six days as a miracle, but then why would he go to so much trouble to deceive us by calibrating so many independent clocks of nature to consistently point at a different age?”

My first query is epistemological in nature and addresses the “deception” above. I will assume that most of us believe in the existence of Satan and that he can enter the natural realm (Job 1-2, gospel accounts), is the father of lies (Jn 8:44) and can blind people’s minds (2 Cor 4:4). The assumption, however, seems to be that God is somehow obligated to keep Satan at bay while humans carry out scientific investigation. So the question is: Can we assume that God has put a “hedge” around human scientific investigation so that all observations are 100% empirical without any supernatural interference? Can any of us conclusively say that Satan is NOT behind the apparent inconsistencies in some enigmatic way? If nobody can rule that out, then I think that has a lot of bearing on this conversation.


Mike M - #27348

August 28th 2010

My second inquiry regards “accommodation”:

Michael W. Kruse - #27320 wrote: “God has two choices:
1. Give a science lesson correcting all their misunderstanding ...
2. Accommodate the message to [the] level of “scientific” and “historical” understanding the community has ...”

I, too, can see that God chose not to reveal the intricate ways he created, but allowed the limitations of worldview and language to express them. This appears to be the case for the “spatial dimensions” of the cosmos. It does not follow, however, that the communication of the “time dimension” must also necessarily be adapted or accommodated. Human worldviews and language (ancient or otherwise) do not require the specification of a creation in terms of days over against a much longer period required by evolution. So if the creation took place over a much longer period, what justification would God have for saying otherwise? Since God was not dealing with the limitations of human language or worldview in regard to the time dimension, it seems (to me, anyway) safe to conclude that it was revealed as literally true (cf. Ex 20:8-11 for support).

Thanks so much for your help with these. May we glorify our Creator together.


merv - #27354

August 28th 2010

Hi, Mike M.—- and welcome to the “stage”;  there may be some ‘heavyweights’ here, but some (most?) of us are probably just bloggers who’ve been around the block on these issues for more times than I care to admit and so have had lots of chances to bounce ideas around.  Just like you are doing now.

Your question in 27347 above is an interesting one to me.  How indeed should we reckon with possible influence from Satan on this.  In the previous post, Eddy writes:  “we see the reality of randomness and purposelessness and shabbiness in such a way as to give an impression that things look to have appeared through unintentional processes, rather than being carefully deliberated by intelligent conscious being(s).”

My response to eddy is wrapped up with my response to you, Mike.  Eddy, I don’t know of any Biologos writers or TEs/ECs in general who have ever seen creation in those terms.  The psalmists certainly don’t.  Shabby!?  Purposeless!?  I *have* heard those descriptions from atheistic observers who want to knock down creationist belief.  But the closest the TEs or Biologos seems to come is to affirm God’s use of *randomness* which we are careful to


merv - #27355

August 28th 2010

distinguish from purposelessness or shabbiness.  Nobody calls a snowfake shabby, and yet random processes were used to create it.  Even what we call the ugly aspects of nature—death, decay, and natural disaster seem to us to be crafted (or turned) into God’s ultimate purpose, and can result in later beauty though this may be impossible for us to see at the time of our own travail.  To Mike M. I would add that Satan is the author of deception, but an author of beauty?  I don’t see that in the Bible.  Of course science will never be able to totally disprove the possibility that mischievous or evil spirits or Satan are crafting a false, scientifically ordered world just to have fun with us.  But I don’t come out there as I’m reading either Testament.  Sure, we can handpick a couple verses that would seem to affirm that this is Satan’s special dominion.  But the


merv - #27356

August 28th 2010

balance of Scriptures heavily affirm that this is actually God’s dominion and that God alone is sovereign, here and everywhere.  Science can’t weigh in on this one except to hope that it (the orderliness of creation) reflects actual truth—so of course science will proceed on that assumption.  It has to.  But in Scriptures, I cast my lot with the Psalmist who, despite the presence of death & decay (which did not escape the Psalmists’ awareness) still praises God for his handiwork. 

—Merv


nedbrek - #27357

August 28th 2010

Karl A (27327) “it was reading Jared Diamond’s accounting (in Guns, Germs and Steel) of the domestication of plants and animals where it finally dawned on me that my modernistic reading of Genesis 1-3 had some serious things to account for.”

I also recommend GGS.  I read it before becoming a Christian, and the effect was quite different on me!  (Diamond exposes a lot of the ethnocentrism and outright racism at the heart of anthropology.)

He is not a YE at all (he is an evolutionary ornithologist), but he paints a clear picture of pre-history:
1) 10-20ky ago man had reached all of the Earth that he would until ~1500.  Everyone everywhere had the same level of technology.
2) The people of Europe and the near East progressed rapidly through technology, all due to the presence of certain plant and animal species.

Diamond has an OE, evolutionary explanation.  However, I think it is also telling from a YE pov.  What if these plant and animal species are not derived from wild ones, what if they were present on the ark.  People leaving the ark, and traveling rapidly in the face of the Ice Age would lose access.

Something to think about…


merv - #27358

August 28th 2010

For clarity, I rephrase my last sentence above to read:  But Scriptures are not silent (like science must be) on the question of whose hand (God’s or Satan’s) is active in giving us creation as we see it.  In Scriptures there is no assumption, but the unambiguous declaration that God, and not Satan, is the author.  And so I cast my lot with the psalmist ...

—Merv
(Why say something with five words when you can use fifty?) 


Rich Blinne - #27364

August 28th 2010

The one sentence central to your complaint is this: “Darwin left on his expedition to prove the theory of evolution.” Upon further reflection, I would accept that this statement *appears to misrepresent to some degree* Darwin’s intellectual shifts before and during his experience on the Beagle.

No, it’s completely false. Darwin was just following the evidence.  Brodie Innes, vicar of Downe and a personal friend said the following of Darwin in 1878. He is the pastor in “Creation”.

“I have the pleasure of the intimate friendship of one of the very first Naturalists in Europe. He is a most accurate observer, and never states anything as a fact which he has not most thoroughly investigated. He is a man of the most perfect moral character, and his scrupulous regard for the strictest truth is above that of almost all men I know. I am quite persuaded that if on any morning he met with a fact which would clearly contradict one of his cherished theories he would not let the sun set before he made it known. I never saw a word in his writings which was an attack on Religion. He follows his own course as a Naturalist and leaves Moses to take care of himself”


Rich Blinne - #27370

August 28th 2010

“Your rejection of an historical Adam and Eve is one precise point at which the Gospel of Christ is undermined, and your proposed “new and better way to understand the origins of sin” is incompatible with the Bible’s clear teaching.”

Dr. Mohler has another “appearance” problem. Dennis Venema, chair of biology at Trinity Western University,  in the Sept. 2010 PSCF said:

“Taken individually and collectively, population genomics studies strongly suggest that our lineage has not experienced an extreme population bottle- neck in the last nine million years or more (and thus not in any hominid, nor even an australopithecine species), and that any bottlenecks our lineage did experience were a reduction only to a population of several thousand breeding individuals. As such, the hypothesis that humans are genetically derived from a single ancestral pair in the recent past has no support from a genomics perspective, and, indeed, is counter to a large body of evidence.”

After giving options in his talk, Dr. Mohler took them away so that the only option left for intellectually honest scientists is to reject the Christian faith. Atheists agree with his false either/or because that is the effect that they desire.


Karl A - #27372

August 28th 2010

Nedbrek, I can’t see how the domestication of plants and animals, as documented by botanists, biologists, etc., fits with a YE perspective at all.  As with the Flood Geology posts, one has multiple lines of evidence pointing in the same direction.  South Americans domesticated the slightly-less-than-worthless llama because there were no other large mammals suitable for domestication.  Scientists have identified the precursor species, the time period, the place.  The same goes for things domesticated 9000 BC.  It’s a coherent picture, and a worldwide flood or young earth is not in that picture.  I sure wished it would have been, but I wasn’t willing to close my eyes to what I could see. God bless.


Cal - #27388

August 28th 2010

Rich: One remark on your otherwise very good analysis.

Adam and Eve being the progenitors of the whole human race, and there being a historic Adam and Eve are not interchangeable statements. The Bible gives otherwise useless data about Adam’s sons, Cain and Abel, and Seth, their ages, and ancestors that came from his line.

There is no point to this if there is no factual Adam!

However this does not mean Adam was the only man (common dispute of the Bible is “Where does Cain get his wife??”). Yet the ancients never had a problem with this. In the Genesis account, there is figurative language used. Could not the book use a combination of both historical and figurative accounts to weave a story of God’s glory and of what actually occurred!


eddy - #27389

August 28th 2010

Merv, what difference is there in essence between “atheistic observers who want to knock down creationist belief” and Dr. Kathrin Applegate of biologos who writes:  ” It is tempting to think the spontaneous formation of so complex a machine is “guided,” whether by a Mind or some “life force,” but we know that the bacterial flagellum, like countless other machines in the cell, assembles and functions automatically according to known natural laws. No intelligence required”?


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