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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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John VanZwieten - #27391

August 28th 2010

Eddy,

Are you suggesting that intelligence is required for the formation of every complex machine in every bacteria cell?  Otherwise you must not be understanding Dr. Applegate’s statement.


merv - #27393

August 28th 2010

Eddy, the difference is that the latter “Biologos” group does’t take naturally explainable processes as evidence that there is no God of creation constantly sustaining it.  The last part of the remark:  “... no intelligence required” I would take to be a bit of word-play hyperbole.  If the author was serious that there really was “no intelligence required” to create a universe where a sun rises & sets with regularity and where a bacterial flagellum can form, then I will disagree with her statement.  However, given the context, I think Dr. Applegate is probably just objecting to the notion that something beyond natural processes must be insisted upon before a flagellum can be explained.

—Merv


Rich Blinne - #27399

August 28th 2010

Jay, a non-literal Adam and Eve is not the only solution to the problem of the genetic data as you noted. Still, I would be willing to bet that a “literal” Adam and Eve who are not the physical progenitors of the entire human race would be considered non-literal by Dr. Mohler who argues there is no way to reconcile things and not merely that Karl’s way is incorrect.

I’l close with Jack Collins, OT professor at Covenant Seminary, again from Sept. 2010 PSCF as a conservative engaging the scientific data:

“Two of these scenarios, from Kidner and [C.S.] Lewis, may be attractive to those who favor the “population size approaches” based on human DNA. As I have said, I am not assessing the science, but displaying how to keep our reasoning within the bounds of sound thinking. Nothing requires us to abandon monogenesis altogether for some form of polygenesis; rather, a modified monogenesis, which keeps Adam and Eve, can do the job.

I admit that these scenarios leave us with many uncertainties, but these uncertainties in no way undermine our right to hold fast to the biblical storyline with full confidence.”

Between Karl and Jack there is whole range of options but Al gives us none.


Bilbo - #27401

August 28th 2010

GodsOwnDNA:  In that case, what is Free will itself? Isn’t that faulty as well? Either way, you could concede that what God made or gave is to blame.

Free will is free will.  There is nothing “faulty” about it.  If one has it, then one can make free choices.  For example, one can believe God when He says not to eat of a certain tree or one will die.  Or one can disbelieve.  There is a need for room between God and the chooser, so that the chooser isn’t overwhelmed with the presence of God, and doesn’t have the freedom to choose.  Perhaps there is a need for a tempter, so that one even considers the question of not believing God.  We can ask, where did the tempter come from?  For those accepting the Luciferian story, the greatest of the angels wasn’t satisfied with that but wanted more.  Apparently in state of self-consciousness, one must surrender self back to God.  And one must choose to do so.  So there must be room to choose.  God must remove Himself from our consciousness enough for us to be able to choose to be with God or not.  For us, choosing to be with God is an uphill battle, that we mostly lose.

cont.


Bilbo - #27402

August 28th 2010

C.S. Lewis thought that for the first human beings, it was not an uphill battle.  Until someone whispered in their ears that choosing otherwise would be better.  I suggest that we not abandon this view.  If we do, it will lead to a very watered-down, liberal Christianity, that has been with us since the 19th century.

There are ways to do this, while still accepting an old earth and even Darwinian evolution.  We can make a distinction between physical evolution and God’s act of transforming a physical creature into a spiritual one.  It may not be “scientific.”  But I am not tempted to impress atheistic scientists, the way that Karl Giberson is.


Bilbo - #27403

August 28th 2010

Or perhaps DNA is wondering if it would be better if there were no free will.  Better for whom?


Michael W. Kruse - #27411

August 28th 2010

... Continuation

All three can be accurate accounts depending what one wants to communicate. The first conveys bare facts but no context. The second gives context. The third gives no facts but communicates the deep emotional trauma. We can imagine other options as well. My point is that there is conflict between Gen 1 and science ONLY if you presume that Gen 1 is akin #1.

“... 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.”

We are seeing a different reality in nature from scripture because Gen 1 is metaphorical theology


Michael W. Kruse - #27412

August 28th 2010

[This should precede 27411. It failed to post]

I don’t believe there is any conflict between nature and Gen 1 either. Gen 1 is metaphorical theology while the other is facts. Metaphorical theology addresses the “who,” “what,” and “why.” Science addresses the “when,” “where” and “how.” They are different ways of communicating about the same topic.

Consider the following statements about Nov 22, 1963:

1. A man was shot and killed while riding in convertible through downtown Dallas.
2. The president of the USA was assassinated while riding in motorcade through downtown Dallas. Many were shocked and grieved.
3. A dagger was plunged through the heart of innocence. The sun and moon darkened. An entire nation grieved.


Michael W. Kruse - #27414

August 28th 2010

Rats!  The two previous were addressed to Eddy 27341


Michael W. Kruse - #27415

August 28th 2010

Eddy 27341

Science is a self-limited form of knowledge ... limited to the study of the natural world.

Methodological Materialism (MM) - Pursuing study of the natural world assuming only natural cause and effect. No statement can be made either way about the presence or operation of supernatural events.

Philosophical Materialism (PM) - A faith commitment to the idea that there is only the natural world.

All scientists are embrace MM. Only some scientists embrace PM. The first is science and the second is scientism. Assuming a supernatural event, the most science can EVER say is that we have no scientific explanation. PMs who try to use science to justify their PM (Dawkins, et al) are over reaching. But is also over reaching to try to insert GOD/ID into science. The answer is to call folks to honoring the self-limited form of knowledge science is.

Continued ...


Michael W. Kruse - #27416

August 28th 2010

... Continuation

I point this out to say that we can appreciate the natural selection that led the world today and readily acknowledge that science can’t speak to supernatural influences. But there are other forms of knowledge than science. Revelation, for example. God reveals he is sovereign over all. The way he guides the material world toward His purposes may not be observable to the scientific method. But we know through revelation that God is indeed at work in the world. Evolution and design are not incompatible, but knowing with precision how the two function may a mystery that remains ever veiled to us.


Mike M - #27422

August 28th 2010

Thanks for your helpful reply, Merv.

You said in #27355,56: “...I would add that Satan is the author of deception, but an author of beauty? ... But the balance of Scriptures heavily affirm that this is actually God’s dominion…”

Actually, I wasn’t implying that I thought that supernatural causes in the natural realm were either all God’s or all Satan’s. We know that Satan is a schemer and there is the possibility of being outwitted by him (2 Cor 2:11), so we can assume that he picks and chooses his areas of deception, and there is no reason NOT to believe that God allows it. And maybe he allows it because he doesn’t like to be put to the test under the microscope. Maybe he just wants to be praised from a simple heart as the Psalmists do, like you say. This is all speculation, but the point I was trying to make is that we need to undergo an epistemological check. Since God is not obligated to keep Satan from messing with our research, then what does that say about this whole debate?


Michael W. Kruse - #27428

August 28th 2010

Mike M - #27348

I’m suggesting that the earth is more than 4 billion years, the earth is a sphere that orbits the sun, and that life evolved over millions of years. How does God communicate what He needs to about purpose of the things people see around them, about who he is, and what his intentions are? I’m suggesting that Genesis 1 is of particular genre. It isn’t history (in any modern sense of the word.) It is metaphoric theology by which God reveals who he is and what his purposes are. “Days” are literary devices to set apart six distinct acts. Three acts of separating (light/dark, Waters above/waters Below, land/water) and three acts of filling these new spaces (Sun rule day/moon & stars rule night, sky with birds/sea with fish, land with animals and humans.)

But I’m persuaded that there is more. Ala John Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis 1” I don’t think this was about creation. It was about illustrating God’s sovereignty over all creation and being the one who assigns all things there function. It is nothing less than God building his temple and assigning functions. Note that language in Gen 1 is about forming and assigning, not creating.


MyGoatyBeard - #27441

August 29th 2010

What started out as a head-on clash of viewpoints has now been turned into a meandering dribble about what was really in the back of Darwin’s mind when he went on his boat ride.  Who gives a care what he thought?  Haven’t we got our own ideas and a set of facts to grapple with?

I for one thought Albert had some jolly good points to make.  Like, for instance, we should not allow general revelation to overrule what God has specifically said in His word.

Then Albert makes this killer of a point: You are straightforward in your celebration of evolution, and you utterly fail to demonstrate how an embrace of evolution can be reconciled with biblical Christianity. Your rejection of an historical Adam and Eve is one precise point at which the Gospel of Christ is undermined,

Cracking good point Albert.  And the Biologos response is weak.  I speak as an regular Biologos reader.

And a general point; whenever I look a Creationist materials they are full-on with the Gospel.  But on Biologos I struggle to see mention of it.  In what sense is Biologos ‘Christian’?  I mean, is it?


Christopher Svanefalk - #27443

August 29th 2010

MBG,

I do not speak for BioLogos, but I share your concern about the focus of certain old-earth organizations. I will not presume to say that they are “flirting with the world” as some might suggest, rather, I think that perhaps they are earnestly struggling to find a way to bring science and the Word together without conflict, since they are assured that the Word, as well as nature, are both GODs creations, and at peace with each other.

However, as you said, the Scripture itself and Its message must not be neglected in this context. I am looking forward to a career in the sciences myself, but I wish to do so for the purpose of glorifying GOD, and doing good to my fellow human beings. Science should not, from the godly persons viewpoint, be used for anything else, and indeed, in general cannot be used for anything else (at least anything else but the first part). The reason is that when we study nature, we study the handiwork of the Master Artisan, and by seeing how He reveals His own existence in nature, do we not overthrow that human reason which would argue that “there is no GOD?” If Nature is GODs work, how can the truthful conclusions of such investigation prove anything else?


John VanZwieten - #27444

August 29th 2010

MyGoatyBeard wrote:
And a general point; whenever I look a Creationist materials they are full-on with the Gospel.  But on Biologos I struggle to see mention of it.  In what sense is Biologos ‘Christian’?  I mean, is it?

That’s probably because creationist sites like to conflate the gospel with creationism—it’s often an all-or-nothing proposition for them.  So a subject about which Jesus himself was almost silent becomes somehow centrally important for upholding Jesus’ gospel.  One of the main purposes of Biologos seems to be to remove this unnecessary barrier to acceptence of the gospel.

Nor is the gospel itself absent at BioLogos.  Just do a search on “gospel” and you get 5 pages of posts to read through.  I’d especially recommend this one:
http://biologos.org/blog/the-creator-is-the-redeemer/


Christopher Svanefalk - #27445

August 29th 2010

MBG,

I probably digressed and didn’t very much answer your question, sorry about that (I tend to get carried away easily).

So the short answer: perhaps BioLogos and other organizations like it have it in their mission to “bring science and Scripture together without conflict”, as they see this as an important apologetic work in our time, where science is one of the most used weapons by non-theists and sceptics to assault religious faith. Thus, rather than openly proclaiming the Word, as were they preachers, they demonstrate how the natural world confirms and fits with the same Word, to establish its veracity, since Scripture and nature both have the same Author (albeit perhaps not the same potency to guide us to Truth, as study of the natural can perhaps be much more ambiguous than a study of Scripture).

I share your and Alberts concern on Adam and Eve - I see little harmony between an embryonic Adam and the testimony of Scripture. Perhaps we can question how we should understand the Genesis account at large, but I question if we can do so with the origin of man as being anything but miraculous and fiat.


Michael - #27452

August 29th 2010

My absolute ideology is that God is the source of ALL truth. He is Truth. There should not be a division between science and faith. Both are to seek the truth.  The only thing that we should ask is whether something is true or false. Science is limited in its scope. It is not designed nor intended to answer matters of revelation. It does not try to measure God or answer philosophical questions. It simply observes creation and tries to understand what and why nature behaves in a certain way.  If there is scientific proof that man evoluted from lower species, it does not prove that the Scriptures are in error. It shows that our interpretation of Scriptures is in error.  It does not benefit anyone, including Christianity, to deny something which is true. My question is whether science has enough proof or evidence that Neodarwinianism is true.


MyGoatyBeard - #27455

August 29th 2010

JVZ - Yes it is often an all or nothing position for Creationists, but I’m not sure their ‘conflation’ is a strategy in itself (as you unfairly imply), but clearly they see it as a necessity for reasons that Albert describes.  My point is that if the drive of this site is to enable a robust apologetic (ref CS above) then why is it so loosely coupled with an expression of the gospel?  I’m not the first person in this blog to spot that Karl G’s atttitude was not exactly full of grace (1 Cor 6:6).

I note your link.  But I still think there is a notable contrast in emphasis when you look at these two opposite wings of the debating arena.

Maybe I’m in the wrong place.  After all, as CSvanefalk says, the raison d’etre for Biologos is to bring ‘science and scripture together without conflict’ and whilst I certainly think that truth will out in the end, therefore there is no fear in exploration, there is an implied equivalence in that phrase that I’m far more ambivalent about.  I need a viable apologetic, but not at any price.


MyGoatyBeard - #27458

August 29th 2010

Michael - ‘My question is whether science has enough proof or evidence that Neodarwinianism is true.’

Same here.  And I don’t think it has.  There are a lot of clever people who do think it has, but then a lot of clever people thought junk DNA was just junk.


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