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 - #27462

August 29th 2010

MGB,

Since you “certainly think that truth will out in the end, therefore there is no fear in exploration” then I’d say you are exactly in the right place. 

Think of this an on ongoing conversation about how best to reconcile science and scripture.  For sure, there will be views expressed that you won’t (and shouldn’t) agree with.  But even then you can grow in your understanding of other parts of the body with different viewpoints.


Olly - #27463

August 29th 2010

MyGoatyBeard, I’d suggest the following are absolutely necessary reading for anyone who even half buys into the series of falsehoods and fabrications perpetuated by organisations such as the Discovery Institute, AIG, ICR, or RTB, regarding what they refer to as “junk DNA”;

Talking trash about “junk DNA”: Introduction
Talking trash about “junk DNA”: lies about genomic research
Hugh Ross’ shocking fairy tale


MyGoatyBeard - #27470

August 29th 2010

JVZ - OK. Still here.  Just teezing.

Olly - Quite a bucket of info you’ve given me. Thanks. I need to read that.


John VanZwieten - #27476

August 29th 2010

Michael wrote:

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.

That is pretty much the conviction that led me to explore BioLogos.  As a non-science professional, I don’t feel any need to commit to or deny “Neodarwinism”, mostly because that might mean different things to different people.  But I think if you take the time to read through the more scientific posts here, you will find consideral scientific support for both an old earth and the common descent of living things.

Origin of Life, on the other hand, lacks the same kind of evidence at this point.  There’s nothing wrong with scientists developing and testing hypotheses about it, but there’s certainly no compelling theory yet, imho.


GodsOwnDNA - #27513

August 30th 2010

@bilbo

Let me understand you clearly: You said that if God created humans through the evolutionary process, then “sin is the fault of God’s process of creation.” and NOT associated with human free will. I gather this is what you said. However, taking into account the fact that God created/endowed humans with free will, can we not say that in that situation too, God is at fault? The very fact that he gave humans a nature which had the potential to sin (whatever the stimulus/influence) - could we not hold God guilty of this charge? I’m just saying that you could blame it on God either way - evolutionary creation or not. Morever, sin is something that separates us from God. Knowing that God is spirit, this separation (or atleast the kind that would count) would be of a spiritual kind. So, even if the sin nature did “develop” through natural history, it wouldn’t exactly be sin if the sinner didn’t have a spirit in the first place. Details aside, I think what Dr.Giberson was drawing attention to in that line was regarding the supremacy of Christ’s saving power - irrespective of whether God created through the evolutionary process or otherwise.


GodsOwnDNA - #27514

August 30th 2010

Having said this, I do agree with you about what you said about C.S.Lewis’ take on such matters. And as you said, this way of looking at temptation and the fall is completely compatible with the darwinian account.


biblegeek - #27516

August 30th 2010

Aint it a pity and a cryin’ shame!  Finite little brains puffed up and bloated like enormous ticks; yet devoid of anything of eternal import, or truly spiritual value. Just all puffed up and stretched way out of proportion, full of vanity. “If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” God’s children will never succumb to the religion of Naturalism, no matter how you try to dress it up with a bankrupt and shipwrecked faith. Man is not the measure of all things. Evolution is the most preposterous lie ever foisted on men. Trying to marry evolution to faith is like trying to put out fire with gasoline “because it’s wet.” Tis not going to work; that is, it’s not going to convince anyone that wisely reflects on the scripture, “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” Revelation trumps reason every time. God has all the high cards.


Jon Garvey - #27518

August 30th 2010

@biblegeek - #27516

“God has all the high cards.”

Absolutely right - the problem is there are many people with finite little brains puffed up and bloated like enormous ticks who are convinced they alone understand his word, and they alone can reason out the shortcomings of reason. And often, that they alone have the Holy Spirit.

It’s called spiritual pride.


Christopher Svanefalk - #27519

August 30th 2010

Biblegeek - please, did even read the post, and the following discussion?

MGB - when I said that BL are “bringing the Bible and science together without conflict”, I meant that this was my _interpretation_ of what they are doing, sort of. You will have to consult BL themselves to find out their actual mission.


beaglelady - #27571

August 30th 2010

Finite little brains puffed up and bloated like enormous ticks

Funny you should mention bloated ticks in an anti-evolution rant.. I got a lot of them every time I went to Texas . If they didn’t evolve, did God design them to run for your crotch and suck your blood?


GodsOwnDNA - #27578

August 30th 2010

@Biblegeek

Its ironic you call yourself a “geek” and have such an embarrassingly simplistic view of scripture.


nedbrek - #27671

August 31st 2010

John VanZwieten (27315) “Please provide support for your view of Darwin’s argument in OofS.”

I find Darwin to be rather verbose, but I have skimmed several of his works.  From the intro to Oofs:
“The author of the ‘Vestiges of Creation’ would, I presume, say that,
after a certain unknown number of generations, some bird had given birth
to a woodpecker, and some plant to the misseltoe, and that these had
been produced perfect as we now see them; but this assumption seems to
me to be no explanation…”

VoC, from what I can tell, is a sort of prototype of the naturalist origin myth.  Darwin here takes issue with it, not that it overturns God as Creator, but that it doesn’t go far enough to describe natural causes for the variety of forms observed.


John VanZwieten - #27735

September 1st 2010

Nedbrek,

Is that really the best you can come up with?!  Did you even google Vestiges?  Doesn’t the word “creation” in the the title suggest the opposite of “overturning God as Creator”?

Here are some quotes from Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation listed on wikipedia:

Some other idea must then come to with regard to the mode in which the Divine Author proceeded in the organic creation. (p.153)

...how can we suppose that the august Being who brought all these countless worlds into form by the simple establishment of a natural principle flowing from his mind, was to interfere personally and specially on every occasion when a new shell-fish or reptile was to be ushered into existence on one of these worlds? Surely this idea is too ridiculous to be for a moment entertained. (p.154)

Thus, the scriptural objection quickly vanishes, and the prevalent ideas about the organic creation appear only as a mistaken inference from the text, formed at a time when man’s ignorance prevented him from drawing therefrom a just conclusion. (p.156)


John VanZwieten - #27736

September 1st 2010

continued…

To a reasonable mind the Divine attributes must appear, not diminished or reduced in some way, by supposing a creation by law, but infinitely exalted. It is the narrowest of all views of the Deity, and characteristic of a humble class of intellects, to suppose him acting constantly in particular ways for particular occasions. It, for one thing, greatly detracts from his foresight, the most undeniable of all the attributes of Omnipotence. It lowers him towards the level of our own humble intellects. Much more worthy of him it surely is, to suppose that all things have been commissioned by him from the first, though neither is he absent from a particle of the current of natural affairs in one sense, seeing that the whole system is continually supported by his providence. (pp.156–157)


John VanZwieten - #27746

September 1st 2010

So, Nedbrek, do you want to find better evidence from OofS that Darwin claimed God didn’t create anything?  Or maybe you could just concede the point that Darwin’s argument (like the anonymous author of Vestiges) was about how the Creator created?


Fr. Robert (Anglican) - #27751

September 1st 2010

In the end, the Christian (like really the Jewish) position can only be with the Word of God!  Note, Augustine’s creation position, the text of Gen. 1 -3 becomes sort of a “biblical-theological” framework. “For (theology) does not receive her first principles from any other science, but immediately from God by revelation. And therefore, she does not receive of the other sciences as from a superior, but uses them as her inferiors or handmaids.” (Leo XIII Providentissimus Deus; Ench. Bibl., n. 125.)


nedbrek - #27881

September 2nd 2010

John, the “creator” spoken of in Vestiges is not the God of the Bible.

“Much more worthy of him it surely is, to suppose that all things have been commissioned by him from the first”

This is the same phrase I’ve heard here on Biologos.  That the deistic god of evolution, who creates only a system by which man can evolve from mud through natural laws over deep time is “far superior” to one who creates directly and quickly.


John VanZwieten - #27926

September 3rd 2010

Nedbrek,

Nice bit of circular reasoning:
“Darwin says God didn’t create anything because any God who created through an orderly system of laws would be a deistic God because I say the God of the Bible only creates directly and quickly.”

Sorry, but there are way to many ardent Christian theists here at BioLogos for you to get by with a slander like that.


Victor J - #27927

September 3rd 2010

I would urge both sides of this debate to read the following article:

“Evolution is Not the Problem. Darwinism is the Problem”
http://www.tothesource.org/12_9_2009/12_9_2009.htm

To summarize, the article states that Darwinism is one theory about evolution, but not necessarily the only theory of evolution. Specifically, Darwinism is a naturalistic presupposition that rejects the involvement of intelligent agents in the origin of life. When finding a watch in the desert the Darwinist would say that there was no creator behind it, the watch was assembled by a series of unguided random processes. Then the Darwinist will build theories upon theories to explain how the watch could be assembled from random processes without requiring any intelligent agents. It seems that this reductionist, materialist doctrine is what Professor Giberson attempts to reconcile with Christianity which Dr. Mohler rightly rejects.


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