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How Should BioLogos Respond to Dr. Albert Mohler’s Critique: Karl’s Response

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July 6, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity
How Should BioLogos Respond to Dr. Albert Mohler’s Critique: Karl’s Response

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

Today's blog follows Dr. Falk's previous post about Albert Mohler's recent critique of the BioLogos Foundation. Dr. Mohler's speech is available here, and a transcript is also available.

Dear Dr. Mohler:

I watched your presentation on the importance of Young Earth Creationism with great interest and some questions occurred to me. My most general question would have to be whether this really matters as much as you say. It seems to me that you are making a theological mountain out of an exegetical molehill, but I suspect we should just agree to disagree about that. So let me frame some specific questions and perhaps you can help me appreciate where you are coming from.

Here are the questions I have for you, which are expanded in the links:

1.You say that General Revelation cannot trump Special Revelation. Of course, the word “trump” is metaphorical here, and “special” and “general” are loaded terms, but I am taking you to mean that we should not let information from outside the Bible change our minds about what is inside the Bible. The example in your talk would suggest that information from geological records, radioactive dating, cosmic expansion and so on—all of which suggests that the universe is billions of years old—should not persuade us to set aside the natural reading of Genesis which suggests that the earth is young. Is this a fair statement of your position?

2. You say that Darwin left on his expedition on the Beagle to “prove the theory of evolution.” You say he had his theory of evolution before he went on the Beagle and that he was seeking evidence to support it as he traveled about the globe. I would be interested in knowing where you got this idea. Darwin kept copious notes, a diary, and wrote many letters in the course of his long public life. From this vast set of insights into his thinking biographers have been able to unfold his thinking at every turn, and we have a clear picture of how, when, and in response to what, he developed the theory of evolution. What we know with certainty is that he was a Christian who believed in Creation when he boarded the beagle. He even wrote “I did not doubt the literal truth of anything in the Bible” to describe his view when he boarded the Beagle. Far from having a theory of evolution, he was a devotee of William Paley and the design argument. Yet you say exactly the opposite. Can you give some sources for your unusual historical claim?

3. You speak of the apparent age of the universe as a logical necessity and I fully agree with you, up to a point. Certainly, if we were to wander into the Garden of Eden two weeks after the creation was completed, we would see two adults who looked at least 18 years old. But there are many other indicators of age that don’t lend themselves to this sort of explanation. Why would God create radioactive elements in the proportions to suggest the earth is 5 billion years old? Why would God create stars with half of their nuclear fuel already used up? Why would God pepper the heavens with debris that looks exactly like it came from stars that exploded billions of years ago? Why would God create continents that look exactly like they were joined millions of year ago?

For further discussion, see also Pete Enns's response to Dr. Mohler's speech.

Dr. Karl Giberson is a physicist, scholar, and author specializing in the creation-evolution debate. He has published hundreds of articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. Dr. Giberson has written or co-written ten books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. He is currently a faculty member at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, where he serves as the Scholar-in-Residence in science and religion.

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Jon Garvey - #22205

July 17th 2010

MyGoatyBeard - thanks for the compliment. Google turns up all kinds of junk, doesn’t it?

On Multiverse theory, I did a piece a year or so ago comparing three creation myths: Enuma Elish, Genesis 1 and Multiverse hypothesis, in terms of their respective scientific predictive ability.

The two ancient stories were taken back to their basic underlying worldviews, accepting that their details were likely to embody some degree of metaphor. So Enuma Elish would predict finding evidence of eternal matter, multiple creative agencies, traces of divine beings as part of the Universe, etc.

Genesis, indeed, was arguably the hypothesis that actually launched the scientific quest, since it predicted a universe founded on intelligent, constant principles conducive to, and investigable by, intelligent life. It also predicts a bounded and temporal universe, with evidence of divinity restricted to the handiwork itself. Good hypothesis.

The worst of the lot is Multiverse, firstly because it is intrinically untestable by science and secondly because it predicts absolutely everything, including a number of Universes where Enuma Elish is factually accurate. In an infinite Multiverse, even the impossible must be true!

MyGoatyBeard - #22244

July 17th 2010

Jon, yes multiverse is a nasty little idea and it may well be true.  Who knows!  Let’s stop that one there shall we.

The word ‘myth’ has many meanings.  But given that you appear to accept Genesis as mythical, I wonder at what point you would consider the pentateuch to cease being so?  Or don’t you?  That’s a question that bugs me.

Veggies were looking great today.  Tonnes of courgettes.  Be wary of allotment owners bearing courgettes.

Jon Garvey - #22281

July 18th 2010

MyGoatyBeard (do your visiting relatives greet you with “How are you doing, my old goaty beard?”)  - my son is the courgette dumper of the family - I just have a few cucumbers in the greenhouse as a sop to self-sufficiency. And the chickens.

“Myth” has a variety of connotations, even in my own thinking: I used the word in my piece partly because of the comparison I was making. But fundamentally myth is a literary form, and in itself says nothing about the truth or otherwise of the literature. So although I hadn’t read Dr Walton’s book on Genesis 1 when I wrote the thing, I’m very sympathetic to his analysis: Genesis 1 has ANE creation myth form, and teaches inspired truth about creation with an ANE emphasis that appears strange to us.

So the mythologists of this world (people like C S Lewis, I guess, not me) would be looking at the structure of Genesis more than the content to see where there are mythic elements, but in the end that may be less important than we think in terms of truth, but more important in terms of proper understanding. I remember my scientific mindset being shaken at uni by a theological friend who said “Genesis isn’t JUST myth - it IS myth!” I’m still thinking about that 37 years later. (...)

Jon Garvey - #22284

July 18th 2010

...BUT, FWIW as a layman, I don’t see much that looks like myth-form after Genesis 11. The patriarchal narratives have a pretty well-drawn ANE cultural setting, as does the Exodus. So I’d be thinking about literary categories like history, tribal tradition etc, rather than “foundation myths”. However, you still have to think of the literary forms - there’s plenty of metaphor, simplification, selection etc that would be handled differently in a modern chronicle, even one not describing miraculous events. I don’t think miracles are a literary form, BTW - you can have legends, and you can have factual records, of miracles.

Even now, our national story necessarily airbrushes complexities away: kids learn, for instance, that England is an Anglo-Saxon nation with a Norman aristocracy, but that ignores the national genotype still being largely indigenous, immigrants like Jews or my forbears from Celtic Ireland (the Celts actually being a mythical race) and so on.

Argon - #22305

July 18th 2010

MyGoatyBeard - #22185: “Argon - yes you’re making the same points as Jon G.  Though the bit about last Tuesday is a bit off he wall.  But I like the word solipsistic.”

Last Tuesday is used to distinguish from another, more popular proposal that the universe was created last Thursday with a great appearance of age. ‘Last Thursdayism’ is a reference to the classic rebuttal for arguments related to appearance of age.


MyGoatyBeard - #22395

July 19th 2010

I think most people, even the dogmatic literalists, who read the bible must think from time to time that there is a mythical element to some of it. And this is probably very justifiable in some cases, and needn’t detract from the truth.  But it can become a bit sloppy too, and the worry is that truth is devalued, or even dismissed.

I’m reading ‘Scripture and Truth’ by Carson & Woodbridge et al where they make the point that in Luther’s time people were generally very pugnacious in their defence of biblical ‘fact’, whereas now the opposite is true - perspectives are a lot more vague.  Both conditions have their dangers.

I remember being stunned when I realised that many of the early heretics were just normal Christians trying to piece together a catechism that was defensible and true.  They weren’t satanists deliberately seeking to lead the flock astray.

This website has its fair share of ‘heresy’, and Dr Albert Mohler (just to get back on topic) is surely right to provide a critique.  I’m not convinced that assertions of apostasy are warranted but I can see why.  But I can’t see any alternative to painfully working through this controversy and I’m really pleased this site exists.

Incidentally, I’m clean-shaven.

MyGoatyBeard - #22402

July 19th 2010

Argon - I’d never heard of Omphalos before.

Its funny that when you think something is your own idea it seems a lot more defensible and intriguing, but when you read somebody elses version of the same thing you can pick lots of holes in it.  I guess there’s a word for that phenomenon too somewhere in wikipedia.

Nothing new under the sun.

Matt - #22790

July 21st 2010

Forgive me if I’m oversimplifying, but it seems to me that the real question that needs to be asked is “what does God’s Word say.”  Those who argue that God’s word is not perfectly true face a logical inability to make any absolute truth claims.  Unless there is a standard outside of ourselves, a revelation that sits above our own ideas, we are free to tell any story we want.  Ask yourself why you believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead?  Certainly there are “evidences,” ie. the change in the disposition of the disciples and Paul, the empty tomb, the post-ressurection appearances, etc. but the reality is that none of these is sufficient to substantiate Jesus’ ressurection.  As Bart Erhman, Richard Dawkins, and others have pointed out, there is always another explanation (however impropable) that is more probable from a strictly scientific perspective than that Jesus literally and bodily rose from the dead.  So…we need to ask the question, what does God’s word say?  Now, we can debate about this (since I think we can agree that there is only one “true” meaning to Genesis 1-3) we just might not agree on what this is.  But…if ever we were to arrive at that meaning, it would and must take precedence over all else.

Matt - #22793

July 21st 2010

It seems to be a very strong argument that the long list of evangelicals that support an old earth also say that the most straightforwad and plain reading of Genesis 1-3 is an account of creation occuring in six literal days.


That leads us to the question, can we make sense of the world around us in light of such an interpretation?  I think so.

As far as objections about distant starlight, there is also the horizon problem for an old universe.  There is very literal consensus in the scientific community about the origin of the cosmos (except to say that God didn’t do it).  Natural processes have not explained, and I believe cannot explain, so much. 

“Astronomers have not the slightest evidence for the supposed quantum production of the universe out of primordial nothingness.”  PH.D. Astrophysicist Sten Odenwald

“The big bang represents the instantaneous suspension of physical laws, the sudden abrupt flash of lawlessness that allowed something to come out of nothing, it represents a true miracle.”  Dr. Paul Davies PH.D. Physicist

IS that the science we are being told is so concrete and established?

MyGoatyBeard - #23046

July 23rd 2010

Hi Mike.  You wrote, ‘It seems to be a very strong argument that the long list of evangelicals that support an old earth also say that the most straightforwad and plain reading of Genesis 1-3 is an account of creation occuring in six literal days.’

Don’t you think there are lots of areas of scripture where the most straightforward and plain reading would be wrong?

Only today I read this, ‘My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place.
    When I was woven together in the depths of the earth’ (Psalm 139 v 15).

But I don’t think it is right to assume that we were made underground and I’m sure you don’t.

There are many, many other examples like this.

Matt - #23205

July 23rd 2010

My Goaty Beard,

The problem I have with yourstatement is that it seems that Scripture allows us, or perhaps even expects us, to recognize the context and the literary style that is being employed.  Psalm 139 is not giving a historical account of how God creates people, it is using figurative and hyperbolic language.  David also says “If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.”  We are not supposed to deduce that David could actually make his bed in Sheol, but rather we are supposed to learn something about the nature of God.  If it could be shown that Genesis 1-3 is figurative, allegorical, or something other than an historical account of how God created all thngs, then I would agree with you.  The real question is, what does God mean in Genesis 1-3.  While I cannot claim to be the ultimate or final authority on that matter, I remain convinced that Genesis is historical narrative, and I have tried to point out some of the Scriptural reasons for this conviction, as well as problems with other understandings. 

Would you agree that if God intended Genesis to be a historical account of how He created all things in seven literal days (I know you don’t agree with this) that it would necessarily mean that the earth is young?

MyGoatyBeard - #23273

July 24th 2010

Hi Matt (I can’t think who Mike was!)

Actually, I’m not sure just how ‘figurative’ or ‘allegorical’ I would want to make Genesis, especially if that means there are connotations of untruth by doing so.  I mean it is interesting to get inside David’s head with the phrase about him ‘making his bed in Sheol’ and my first thought when looking at a passage like that is not ‘ah, its allegorical’ but more about his emotions and spiritual walk and whether I’m sometimes like that.

In fact, I think the first few chapters of Genesis give me a plumbline in my interpretation of scripture and in understanding myself.  Which is why I don’t want to disparage people who take it as 6 days etc.

But I’ve just read Genesis 1 and 2 again and I have to say that I cannot see a creation step-by-step guide there.  Genesis 1 has a kind of poetic form doesn’t it, with repetitions of ‘And God said, “Let…”’ and ‘There was evening, and there was morning…’.  Whereas Genesis 2 seems to get more of a story-telling narrative going.  Even then, it is hardly explicit about what happened when. I mean when you read Gen 2:4-8 after the preceding chapter and verses it all gets a bit confusing.

MyGoatyBeard - #23275

July 24th 2010

...I know the dogmatic literalists (AIG types) can argue their way through this and piece together a just-about plausible order of creation/adam/garden/trees of the field etc.  But, to be frank, I don’t trust that interpretation enough to put my full weight on it.  (And I’ve been a subscriber to AIG publications for years now, starting off with a very open mind and willingness to appear the fool to friends).  As I say, I feel pretty settled with at least Genesis 1 having a kind of poetic character and I can see Gen 2 as a different account more naturally than I see it as a historical synoptic.  I think that’s a fairly straightforward and plain reading of the text.

But its a way to travel from there (i.e. being willing to treat 6 days as being not literal 24-hour days) to ‘Goo-to-you’ evolutionism.  I find there are many jarring notes in evolutionism, especially the ‘Lamarckian’, social Darwinism, that infects every day life, that conflict with biblical ideas.

To answer your specific question, then yes, if God had intended Gen to be literal 7 days then that would imply to me a young earth.  That might be the case, but it’s not something I would see as neccessary to be dogmatic about, or demonstrably clear from the text.

MyGoatyBeard - #23276

July 24th 2010

Matt - something else occurs to me.

When I was young I remember the Christian adults asking me if I knew Jesus was living in my heart.

You’ve no idea how much turmoil and angst this simple question gave me. My mental picture of ‘knowing Jesus in my heart’ was incompatible with my childhood faith and for many years I back-slid. It seems laughable now, but I always thought I should expect a certain knowledge of a little Jesus in my chest - not physically/literally, but something that was reassuring and tangible.  Because reassurance was what I craved when we had the ‘gospel’ message. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t go to a dreadful church or have abusively religioius parents, but there was so much confusion about what people meant, and what I knew about Jesus (which I remembered years later.)

And sometimes I look at the fierce dogma about what we must believe and I remember that sensation of being indirectly directed what to believe, even if it didn’t make sense. I am not going there again.

But I do remember and rejoice in my discovering true Freedom in Christ as an adult. And now I worry about what some of this ‘believing certainty’ is doing to people, especially children. If it doesn’t make sense then lets say so.

Matt - #23393

July 25th 2010

My Goaty Beard,

I appreciate your response.  The whole notion of “having Jesus in your heart” is a fascinating one.  As a southern baptist, I hear a lot of pastors and teachers using that phrase, though I’m not even sure what it is supposed to mean.  That being, said would you disagree that there is something “certain” that we have to believe in order to be a Christian.  It seems to me that Christianity is a propositional faith.  Paul says “If we confess with our mouths Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved.”  John in his Epistles offers many tests of the faith, and they are propositional.  I do think that there is a “certainty” that we should be striving for…though I think that we can abuse it…or confuse it with statements like “Jesus in my heart.”  I suppose its supposed to relate to Paul saying “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” though I would contend that most people who hear that prhase don’t even begin to comprehend the spiritual truth behind it.

Back to Genesis though.  I am left wondering what Genesis means…particularly if it is two differnt accounts.  You say that Genesis 1-2 does not read like a “step-by-step” guide, (cont’d)

Matt - #23395

July 25th 2010

but that is exactly what I see.  I suppose what I can’t understand, is how to reconcile the meaning any other way (maybe you can help me with that).  Consider the verses (I can’t retype them all, but you can follow along in your Bible)..

1 - Did God create the heavens and the earth “in the beginning?”  Are we supposed to accept that it was God who created…but not that He created “the earth” in the beginning? 
2 - Is this an accurate description of the earth when it was first created?  If not, what is the meaning of this verse at all.
3, 4, 5 - Did this happen?  Did God speak light into existence or not?

If this is poetic, why do believe that we are literally created in the image of God (v. 26).  If we can replace God creating the first man out of the dust of the earth, entirely distinct from all the other animals, with God using the process of evolution to create man…why would we insist in some literal meaning of God “breathing life” into us or creating us “in His image.”  It seems to me that the reason we defend these things is because they are fundamental to the Christian faith.  The same goes for a historical fall that seperated mankind from God?

I just don’t see how to reconcile this.  (con’td)

Matt - #23397

July 25th 2010

Where do we stop this poetry?  Adam and Eve, who are “created” in Genesis 1-2, go on to have children in Genesis 3-4.  Was Eve truly the mother of all the living?  Did Jesus Christ descend from the lineage of Adam, as Luke contends in Genesis 3?  What about Noah and the flood?  Is that poetic, or myth, or allegory, or symbolism?  When I read Genesis 1-11 I see a continuous narrative of real history.  Parents giving birth to children, God interacting with his people…and it seems that so many of the NT authors speak of these people as historic as well.

There is a segment of OE subscribers that are arguing that rather than try to figure out how to make sense of Paul’s 1st Adam, last Adam theology…that we should simply reject it as mistaken.  You may not argue for that…but isn’t that where this argument eventually leads?

Do you not see the NT authors, and Jesus Himself, speaking about Genesis, Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Noah, Enoch, etc. as real people that really lived? 

I have been told that the scientific evidence for an OE is overwhelming.  I am trying to engage that evidence.  I feel equally as strongly that the Scriptures (and therefore God) speak of Genesis 1-11 as real history.  That is overwhelming to me.

Matt - #23398

July 25th 2010

correction, it should say as Luke contends in *Luke* 3.  Sorry about the other grammatical errors.

Larry - #23402

July 25th 2010

“Was Eve truly the mother of all the living?”

Matt, as you appear to be new here you might want to take a look at this - Does Genetics Point to a Single Primal Couple?

Jon Garvey - #23442

July 26th 2010

“Where do we stop this poetry? “

The final (from a Christian viewpoint) answer is “when the writer stops doing poetry”. The question is where that is.

In this whole debate there is a need for patience - the authentic faith position is that there *are* anwers, and not that we *have* them. I got interested in palaeontology around 1957, became a Christian in ‘65 and a doctor in ‘76. I’ve been through most standard positions on creation since then. The progress of science has made some of those untenable - but then my deepening knowledge of the Bible has done the same, and most of my adult life, of necessity, “science” and “Genesis ” have been in somewhat separate compartments. But always with the understanding that somewhere, God being the source of all truth, there is a door between them. Occasionally that door creaks open a little.

For example, when Genesis 1 is read theologically rather than scientifically it presents an understanding of the cosmos orders of magnitude more like that discovered by science than, say, the Babylonian creation myths. Or an approach like that suggested by John H Walton, steeped in ANE literature, opens entirely new tools for dealing with Genesis. (...)

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