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

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July 6, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity

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

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

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.


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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Jon Garvey - #23443

July 26th 2010

But feeling the need to draw firm conclusions from what, still, is insufficient evidence is a cause of much of the unscientific and subChristian debate going on (on all sides!).

I remember hearing the YEC Andrew Snelling speak at a local church. Though a Geologist, he had a creationist answer for every scientific or Biblical problem raised by the audience. I began to feel I was understanding his psychology a bit when somebody, clearly with educational challenges, asked a totally irrelevant question. Maybe it was about whether sex before marriage was wrong, or something, but the questioner clearly had no understanding of what the meeting was about and just saw the speaker as “A Christian Expert” to quiz.

If I’d been the speaker, I’d either have apologised that that was outside my field, or maybe said it was a very good question, but that maybe their pastor was the best person to speak to about it. But Snelling launched into a Biblical defence of chastity, and it seemed to me his position was, “There’s an answer to every question in Scripture, and it’s my job to find it and promote it as truth.” Maybe that’s why complete speculations like the vapour canopy seem to be defended so dogmatically in YEC circles.


MyGoatyBeard - #23446

July 26th 2010

Hi Matt. I know the feeling! I wish we could meet up for a coffee but I can’t answer all your questions myself and you’ve opened up all sorts of other issues.

‘Where do we stop this poetry?’ - Good question I’m afraid, and I asked it myself higher up the thread. Life would be so much easier if we had clear lines drawn for us. I don’t like that vagueness. Jon G makes a stab at it, but he’s living with some ambiguity (like me) and this is uncomfortable (though I think it more honest).

‘If this is poetic, why do believe that we are literally created in the image of God (v. 26)?’ - My immediate thought is of Col 1:15 and the following verses. Just because Gen 1:26 might be considered to be poetic doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely true. After all, what does St. Paul mean when he’s talking about Christ as being the image of God? Not arms and legs for sure, but when that passage first opened my eyes I literally gasped with praise for Jesus.

Fundamentally, the opening comment of yours that I responded to was about whether you can really read Gen 1 as being in some way ‘poetic’.  And I’ve said I can, but you’ve said again that you can’t.  Unless that issue is settled in some way our discussion is stuck.


Matt - #23460

July 26th 2010

My Goaty Beard and John,

Thanks very much for your responses.  This is a very challening subject obviously.  For me, the challenges are deep.  I am actually tasked with the responsibility of teaching on the opening chapters of Genesis throughout the month of August at my local church.  From my comments, it should be obvious where I presently stand on these issues.  None the less, this is no easy challenge.  I do not want to stand before God someday and have to answer for teaching faslely about Genesis…nor do I want to simply cast it aside and say “Christians don’t agree on this so we will just ignore it.”  I suppose, that I will say much of what I’ve said here, acknowledging that there are those who strongly disagree, and that at this point in my understanding…I am most strongly drawn to a literal (I hope by now I’ve been clear about what I mean by literal) interpretation.  Let me ask you, would you find someone teaching the theological issues I’ve addressed and the arguments I’ve made for a literal Genesis acceptable, so long as I do not insist that this is the “only, acceptable, Biblical” view of creation.  There are those who would be deeply offended at someone teaching a YEC view…I am curious how others feel.


Matt - #23461

July 26th 2010

Larry,

Thanks for posting the article.  I read it, as well as the long list of comments underneath it.  I will acknowledge the difficulties presented to the idea that everyone descended from a literal Adam and Eve.  Still, arguments have been made, even in the comments section of that article, for why that article may not be the “final word” on the issue.  You are obviously not convinced by any such arguments, but that dosn’t mean that your position…or the one held by the article that “science has proven that we did not all descend from one couple” is the only right or tenable position.  There were at least two events in the first few chapters of Genesis that suggest that we cannot use the present to extrapolate back to the past.  One is the fall, the other is the flood.  Scripture suggests that both of these events altered all of creation and mankind in ways that we cannot comprehend (and perhaps cannot measure).  How that could possibly tie in to what we see in genetics, I don’t know…but that is a far cry from saying that it simply has no bearing on the issue.  As for common descent, the arguments for and against it have been posted ad nauseum on this site. you may find all such arguments unsatisfying.  I do not.


MyGoatyBeard - #23469

July 26th 2010

Matt - Answering your specific points…

1 - Did God create the heavens and the earth “in the beginning?”  - Yes!
Are we supposed to accept that it was God who created… - Yes!
but not that He created “the earth” in the beginning? - Of course he did.  Just in the same sense that God gave me my wife, but I asked her on a date, I wooed her, I asked her to marry me.

2 - Is this an accurate description of the earth when it was first created? - Yes.  But I would be OK with that description not being ‘accurate’ according to modern physics.  But so what.  Modern physics isn’t necessarily the comprehensive answer to every question in life, and probably not the most important ones which these chapters address.

3, 4, 5 - Did this happen?  Did God speak light into existence or not?
Yes.

So I’m seeing things in the same way as you aren’t I?  I’m just unwilling to see the passage as necessarily and absolutely prescriptive of the mechanism of creation.  I think this is what all those evangelical scholars are doing who don’t read Gen 1-3 in a straightforward and plain way as we started discussing several posts back.


Jon Garvey - #23479

July 26th 2010

Matt -
I’ve taught the first chapters of Genesis on many occasions. Except when the brief was specifically “the Bible and Science” I relegate that whole debate to question time, and insist on teaching it as the foundation of the whole Bible redemption story. Nobody feels cheated.

In the Pentateuch context , the Good God creates a good place with good people and the promise of fellowship, who blow it not just once but increasingly.

God finally undoes his creation in the Flood, but even saving the best of the bunch in Noah solves nothing. Noah becomes a drunkard. Nevertheless God guarantees the place for the duration, restores fruitfulness and blessing - yet warns of a deferred judgement should mankind louse up again.

Which it predictably does, as exemplified finally in the Babel story.

Out of that situation God finally calls one man (Abram) with a promise of a place, a people and blessing that will bless the earth. That promise, in the Pentateuch, ends in a people belonging to God, blessed by Torah, living fruitfully in the Promised Land. It’s the same promise Paul says is fulfilled in Christ - even calls it “the Gospel in advance”.

Of course, you still have to field the questions sensitively!


MyGoatyBeard - #23510

July 26th 2010

Matt, you asked, ‘would you find someone teaching the theological issues I’ve addressed and the arguments I’ve made for a literal Genesis acceptable, so long as I do not insist that this is the “only, acceptable, Biblical” view of creation.  There are those who would be deeply offended at someone teaching a YEC view…I am curious how others feel.’

Well I wouldn’t be offended.  I’d like to hear it!

There is a world of difference between a speaker who humbly presents what he is personally convicted is the truth, and a speaker who presents a dogma (although they might say similar things).  I hope your listeners are able to humbly receive the good things of God that you’ll share with them no matter their particular glass that they see through darkly.


Matt - #23727

July 28th 2010

My Goaty Beard,

Thanks for that word of encouragement.  In truth, preparing to teach on Genesis has been one of the most challenging and rewarding tasks I have undertaken in ministry.  I’d like to share with you where I find myself presently, and see what you think (I’ll have to go through a detour to get there though, so be patient).

I am taking classes at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and I can remember a moment that changed my life.  It was in my Systematic Theology 3 class and my professor began to teach about dispensational and covenant theology (maybe you are familiar with those ideas).  The crazy thing was that I had never EVER been exposed to covenant theology (or at least not described so systematically) in my life.  Honestly, I thought all evangelicals believed in a literal land promise to Israel and a literal millinial reign…that’s all I had ever heard…and it was the only way I knew how to think about the prophesies, covenant’s, etc.  So, to hear this professor describing a “legitimate” theological position, that did not deny the Scriptures I believed, but interpreted them entirely differently…was astonishing.

Where am I going with this?  I’ll need another post, so stay with me.


Matt - #23728

July 28th 2010

What I realized is that perhaps the hardest question to answer in evangelical Christianity is “what does the Bible say?”  We believe that the Bible is the word of God and that it is true…but it has to be rightly understood!  The problem is, even within evangelical Christianity, things aren’t so neat.

Calvinists insist that the Scriptures rightly understood teach predestination and limited atonement.

Baptists insist that the Scriptures rightly understood teach submersion as the only valid form of Baptism.

Ideas about communion, end times, spiritual gifts, etc. are present in every denomination and all of them are arguing from the Scriptures…but they can’t all be right!

In other words…we all have “ways of thinking” about things.  Often times we don’t even realize it, but we interpret everything through those filters and we make it make sense.

What about Genesis?  Certainly it is the word of God.  Certainly it is true!  But…what does it mean?  You’ve made me ask questions that I would not have asked before.  I hope that I have made you ask questions as well.  Presently, I remain convinced that poetry does not do justice to Genesis 1-3.  Still, I will continue to read, and pray, and seek the mind of God.


Matt - #23730

July 28th 2010

I suppose that in the end that’s what we all should desire.  That is the danger and the joy of these coversations.  The danger is that we can become convinced that we know…and what’s worse is that in some things we must insist that we know (like salvation by faith through grace) for example…but how to decide on what we must insist and what remains unsettled is greatly unsettling to me. 

If I were convinced that God revealed an Old Earth and Theistic Evolution…I would be a great OE / TE advocate.  If you were convinced that the Bible taught YEC, I would hope that you would advocate for it strongly as well (even in the face of much opposition and a deeply entrenched counter story)

For now, I will continue to try to examine my “ways of thinking” and ask God to show me where my knowledge is veiled, in part or in whole. 

I can still see the scene in the movie Luther where he takes the indulgence from the woman and her crippled daughter and says save your money to buy bread…this paper means nothing. 

Today i wrestle with the question, which one of us is the Luther in the origins debate…and which one of us has bought a lie.  Perhaps you will pray for me on that issue…as I will pray for you.

God bless!


MyGoatyBeard - #23785

July 28th 2010

Matt

The blog is a lot more interesting (and beneficial) when you get a glimpse of where someone is coming from, rather than simply arguing about ideas, which many are far better at than me. So thanks for that.

Fortunately for us all, the ‘entry exam’ for the Kingdom of God does not include a theology test(!) I am pretty sure that being unsettled (your word) about what is ‘right’ is perfectly compatible with living close to God’s heart, though it sure doesn’t feel good sometimes. GOD is right. WE seek and grow.  Incidentally, you might find Joel Hunter’s latest video blog on this site (Inerrancy and liberalism) helpful. It fits well with the issues you’ve just posted today.

For example, Joel says, ‘
‘Inerrancy’ implies that the scripture itself is revelatory – from God, but it does not imply and should not imply that the person interpreting it is inerrant…The inerrancy grows with our interpretation because the superintendant understanding of [the] Spirit grows with our understanding of how God operates in other fields, as well as through scripture.’

I found that helpful indeed because it retains a high view of scripture, makes me humble, and leaves the door wide open for growing and loving God more and more.


MyGoatyBeard - #23787

July 28th 2010

Matt

...and yes I have prayed and will pray for you, and your forthcoming preaching. Such a privilege to preach, such a joy to present God’s truth.  I pray He’ll give you everything you need to do this work, and that you won’t fret if you think He hasn’t given you enough/the full picture. One day He will and we wait for it patiently. To use your example above, I’m very happy for you to be Luther if only God is glorified. Bless you bro’.


Jon Garvey - #23827

July 29th 2010

Matt

I’m really glad you’ve discovered covenant theology. I’m more or less convinced that the Bible *is* covenants, and that understanding them prevents an awful lot of theological blind alleys. In my post above about your teaching I was going to suggest that the first 3 covenants form the overall structure of Genesis 1-11, only I thought you might just look blank.

Meanwhile, regarding Genesis and “poetry” I’m not sure if you’ve read John H Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis 1” but if not you ought to. Says nothing on the other chapters, but opens your eyes to a whole new (and metter) way of reading the text. In the preface he shows how our usual “literal” readings are anything but, being overlaid with modern false assumptions.

Finally you may (or may not) be interested in a piece I’ve attempted partly prompted by this thread, which tries to show the whole “non-literal” idea to be less of a fudge than we suppose. It’s at http://www.jongarvey.co.uk/download/pdf/mythicchronology.pdf


Josh Mueller - #26514

August 21st 2010

My main problem with Mohler’s speech - besides the slippery slope arguments - is the term “straightforward reading”.  It presupposes a general agreement with the usage of certain terms and what they mean in the context.  But we all come with different lenses to the text and even our own lense might change over time and after given additional information.  At the moment, I’m inclined to see the text answering very different questions than “How old is the earth?”.  I’m inclined to see an emphasis on questions of origin, value, dignity, identity, purpose and why we are in need of salvation.  I’m inclined to see the emphasis on exact length of time as a modernist lense foreign to the text and its original readers.  But all of this is is MY lense and I may very well be wrong.  I’m just wondering whether Al Mohler is aware of HIS lense and would be willing to admit that he too may be wrong.  Maybe what is really needed in the dialogue between theology and science is a greater humility in acknowleding the finiteness of our knowledge and also an awareness that our humanity is looking for something a lot deeper and more important than a satisfying answer to the question: what actually happened and when did it happen?


nedbrek - #26567

August 22nd 2010

Josh, the problem is that an old earth (OE) interpretation comes up with very different explanations for “origin, value, dignity, etc.”  If the Earth is old, and we are the product of evolution - all of which are part of God’s “good” design - then good has a very different meaning than we have imagined.

We are not descended from the original sinners, Adam and Eve, but from a population of animals.

Why do we need salvation at all, our nature now is very similar to what it has been for millions of years.

God is not saving us from suffering, but bring more suffering (i.e. suffering is good).

We have no dignity (we are animals)

We have no purpose (evolution is directionless)


Yooper - #26703

August 23rd 2010

My father passed away when I was 8, and I questioned what happens after this life is over and how life came to be (origins).  Evolution, the big bang… did not provide a satisfactory explanation to me for the origin or beginning of life.  At the age of 12 I received the answers to my questions in the Word of God.  God created.  Why limit God?  Does BioLogs deny the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ?


Ted Davis - #27066

August 26th 2010

I just caught up with this fascinating and important thread.  I’ve studied historical and contemporary aspects of this controversy for decades, and I’ve long been convinced that “death before the Fall” (as it was called in the 1840s and is still often called today) is the crucial reason for the “young” in the YEC view.  Dr Mohler’s column places much more emphasis on the historicity of Adam & Eve than on death before the fall, as a reason for holding to a “young” earth, but it is very easy to find many other YECs placing great emphasis on the death issue, esp when rejecting the “Big Bang” theory or the standard view of the earth’s age.  (cont’d)


Ted Davis - #27068

August 26th 2010

Continuing:

Many years ago I put onto the internet a copy of Edward Hitchcock’s views about geology, natural theology, and the Bible—including his comments about “death before the Fall” (which is the exact wording of the running head in the text at that point).  Hitchcock advocated the very view that has recently been revived by Bill Dembski, in “The End of Christianity,” namely that the sovereign God foresaw the fall and already prepared the earth for death, as the consequence of human sin.  So, *theologically* animal death resulted from human sin; but *chronologically* it came first. 

For those who are interested, two versions of Hitchcock’s comments are available at:
http://home.messiah.edu/~tdavis/texts.htm

I also wrote an article about biblical interpretation and modern science, focusing on how three groups of writers have responded to the principle of accommodation—the idea used by Augustine and many others (Calvin, Kepler, and Galileo are 3 examples)—as applied to astronomy in the Bible.  The 3 groups were early opponents of heliocentrism (such as Cardinal Bellarmine), modern YEC opponents of heliocentrism (such as Geradrus Bouw), and YECs who accept Copernicus.  Contact me privately if interested.


Saturn - #49130

January 25th 2011

While I believe your rebuttal is well-formed, I cannot see the point in refuting the beliefs of someone who is so obviously committed to their position. I suppose for we the readers, it serves as an informative and thoughtful argument… but the point is that it is an argument you are making, and you might as well make it with a concrete wall, because you’re not going to be gaining any ground with him (or, I suspect, his readers).


Jack - #49159

January 26th 2011

I have no choice but to emphatically agree with Saturn (#49130), but with a reservation. It is quite certain that Albert Mohler, and likely the majority of his readers, will not be converted by arguments such as this. However, the presence of this argument is quite enlightening to those who are still seeking a viewpoint. Karl Giberson’s rebuttals here may help cement those who already support BioLogos, and will likely not help those who do not, but it is certainly an example of the sort of civilized communication that absolutely must occur if BioLogos intends to accomplish its purpose. Public discussion, with the following discourse, is a necessary, if sometimes difficult step.

Myself - I am unsure as to what to think. I have not yet chosen a side, or even chosen whether I will choose a side. This is the sort of discussion that will sway those in my position.


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