Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Monthly Mohler - Albert Mohler takes on The BioLogos Forum

Since last year's takedown of Dr. Albert Mohler got about a jillion hits, I've decided to start writing something called The Monthly Mohler.  The Monthly Mohler will be an opportunity to look at the president of Southern Seminary's views on church and state, his beliefs that those who disagree with him are going to burn in hell for all eternity, and finally, his God'n'Amurrica blurbs on Fox.
Why bother with something like this? 

Because I believe that he's harmful.  He doesn't make the world a better place.  He reinforces tribalism.  He has a childish loyalty to some theological beliefs that he believes are science, but that only belong to mythology.  But millions of people listen to what he says because, after all, he's Dr. Albert Mohler of Southern Seminary. 
A few weeks ago, Dr. Mohler gave us his views on The BioLogos Forum, a website self-described as follows: 
The BioLogos Foundation is a group of Christians, many of whom are professional scientists, biblical scholars, philosophers, theologians, pastors, and educators, who are concerned about the long history of disharmony between the findings of science and large sectors of the Christian faith. We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. We also believe that evolution, properly understood, best describes God’s work of creation. Founded by Dr. Francis Collins, BioLogos addresses the escalating culture war between science and faith, promoting dialog and exploring the harmony between the two. We are committed to helping the church – and students, in particular – develop worldviews that embrace both of these complex belief structures, and that allow science and faith to co-exist peacefully.
In other words, the participants in the BioLogos forum know that we evolved.  We evolved, and it took a long, long time. 

Here's Dr. Mohler's take on this group:

Public debate is unpredictable by nature, but I have to admit that the approach undertaken by the folks at BioLogos continues to amaze me. The BioLogos movement is a straight-forward attempt to persuade evangelical Christians to embrace some form of evolutionary theory. Organized by a group that includes Dr. Francis Collins, now the Director of the National Institutes of Health, the movement seeks to marginalize objections to evolution among conservative Christians. It offers a very sophisticated website and an energetic communications strategy.

The BioLogos approach to the issue is now clear. They want to discredit evangelical objections to evolution and to convince the evangelical public that an acceptance of evolution is a means of furthering the gospel. They have leveled their guns at the Intelligent Design movement, at young earth creationism, and against virtually all resistance to the embrace of evolution. They claim that the embrace of evolution is necessary if evangelicalism is not to be intellectually marginalized in the larger culture. They have warned that a refusal to embrace evolution will doom evangelicalism to the status of an intellectual cult.
So far, so good.  Because the embrace of evolution really is necessary if evangelicalism is not to be intellectually marginalized in the larger culture, and doomed to the status of an (anti-intellectual) cult. 
Because we evolved, and Christianity cannot continue to deny it. 
I'm about 2/3rds of the way through with Richard Dawkins' "Greatest Show On Earth - The Evidence For Evolution".  Lord have mercy, what a brilliant book.  Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

Dawkins starts with some of the same arguments that Darwin used, arguments about processes that can't be denied.  In Darwin's day, British farmers routinely modified inedible plants to form various delicious cabbages and cauliflowers.  Dogs were selectively bred for fox-hunting, retrieving, or as guard animals.  Those cabbages and puppies with valuable characteristics were allowed to reproduce.  Plants and pups with undesirable characteristics were set aside as failed experiments. 
Within a half-dozen generations, new varities were spreading all over England. 

My father used to point out the varieties of soybeans produced in the agriculture department at Mississippi State University.  Some needed less water than others.  Some had a greater yield, but needed more fertilizer.  Others had a great yield but could be knocked to the ground by a 15 MPH breeze. 
I still remember many of the names the MSU scientists gave the varieties: Davis, Hood, Lee, Pickett, and Bragg.  (Yeah, they always named them after Confederate generals.)

So if characteristics of a species can be intentionally changed in a short period of time, what happens when Mother Nature is left alone to determine what characteristics are most valuable? 
The fossil record shows us. 
The plants, animals and fish at the lower levels are radically different from the fossils found near the surface.

But go far enough back up the time/species line with any two organisms, and you'll eventually find a common ancestor.  At an early point in the timeline, the two varieties could reproduce with each other.  Later on, you'll only get a sterile offspring - i.e., something like the offspring of a horse and a donkey, a mule.  Give nature a few million more years, and try to mate a cabbage with a kitten.  You'll get nothing at all.
The fact that people, puppies, purple cabbages, and pancreatic cancers evolve - it is at the heart of almost all medical research.  The flu shot you got this year will be useless next year.  The virus will have evolved by then. 
Face it.  Embrace it.  Evolution explains the world.  To learn more, read the Dawkins book. 
Back to Dr. Mohler....
Furthermore, they have been breathtakingly honest about the theological implications of their arguments. Writers for BioLogos have repeatedly made the case that we must relinquish the inerrancy of the Bible and accept that the biblical writers worked from a defective understanding of the world and its origins. They have asserted, for example, that the Apostle Paul was simply wrong in assuming that Adam was an historical person from whom all humans are descended. They have been bold and honest in rejecting the biblical account of the Fall as historical. They have warned that an affirmation of biblical inerrancy has led evangelicalism into an “intellectual cul-de-sac.” A complete inventory of the doctrinal concessions they will demand is not yet in sight, but as I have affirmed before, they deserve credit for the honesty of their proposals.

So far, Dr. Mohler is batting 1.000
The BioLogos folks do indeed affirm that Paul was mistaken because Adam was not an historical person. 
Adam is a metaphor.
Not only is Adam a metaphor, but he's two different metaphors when you compare Genesis chapters one and two. 
The first two chapters of Genesis, the ones that all the fuss is about, are contradictory.  They are about two radically different creation accounts.  They can't both be "inerrant".  They use different names for God.  There is a different order of creation.  The authors, and there were two different authors, had different goals in mind when telling their stories. 
They are beautiful stories.  They were the best we could do at the time.  But they are stories, all the same.  Go to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (in the early 1980's) and you won't be taught this, but you will be allowed to learn it.  (Long, long story, involving denominational politics.)

Go here for the best explanation I'll ever write about the problems in the biblical stories of creation.

Not only does biblical inerrancy lead to "an intellectual cul-de-sac", it is a cul-de-sac with a cliff at the end.  You find yourself defending talking serpents and donkeys, exploring the reasons for making an axe-head float, and wondering why the snakes didn't eat the mice on the ark. 
Ok, back to Dr. Mohler:
They are also clear about their motive. In their view, the acceptance of evolution is necessary for evangelism. They are motivated, they insist, by a concern that a rejection of evolution puts Christians in a position of intellectual embarrassment. The rejection of evolution places Christians outside the intellectual pale, they assert, leading to the discrediting of the gospel. They believe that intellectuals, especially scientists, will not respect an evangelistic witness to the gospel from one who is intellectually discredited by rejecting evolution. They are embarrassed by the fact that a majority of evangelicals reject evolution, and they honestly believe that some people will not come to know Christ because they are so offended by our unwillingness to accept evolution. They have repeatedly asserted that the credibility and integrity of our Christian witness is at stake.

Why is the rejection of evolution an embarrassment to some Christians? 
Because it is embarrassing to be in a biology class with someone who is raising hell because a teacher is contradicting the folk tales he learned in his Mama's lap.  You feel bad for them.  You don't want to be there.  You don't want to watch the pain.  That's one of the definition of embarrassment.  And yes, changing your mind on any major issue causes pain. 
The writers for BioLogos have been unsparing in their criticism of evangelicals who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible or are proponents of either Intelligent Design or creationism. They initiated a public debate by presenting their arguments in the public square. But now, it appears, they really do not want a public debate at all. They want a one-way conversation.
Dr. Mohler then outlines the details of a tiresome Preacher Fight between himself and someone at BioLogos.  You can go back to his original post if you have the time for the whole thing.  It's a tiresome exposition about who said what and who all really responded in what way....all in relation to Saint Peter and Cornelius in the 10th Chapter Of Acts. 

The chief difficulty, the main reason that these guys can't get anywhere with their discussion?  Neither side can come out and say "Serpents can't talk.  No boat could hold every species of animal.  Trumpet noise couldn't knock down the walls of Jericho.  These are stories.  Parables.  Valuable campfire legends from the infancy of our race.  Let's try something....Dr. Mohler, I'm going to build a pile of wood as big as the Texas A&M bonfire.  I'm going to dig a moat around it.  I'm going to drench the whole thing with water.  Then, Dr. Mohler, I want you to pray for God to ignite the woodpile, the way he did for Elijah.  After you've failed at that, then we'll talk."

If the BioLogos guys were to be that frank and honest, donations would drop off considerably. 

A brief digression:  I briefly attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the sister institution to Doctor Mohler's Southeastern Seminary. 
There but for the grace of God go I. 
Here's more from Doctor Mohler, still bristling from accusations that he called the BioLogos people "not christian":
I can read their words, however. Their theological arguments are published in the public arena. They are not shy about making their proposals, and they call for a radical reformulation of evangelical doctrine. Their assaults upon biblical inerrancy have not been made in private conversations, but in public discourse. Their argument that the Apostle Paul was wrong to believe in an historical Adam and an historical Fall was made in public, as was their denial of common descent through Adam.
Now we're getting somewhere.  This is why Christian fundamentalists attack biologists so fiercely over evolution, while giving linguists a free pass when they offer up alternatives to the Tower Of Babel story.  You see, if there was no Adam and no Eve, then there was no Original Sin.  We are not infected from birth with a desire to murder, steal, covet, and bear false witness.  God didn't set up a perfect environment that we silly humans made a mess of. 
We don't have any collective guilt. 
Paul was off the mark about why Jesus had to die. 
Once you accept that the flu virus can evolve from year to year, fundamentalist theology is a mess. 

They will have to take responsibility for these arguments. They should expect no less than a spirited debate over their proposals, and it is nothing short of bewildering that they now ask, in effect, for a pass from all theological scrutiny. They accuse conservative evangelicals of driving evangelicalism into an “intellectual cul-de-sac” and into the status of an intellectual “cult,” and then they have the audacity to complain of the “tone” of those who argue that their proposals amount to a theological disaster.
Yep.  A theological disaster.  That's what it would be.  As if that's a bad thing. 
You know, if I steal your car, get caught, and then make it up to you by going into my back yard and beating the crap out of my dachshunds, I don't think you'll be satisfied.  I think you'd prefer to get your car back. 
That's what the Original Sin story led to.  Substitutionary Atonement.  Adam and Eve screwed up, so I let God take his frustrations out on Jesus. 
Theology like that?  It needs a disaster every few millenia. 

Virtually every form of theological liberalism arises from an attempt to rescue Christian theology from what is perceived to be an intellectual embarrassment — whether the virgin conception of Christ, the historicity of the miracles recorded in the Bible, or, in our immediate context, the inerrancy of Scripture and the Bible’s account of creation.
No, no, no.  It arises from people looking at the texts, and asking themselves "Is this possible?"  "Could this have happened?"  "Why is this account of dead people rising from their graves in Jerusalem only mentioned in Matthew?" 
(To learn more about groups who try to sort out the truth from the legends, check out the fine work of the scholars at The Jesus Seminar.) 
Dr. Sprinkle kindly invites me “to come and see what I see in the hearts and lives of people in the BioLogos community.” I am willing and eager to enter into any conversation that serves the cause of the gospel. But a conversation that serves the cause of the gospel cannot avoid talking about what the gospel is — and that requires theology.
BioLogos is a movement that asserts theological arguments in the public square in order to convince evangelical Christians to accept their proposals. They now have the audacity to ask for a pass from theological responsibility. That is the one thing they may not have.
I believe that the need for some theological responsibility now rests in Dr. Mohler's camp.  The BioLogos people present compelling evidence for evolution, and yet want to continue calling themselves Christians.   Mohler hasn't done anything here except beg the question.  His argument appears to be that human evolution didn't take place because it would be a contradiction of one of the many branches of Christian belief that have slowly (ahem) evolved for the last two thousand years.   

Al Mohler's is a theology that needs to evolve, to grow up. 

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. - First Corinthians 13:11


Cedric Katesby said...

Great job.
I liked your mention of the soybeans especially.
One quick tribute to Darwin's work.

laura said...

Alan I respect your patience and tenacity to read and listen to Mohler. His opinions and theology and brand of evangelical Christianity make me want to repeatedly bang my head on my desk.

Hot Sam said...

I remember a TV preacher suggesting that Jesus' bith was "perfect," exactly 9 months after conception. Too bad the gestation period for humans follows a probability distribution centered on approximately 9 months.

These guys are idiots. The Biologos folks seem to be taking a more reasonable approach.

It's important to note that mutation is a small step toward a theory of evolution, and Dawkins has failed to demonstrate that the natural complexity of life rules out an intelligent designer. He is as unyielding in his belief that God does not exist as those who insist evolution is bunk. He also thinks that anyone who believes in God is delusional. Not exactly a nice or effective way to influence people. It would suffice for him to say, "I don't know" and let people enjoy their own thoughts, but he's a complete asshole.

I don't know that I've ever met a believer in God with no doubts, but I don't hang around with many mind-numbed lunatics. My most deeply religious Christian friends consist of two biologists for a pharma firm, two optometrists, and a nurse, all of whom accept evolution, mutation, and genetics.

Dawkins has no doubts whatsoever. What does that tell you about his science? Whenever scientists meet a gaping hole in their theories, they take a leap of faith for a deus ex machina to rescue their faulty theories.

Anonymous said...

"bang my head on my desk", "These guys are idiots", "but he is a complete asshole", "mind-numbed lunatics". I'd have to say that these comments are all emotion and contain little insightful thought. As for the Jesus seminar. That group ignores every scrap of evidence that it disagrees with. The gnostic Jesus they want is an esoteric anti-semite. But there is too much evidence inside and outside the New Testament that Jesus was very Jewish.

Anonymous said...

Hi Allen,

fantastic post!!

I've been reading your blog on-n-off for months now and enjoy the knowledge that the content and views expressed therein are always interesting.

i really appreciate the link back to the genesis 1 vs genesis 2 post - the most concise contrast of the two i have read.

Re the current post: Here's the bit i just dont get. How do people like Mohler and Collins find any common ground at all?? I'm married to a fundi xian (would agree with Mohler almost 100%) who readily dismisses other xian views as being "not really xian".

similarly, athiests hold differing vies on politics, sociology, economics etc - but we all fall into line when it comes to the question of evidence to believe in supernatural forces.

If I extend the xian logic i have to conclude that every xian has a slightly different take on what a "real xian" actually is/does/thinks. What kind of religion is that??

A commenter on your post accuses Dawkins of not being able to rule out an intelligent designer. Please, do I need to point out where lies the burden of proof??

A final comment Allen, and please dont think I'm trying to be a tool. i think a lot could be gained by not using the words "theory" and "evolution" unless talking expressly about darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. Let's use "hypothesis" or "conjecture" in lieu of "Theory" and "change" or "devlopment" for evolution.

Love your work, best wishes from Australia!

Matt D said...

Anonymous post from Australian reader was me - didnt intend to obscure my identity

Cedric Katesby said...

A commenter on your post accuses Dawkins of not being able to rule out an intelligent designer. Please, do I need to point out where lies the burden of proof??

That kind of fuzzy thinking happens a lot around here.

"Dawkins has failed to demonstrate that the natural complexity of life rules out an intelligent designer."

Uh huh.

"Dawkins has failed to demonstrate that the natural complexity of life rules out Bigfoot."

"Dawkins has failed to demonstrate that the natural complexity of life rules out Fairy Dust."

"Dawkins has failed to demonstrate that the natural complexity of life rules out Magic Space Super-Aliens."

Spot the problem.

Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là