LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–R. Albert Mohler Jr. believes the theory of evolution “represents one of the greatest challenges to Christian faith and faithfulness in our times,” and he has found himself at the center of a controversy over the compatibility of evolution and Christian theology.
The dialogue began last summer when Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, delivered an address titled “Why Does the Universe Look So Old?” at the Ligonier Ministries 2010 National Conference, during which he mentioned The BioLogos Foundation, a movement founded by Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
“Francis Collins makes the point made by so many others that we will actually lose credibility sharing the Gospel of Christ if we do not shed ourselves of the anti-intellectualism which is judged to be ours by the elite if we do not accept the theory of evolution,” Mohler said.
What is most lacking in the evangelical movement today, Mohler said in the address, is a consideration of the theological cost of holding to an old earth position. The position, he said, seems to be at an “insoluble collision with the redemptive historical narrative of the Gospel.”
“The cost to the Christian church, in terms of ignoring this question or abandoning the discussion, is just too high. The cost of confronting this question is also costly,” Mohler said. “It can be very expensive because it can create intensity and conflict and controversy, but I would suggest that the avoidance of this will be at the cost of our own credibility.”
Mohler said the universe could appear old because the creator made it whole, just as when He created Adam, Adam was a man and not a fetus. It also could appear old because it bears testimony to the effects of sin, he said.
“… In our effort to be most faithful to the Scriptures and most accountable to the grand narrative of the Gospel, an understanding of creation in terms of 24-hour calendar days and a young earth entails far fewer complications, far fewer theological problems and actually is the most straightforward and uncomplicated reading of the text as we come to understand God telling us how the universe came to be and what it means and why it matters,” Mohler said.
BioLogos, meanwhile, exists so that the evangelical church “can come to peace with the scientific data which shows unequivocally that the universe is very old and that all of life, including humankind, has been created through a gradual process that has been taking place over the past few billion years.” BioLogos is funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
Karl Giberson, a senior fellow at BioLogos, wrote a response to Mohler’s address, asking, “Is it not possible that you are simply caught in our current culture war, and have joined the ‘anti-evolution’ cause, mistakenly thinking you were defending the faith?”
“In the big picture, though, I just cannot see why this is so important,” Giberson wrote. “You are asking Christians to reject modern science and alienate themselves from the educated world for a doctrine that seems so secondary.”
Peter Enns, also a senior fellow at BioLogos, asked Mohler in a blog post, “Why make a theological mountain out of an exegetical molehill?”
“The Bible is made up of all sorts of ways of communicating truth, and literalness is one of them and should not be brushed aside,” Enns wrote. “We are not suggesting such a thing. But the Bible also speaks in metaphors and symbols. Often times those metaphors and symbols reflect the worldview of the ancient context of the Bible. I strongly believe that taking all of this into account is more faithful to the Bible than insisting on a literal interpretation.”
Enns wanted to know why Mohler would allow some scientific evidence, such as that the earth orbits around the sun, to adjust his understanding of the Bible and not others, and he requested that Mohler not make the days of creation a matter of orthodoxy but leave it open to individual conscience.
In August, Giberson posted another open letter to Mohler at The Huffington Post, asserting that Mohler “does not seem to care about the truth and seems quite content to simply make stuff up when it serves his purpose.” Giberson said Mohler had misrepresented Charles Darwin and his views during his Ligonier address and must not have read Giberson’s book “Saving Darwin.”
Mohler, on his blog a few days later, responded to Giberson’s public letter by assuring Giberson that he had read Saving Darwin “quite thoroughly and more than once,” and he did not “cherry-pick” ideas from the book during his address.
“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,” Mohler wrote. “Your rejection of an historical Adam and Eve is one precise point at which the Gospel of Christ is undermined, and your proposed ‘new and better way to understand the origins of sin’ is incompatible with the Bible’s clear teaching.”
The theory of evolution, Mohler said, is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ “even as it is in direct conflict with any faithful reading of the Scriptures.”
“If your intention in Saving Darwin is to show ‘how to be a Christian and believe in evolution,’ what you have actually succeeded in doing is to show how much doctrine Christianity has to surrender in order to accommodate itself to evolution,” Mohler wrote. “In doing this, you and your colleagues at BioLogos are actually doing us all a great service. You are showing us what the acceptance of evolution actually costs, in terms of theological concessions.”
In September, Rachel Held Evans, author of “Evolving in Monkey Town,” criticized Mohler for presenting the theory of evolution as inherently contradictory to Scripture.
“What leaders like Mohler fail to realize is that they are setting young Christians up for failure. They are inadvertently orchestrating the very exodus that they fear,” Evans wrote for The Washington Post. “In presenting faith and science as a choice, the Baptists have essentially conceded that the atheists are right after all, and as a result they are losing some of the brightest young minds in Christendom to a false dichotomy.”
In response, Mohler wrote, “Most of those who urge a reconciliation of evolution and the Christian faith do so at the most superficial level, without ever acknowledging the near-total transformation of Christian theology that must result if serious minds ask the serious questions and do the serious work of actually thinking seriously.”
One of Mohler’s main concerns with an acceptance of evolution is how believers then can reconcile the absence of a historical Adam with the Apostle Paul’s clear affirmation in Romans of Adam’s headship and its centrality to the Gospel.
“The age of the earth is not the central question, though it is an unavoidable and important question,” he wrote.
In the same thread of commentary, Darrel Falk, president of BioLogos, wrote that Mohler represents a surge of fundamentalism within mainstream evangelicalism.
“We’ll exist within the tent together for awhile,” Falk wrote. “Eventually, I think even the fundamentalists will come to see that they need to allow science books in their library and fundamentalism will undergo its own evolution.”
In a five-part series at BioLogos last fall, Giberson wrote that “science does indeed trump religious truth about the natural world.”
Mohler responded on his blog, “In the economy of a few words, Giberson throws the Bible under the scientific bus. We should be thankful that his argument is so clear, for it puts the case for theistic evolution in its proper light — as a direct attack upon biblical authority.”
In November, Mohler wrote that BioLogos cannot have a pass from theological scrutiny.
“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,” Mohler wrote.
In response, BioLogos posted a notice affirming that “we do not think that evangelicals must relinquish inerrancy, believe that Paul was wrong about Adam, or believe that the Fall was not historical in order to accept the BioLogos model. A careful reading of the BioLogos site should make it clear that these traditional evangelical views are also represented and defended.”
In a blog post Jan. 5, Mohler wrote, “Articles at BioLogos go so far as to suggest that the Apostle Paul was simply wrong to believe that Adam was an historical person. A recent BioLogos essay argues that Adam and Eve were likely ‘a couple of Neolithic farmers in the Near East’ to whom God revealed Himself ‘in a special way.’
“There is a consistent denial of any possibility that Adam and Eve are the genetic parents of the entire human race. The BioLogos approach also denies the historical nature of the Fall, with all of its cosmic consequences. BioLogos has published explicit calls to deny the inerrancy of the Bible. The concerns do not stop here,” Mohler wrote.
Though Falk, the BioLogos president, wrote that Mohler was a theological giant swatting at BioLogos as if it were “a buzzing little fly,” Mohler said he does not believe the theistic evolution movement is so harmless.
“To the contrary, I believe that it represents a very significant challenge to the integrity of Christian theology and the church’s understanding of everything from the authority and truthfulness of the Bible to the meaning of the Gospel,” Mohler wrote. “A buzzing little fly is only a nuisance. The theory of evolution is no mere nuisance — it represents one of the greatest challenges to Christian faith and faithfulness in our times.”
To buttress the importance of the matter, the Winter 2011 issue of the Southern Seminary magazine is titled “Ex Nihilo” and features five articles on the subject.
In the article “The New Atheism and the Dogma of Darwinism,” Mohler explains that when the word “atheist” arose during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the earliest atheists had trouble gaining traction because they could not explain how life began. When Darwin’s theories surfaced, they gained the explanation they sought and began to grow in number.
“The New Atheists would have no coherent worldview without the dogma of Darwin,” Mohler wrote. “With it, they intend to malign belief in God and to marginalize Christians and Christian arguments. Thus, we can draw a straight line from the emergence of evolutionary theory to the resurgence of atheism in our times.”
Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.
To read a companion BP story, go to http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=34515. To read a column on this issue by Mohler, go to http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=34516.