Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Al Mohler responds to Karl Giberson

As I posted last week, Karl Giberson of Biologos apparently thought it was a good idea to write an article attacking Al Mohler over at the Huffington Post. The tone of Giberson's article, his failure to actually respond to Mohler's thesis, and his remarkably poor choice of venue are worth further conversation. However, I am happy to say that Dr. Mohler has responded in a way that will hopefully help Dr. Giberson to stay on the subject at hand: Is human evolution compatible with biblical faith?

I understand why Giberson wants to avoid that thesis. It is a monumental, indeed impossible, task to prove that a mythical Genesis record with an accompanying denial of the historicity of Adam and Eve and the Fall is compatible with biblical orthodoxy. But this seems to be the clear program for Biologos.

The article begins by demonstrating that Giberson's criticism of a statement made by Mohler in a recent address was overstated.

I have read your posting several times, and it seems that your central complaint comes down to one or possibly two sentences in my address to the 2010 Ligonier Ministries National Conference. Indeed, you provide a link to the transcript of my address that was posted at the BioLogos site. You point to this section of my address: “Darwin did not embark upon the Beagle having no preconceptions of what exactly he was looking for or having no theory of how life emerged in all of its diversity, fecundity, and specialization. Darwin left on his expedition to prove the theory of evolution.”

You complain that this was a misrepresentation of Darwin, and you answer that with considerable bombast. In your words: “Of course, Mohler may simply have made a mistake. He is, after all, a theologian and not a historian. He could have gotten this wrong idea from any number of his fellow anti-Darwinians. However, I don’t think so. In his address he read from my book Saving Darwin, in which I took some pains to correct the all-too-common misrepresentation of Darwin he presented. So, unless he was just cherry-picking ideas from my book that he wanted to assault, he should have known better. But let us bend over backwards here and give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps his only real encounter with Saving Darwin was an instruction to an assistant to ‘find something in Giberson’s book that I can ridicule in my speech.’”

No, I can assure you that my encounter with Saving Darwin comes through reading the book quite thoroughly and more than once. You are at great pains to present an understanding of Darwin that will appeal to conservative Christians who are committed to biblical Christianity. You have a great challenge in this respect, and I seriously doubt you will make much headway. You are determined to convince biblical Christians to accept evolution. I seriously doubt you will make much progress through your book.

In making my argument, I did not need to “cherry-pick” ideas from your book. Nor do I need to misrepresent Darwin and his views. I would be most interested and concerned to find that I have in any way misquoted or misrepresented you. I am confident that your larger problem with the Christian public is in being understood, rather than in being misunderstood. 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. 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 is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ even as it is in direct conflict with any faithful reading of the Scriptures. Darwin’s historic role in the development of evolutionary theory is central and significant, but the theological objections to evolution are not centered in the person of Darwin, but in the structure and implications of his theory of natural selection.
Mohler continues by pressing the antithesis between evolutionary theory as advanced by Biologos and biblical Christianity. He challenges Giberson's thesis that Darwin had been an orthodox Christian. Mohler shows quite clearly that Giberson has at best erred in casting Darwin as a conventional Christian believer.

And if a misrepresentation of Charles Darwin is the central issue, I must insist that it is you who offers the truly dangerous misrepresentation. In Saving Darwin, you attempt at great lengths to present Charles Darwin as a rather conventional and orthodox Christian, prior to his later loss of faith. You state that he was “born to a well-to-do British family who, despite having some unorthodox characters listed in the family Bible, raised him in the Anglican Church, educated him in an Anglican school, and put him on the train to Edinburgh to study medicine.”

This hardly seems adequate or straightforward. The “some unorthodox characters listed in the family Bible” included both his father and his paternal grandfather. His mother’s family was Unitarian in belief, rejecting the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. Even as Charles Darwin was nominally involved in the Anglican Church, largely through the influence of his sister and brother-in-law after the death of his mother, his involvement and exposure appears to me largely incidental to his life. He later married a woman of Unitarian convictions as well.

It is certainly true that Charles Darwin was directed to become an Anglican clergyman by his unbelieving father, but this was a social tradition for second sons of the developing British middle class. As Randal Keynes, Darwin’s own great-great-grandson explains, “His idea was to become a country parson, caring for his parishioners but living for natural history.” And, as the authoritative biographers Adrian Desmond and James Moore recount, “Dr. Darwin, a confirmed freethinker, was sensible and shrewd. He had only to look around him, recall the vicarages he had visited, [and] ponder the country parsons he entertained at home. One did not have to be a believer to see that an aimless son with a penchant for field sports would fit in nicely. Was the church not a haven for dullards and dawdlers, the last resort of spendthrifts? What calling but the highest for those whose sense of calling was nil?”

Of far greater concern is your tendency to appear to agree with some of Darwin’s complaints against biblical Christianity. You claim that he “boarded the Beagle with his childhood Christian faith intact,” but then add, “although he had begun to wonder about the historicity of the more fanciful Old Testament stories, like the Tower of Babel.” This is insignificant? Are we to understand that you, too, see that biblical account as “fanciful”? You explain that Darwin, “like most thoughtful believers,” began to distance himself from the doctrine of hell — a doctrine you describe as “a secondary doctrine that even many conservatives reject.”

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. 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.

I stand by my address in full, and only wish I had been able to address these issues at even greater length in that context. I plan to do that over the next few months. I greatly regret that you have committed yourself to a cause that I can see as incompatible with the Scripture and destructive to the Christian faith.
I look forward to Dr. Mohler's continued interaction with the theories flying about at Biologos. I hope that their contributors will show better judgement in their responses that has been so far demonstrated by Dr. Giberson.


Mark W. said...

Thanks Pastor. I agree that Adam and Eve were real people because Jesus and Paul believed they were. However, as only an amateur theologian, I still need help with why Derek Kidner's approach to the historicity of Adam, endorsed by John Stott, is problematic. Their view is that Adam was a neolithic farmer who bore the image of God and but whose predecessors ("pre-Adamic hominids") did not.

Tim Keller presents Kidner's approach as a valid choice for orthodox believers in his paper “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople.” I especially like how he makes the distinction between evolutionary biological processes and the grand theory of evolution. He suggests that one can affirm the existence of the former without affirming the latter.

Todd Pruitt said...


Good to hear from you. The trouble I have with Kidner's thesis (and I love his commentary on Genesis) is that it seems to avoid the plainest and clearest reading of the text. I understand that the "plainest" reading of a text is not always the correct reading. For instance the Bible uses metaphor and symbolic language at times. But usually it seems quite clear when the Bible employs those rhetorical devices ("Lamb of God", sword out the mouth, eyes of fire, etc.). But the story of the creation of Adam does not seem to possess any of those rhetorical devices.

What I want to encourage Christians to avoid is tinkering with the clear meaning of the biblical text in order to fit whatever theory seems to be most acceptable among the secular world's scientific elite.

Regarding evolution - It may well be that there are micro-evolutionary variations within species over time. To acknowlege that is not necessarily to acknowlege an evolutionary grand narrative as does Biologos. I also do not believe that an old earth poses a problem with the biblical text.

Did God create "pre-Adamic hominids"? The plain reading of the Genesis account does not seem to allow for this. However, I will concede that it is possible to grant this without going down the same road as Biologos. What I want to defend is the special creation of Adam, which you also affirm. Sadly, Biologos dismisses this clear and theologically necessary reading of the creation account.

I actually affirm the three historic orthodox readings of Genesis 1-3 - Young Earth, Day/Age, and Framework. All three of those interpretations affirm supernatural creation, the special creation of Adam, and the historicity of the Fall. I am personally most persuaded by the Framework theory which was best articulated by Meredith Cline.

threegirldad said...

Their view is that Adam was a neolithic farmer who bore the image of God and but whose predecessors ("pre-Adamic hominids") did not.

What does this same viewpoint make of Eve? Was she a historic individual actually "fashioned" from a portion of Adam's side? Or something else?

Does this view hold that Adam "the first true bearer of God's image" was the offspring of some female creature that wasn't a bearer of God's image?

Todd Pruitt said...


You are getting at the heart of the problem I think. If we eliminate the special creation of Adam and Eve then we seem to have an unresolvable problems with the biblical text.