December 2, 2020

Creation Wars Update

La Creation de L'Homme II, Chagall

Today, your faithful iMonk correspondent reports from the front lines of the “Creation Wars” about recent articles on issues related to science and Biblical interpretation.

Duck and cover.

• • •

1. October saw Peter Enns move his blog to the Patheos evangelical portal. Enns dived right in and wrote about the ongoing debate on the Bible and evolution, with five posts analyzing Al Mohler’s positions on Young Earth Creationism.

If you would like to listen to Al Mohler’s side, here is the link to his appearance on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.” He sat down along with Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR’s religion correspondent, and Daniel Harlow, religion professor from Calvin College, and discussed the ongoing debate in the Christian community.

Why does Enns devote five articles to responding to Mohler?

My aim is not to cross swords with Mohler, put him in his place, go after him, score points, misrepresent, or any of the other types of tactics that tend to be employed when people disagree on the internet.

Those tactics are both tedious and sub-Christian, and I continue to be amazed at how easily theological watchdogs fail to watch their own theologies by their belligerent denunciations and mockeries of those who don’t interpret the Bible the way they do, thinking the Gospel is at stake at every turn.

Having said that, let me state clearly that I believe Mohler is dead wrong at virtually every turn in how he approaches the difficult subject of biblical Christianity and evolution. I also believe he is free to think as he choses and live with the consequences, and I am not writing to convince him otherwise.

I am writing, rather, for the sake of those who are living with the consequences of what Mohler says they must believe–those who feel trapped in Mohler’s either/or rhetoric, that to question a literal interpretation of Scripture concerning creation puts one on the path to apostasy.

Driven by his precommitment to biblical literalism, Mohler leaves his audience with an impossible false choice between a Christian faith that must remain in intellectual isolation in order to survive and an intellectual life that has no place for Christian faith.

Mohler’s rhetoric is spiritually harmful because it is intellectually untenable.

So, in the posts that follow, I will aim to express very clearly why Mohler’s views are simply unsupportable once one steps outside of the intellectual categories Mohler presumes are closed to discussion.

More importantly, I hope to give to the spiritually distressed some confidence to reject the intellectual demands Mohler makes of them.

La Creation de L'Homme I

• • •

2. On October 18, Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens had an editorial in the New York Times called, “The Evangelical Rejection of Reason.” The argument is essentially an abstract of their new book, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. Some people find Giberson abrasive. I agree that he is direct and at times not as nuanced as he could be, but overall I find his positions reasonable and important.

Beginning with references to what they see as a climate of “anti-intellectualism” in the Republican presidential field, Giberson and Stephens write, “But evangelical Christianity need not be defined by the simplistic theology, cultural isolationism and stubborn anti-intellectualism that most of the Republican candidates have embraced.”

As an alternative, they assert: “Evangelicalism at its best seeks a biblically grounded expression of Christianity that is intellectually engaged, humble and forward-looking. In contrast, fundamentalism is literalistic, overconfident and reactionary.”

They go on to build their case against the “parallel culture” evangelicalism has created by focusing on three representative evangelical personalities: Ken Ham, David Barton and James C. Dobson. In contrast to these charismatic popular leaders, they point us to men they consider more intellectually responsible: historian Mark Noll of Notre Dame, and Dr. Francis Collins.

Giberson wrote a follow-up piece in The Huffington Post called, “Why Christians Need a Secular World.”

As one might expect, Al Mohler was not impressed with Giberson and Stephens’ arguments. He responded with, “Total Capitulation: The Evangelical Surrender of Truth.”


  1. That apparent age deal bothered me even as a young person. My youth pastor made quite a point of it. But, why would God mislead us on this? For what purpose?


    • Aaaaahhh, the youth pastor’s arguments about the age of the cosmos…because a 22 year old with a Bible college diploma is more than qualified to speak on matters of science…Just like scientists believe that they are more than qualified to offer critical analysis of faith.

    • For me it wasn’t a youth pastor…just another fundgelical who is actually a teacher in the DC area. In this case I had to believe in a 6 day literal creation. So out of no where this issue which was a non-issue became a very divisive issue at the worst possible time. But that’s the thing about fundys isn’t it? They have impeccable timing and know how to say the most hamrful thing for maximum faith damage. In my case my ass was being kicked by the problem of evil and asking what happened to those who never heard the gospel due ot when and where they lived (ie Wuhan, China in 200 BCE). It was when I was being overwhelmed with those issues that the literla 6 day creation issue raised its ugly head out of the blue and bit my ass.

  2. To atheists you are all anti-rational. Oh, you may be willing to talk about it, and compromise on your more whack beliefs, but at the end of the day you believe things for which no good reasons can be given.

    • Of course, we respectfully disagree, Melvin. Alongside some of the “whack” things, there is 2000 years of some pretty strong thinking about all of this, finding good reasons indeed for the position of faith.

      • Astrology is even older, and a lot of great minds believed in it. Your “reasons” for believing are ones which you would never accept, if used to argue for any other religion.

        • Melvin, there is one ultimate “reason” commended in the New Testament, and that is Jesus’ resurrection. But to go into all of that would take us far afield from the point of this post, which, as I see is already where this comment thread has gone.

          Hang in there, we’ll talk more about this another time, if you’re still interested enough to hang around. i hope you will.

    • I wouldn’t say we’re anti-rational — not all of us, anyway, and not in the sense that we are antagonistic toward logic or reason or intellectualism in general. We’re just don’t confine our thinking and our beliefs and our motives to strictly rational parameters. For myself, I see logic and reason as very useful and important in dealing with many of life’s problems — but I don’t think they’re adequate or even applicable to every task, particularly when dealing with the possibility of a Creator God who transcends the very physical universe in which we exist (and from which we derive things like logic and reason and science).
      Besides, logic and reason are too easily bent in the direction of emotional motivation. Intellectuals like to think of themselves as purely objective, but, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, there’s a subjective fly somewhere in the soup.

      • “But, as it happens, there is a very special sense in which materialism has more restrictions than spiritualism… The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe, but the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle.”

        G.K. Chesterton

        • great quote

        • I would be happy to admit “spiritualism” if the category had any real utility. Instead, the concept of “spirit” (to the extent that it means anything at all) seems to reflect a pre-scientific way of looking at the world / human nature.

          • The Previous Dan says

            You don’t think spiritualism has utility, really? OK, if we can agree that utility is the state of being useful, profitable, or beneficial then let’s compare the number of the following ‘X’ founded in the name of spiritual organizations and people to those founded in the name of purely secular organizations and people where ‘X’ is: Hospitals, charitable institutions, free public services, etc.

            Who was the last child treated at the Agnostics Children’s Hospital? The last person fed or clothed by members of the Atheist Army? And leave out what governments or the UN does. That isn’t charity; charity is where you give from your own pocket, not when you just redistribute someone else’s wealth. There are some examples of purely secular charity, but the majority has behind them a spiritual organization or a person influenced by spiritualism. That is an example of real utility.

      • So since reason isn’t perfect (or since we aren’t capable of perfect reason), it’s okay to believe in absurdities? Pigs can fly?

      • Glenn A Bolas says

        Humanslug, I think some clarity is needed.

        Science and logic are not co-terminous. As such, it may well be that our beliefs and thinking transcend science (which is, by its nature, inductive and confined to physical phenomena) but if they also transcend logic and reason, we are in serious trouble. Logic and reason, contrary to what you said, are not derived from the physical universe- they could conceivably apply without one. Thus, we may, with reason, legitimately believe in improbabilities (eg. my train may have crashed even though it has pulled up to the station at 8:23 every morning for the last 20 years/ one man may have risen from the dead even though every other dead man in the history of the world has stayed dead) but not absurdities.

        Melvin, I’d be interested to hear what you understand by ‘spirit’. Also ‘human nature’.

        • I don’t think that the word “spirit” has any useful modern meaning. In ancient times it seems to have meant the breath (conceived as an animating life-force) and/or an immortal aspect of one’s personality (which raises all kinds of thorny philosophical problems).

          The question of what is “human nature” is a big question, which doctrines of the soul aim at answering. Suffice it to say that I see us as animals.

          • Animals, but animals with consicousness.

          • Glenn A Bolas says

            Fair enough. I tend more Aristotelian/Thomistic myself (spirit as a non-spatial substance with the properties of will and intellection).

            Tom, humans aren’t the only conscious animals. Have you never had a pet? Or did you mean conscience?

          • The Previous Dan says

            Not everything that exists can be materially measured. This topic in itself is worthy of its own discussion. The most obvious example is information.

            ““Information is Information, neither matter nor energy. No materialism that fails to take account of this can survive the present day.” – Norbert Weiner

        • Glenn, I seriously doubt that anything approaching logic or reason could develop in the absence of any kind of sensory stimuli or observable subject matter. Imagine, just for the sake of argument, that medical science learns how to grow a human brain without a body in a high-tech fish tank. They supply it with blood and oxygen and nutrients for 20 years, and then they transplant it into a healthy adult body.
          I would really be shocked if such an experiment produced any Platos or Einsteins. Most likely you’d just get the equivalent of an emotionally disturbed fetus in an adult body.
          Without some kind of context to provide comparison and definition, I doubt that we would even be capable of self-awareness.

  3. Jack Heron says

    The attitude towards evolution held by many Young-Earth Creationists seems to me to be rather a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mohler says that to assent to biological evolution and an old Earth is to shake one’s faith. Therefore he insists that Creationism is an essential of Christianity. Therefore when someone who believes this becomes convinced of evolution they do indeed find their faith shaken – but it’s only shaken because people like Mohler insist that Creationism is required to be Christian. He’s nailed an absurdity to the Cross and when the absurdity falls, as absurdities must, it drags the Cross over with it.

    • This!!! Ken Ham in particular presents the argument that if you don’t believe in his interpretation of Genesis and YEC than, he states, how can you trust the rest of the bible? By tying belief in YEC with belief in the bible you are creating a problem where none exits.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And Christ gets thrown under the YEC bus yet again.


    • The Young Earthers are going to create a lot of atheists and agnostics. More people are going to join my situation because they will have to make a choice. This “either/or” approach is going to led people to throw it all away and walk from Christinaity with anger and frustration. Boy do I know that feeling well…..

      • I’m new on here, as far as posting goes, and not the most gifted or knowledgeable. I am also pretty sure that I don’t have the same views on things as most on here. I guess I’m one of the “fundys”. But I’d like to respond to a couple of your thoughts with words from the Bible.

        Point 1: You say “young earthers” (I call them brothers and sisters in Christ) are going to create a lot of atheists and agnostics, that’s not possible, they don’t have the power to “create” atheists or agnostics, scripture says in Romans 1:18-23, “18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Atheists and agnostics can’t blame anybody but themselves.

        Point 2: You say that it’s going to lead people to throw it all away and walk away from Christianity with anger and frustration, again I disagree. John 10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me,is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” He doesn’t lose His sheep, they can’t be taken from Him. Once saved, always saved. If you can walk away from Christ, never to return, you were never His.

        • Jack Heron says

          Thanks for your reply, Dan, I always like it when people on different sides of debates get engaged so politely and productively.

          To your first point, belief is rarely an entirely controllable thing. All of our beliefs are shaped by our experiences, our communities and also by our pre-existing beliefs. What we are saying is that certain Young-Earth Creationists have insisted so strongly on the essential nature of a young earth that many people have been convinced that one can either be a Christian or assent to evolution, not both. With that pre-existing belief, they feel that Christianity must stand or fall on the question of the age of the Earth. When, therefore, they discover the mountains (in some cases, literal mountains) of evidence for an ancient and slowly developing Earth, their faith is eroded. Not because they want it to be, or because they reject God, but because this is the only conclusion they feel open to them.

          As to your second point, the fact is that people are driven from Christianity in anger and frustration. He might not lose His sheep, but churches certainly lose theirs. If you want proof of this, simply look at all the comments of people up and down this page who felt it was either science or religion and found this damaging their relationship with Christianity.

          • Wow, you were up early. I could get up that early, but I certainly wouldn’t be having these kind of thoughts. Anyway. In response to your response to point one, regarding those pre-existing beliefs, when a person has been truly saved and their eyes have been opened to the truth, they will realize (fairly quickly I believe) that Christianity stands or falls only and always on the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If they reject God on the basis of intellectual arguments between science and the Word, then I think it would be safe to say that their eyes had not been opened and they had not been truly converted. We are commanded to believe in Jesus, John 6:28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Don’t get caught up in the intellectual arguments and distracted from doing what is right according the Word, Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. I have a very strong conviction that in the end we’re going to find out that a lot of the science of men, built on a rejection of God as creator, will be proven false, Isaiah 29:14 therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

            Response to second point: What I was saying was that if you are a “Christian” you can’t walk away, you will not reject God. If you’re in a church that is failing to preach and teach the main things, the doctrines, THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE, and there is no “LOVE” (as in, John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.), then there is a problem with that church, not with Jesus’ church. His church is doing what it is supposed to be doing, in spite of us, not because of us. Our failing churches are failing because it’s not about Jesus, it’s about us, our pride, our selfishness, our needs, our entertainment, our profit. Either work on correcting the errors in that failing church or find a church that is concerned with worshiping God and loving each other. Don’t get angry at God and reject Him, to the eternal damnation of your soul, because of foolish men, seek Him all the more if He’s working in you for your salvation, Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,”.

            I guess my point is this, if you are an atheist and you reject God, you can rationalize and fingerpoint all you’d like, that’s what “the literal Adam” did, he blamed God for giving him the woman instead of taking responsibility and repenting, asking forgiveness. You will still be held accountable when you come before the Judgement Seat, as Romans 1:20 says, we are all without excuse. All of us Christians are witnesses, some of just suck at it and we need to repent and seek forgiveness and ask God to make us better witnesses. But if we sit in these forums and back-bite and name-call and put down our brothers and sisters because of intellectual differences, how effective can we truly be. Love God, love each other, and love His Word. Don’t side against each other because some choose to believe God’s Word without modern scientific wisdom filling in gaps. We’ll find out the full story in due time. Spread the Gospel, don’t smear God’s children.

          • I’m English, so the American timestamp hides the fact that I was actually writing after a lie-in!

            The trouble I have with these lines of argument is that they assume that Christianity is one simple, self-contained belief and that one either chooses to accept or chooses to reject it in full knowledge of the implications of either. People are complicated and we see now as through a glass, darkly. One cannot simply decide to have faith in something, even if one is commanded to do so; contrariwise, one cannot decide one day to lose faith. I recommend reading the comments of Eagle, a regular commenter here, as a heartbreaking example of someone who has been a Christian but has been utterly disgusted by his experiences and driven away. He doesn’t reject God or try to rationalise his departure – it’s simply something he feels he has been made to do.

            I agree we shouldn’t name-call and back-bite – that’s very unproductive. But we must debate with each other and criticise ideas we find worthy of criticism, because that’s the way to a more thoughtful faith.

          • In reply to Jack Heron’s post on Nov. 10:

            It looks like I can’t reply directly to you anymore, the reply button has disappeared, so here goes from this point.

            My argument does assume a simple, self-contained belief that one either chooses to accept or chooses to reject it in full knowledge of the implications of either, however the choice is made only after regeneration. Remember, Jesus said that we must be born again. If God causes us to be born again to salvation, faith is granted as a gift. Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

            An unregenerate person has no desire for faith or any other spiritual thing, 1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. So no, one cannot simply decide to have faith or not have faith. I would encourage someone who has “left the faith” to seek God in His Word, there is no better teacher than the Holy Spirit, if you truly had faith, you still have it, God doesn’t take it away after giving it, we just have to exercise it more to strengthen it. God is faithful, even when we aren’t. I don’t know Eagle’s story, but if he’s hanging around these kind of forums, then I’m pretty sure that Jesus is not done with him. John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me–“, Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

            I’m all for debate, Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. And all for the glory of Christ.

    • Yup. Saw this exact dynamic play out on John MacArthur’s blog about a year ago. Battle for the Beginning, I think was the title. Anyway, it was made very clear anyone who strayed from the creationist party line was at least grossly in error and probably ont he road to unbelief and undermining all fo scripture. Any who exoress doubts or alternative views are generally hounded relentessly on that blog.

      It wasn’t hard to see how this coudl drive from the faith someone who had genuine questions.

      • You do the same thing with Jesus and the New Testament.

        • i.e., the resurrection is also an absurdity.

          • The Previous Dan says

            So human life arising spontaneously from a chaotic non-life environment (i.e. secular evolution) is a near scientific certainty, but human life arising spontaneous from an amazingly complex and ordered system that has previously host human life (resurrection) is an absurdity? Hmm…

          • Yes, unless you are willing to entertain the possibility that Christ rose from the dead in a non-miraculous way.

            Suppose I claimed that Elvis had risen from the dead. Hell, suppose that there were witnesses–credible witnesses–and that non-supernatural explanations could be ruled out. Would you then accept Elvis as divine?

          • Elvis as Divine…

          • The evidence for the resurrection is not scientific, nor could it be. On the other hand, what we know and are learning about nature and evolution is being discovered through the application of the scientific method. The evidence for the resurrection, it is stressed repeatedly throughout the NT, is based on eyewitness testimony. It really boils down to whether or not you trust the sources.

          • The Previous Dan says


            You said – “Yes, unless you are willing to entertain the possibility that Christ rose from the dead in a non-miraculous way.”

            My view on miracles does not include God breaking any of the natural laws He created in His universe. That idea contradicts my biblical understanding of the consistent character of God. The physical laws He created are a reflection of His character, why would He ‘break’ them? I believe that what we view as miracles are just God exercising His power within the laws of His universe. In short, I view miracles as technology we can’t yet explain. Like an airplane would be a miracle to one of the ancient peoples.

            You said – “Suppose I claimed that Elvis had risen from the dead. Hell, suppose that there were witnesses–credible witnesses–and that non-supernatural explanations could be ruled out. Would you then accept Elvis as divine?”

            Regarding Elvis’ divinity; Had Elvis made supernatural claims during his life, and if he had multiple credible eyewitnesses to his resurrection, eyewitness that testified with consistentcy to what they saw even while being tortured to death (like 11 of the 12 Apostles plus many other disciples who claimed witness to the Resurrection), then I would feel obligated to seriously investigate his life and his claims. But that is absurd because only Jesus lived such a life, made such claims, and had such witnesses.

          • The Elvis comparison is insipid because neither Elvis or anyone around him ever made any claim that he would rise (unlike Jesus.) It’s patently ridiculous to compare Jesus, who predicted his death and resurrection at the hand of God, to ordinary people spontaneously rising from the dead.

            Few seem to grasp that there is a huge different between God raising Jesus from the dead, and a dead person suddenly coming back to life for no apparent reason. They are two totally different things. A miracle in the context of Christianity is God intervening to do something through his power. You seem to think a miracle is something impossible that spontaneously happens. God working a miracle is more like a doctor removing cancer from a patient; a “miracle” as you define it would be the cancer disappearing inexplicably with no outside interference from a doctor (or God.) Check your premises.

        • Guilty as charged. The difference, of course, is that Jesus and the resurrection have been universally central tenets of the faith for 2000 years. By contrast, creationism is a peripheral issue and not central to the faith. Never really has been, though some try to make it so.

        • Glenn A Bolas says

          I plead not guilty. The resurrection is an improbability, not an absurdity. They are not the same thing.

          The sun has risen every morning in my experience and I have good reason (writings, testimony) to believe it has done this every morning in recorded history. So I formulate a principle that it will always do this. But the sun may explode tomorrow, violating my principle. This is not absurd, simply improbable. Such is the weakness of inductive reasoning. If I have good reason (eg. statistics showing irregular sunspot activity and increased heat output or something like that), I may believe in and argue for this improbability, despite the substantial evidence of past experience.

          The same goes for dead people staying dead. The only difference between us, Melvin, is that I think I have sufficient reason to conclude one particular man at a particular point in history came back from the dead while you think there is insufficient reason to make that conclusion.

  4. Mohler’s response seems much more concerned with their approach to Biblical authority when dealing with issues of sexual ethics, claiming they trump scripture with science, as if it even spoke to the matter. He hardly touched on the evolution aspect of it at all in his rebuttal. It seems that the book “Anointed” is about more than science, seeking to impose a liberal idealist agenda upon evangelicals as intellectually mandatory. “Either you agree with us or you’re ignorant” is some annoyingly arrogant rhetoric. It’s the left wing equivalent of the right wing saying, “Either you agree with us or your a damned heretic!” I think there’s a bit of left wing fundamentalism at play here, clashing with right wing fundies, in a less than academic exchange. We need to raise the level of discussion to a more mutually respectful dialogue.

    • The religious left can be just as pharasaic as the religious right.

    • Having read “Annoited” I can tell you that is not what it is about. It is a well thought out book asking the question, “Why do evangelicals follow such people as Ken Ham, David Barton, etc… when they use such openly incorrect arguments. There are evangelicals, like Francis Collins, Mark Noll, etc… who exist but the majority of evangelicals follow the former. The book is looking at how leadership is determined in a group as unorganized as evangelical christianity. I found it to be a fascinating and well argued book.

      I find the case of David Barton the most egregious. Here is a guy who has openly lied about things the founding fathers have said, has been called out on it, yet he still has full blown cachet among evangelicals. The same thing with Ken Ham.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Because God’s Anointed Can Do No Wrong.

        • Glenn A Bolas says

          But who gets anointed in the first place, and on what basis? That, from what topher said, seems to be the pertinent question. Sounds like an interesting book.

      • I agree. He also knows his audience. He knows that even in the age of the internet he is still willing to misquote a John Adams letter about the holy ghost. Barton cites the letter in a way that makes it say the exact opposite point that Adams was making. A simple Google search can give you the full letter. Reading the quote in context is all it takes to prove Barton wrong. Yet, Barton knows that his audience is never going to do that. That to me is the scandal of the evangelical mind. The fact that the majority of evangelicals will believe anything as long as some preacher tells it to them with out even the doing the most basic of fact checking is mind boggling to me.

  5. I grew up around people who were constantly telling me that I needed to worry about defending or standing up for the truth (not so much my parents, but youth leaders and the like). One thing that I’ve always wondered is that if it’s really the truth we’re talking about, than it shouldn’t be like some delicate crystal goblet that shatters at the smallest bump. It really should be something that can take people kicking its tires, so to speak, and poking around at it. I also believe that the nature of reality is that most things that are true are self-evident. If we investigate them with the minds God has given us, we will be led further into the truth – not led further from it. Evangelicals believe this about certain things it seems, but not ones that turn into hobby horses.

    The thing is if you actually talk to people who do believe in evolution, most of them aren’t atheists. Sure some of them are, but there are a lot of scientists who believe in God in some way. Why alienate those people? Why make it harder for people to enter the Kingdom? That seems to be the thing that made Jesus the most angry in the gospels.

    • “One thing that I’ve always wondered is that if it’s really the truth we’re talking about, than it shouldn’t be like some delicate crystal goblet that shatters at the smallest bump. It really should be something that can take people kicking its tires, so to speak, and poking around at it.”

      And now I have a new motto.

  6. Not to start re-fighting the Wars of Religion, but this is the flip-side of sola Scriptura. One unintended consequence of putting all faith to rest on the Word alone is that (a) the Word is thought of as primarily the book, not the Logos and (b) anything less than an exacting literalism is seen as surrender to the non-believers.

    This means that, divorced from a living Tradition and with an ecclesiology that does not attribute external or parallel authority to the church, you are reduced to “Where is that in the Bible?” and are extremely vulnerable to the historico-critical method. Once the matter is set on a footing of every single word is inspired and inerrant, than any proposal that this particular passage is not meant as literal fact but is poetry, history, or popular legend is seen as denial of divine truth.

    Within Catholicism, we’ve had this fight; Modernism, where the encyclical “Providentissimus Deus” was issued in 1893 by Pope Leo XIII and the establishment of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1902 were specifically to meet the challenge about interpretation of Scripture in the face of scientific discoveries and the ‘Higher Criticism’.

    With regards to this particular question, the 1909 response of the Commission on the historicity of Genesis may be of interest:

    “Question VII: Whether, since in writing the first chapter of Genesis it was not the mind of the sacred author to teach in a scientific manner the detailed constitution of visible things and the complete order of creation, but rather to give his people a popular notion, according as the common speech of the times went, accommodated to the understanding and capacity of men, the propriety of scientific language is to be investigated exactly and always in the interpretation of these? — Reply: In the negative.

    Question VIII: Whether in that designation and distinction of six days, with which the account of the first chapter of Genesis deals, the word (dies) can be assumed either in its proper sense as a natural day, or in the improper sense of a certain space of time; and whether with regard to such a question there can be free disagreement among exegetes? — Reply: In the affirmative.”

    Or, as that same webpage points out:

    Ludwig Ott, “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma”

    “The doctrine of evolution based on the theistic conception of the world, which traces matter and life to God’s causality and assumes that organic being, developed from originally created seed-powers (St. Augustine) or from stem-forms (doctrine of descent), according to God’s plan, is compatible with the doctrine of Revelation. However, as regards man, a special creation by God is demanded, which must extend at least to the spiritual soul [creatio hominis peculiaris Denz 2123]. Individual Fathers, especially St. Augustine, accepted a certain development of living creatures…..The question of the descent of the human body from the animal kingdom first appeared under the influence of the modern theory of evolution. The Biblical text does not exclude this theory. Just as in the account of the creation of the world, one can, in the account of the creation of man, distinguish between the per se inspired religious truth that man, both body and soul, was created by God, and the per accidens inspired, stark anthropomorphistic representation of the mode and manner of the Creation. While the fact of the creation of man by God in the literal sense must be closely adhered to, in the question as to the mode and manner of the formation of the human body, an interpretation which diverges from the strict literal sense, is, on weighty grounds, permissible.”

    And Pope Pius XII, in his 1943 encyclical “Divino Afflante Spiritu”, went very soft indeed – he even said that textual criticism was a useful tool and that Catholic scholars both could and should use source documents in the original languages, not just relying upon the Vulgate!

    “35. What is the literal sense of a passage is not always as obvious in the speeches and writings of the ancient authors of the East, as it is in the works of our own time. For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use.

    36. For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East. The investigation, carried out, on this point, during the past forty or fifty years with greater care and diligence than ever before, has more clearly shown what forms of expression were used in those far off times, whether in poetic description or in the formulation of laws and rules of life or in recording the facts and events of history. The same inquiry has also shown the special preeminence of the people of Israel among all the other ancient nations of the East in their mode of compiling history, both by reason of its antiquity and by reasons of the faithful record of the events; qualities which may well be attributed to the gift of divine inspiration and to the peculiar religious purpose of biblical history.”

    • Martha…I do like how the Catholic chruch handles the issue of creation and evolution. They don’t corner people with these issues anymore.

      • Eagle, that’s one of the advantages of having been around a while. We’ve fought many of these battles already 🙂

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          It’s called “Institutional Memory”. Helps prevent you from reinventing the wheel. And re-reinventing the wheel. And re-re-reinventing…

    • “This means that, divorced from a living Tradition and with an ecclesiology that does not attribute external or parallel authority to the church, you are reduced to ‘Where is that in the Bible?’ and are extremely vulnerable to the historico-critical method. Once the matter is set on a footing of every single word is inspired and inerrant, than any proposal that this particular passage is not meant as literal fact but is poetry, history, or popular legend is seen as denial of divine truth.”

      Very well put.

      • Now, I’m not saying that textual analysis is the be-all and end-all on its own merits; there are plenty of people who went a bit nuts with the application of the method and ranged from (on our side) Ernest Renan and his Vie de Jésus which fluttered so many dovecotes, to some of the scholars of the Jesus Seminar (whose idea of scientific rigour, if accounts are to be believed, consists of snipping out all the things they feel can’t be true in the Gospels – primarily anything smacking of the miraculous – and then triumphantly announcing they’ve discovered the ‘real’ sayings of Jesus).

        You can see the equal and opposite errors both sides fall into; on the one hand, that the entirety of Creation took place in six days of twenty-four hours each and if fossils exist, either God or the Devil faked them to test our faith, and on the other hand, the critical method as exemplified by Renan, where elements of the Gospels are treated as pious fakes:

        “A rapid metamorphosis operated in the same manner in the twenty or thirty years which followed the death of Jesus, and imposed upon his biography the peculiarities of all ideal legend. Death adds perfection to the most perfect man; it frees him from all defect in the eyes of those who have loved him. With the wish to paint the Master, there was also the desire to explain him. Many anecdotes were conceived to prove that in him the prophecies regarded as Messianic had had their accomplishment. But this procedure, of which we must not deny the importance, would not suffice to explain everything. No Jewish work of the time gives a series of prophecies exactly declaring what the Messiah should accomplish. Many Messianic allusions quoted by the evangelists are so subtle, so indirect, that one cannot believe they all responded to a generally admitted doctrine. Sometimes they reasoned thus; “The Messiah ought to do such a thing; now, Jesus is the Messiah; therefore Jesus has done such a thing.” At other times, by an inverse process, it was said: “Such a thing has happened to Jesus; now, Jesus is the Messiah; therefore such a thing was to happen to the Messiah.” Too simple explanations are always false when analysing those profound creations of popular sentiment which baffle all systems by their fullness and infinite variety.”

        So on the one hand, you get The Galileo Affair and on the other, you get the De-mytholized Real Historical Jesus, Wisdom Teacher and all-round Nice Guy 🙂

        • De-mytholized Real Historical Jesus, Wisdom Teacher and all-round Nice Guy

          When I read that, all I could think of was “Buddy Christ”

        • You’re talking about Renan’s Jesus. Biblical criticism has moved on since those days, when even atheists assumed Christ to be a great moral teacher, and the Bible to largely reflect true events. Today we see the gospels as religious propaganda, doubt almost everything in them, and view them in the context of their (irrational) religious environment. To me, your Jesus is as quaint as Renan’s.

          • I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that my Jesus is bigger than your jesus. Far from quaint I see Jesus as the King of Glory. The Alpha and Omega. The great I Am. The healer of the broken and the humbler of kings. The lamb slain from the foundations of the earth. God with us. My Rock and my Salvation. I know that may sound like blah, blah, yadda yadda yadda but what appears quaint to one, ain’t quaint to another.

          • Melvin, you need to read some N.T. Wright to get your history straight.

          • ChrisS, believing this does not make it true.

            Chaplain Mike, NT Wright lies towards the reactionary end of the theological spectrum, and is loved chiefly by those who fear the more skeptical end.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      One unintended consequence of putting all faith to rest on the Word alone is that (a) the Word is thought of as primarily the book, not the Logos and (b) anything less than an exacting literalism is seen as surrender to the non-believers.

      And “Scripture” becomes just another way of saying “Ees Party Line, Comrade!”

      Once the matter is set on a footing of every single word is inspired and inerrant, than any proposal that this particular passage is not meant as literal fact but is poetry, history, or popular legend is seen as denial of divine truth.

      And the Thoughtstoppers activate, the Wall in the Mind slams down, and all that remains is Zip-code Proof Texts and “IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! AL’LAH’U AKBAR! AL’LAH’U AKBAR! AL’LAH’U AKBAR!”…

  7. “The gospel is like a caged lion. It does not need to be defended, it just needs to be let out of its cage”
    -Attributed to Charles Spurgeon, as told by N. Pearcey in Total Truth

    • Oops, this was supposed to be a response to Phil M but I hit the wrong button. I agree with you Phil.

  8. Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

    I heard that Talk of the Nation appearance when it originally aired. It was… embarrassing. Neither Mohler nor Harlow could be civil to one another, and the host had to remind people to not interrupt and play nice many times.

    • After listening to the NPR “Talk of the Nation” link that CM posted I was surprised to find that Albert Mohler expressed himself much better than Daniel Harlow. Harlow’s arguments didn’t seem well thought out or thought through and, as far as debate performance goes, Mohler did a much better job of making his points and defending them.

  9. Chaplain Mike,

    Answer for me please, or anyone else for that matter, a couple of questions. For the record, I consider myself an OEC.

    1. How do theistic evolutionist tackle the question as to when man was given a soul? That’s a bad way of wording it but I’m guessing you get my question.

    2. How do we share these early creation stories with our young children? They don’t seem to be as interesting to to sit and try to explain to a four year old the “literary” aspect of Adam/Eve.

    • The answer to your first question is that there are many different ways of envisioning that. In my view Adam represents the first covenant man, not necessarily the first human. God chose him to extend his reign throughout the world, where other people already lived.

      As for children, I will be reviewing Peter Enns’ curriculum for kids soon. Short of that I would simply say, tell the story. Kids aren’t concerned about the apologetic issues.

      • Along those same lines…I’ve long held to the idea that Adam and Eve were the first created beings…but not necessarily the only created beings. His sons took wives, you know?

        • Yes, but Ken Ham has an answer to that. He says that Cain married his sister.

          • yes, but his much, much, much, much, much, much, younger sister. it’s perfectly fine after at least 5 muches separate siblings… 🙂

      • One possibility is that Adam was a new creation in that while there were homo sapiens before him, he was the first to really have consiciousness- enough that he could carry around the idea of God.

        • I hesitate to go down any path to concordism (trying to reconcile ancient stories with modern science). Sometimes our modern questions just aren’t what the text is interested in. Such questions may be useful for apologetics and background information, but when it comes to interpreting the Bible, they are off the point.

  10. For those opposed to both mythologizing the scriptures and making lame excuses for what the physical record plainly reveals, Dr. Hugh Ross has some compelling arguments. Certainly, some of his arguments have weaknesses, but on the whole I like his approach.

  11. Biblicism leads people down paths that are not necessary to go in, and often make the biblicist look foolish.

    There’s no reason for it. The Word will make it’s own way whether the world is 60 billion years old or 10,000 years old.

    We don’t really need to get bogged down in those arguments, in my opinion, and when you are not a Biblical literalist then you can avoid going down those rabbit holes.

  12. I have never understood the credibility given to the young earth movement. Ken Ham preaches something which is not a believable story of the earth’s development, but a systematic theology with dire consequences for those who don’t believe it. Its not even very good theology (IMHO). FYI, in terms of anti-intellectualism in the church, also try Rick Nane who wrote a very good book on the topic.

    • The YEC movement has as muhc credibility as the Mormon Church on the issue of the Book of Mormon being a legitimate history of the Nephites in South America. It’s the same type of mindset.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Except without the Mound Builders pop mythology of the early 1800s.

      • What’s laughable is that, by this measure (unless you accept my interpretation of Young Earth creation, you are not a proper Christian, because it all hangs together!) then, for example, St. Augustine would not be a proper Christian (since he was willing to consider that the ‘six days of Creation’ were figurative or metaphorical, and meant an unknown period of time).

        Let’s hear what he has to say in his “On Christian Doctrine”, Book III, Chapter Five:

        “Chapter 5.— It is a Wretched Slavery Which Takes the Figurative Expressions of Scripture in a Literal Sense.

        9. But the ambiguities of metaphorical words, about which I am next to speak, demand no ordinary care and diligence. In the first place, we must beware of taking a figurative expression literally. For the saying of the apostle applies in this case too: “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” For when what is said figuratively is taken as if it were said literally, it is understood in a carnal manner. And nothing is more fittingly called the death of the soul than when that in it which raises it above the brutes, the intelligence namely, is put in subjection to the flesh by a blind adherence to the letter. For he who follows the letter takes figurative words as if they were proper, and does not carry out what is indicated by a proper word into its secondary signification; but, if he hears of the Sabbath, for example, thinks of nothing but the one day out of seven which recurs in constant succession; and when he hears of a sacrifice, does not carry his thoughts beyond the customary offerings of victims from the flock, and of the fruits of the earth. Now it is surely a miserable slavery of the soul to take signs for things, and to be unable to lift the eye of the mind above what is corporeal and created, that it may drink in eternal light.”

  13. i think the tendency to pick-and-choose literalism in the scriptural references cited, along with non-biblical traditions that also claim equal authoritative origins, some of the most recent discussions we’ve had here on this site…

    so, a literal 6-day creative marathon that results in our earth/solar system being 10,000 years old or less? the ‘real’ presence of Jesus in the communion elements? Mary a perpetual virgin, conceived immaculately & bodily ascended into heaven? salvation by faith alone? work out one’s salvation in fear & trembling? Jesus returning to reign/rule for 1,000 years before the final judgment? rapture? a priestly class necessary to dispense grace thru sacramental rituals? Marian apparitions? attributing miracles to saints that have passed to glory? purgatory? relics? prophetic/apostolic offices reestablished? spiritual gifts? dreams/visions? ecstatic experiences? sacraments? and others…

    with the creation wars at least there is a large body of scientific research adding some hard evidence to the fray. some ‘real’ ammunition to help shed some light on the ancient past, red-shift included…

    the argument though that God works ‘mysteriously’ so that any authoritative claim must be accepted by faith without welcoming alternate viewpoints is not the sole approach of the creationists. it is found in every faith expression i have particpated in. the insistance of being the most right in theological/doctrinal purity echoes thru the halls i have wandered during my own faith journey…

    much of the posturing tiresome. does not edify. does not represent Jesus IMHO. is a source of religious pride & heresy hunting & those outside the faith rightly recognize as a source of some very un-Christian behavior…

    its difficult enough paying attention to one’s own faith journey let alone endure the scorn some crazy uncle types like to promote in a big way. i don’t like getting lumped into the same category since i do claim to be a follower of Jesus. it is that one claim that seems to give others license to represent Jesus as they try to fit Him into the One that gives His approval for their behavior regardless of the result it produces…

    O Lord…i am one tired saint… 🙁

  14. Does someone have a spreadsheet listing all 1,189 Bible chapters and how each is to be interpreted? This would be a helpful tool.

    Short of this, how can one know if Genesis 1 is to be viewed as the technical details of first things or just a general overview of creation events?

    • When I read it, I see a poem. Actually, it’s a children’s poem structured very much like a nursery rhyme.
      In my opinion, it’s a divinely inspired children’s poem which poetically describes how God created the world in such a way that even a child living in the Bronze Age could understand it without any remedial classes in modern science or theology.
      The problems arise when people try to attach an absurd “modern” set of expectations to it.

      • Calvin: ”Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God.”

        • Excellent, Michael. In another place (perhaps another part of the same passage you quote here), Calvin recognized that even the science of his day was incompatible with the way Gen. 1 speaks of the sun, moon, and stars on Day 4. Did not trouble him at all, nor should it us.

    • No spreadsheet, but St. Augustine did write a book “On Christian Doctrine” dealing with how Scripture is to be interpreted; he deals with it from a linguistic perspective (e.g. knowledge of the original languages helps to clarify obscurity, the tropes of rhetoric, different styles of speaking and writing).

      Here is a link to an excerpt from his “On the Literal Meaning of Genesis” (it’s not great for readability, but the only online versions of the text seems to be in Latin, so this is the next best thing in English).

      At least I hope it will show you that in the 5th century, an orthodox Christian was not bound to hold to a strictly literal word-for-word interpretation of Genesis. But we’re so far beyond that simplistic thinking in the 21st century!


      • I gave a copy of this book to a friend (On Genesis) who is an atheist. She found Augustine’s rhetorical style highly entertaining. I wonder sometimes if in our efforts to be polite we’ve lost the ability to just say something is stupid.

    • One can determine the genre of most passages simply by reading them. Good translations will give you a lot of clues as to the genre also. Genesis 1 is poetry from a pre-scientific era and needs to be interpreted as such.

  15. We Catholics have so many problems of our, but I am glad THIS problem is not one of them. Heck, we even “let” a guy be a priest and a paleotologist! And those dinosuar bones looked pretty darn real…

  16. Shortly after I came to the Christian faith I heard a message where the speaker mentioned that sometimes we can major in minors.

    This is when we take insignificant issues and make them into major issues that we think impacts the issues like life/death and salvation.

    I have come to view some of the so called Scientific Creationists as tending to be in this camp. And sadly, they are listened to by many people who accept their message as the Truth. (capital T intended)

    If any one wants to see what Christian scientist in general are saying, google the American Scientific Affiliation, and association of scientists who are Christian believers. There you will find a wide spectrum of thought.

  17. If Adam is not a real person, why is he mentioned in genealogies?

    • Because he’s famous.

    • Jack Heron says

      Heck, have you seen the official family tree of the British Royal Family? Because it derives ultimately from a West Saxon line and because the Anglo-Saxons had a habit of stitching mythological figures into their kings’ ancestries, the Queen is recorded as being descended from Noah, the pagan god Woden and a pair of folk heroes who might well in some sense be symbolic of horses.

      • Indeed, I have taken a bit of a look at some of those old genealogies. Why does modern scholarship assume that references to biblical characters in old genealogies are meant to be mythical rather than literal? Suppose there really was a Flood, there really was a Noah and there really was an Adam! Why is this out of the question?

        I’m not knocking evolution. I’m not a scientist, and will defer to biologists on the subject. I don’t think any of us will ever understand the mystery of Creation and how and why God created. History, though, I can understand, since the study of history is far from an exact science. Blithely assuming that ancient genealogies are not based on literal fact seems to be too big of a stretch to me.

        While the ancients no doubt took liberties with storytelling (the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge, talking snake, etc), my guess is that they took their genealogical records very seriously, and wanted to make sure they were accurate. After all, if Jesus truly was the Messiah and King of Israel, the authors of the Gospel would want to prove this, no? It makes sense they would take liberties with truth in one area, but it doesn’t make so much sense in the other.

    • Asking that question might cause some problems here. Maybe Luke was just using some “poetic” license, he really just meant that Jesus was descended from men in general since there is no “literal” Adam. Hogwash! I think you and I know better.

      (Forgive my sarcasm, it’s a weakness.)

      • Jack Heron says

        Or maybe he got his genealogy wrong. After all, he contradicts Matthew’s.

        • I think the conventional interpretation is that Luke’s genealogy is meant to be Mary’s genealogy, not Joseph’s, since it is different in every way.

          • Jack Heron says

            Except it says that ‘he was the supposed son of Joseph, who was the son of Eli…’ and so on. It’s even more emphatic in the Greek, due to their gendering of every single word. I’m aware of the various explanations to reconcile the genealogies and they all seem mightily tenuous (levirate marriage, Luke meaning ‘Mary’ when he said ‘Joseph’, adoptions). I find it less tenuous to believe that two people writing genealogies for someone they’d probably never met in an age without the level of bureaucracy we have now would quite easily produce two inaccurate results no matter how hard they tried.

            (Also, my copy of the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913 edition, I’m too skinflint to buy the new one) criticises the ‘artificial’ nature of Luke’s genealogy – the number of generations between significant figures are notably regular and meaningful.)