Albert Mohler: faith and science not compatible, sin makes Earth look old

When discussing the compatibility of faith and science, it behooves us to remember that religious folks who argue for compatibility are often of the very liberal stripe, and that there are many believers—and theologians—who disagree.  This puts religious accommodationists in the uncomfortable position of having to claim that many Christian theologians are simply wrong.

I’ve just done a ten-minute video discussion with BioLogos’s Karl Giberson that will be online soon (stay tuned).  Our topic was “Are science and faith compatible?”  I took the “no” side, Giberson the “yes”.  I won’t jump the gun here, but I did want to link to a post I mentioned in our discussion.  Over at BioLogos, Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, has a rather long post (the transcript of a talk) on “Why does the universe look so old?”

He lays out all the possibilities (the universe is really old, though scripture seems to say it’s not; scripture is metaphorical: a “day” could be millions of years; the universe is young and God made it look old, etc.).  And while chewing over the answers, he admits something that religious accommodationist try at all costs to hide:  if you believe that the Bible really is the word of God, then you have a problem harmonizing it with science.  Here’s what Mohler says (my emphasis):

In conclusion, there is a head-on collision here. There are those that claim there is no head-on collision [between science and faith]. Francisco Ayala, who just won the Templeton Award, says that science and religion cannot be in conflict because they’re answering two different questions. Science is answering the how, and religion is answering the who and the why. That is intellectual facile. The scripture is claiming far more than who and why and any honest reading of the modern scientific consensus knows that it too is speaking to the who and very clearly speaking to the why. Stephen J. Gould, the late paleontologist of Harvard University, spoke of what he called non-overlapping magisteria. He said science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria. Each has its own magisterial authority and its own sphere of knowledge and they never overlap. Well the problem is they overlap all the time. They overlap in Stephen J. Gould’s own writings. We cannot separate the who and the why and the what, as if those are intellectually separable questions. In his new book Why Evolution is True Jerry Coyne cites Michael Shermer at the very beginning who says this, “Darwin matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age. An epic saga about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.”

Now it sounds to me like he’s talking about the why, not just the when and the  what. I want to suggest to you that when it comes to the confrontation between evolutionary theory and the Christian gospel we have a head-on collision. In the confrontation between secular science and the scripture we have a head-on  collision. I want to suggest to you that it is our responsibility to give an answer when we are asked the question “Why does the universe look so old?” In the limitations of time, it is impossible that we walk through every alternative and  answer every sub-question. But I want to suggest to you that the most natural  understanding from the scripture of how to answer that question comes to this: The universe looks old because the creator made it whole. When he made Adam,  Adam was not a fetus; Adam was a man; he had the appearance of a man. By  our understanding that would’ve required time for Adam to get old but not by the sovereign creative power of God. He put Adam in the garden. The garden  was not merely seeds; it was a fertile, fecund, mature garden. The Genesis account clearly claims that God creates and makes things whole.

Well, I’m not sure I meant “why” in the sense that Mohler did.  I don’t think there’s a divine reason, much less an “ultimate reason” for anything—that is, any reason beyond the working out of the laws of physics and chemistry. We came from evolution, which was the result of primordial chemistry, and we’re going where evolution, and our own nongenetic social evolution, take us.  But regardless, Mohler states clearly the problem confronted by those who think that the Bible is not just a big story, but God’s word.

The whole point of Mohler’s talk (read it at your peril) is to show that accepting Genesis as merely a metaphor yields far more theological difficulties than seeing the book as literal truth and then trying to understand what God actually did.  Would that BioLogos, and other religious accommodationists, at least admit that there are theological difficulties here.  Their solution is always to claim that Mohler’s form of theology is wrong, obsolete.

But what’s Mohler’s solution about the age of the universe? He punts, and in amusing way.

Secondly—and very quickly—if I’m asked why does the universe look so old, I have to say it looks old because it bears testimony to the affects of sin. And testimony of the judgment of God. It bears the effects of the catastrophe of the flood and catastrophes innumerable thereafter. I would suggest to you that the world looks old because as Paul says in Romans chapter 8 it is groaning. [Earth to God: OY VEY!] And in its groaning it does look old. It gives us empirical evidence of the reality of sin. And even as this cosmos is the theater of God’s glory, it is the theater of God’s glory for the drama of redemption that takes place here on this planet in telling the story of the redemptive love of God. Is this compatible with the claim that the universe is 4.5 billion years old in terms of earth, 13.5 billion years old in terms of the larger universe? Even though that may not be the first and central question it is an inescapable question and I would suggest to you that 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.

At the end of the day, if I’m asked the question “why does the universe look so old?” I’m simply left with the reality that the universe is telling the story of the glory of God. Why does it look so old? Well that, in terms of any more elaborate answer, is known only to the Ancient of Days. And that is where we are left.

How did Giberson deal with this frank avowal of incompatibility from a prominent Baptist minister? You’ll have to listen to our discussion.

71 Comments

  1. Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    I studied under Dr.Mohler, and one thing is certain,he is very unaccomodationist in his views. I agree with him, and I think that the whitewashing has to stop. I know that no one may agree with me, but neither side has anything to be ashamed about honest questions and hopefully honest answers. Even it that answer is “I don’t know.”, or “I don’t know yet.”

    • Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      Except that we do know why the universe looks old: it is old. It’s by far the easiest explanation.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 8, 2010 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      When the answer isn’t “I don’t know”, one has a very difficult time saying those words.

      It’s LYING.

    • Tyro
      Posted July 8, 2010 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      It’s telling that he thinks “why does the world look old” is a problem. That question by itself tacitly acknowledges (1) that the world looks old, (2) that we have perfectly good, natural explanations for this age and (3) that both the appearance and explanation conflict with the bible.

      The real question isn’t “why does the world look old” but “why does the bible say the world is young when it is not?”

      • robhoofd
        Posted July 8, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        “Why, if the world looks old, and our scientific findings say it is old, must we somehow either literally or metaphorically make it fit with a two thousand year old fairytale?”

    • JDE
      Posted July 9, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      I know that no one may agree with me, but neither side has anything to be ashamed about honest questions and hopefully honest answers.

      What you should be ashamed of is that your “honest answer” involves the eternal damnation of everyone who disagrees with you.

  2. NewEnglandBob
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    It is hilarious to read Mohler’s solution about the age of the universe. The bending over backwards and the contortions that theists and accommodationists go through is quite entertaining, as well as being off the wall and totally wrong.

    I would not expect much critical thought from the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

  3. Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    No doubt a not-so-small voice in Mohler’s head is saying, “The world looks old because it is old, and the Bible is just plain wrong.”

    Until he takes that voice seriously, this is about as far as he’ll get in his understanding of anything.

    • Lurker111
      Posted July 8, 2010 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      Yeah, sin made all the distant galaxies rush away from us and gave us the red shift.

      • Tulse
        Posted July 8, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        They’re red because they’re blushing with embarrassment.

  4. Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Of course, by agreeing with Mohler on the compatibility issue, you’re setting yourself up for some of that “atheists are just like the fundamentalists” criticism again. Or the “New Atheists always look at the crude interpretations of scripture, never the sophisticated ones”.

    Never mind that the New Atheists actually have a reasonable answer to the discrepancy between Genesis and the apparent age of the universe: the universe is old, and Genesis is a myth – both conclusions that are supported by multiple, independent lines of scientific evidence.

    Mohler, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to get any further than “God knows why”. His religion can’t even tell him. Science wins.

  5. Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    “It gives us empirical evidence of the reality of sin.”

    Christians have just as many scientific problems with The Fall as with evolution. I’ve often read creationists saying “because of The Fall” as an explanation, especially in theodicy. The statement above needs to be refuted just as much as the earth is young and god created things whole.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 8, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      And, of course, I’ll disagree that “sin” exists at all.

      Sin = offense against god.

      Since there is no god, one cannot offend it.

      There is culturally acceptable behavior, there is culturally inappropriate behavior, and there is psychopathy (which could probably be defined as pan-cultural bad behavior). If there are more than three categories, I’m not aware of them.

      • Bruce Gorton
        Posted July 8, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        Odd behaviour – not really accepted but not actually condemned either. Mostly people are just puzzled by it.

      • Grendels Dad
        Posted July 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        I always thought sin was an acronym for:
        Self
        Imposed
        Nonsense

        Maybe the devil mademe think this…

  6. Posted July 8, 2010 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Oh, and it won’t be as exciting as a debate, but Giberson has already posted his reply to Mohler, who called Giberson out specifically.

    And you have to give credit to Giberson for taking the scientific position on Adam and Eve and the The Fall:

    “clearly the historicity of Adam and Eve and their fall from grace are hard to reconcile with natural history.”

    • Eric MacDonald
      Posted July 8, 2010 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      Would not a more scientific take on this be: “… are impossible to reconcile with natural history”? By saying ‘hard to reconcile’ Giberson has already allowed Mohler to get a foot in the door.

      • Posted July 8, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Yes, but I’m willing to allow hard instead of impossible. I’m not a civility policeman, but when your audience is believers, hard is better than impossible. For then a believer could ask “How hard?” which starts the explanation. This type of messaging does matter (for the persuadable).

        And Mohler isn’t trying to wedge a toe in the door of science, he’s already kicked it down.

  7. bric
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    “The Genesis account clearly claims that God creates and makes things whole”; from an early age I have been puzzled about this 7 x 24hrs aspect of the ‘Creation’: Why did he need so long? What was happening from minute to minute? Does 24 hours even mean anything before the sun and earth are in place? It is very puzzling, and certainly not ‘made whole’: Creating the whole lot in an instant, now that’s the sort of Creator I can get behind.

  8. Sajanas
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Its funny how hard it is to break someone of the need for biblical literalism. And you can see why, since once you don’t view the document as the literal word of God, it loses a lot of its power to inform on life compared to any other ancient text.
    But a little “reading as a fundamentalist” is necessary, because while theologians make up all manner of odd arguments and interpretations, we never hear them in the public. It really bothers me… if there is a more sophisticated take on all this bronze age morality and mysticism, why give out the buggy beta version? I was always being told as a kid to read the bible, and I’d find lots of smut and violence, and little that was anywhere near as uplifting as Shakespeare. Unless they make a new holy book, I think any and all criticism of the original is quite valid, since religions with a primary holy book are forever going back to the basics.

  9. Divalent
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Huge credit to Mohler for squarely facing the issue. Intellectually honest, and quite refreshing. While one can (rightfully, IMO) criticise his proposed solutions to the problem, he is not employing the usual smoke and mirror tactics that often are used to direct the reader’s attention elsewhere. Good for him.

    • Tulse
      Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      And this is why I find fundamentalists more “reasonable” in a real sense of that word than more liberal Christians. Fundamentalists take their ontological commitments seriously — they recognize that there is actually something called “truth” and work from their a priori tenets to establish what that truth is. Those tenets are wrong, of course, but at least they are consistent, and committed to the existence of truth. I have no idea what Karen Armstrong is committed to.

      • Kevin
        Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        Having read only enough Karen Armstrong as a weak stomach can handle, it’s my impression that her thing is basically Anselm’s Ontological Argument.

        God is the ginchiest thing you can possibly grok; even ginchier. Therefore, it’s totally real.

        Or something like that.

        • Tulse
          Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:37 am | Permalink

          God is the ginchiest thing you can possibly grok; even ginchier. Therefore, it’s totally real.

          Whoa, dude! That like totally blows my mind! Where are the Cheetos?

        • Marella
          Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

          As I posted elsewhere recently, when I read KA’s “History of God” she spent several hundred pages slowly stripping the layers off god til he vanished altogether! There was nothing left but the reality that we could know nothing at all about god! So close to atheism as to be indistinguishable really.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted July 8, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        With all respect, I on the other hand find them digging their hole even deeper.

        Facts and theories can never be understood as mere truth values despite that one can, possibly, map such onto them when a theory has been fully established. (So there are no problematic “don’t know” and changes.) They are better seen as ensemble distributions (so quantifiable uncertainty et cetera) and functions on such.

        What fundamentalists do is what Les Lane comment in #12 touch on, confuse empiricism with theology. That is not a good thing and should not be encouraged.

        • Posted July 8, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

          I have to agree insofar as fundamentalists try to provide a reason.

          The variety of fundamentalist that says, “I don’t really care what evidence or reason tells me, I believe this on faith and nothing can change that” — that I have less of a problem with, because it’s intellectually honest.

          However, the variety that admits science and faith are incompatible, and then goes on to suggest a Hovind ice shield or a flood-based explanation of geology or what have you… that’s at least as intellectually dishonest as the accomodationist position, if not more so.

          Consider the following possibilities:

          1. “I believe what the Bible says regardless of any scientific referent” is philosophically bankrupt and way removed from reality, but it is at least consistent and is safely quarantined from science.

          2. “I believe what the Bible tells me, and therefore good science must support the Bible” is philosophically bankrupt, way removed from reality, inconsistent, and does violence to science.

          3. “Anything in the Bible that contradicts science must be metaphorical, but anything that science doesn’t contradict yet is fair game” is philosophically weak and doomed to fail in the long run, and is potentially consistent for a given moment in history but becomes inconsistent over time, but it also makes at least an attempt to insulate science from theological attacks. (How successful that insulation is varies)

          4. “The Bible should be treated like any other historical document of highly questionable provenance”, of course, has no philosophical issues, is perfectly consistent, and embraces the scientific mindset.

          (4) is obviously optimal.

          (3) is mildly more annoying than (1), but in practice it is probably preferred. The refreshing honesty of (1) is cancelled out by its total divorce from reality.

          And (2) of course is worst of all. Even though it’s maybe somewhat more honest than (3) in its premises, it is far more dishonest in its practice, and worst of all, it does deliberate violence to sound science.

          No, as annoying as the accomodationist position is, it’s still preferable to either flavors of fundamentalism.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted July 10, 2010 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

            That is an interesting analysis. It is based in theological strategy though, so while it is useful there it doesn’t say much on empirical concerns.

            In fact, possibility 1-3 is empirically the same non-empiricism (denies facts at will) while 4 is empirical. My argument was that fundamentalists which confuse facts with “truth” is worse. I believe that maps to possibility 1-2.

            People who adhere to possibility 3 are accommodationists, and may go either way of course (use facts or “truths”). So yes, I would agree that the subset that embrace facts would be mildly preferable. They recognize facts as a notion but not as a fact.

  10. Tulse
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I wonder if Hindu fundamentalists wrestle with why the earth looks so young?

    • Posted July 9, 2010 at 6:07 am | Permalink

      I seem to remember a particularly persistent Hare Krishna on talk.origins 10+ years ago who did …

  11. Kevin
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I’m going to admit that I don’t go over to BioLogos, because I waste enough time already on this stuff.

    But I have a question for those who do…

    From the reporting of the site here and elsewhere, it appears that BioLogos is intent on skewing the science-religion debate in the direction of more faith, more accommodationism, more apologetics. Which is fine, it’s their blog, that’s their right. But what’s the left-side boundary of the discussion? I suspect it’s “theistic evolution”. The right side boundary, based on this post, is pretty clear — Young Earth Creationism.

    Is there an agnostic (I wouldn’t expect an atheist) voice that counter-balances this equation? Challenging even the theistic evolution assumptions? Or is some kind of frank theism the sina qua non for getting a voice over there?

    What I’ve seen so for suggests not.

    • Tulse
      Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      The Biologos Mission Statement: “The BioLogos Foundation explores, promotes and celebrates the integration of science and Christian faith.”

      So no, agnosticism is not allowed, nor presumably is just any old theism (such as Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Zoroastrian, etc. etc. etc.). Only good ol’ Christianity is permitted.

      • Kevin
        Posted July 8, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        Ah. So my decision not to head over there and wander around was perfectly valid, even in the absence of evidence.

        It’s a MIRACLE, I tell ya.

      • Doc Bill
        Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        Ah, and not just any Christianity but the version that stresses the “inanity.”

        As a kid raised in an Episcopal household there was no question that the Bible was metaphorical. Only kiddies believed that Noah’s Ark was real, stupid kids! We big kids and adults knew that Bible stories were just that, stories written as examples of how to behave, etc.

        As a kid I was vaguely aware of people who believed the Bible was real, but they lived in The Hills, and I don’t mean Beverly Hills. Yokels, morons, half-wits and what my Mom called “uneducated no-accounts.”

        Beginning in the 70′s and culminating in the 80′s with the “Moral Majority” the no-accounts got a voice and they’ve been very noisy ever since. Raised to be polite about people’s religious beliefs my generation has been silent, restrained and uncomfortable.

        So, now I’ve become comfortable with saying to the evangelicals “I don’t think you’re stupid, but you are most definitely wrong.”

        • Marella
          Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

          How to behave huh? Have sex with your daughters, sell them into slavery, sacrifice them to god, nice, very nice.

          • Doc Bill
            Posted July 8, 2010 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, it was pretty good while it lasted. Slavery is very profitable and my sister was a huge pain in the ass. Worked out well.

            Later I decided to become a Hindu because the food was better and I got a personal monkey god.

        • JDE
          Posted July 9, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink

          Beginning in the 70′s and culminating in the 80′s with the “Moral Majority” the no-accounts got a voice and they’ve been very noisy ever since.

          Absolutely. People who’ve barely been shod for a generation are now dictating this country’s course. It’s beyond obscene.

  12. Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    There’s nothing in Mohler’s background to suggest that he has any understanding of science. He appears to view science much as he views his religion, i.e. a collection of doctrines from which one reaches conclusions by (less than rigorous) propositional logic.

    • Posted July 8, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Presumably he completed high school? They taught science in mine.

      Not that it made much impact, but the teachers tried.

  13. Doc Bill
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I’ll be frank. (You can be shirley.)

    “This puts religious accommodationists in the uncomfortable position of having to claim that many Christian theologians are simply wrong.”

    Specifically, all Christian theologians are wrong and generally all theologians are wrong. My favorite theologian, John Shelby Spong, comes the closest, IMHO, to being the least wrong.

    To put things in perspective, any time you see the word “Bible” or “scripture” substitute the phrase “My Pet Goat.” It makes just as much sense.

    I direct all this at literalists and those who out of charity or pity accommodate literalist thinking. I’m not saying literalists are stupid, I’m saying that they are wrong.

    If, on the other hand, one wishes to discuss metaphors as illustrations of human behavior, that’s another subject and one worth pursuing.

    • JDE
      Posted July 9, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      I’m not saying literalists are stupid, I’m saying that they are wrong.

      I’ll say it – they are, for the most part, stupid.

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Too bad for Mohler that Last thursdayism when squared with the post-semitic time table doesn’t quite cut it as physics either; I believe there are a lot of youtubes out there that falsifies that particular YEC version. It is telling if Mohler doesn’t know or doesn’t care.

    Also amusing is that he can’t answer “why” despite claiming that “scripture is claiming far more than who and why”. I’ve already commented on religions’ impotence in these matters.

    [I'm clearly satisfied with causal processes as to "why" stuff happens. And generally so since they clearly are capable of explaining all stuff, all happenings and their own existence, see for example Stenger's "God - The Failed hypothesis".]

    As an amusing aside, here is a purported example of “magical thinking” in scientists, claimed to have had confirmation bias when coming up with ‘island rules’ (if that is the term) for evolution:

    Employing their own statistical tools incorporating large data sets that compared body sizes on various islands and on mainland communities, Dr. Meiri and his colleagues found no such tendency for bizarrely-sized animals to develop on islands. “We concluded that the evolution of body sizes is as random with respect to ‘isolation’ as on the rest of the planet. This means that you can expect to find the same sort of patterns on islands and on the mainland.”

    Dr. Meiri attributes our widely held misperceptions about “dragons and dwarfs” to the fact that people tend to notice the extremes more if they are found on islands.

    See? There is no separating the magisterias! ;-)

  15. Antonio Manetti
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    These debates between scientists and fundamentalists invariably make religious believers of all stripes look foolish.

    A debate between a scientist and a believer who fully embraces science would be a lot more interesting (although much less fun).

    Anyhow, as Augustine said:

    Usually, even a non-Christian[!] knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world…and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

    • Marella
      Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      And sixteen hundred years later the lesson still hasn’t been learned.

  16. Gunga Lagunga
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I would suggest to you that the world looks old because as Paul says in Romans chapter 8 it is groaning. [Earth to God: OY VEY!] And in its groaning it does look old. It gives us empirical evidence of the reality of sin.”

    This passage, and the “argument” it contains, could have been written by a sixth-grader. Look at the ridiculous, juvenile way in which Mohler attempts to insert “empirical evidence” into his religious gumbo, for instance. It’s quite obvious Mohler is studying–and has been affected by–New Atheist memes… but doesn’t Mohler’s Baptist faith continue to rise above the need for such evidence?

    Hmmm… (Mohler is thinking)… Why is Dawkins always talking about evidence? I gots to get me some of that evidence stuff, so I can be a big dog theist and has me some good arguments and be smart like Jew-ey Coyne. Here goes nothin’:

    Hypothesis: Sin makes the Earth look old.

    1) Earth groans;
    2) Old people groan;
    3) Earth is an old person.

    Conclusion: Sin is real.

    Yeah, that’s the ticket. Now where are my pork rinds…

    Oy vey, Mr. Mohler.

    • Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      Yes, isn’t it interesting how often religious apologists mistake word-play for logical thought. Mohler has done it here with

      “Why does it look so old? Well that, in terms of any more elaborate answer, is known only to the Ancient of Days. And that is where we are left.”

      What does “the Ancient of Days” even mean? I mean, I know it’s a name of God, but why is it?

      It reminds me of the theologican who answered some famous geologist’s argument with “I care about the Rock of Ages [another opaque figure of speech], not the age of rocks.”

      • JDE
        Posted July 9, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        It was William Jennings Bryan.

  17. Kirth Gersen
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    I’m kind of amused, despite myself, at Mohler’s slick sidestepping of the Loki Paradox: if God intentionally made the Earth look old (even going so far as to skew various radiometric decay rates to always agree on old dates), then God is by His nature a trickster — like Loki or Coyote — and not a father figure.

    By pinning the age discrepancy on original sin, Mohler avoids this and at the same time neatly underpins the need for a Savior (the central theme of Christianity) — a need which evaporates if Adam and Eve were not literal people who caused literal destruction with their “sin.” So he turns a whole potential unravel into a neatly self-reinforcing doctrine.

    And the only way to do that, as he himself points out, is to eschew all forms of accommodation, including “theistic evolution.”

    BioLogos, take note. Not even the people you’re defending want any part of your doctrine!

  18. Posted July 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Sin makes the earth look old, eh?

    Teens: Every time you masturbate, a radioactive particle decays.

    • Posted July 9, 2010 at 4:16 am | Permalink

      Luckily, there are a lot of particles in the universe. We’re going to need them.

  19. articulett
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    See, that’s the problem with religion… whose to say which “magic” is real? How can you accommodate some magic without letting in demons, Last Thursdayism, and whatever other explanation or rationalization any theist comes up with?

  20. CTC
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    I recently asked a Louisville-situated friend of mine about that particular “school” in relation to a novel I thought about working on, just to see if it was the whackjob mill I thought it’d be.

    His answer was yes, but I think that might need to be emended to “Hell yes”.

  21. Insightful Ape
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    The good thing is, there is no way to square this circle. The Southern Baptist Convention is about the largest denomination nationwide, after the Roman Catholics. There is absolutely no way that a Mohler can be dismissed as a nutjob unfamiliar with the works of church fathers like Augustine.
    Which of course raises the question of why biologos and Templeton are pouring millions into this ridiculous PR stunt. It’s bound to fail, and I can’t believe they don’t know it.

    • Tulse
      Posted July 9, 2010 at 12:14 am | Permalink

      Yes, the atheists have known that accommodationism is a patronizing lie told to the faithful, and it appears that the faithful are beginning to realize this as well.

  22. Marella
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    The whole goddam universe aged 13 billion years because some girl on Earth ate a bit of bad fruit? REALLY? Has this guy any idea at all of the size of the universe? And why did earth only age 4.5 billion years? The stupid, it burns …

    • Kevin
      Posted July 9, 2010 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      LastThursdayism is so last Thursday, isn’t it?

  23. efrique
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    So human sin made the distant galaxies move billions of light years away (presumably instantaneously upon biting into a piece of fruit – even though not having knowledge of good and evil, adam & eve couldn’t know what sin even *was*).

    Ayup. Makes perfect sense. Obviously I was wrong to ever doubt.

    Well, maybe Mohler’s crazy, but he’s at least not ignorant – he seems to understand where the problems are.

    • Doc Bill
      Posted July 9, 2010 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      My surgeon friend who’s motto is “Heal with steel” often says “I may be wrong but I’m never in doubt.”

  24. Todd
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Mohler is right about one thing: There is a “head-on collision” between science and scripture. However, the reason for the collision, to continue the metaphor, is that the “scripturalists” are driving in the dark with no headlights.
    The mental gymnastics performed by folks like Mohler are truly astounding. The obvious, simple, and rational answer to the “question” is, like so many here have already stated, that it IS old. That answer is the simplest, makes the most sense, and is supported by a variety of scientific data. However, even in the face of all of that, the scientific, rational answer is not acceptable to Mohler, et al., because it does not conform to scripture. So, we have a rational, reasonable, scientific explanation regarding the age of the universe, and a biblical explanation having exactly NO evidence to support it. Instead of accepting the rational answer, Mohler derives a convoluted “theological” explanation that fits within the biblical framework he wants to use. Not only that, but just a cursory look at the transcript of Mohler’s talk reveals that he attacks science for its “uniformitarian” assumptions. So, again, given the choice between following the evidence (i.e., “which assumes that the way we observe processes now is a constant guide to how physical processes always have operated. Thus a steady state of understanding physical processes is what we’re talking about as the secular scientific assumption”) and concocting an elaborate explanation that fits with a story completely lacking in evidence, Mohler not only chooses the explanation with no evidence to support it, but attempts to cast science in the role of fitting the facts into preconceived “assumptions.” What’s more, Mohler only glancingly mentions the possibility that the universe looks old because it actually is old, and never really addresses that possibility. Instead, he lays out a series of explanatory options, all of which fall under the Genesis rubric.
    To carry forward the metaphor again, this is like sitting in one’s car in the garage trying to figure out why God won’t make the engine start instead of just turning the key. So, it seems clear that the head-on collision is a result of millions of people who won’t even put their hands on the steering wheel.
    Insanity.

    • ritebrother
      Posted July 9, 2010 at 7:17 am | Permalink

      Good words, Todd.

  25. scott
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    Great work Jerry, looking forward to hearing this conversation. Thank you thank you thank you.

    Could make one small suggestion?

    Instead of calling Mohler a “prominent Baptist Minister” – you would aid your case, if you made it clear that he isn’t just “a baptist minister” (ie this isn’t Fred Phelps).

    He is:
    Ppresident of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary-the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

    Time referred to him as “the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S”

    He was chairman of their committee on doctrine and policy … he’s “in charge” of the faith so to speak.

    BioLogos will try to equate you and Mohler, as two forms of “fundamentalism” and misunderstanding religion – it seems to me that a logical response to this is that you indeed are just a professor with a blog and a book ie you are a prominent biologist), while he, is the official leader of a segment of the US church – which represents around 20,000,000 people and officially sets doctrine for them.

    He ain’t a prominent minister, he’s the closest thing they got to a Pope.

    My .02 … I’m sure you understand all this, and perhaps everyone at BioLogos knows who he is, but it seems good to refer to him as “the pope”.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted July 9, 2010 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      Excellent point. Mohler is not just a minister like any other. He is extremely influential, and he is mainstream. Tens of millions of baptists and evangelicals cannot be called “fringe”. That is the point I was trying to make in my comment above.
      The only way for biologos to get around this and portray him as a “fundamentalist” across the table from Dr Coyne is to misrepresent these facts.

    • JDE
      Posted July 9, 2010 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Time referred to him as “the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S”

      That speaks volumes right there.

  26. Posted July 9, 2010 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Why is it so many “accomodationists” mention the “day-age” thing, when even if they’re right, the Bible gets the *order* of formation of things wrong.

    • Posted July 9, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Speaking as someone who found the day-age explanation somewhat satisfying as a young naive teenager… If you have just enough science education to understand that the idea of a 6000-year-old Earth is completely out of the question, but you don’t really have any good concept of how the universe and Earth formed and in what order different forms of life developed, then the day-age thing makes perfect sense.

      Let me try another way… if you believe in science, but don’t really know any science, then you can adopt a faith/science reconciliation stance that is surface plausible even if its absurd in the details — because you don’t know the details, so how would you know it was implausible?

      • Todd
        Posted July 9, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        That is an interesting thought, although I would argue that it is more a fallacy of logic (or thought or intellect, etc.) than a matter of the details. The day-to-day functioning of our lives is governed by thought processes that are essentially scientific, but so many people abandon that when it comes to matters such as whether there is a god. For example, if we enter a room and flip the light switch but the light does not come on, we reflexively run through a series of hypotheses and then test them as a means of fixing the problem: Do other lights in the house work? Yes, so the problem is not, say, a blown transformer. Do other lights in the room work? Yes, so it’s not a tripped breaker. It must be a burned-out bulb. We can test that hypothesis by replacing the bulb. And so on and so on. I doubt that many of us, even the most devout, would simply sit in the dark and pray that the light be restored by the hand of god.
        That said, you are probably right; most people don’t know enough details, nor have they had any scientific training to speak of, but almost everyone has had at least some religious “training,” so it probably is easier to fill in the details with god than with science.

    • Todd
      Posted July 9, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      Excellent point, Keith. I would add that there are numerous other contradictions between the two Genesis accounts (as well as between the Genesis accounts and other books of the bible) beyond the discrepancies in sequence. Much hand-waving is performed by believers in order to explain away these contradictions, which is just one excellent supporting example of Dr. Coyne’s (brilliant) summation of religious belief: “Religion is not a way of knowing because it doesn’t have a way of knowing that it is wrong.”

      Just as an aside, as a scientist myself, I often think that “faith” is a poor descriptor for religious credulity. It seems to me that, despite its religious connotations, “faith” is more appropriate for what scientists do; we have faith that a given natural phenomenon will behave in a certain, predictable way because of the evidence supporting it. To use a mundane example, I have faith that if I drop a rock from a height it will fall to the ground (unless acted upon by some other force, etc.) because given the same (kinds) of circumstances, it has happened that way in every preceding instance. I don’t have to continue repeating that particular experiment in order to operate under the assumption that the rock will fall. What religious people do is “believe,” as it happens, without supporting evidence. Dropping a rock from a height and expecting it to “fall” up would be roughly equivalent to the religious view. Since in all observed cases rocks fall down, there is no reason to have “faith” that the rock would fall up, so to assume it would would require “belief.”
      I dunno. What do y’all think?
      Anyone? Bueller?

      • Peter N
        Posted July 9, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        I would say that “a belief” is “a mental state that holds a given proposition to be true”. Thus one can have “belief” in physics, and/or one can have “belief” in the Resurrection. “Belief” does not not necessarily mean “belief in a supernatural proposition”.

        My own word for the belief that a given action will result in a predictable outcome, based on prior experience and an understanding of the principles, is “trust”. I might have “trust” that my bank statement is accurate because I know it was generated by the bank’s computer and I have observed that computers function reliably. “Faith” is “belief held without evidence” — I might have “faith” that the child I gave up for adoption is grateful to me for giving her life, even though I can’t know that. [Both of these are hypotheticals, by the way.]

        I think religious people use the same definitions. The difference between them and me is their idea of evidence. As long as they’re comfortable with logical fallacies (argument from authority, argument from antiquity, tautology, argument from incredulity), they have loads of evidence on their side.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted July 10, 2010 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

        It seems to me that, despite its religious connotations, “faith” is more appropriate for what scientists do; we have faith that a given natural phenomenon will behave in a certain, predictable way because of the evidence supporting it.

        I used to believe that before I understood testing.

        But by testing simplest models, which are “uniformitarian” to nick a term from the above thread, we will come to accept them. Then we _expect_ them, on quantifiable grounds to behave so-and-so. No unquantifiable belief (“faith”) need to be invested in these predictive models.

        Testing is essential not only because we can in fact reject that which do not work, but because we can quantify expectations.

  27. Proud Kuffar
    Posted July 10, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    There is no god. Get a life!

  28. Dominic
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Who is the arbiter of what is sinful? The priest? The church establishment? If there were a god you’d have thought it might have been a bit more careful about getting its message across clearly, so everyone understood what was & was not permitted!

    Oh – but it does not exist…

    PS – Surely ‘the effects of sin’ rather than ‘affects’?


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Okay, here’s proof positive that the Jesus and Mo artist is reading this website: reads this website: This entry was written by whyevolutionistrue and posted on July 9, 2010 at [...]

  2. [...] Templeton Foundation through one of their Baptist tools, Al Mohler (Dr Al? Dr of what? Baptism?). Mohler and his Biologos enablers are full of shit. Biologos does the typical wishy washy namby pamby “teach the controversy” crap, which [...]

  3. [...] Response from atheist Jerry Coyne of “Why Evolution If True.”  He was also specifically mentioned in Mohler’s speech.  Like other New Atheists, Coyne is always happy to agree that faith and science aren’t compatible: [ go ] [...]

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