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Monday, January 10, 2011

Must a Christian hold to young-earth creationism? Albert Mohler vs. Karl Giberson

Some time in 2010, Albert Mohler, currently President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, made a speech, in which he claimed that the only valid position on origins is Young-Earth Creationism. The BioLogos Forum, which disagrees, was specifically mentioned in Mohler's speech. BioLogos has posted a transcript of Mohler's speech, which, apparently, they made from the video version. BioLogos has also posted a response to Mohler, by Karl Giberson, who was particularly mentioned in Mohler's speech.

I have not checked the transcript of Mohler's speech for accuracy. I am assuming that it is accurate, or at least accurate enough to make Giberson's response pertinent.

To summarize Mohler's speech, he claims that interpreting the earth as only a few thousand years old is the only view compatible with the way God meant us to interpret the Bible. That's a serious claim, if true, and deserves careful and prayerful study. Mohler, of course, is hardly the first person to make that claim.

Giberson's response to Mohler has been posted in an interesting way. He poses three questions for Mohler, and you can see these questions, either as they are, or expanded and extended. Just click one of the three questions. (As far as I know, Mohler has not answered Giberson.)

What are Giberson's three questions?

The second one refers to a side issue, but an issue of fact. Mohler misconstrues the life of Charles Darwin, claiming "We need to be reminded that Darwin did not embark upon the Beagle having no preconceptions of what exactly he was looking for or having no theory of how life emerged in all of its diversity, fecundity, and specialization. Darwin left on his expedition to prove the theory of evolution." The history of Darwin, which has been thoroughly studied, does not show this at all. Darwin didn't develop the theory of evolution by natural selection until after the voyage of the Beagle was over. Mohler demonstrates his ignorance, or bias, on the subject of Darwin.

But this is a side issue, not closely related, or perhaps not related at all, to the issue of the interpretation of the Bible's account of origins.

The first question is directly related to the matter of interpretation. Mohler has claimed that evidence from nature cannot "trump" evidence from what he calls the natural reading of the Bible: "We need to recognize that disaster ensues when the book of nature or general revelation is used in some way to trump scripture and special revelation."

In response, Giberson points out examples where most Christians do not take the "natural reading of the Bible as correct." These include apparent Biblical support for slavery, and apparent Biblical support for a sun that moves around the earth. Giberson also relates some history, showing that important Christian people who took the Bible very seriously in times past did not agree with Mohler. Pete Enns, also of the BioLogos Forum, has also answered Mohler on this point.

The third question is on Mohler's belief that the universe, and the earth, seem much older than they are: "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." Giberson agrees, up to a point, but by no means all the way. He writes: ". . . what about stars we observe exploding that are millions of light years away? If this argument is true those stars never existed. To arrange this feat, God would have had to create a burst of light around 10,000 light-years away that would look like an exploding star. This burst of light would just now be reaching us. What would be the point of this? God can, of course, do this but the burden of proof surely has to be borne by those making such peculiar claims."

I don't think Giberson states his argument clearly enough. Perhaps he should have said something like this: To create a universe with so many evidences, from astronomy, geology, genetics, and other fields, all agreeing that the universe and the earth are very old, when this is not true, would be possible for God. But it seems to make God into a deceiver, and also seems to violate what Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:20 say, namely that we can learn about God from studying nature. Mohler, on the other hand, claims that the apparent age of the earth does show the nature of God -- God hates sin.

There is more in these two sources than I have discussed here, including the question of Adam's historicity, and that of whether or not non-human organisms died before the Fall.

There are over 100 comments to Giberson's presentation. I confess that I haven't read them. No doubt they are interesting.

I have previously posted an analysis of the most common theories of origins, giving the strengths and weaknesses of each, and also, on this blog, a statement on the problems with Young-Earth Creationism.

Thanks for reading.

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