Creationism Controversy Enters a New Phase?

We have always advised that scientists shouldn’t debate creationists. There really is no scientific debate over the validity of the theory of evolution, Noah’s Flood, the age of the earth, etc. But creationists are forever demanding debates, and assert that scientists’ refusal to oblige them is because of fear. That, of course, is nonsense.

Briefly, our reasons for declining to engage with creationists are: (1) some creationists use dishonorable debate tactics; (2) it’s strategically wrong to participate in such debates because it misleads the public into thinking that there’s some scientific issue worth debating and that creationists are worthy debate opponents; (3) press coverage of such events is often ridiculous because journalists rarely understand what’s going on; and (4) such debates are every bit as absurd as astronomers debating astrologers, astronauts debating moon-landing deniers, and physicians debating witch doctors. Also, (5) creationists’ evolution-denial is entirely religious (shameful claims to the contrary notwithstanding), and science isn’t equipped to deal with theological issues.

Because of the religious nature of creationism, we think it’s appropriate for those denominations that accept science to debate doctrinal issues with their science-denying co-religionists. That’s where the Controversy properly belongs, but such debates almost never occur.

Creationists usually try to operate with a “big tent” strategy, suppressing their differences as they work together (more or less) to defeat evolution and the methodology of the rest of science. As long as they remain focused on their common enemy they can cooperate, or at least support the same legislation. But what was always a shaky coalition is showing signs of some serious fractures.

We’ve been pleased to see a recent outbreak of debates — or at least disagreements — among the various flavors of creationism, and also among religious groups who are pro- and anti-science. We think this is a new development. Some of our previous posts about those squabbles, oldest first, are:

Food Fight with Harun Yahya (Discovery Institute against Islamist Creationists); and Discovery Institute Attacked by ICR (the Institute for Creation Research opposes both theistic evolutionists and Discoveroids’ allegedly non-biblical approach); and Battling Baptists: Young or Old Earth? (a nasty debate about the age of the earth among Southern Baptist scholars); and A House Divided Against Itself (Ken Ham, a young-earther, against old-earth creationists); and Discovery Institute and BioLogos (Discoveroids against theistic evolution — a strangely bitter feud); and Answers in Genesis: Insincere Reality Denial? (Ken Ham against still more old-earth creationists).

Today we have another such dispute to report. At the website Christian Post there’s an article by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, about whom we’ve written before. The first time was when he wrote that evolution and Christianity are not compatible. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be remarkable, but Mohler was disputing something said by a member of BioLogos — a theistic, pro-evolution group of scientists. Thus it was a dispute within the faith about evolution — a newsworthy development.

The Discoveroids stuck their nose into that one (Klinghoffer Butts In), which was odd because they claim to be a secular outfit, and thus (if they stayed on message) it really wasn’t their fight. For unfathomable reasons, the Discoveroids sided with Mohler.

The last time we wrote about Mohler was here: Albert Mohler and the Age of the Universe. His article appeared at the ICR website, and he took the position that the universe is young, as scripture reveals. It was an appropriate article for ICR to publish.

Now we turn to Mohler’s new article in the Christian Post. It’s titled No Pass from Theological Responsibility – The BioLogos Conundrum. As you can see from the title, Mohler is taking aim at the BioLogos theistic evolutionists. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

The BioLogos movement is a straight-forward attempt to persuade evangelical Christians to embrace some form of evolutionary theory. Organized by a group that includes Dr. Francis Collins, now the Director of the National Institutes of Health, the movement seeks to marginalize objections to evolution among conservative Christians.

So here we have Mohler, a young-earth creationist, arguing with his fellow theists over evolution. But this isn’t a squabble among creationists, so why are we interested? Look — there are thousands of events where “preacher says science is bunk,” or where “scientist says preacher is a goof,” and that stuff has been going on for centuries. That dispute is unresolvable and it’s getting childish.

BioLogos is different. They’re already embroiled in debates with the Discoveroids and ICR (and Ken Ham will probably get around to blasting them one of these days). We think their dispute with Mohler is interesting because it’s one of those rare occasions when a spokesman for a science-denying denomination is arguing with a group of science-accepting theists. Let’s see how it goes. Mohler says:

The BioLogos approach to the issue is now clear. They want to discredit evangelical objections to evolution and to convince the evangelical public that an acceptance of evolution is a means of furthering the gospel. They have leveled their guns at the Intelligent Design movement, at young earth creationism, and against virtually all resistance to the embrace of evolution.

That makes BioLogos an extremely important player in The Controversy between evolution and creationism. The pro-science denominations (see the National Center for Science Education’s list of Statements from Religious Organizations supporting evolution) almost never publicly argue with their less informed brethren. Only BioLogos is taking a stand. Let’s read on:

They claim that the embrace of evolution is necessary if evangelicalism is not to be intellectually marginalized in the larger culture. They have warned that a refusal to embrace evolution will doom evangelicalism to the status of an intellectual cult.

They’re correct. That will happen — eventually. But these things take time. We continue:

Furthermore, they have been breathtakingly honest about the theological implications of their arguments. Writers for BioLogos have repeatedly made the case that we must relinquish the inerrancy of the Bible and accept that the biblical writers worked from a defective understanding of the world and its origins. … They have been bold and honest in rejecting the biblical account of the Fall as historical. They have warned that an affirmation of biblical inerrancy has led evangelicalism into an “intellectual cul-de-sac.”

[…]

They are motivated, they insist, by a concern that a rejection of evolution puts Christians in a position of intellectual embarrassment. The rejection of evolution places Christians outside the intellectual pale, they assert, leading to the discrediting of the gospel. They believe that intellectuals, especially scientists, will not respect an evangelistic witness to the gospel from one who is intellectually discredited by rejecting evolution.

Fascinating, isn’t it? This is the evolution-creationism debate, but it’s being played out within the faith community — which we’ve always thought was the appropriate setting for such debates. After stating the BioLogos position, Mohler then gives his counter-arguments. Click over there to read it all.

It’s possible that your Curmudgeon is alone in his opinion that this dispute is important. Nevertheless, we think it’s big — very big. This is where the debate belongs — it’s where it has always belonged for the past 100 years. Perhaps some of the pro-science denominations will join in on the side of BioLogos. We think they should.

The science issues are fairly well settled, so the debate about evolution now is entirely a question of theology. Scientists with no stake in Mohler’s dispute should stay out of it. This isn’t their fight. The religious community will work it out. Eventually.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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22 responses to “Creationism Controversy Enters a New Phase?

  1. Interesting that Hamm and Mohler are both striking out against the more liberal / intellectual members of their religion at the same time. You may be right – my guess is that when these sorts of messages are posted publicly where other members of the faith can read them, there must have been quite a bit of behind-the-scenes activity already, leading to the frustration shown by Hamm and Mohler.

    Darwin’s great book may be the original wedge document.

  2. Gabriel Hanna

    This is why I wish the atheister-than-thou crowd–we all know who I’m talking about–wouldn’t be so nasty about BioLogos all the time. To me science is far more important than whether people are religious or not. There are only two groups of people saying that accepting science necessarily destroys religious faith–the fundamentalist, and their atheist counterparts. BioLogos presents science to religious people in a way that doesn’t make them not want to listen.

  3. Maine Operative

    Interestingly, just before I read SC’s latest post, I ran across an article by Peter Marmorek one on the blog Tikkun Daily (sponsored by the progressive Jewish Tikkun Magazine) <a href="http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2010/11/09/on-evolution-vaccination-and-global-warming-the-cost-of-magical-thinking/&quot; http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2010/11/09/on-evolution-vaccination-and-global-warming-the-cost-of-magical-thinking/.
    Marmorek states, “[A]s I have opened to ideas in the world outside science, I am horrified at how of increasing numbers of people are moving the opposite way, abandoning science, logic, rationality and embracing magical thinking.” The article is certainly takes a pro-science stance through a spiritual lens.

  4. Gabriel Hanna says:

    This is why I wish the atheister-than-thou crowd–we all know who I’m talking about–wouldn’t be so nasty about BioLogos all the time. To me science is far more important than whether people are religious or not.

    That’s how I see it. They’re scientists, so everyone on the science side should applaud them. They seem to be the only theists willing to argue with creationists in their own frame of reference.

  5. I’ve been thinking for a while, and I think I’ve made a couple of comments here, is that that instead of arguing the science, which is basically like head butting a brick wall (only more painful), it’s better to argue that creationism is actually bad Theology. This is why BioLogos and other agents like them are probably more important to this fight, and more useful than a dozen Dawkins.

    Gabriel Hanna is right there too, there’s too many d’bag aethists out there being smug tools about it (I’m an aethist too BTW, but try *REALLY* hard not to be a tool about it).

  6. There’s another feud or two that you’ve missed.

    The lesser of these is theistic evolutionist Steve Matheson. He’s been fairly blunt. He wrote an open letter to Stephen Meyer, where Matheson tells Meyer, “I just don’t see how the Discovery Institute can be saved; from here it looks to be wholly corrupt.”

    The greater of these is another BioLogos/DI feud, concerning a breakout session scheduled for The Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science two weekends ago. This time, BioLogos president Darrel Falk bowed out at the last minute, because the DI advertised that session in confrontational terms, rather than emphasizing “the Spirit of Christian unity” for which Falk had hoped.

  7. Gabriel Hanna

    I’m an aethist too BTW, but try *REALLY* hard not to be a tool about it.

    I don’t get worked up by the thought of people who believe in fairies and elves, so I don’t know why I’d get worked up about people who believe in Bronze Age bull gods.

    I care far more about science; the threat to science these days comes from the Left as well as the Right. (Go see the comments in P Z Myers’ recent post on GMO foods, and you’ll see what I mean.)

  8. Atheist tool here. Would any of you tip toe around Odin worshippers, or Crystal/Pyramid Power nuts, like you are asking the d’bag atheists to do around beliefs equally as silly, or would you ridicule them for their outrageous beliefs?

    By the way, Richard, you can stick your d’bag where it belongs.

  9. Calm down, Tundra Boy. This stuff ain’t personal.

  10. Gabriel Hanna

    Would any of you tip toe around Odin worshippers,

    Yes

    Crystal/Pyramid Power nuts

    no, because they make empirical claims, deomstrably false, and charge money.

    or would you ridicule them for their outrageous beliefs?

    Not if I were trying to convince them to agree with me on something.

    Do you want to persaude people to your point of view, or bludgeon them with your sense of your superiority to them?

    You prove my point-some people think science is important, and other people think of it as valuable only in that it serves the cause of their hobby-horse.

  11. I think the main point is that even with “Darwinism” these guys would be at each other’s throats just like they have been for thousands of years. It’s all about power, dogma and authority.

    Science removes all that. Sure, knowledge is power, but through science anybody, even my cat, can discover and harness the wonders of the universe. You don’t need special revelation, seers, spooks, demons or ghosts; holy or otherwise.

    Like Toto pulling the curtain from around the Wizard, science shows that the mystical is ordinary, understandable and not to be feared. This doesn’t sit well with the religious leaders from the Pope all the way down to Mohler who require unquestioned obedience to maintain their power.

    Bishop John Spong would do away with the lot of them, but, of course, good old Spong is considered a heretic!

  12. Doc, I want to meet your cat!

    The problem with focusing on just the science is that fundamentalists religious types simply won’t believe anything which they view as contrary to their faith, especially science. No amount of scientific argument will penetrate that barrier, for most of them. However, BioLogos attacks the religious rational behind that denial, which is probably much more effective. Particularly since BioLogos has the credibility of being religious themselves.

  13. “no, because they make empirical claims, deomstrably false, and charge money.”

    As does modern religion. I’m not sure what charging money has to do with it, the belief isn’t based on the exchange of money, and charging or paying doesn’t change the irrationality.

    “Not if I were trying to convince them to agree with me on something.”

    Do you really think you can convince someone so invested in their belief they ignore the painfully obvious cognitive dissonance by talking to them nicely? You can’t convince them of anything, all you can do is show others not so entrenched how irrational the belief is.

    “You prove my point-some people think science is important, and other people think of it as valuable only in that it serves the cause of their hobby-horse.”

    Apparently, your use of it it is unable to prevent you from jumping to silly conclusions.

  14. Curmudgeon: “It’s possible that your Curmudgeon is alone in his opinion that this dispute is important. Nevertheless, we think it’s big — very big. ”

    Whenever committed anti-evolution activists whine about a theistic group instead of pretending that all “Darwinists” are atheists (and dragging outr Dawkins at every opportunity) it’s newsworthy. But BioLogos is still on the science “side” of the science-pseudoscience “debate.” So I consider it much more newsworthy when those strictly on the pseudoscience side “challenge” each other on “what happened when” issues. Usually it’s some YEC group whining about the DI’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and the DI either ignoring it or countering with a pathetic plead for them to join the big tent. So I can understand how most fellow “Darwinists” give it a big yawn. Yet it’s the most important thing that we can tell the public, which is mostly unaware of the hopeless disagreements among evolution-deniers regarding “what happened instead (& when).” Every time we miss an opportunity to correct that crucial misconception, and allow the activists to keep the terms of the debate on “weaknesses” of “Darwinism,” we score another goal for them.

    To paraphrase what Ken Miller wrote in “Only a Theory,” anti-evolution activists have succeeded in uniting themselves and dividing their critics. Isn’t it long overdue that we stop helping them?

  15. my reading of Moley Moley Moleys stuf is that if you aren’t a buckle hatter literalist then you arent a “Christian”.

    ah… the sweet warm fires of schisms……they remind me of a pack of starving wild dogs tering each other apart….

    Lets sit by and fan the flames.

  16. Hey Mr C you should really run a blog entry on the open letter from above…its dynamite stuff:

    “Your Discovery Institute is a horrific mistake, an epic intellectual tragedy that is degrading the minds of those who consume its products and bringing dishonor to you and to the church. It is for good reason that Casey Luskin is held in such extreme contempt by your movement’s critics, and there’s something truly sick about the pattern of attacks that your operatives launched in the weeks after the Biola event. It’s clear that you have a cadre of attack dogs that do this work for you, and some of them seem unconstrained by standards of integrity. I can’t state this strongly enough: the Discovery Institute is a dangerous cancer on the Christian intellect, both because of its unyielding commitment to dishonesty and because of its creepy mission to undermine science itself. I’d like to see you do better, but I have no such hope for your institute. It needs to be destroyed, and I will do what I can to bring that about.”

    Mwah ha ha ha ha

  17. Sandman: “my reading of Moley Moley Moleys stuf is that if you aren’t a buckle hatter literalist then you arent a ‘Christian’.”

    Ironically if he makes any concessions to heliocentrism or a spherical Earth (& I’m betting he does), he too can be accused of being an “accomodationist” by the “real” Biblical literalists.

    Getting back to the title of this thread, if this “debate” is really going to “enter a new phase,” it’s up to us to assure it, by forcing the evolution-deniers to publicly confront their irreconcilable differences, and not keep taking their bait by keeping the “debate” focused on “weaknesses” of “Darwinism.” The latter only gives them more quotes to mine, while keeping the safe and huddled under that big tent.

  18. rubble says:

    [Theistic evolutionist Steve Matheson] wrote an open letter to Stephen Meyer, where Matheson tells Meyer, “I just don’t see how the Discovery Institute can be saved; from here it looks to be wholly corrupt.”

    That is indeed good. Thanks for the link. And thanks to Sandman for reminding me to look at it.

  19. I think the main point is that even with “Darwinism” these guys would be at each other’s throats just like they have been for thousands of years.

    Yes; over at PT Richard Hoppe is fond of saying that if the ‘big tent’ won, it wouldn’t be more than a few minutes before the blood started flowing in the pews.

    b_sharp: Do you really think you can convince someone so invested in their belief they ignore the painfully obvious cognitive dissonance by talking to them nicely?

    Its unlikely you can reason someone out of fundamentalism. You have to appeal to their emotions (including talking nicely). That can be done; lots of ex-fundamentalists exist. In fact the more strident atheists are extremely fond of pointing out the large de-conversion rate, so its really silly when someone like you tries to claim nothing can change fundie minds. Obviously if they are losing numbers and the number of agnostics/atheists are growing, something can.

    I think, however, that we can safely say that they AND observers will respond to ridcule about as well as you or I will. If Richard’s calling your faction “d’bag atheists” isn’t very convincing to me, an observer, or if someone calling me a d’bag would not be convincing to you, then the natural conclusion is: your attempt to ridicule fundamentalists in order to somehow convince bystanders of your position will not work either.

  20. @bsharpDo you really think you can convince someone so invested in their belief they ignore the painfully obvious cognitive dissonance by talking to them nicely?

    It may not be likely, but it is much more likely to convince than feces-flinging. And online at any rate you are not only arguing with one person, you are arguing before an audience of people you may not even know is there. The fundamentalist you are arguing with may well never come around, but you can show his arguments are bankrupt. If all you do is ridicule and call names, then you look like, and are, an intolerant jerk and people are less willing to give your substantive arguments a hearing; in addition you fulfill a stereotype that fundamentalists push, that atheists are intolerant and unwilling to engage in anything but name-calling because of their sense of superiority.

    I’m sure that if people were creatures of pure reason then they wouldn’t let like things like that effect them, but if they were we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  21. eric: “Yes; over at PT Richard Hoppe is fond of saying that if the ‘big tent’ won, it wouldn’t be more than a few minutes before the blood started flowing in the pews.”

    From my POV, specifically that ~75% of adult Americans either doubt evolution or think it’s fair to teach anti-evolution propaganda in science class, they already won. And by not emphasizing their hopeless internal disagreements, we are preventing that (figurative) bloodshed.

    I don’t think we can change that overnight of course, or even in a generation, but I think we can eventually reverse their “win” and and force them to fight each other more often. One thing I am fairly sure of, is that taking their bait – keeping the ‘debate” about “Darwinism” and complaining about their religion – only drives more fence-sitters into their camp.

  22. My 2c on how to talk to evolution-deniers about the “debate”:

    If they are among the ~1/4 of the public that is beyond hope, you don’t. You just give them the same “God loves you anyway” smile that some of them give you, because nothing you say will make them admit their errors.

    If they are among the tiny % of committed anti-evolution activists, ask lots of questions about their “theory,” and about anti-evolution “theories” that contradict theirs, but only if there are members of the next group present, otherwise it’s back to the silent smile.

    If they are among the ~1/4 of the public that has some hope, calmly correct their misunderstandings of evolution, and in the least threatening way, show how the alternative they have in mind, if any, simply does not hold up to the evidence, and contradicts other “theories” that are also claimed to be “the” alternative to evolution.

    If that doesn’t work, nothing will.