Time to Go to the Mattresses: Another Rant on the Creation Wars

In Mafia parlance, the phrase “go to the mattresses” means to prepare for all-out war between rival crime families.  Many of you have seen one or more of The Godfather movies, The Sopranos, or the many other movies or TV shows about the Mafia, so you are no doubt aware of this.  The origin of this expression is not known for certain, though it is believed to come from the medieval Italian practice of hanging mattresses around buildings to protect them from cannon shot.  It may also refer to the practice of moving families to safer apartments during wartime and having soldiers sleep on the floors for protection.

Well, people, it’s time to go to the mattresses.

Grab the women and children and shuttle them out to a safer part of the city, and hunker down for a good old-fashioned knock-down, drag-out war.

This ain’t gonna be pretty, people.

Biologos is an organization whose mission is to encourage positive engagement by Christians with scientific issues, specifically the issue of evolution.  In their own words, their mission is as follows:

The BioLogos Foundation is a group of Christians, many of whom are professional scientists, biblical scholars, philosophers, theologians, pastors, and educators, who are concerned about the long history of disharmony between the findings of science and large sectors of the Christian faith. We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. We also believe that evolution, properly understood, best describes God’s work of creation. Founded by Dr. Francis Collins, BioLogos addresses the escalating culture war between science and faith, promoting dialog and exploring the harmony between the two. We are committed to helping the church – and students, in particular – develop worldviews that embrace both of these complex belief structures, and that allow science and faith to co-exist peacefully.

This is a mission which I wholeheartedly support, by the way.  I have linked lots of material from the Biologos site over here, and will continue to do so in the future.  Whether you are a proponent of evolution, intelligent design, young-earth creationism, or some other theory on the origins of the universe, or are not committed to any particular viewpoint on the scientific specifics of how we got here, you can–and I would venture to say that you should–support the mission of Biologos.  What they are attempting to do is move beyond the culture war rhetoric of Christian fundamentalists who insist that the whole edifice of Christianity stands or falls on a literal six-day creation and atheistic fundamentalists who view science as the only credible way of looking at the universe and religion as the exclusive province of superstitious fools.

What they are attempting to do, in other words, is to proclaim that the main thing in our engagement with the culture as Christians is to keep the main thing the main thing.  Don’t get bogged down in the scientific specifics of any particular theory of origins, but recognize that what all Christians agree on is that God created us and the universe for His own glory, so that we might be in relationship with Him.  Hold whatever scientific and theological convictions you have on this issue loosely and with humility, recognizing that there are other believers who read the same Bible as you do, who are just as much a part of the kingdom of God through the redemptive work of Christ on the cross as you are, who nevertheless may hold differing viewpoints on these issues.

Apparently there are a few people running around out there who have big fat stinky problems with that.

Now we all know about Ken Ham, who has made a career of pumping evangelical students to shut down their biology professors with that rhetorical “Were you there?” (insert exaggerated Aussie accent) whenever the issue of evolution and “millions of years” (another famous Ham tagline) comes up in class discussion.  We know about that little “museum” thingy that he built up near Cincinnati a couple of years back.  And I’m guessing that by this point many of you have heard about Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron’s shenanigans on the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species last fall.

But what I bet you didn’t know is that now many of the most respected names in all of evangelical Protestant-dom are taking up the young-earth creationist cause.

Albert Mohler, an influential leader within the Southern Baptist Convention, spoke at the 2010 National Ligonier Conference last week.  In his speech he addressed the question “Why does the earth appear old?”  Tim Challies took copious notes, and summarized the basic thrust of Mohler’s talk as follows:

He said that there are really only two options for us to follow when we seek an answer: either the world is, indeed, old or the world looks old but is not as old as it appears. He began by reading Genesis 1 and, having done so, affirmed that a straightforward reading of the text tells us of 24-hour days, 6 real days of creation and one real day of rest. And, indeed, this was the overwhelming, untroubled consensus of the church until the 19th century.

Mohler then went on to make the case that to take any other view on the issue of creation is to impugn the integrity and authority of Scripture and, ultimately, to undermine the entire Christian faith.

John MacArthur, Jr., pastor of Grace Community Church in San Diego, CA, and a very well-respected name in Reformed circles and many other places in evangelical Protestant-dom, has weighed in on this issue as well.  In recent days he has had a lot to say about this over at the blog of his radio ministry, Grace To You.

Phil Johnson, the executive director of Grace To You, has had a lot to say about this over at his blog Pyromaniacs.  And much of what he has had to say about Biologos is just not pretty.  At the beginning of the week he dropped this doozy of a diatribe, in which he called Biologos a “Trojan Horse”.  Here are some choice morsels:

I know, of course, that old-earthers like to fudge on the questions of whether all creation (or Eden only) was a perfect paradise; whether the six days are a chronological account of creation or merely some kind of poetic framework; whether the flood was a global or regional deluge, and whatnot.

The problem is that BioLogos clearly does not take scripture seriously, despite the claims of their PR department.

BioLogos’s contributors consistently give preference to modern ideology over biblical revelation. Although the BioLogos PR machine relentlessly portrays the organization as equally committed to science and the Scriptures (and there’s a lot of talk about “bridge-building” and reconciliation), the drift of the organization is decidedly just one way. That should be obvious to anyone who ignores the organization’s own carefully-crafted PR and simply pays attention to what the BioLogos staff and contributors actually blog about.

So creation, the fall, the curse, and the flood all ultimately fall victim to BioLogos’s skeptical, rationalistic, modernistic approach to “harmonizing science and religion.” The original promise (in the words of BioLogos contributor Tim Keller)—”that biological evolution and biblical orthodoxy can be compatible”—turns out to be a lie. “Biblical orthodoxy” has no clear meaning in the BioLogos lexicon. In all candor, it seems as if sound doctrine is simply not matter of major concern for most BioLogos contributors.

If BioLogos is willing to throw away so much at the very foundations of our faith and at the very beginning of God’s revelation, I can’t imagine why they would want to keep up the pretense of being Christians at all.

“Roma locuta est, causa finita est” is a phrase frequently used among Catholic scholars and thinkers.  For those of you who are not all the way up to speed on your Latin, the translation is as follows:  “Rome has spoken, the matter is settled.”  No dialogue.  No room for dissenting opinions.  Just sit down and shut up and accept whatever comes out of Rome, even if it is flat out contrary to the teaching of Scripture or common sense.  This is a significant part of the reason why I am now Protestant.

Apparently “Roma locuta est, causa finita est” is very much alive and well here in evangelical Protestant-dom, if what we are now seeing in regards to the issue of biblical creation is any indication.  What need can there possibly be for dialogue or differing or dissenting points of view?  The Scriptures are perfectly clear to anyone who has sense enough to read.  It is simply impossible to hold an alternate point of view without doing irreparable violence to the integrity of Scripture.  So just sit down and shut your yap and believe what we tell you to believe.  If you don’t–well, you are not a Christian and you might as well not even keep up the pretense of calling yourself one.

Rome (for us that would be John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, or whoever your evangelical authority figure of choice happens to be) has spoken.  The matter is settled.

Never mind that for almost all of church history up to this point, this matter was most decidedly NOT settled.

Never mind that St. Augustine–who, I feel compelled to note, came along centuries before Darwin or evolution ever came on the scene–disagreed profoundly with the creationist view of things and took a decidedly non-literal approach to interpreting Genesis.

Never mind that St. Thomas Aquinas–who, I feel compelled to note, also came along centuries before Darwin or evolution ever came on the scene–also disagreed with the creationist view of things.  Question 74 of Summa Theologica, his treatise of systematic theology, deals precisely with his views on Genesis 1.

Both of these fly directly in the face of Mohler’s assertion that six literal 24-hour days of creation “was the overwhelming, untroubled consensus of the church until the 19th century.”

Wait…these guys are too Catholic, you say?  Well how about this one:  John Calvin–who also came along centuries before Darwin or evolution ever came on the scene–believed that Moses and the astronomers of his day were saying different things and that both should be considered right within the scope of their respective work.  John Calvin–a perfect postmodernist!!!  Who’da thunk it!?!  Note that Calvin came along centuries before postmodernism ever came on the scene.

Never mind that many other prominent theologians throughout church history, including many Reformed stalwarts, have thoughtfully embraced some variety or another of theistic evolution and/or accepted the scientific evidence pointing to an old earth, while at the same time remaining faithful to the historic creeds and confessions of the Christian faith.  Never mind that vast tracts of Christendom–including the Catholic Church, I feel compelled to note–are able to live with the apparent tension between Genesis 1 and the scientific evidence pointing to evolution and an old earth.  For them, this is simply a non-issue.

And never mind that, out of all of Christendom–and out of all the entire world, for that matter–there are very few (if any) places outside of the backwaters of politically-charged conservative American evangelicalism where the issue of evolution versus creation has any traction whatsoever.

It doesn’t matter.  We all know that real Christianity–you know, the kind that God honors–perished from the face of the earth with the passing of the last Apostles and has only been restored within the last century.  We all know that present-day American evangelical Protestant-dom is the end-all, be-all of what God is doing in the world.  We all know that everybody else in the history of Christianity had it wrong until we came along and set them straight.  We have spoken, and now the matter is settled.

Come on, people.

Now I don’t want to drag you down into the specifics of science or theology which underlie the issue of Biblical creation.  I would be willing to guess that a lot of you just don’t want to go there.  And a lot of the people in our communities just don’t want to go there either.  So when well-known evangelical leaders grab the mike and force us to go there, you can imagine that it presents HUGE barriers to many people in coming to Christ.

For many people, it is enough that intelligent, thoughtful believers are wrestling with this issue, that scientifically-minded believers with diverse viewpoints are able to dialogue with humility and civility.  It is enough that there are places like Biologos where such dialogue is able to happen, where believers of differing viewpoints can engage in dialogue without having to go to the mattresses and ship all the women and children out to a safer part of the city to dodge all the flying vitriol, anathemas, and other such things.

But there are people running around out there who do not want this to happen.  They want to shut down the dialogue and turn the whole world into a war zone where it is impossible to walk the streets without getting hit by a stray bullet or flying anathema.  They want to grab us by the scruff of the neck and force us to go there, to insist that the whole edifice of Christianity, and perhaps all of Western civilization as well, rests upon the question of how much time elapsed over the course of a few verses early on in Genesis.  They want to say, “We have spoken, the matter is settled.  So sit down, shut your yap, and believe our answer.  If you don’t, you are not even a Christian.”

Protestant Christianity is NOT the party of “We have spoken, the matter is settled”.  So when our leaders attempt this line, we must not stand for it.  It doesn’t matter how influential or well-respected they are.  It doesn’t matter if they are John MacArthur or Albert Mohler or whoever else they might be.  We must stand up and shout “NO!!!!!  YOU DO NOT SPEAK FOR US!!!!!”

It’s time to go to the mattresses, people.

Who’s in?

Those of you who made it this far, thanks for hanging with me all the way to the end.  As a bonus, here are other diatribes that I have written on the creation wars:

An Update and a Rant on the Waltke Situation:  My response to the events surrounding Bruce Waltke’s resignation from RTS.

Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort Lay the Smackdown on Charles Darwin!!!!! My response to Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron’s shenanigans last fall.

Ken Ham: I Got a Fever, and The Only Prescription Is MORE CREATIONISM!!!!!!! A speech given by Ham to ministry supporters at that little museum thingy up in Cincinnati, as seen on Youtube, along with some critical commentary from yours truly.

Here is some additional commentary from elsewhere in the blogosphere:

Back to the Trenches! Chaplain Mike at internetmonk.com offers his take on the recent developments in the creation wars.

Another Look:  My View of Genesis 1:  Chaplain Mike’s interpretation of Genesis 1.  Heads up:  He looks at things a little differently.  This one will not win him many plus points with Mohler, MacArthur, et al.

The Land of Blessing:  Chaplain Mike further expounds on his view of Genesis 1, specifically the idea that it largely describes God’s creation of the Promised Land in which Israel would ultimately dwell.

Answers Not in Genesis:  Michael Spencer’s take on the creation wars.

To Be Or Not To Be:  Why Michael Spencer is not a young-earth creationist.


2 thoughts on “Time to Go to the Mattresses: Another Rant on the Creation Wars

  1. How is it possible to take Genesis 1 literally? First of all, there are two conflicting stories of creation. Second of all, the sun was not created until the fourth “day”. What does that even mean? What is a day without a sun?

    There’s a long tradition of wresting with this kind of thing in the religion I grew up in, Judaism. And needless to say there are fundamentalists aplenty there as well. However it is, and has been for millennia, completely unacceptable in Judaism to say that all of the Bible (including genesis) is to be taken literally. It just doesn’t make sense that way, even if there was no conflict with modern science, there are internal contradictions that make it necessary to take a more metaphorical approach.

  2. First, in the interest of full disclosure I’m Reformed. Second, I don’t think the evangelical fundamentalists flirting with the idea that YEC is tantamount to salvation (which if you follow the logical progression of their own rhetoric is almost inescapable) is either helpful or biblical. Tim Keller made a comment recently that blogs that continually seek controversy for the sake of staying relevant and driving traffic to their site are on shaky and dangerous ground. Not surprisingly we see the same culture warriors taking upon themselves to speak for many (most?) who don’t necessarily agree.

    That said Biologos is engaging in some pretty weird, unsettling dialogue and is “pushing the envelope” when it comes to even their own mission statement. Their treatment and respect for Scripture is dubious at best.

    For the most part, I think it would be wise for Christians to stay on the sidelines while the bickering ensues..and hopefully dies down.



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