Al Mohler: Bait and Switch Anti-Intellectualism
This quote from Al Mohler has been making the rounds on the internet:
As I have stated repeatedly, I accept without hesitation the fact that the world indeed looks old. Armed with naturalistic assumptions, I would almost assuredly come to the same conclusions as BioLogos and the evolutionary establishment, or I would at least find evolutionary arguments credible. But the most basic issue is, and has always been, that of worldview and basic presuppositions. The entire intellectual enterprise of evolution is based on naturalistic assumptions, and I do not share those presuppositions. Indeed, the entire enterprise of Christianity is based on supernaturalistic, rather than merely naturalistic, assumptions. There is absolutely no reason that a Christian theologian should accept the uniformitarian assumptions of evolution. In fact, given a plain reading of Scripture, there is every reason that Christians should reject a uniformitarian presupposition. The Bible itself offers a very different understanding of natural phenomena, with explanations that should be compelling to believers. In sum, there is every reason for Christians to view the appearance of the cosmos as graphic evidence of the ravages of sin and the catastrophic nature of God’s judgment upon sin.
There are several problems with Al’s statement, but let me point out a couple quickly that jump out to me.
The dichotomy of “natural presuppositions” vs “supernaturalistic presuppositions” does not occur in the vacuum of a creation vs evolution debate (though Al really, really wishes it were so because it would make his argument ‘valid’; however…). The reason scientists have “natural presuppositions” is because we are surrounded, everywhere, all of the time, with the results of “natural presuppositions.” Now here is the important part:
The results of these “natural presuppositions” are the results of methodological naturalism
In simple terms this is what that means: When Al Mohler gives a lecture he does not suppose that he talks into a mic, then a miracle occurs, and louder sound suddenly comes from the speakers. He does not get on a plane and pray for angels to carry it, and then a miracle occurs, and he finds himself in another city (ditto for his car). I’m sure if a family member was gravely ill he would go to the hospital, etc. He fully operates in a world built on methodological naturalism and fully trusts it.
We are surrounded by endless mountains of the advancements of methodological naturalism and the scientific process. These ‘presuppositions’ simply seek natural explanations for how our world works in a way that is testable, repeatable, verifiable, which have explanatory power, and gives us good and adequate knowledge to understand and operate in our world. We test and probe and try and re-test, and ultimately this has lead to great advancements in the human condition. We understand the role of germs in diseases and how to combat those. We get that the world is not flat and that the earth goes around the sun rather than the opposite (Sorry Qoholet!).
But this is the sneaky and deceiving rhetoric of the Mohler bait and switch: he is not talking about methodological naturalism but philosophical naturalism.
And he wants to present it in a way that people will think they are the same thing. But the obvious problem? They’re not. This is also rhetorically enforced by the idea that the word theory in science really means hunch. So evolutionists and scientists have a ‘hunch’ built on ‘philosophical natural assumptions’ that is really a ‘worldview’, a philosophy, not built on any sort of methodological scientific process, and that ‘philosophical presupposition’ is what evolution really is. There are no facts, there is no science, just an anti-God and anti-Bible philosophy.
But that’s not true, and I think instinctively, if not obviously, Mohler knows this, that’s why he has to truck out the uniformitarian argument which basically states that just because the world looks old, we can ignore any scientific process, tests, or facts for a ‘plain’ (tendentious) reading of Scripture. That’s right, regardless of any methodological evidence or process Mohler is suggesting that a ‘thinking’ person can ignore those as a presupposition. Mohler could of just as easily stated his case, “Facts? Facts? We don’t need no stinkin’ facts! We have a plain reading of Scripture! Facts? Ha!”
Mohler fundamentally misrepresents the issue because, well, a) he commits logical fallacies in his argument, but b) as I pointed out the above presuppositions do not occur in an “origins vacuum,” and philosophical and methodological naturalism are very, very different things.
As opposed to Al “I am not a scientist, and I don’t understand it, so I’ll make this a hypothetical philosophical debate” Mohler and his old arguments in big words that misrepresent the issue, I thought the words of an actual scientist might also be a good corrective. What’s more, this scientist is a creationist, but Todd C. Wood is a trained scientist. And as such, he recognizes that the scientific (that is: methodological) basis of evolution is strong:
Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.