Al Mohler: Seller of defective maps

Al Mohler: Seller of defective maps November 19, 2010

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes that the Bible is a book of lies.

The test of a Christian, Mohler argues, is if they remain loyal to those lies — choosing them rather than the truth no matter how clear and irrefutable that truth may be, no matter how hard reality beats us over the head with its undeniable actuality.

That's madness — the very definition of madness, but it is what Al Mohler insists it means to be a real, true Christian.

Don't take my word for it, read what Mohler says himself and see if there is any other possible way to interpret his argument. Read this — "No Pass from Theological Responsibility: The BioLogos Conundrum" — and marvel at his absolute insistence that what he believes are the lies of the Bible must be embraced as lies. The Bible is falsifiable and has been proven false, he says. And anyone who says otherwise isn't a real Christian, he says, just a vainglorious intellectual poser.

Mohler is upset with the devout Christians in the sciences who have joined together in the BioLogos Forum. These Christian scholars claim to believe in both the Bible and in science, and they insist that belief in both can be reconciled.

Al Mohler disagrees. Science and the Bible, Mohler insists, contradict one another. He insists on even more than that. Science, he argues, disproves the Bible — or, more specifically, it disproves Al Mohler's preferred interpretation of the Bible. Faced with the choice between proven scientific fact and the hermeneutic opinions of Al Mohler, he argues, Christians have no choice but to reject science and cling, instead, to what he says the Bible says.

What Mohler characterizes as "theological responsibility," in other words, is really just an epistemological claim first articulated by the great American philosopher Groucho Marx: "Who are you going to believe? Me? Or your lying eyes?"

Mohler's quarrel with BioLogos is not that they have chosen science over the Bible, but that they have chosen to read the Bible in a way that does not recognize Al Mohler as its sole authoritative interpreter — a choice that he finds intolerable. Disparaging the scriptures does not offend him — he disparages them himself by insisting that the Bible is a falsifiable text that has been falsified by science. What offends him is the affront to his own authority as the arbiter of what he insists must be accepted as the only possible, inerrant approach to reading the text.

This choice to regard the Bible as reconcilable with reality as revealed by the world around us (i.e., science) constitutes a rejection of the Mohler Method — a threat to his personal authority and livelihood. So he fights back by asserting that anyone who makes such a choice must be motivated by moral defect. The scientists of BioLogos, Mohler says, can only be disagreeing with him out of fear of "intellectual embarrassment." And then, having attributed to them this sin of prideful intellectual vanity, he pridefully chastises them for it.

Let us attempt a charitable explanation for Mohler's accusation of intellectual vanity as the only possible motive for his detractors. Is it possible that he is sincere? I find that extremely unlikely. I cannot believe that this is the only possibility Mohler can imagine, even though he claims it is the only possibility he will allow.

Surely it must have occurred to him that it is possible some others might prefer reality to unreality, might prefer truth to falsehood, for reasons other than intellectual vanity and a fear of "embarrassment." Surely he is not so far gone as to be incapable of understanding that others might prefer the truth because it is true. Surely he can see that others might — out of devotion to the very same Bible he claims to defend — disagree in good faith with his insistence that it is a text both falsifiable and falsified. Surely he can understand that his fundamental assertion that the Bible must be read as a book of lies might strike other Christians as a blasphemous affront to the Word of God.

And if any of that has occurred to him, even peripherally, then his pretense that such possibilities are not possible and that intellectual vanity is the only possible explanation cannot be believed. His attacks and accusations against the Christians of BioLogos cannot be regarded as sincere, only as a nasty piece of work.

And yes, I think Al Mohler is himself a nasty piece of work. But I do admire his commitment. Well, admire isn't quite the right word — let's say I'm impressed by it.

Consider what it took for Mohler to launch this latest screed against science and against those who do not share his belief that it is intrinsically irreconcilable with Christian faith. He typed it on a keyboard. A plastic keyboard.

"Reject evolution" he typed. Sixteen keystrokes, 16 tangible encounters with the petroleum byproducts beneath his fingers. A physical encounter with 12 plastic keys, with 12 solid reminders of the reality of the very thing he is rejecting and denying. Those keys were made from petroleum that was sought and found by scientists who understood the truth of the natural world — of reality as it undeniably is. Those scientists studied how petroleum was formed over geologic time and they applied that science to identify where such formations were likeliest to occur. And there they were. It worked. It worked because it is true.

T-r-u-e. Click click click click — four little plastic reminders that the world is far, far older than the hermeneutic theories Al Mohler imposes on the Bible can accept.

He is confronted with such reminders at every keystroke, yet he types on, attacking BioLogos for "leveling their guns … at young earth creationism." And here, perhaps, he pauses to re-read what he has written, glancing at the LCD monitor of his computer, his face lit by a glow made possible only by rare earth elements formed aeons ago in the death throes of ancient stars, long before our solar system was born more than 4 billion years ago. And in the glow of that light he re-reads his defense of "young earth creationism" and, pleased with what he has written, he forges on.

That's commitment. I can't admire such commitment, but I am impressed by it.

Such intense commitment in the face of constant refutation might be admirable if it were the genuine dedication of a theologian, however misguided, but what we're seeing here is something else — the determination of a salesman. Al Mohler is selling something. He's selling maps. He sells a lot of maps — makes a very nice living off of the business.

But his maps are defective. They're unreliable. They do not correspond to the terrain. A map that does not correspond to the terrain as it actually is does not help travelers get where they need to go. It gets them lost or stuck instead.

Mohler freely admits that the maps he is selling cannot be reconciled with the actual terrain. That's the whole point of the essay linked above. The map and the terrain contradict each other, he argues, but it is the Christian's duty to remain loyal to the map regardless.

Mohler likes to pretend that the map in this case is the Bible and that the terrain is the natural world as revealed through science. He likes to pretend that what he's arguing is for Christians to pledge allegiance to the Bible even when what science tells us about the world defies what the Bible teaches.

But that's not really what he's arguing. For Mohler the map-seller, the Bible is the terrain. What he's selling is a map for reading the Bible that cannot be reconciled with the text as it is. And what he's arguing is that Christians must swear their loyalty to his map, even when it deviates from the terrain of the Bible itself — that they must prefer his interpretive scheme to any other even when it is contradicted by the text, or by science, or by your lying eyes, or by all of the above.

I'm not buying it.

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