Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a young earth creationist. That is, he believes the earth is 6,000 years old (give or take a decade).
When I stumbled across this fact in a Peter Enns column, I was stunned. Dr. Mohler didn’t pick up his young earth views in school. My theological education is exactly the same as his. In fact, we studied under the same professors during roughly the same period. No one at Southern Seminary was taking issue with the unanimous verdict of science in the 1980s. The universe we talked about was created by God, to be sure, but when the issue was the age of the earth, we took our cue from the best science available.
Mohler doesn’t actually deny the unanimous verdict of science. The earth appears to be millions of years old, and biological life appears to have undergone considerable evolution. But Mohler believes that God created the earth with “apparent age”. The heavens and the earth had to be created 6,000 years ago because that’s what the biblical narrative suggests.
God wrote the Bible and God don’t lie. End of discussion.
This makes me uncomfortable for a number of reasons. Will people now assume that I am a young-earther because I have two degrees from SBTS? That’s a distressing thought.
But it goes much deeper than that. How can an intelligent, well-educated man like R. Albert suddenly decide that, contrary to all appearances, one and one makes three?
It could be argued that his firm biblical faith makes these conclusions inevitable. How, then, do we explain the legions of conservative theologians and devout biologists who have no quarrel with science?
My gut tells me that Dr. Al’s young earth convictions have nothing to do with either science or theology; it’s a matter of institutional survival.
Yesterday, I toured the Epcot Center with my family. This Disney vehicle is relentlessly upbeat. Epcot tells us what we want to believe: it’s a small world after all; science and technology will fix the environmental crisis, the future will be so much better than the past.
But the Epcot narrative is also aggressively secular. The ride dedicated to human progress takes us from cave-dwellers to the glories of the Greeks and Romans, then plunges into the dark ages when this ancient flame was barely kept alive by the Jews and Arabs (no mention of Christians at all), and finally rescued by the heroes of the Renaissance. Since then, we have marched from glory to glory.
The “energy” exhibit features Ellen Degeneres, Alex Trebec, and Bill Nye the Science Guy assuring us that petroleum was produced millions of years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth–just like they taught us in school.
This is the mainstream Americana. The service staff at Epcot is extremely diverse, but the customers are not. White people are over-represented, and most of them have all the identifying features of good, card carrying Republicans.
So why is Al Mohler intentionally parting company with the standard American worldview?
Institutional survival demands it.
The boys Al Mohler rolls with (and they are almost all boys) believe their world is under siege. These are the people who build the young earth museums where dinosaurs cohabit the earth with humans and the “apparent age” of the earth is explained away. These folks are going with the Bible come hell, high water, or the scientific worldview.
But why not interpret the Bible as a book written by inspired but fallible humans who did the best they could with the limited scientific knowledge at their disposal?
Because the Bible must be a perfect book, dictated, word-for-word, by a perfect God. Otherwise, things like male dominance, homophobia, and the virtues of laissez-faire capitalism would be open to question. It takes faith to embrace economic dogma, and the same folks who believe the earth is 6000 years old also believe, virtually to a man (and they are almost all men) will tell you that unrestrained capitalism is God-ordained.
Dr. Al and friends have cobbled together a tight, mutually-reinforcing soup can display held together by their belief in an inerrant Bible. If Al Mohler wanted to be president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, (and he did, very badly) he had no choice but to buy in without reservation. If he wanted to become the voice of conservative evangelicalism, (and he did, very badly) he had to tell people precisely what they wanted to hear. He had no choice.
This explains the disproportionate influence of the religious right: they are fighting with their backs to the wall. A concerned cat is very dangerous. The dog might chase the cat all over the yard, but when the cat is cornered, back to the wall, and turns to fight, the dog had better watch out. It’s life-and-death time for conservative evangelicalism and heroic means are called for. No deviation from the accepted worldview can be tolerated. You are with us or you are against us. God wrote the Bible, or it’s just a book of meaningless fables.
This makes people like Al Mohler the perfect character foils for new atheists like Richard Dawkins; these folks need each other. Dawkins would love to believe that all religious people think like Al Mohler; it makes his work so easy.
But there is no point trying to have an intelligent discussion with Dr. Al and his kin. They will say what their culture demands that they say. Their professional survival is tied to the survival of the institutions they represent. If the Titanic he captains goes down, Al goes down too. The captain stays with the ship.
Which is why you won’t find mainstream evangelicals (I am thinking particularly of Christianity Today) criticizing people like Al Mohler for his self-serving obscurantism. It’s a family dynamic. Mohler may be a crazy uncle, but he’s our crazy uncle.
The family has to stick together. For the same reason, the National Religious Broadcasters refuse to drop League of the South neo-confederate speaker Michael Peroutka from its conference program. He may be a flaming racist, but he’s our flaming racist.
The family has to stick together.
19 thoughts on “Why Al Mohler believes the world is 6000 years old”
When I was at dear old SBTS a few years before Alan Bean, I studied under Dr. Eric Rust. Dr. Rust’s thesis, as I remember it, is that religion retreats to the gaps–things that haven’t been scientifically explained–thus God for there religionists, lives in those gaps. Now Dr. Rust did not buy this God of the Gaps business. Dr. Rust’s God was above the gaps and above everything else. He was a thorough going scientist and a thorough going Christian philosopher and Christian theologian. I was impressed with Dr. Rust, and thought I should preach that.
On a seminary cruise on Bell of Louisville a quartet of our professors sang a little ditty to the tune of “On Top of old Smoky.” Two of the lines went something like this: “If you preach what we teach you, you won’t get a church.”
I prepared my sermon anyway. I talked about Galileo and his trials, Darwin and his opponents, and maybe threw in the Scopes trial.
You want to know how the parisioners reacted? “Why hasn’t somebody told us this before?” I’m sure there were a few silent detractors.
I showed the sermon outline to Dr. Rust, and he was delighted. I showed it to a fellow seminarian, and he was incredulous, “Did you preach that? If I preached that I would get fired.” Maybe, maybe not. But if there had been more preachers like John Claypool for example, the fiasco in SBC would not have happened. And the Fundamentalist moguls in the SBC figured that out, and began a move to get rid of the Eric Rusts and Frank Staggs who were poisoning the well. They got rid of Rust and Stagg through the actuarial method, but there have been no new Rusts and Staggs to take their place. And younger professors who might become Rusts or Staggs were fired, and only those who submit to a fundamentalist creed can take their place.
So, this is what I get from your article: you’re proud of your liberalism but can’t understand a consistently conservative view of the Bible. So, rather than try to argue against the conservative view as a view, you have to demean a man who holds it and impugn his motives and character? How much more intolerant and narrow-minded could you be?
Is Al Mohler a card carrying member of the FLAT EARTH SOCIETY? My wife Flo, ever the fount of common sense, said this of Flat Earth Al, “He has to protect his phony baloney job”.
Just found the ms of my 1965 sermon, when I was still in seminary, “God of the Gaps.” I have changed my mind remarkably little on that particular topic in the 48 years since. Maybe it can be posted on this site.
Thanks, John. One can hold a consistently conservative view of the Bible without believing, against all evidence, that the world is 6000 years old. Mohler believes that God created the earth with “apparent age”. What kind of God would do something like that? Not the God of the Bible.
“One can hold a consistently conservative view of the Bible without believing, against all evidence, that the world is 6000 years old.”
Maybe. But in your article you *assume* Mohler is being disingenuous about his belief. This is what I take issue with.
“Mohler believes that God created the earth with “apparent age”. What kind of God would do something like that? Not the God of the Bible.”
Assuming God literally created man from the dust of the earth as the Bible says in Genesis 1 and 2, the Adam was created with apparent age. He was only seconds old but had the body and mind of man who understood language, eating, etc. That sure looks like apparent age to me, and the God of the Bible did it. Now, even if you don’t believe the opening chapters of Genesis are literal. So, can you understand how if a person did take them literally, it would be easy for them to talk about God creating with apparent age, and that such a thing wouldn’t be deceptive on his part?
Power, wealth, and glory is such a temptation that anyone who aspires to Institutional leadership, whether in church, or academia, or government; does not not get a presumption of purity of heart. That goes the most for leaders who use or tout their religion. Certainly there is nothing wrong with questioning the motives of people who are in positions of authority or influence. A good leader will respond to such questions with understanding and humility, with an awareness of being corruptible. A corrupt leader will circle the wagons and react with anger at being questioned.
There are things that one can preach that will have the crowd cheering for you, or that will give you control over the crowd. There are other things that might need to be said that will have people throwing stones at you or trying to throw you off a cliff. Anyone who preaches the latter gets an assumption of honest intent.
I think Alan Bean did a fine job of explaining why he suspects Dr. Mohler’s motives, based on background and history. Too, claiming that young-earth creationism is either a consistent or conservative view of the Bible is begging the question. I am sure that Mr. Bean has found, as I have, that it is a waste of time to argue with the YEC view. They have discarded any sort of evidence-based approach, made a particular interpretation a die-in-the-ditch creed, and turned God into a smartass trickster. Any attempt at dialogue turns into moving goalposts and distractions.
It has become fashionable of late to claim that those who are tolerant and open-minded cannot engage in criticism. That displays a lack of understanding of tolerance and open-mindedness. Tolerance means that I am not interested in censoring Dr. Mohler or shutting down SBTS, and it means that I am fine with you believing what you want to, as long as it does not affect me. It does not mean that I cannot speak out against what I see as false or wrong-headed. Open-mindedness means that I am persuadable with facts and evidence (are you?) and that I understand that others may come to different conclusions with the same basic facts.
“But in your article you *assume* Mohler is being disingenuous about his belief. This is what I take issue with.”
Except that Alan provided evidence and reasons for thinking that Mohler is being disingenuous. He wasn’t assuming anything.
“So, can you understand how if a person did take them literally, it would be easy for them to talk about God creating with apparent age, and that such a thing wouldn’t be deceptive on his part?”
Understanding how an uninformed, unreflective person might come to that conclusion is one thing. Understanding how an intelligent, highly-educated person comes to and then fiercely defends that conclusion in the face of strong counter-arguments is something else. Alan’s question isn’t whether young-earth views are valid, so there’s no reason to try to rehash that view as plausible, as you seem to be doing. Alan’s question is why does someone like Mohler hold young-earth views when other conservative theologians do not. And his answer to that question is convincing even if you think a young-earth view is capital-T Truth.
Many studies show that most Christians only believe a small fraction of what they profess. They just join a club and say the secret phrases, and don’t even concern themselves with the implications because it simply doesn’t effect their lives. Because they have no understanding of science, it doesn’t cause any cognitive dissonance. Unfortunately, the Young Earth Creationists have thrown away the future of Christianity because they have thrown away faith. In their disputations with evolutionists and climate change scientists, they have attempted to eliminate faith from the Christian proposition, insisting that the Bible is pure science, and that God is knowable, and the Bible verifiable, through scientific observation. This is a serious miscalculation and will end in a much greater triumph of science over Southern Baptists than science ever had over Catholicism or Judaism.
No, there’s no evidence present at all. The author is clear: “My gut tells me that Dr. Al’s young earth convictions have nothing to do with either science or theology; it’s a matter of institutional survival.”
Since when is a gut feeling evidence?
His reasoning runs like this: 1) Mohler and I attended SBTS together. 2) We didn’t hear YEC there. 3) Mohler couldn’t have learned YEC at SBTS. 4) Mohler is an intelligent person. 5) Intelligent people don’t believe YEC. 6) Therefore, Mohler is lying about his beliefs.
There are massive assumptions there, not to mention massive arrogance. I have no interest in arguing about YEC. I’ve even said whether or not *I* believe in YEC. My point was about the fact that the author has ZERO evidence to sustain his argument that Mohler is disingenuous yet he says he believes he probably is. Why does he believe that? Because of his underlying assumption that intelligent people cannot hold to a YEC even if they believe the Bible teaches it.
How does this fit with my claim of intolerance for the very reasons, you express Luke. I have the same understanding of the view of tolerance as you do: not agreeing but not wanting to silence debate or make somehow limiting someone’s ability to hold to their convictions. It’s fashionable to talk about the intolerance of tolerance because that is the opposite of much of today’s discourse. Just listen to any political pundit or so-called news show. It’s no longer about facts, just opinions and the silencing of those who disagree, especially by belittling them or classifying them as “unintelligent.” That’s intolerant and far cry of having an open mind about things.
Again, my point IS NOT to debate YEC. My point was to raise my dislike of the way Mohler and others were treated in the article.
Grace and peace.
“Since when is a gut feeling evidence?” I’m tempted to say “whenever the inerrancy of the Bible is being defended.” In this case, though, Alan was clearly doing more than making a baseless assumption. He was making an analogy to his own experience and, more importantly, to the experience of theologians of similar background and convictions as Mohler on other matters. If those theologians don’t find YEC convincing why does he? If you don’t like the moral critique implied in the answer, you could offer another explanation for Mohler’s stance, one that better accounts for all the points that Alan raised. And if you don’t like the implication that YEC is itself intellectually untenable, assumption #5 in your list, well I can’t help you. I see no reason to pretend that intelligent, educated people should entertain YEC as a serious theory, which is what you are asking people to do when you cry foul when seeing the view dismissed. I don’t “tolerate” proponents of phlogiston theory either, but then again they don’t have a strong lobby demanding recognition.
“And if you don’t like the implication that YEC is itself intellectually untenable, assumption #5 in your list, well I can’t help you. I see no reason to pretend that intelligent, educated people should entertain YEC as a serious theory, which is what you are asking people to do when you cry foul when seeing the view dismissed.”
Thank you for proving my point. Sorry if I wasted your time.
“Thank you for proving my point. Sorry if I wasted your time.”
Not at all, though one has to wonder if you wanted to hear anything other than your point. But not even a defense of Mohler? I get that Alan is challenging his character, or at least his choices, but honestly what other option remains? I suppose he could’ve said Mohler affirmed YEC after a genuine crisis of conscience, but the convenience of that affirmation would still be suspiciously self-serving, no?
“Created the world with apparent age.”
i.e. Gosse’s Omphalos, commonly called “Last Thursday-ism”. Didn’t fly when Gosse first proposed it in Victorian times, and doesn’t fly now. As well as makes God out to be THE Deceiver — creating a 6017-year-old Cosmos that appears to be 13.7 Gigayears old, but if you believe the physical evidence you Burn in Eternal HELL. How’s that for an abusive parent?
And younger professors who might become Rusts or Staggs were fired, and only those who submit to a fundamentalist creed can take their place.
i.e. Good Little Party Members.
“Ees Party Line, Comrade!”
This dialogue concerning Al Mohler’s views on Creation, reminds me of the story of a young newly graduated teacher in the 1930’s who had a young family, and was desperate for a job. He finally got a job interview in a small rural community with a board chaired by an intimidating man who started the interview by saying to the young teacher, ” son, I only have one question. Do you believe that the earth is round or flat.” Well sir, said the desperate young man, I BELIEVE that I can teach it either way. The leadership of the SBC has become like that school board, and Al Mohler is its chairman.
The place that the Mohler’s and Ham’s of Christendom have placed themselves is “If I do not accept a six day creation and an historic Adam, my salvation is lost.” I wish they would spend more time contemplating Matthew 25 than Genesis 1.
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