Albert Mohler, the man Time magazine once (weirdly) called America’s “reigning intellectual in the evangelical movement”, is a young earth creationist. And in a recent blog post he offered the following complaint against those who have concluded that the earth is old and plants and animals change over time:
Increasingly, they are arguing that a refusal to accept evolution represents a thought crime of sorts.
Thought crime? Well, yes, if by this Mohler means that, for evolutionists, young earth creationists are a good example of people who routinely and flagrantly violate (or simply ignore) critical thinking principles (such as “apportion your beliefs to the evidence”). A principle like “apportion your beliefs to the evidence” is not a law—it’s not written in the sky by God—but when a public figure like Mohler violates it, pointing it out is not Orwellian: it’s the opposite. It’s a determination to cut through fog.
The problem (for Mohler) is that he doesn’t like his young earth creationism labelled correctly (as hokum) or confronted plainly (as contrary to science and reason), and so his complaint continues:
They [evolution believers] are using all the tools and arguments at their disposal to discredit any denial of evolution and to marginalize voices who question the dogma of Darwinism.
And what are these “tools and arguments at their disposal to discredit any denial of evolution”? Well, let’s make a short list. Scientists across several key disciplines “discredit any denial of evolution” via the following methods:
- they appeal to converging lines of evidence;
- they appeal to deductions;
- they appeal to inductions; and
- they appeal to abductions (an abduction is where you evaluate competing hypotheses and pick the best one on offer).
In other words, exactly the same critical practices used by scientists to discredit the claim that evolution didn’t happen are the ones used by historians to discredit the claim that the Holocaust didn’t happen.
So this is the real problem: young earth creationism is to science what Holocaust denial is to history: a claim that cannot be rationally defended. But instead of addressing this very serious intellectual disconnect at the heart of Mohler’s position, he plays a card from the bottom of the intellectual deck: the straw man:
They [evolution believers] are working hard to establish unquestioned belief in evolution as the only right-minded and publicly acceptable position.
If this were true—that evolution believers promote “unquestioned belief”—then we would all be warranted in resisting them. But, of course, this is not even remotely the case. Instead, evolution believers tend to promote the very things that lend themselves to doubt: critical thinking and science. They do this precisely in the hope that people will actually come to practice the skills—and develop the habits—of thinking for themselves clearly and critically. There’s power in science and critical thinking and evolution believers don’t fear that power. It was, after all, the practice of science and critical thinking—and not, say, a sign from heaven—that brought Charles Darwin to his original conclusion.
If, however, Albert Mohler is wrong in his characterization of the motives of evolution believers, I must say that he sees clearly what is at stake in the debates over evolution: biblical inerrancy:
Proponents of theistic evolution are now engaged in the public rejection of biblical inerrancy — with some calling the affirmation of the Bible’s inerrancy as an intellectual disaster and “intellectual cul-de-sac.” Others now openly assert that we must forfeit belief in an historical Adam, an historical Fall, and a universal Flood. Thus, the vise of evolutionary theory is now revealing the fault lines of the current debate.
What jumps out at me in the above passage is Mohler’s last sentence:
[T]he vise of evolutionary theory is now revealing the fault lines of the current debate.
Setting aside Mohler’s mixed metaphor, evolutionary theory does indeed function as a “vise” because it has clamped down and made rationally inescapable two truths about the world that contradict the Bible (at least if read literally): instead of the earth being young and species static (as Genesis suggests), it is vastly old and plants and animals change over time. These two things are facts—as factual as the spherical earth. They are the discoveries of reason (as is, for example, the germ theory of disease). The antique age of the earth and the evolution of plants and animals from a common ancestor have been as securely established in science as anything reasonably can be. But in response, Mohler has made a stunning choice: to close his eyes.
Is Mohler’s move a “thought crime”? In Orwell’s 1984 sense, of course not. Mohler is free to embrace ideas not informed by science, and to do so for any reason of his choosing. No one in jack boots will beat down his door and take him away because of it. But in the critical thinking sense it really is an outrage against thought: an abuse and violation of the intellectual faculties by an otherwise intelligent man. And it’s dishonest not to say so.