Friday, October 23, 2009

John MacArthur: "The evolutionary lie ..."

An interesting discussion at C. Michael Patton’s website, Reclaiming the Mind has ensued from the following citation. The words are those of John MacArthur from his book, The Battle for the Beginning:
“The evolutionary lie is so pointedly antithetical to Christian truth that it would seem unthinkable for evangelical Christians to compromise with evolutionary science in any degree. But during the past century and a half of evolutionary propaganda, evolutionists have had remarkable success in getting evangelicals to meet them halfway. Remarkably, many modern evangelicals . . . have already been convinced that the Genesis account of creation is not a true historical record. Thus they have not only capitulated to evolutionary doctrine at its starting point, but they have also embraced a view that undermines the authority of Scripture at its starting point.”
Wow! If MacArthur represents a broad swath of evangelicalism, it is no wonder my views on evolution have garnered for me rejection from so many of my friends. On the other hand, I am encouraged that MacArthur has apparently discovered “many” evangelicals who are convinced of evolution. I wish he would introduce us to each other. I find such evangelicals to be quite rare!

Well, Dr. John, count me among those evangelicals who have “been convinced that the Genesis account of creation is not a true historical record” (more on that later ...). But I absolutely repudiate your misguided contention that I have “compromised with evolutionary science” any more than the Christians of an earlier age “compromised” with Copernican cosmology. (But of course, they were also accused of heresy and compromise by the Fundamentalists of their day, and even excommunicated.) When one is confronted with irrefutable evidence for some bit of reality, his acceptance of that reality is hardly a “compromise”. My acceptance of evolutionary science is based firmly upon hard evidence, the likes of which, I’m confident, Christian’s like you have never encountered. Do you wish to win me back to the fold, Dr. John? Then try presenting a bit of evidence that I am mistaken, rather than clobbering me over the head with insinuations that I have “capitulated” to “propaganda”. If you are looking for a perfect example of propaganda (which is unsubstantiated, highly biased misinformation), try reading your own book. The writings of evangelical scientists like Francis Collins, Kenneth Miller, Owen Gingerich, et. al. hardly fall under your “propaganda” category. Have you even read them?

The likely answer is that MacArthur, along with the countless evangelicals who stand with him, have not read such authors. Are they so filled with fear that evolutionary science may prove to be factual, and thus trap them in a new set of baffling dilemmas? Or do they genuinely mistrust science in the first place, and avoid it like the plague?

That would be sad! MacArthur, and some of the commenters to the Parchment and Pen post who defend him, believe that 1) Biblical revelation trumps all other sources of information, and 2) Biblical revelation must be understood literally (unless there is, as they would say, strong internal reasons to understand it allegorically). Thus, their theology is impoverished by their ideology. They reject volumes of natural revelation which science has uncovered in the last few centuries. How valuable is this natural revelation? Paul, in Romans 1:20, makes the case that we can know and understand much about God, including his “invisible qualities” (NIV) without ever cracking open a holy book, but merely by examining the work of his creative hand. Science, good science, is nothing more nor less than the close examination of the handiwork of the Creator! Christians, of all people, should embrace science with heart and mind! and when then do, they will discover that evolution is the most likely framework for the history of life. And they will find, as I have, that our vistas upon the mysteries of theology are expanded, and that Biblical theology is not “undermined”, but greatly enhanced.

And what of MacArthur’s lament that "many modern evangelicals . . . have already been convinced that the Genesis account of creation is not a true historical record." I wish MacArthur were more specific about which "true historical record" in Genesis is important to believe: the one in chapter 1, or the one in chapter 2. Both, of course, cannot be "true historical record[s]" since they give irreconcilably contradictory accounts. But if we read them as allegorical literature (as they were surely intended), the result is that both accounts are “true” in the sense that they convey truths. Far from “undermining the authority of Scripture”, a proper view of the Bible sets us free to understand its profound truths unencumbered by some felt need to defend the indefensible notion that it is literally “true” scientifically and historically. A proper view of the Bible, coupled with a healthy view of scientific discovery, will set us free to explore our Creator in ways earlier believers could never do. What an adventure! It is sad that so many intelligent minds, such as that which John MacArthur possesses, refuse to set out upon this adventure.

So what is your view? Is MacArthur correct? Am I a compromised Christian?


Rob Mitchell said...

I have received great benefit from Dr. MacArthur's teaching, especially when I was a young Christian. His works, written and spoken, helped to shape my journey of faith.
I am saddened to see that as he gets older he seems more prone to making intemperate statements like this one - a couple of years ago he made similar remarks regarding anyone who didn't share his eschatology.
I think in the case of Dr. MacArthur, it is best not to enter into polemical debate - I love him for the great teaching he has done in the past, and that makes me willing to overlook his current statements.
Remember that the stronger brother must be the one to bend because the weaker brother cannot.

Arni Zachariassen said...

Of course you're not a compromised Christian. That's such a cheap rhetorical trick that creationists dish up. Ultimately, it only undermines their own cause, because thousands and thousand of young people who have been brought up in climates saturated with exactly that sort of inflexible, rigid and negative sentiment (and not just about evolution, but also, as Rob points out, about eschatology, sexuality, worship, gender roles, pop culture, all sorts of things - even yoga, if I remember a CNN appearance by Dr. MacArthur correctly) encounter a world where that sort of stance just doesn't work. Many of them consequently lose their faith. Some of us, thank God, have managed to hold on to it and embraced evolution (and some of the other things) to our benefit, but many have not. What is clear is that that sort of negative stance is unsustainable. It will ultimately produce fatigue and people will stop clinging to it. Which is why us Christian evolutionists need to be bold - and ready!

Psiloiordinary said...

Hey Cliff,

You are a nice bloke who has not quite realised yet that "friends" who reject you because of your acceptance of plain fact, are not worthy of the moniker.

In the long run I bet on reality winning the day.

More power to your brain cells!



Tom said...

Any moderate stance is going to be "compromised" against a fundamentalist stance. If one is a fundamentalist, it starts feeling rather uncomfortable knowing that you are compromising your faith. The options become rather binary -- to revert back to the fundamentalism or to throw it out altogether. When the social structure is still fundamentalist, keeping these friends is often easier than throwing out everything or trying to figure out the balance. (I'm still curious about how the two merge, which is why I enjoy your discussions). The fundamentalist stance is about keeping the social fabric together and it does it by estranging those that do not tow the line and reinforcing the ties within the network, at least in part by encouraging an us vs. them attitude. Jesus himself, and especially Paul, promoted this idea with examples of how believers were chosen, would be persecuted and ridiculed for their belief, and to seek truth outside of human constructs.

Psiloiordinary said...

The more I think about it the more I come to think that fundamentalists must just ignore the common dictionary definition of "cult".



Cliff Martin said...

Thank you Rob, Arni, and Psi for your comments.

And you, too, Tom. I have experienced the tension you refer to ... when we step outside of the fundamentalist stance, we seem to get pushed in a way that compels us to reject it all, and move even further. (I think the same is often true of an evolutionist who challenges accepted theory.) This is a social phenomenon which I am trying hard to resist.

As for the term "compromise", yes, any movement from the party line will be viewed as compromise by the fundamentalist. But I might be using the term a bit differently. I see it as a pejorative assigning motives to the compromiser other than a pure interest in truth. Someone might be trying to fit in with a certain group, and be willing to compromise his beliefs to achieve that end. Or he might be trying (futilely) to please everyone, and attempting to do so through compromise. I understand MacArthur to be accusing me of appeasing the enemy ala Chamberlain. That is what is behind my question. Are there motives in me (and others like me ... even in you, Tom) which may be hidden from me? motives to be intellectually acceptable, for example?

I know what your answer, and Psi's answer would be. And I agree with you. I think. But I am interested in knowing if there are believers who suspect that I have let down my guard and abandoned truth, compromising for some ulterior motive.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cliff,
Regarding MacArthur's representation of a broad swath of evangelicalism, I agree that he probably does represent many "evangelicals in the pew". For now. But I honestly suspect that this will grow smaller very quickly.

What is now generally acknowledged is that a large proportion of evangelical scientists (or at least biologists) accept evolution. As well, a huge chunk of our leading Old testament scholars acknowledge that the best scholarly interpretations of the ancient scriptures (including Genesis) do not in any way exclude evolution.

And now, it appears that even our theologians are coming on board. Bruce Waltke (former president of the Evangelical Theological Society) has just published a survey for Biologos reporting that almost half of evangelical theologians accept evolution!

So it appears we are quickly getting our scientists, biblical scholars, and theologians on board. Now this just needs to trickle down to the evangelical masses. Personally, I suspect that within a generation, this will be true.

Of course, that doesn't make it any easier right now for those, like yourself, who find yourself surrounded by a certain brand of evangelicalism.

Steve said...

Great post, Cliff. I share your frustration (perhaps "exasperation" is closer) with this sort of thinking. I just had yet another friend make a similar comment on my latest Facebook post (yes, a different one than you contributed to) in which the same insinuations were made. It is discouraging, but I certainly hope Steve is right that the dissipation of this scandal of the evangelical mind is accelerating.

Christin Grieser said...

Hi Uncle Cliff! Wow, what a fun topic. It brings back to my mind the very first day of my college Biology class where the professor asked us whether the theory of creation and the theory of evolution could co-exist. His answer was, I thought, brilliant. Yes, they can! God can create the universe in any way that He chooses whether through natural selection, a literal seven day process, or any other process. What can't co-exist is creationISM and evolutionISM where the focus is on the how and not the Who.
So the short answer; No, I don't think that you have sold out to secularism.
I can empathize with the fundamentalist though because there has been an undermining of traditional beliefs such as creation, sexuality, drug use, etc. However, I think that simply makes it all the more important to read the Bible and to rightly divine the word of truth and not just believe what some authority figure or scholar tells you.

Cliff Martin said...

Steve M,

The “trickle down to the masses” will be hindered by the rhetoric of John MacArthur and other recognized evangelical leaders. While it is hard to find comfort in a process that may take “a generation” to complete, the Waltke survey is surprisingly encouraging.

Steve D,

I went to your facebook and read the exchange. After reading your friend’s comment, I was ready to enter the fray ... but you proceeded to say everything I wanted to say. I love your blossoming linguistic skills: here’s to the acceleration of the dissipation of the scandal of the evangelical mind!!


So good to hear from you! I have a friend, about your age, who attended Oregon State University. Her first year biology prof opened class the first day with the declaration that she believed in evolution, and she believed in God. It disarmed the theists in the class (including my YEC-raised friend who, before the year was out, found herself warming up to the idea of evolution.) Many believers find evolution to be an affront to their chosen view of the Bible, Genesis in specific. I get that. But why so many Christians argue that belief in a Creator and acceptance of evolution are incompatible is beyond me. Keep thinking for yourself!

nick said...

I do not think you are "compromised."
In fact i think you are quite authentic, honest, and exemplary in your efforts in considering the observed world and appropriating that within your worldview. I have benefited greatly from engageing with you. Thank you.

I haven't had the benefit as rob has of being familiar with McArthur
in the past and i have only known him as a vocal one in the culture war and a bit of a witch hunter.

-Nick Watts

Chris Cornwell said...

I really like this review by Jonathan Clarke of Canberra, Australia... I find myself thinking similarly. To be entirely honest, in a few of the issues brought up by MacArthur in the first few paragraphs of the book, however, I have yet to hear an adequate answer or explantion by the scientific community.

I also like What Rob had to say...

Anonymous said...

Hi, Im from Melbourne.

Please check out these related (truly out of the box) references on the relation between religionISM, scientism and culture, beginning with a unique Understanding of the purpose of "creation" stories.

Plus an essay re Reality & The Middle via this page (scroll down for the url)

Cliff Martin said...

Thank you for your comments.

I read several Amazon reviews of the book yesterday, including the one you cite. It was the best review I read. Do you have the book? I would really like to know about those issues you mention. btw, you missed some really great omelets this morning, if I do say so myself!

Anonymous from Melbourne,
I glanced at the first article. They look to be very interesting, and I hope to get some time in the next couple of days to read them. Thanks for the links.

Rich G. said...


Thanks for the link.

But I must echo one of Cliff's points: "To be entirely honest, in a few of the issues brought up by MacArthur in the first few paragraphs of the book, however, I have yet to hear an adequate answer or explantion by the scientific community."

What are these issues?

Rich G.

P.S. Cliff Thanks for the hospitality and breakfast. I don't normally eat omelets, but yours are great!

Steve said...

I echo Rich's last questions.

You know, when we visit Northern California this summer (my wife's family lives there), I've thought about taking my kids up to see the Redwoods (probably near Crescent City). If we can make that trip up there this summer, I'd love it if we could meet up for a bit, even if it meant we had to go on up into Oregon. I don't know how much time I could promise (I have three small youngin's), but I meet with few enough evolutionist Christians down South that I'd relish any fellowship I could get. :)

Cliff Martin said...


My wife has been lobbying for a trip down into the redwoods. So, keep talking. Something might just work out.

Cliff Martin said...


“It’s hard to imagine anything more absurd than the naturalist’s formula for the orgin of the universe Nobody times nothing equals everything." So reads the opening statement of the first chapter of MacArthur’s Battle for the Beginning. I presume the arguments that follow are the issues you referred to earlier in this thread. They are all arguments against Naturalism. No Christian evolutionist that I know would disagree with MacArthur’s line of argumentation. Theistic Evolutionists and Evolutionary Creationists have no problem with those baffling questions about what caused the Big Bang, or how life first came into existence. The ultimate answer for a theist is God. This is not the same as a God-of-the-Gaps argument. For example, we may well endorse the search for a natural mechanism for abiogenesis. But if that search continues to prove fruitless, this is only a problem for the atheist, for the naturalist who is looking for an explanation for reality that is not dependent upon a supernatural intelligence. So Chris, when you say “I have yet to hear an adequate answer or explanation by the scientific community”, I must agree with you. But it would be fair to say that these are very difficult questions for science to answer; and that the scientific community is probing for answers. And other similar baffling questions have been answered in the past. All of which tells me that it would be foolish for any believer to stake his faith upon the hope that science will never provide an “adequate answer or explanation,” for these issues.

Further, nothing that I read in this chapter, including the social ills that MacArthur associates with evolutionary theory, are arguments against TE or EC.

Chris Cornwell said...

I just read the first few pages in the free preview on Amazon...(No Cliff, Don't have the book)
I fully agree Cliff, I was only referring to page 31 and half of 32, the section on naturalism. I think MacArthur was on to something asking some hard questions about naturalism.
As J. Clarke said: "Rather than attacking the weak link between science and naturalism, he chooses to attack science and naturalism, and tries to defend Christianity with the anti-science of young earth creationism. The baby gets thrown out with the bath water."

Isaac Gouy said...

> a proper view of the Bible

And of course that is the crux - no doubt Dr. MacArthur would see no reason to think his view of the Bible is not a proper view, or to think that your view of the Bible is a proper view.

Does he just ignore Augustine's The Literal Meaning of Genesis ?

Rich G. said...


Thanks for the link. I wandered through the Amazon references to get to Volume 1 of Augustine's "Literal Meaning of Genesis" where I found this in one of the reviews:

"Of course, the problem of how to interpret Genesis, particularly with regard to scientific knowledge, is very much a live problem today. It was however, a question even in Augustine's day, and his take on it is of considerable interest, especially for those who do believe in scripture as revelation and are unsure how to read Genesis. In his reading, Augustine on the whole was a scientific agnostic, he neither believed nor disbelieved much of what his contemporary science said about the world. He did, however, offer suggestions as to how this or that passage could be reconciled with this or that scientific belief, in order to take into account the possibility the scientific belief might well be true. If a passage seemed to him to be particularly mysterious in light of its scientific possibility (the reference to a spring that watered all the earth was one such passage), he neither sought to use scripture to determine scientific truth nor concluded that the passage was therefore false - for Augustine, a passage in scripture must be true, but it was perfectly possible for it to be true in a sense he did not understand."

So it would appear that Augustine's "literal" reading of Genesis was far more flexible than MacArthur's. This may show us one path toward reconciling our trust in scriptural authority without throwing out scientific knowledge.

Isaac Gouy said...

Rich G. > reconciling our trust in scriptural authority

And Origen - a century and half earlier -

"Who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that anyone eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil? No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it."

Cliff Martin said...


Thank you for the Origen quotes, especially this one.

Anonymous said...

Cliff re: MacArthur's stand or 'unstand'. It's all about money and empire building! Of course these guys that have become a fixture for Christianity are not going to admit that regarding such-and-such a doctrine or statement that they are/were wrong.
You and me, what do we have to lose to admit to our adjustments in our thinking-But these MNCs (multinational Christian Companies) are a whole other brand. Or hole nother spam. Imagine eating a Christian can of spam. TN

Anonymous said...

Mr. Mitchell, you said

"I think in the case of Dr. MacArthur, it is best not to enter into polemical debate - I love him for the great teaching he has done in the past, and that makes me willing to overlook his current statements".

wow, you scare me man. As believers in God we are truth seekers. Nobody is above individual analysis. We are all equally accountable. So it is the 'higher road' to say "You Know regarding such-and-such I was wrong" (i.e.,perhaps MacArthur never thought he was wrong). In my opinion it is a spineless man who cannot/won't do that. TN