The Briefing 02-17-15

The Briefing 02-17-15

The Briefing


February 17, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Tuesday, February 17, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

 1) Furor over Scott Walker evolution dodge reveals clash of worldviews in modern America

The issue of evolution is often in the headlines, and it was so over the weekend when the Governor of Wisconsin appeared in London and was asked whether or not he believed in evolution. Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker said “I’m going to punt on that one” and punt he did. He went on to say,

“I’m here to talk about trade; not to pontificate on other issues. I love the evolution of trade in Wisconsin.”

Now the species we might call homo politicus, that is the political animal, actually rarely misses an opportunity to punt, but rare is a politician who announces in advance that he or she is going to punt. But that’s exactly what Gov. Walker did, and the issue, we should note, was the question of evolution.

Gov. Walker was speaking there at Chatham House, a very venerable think tank in London, famous for its rules of conversation, whereby someone can be quoted, but not by name. Those are the so-called “Chatham House Rules.” But speaking at Chatham House, Gov. Walker was cited and he was cited on the question of evolution and the fact that he declared himself ready to punt on the question.  That immediately led to headlines not only in London and the United States but internationally, as of course, Gov. Walker is considered at least a potential candidate for the presidency, or at least for the Republican nomination for that office.

As the Washington Post reported, Gov. Walker couldn’t stand by his decision to punt for long. He issued a very short statement, less than 140 characters to be precise. His statement was issued on Twitter. He wrote:

“Both science and my faith dictate my belief that we are created by God. I believe faith and science are compatible and go hand in hand.”

Call that an “almost-punt.” Our interest is not so much what Gov. Walker may or may not believe about evolution, but what the controversy over his statement in London tells us about evolution as it functions, in terms of a worldview, and in particular, in terms of the clash of worldviews in contemporary America. Responding from the right, from the conservative side, both Jonah Goldberg and Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review Magazine had something to say about the headlines, and indeed their articles made headlines themselves.

In a column published in the Baltimore Sun, Jonah Goldberg said that conservatives and conservatives alone face this question.  And as he said, it’s asked in bad faith. He writes,

“That’s because the evolution question really isn’t about evolution at all on the surface,” said Goldberg. “It’s about the culture war.”

To borrow a phrase from the campus left, Darwinism is used to ‘otherise’ a certain people of traditional faith and the politicians who want their vote. Goldberg went on to say,

“Many of the same people who bleat with fear over the dangers of genetically modified food, fracking, vaccines or nuclear power and coo with childlike awe over the benefits of non-traditional medicines will nonetheless tell you they are for “science” when in fact they are simply against a certain kind of Christian having any say about anything.”

Jonah Goldberg’s on to something profoundly important here because we do hear those in the national media and in political office and in positions of cultural influence continually say that there are conservatives who are defying science, not accepting science, who are rejecting science when similar things are not set and similar questions aren’t even asked of those on the cultural left who hold any number of positions that are just as far from the current scientific mainstream. They’re just distant from that mainstream in a very different way.

Another writer at National Review said,

“Similarly, everybody wants to know what Scott Walker and Sarah Palin think about evolution, but almost nobody is asking what Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama think about homeopathy acupuncture aromatherapy and the like.”

But Jonah Goldberg gets to an even more important and fundamental issue when he writes,

“Beneath the surface, the salience of evolution as a political football is ultimately about the status of man. Are humans moral creatures whose actions are judged by some external or divine standard, or are we simply accidental winners of an utterly random contest of genes? If it’s the latter, does that mean we are only answerable to whatever ethical standards we invent for ourselves?”

That’s exactly the right question but a very different approach was taken by Ramesh Ponnuru (another National Review writer), when writing for the Dallas Morning News he says that conservatives shouldn’t dodge the evolution question. And he makes the interesting political assessment that dodging actually doesn’t work. Because if you dodge the question, people just assume that the answer is no, you don’t believe in evolution and they dismiss you just as much as they would have if you stated that you didn’t believe in evolution and violated one of the central secular orthodoxies of the age (becoming only kind of heretic many people in this post-Christian age actually believed can exist). In any event Ramesh Ponnuru says, just answer the question because, politically you’re eventually going to have to answer the question anyway.

And I’m speaking not so much in terms of political advice, but a simple theological principle and that is this; yes, answer the question. Because the question demand an answer because it is so fundamental to any individual’s worldview that it is impossible to fail to answer this question and have any truly responsible worldview approach to life. Plenty of writers and commentators from the left have simply attacking Scott Walker saying either lacks brings or courage, or both making the point of Ramesh Ponnuru that you might as well answer the question.

A different approach was taken by Jamelle Bouie writing at He says if you ask a politician to answer a question about evolution, it actually doesn’t tell you anything when that politician answers. That’s because evolution simply isn’t a big public policy issue. It is he says, a proxy issue that it stands for other issues in a very symbolic way.

As he finds a proxy issue, it is standing in for,

“What you believe about the origins of life is a signpost for how you view science in the modern world.”

But Bouie writes, a politician’s position on evolution doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about what that politician will do one any question, including scientific questions when in office. He makes that reference specifically in terms of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, but he broadens his point to include virtually any politician – including any who might run for either party’s nomination for the presidency in 2016.

But as  revealing in their own way as all of those views are the most important article on this controversy is appeared in the New York Times by religion writer Mark Oppenheimer, one of the best at the craft. He wrote an article that appeared in last Saturday’s edition of the paper; it’s headline “Conservative Politicians Abroad seem more Accepting of Evolution.” He writes about Gov. Walker’s appearance at Chatham House in London and then goes on to say, if the issue of evolution is still very controversial in terms of American politics and American religion, he says when it comes to Europe and the United Kingdom, the controversy basically melts away. It’s a particularly American phenomenon. And embedded in Oppenheimer’s article is a wealth of worldview reflection.

Oppenheimer cites Gov. Walker’s response to that question on evolution and then points out that any number of candidates for high office have also in recent years, even in recent political cycles denied that they believe in evolution. And of course they’re backed up by roughly half of all Americans who say they don’t believe in evolution, and more than half who say they do not believe that human beings emerged from simply a process of naturalistic evolution. The British press seem to be absolutely perplexed as to why the governor of an American state wouldn’t answer a question about evolution.

Justin Webb of the British Broadcasting Corporation, better known as the BBC, told Gov. Walker,

“Any British politician right or left wing would laugh and say, yes, of course, evolution is true.”

Then Oppenheimer writes,

“Unlike the United States, where Republicans and conservative Christians are more likely to deny evolution and climate change, most conservative politicians in other countries, as well as other branches of Christianity, see Darwin more favorably. The BBC reporter’s response to Mr. Walker could serve as a reminder that American evangelicals, and the Republicans who woo them, are the exception, not the rule.”

And to that I would simply respond, in terms of millions of people, that’s a very big exception.

But as I said, Mark Oppenheimer’s article is simply loaded with worldview analysis. How’s this for the next point in his article?

He writes,

“Britain, for example, has its Darwin skeptics, and its climate-change deniers, said the historian David N. Hempton, the dean of Harvard Divinity School, who is from Northern Ireland. “But the proportions are different,” he said, with British residents and evangelicals more likely to be comfortable with Darwin and climate science than their American counterparts.”

The most important part about this is the issue of evolution itself.

Now here’s some issues that intentionally or not, Mark Oppenheimer included in his article. One of them is the importance of local control over a school curriculum. For instance, consider this paragraph,

“[Dean Hampton, that is] He attributed the difference in part to Britain’s more unified national culture. “You can get school boards in the U.S. that will try to prevent the teaching of evolution in schools,” Professor Hempton said. “That’s almost impossible to do in Britain, because school curricula are set more nationally.”

Now, not only on the issue of evolution any number of issues, one of the things that is made the American public school system distinctive has been local control over the curriculum (that local control being very much threatened both by national mandates and by the current thinking in terms of many educators about what it will take to establish recognized quality in public school education). This has to do more recently, the controversies over common core, another point embedded in Oppenheimer’s article, is what happens when you have a unified culture machine in a society that has inordinate centralizing control over the thinking of the country.

As Oppenheimer writes,

“American evangelicals and fundamentalist can secede into their own churches and Christian schools and read magazines and watch television aimed at them.”

He again is citing information he received from David Hampton, the Dean of the Harvard Divinity School. Hempton went on to say that’s harder to do across the Atlantic, “where things like the BBC have a kind of generic influence over the whole culture.”

When I read Oppenheimer’s piece I thought would those are two very interesting points in it or even more interesting than most readers of the New York Times are likely to recognize. Because here you have the Dean of the Harvard Divinity School, noting the difference between evangelicals in the United States and evangelicals in the United Kingdom, saying, ‘well at least one differences those in the United Kingdom have their worldview largely shaped by the unifying power of the BBC, a state-sponsored media outlet. And then of course, he had already made the point that another great shaping influence was the fact that there is a national school curriculum. The school curriculum is not determined by local school boards.

But those issues pale in significance over against the next issue that Mark Oppenheimer addresses, and that is the fact that a concern about evolution seems to be distinctive to evangelical Protestants.

As he writes,

“In the United States, a widespread theological opposition to Darwin is found mainly among conservative Protestants. Many Orthodox Jews believe that evolution is compatible with the teachings of the Hebrew Bible, and Islamic scholars have, with some exceptions, generally supported the theory.”

Now I’m not going to quibble with his generalizations there, but there are a good number of Orthodox Jews who do not accept the theory of evolution, and as many people around the world noted the fastest growth in terms of opposition to evolution is found in countries like Turkey and it’s driven not by Christianity, but rather by Islam and Islamic worldview. But Oppenheimer then turns to Roman Catholics saying the Catholics in the last half-century have only become more accepting of Darwin. As he writes,

“ In 1950, Pope Pius XII said that evolution was not at odds with Catholic teaching, an opinion reiterated by Pope John Paul II in 1996. Pope Francis thrilled science teachers, and large numbers of Catholics in October, by saying that God was not a “magician, with a magic wand,” but rather worked through principles like evolution.”

But here’s what almost no one in the secular media (or for that matter, in much of the religious press) ever notes, and that includes Mark Oppenheimer in spite of the fact this is a brilliant article otherwise laden with all kinds of material that’s helpful to us, and that comes down to this: If you actually read the Catholic statements on evolution, including the statements made by these folks and in particular, I looked again just before this conversation to the statement that was made in 1996 by Pope John Paul II, you’ll note that even as they say they affirm evolution, they don’t affirm evolution in any form that is currently held by mainstream evolutionists. They get a pass on this. A pass they neither deserve nor I should say a pass that’s intellectually credible. When you have people say ‘yes I believe in evolution, Evolution is in no way in conflict with my faith,’ and yet when you determine what they actually believed about evolution it isn’t a view of evolution that is held by anyone in the scientific mainstream.

For instance, Pope John Paul II was very clear that there had to be a specific first human man, as Adam. And not only that there had to be a first reproductive pair, and there could not be a simple evolutionary development of what became homo sapiens. That is central to mainstream evolutionary theory and, frankly, when it comes to that issue Roman Catholics who say they believe in evolution, if they’re actually following the teachings of their church should they read them will discover that the theory of evolution with which they find no conflict is a theory of evolution that no one you can find in a major university would hold.

But an even more important part of Oppenheimer’s article comes when he cites Ilia Delio, a scientist and theologian, also identified as a Catholic nun on the faculty at Georgetown University, who “said that Catholic theology, because it had always been based on more than just the Bible, had more freedom to accept science than conservative Protestantism does.”

Here speaks the sister ;

““Protestantism places a much greater emphasis on Scripture alone.” The literal reading of Genesis favored by conservative evangelicals, who infer from it that “the earth was created less than 10 thousand years ago,” is “very problematic from a Catholic perspective,” with its more enthusiastic embrace of modern science [explains Oppenheimer].

And if all that’s not enough for us to reflect upon given Gov. Walker’s decide upon on the question in the first place, Oppenheimer then cites Edward Humes, author of a book titled Monkey Girl. It has to do about the court battle in Dover, Pennsylvania over so-called “anti-evolution, intelligent design theory” (that sounds identified in the article)

Humes says, according to Oppenheimer, “many evangelicals do not really understand evolution.” Well, after reading both this article and Mr. Humes’s book, I can certainly say he doesn’t understand evangelicals.

Oppenheimer summarizes Humes by saying,

“Many Christians do not understand, he said, that they can believe that life forms evolved via natural selection, while still believing in a divine origin of the first life forms.”

So Mr. Humes writes that evangelicals really don’t understand evolution because if they did understand evolution, they would understand you can have evolution and evangelical Christianity, because even as evolution would rule out the kind of design that would imply that a God was determining the design of his creation and his glory in it, and the place of human beings within it and the human beings themselves, he says he can believe in evolution, “while still believing in a divine origin of the first life forms”.

Well that simply is nowhere near what evangelical Christians believe about the divine creation of the universe and the divine creation of life and the divine creation of human beings. We do not believe that God merely designed the “first life forms.” We believe that God created Adam and created Eve and out of Adam and Eve gave life to all of us.

So Gov. Walker decided upon on the question and then he released a statement on Twitter. Let me go back to it again. He said,

“both science and my faith dictate my belief that we are created by God. I believe faith and science are compatible and go hand-in-hand.”

Gov. Walker has identified very clearly as an evangelical Christian, but a statement like this reduced to 140 characters simply demands the further questions; what science and what faith?

But I’ll end on this issue with Edward Humes. You’ll recall that Mark Oppenheimer reported that he said the evangelicals really don’t understand evolution and I pointed out that he clearly really doesn’t understand evangelicals. But in his book Monkey Girl, he says this;

“It is humanity’s unique blessing and particular curse to be the only species on earth as far as we know that worries so obsessively and at such great expense about where we came from and why we’re here.” Now on that statement, Mr. Humes is profoundly right. And that statement, perhaps more than anything else I could say, points out the importance of the difference in the worldview that is based upon naturalistic evolution, and one that is based upon the understanding of the divine creation of the universe, and all within it, by God is revealed in the book of Genesis. Because as even the most cursory, the most superficial understanding of those two worldviews would demonstrate they answer in profoundly different an inherently contradictory ways the answer to the very quest Mr. Humes mentions in that sentence.

Every single worldview has to answer the basic question ‘where did we come from? Where did this world come from? What is the existence of the world? What does my existence mean?’

No worldview can avoid answering those questions. And the answer to those questions that come from the worldview of scientific materialism, from the worldview of evolution is simply a fundamentally different question than that the comes from the Bible.

The difference of worldview was symbolized by the late Carl Sagan who in his multi-part series on PBS simply declared, “the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” When, as John begins his gospel in the gGspel of John 1, he writes “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made in him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness in the darkness is not overcome it”.

Between those two statements – Carl Sagan and the apostle John –is a worldview distinction of infinite distance given a question I significance no worldview can avoid it. No politician can permanently pundit and no believer can take it lightly, but must answer it directly an understanding that everything is hanging on the nature of that answer.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing remember the weekly release of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058.

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Podcast Transcript

1) Furor over Scott Walker evolution dodge reveals clash of worldviews in modern America

Scott Walker decides to (sort of) weigh in on evolution after all, Washington Post (Matea Gold)

Conservatives face bad-faith question of faith, Baltimore Sun (Jonah Goldberg)

Republicans shouldn’t dodge the evolution question, Dallas Morning News (Ramesh Ponnuru)

Don’t Ask Scott Walker About Evolution, Slate (Jamelle Bouie)

Conservative Politicians Abroad Seem More Accepting of Evolution, New York Times (Mark Oppenheimer)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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