Thomas Kuhn gained infamy for blowing the whistle on the hallowed status of natural science. He turned the world upside down for anyone who still thinks of science as just the facts ma’am. The truth is far more complex. At any given period, Kuhn argued, members of the scientific community accept a particular way of understanding science, a “paradigm” if you will—and they do all their work in light of it.
This paradigm, the normal science that we all take for granted, is the orthodoxy enshrined in textbooks. But science goes through periods of crisis when the standard paradigm can no longer solve a growing number of scientific anomalies. And those anomalies lead other scientists to begin floating rival theories to dethrone the old paradigm. When one of those alternative frameworks does a better job of explaining the anomalies . . . well then, we have a scientific revolution.
Taking Kuhn as a loose metaphor, Todd Wood and Darrel Falk have been arguing that the debate between creationists and evolutionists is stuck in an old paradigm. We have accepted their standoff as the normal way of things. Polemics and takedowns are the order of the day. Ken Ham and the Science Guy will keep fighting until Jesus comes back. Winner takes all.
But Todd and Darrel are unhappy with this status quo and they want to change the script. In fact, they want to spark a revolution, a new way of engaging this debate. They were both featured in the cover story for Christianity Today, “A Tale of Two Scientists” (July/August 2012)—and since then, they have been quietly making a case for a different kind of conversation.
People are starting to take notice. Inquiring minds want to know if a revolution is coming. Todd and Darrel have agreed to give Sapientia the inside scoop on what they have been plotting behind the scenes.
HM: I suppose we should start with brief introductions. Some of our readers will know that Todd is a young earth creationist (actually, Todd, I think you prefer to call yourself a young age creationist—right?), and they will know that Darrel is an evolutionary creationist. But can you tell us a bit more about your professional backgrounds?
TW: I finished a PhD studying protein evolution, then did a post-doc at Clemson working on the rice genome. From there I joined the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College, where I worked until the Center was shut down in 2013. Now I teach part-time at Rhea County Academy and I run Core Academy of Science.
I have always had a high regard for theology (I actually thought about doing a seminary degree at one point), and I have always been a young age creationist. As one who basically goes against the flow of our modern scholarly culture, I think taking a different view like young age creationism brings with it a responsibility to make sure this view is justifiable from all the available evidence. As I’ve continued to study these issues, I’ve found again and again how well young age creationism fits the available evidence from Scripture and creation itself. My new book The Quest: Exploring Creation’s Hardest Problems explains a lot more of my thinking on these issues.
DF: Originally from Canada, I obtained my PhD in Genetics from the University of Alberta. After two post-doctoral research posts where I studied the molecular nature of gene activity, I took a faculty position at Syracuse University. The position in Syracuse was life-changing for me, not so much from what happened at the university, but from what happened in the church my family and I became a part of. Through my wonderful experiences within that Christian community and my love for teaching at the undergraduate level, I decided to leave my tenured position at Syracuse to accept a position teaching biology in a Christian liberal arts college. This has been the great joy of my life—describing the beauty of life’s processes to young people, who like me, believe that what we are studying is God’s creation. Ultimately, through my teaching experiences, I wrote a book called Coming to Peace with Science, which told the story of why I think it is so clear that God created through the evolutionary process and why I believe this is fully concordant with my biblical faith in the resurrection power of life in Jesus. Ultimately, I went on to work with Francis Collins and others in founding BioLogos, an organization dedicated to showing how evolutionary biology is not only true but that it enriches biblical Christianity. I served as president of the organization for three and a half years and am currently Senior Advisor for Dialogue.
HM: How did you two start working together? I don’t mean to be impolite, but based on your bios that is the last thing anyone would expect. Creationists and evolutionists are usually shooting each other down, rat-a-tat-tat. Why are the two of you not suffering the same fate? Come on, there must be a story to tell . . .
TW: I was brought into this by The Colossian Forum (TCF). Michael Gulker (their president) contacted me when that organization was first launching, and he always had this idea of getting me together in a room for a weekend with Darrel Falk, just to see what would happen. I initially didn’t think it was a good idea at all. It sounded like a recipe for awkward silence punctuated by ugly argument with someone I was sure was not going to listen. I eventually decided to go, mostly because Michael kept pushing me. It was an eye-opening weekend, though. I discovered that I was wrong about a lot of things, and our relationship has really changed me. Darrel has made me a better creationist.
DF: I had known about Todd for sometime before we actually met. Indeed we appeared together on the cover of Christianity Today (CT) in 2012 although we still had not met. I had read his blog and knew a fair amount about him. I could tell that not only was he a brilliant writer, he also understood the scientific challenges facing a person who subscribed to the young age view. He knew the scientific data well and was able to spot weak arguments and call them for what they were. He was also clearly a deeply sincere person with the same love for Scripture that I had, even though we interpreted certain parts differently. As a result of the CT article, I suppose, we were invited to a small private two-day forum of about ten people sponsored by The Colossian Forum. I remember Todd’s words as we went around the table to introduce ourselves and our perspectives. He said, “the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” At that point, (and to my surprise I think), Todd seemed to accurately reflect my bias of what a person from the young age perspective would say. I had expected more from Todd and was initially disappointed. However, as time went by, I came to see Todd’s views are highly nuanced and very carefully thought out. Those ten words or so may well summarize his thinking, but they are thoroughly embedded in a sophisticated understanding and knowledge of the scientific, biblical and theological issues. Seldom have I interacted on this or any other issue with someone more intelligent, more articulate, and more sincere.
HM: One of you mentioned The Colossian Forum (TCF), based in Grand Rapids. That name sounds like a Washington D.C. think tank, but I’m guessing it has nothing to do with politics. Actually, TCF is doing interesting work although I suspect many of our readers haven’t received the memo. Would one of you tell us a bit more about this group and their approach to science-faith issues? *Rob Barrett is the Director of Forums and Scholarship at The Colossian Forum and has worked closely with Darrel and Todd from the very beginning—he kindly agreed to answer this question.*
RB: The Colossian Forum emerged out of concerns about the way some Christians were taking up the battle over origins questions. It seemed that the pressure of these important questions sometimes pushed committed Christians to set aside the way of life that Jesus calls us to, things like considering others as more important than ourselves, practicing humility and patience, loving our enemies, seriously seeking God’s guidance together in prayer, and speaking honestly to one another. Too often, it seemed, behavior that contradicted basic ChristianWe need to be more deeply formed into the likeness of Christ if our disagreements will be of the character that honors Christ. commitments was harming individuals, families, churches, and other Christian institutions. TCF’s simple starting point was that these broken disagreements highlight our need for deeper discipleship. Most of us simply aren’t the kind of people we need to be in order to handle such difficult issues well. We need to be more deeply formed into the likeness of Christ if our disagreements will be of the character that honors Christ.
We also believe that these disagreements provide an excellent place for taking up long-held Christian practices that help to shape our character. Whenever a difficult issue begins to fracture our communities, we begin with Colossians 1:17, that “in Christ, all things hold together.” If we really believe that Jesus is reconciling all things, then we can be relieved of the unrealistic burden of holding everything together ourselves. Instead, we are free to take up the things Jesus has instructed us to do: Love God and love one another as we face today’s challenges.
Darrel and Todd have been tremendous partners in this work and were willing to experiment with some of these ideas as they worked to love one another and pursue truth together, right in the middle of their serious disagreement. Even though our work together has sometimes been marred by our own sinfulness, we have found that repentance and forgiveness are graces Jesus has given us that transform seeming failure into surprising sorts of success. As we face conflicts like those over origins, TCF believes that we can pursue truth while loving one another. We don’t have to choose between truth and love, but can hold them together while engaging conflicts about origins or any of a large number of other challenging issues faced by Christians.
TCF’s primary work is equipping Christians to take up practices within their own churches that will help them engage conflicts in ways like Darrel and Todd have done, ultimately forming more Christ-like disciples and testifying to the difference Jesus makes. Darrel and Todd have blazed a trail through difficult terrain. There are now thousands of people in many churches who are taking up similar practices for transforming conflicts into opportunities for discipleship and witness.
HM: The idea of a charitable dialogue between a young earth creationist and an evolutionist sounds promising on paper. But I imagine there were significant challenges along the way. What were some of the most difficult issues you had to overcome?
TW: There still are difficulties to overcome! We are real people, with feelings and ideas and biases, and to top it off, we’re still sinners. I think the most difficult thing for me is unpacking a lifetime of unspoken and unexamined assumptions, as I try to articulate what I believe and why I believe it. That’s been going on in my life ever since we started. I’m not sure it will ever end.
Another huge challenge is where to begin.This has not been something we have ever been able to take for granted. Prayer, scripture reading, and worship has needed to be a fundamental component of all our conversations. When Darrel talks about his perspective on creation, there is often so much that I disagree with that I quite literally have to ignore 95% of what he said so I can focus on something either approachable or foundational. The alternative would be to deluge him with dozens of objections, which just shuts off the conversation. I’ve had to really sharpen my discernment and practice patience as we slowly work our way through our beliefs.
DF: It took me a while to understand that although Todd is so aware of the strengths of the scientific arguments in favor of God having created through the evolutionary process, his focus is not on trying to find weaknesses in those arguments. Instead he is so convinced of the particular biblical hermeneutic to which he (and many others subscribe) that he views his main task as developing a scientifically solid model for how God created. He wants his work to take on a positive posture: Rather than trying to tear down evolutionary biology, he wants to begin the work of showing how scientific data can be used to construct a scientific model that is fully consistent with the biblical hermeneutic to which he subscribes. Our conversations have focused to no small extent on simply seeking to understand each other’s commitments. But given the difficulty emanating from the vast difference between how we think about creation, it has also been of the utmost importance that we keep our conversations focused on the love and unity that must characterize Christ-centered conversations. This has not been something we have ever been able to take for granted. Prayer, scripture reading, and worship has needed to be a fundamental component of all our conversations.
HM: I can imagine some of our readers might be a bit skeptical at this point. They might worry that you are sacrificing truth and conviction on the altar of peaceful dialogue. After all, the very reason there’s been so much contentious debate is precisely because of the weighty matters at stake—trivializing those issues seems naïve and perhaps even disingenuous. What would you say to such skeptics?
TW: I worry about the same thing all the time. To what extent have I sold out? Am I really just trying (futilely) to have fellowship with a genuine heretic? The answer to those doubts are found in the experience itself. There’s something else going on when we’re together, something divine I think. I can’t quantify it, and I can’t explain it. But I know it needs to happen. If skeptics haven’t experienced it, I can’t really offer a logical apologetic for what we’ve tried to do. You just have to try it.
DF: They are right. This is the greatest danger. Todd and I have primarily focused on understanding each other and reaching the point where we can be very frank about how we each think the other is wrong. We still find it difficult to do this. The temptation is not to say anything for fear it will be hurtful. However, the goal has always been that we be able critique each other’s views, so that we can learn and be better representatives of the gospel in today’s world. We try to find the right balance between not being hurtful while also being forthright. Sometimes we fail, but more often than not we don’t.
HM: But what are the concrete implications? Are you saying that BioLogos and Reasons to Believe and Answers in Genesis should close up shop and join together as a new “ecumenical” creationist movement? Are organizations that advocate distinctive positions a bad thing? Or are you making a different point?
TW: Speaking as an American Protestant, I firmly believe an organization should have the ability to define itself however it wants (within the limits of what’s legal obviously), as long as they’re transparent and intentional about what they believe. The difficulty I see is the isolation that seems to follow these organizations. In a debate like this, you can choose to define yourself by having the correct position or by how wrong everyone else is. Most try a mix of positive and negative definitions, but I have yet to encounter an organization that doesn’t make responding to critics a priority of some kind. But once you’ve decided the “other guy” is super-wrong and hurting the church, you tend to shun the “other guy.” So we all just end up talking in an echo chamber, and lazy thinking, sloppy ideas, and straw men abound.
Thanks to my work with Darrel, I’ve interacted with many theistic evolutionists and evolutionary creationists, and I find time and again that they have no idea what real young age creationists actually think. With all the books and blogs and articles that we crank out annually, I thought anyone could understand young-age creationists, but that’s not true at all. Even individuals who purport to “follow” the other side generally have a poor understanding. So we’re all fighting against cardboard cutouts. That goes for me too. I find myself really challenged talking to Darrel and discovering that he’s not a caricature that I can dismiss with a few “good arguments.” We all have to do better.
DF: God’s truth will ultimately prevail. In the meantime, to the extent that Christian organizations can present their views in a clear and loving manner, there is great value in laying out the various perspectives. The ideal is for the various organizations themselves to be able to enter into dialogue with each other in a spirit of Christian love.
HM: I have a question for Todd specifically: How have your fellow creationists received this dialogue you’ve been having with Darrel?
TW: There hasn’t been a lot of reaction yet. A few people have been very supportive, but I would say that most are cautiously curious. I think there’s a lot of suspicion, and I expect more criticisms will be voiced after the publication of our new book The Fool and the Heretic. The fun thing is that I share a lot of those suspicions (other than the people who think I’m just an evolutionist). I constantly wonder if I’m just being used to promote evolution. After all, a lot of the church looks at evolution as virtually a heresy, and if I say it isn’t, I’m playing right into the hand of the evolutionists. I know things are a lot more complicated than that, but that’s something I think a lot about. It would be distressing to discover good Christians converting to Darrel’s position because of our work together. I also fear how my work with Darrel might be abused. It’s one thing for Darrel and me to do what we do, because I’m convinced that Darrel is a genuine Christian, and we have a very controlled relationship outside of any formal organizations. But I don’t want anyone to use our work as an excuse to tolerate genuine heresy or wrong teaching. I also don’t want people to rush into this unprepared and end up doing more harm than good. It seems pretty obvious from the current political climate that a large portion of American evangelicals aren’t ready to do what we’re doing, and rushing things could end up sowing more discord than it heals.
On the other hand, I have to say I’d rather someone be a Christian like Darrel than not be a Christian at all. The choice should never, ever be young age creationism or go to hell. So if our work together helps someone find a way to be a Christian at all, that’s a great thing. And if our work together gives someone hope for how church conflicts could be, that would be a great thing as well. After all, I’m tired of being abused by ignorant, Christian know-it-alls, and I know they’re tired of being abused by me. There must be a better way.
Our work is a great risk, but it could also bring great reward.
HM: You are both co-authors of a new book The Fool and the Heretic published in February 2019 by Zondervan. What is it about and why should people read it?
DF: It is about our experience of being in dialogue about a highly contentious issue for over five years. We have learned a lot about how to have conversations that lay out differences clearly even as we accept each other’s sincerity and integrity. In this highly polarized society, churches must be examples of the way forward. Our path on this particular journey is not that different from the vast array of issues that confront all who seek to live in Christian community.
TW: As Darrel said, our book is a little glimpse into our relationship and our work together, but it’s just the beginning. We’ve barely scratched the surface, and there is much more still to do.
HM: One last question: How can people get involved in this fascinating dialogue you are having?
TW: I’m hoping people bring wisdom and discernment to their conflicts. We all have that fight or flight response, but rarely do we swallow that fear and think carefully about what we’re going to do about conflict. All we seem to understand is winning or running away. As for our point of conflict itself, I hope people on all sides might start seeing beyond the positions they hate to the people who hold them. We’re not what you think.
DF: Our book has a set of discussion questions after each chapter. The focus of this section is much broader than just the evolution/creation debate—it becomes clear, I think, that this is simply a case study for a much broader issue. So here’s my suggestion: Form a small discussion group that meets weekly over coffee and a snack. Let us know your group’s experience by emailing us at [email protected] and [email protected]. Depending upon how it goes, perhaps we’ll want to facilitate wider community conversations.