When Two Christian Scientists Disagree About Creation and Evolution: An Interview with Todd Charles Wood and Darrel R. Falk
The topics of creation and evolution can be divisive in today’s church. How can followers of Jesus who worship together but differ in their views on these topics get along with each other? How can they demonstrate the practice of loving one another, friendship, and mutual respect despite arriving at opposite scientific conclusions?
Bible Gateway interviewed Todd Charles Wood (@CoreacadInfo) and Darrel R. Falk about their book, The Fool and the Heretic: How Two Scientists Moved Beyond Labels to a Christian Dialogue About Creation and Evolution (Zondervan, 2019).
Explain the title of the book.
Dr. Darrel R. Falk: I’m a biologist who has long thought that the data from biology, geology, astronomy, and other sciences made it absolutely clear that creation has occurred over billions of years and, more specifically, that the various forms of living organisms were created through the evolutionary process. I thought it highly foolish for anyone who was even slightly aware of the strength of the data to think any other way.
And then I met Dr. Todd Wood who does think another way.
He’s a protein biochemist educated at the doctoral and post-doctoral level at two of the nation’s best institutions. He has more expertise in the study of genomes and the evolution of proteins than I do. Todd is also a great teacher. He’s no fool and this book is the story of how I learned that, as well as a bit about me and the way in which I have, at times, been the fool. It’s also the story of what we learned together about the beauty of experiencing the Christ-centered life in a community where individuals think vastly differently about a matter of great importance to them.
Dr. Todd Charles Wood: There’s a temptation in sharp disagreements to pigeonhole people without actually listening. In our current culture, this happens all the time even over the most trivial, irrelevant issues. Whether you’re arguing about the government or the latest Star Wars movie, everyone quickly writes off “those people.” We seem to be eager to find new ways to demonize the things we hate, and for a Christian, “heretic” is the ultimate accusation. It ends the debate immediately, and when we find heresy, we know we’ve won.
Except it’s rarely that simple, and that’s where our story begins. Putting evolution and Christianity together can definitely yield heresy, but part of my journey with Darrel has been the unsettling and unnerving discovery of genuine Christians trying to hold the orthodox gospel and evolution together. Darrel isn’t quite the heretic others take him for. Actually, he’s a decent, kind gentleman, and as far as I can see, he’s a real Christian. And that makes our disagreement all the more difficult.
The book’s title plays to stereotypes on both sides, while (hopefully) the text challenges and unravels those stereotypes.
Todd, why do you think Darrel is wrong?
Dr. Todd Charles Wood: So many reasons… I think he’s wrong about the flexibility of the Bible and the theology that Christians down through the ages have inferred from it. The Bible has a description of creation that flatly contradicts evolution, and I don’t believe that Christian theology can be reconfigured to fit.
But you know what? Errors are errors, and I’m not really concerned about Darrel’s personal spiritual health. The long-term, generational changes I see coming from the error of evolution is far more important. The next generation always takes things further, and apostasy is never far away from any of us. Modifying or re-imagining the basic creation-fall-redemption theology of the Christian church will yield bitter fruit. Maybe not in this lifetime, but it will happen.
Darrel, why do you think Todd is wrong?
Dr. Darrel R. Falk: As almost all doctoral-level practicing scientists see it, the body of scientific evidence for gradual creation over billions of years is enormous. It may be hard for the lay person who doesn’t have time to become familiar with the many nuances associated with the scientific evidence, but there’s good reason why virtually every leading biologist, physicist, astronomer, and geologist think this way. I’m concerned that pushing for a position that goes so strongly against the scientific mainstream seriously distracts from the Christian message at a time when it’s desperately needed in this badly broken world.
How is it that dedicated followers of Jesus and fervent readers of the Bible can legitimately differ on their interpretations of the Bible?
Dr. Darrel R. Falk: Todd and I differ in two respects. We both recognize that the Bible uses different genres to explain timeless truths. Unlike Todd though, I think the creation story was not meant to address the detailed cosmological or biological questions as we would frame them today. Todd thinks it was. I think that the scientific data informs us of the “how” of creation, whereas the Bible tells us of the “who” and the “why.” Todd thinks the Bible addresses all three.
Second, I think that the evidence of God having created the universe and all life forms over billions of years, not seven days, is overwhelmingly strong and this helps me decide that the genre of the creation account is not literalistic. Todd regards the data with a higher degree of skepticism, enabling the literalistic interpretation he holds to remain firmly in place.
Dr. Todd Charles Wood: I still don’t know! On one level, I can understand Darrel’s explanations and reasoning. On a deeper level, I see many glaring problems that Darrel seems completely unfazed by. Why he should not be bothered by the same things I am is quite beyond me. Darrel also thinks that my enthusiastic approach to redeveloping science is quixotic and even dangerous. I don’t agree with that either, and it’s baffling to me why he would see no value in my work. That frustration is part of the book, though. We want people to understand how difficult this really is. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, I’m not sure it’s even possible.
What is your objective in writing this book?
Dr. Darrel R. Falk: Todd and I want others to know that Christians can dwell together in unity even when they disagree about matters that are of great significance to them. I think Todd’s position is highly harmful to the church and will cause many to reject Christianity. It doesn’t get much more serious than that. Todd thinks the same of my position. And yet, despite our difference, we’re in agreement with regard to something much more important: we sense the presence of Jesus in each other’s lives. With that, we’ve learned to be satisfied by simply seeking to lovingly understand each other’s perspective and this, despite being a rather rocky road at times, turns out to have been a meaningful and most fulfilling journey in its own right. We think the lessons we’ve learned apply to conflict wherever it arises within a Christian community.
Dr. Todd Charles Wood: I wanted to write a better debate book. I’ve seen two big defects in previous efforts at debate-type books. One defect is that the participants don’t really understand each other, and they end up arguing past each other. After spending so much time with Darrel personally, I think we both see more clearly what the other believes and what really drives each of us. It’s much harder to mischaracterize or misunderstand a position when you keep having to talk to a person who holds it.
The other defect is that the disagreement is often isolated from the Christian life. A book on different views of this or that rarely discusses the nature of dispute within the body of Christ. Everyone is just jockeying to win the debate. The rare book that does talk about disagreement too often concludes that disagreements are unimportant compared to “weightier matters.” But what if the dispute is important but not important enough to break fellowship? There needs to be a middle road, where we can say, “You’re wrong, and your error is dangerous, and we need to work this out.”
What is a favorite Bible passage of each of you and why?
Dr. Darrel R. Falk: Near the top of any list for me is always John 17. In this chapter we’re able to peer into the heart of Jesus as he enters into conversation with the Father in the final hours before going into the experience of Good Friday. Jesus shows us how to pray by praying for us! As we listen to his prayer, we learn that in praying for us, his most earnest hope is that we might be one as he and the Father are one. I want my life to be a living answer to that prayer.
Dr. Todd Charles Wood: One of the passages that I love is 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul lays out in the simplest terms the gospel: Jesus Christ died for my sins and rose again according to Scripture, and there are personal witnesses to these facts. Then Paul explains how Jesus’ death and resurrection undo the death brought into this world by Adam. Adam’s sin is not part of the gospel itself, but it’s very nearly the next thing on Paul’s mind. Creation matters.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Dr. Darrel R. Falk: I teach a senior adult Sunday School class. There’s no resource that I use more in my preparation each week than Bible Gateway. I can compare versions, readily find other relevant passages, and experience the Bible as a living document in the most profound way I’ve ever known.
Dr. Todd Charles Wood: In addition to running Core Academy of Science, I teach Bible classes at Rhea County Academy in Dayton, TN, and I use Bible Gateway every single day. I can’t imagine teaching the Bible without it.
The Fool and the Heretic is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Todd Charles Wood earned a BS in biology from Liberty University and a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Virginia. He is founding president of the Core Academy of Science, a research and educational organization devoted to helping Christians understand science from a young-earth creationist point of view. He is co-author of The Fool and the Heretic.
Darrel R. Falk earned a PhD in genetics from the University of Alberta. He is professor emeritus at Point Loma Nazarene University, author of Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology, and a senior advisor to BioLogos, an organization he helped start aimed at contributing to the discussion of the relationship between science and religion from a Christian evolutionist point of view. He is co-author of The Fool and the Heretic.
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July 20, 2019