TCF at the Courthouse
TCF recently hosted the third in a forum series on the origins of human existence, this one held at the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, TN. The four-day event included a public forum, featuring TCF Fellows Todd Wood and Darrel Falk. Friend of TCF Don Huizinga graciously agreed to share the following reflections on his experience that evening. Recently I had the privilege of listening in on a thoughtful, gracious conversation between a young earth creationist and an evolutionary creationist, a rare treat indeed. One can quite easily find debates between the two, but respectful dialogue is rare. Questions were answered head on, no evasion, no trying to score points, no reciting the party line. I simply experienced two people being authentic with one another, seeking reconciliation and seeking truth. Those who attended recognized this is the way things are supposed to be and were inspired to go and do likewise. Surprisingly, this particular conversation took place in Dayton, Tennessee, inside the very courthouse where the Scopes Trial was held eighty-nine years earlier. Although the courthouse crowd was large enough to be standing room only, they were not drawn to what they expected to be a circus-like, hyper-adversarial, media-pleasing conflict. Rather, they were drawn to something spectacular, perhaps one could even say historic: a virtuous conversation between two individuals whose common allegiance to Jesus trumped their strong convictions to opposing truths about the nature of Scripture and the scientific origins story. Two Christian scientists engaged in this conversation: Todd Wood and Darrel Falk, each committed to following Jesus, each committed to the authority of the Bible, each committed to doing good science. Nevertheless, their common foundational commitments led them to draw quite opposite conclusions about the age of the universe and the nature of God’s creative processes. Why have this conversation then? The answer begins with confession. Unfriendly Christian divisiveness has been the norm concerning origin issues. Defending turf with more passion for one’s position than for civility has been the norm. Humility—the willingness to admit one may possibly be wrong—has been absent. Expressed dire consequences of holding the opponent’s position have been exaggerated. Besides, they both love truth. Could it be possible that conversations between those who hold opposing views could advance truth? May seeking truth together with those who hold divergent ideas have significant advantage over a more parochial approach? They also both love Jesus. They believe Jesus is through whom and for whom creation was made. They believe Jesus is reconciling all things to Himself, and they need to be part of that reconciliation process. They trust that He is at the center of the truth. All things hold together in Him. This was the third of three extended conversations these two scientists have had. I’ve had the privilege of listening in on portions of the first, which occurred last July, and the third, this month. The difference was striking. Their first interchange had a raw edge to it; this one did not. Todd Wood, a young earth creationist, impresses me with his vulnerability and transparency. In July, Todd confessed that many creationists find it easy to see Darrel, an evolutionary creationist, not as a Christian brother, but as a ‘dirty rotten compromiser.’ As one who claimed to be evangelical only to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is difficult, Todd explained, to refrain from stereotyping when you don’t know someone personally. He wondered, “If Darrel is a Christian, why doesn’t he agree with me?” He asked the attendees, “I don’t know how to pray for Darrel, help me.” At the same time, he complimented Darrel on his answers, praising him for appealing to Scriptures rather than to science as the final authority. Later he professed that after intense interaction with Darrel, he had come to a place where he could tell his friends that there are real true evangelicals who believe in evolution. (Emphasis his.) Darrel Falk recognized Todd as a bright scientist, one who published in peer-reviewed journals. So he asked Todd, “With all your knowledge of the science behind evolution, why don’t you just accept it?” Todd was an enigma to him. He listened carefully to Todd’s answer and respected it. In fact, Darrel’s response was, “I admire your willingness to be non-mainstream. Your answer enables me to pray for you.” Darrel emphasized more than once that conversation about origins without the presence of young earth creationists is unhealthy; in addition he believed that the headship of Jesus expressed in Colossians 1 demanded inclusive conversation. In contrast to their first conversation, during the third Todd and Darrel seemed much more relaxed with one another. They used the word “friendship” to describe their relationship. I witnessed a profound trust I had not seen the first time. That atmosphere of trust enabled tough questions to be asked without the need to “tiptoe.” Todd asked of Darrel, “Do you feel the primary problem underlying Young Earth Creationism is ignorance? What do you think about the lack of progress evolutionists have had in finding satisfactory natural answers for the origin of life from non-life?” At the same time, Todd felt safe enough to admit to sometimes thinking he may be wrong, that some of the best evidence for his position remains to be found. And he acknowledged that even among creationists, for example, there remains some disagreement about the Fall, the curse, and death. Wood agrees with other creationists that the curse resulted in physical death for humans and some animals – but in some senses the “jury is still out” as to whether there may have been death among some in the animal kingdom before the Fall. For his part, Darrel felt free to ask Todd for the best scientific evidence for ‘no macro-evolution’ rather than asking for his biblical reasoning. He felt safe enough to admit that he does not doubt the ‘overwhelming and beautiful’ evidence for biological evolution even though tough theological questions are raised and remain unanswered as a result. Darrel boldly stated that physical death was not necessarily a result of the Fall, although spiritual death was. All three conversations between these two Christian scientists were hosted by The Colossian Forum, this last one in partnership with the Core Academy of Science. The Colossian Forum is committed to facilitating charitable conversation among opposite though Christian points of view on controversial topics such as origins. The Core Academy works to help Christians better understand science, including – but not limited to – educating about young-earth creationism. This co-hosting is evidence of a reconciliation, a building of trust that honors Christ. Many of those who attended this conversation were students at Bryan College. For these young people, and for the rest of us who were present, the model of friendship and trust that has grown between these two men, and the respectful but difficult conversation they had were powerfully inspirational! The evening began with worship. We listened to Scripture, not as proof text, but with encouragement to submit to its teaching, allowing Scripture to shape us rather than us manipulating it to prove a point. Then we prayed, bound together by the Spirit of Christ. At the end, Rob Barrett, representing The Colossian Forum as moderator of the event, asked this question of each of the participants, “What good is coming from this kind of conversation?” Darrel emphasized that Christians on any side of this issue benefit from worshipping together. “We owe it to each other to ease misunderstandings,” he said. “We need to work through issues differently than those not in the body of Christ.” Wood explained that Christians must let go of the need to win: “[We] have to trust the outcome of this process to the Lord.” He recognized that the difference between six thousand years and thirteen point eight billion years was too great for both of them to be right. This irreconcilable but very pragmatic difference, this recognition that one perspective is closer to the truth than the other, points to something else we hope from these events, which does not yet seem to have happened. Has progress been made toward increased understanding of origins? Todd and Darrel have accomplished amazing things in their relationship, but has the content of their understanding of origins changed? Maybe it’s too early in the process. Maybe it’s not a proper goal? Can we hope that this conversation/friendship will lead to an understanding of the truth about our origins that is a step forward, taking advantage from but not identical to either of their current positions? These tensions were alive and well at the end of this conversation, and will continue to demand the attention of The Colossian Forum and its partners. However, as Todd reminded the audience, this work can move forward with confidence and hope: “The Spirit of God won’t let us go! He is bigger than wrong answers.” We listeners experienced all that Todd and Darrel hoped for: Easing of misunderstanding. Letting go of a desire to win. Trust that the Holy Spirit won’t let us go because He is bigger than our wrong answers. Thank you, Colossian Form; thank you, Core Academy of Science. Thank you Todd Wood; thank you Darrel Falk. You are the models we need. You are an inspiration!