Monday, May 25, 2015

Conflicted responses

Last week's post by Darrel Falk stirred up some very interesting reactions, and they were all over the map.  What makes them interesting is that I have the very same reactions in my head during our conversations.  Usually these reactions happen all at once, and that makes figuring out an actual response very challenging.  It's like I'm hearing ten voices all shouting different things at the same time.  So I was very gratified to see that you the reader have the very same reaction!  Thank you for validating my sanity.

First, there was this reaction from Darrel himself:
I should have given a title for my blog.  I really didn't want it to be perceived as one more essay on love.  I was hoping to make the point that for our conversation what we're doing  is about humility in the face of truth. When this exists love is the natural bi-product.  This, I think is the grounding for what Paul is doing in the I Cor. 13.
I'm sorry about that, Darrel, but it is a good object lesson on one of the struggles of conversation: I often don't exactly get the point, and sometimes we struggle to voice what we're really thinking.  Thankfully, Darrel has been longsuffering in our discussions, so here is another opportunity for him to practice that grace!

Next, this creationist reader happily agreed with Darrel:
Actually, I very much like what he wrote.  Hard to do, yes, but there must be a commitment to behave in a way which includes concern for the well being of others.  That is captured in the Old Testament concept of truth - emet, which includes the idea being factually correct and relationally faithful.
Yes, I too like the ideal that he communicates: the idea of Christian humility and love, even amidst difficult disagreements.  That is very appealing.

Others were far more suspicious of unspoken motives of gathering influence and personal power to eliminate resistance:
...these “take-no-prisoners” communities of evangelicals will eagerly throw gasoline on any sparks of dissent in conservative colleges, broadcast it to the world, and hope progressives take the colleges. Is this love? 
Yikes!  You know, I have the same kind of worries all the time, especially as we make part of our conversation more public.  On the one hand I think that we're doing a better job of handling our disagreement than a lot of others in the current debate.  On the other hand, I am deeply concerned that my activity will merely promote Darrel's views.  After all, if I can sit in a room with Darrel and affirm that he is a brother in Christ, then maybe someone might think that his views on evolution are also acceptable?  So my attempt to address what I see as a severely defective debate becomes an opportunity for unsavory opponents to destroy me and Christians like me.  It's like going to war to demonstrate a commitment to passive nonviolence and getting killed in the first skirmish.

(Let me clarify that I don't believe that Darrel is an "unsavory opponent" who desires my destruction, but I know that many people in his "camp" would use the vulnerability of our conversation against me and against creationism.  I've spent enough time with Darrel to know very personally that he is absolutely sincere in his motives to increase our mutual understanding.  He's not out to get me.  In fact, I think he kind of likes me.)

Of course, the risk is not just mine.  I'm not some creationist loon looking for bigfoot or finding Bible codes; I'm not easily dismissed as a crank.  I've got the training and background and experience to make very articulate and thoughtful arguments in a winsome way.  All that, and I'm humble too!  (These are the jokes, folks.)  Our conversation could also swing bystanders to my way of thinking, so there is mutual risk.

Other readers were nitpickers, and boy, can I relate (I'm only using the term nitpick because I can't think of a better word for "raise lots of factual objections all at the same time.").
... he has more faith in his "God-given mind"  Really??!!  It has been proven over and over that our minds can fool us and they do fool us.  Eve used her "God-given mind" and was fooled and she knew God "face to face" and Adam was persuaded by Eve.  His mind also was fooled. "Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight." IS.5:21
This happens a lot in our conversations.  I ask a question, and Darrel gives a long response full of things I want to nitpick.  It goes the other way, too.  Every time we open our mouths, it's like we open a can of worms.  Over and over and over again.  That's why after nearly two years, we're still at it.  We're buried in worms.

Should we really trust our minds?  I think not.  Of course, we could raise the same question about our ability to understand the Bible, but I nevertheless think there is something important in this objection.  The heart is deceitful above all things, and nature does not speak for itself.

I also got this curious claim:
I think our model of origins is based more on our assumptions about the world than science. We normally only admit evidence that supports our assumptions about origins. And most people do not feel secure enough to let their assumptions be challenged by what others consider to be evidence. There are exceptions, of course, but I think they are exceptions. Those who do change their beliefs about origins, do so because they change their assumptions about origins. And I think this is usually for non-scientific reasons. Someone might do so for scientific reasons, but I am not sure.  This may sound like I am pretty skeptical about science. But I fully support science - if it is used to tell us about God's world. I am only skeptical about it telling us about origins.
Honestly, I don't think that way.  The thing about assumptions is that they often run into data like a car hitting a mountain.  I don't think that any old origins model can fit the data, whether the data come from the Bible or from creation itself.  This point might be challenging for nonscientists to understand, or it might simply be difficult for scientists to explain.  But the basic idea is that data only fits well with some assumptions but not others.  Scientists have been working for centuries on things we cannot directly observe, and in that time poor models (phlogiston for example) are replaced by better models.  Ideology can and does play a role in that process, but scientists aren't free to make any old claim they want.  I might not think that creation is as perfectly clear as Darrel does, but I don't think I'm free to impose on it ill-fitting interpretive models.

That said, I do have my darker moods that make me wonder if we're ever going to make any progress at all.

Finally, I got this:
God is a God of love, but He is also a God of judgment and we don't like to think about that part.
Yes, I keep reminding everyone reading and listening that truth matters.  Grace is awesome, but truth matters!  I think of it like Paul's admonition about sin and grace: God's grace covers our sin, but that isn't a license for us to live like the devil so that "grace may abound."  So too, I think that God's grace covers our erroneous beliefs, but that isn't a license to ignore or downplay bad theology.  We really ought to care about truth, even while we recognize that truth isn't the only thing we're called to care about.

OK, that's enough for now.  I have my own reaction to Darrel's most recent essay, but I'll wait until next week to post that (and it will have a fun lesson in sociobiology too).  In the meantime, I'm enjoying the knowledge that Darrel will now experience his own chorus of conflicting reactions to my readers' comments.  Ha ha!

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Can we love one another?

Darrel Falk returns this week with a discussion of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, and it's a very interesting read.  It's hard to argue with Paul, but I'm really curious about Darrel's application.  It sounds good, but since I almost never see it in practice, I'm wondering if he's on the right track.  I would love to hear your ideas.  You can email me at toddcharleswood at gmail dot com, or just pop over to the Core Academy Facebook page and leave a message there.  Thanks to Darrel for continuing the conversation.

Todd expresses my own thinking wonderfully well, when he writes:
It's easy to deal with problems by pretending the issue doesn't matter, but if it really didn't matter, then why is it a problem? Our postmodern society just wants us to deny that there's any truth content in religion at all. Supposedly, any religion is just as good as another, and whatever works for you is fine. I don't believe that either. That's a broad path that leads to destruction. There's truth at stake in my conversation with Darrel, and it's important truth. Our difficult disagreements should not be brushed under the rug. They deserve respect.
So we each think that when it comes to the age of the earth and the mechanism by which God created the variety of life forms, that the other has bought into something completely untrue. We also believe that the position we hold is extremely well-founded and that the alternative take on truth is a mistake with dire long-term consequences. So what are we to do? What are Christians, in general, to do when they disagree about issues of great importance? How do we approach our understanding of truth when we think the other has it gravely wrong?

Paul’s discourse on love in I Corinthians 13 is one of the best known chapters in all of Scripture. In fact it is so well known, that its profundity can easily become lost in a blur of familiarity. The chapter is about love of course; we all know that. However, at a deeper level, it is about truth and the appropriate posture for Christians to take when they are quite certain they know it. Paul tells us that no matter how certain we are that we’re right, indeed no matter how right we are, our knowledge is worthless unless it is bathed in humility—child-like humility.

When Paul wrote the content of this thirteenth chapter, he did not place a chapter-break to separate it from that which had just been written. Paul had just introduced the concept of the parallel between how the parts of the human body function as an integrated whole and how the church is designed to function as a unit as well. He points out a wonderful biological fact: there is no dissension among the organs and tissues of a properly functioning human body because each part is functioning on behalf of the others. So it is with the body of Christ, Paul tells us. There must be a certain posture towards what we think is truth—even when we’re quite certain about it—if the church is going to function as an integrated whole speaking into the world as a whole. If the Body is not functioning as God intends, it will be a lame caricature instead of that which brings Christ’s love and beautifully functioning presence into a world highly devoid of functionality and love.

There is such a thing as truth. Paul begins this letter to the church at Corinth emphasizing that. But in the overall scheme of things, Paul tells us that when we expound on truth we are like little children just learning to talk. Our view of reality is blurred; it is as if we are looking into a distorted mirror, he tells us. This doesn’t mean we aren’t to speak of truth. In Acts 17, he tells the men of Athens that accessibility to the wisdom they are seeking is all around them if they would only reach out and grab for its source. Paul’s first eight chapters of Romans may well be the most profound discourse on truth ever written. Still having come so close to it that he could reach out and feel its very texture, he reminds us that if the Body is going to successfully bring God’s love into a deeply hurting world, humility—even when we’re sure we’re right—trumps everything. We are, after all, just little children barely learning to speak about reality. As the thirteenth chapter ends, it becomes clear that even Paul, divinely inspired scribe that he is, considers himself to be one of those little children too.

As Todd has said so well, this does not mean that seeking after truth doesn’t matter. There is nothing more important in life than the belief that truth exists and that we can and must seek after it. However, as Paul has said, when we expound with confidence that we know the truth and do so without love, we’re like a clanging cymbal, a noisy gong. The truth content of our words is empty unless the words are bathed in love for those who don’t see it our way. Even if we were so smart that we understood all the mysteries of the universe, we would be nothing without love. In other words unless the posture with which we hold our ‘knowledge’ is one of bended knees, open heart, and arms which reach out to others who think differently, we will have missed the most fundamental tenet upon which all reality is based. God, above all, is love and our calling is to live in his image.

So Todd and I have very different views of what the early chapters of Genesis are telling us about creation and the extent to which we can trust the findings of science to tell us about the material basis of reality. I have much more trust in the power of our God-given minds to successfully use science as a tool to arrive at something that approaches truth than I think Todd does. The evidence for God having created all of life through the evolutionary process is overwhelming as I see it. Furthermore, I think it is completely consistent with orthodox Christian theology, including a historical Adam and Eve, albeit not as the sole biological progenitors of the human race. I also think it enriches the Christian faith. Todd, on the other hand, places much more emphasis on our child-like understanding when it comes to interpreting the findings of science and reading the words of Scripture than I do. He, along with others, is working to develop an alternate way of thinking about material origins—one that he thinks will eventually be well-grounded in the scientific process. I respect that and I respect him.

If my words or even my thinking ever manifests itself as a self-gratifying pride in how I’m right and those like Todd are wrong, then I will be the one who is even more wrong than they. In that case, my words will have become a clanging cymbal, a noisy gong—air molecules vibrating for a bit before vanishing into a meaningless vacuum.

Our purpose in talking is to lay out the basis of our thinking as clearly as we can. We’re not trying to convince each other, but we think we have a responsibility to clearly expound on the foundations upon which our thinking is grounded. Peeling back the various layers of why each of us think as we do is hard work and requires much time. However, because we each value pursuing God’s truth so highly, we respond to what we think is a calling to lay out all aspects of our thinking, and to do so in love.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Monday, May 11, 2015

But it's dangerous! (Yes, it is!)

I've had some interesting feedback from my posts about my ongoing conversations with Darrel Falk (part 1 and part 2). A lot of it has been supportive. Some people are curious and ask me things like, "How can Dr. Falk believe that?" Other readers have expressed concerns, via email, phone calls, and in person. All very nice, of course, but there's an undercurrent that somehow I'm doing something dangerous.

I agree. I am definitely doing something dangerous. First of all, I run the risk of being persuaded. Our positions and why we hold them is the core of what we talk about. Any time you talk about that, you run the risk of changing your mind, but I would say there's just as much danger for Darrel as there is for me. And I'm really stubborn. Just ask my parents.

A more imminent danger is being misunderstood, and this is the one that I'm far more concerned about. I'm especially concerned with what Proverbs would call "the simple." That sounds like a terribly arrogant thing to say, but it just means people who aren't well-informed about something. I think I can best illustrate my concerns with a story:

Let's say there's this guy George, who doesn't know much about the creation/evolution debate. So George doesn't have a strong opinion one way or another. He likes seeing things from AIG in his facebook feed, but he thinks National Geographic specials are neat too. He doesn't see much reason to get excited. Then George hears about what Darrel and I are doing, and George thinks, "Hey, that's great! Christians can hold different views and still get along, because faith in Jesus is the most important thing, and the differences just don't matter."

Wrong, George. Dead wrong. The differences matter a great deal, because the differences are about TRUTH. As Darrel said in his previous post, we both think the other is doing damage to the church. I think accepting evolution will send the church toppling down the slippery slope to atheism, and Darrel thinks that promoting young-age creationism will make the church antiscientific and increasingly irrelevant in our modern scientific culture. These are not small concerns. They matter a great deal.

I once had a man tell me that our Christian understanding of creation is just not important. It's a "secondary issue," he said, and then he quoted that saying that is so loved by Christian academics who depart from the mainstream: "In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in everything charity." That sounds like a great plan, but the problem is determining what is essential? Darrel and I agree that our views on creation are not essential for salvation, but that doesn't make them unimportant. We both fear that if the "other side" wins, the church's witness will be crippled and souls will be lost. That doesn't sound like a "nonessential" issue to me. That sounds like a big deal, and it is.

I reject wholeheartedly the naive dichotomy of "essential" vs. "nonessential." When you're dealing with truth, who's to say what is important to a person's coming to salvation? Maybe to some, the most important part of truth is seeing that Christians live genuinely transformed lives and are not hypocrites. Maybe to others it's the idea that we're loved, no matter how broken or wicked we are. Maybe to others it's about having a consistent, coherent, and logical set of beliefs that makes sense of the world and our Christian experience. These issues aren't the Death-Burial-Resurrection of Jesus, but they can be critically important to different people. Who am I to judge what is important and what is not? Maybe that's why God has our hairs numbered and knows the stars by name. Maybe everything matters to God?

It's easy to deal with problems by pretending the issue doesn't matter, but if it really didn't matter, then why is it a problem? Our postmodern society just wants us to deny that there's any truth content in religion at all. Supposedly, any religion is just as good as another, and whatever works for you is fine.  I don't believe that either. That's a broad path that leads to destruction. There's truth at stake in my conversation with Darrel, and it's important truth. Our difficult disagreements should not be brushed under the rug. They deserve respect.

How do you even have that conversation then? Let's face it, we all know how to have a culture war and ridicule people we disagree with, and we also know how to shun and ignore them. Having a real conversation requires you to sit down, look someone in the eye, and say, "I just don't think you're right. I think you're deeply wrong, and the church will be harmed by what you're doing." That's tough. It's dangerous, risky, scary, hard work. And there's no instruction manual. You just have to jump in and trust the Lord to carry you through, one sentence at a time. You have to trust that He holds you in His hand, and He will not let you fall. You have to trust that in the end He will be glorified as you struggle to speak the truth in love.

Yes, it's dangerous, but learning to trust like that is exhilarating. You should try it sometime.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Origins 2015 tickets now available!

Origins 2015, the annual conference of the Creation Biology Society and the Creation Geology Society, will be held on the campus of Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, GA.  The conference will feature special presentations for the general public, technical talks for creationist researchers, and a field trip to Smithgall Woods Environmental Center.  This is an excellent occasion to meet and learn from prominent creationist researchers from around the country!  The conference begins with dinner on Wednesday evening and runs through the field trip on Saturday afternoon.

All tickets include nine meals from Wednesday dinner to Saturday lunch.  Campus housing is available, but linens are not provided.  If you are flying and unable to bring your own linens, we may be able to provide some for you.  Email us for more information.  For those opting to stay off campus, we recommend the Best Western (706-878-2111) or the Country Inn & Suites (706-878-9000), both located in Helen, GA, just 15 minutes from campus.

If you are interested in qualifying for the member rate, you can join the Creation Biology Society at their website,  Associate membership is only $20 and is open to all.

Buy your tickets here, or visit for more information.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

See the 2015 Rocket Car Race

Core Academy sponsors an annual Science Day at Rhea County Academy, complete with a Rocket Car race, where the cars are powered by Diet Coke and Mentos.  Here's a video of this year's race.  It's worth a laugh!

As promised, here is our Rocket Car race from Science Day at Rhea County Academy. Congratulations to Kayla and Courtney for their 108-foot winning run! That's a repeat win for Courtney. Will she make it three for three in 2016? I can't wait to find out!Core Academy's next big event is our Midsummer Celebration. Click below to check it out. Thanks!
Posted by Core Academy of Science on Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.