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, http://www.creationbiology.org.  Associate membership is only $20 and is open to all.

Buy your tickets here, or visit http://origins2015.eventbrite.com 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.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The origin of us

A reader emailed and asked me to summarize my thinking on human origins, complete with bibliography.  That sounded like a good blog post, so here it is.

Let me begin by emphasizing context.  Constructing an alternate interpretation of the fossil and genetic evidence related to human origins requires a means of doing that.  That sounds obvious, but I think it's lost on a lot of people.  People just want to know what Neandertals are or what to do with the similarity of human and chimpanzee genomes.  Those sound like simple questions, but the possible explanations get pretty big pretty fast, and we need something to help narrow things down.  For example, a person's views on the age of the earth have a gigantic impact on interpretations of human origins.  As a young-age creationist, I put the Neandertals in the post-Flood, post-Babel period, but to an old-earth creationist, that interpretation might seem absurd, since it would require us to put Adam and Eve hundreds of thousands of years ago, before the Neandertals existed.  Alternatively, some creationists might assume that humans and apes could interbreed and produce weird hybrids that we now call Neandertals, while others (like myself) find such an interpretation theologically impossible.  So how we answer the question - the intellectual foundation we build our answer on - is just as important as or maybe even more important than the answer itself.

This frustrates people, I think.  They think they want a simple answer, but as I describe my position, it doesn't take long before they start saying things like, "Well, how do you know that?"  It would be nice if we could just carve out humanity from the rest of creation, but that's not going to happen.

For myself, I can't begin talking about my own work on human origins without putting it in the context of statistical baraminology, which in turn grew out of a much broader community of creationist thought on the subject of biology.  The work of Frank Marsh was especially influential, but statistical baraminology moves way beyond anything I think Marsh would be comfortable with.  Indeed, as I developed statistical baraminology by working on things like flowers or horses, I always had in the back of my mind the notion that the methods would eventually be applied to humans.

That said, my first foray into human origins was my provocative and controversial 2010 paper Baraminological Analysis Places Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and Australopithecus sediba in the Human Holobaramin.  In contrast to previous creationists, I drew a much wider circle around the fossils that I thought were human.  In addition to H. erectus and Neandertals, I also included some of the more fragmentary remains named in the title of the paper.  The principal result of my study - the most important thing of all - was the confirmation that a robust discontinuity between human and nonhuman can be recovered by statistical baraminology.  That's a HUGE result and very exciting.

Naturally, many creationists found my analysis hard to swallow.  In particular, putting Australopithecus sediba in the human family was not warmly received.  I thus wrote a followup, published in 2011, called Baraminology, the Image of God, and Australopithecus sediba.  As mostly a response to my critics, it's a hodgepodge of three themes: objections to baraminology methods, concerns that humans cannot be more than one species, and rejecting inclusion of sediba in the human baramin.  So if you have concerns about those issues, read that paper.

Next, I tackled human mtDNA, where I further argued that Neandertals were human and so are the mysterious Denisovans, who are known only from DNA and a few skeletal fragments.  I found that putting Neandertals, Denisovans, and modern humans in the same family tree causes some very interesting problems.  When we add these other human groups, the molecular clock fails, which basically means that mutations have not been building up at a constant rate.  In the paper, I argued that this was most likely due to a higher mutation rate in the past.  Read all about it in Ancient mtDNA Implies a Nonconstant Molecular Clock in the Human Holobaramin.

In my review of Jack Collins's Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, I argued more forcefully that Neandertals and Denisovans must have been human because we know they had children with ancestors of modern humans.  But if we accept that, then it's much easier to fit them in with a young-earth chronology than an old-earth chronology.

My next study was published in the 2013 ICC proceedings, but it's not available online.  In that paper, I tried to re-analyze the baraminology of Australopithecus sediba, but my results were inconclusive.  So if you like to read papers that don't reach a conclusion, track that one down.

Now some of you are probably wondering what all of this means and how it all fits together.  The good news is that I've written up two papers describing my perspective on human origins.  The bad news is that these papers are not yet available.  They were written for a book project that seems to have been delayed, but rest assured that I will alert you when that book is published.

In the meantime, here's what I think in a nutshell:  God created Adam and Eve, and their descendants split into biologically distinguishable populations that (if they had survived) would be called different species.  These other human species descended from Adam and Eve include minimally Neandertals, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo ergaster/erectus, and Homo floresiensis.  I would also include Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and Australopithecus sediba, but those are more uncertain.  These other species did not survive because they were absorbed by populations of Homo sapiens as they spread out over the globe after the tower of Babel.  Absorbed = interbred until there were only Homo sapiens.  Why did Homo sapiens come to be the sole surviving species of human?  That's a topic for this summer's Creation Biology Society conference.

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