Have you ever wanted to get inside the head of a young-earth creationist or an evolutionary creationist and hear what they are thinking about each other? What about their fears and concerns, what makes them hold on so strongly to what they believe, what do they think about conflict and can they find any common ground? Well, I’ve just read the book for you.
I recently received a copy of the book, “The Fool and the Heretic: How two scientists moved beyond labels to a Christian dialogue about creation and evolution.” The “fool” is Dr. Todd Wood, a devoted young-earth creationist with a PhD in evolutionary biochemistry from the University of Virginia. Dr. Wood has written multiple creation science books and published many articles in creationist and secular journals. The “heretic” is Dr. Darrel Falk, a PhD in genetic from University of Alberta, former president of the evolutionary creationist ministry, BioLogos, and professor emeritus at Point Loma Nazarene University.
Todd Wood is no fool nor is Darrel Falk a heretic, but these are labels that many would apply to them. Either or both of them could be very wrong about how God made the world, but they do have something in common: an earnest desire to see God glorified and for others to come to know Him as they do. It is this central desire that accentuates their angst about the other’s perceived error.
These two Christian scientists began dialoguing several years ago with the assistance of The Colossian Forum whose mission is to “equip leaders to transform cultural conflicts into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness” as a “Christian community that acts Christian, especially in the face of conflict.” One of the fruits of taking this road less traveled is this book which recounts the personal story of how each of these scientist’s willingness to learn about the “enemy,” find out where common ground may exist, and discover how to model Christian love in dialogue when common ground on a valued doctrine doesn’t exist.
Both are devoted Christians but have opposing views on evolution and the age of the earth and each is not afraid to tell the other he is wrong and that he is a danger to the church. How can these two speak in love and humility? Could the path to working through conflict offer Christians an opportunity to grow their love for God and for each other? This book explores these questions.
Todd Wood and Darrel Falk take turns authoring alternating chapters. However, almost one-quarter of the pages are devoted to prologue, epilogue and a set of interludes all written by Rob Barrett of The Colossian Forum. Wood and Falk’s chapters are great but Barrett’s material is pure gold as he provides the glue that binds the diverse threads of the book together. He sets the stage, provides the connections between the chapters and puts the exposed inner thoughts of Wood and Falk into perspective at the end. He may also be responsible for the questions which conclude each chapter. I found them all to be thoughtful and probing questions that should invite a significant degree of personal introspection and act as excellent conversation starters for group discussion.
Wood and Falk get straight into the weeds as they author paired introductory chapters with evocative and honest titles: “Why Darrel’s Wrong and Why it Matters” and “Why Todd is Wrong and Why it Matters” The writing is palpably honest as they passionately plead their case to each other and to us why the other is wrong and why their errant views are damaging to the Church. There isn’t any sugar-coating the depth of their disagreement.
After clearly stating the other is “just plain wrong” both go about focusing their concern on how the other’s views are harming the church by causing a crisis of faith. For example Todd Wood says: “The unpleasant reality is that evolution itself is dangerous. It is not unusual for young people who have been taught creation in their churches to go off to a Christian college, become influenced by evolution, and ultimately abandon their faith.” In the next chapter Falk agrees but turns the tables: “Todd’s belief in creationism not only is creating a barrier for unbelievers but also is driving many Christian young people from the faith.”
With such different views what else can be said? How can the conversation proceed if each party views the other as a tool of the devil within the church? In all likelihood every reader can place themselves in the shoes of Wood and Falk even if creation and evolution is not a particular issue for them. Maybe its politics, maybe another social issue or even strong views of eschatology or the order of salvation. In any case, Wood and Falk show us a path for developing relationships and meaningful dialogue with those for whom we have an opposing view.
Subsequent chapters delve deeper into each author’s views of scripture and its relationship to science. They each present their case for their own view while at the same time critiquing the other. In chapter nine and ten they each present the scientific evidence they believe support their view. Although these are scientists talking about the evidence for and against evolutionary theory I found these chapters the least interesting and compelling. However, this isn’t a book about the scientific evidence even though it is written by two PhD biologists.
We see the fruit of the authors deepening dialogue in the final two chapters of the book provocatively entitled: “Is Darrell a Heretic?” and “Is Todd a Fool?” Both authors agree that the answer is no but that doesn’t mean that they agree on the age of the Earth and evolution. The conversation about origins isn’t over. Maybe, for these authors, it is now possible for that conversation to begin. I would suggest that there is hope for some reconciliation on this topic. The ingredients for edifying dialogue are present and, in my opinion, there are different pathways, both theological and scientific, that neither have fully explored in the creation/evolution landscape offering the opportunity for both to find further common ground.
While I strongly recommend the book I must warn you it is a difficult read. If you have any attachment to the origins debate among Christians, and likely you do if you are reading this review, you will not be able to read it without having a strong emotional reaction. If you find yourself disappointed that your hero in the book didn’t “win the battle” you probably have missed the point. However, if you feel tension while reading the book then you are ready to ask yourself, how can I engage with others with whom I feel this same tension?
This book isn’t a Joel Osteen 10-steps book for having happy thoughts when you can’t agree. It’s an acknowledgment that real relationships are messy, difficult and require work. They don’t happen without the grace of God exhibited in forgiveness and humility. Barrett puts is well in the preface:
“It’s exactly in such pressured disagreements that our Christlikeness (or worldliness) is most clearly revealed. While these divisive issues are important, that importance shouldn’t distract us from the importance of our obedience to Christ in the way we engage our disagreements. What if the way we handle ourselves in our disagreements is a test of our Christian character? What if our failure to live out the gospel in the midst of these challenges is an opportunity to openly confess, repent, seek forgiveness, and try again? What if Christian disagreement provides a beautiful opportunity to proclaim not how right we are and how wrong those other people are but how good and gracious God is and how committed we are to putting off the old, destructive ways and putting on new, life-giving ways (Eph. 4:22—24)?”
Taking a broader view of the importance of this book, Todd Wood said this on his blog:
“In this modern polarized climate, where different tribes see no other option but to demonize and denigrate others, we Christians need to find and demonstrate a better way.… When you decide that your ideological enemy is pure evil and must be stopped, tyranny and oppression are right around the corner. We can do better. We must do better.”
Yes, we—myself included—must do better. This book helps us toward that goal.
In a future post I will explore the author’s positions in more detail and provide my thoughts about where I think the discussion of origins needlessly breaks down.
Disclaimer: I (Joel Duff) was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.