The Fool and the Heretic by Todd Charles Wood & Darrel R. Falk, Zondervan, 2019.
Are young-Earth creationists intellectual fools?
Are theistic evolutionists heretics?
More fundamentally, can two Christians, one who is an ardent young-Earth creationist, and the other a committed theistic evolutionist, learn to respectfully dialogue and even love one another deeply as brothers in Christ?
These questions are explored in The Fool and the Heretic: How Two Scientists Moved Beyond Labels to a Christian Dialogue about Creation and Evolution. The two scientists are Todd Charles Wood (PhD, biochemistry), president of the young-Earth Core Academy of Science, and Darrel Falk (PhD, genetics), a senior advisor to BioLogos, a leading theistic evolutionary (or evolutionary creationist) organization. Both men are highly qualified biologists, but to some Christians, Dr. Wood is a fool for believing in a young Earth and rejecting much of biological evolution; and to other Christians, Dr. Falk is a heretic for accepting an old universe and biological evolution.
These two men were brought together through the work of The Colossian Forum to see if any progress could be made in reconciling young-Earth and theistic-evolution antagonists. Their initial weekend meeting at a bed and breakfast had some rough spots, as neither man fully trusted or respected the other. Over time, however, Falk began to see that Wood is a brilliant man, and is indeed doing real scientific work, and Wood began to see that Falk really does believe the Bible and trust in Christ. The Fool and the Heretic was written after these two scientists had interactions over a period of two years. In this time, they learned much about how the other thinks, and why they think that way. More importantly, they got to know and love each other as persons and as fellow followers of Christ.
Each author had space in the book to explain why the other is wrong, and they did not hold back. To Dr. Wood, Falk’s acceptance of an old Earth and of biological evolution flies in the face of biblical authority. Wood cannot see any other way to interpret Genesis 1-11 but that it requires a young Earth and sees no room in the account for molecules-to-man evolution. To Wood, teaching an old Earth and evolution undermines people’s confidence in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, resulting in believers falling away from Christ and Christianity. Dr. Falk, on the other hand, views young-Earth creationism as a catastrophe for evangelism and discipleship. Many people, especially trained scientists, see acceptance of a young Earth as absurd, and accept common descent and biological evolution as being strongly supported by multiple lines of evidence. To these people, acceptance of young-Earth creationism is on the level of accepting a flat Earth or alien abductions. Because of this, Falk would say that young-Earth creationism creates a huge stumbling block that prevents people from even considering Christianity as an option.
If this book had a fairy tale ending, it would have ended with either Dr. Wood embracing theistic evolution, Dr. Falk endorsing young-Earth creationism, or their mutual agreement on some middle ground, such as an anti-evolutionist old-Earth creationism. Instead, the book ends with the two authors holding firm to their original positions. What has changed in them, however, is how they view one another. In the end, the two scientists grew in their love and respect for the other. Both the introduction and conclusion of the book emphasize a lesson that both authors now affirm: It is more important how we treat one another in the midst of strong theological differences than whether or not we “win” the debate.
The book does not promote a “let’s all just get along and sing Kumbaya” approach to our differences. Instead, it acknowledges that the differences are real and consequential. Nor does it say that all differences ought to be paved over. Instead, the book offers a model for how genuine Christians can come to appreciate each other, and speak respectfully to and about one another.
Personally, I could relate at times to the positions held by either author. I hold to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, so the authority of Scripture is very important to me. Because of this, I have always been wary of theistic evolutionists who claim that it does not matter whether or not Adam and Eve really existed. In this, I side with Dr. Wood. I felt a greater affinity, however, with Dr. Falk, in that I agree that much of young-Earth creationist teachings are not credible scientifically. I have often written, “Bad science is bad apologetics that drives people away from Christianity.” Having said that, I have always had a lot of respect for Dr. Wood, both because of his intelligence and his humility.
I strongly endorse The Fool and the Heretic for multiple reasons. First, the tone of the book matches what I seek to accomplish here at GeoChristian.com. I believe that young-Earth creationism is wrong, but I like to emphasize that old-Earth and young-Earth Christians have far more in common as Christians than what divides us. Second, the book models a way for believers to interact with one another in love, even when they have very strong differences about important matters. Seeing how these two Christians learned to love and pray for one another has broader applications to how we respond when Christians have disputes about other doctrinal matters.
Grace and Peace
©2020 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com
Todd Wood’s most famous article (or infamous to some YECs) is The truth about evolution, which begins with “Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.” Wood goes on, in the article, to explain why he is still a young-Earth creationist.
I mentioned that Todd Wood demonstrates Christian and scientific humility (humility needs to be a trait of both). This shows in his response to some of my objections to young-Earth attempts to explain the horse fossil series in Cenozoic sediments of North America: The horse series and evolution. Dr. Wood says, “I don’t know” more than once in this article. We all need to be willing to say that.
One challenge that the book does not address is that of knowing where to draw the line between what is truly heresy and what is not. For instance, I would not take the same approach with a “Christian abortionist” or even a heretical group like Mormonism as what is modeled in the book (though I would treat Mormons with respect as I interact with them). Certainly we have to draw lines somewhere; doctrinally for me it would be the ecumenical creeds, such as the Nicene Creed.