Friday, March 28, 2014

You are my glory and joy

I just got back from the Bryan College Undergraduate Research Conference.  I'm teaching an adjunct class this semester to bio majors, and two of my students were presenting.  I had a great time, and I wanted everyone to know what spectacular biology majors they have at Bryan College.  You should hire one or accept them into your graduate program.  It is an honor and privilege to be part of their education, even though I do such a small part.  I'm reminded of the apostle Paul's words to the Thessalonians:
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?  For you are our glory and joy.
Amen to that!

After the conference, the department chair took me aside and shared with me the results from the latest standardized testing of the senior biology majors.  The test splits up their scores in four categories: cell, organismal, genetics, and evolution.  To my absolute delight, Bryan College students scored in the 99th percentile - in the evolution category!  That was their highest category too.  Uh oh!  Who's been teaching them evolution?  Well, that would be me.  The class I'm teaching this semester is called "History of Life," which is just a euphemism for evolutionary biology.  I teach straight from Freeman and Herron's Evolutionary Analysis, and we read Darwin's Origin of Species during the class.  The students know my position on origins, and when appropriate, I bring in creationist commentary.  But for the most part, it's straight evolutionary biology.  The 99th percentile means they're outperforming most students taught by actual evolutionists.

I know that that 99th percentile wasn't due just to my teaching, but I'll be glad to take credit for it anyway.  As I told my students, "When it comes to teaching evolution at Bryan College, it's the creationists you should be worried about!"

Andre, Matthew, Crystal, Haley, Robin, DeeDee, Susie, Nick, and Jessica, you guys rock!  Thanks for being awesome!

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

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Origins 2014 Call for Abstracts

The call for abstracts for Origins 2014 is now available at the Creation Biology Society website.  Plans for this years conference have taken longer than anticipated, and because of that, we've extended the abstract deadline to May 9, 2014.  We'll soon be able to announce the venue and program, and I'm sure you'll agree that the delay was well worth it.

What is Origins 2014?  It's the annual research conference of the Creation Biology Society and the Creation Geology Society.  Creation scientists from around the world gather every year to give updates and short presentations on their research.  This year, we're also planning a conference especially for the general public and a field trip to the spectacular Garden of the Gods!  This is a marvelous opportunity to hear the latest in creation research, meet and talk with prominent creation scientists, and fellowship with like-minded believers.  We'll have registration information available very soon.  You won't want to miss it!

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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A clarification of my own

It seems I caused some confusion with my previous post on the situation at Bryan College, and I need to clarify the meaning of that post.  Please understand that I'm not changing or amending that post; I am merely explaining the original authorial intent.

Since posting, I have been congratulated on joining the teaching faculty at the college, and I was criticized for swooping in like a vulture to pick up a job "while the bodies are still warm."

When I wrote that I was going to offer to "help," nonspecific help was the entirety of my offer.  I never intended to seek full-time employment as a teaching professor.  My current work with Core Academy of Science is more than a full-time job right now, and I am committed to developing that ministry.  The Core Academy board wants me to phase out of part-time teaching and work without distraction for the ministry.  My board's wishes were another motivation for not wanting to offer my help to the college (besides my emotional state).

I had a friendly conversation with the academic vice president, who at the time we spoke had no job openings.  I told him that I did not want a full-time teaching job but that I was open to other possibilities, including adjuncting.  Since neither of us was in a position to commit to anything, nothing was settled at that meeting, but it was friendly.

One final wrinkle has come to light since then, and it's a wrinkle that I said I wasn't going to make a big public fuss over.  So I'll just say it in a non-fussy way and move on.  As written, the clarification states that Adam and Eve were specially created "not from previously existing life forms."  "Life forms" obviously refers to "ancestors" and is intended to exclude evolution, but Genesis 2 indicates that Eve was indeed created "from a previously existing life form," namely Adam.  Going by what the clarification actually says, I don't agree with it.  Even though I know what the trustees meant, my conscience will not let me sign a statement of belief that I don't actually believe.  I have been assured that this will be cleared up when the trustees issue their clarification of the clarification (that paper they're working on), but in the meantime, I'm unable to be employed at Bryan College even as an adjunct.  I hope that's sufficiently clear and fuss-less (if not, I apologize).

Meanwhile, I'm really excited about what Core Academy has coming up.  We just got clearance from ACSI to offer teacher training, which is really exciting for us.  Our first round of online CEU short courses will be offered in May, and our plan is to expand our catalog every quarter with a new course.  We're currently developing courses on the created kind, Darwin's Origin of Species, Colorado, Yellowstone, and home microscopy (yeah, that's a thing).  If you're a teacher or you know a teacher, I hope you'll check out our short course offerings, and please let us know if you have any requests.

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

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Is your faith alive?

Here's my contribution to the Core Academy March newsletter:

A great deal has been said recently about statements of faith, especially how those statements specify - or don't - the details of God's creation.  Faith statements serve a variety of purposes.  They can positively define the beliefs of a group of people, or they can negatively state what is out of bounds for that group.  Most statements of faith do both.  Some statements help others understand exactly where certain institutions stand, while other statements are more of a minimal ideal to which a group strives.  Lots of statements go beyond the bare necessities of Christian faith and include points that help define a group's identity.  For example, a creationist organization will include points about creation, but a ministry to the poor might leave those points out in favor of clear declarations of human value and God's love.

All of these functions are perfectly reasonable, and many hundreds of Christian organizations successfully use faith statements all the time.  The question on my mind today is whether any of these statements actually mean anything in the long run.  I'm especially challenged by James' words, "But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works....  For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:18, 26).  James teaches us that faith must be worked out.  Belief is just the beginning.  What difference do our statements of faith make?

Like all Christian ministries focusing on origins issues, Core Academy of Science is in the thick of the current "historical Adam debate."  Some recent evangelicals have argued that an actual physical ancestor named Adam is not essential to the faith.  Many others (including some evolutionary creationists) argue otherwise.  Where do we stand?  Of course there was a historical Adam!  To us, the historical Adam is obvious, but we cannot stop there, because faith without works is dead.  How can we live out our belief?

At Core Academy, we want to understand what the historical Adam means for the rest of science.  What does he mean for our understanding of genetics?  Of comparative genomics?  Of the fossil record?  Since Adam and Eve existed, what do australopiths really tell us about human origins?  Since God created Adam and Eve separately from other animals, why does the human genome so closely resemble the genomes of mammalian animals like chimpanzees?

I have just finished two chapters addressing these very questions for a book coming early next year.  These chapters are co-authored with my friend and colleague Joe Francis, chairman of biology at The Master's College.  These chapters exemplify the Core Academy approach to faith: we work out our faith.  Faith statements are just the beginning.

If you've grown weary over the faith statement wars, we're looking for ministry partners who are as passionate about living their faith as we are.  Will you join us?  Visit our website for more information.

God bless!

Todd Wood

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

It's called grace

A week or so after my conversation with Darrel Falk at the world famous Rhea County Courthouse, I received a very interesting email.  It opened with very nice words about how the author respected me, and then 90% of the email was spent informing me of how na├»ve I was and how awful Darrel is and how I really shouldn’t be fellowshipping with him.  My participation in those events with Darrel just makes it easier for gullible young people to accept theistic evolution.  At the very least, it makes it seem unfashionable to take a stand on creation.

The line that really caught my eye was this:  “Truth has no fellowship with error.”

I was ready to write off the rest of the email, but that sentence struck a chord, because I have had similar concerns.  I do think my work with Darrel is creating space for what I consider error, and that makes me nervous.  What will God say to me if I actively tolerate a grievously wrong view of origins and encourage others to do so also?

Then I had a little eureka moment when I remembered that truth fellowships with error all the time.  Thank God for it!  It’s called grace.  Face it, God is infinitely higher than us.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  That doesn’t change even when we think we have theology all figured out, but God gives grace to our ignorance.  If it weren’t for that, we’d all be dead.

See, I’m not tolerating Darrel’s error (believe me, it can get a little heated behind the scenes).  I’m trying to show him grace.  Of course, I am concerned that the public get the right message about my work and my motives, and that’s why I blog about these things.  The more I explain myself, the better people will understand what I’m doing.  But I’ve come to understand that grace is really important, and I need to pursue it wherever I can, even if it takes me where I’m not supposed to go (Acts 10:28-29).

In the wake of that event at the courthouse, my former employer Bryan College has been thrown into turmoil over a clarification to their Statement of Faith.  I won’t rehearse the details here.  If you’re interested, you can find them in the Chattanooga TimesFree Press.  To sum up: The clarified statement of faith requires belief in the special creation of Adam and Eve with no physical ancestors.  I believe this clarification is objectionable to two faculty members (5% of the full-time teaching faculty), but the timing and method of the clarification is objectionable to most of the rest.  Since those at the center of the storm cannot sign the clarification in good conscience, they cannot sign their contracts for the 2014-2015 school year either.  So two young faculty with families to support will find themselves out of their jobs.  The faculty responded by voting no confidence in the president.  Surely, a Christian institution would give these individuals at least a year to find other work?  Surely?

All manner of outsiders have pounced on this story, mostly just shooting their mouths off.  Evidently, this is the end of academic freedom at Bryan College!  It’s a return to the dark ages!  Bryan College might not survive!  The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!

Sorry, Chicken Little, but the sky is NOT falling.  For twenty-four years, Bryan College took a much stronger stand on creation than this clarification, because for twenty-four years, Bryan invested in young-age creationism with its Center for Origins Research.  But suddenly, make one little clarification, and Bryan is rolling back the enlightenment.  People have a short attention span.

Besides all that, we all know of colleges that have survived much more dire circumstances than this.  This will not be the end of Bryan College.  It might change Bryan in very significant ways, but it’s not likely to sink the ship.

Even more, I’ve seen some appalling things written about Bryan College by outsiders who call themselves Christians.  Whatever side you’re on, this situation is tragic.  Everyone in town who is connected to Bryan is walking around numb.  Spontaneous sobbing is common.  For some stranger to seize on this grief to increase their blog traffic or wallow in their arrogant self-righteousness is more un-Christian than anything happening here in Dayton.  If that makes you angry, then I’m probably talking to you.

To my former community at Bryan:  I know many of you have been waiting to hear what I have to say about this, and I’ve been holding back.  Partly because I felt like I couldn’t write anything without venting and ranting, and partly because it’s not my business what happens at Bryan any more, but mostly because I don’t know what to say.  I’m pretty sure whatever I say will anger somebody, so I already know I can’t win.  That’s a powerful motive for keeping my big mouth shut.  So I’ve been lurking in the background, talking with people about it and trying to think carefully about the mess.  Lots of people want to know what I think.  I can’t say that I found any answers in my lurking, but here are a few thoughts.

I want to make very clear that the majority of faculty do not necessarily oppose the substance of the clarification.  I would guess that a lot of faculty could go even further and personally affirm young-age creationism.  The faculty simply want to be included in this big of a change, and they want the change implemented slowly.  I’m glad that’s becoming clearer in the most recent newspaper articles.  This is not about the Bryan faculty denying Adam and Eve.  This is about procedure, pure and simple.

I have to wonder, is that so unreasonable?  What’s the urgency that mandates this change be implemented right now?  I don’t know.  Maybe there’s something going on behind the scenes that we don’t understand.  I do know that all this public drama and the no confidence vote could have been avoided, easily avoided, by giving people time.  Yes, the campus would still be mad, but maybe you could have kept the college out of the public eye.  I know this because I’ve seen it done at another institution.  That campus was angry about the change, but they were given two years for the adjustment.  You probably never heard about it, and that’s the point.

Some alumni and other stakeholders have demanded that Bryan rescind the clarification altogether, as if just taking a stand is a bad thing all by itself.  As the story goes, institutions who take such a stand take themselves out of "True Academia"TM, and if Bryan does this it will be bad for their academics.  Let me be blunt: That’s nonsense.  I am living proof that taking a strong stand on origins does not disqualify you from the academic life, and it’s not just me.  I have many colleagues at other institutions that take even stronger stands on origins, and those colleagues thrive in their academic pursuits.  This stand on Adam and Eve is a very minimal theological commitment, and you’re acting like it’s the Inquisition.  In doing so, you’re insulting your brothers and sisters in Christ who take a similar or stronger position.  Grow up.

So what can you do now?  Everyone’s vented and ranted and respectfully submitted their objections, and things are unchanged.  Now what?  Well, I hope that whatever you do, you carefully count the cost.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t have your say or express your objections.  Not at all.  I’m just wondering what else you can do.

I know some of you want out.  Some of you plan to jump ship because you just can’t stand being part of an institution that acts like this.  I ask you to think again.  See, Bryan College employs 200+ people, all of whom depend on the success of the college for their livelihood.  Beyond that, there are people and businesses in the community that get a lot of business from the college.  Bryan College is far more than just a handful of administrators that you disagree with.  The student petition pledged not to even recommend the college if your demands were not met.  Would you really punish an entire community for the mistakes of a few?  Has your righteous crusade become a self-righteous one?  I don’t know.  I’m just thinking out loud.  I hope you’re wondering the same thing.

Whatever’s going on, God is at work.  My pastor reminded me of that.  We tend to think of God’s mighty work only when things are going the way we want them to, but we forget sometimes the potter smashes the lump of clay and starts over again.  Perhaps that’s where Bryan College is going.  I don’t know, but I’m praying that the college comes through this crisis better than it is now.  It’s probably hard to see how that’s possible in the midst of the turmoil, but this crisis has to be worth something.  When God’s at work, I know it will be.

Back to my question: What can we do?  I don’t know what you can do, but I’m going to the campus today.  I’m going to sit down with the Academic Vice President and ask him what I can do to help the college in the fall.  This isn’t what I want to do, believe me.  There’s an ugly little part of me that’s delighted to see the school that dumped me get their “comeuppance,” but there are bigger things at stake here than my own personal feelings and comfort.  At the very least, I can help them cover classes in the fall, and what kind of Christian would I be if I snubbed someone in their time of need?  So I swallow my pride and offer my help.

I think that’s called grace.

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