Dr Carl Wieland retires after four decades
Tribute to ministry founder as CMI enters new phase
By Dr Jonathan Sarfati, Head Scientist, CMI–US, and Gary Bates, CEO of CMI–US and CMI–Worldwide.
For the informed creationist it’s hard to imagine anyone who will leave a greater legacy on biblical (‘young-earth’) creation in recent times than Dr Carl Wieland (b. 1950). He will retire from full-time creation ministry on 6 March 2015. While it had been the historic view of the church for its first 1,750 years or so, the geological uniformitarianism of Charles Lyell and its descendant Darwinian evolution had intimidated the conservative church into compromise.
In 1961, the tide turned with the publication of The Genesis Flood by John Whitcomb (b. 1924) and Henry Morris (1918–2006). This book kick-started the creationist careers of so many, including modern-day pioneers such as Carl Wieland and Ken Ham who caught the wave of this tide to advance the cause of biblical creation. For a long time, there was hardly any more information to be found for biblical creationists to go more deeply into the issue. There were more books from Dr Morris, and the British Commonwealth countries had the benefit of the brilliant English triple-doctorate A.E. Wilder-Smith (1915–1995), one of only two creationists ever to debate Richard Dawkins. But young creationists today, with such a wealth of creationist literature and videos, have little idea how it was lacking in those days, or perhaps have little appreciation of the efforts of the early creationists.
So enters a young atheistic medical student called Carl Wieland. Christians on campus would try to witness to him, but he would point out that they believed in billions of years due to their interpretation of the geologic strata being millions of years old. Therefore, it was clear that they didn’t really believe their own book, the Bible. Yet they were appealing to this same book to present Jesus as the One who died for our sin, while contradicting the New Testament teaching that sin and death entered the world through Adam’s sin.
So, when Wieland became a Christian, he could see the great importance of the early chapters of Genesis—and that there was no need for those campus Christians to lose the intellectual battle. And because there was so little information available, he was determined to provide some. This led Carl to found a new quarterly magazine in 1978, now called Creation. However, at first he called it Ex Nihilo, short for Creatio ex nihilo, meaning ‘Creation out of nothing”’ (cf. Hebrews 11:3, Revelation 4:11). Then the English word ‘Creation’ was added, so it was Creation ex Nihilo. Today, only the English word remains.
Carl first produced the magazine at home, and copied them in his doctor’s surgery. He wrote all of the articles, covering a range of scientific disciplines and used many pseudonyms in the process.
The magazine has come a long way in 37 years, not just in the name. Now it presents cutting-edge creation information to over 100,000 people spread over 100 countries. We believe there is no other magazine that can match its content or impact. Moreover, because Carl always wanted it to be a ministry tool, he (and we) have resisted numerous offers over the years to include advertising. This also ensured that our overall ministry thrust and the promotion of the magazine in churches could never be construed as the ministry being ‘in it for the buck’.
As a testimony to its effectiveness, we have received many hundreds of letters and emails from people who came to Christ through this magazine (of course, the Holy Spirit is really the one who enables belief, but He uses means—including Creation magazine—to achieve His ends).
Since 1984, Creation magazine has been supplemented by our technical publication, which Dr Wieland described as ‘Creation magazine in depth’. Like the magazine, the second publication went through some name changes from Ex Nihilo Technical Journal to Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal, then TJ, and now Journal of Creation.
Even with a relative lack of creation information, various people and groups gallantly taught this important information. At the time, they largely followed the ‘creation club’ model still popular today, and Dr Wieland did as well. However, it must be said that they usually ‘preach to the choir’. What was missing was recruiting new ‘choir members’.
Building on the ideas of others, he developed what he called the linking and feeding ministry model. This recognizes that potential new ‘choir’ members are mostly to be found in churches, and that most people come to Christ via one-on-one witnessing by Christians. However, even in the church, many people don’t realize the importance of Genesis 1–11, and how disbelief in the early part of the Bible is a stumbling block for many due to their exposure to evolutionary teaching in the public realm. Many are ‘switched on’ by the creation message, and become much bolder in witnessing thanks to this tangible model of reaching the believers first, and where they are, which is in the church. Even more, their passion once switched on is augmented by the creationist resources (aka ‘little thought bombs’) we make available, and which are shared with others. In one of Carl’s articles, this was called the ‘ripple effect’.
Further, as he pointed out, this has the further effect of producing good works, including charity—people are far more likely to follow biblical commands, such as helping your neighbour, if they trust the Bible in its entirety (see his article answering a critic who said, “You should be feeding the hungry”).
Today, this ministry model is followed in seven countries where CMI has a presence, and they also outreach to many other countries. Most likely, this weekend somewhere in the world, someone’s faith will be ignited due to having creation ministry in their local church. This is the result of the basic ‘CMI model’ that is just one of the legacies of Dr Carl Wieland.
Another problem in many creation clubs, including his own for a while, was ‘evidentialism’, often expressed in a ‘two-model approach’. That is, let’s present evidence for design in living creatures, abrupt appearance in the fossil record, and for large-scale geological catastrophe. Certainly, we would expect creation evidence to be superior, because Romans 1:20 states that people are “without excuse”. And we know of people won over by the evidence, e.g. ‘Sonia’ and even CMI’s Shaun Doyle, who became a creationist before he became a Christian.
However, this method had serious limitations because both creationists and evolutionists have the same evidence, but it is interpreted differently. The reason for this difference is that both sides have different unprovable initial assumptions, called axioms or presuppositions.
From the axioms, we deduce different world histories to explain how the current evidence came to be. In reality, evolution is a historical idea deduced from the assumption of materialism or naturalism—matter is all there is. Another way to put it, as he did in a profound article back in 1988, was that evolutionists exclude creation a priori not because of evidence, but because it violates their arbitrarily decreed materialistic ‘rules of the game’.
Biblical creationists interpret the data in terms of the axioms revealed by Scripture: creation a little over 6,000 years ago, the Fall bringing sin and death, and a global Flood.
Thus CMI has adopted a basically presuppositional approach, which Dr Wieland championed. That is, we show that while evolutionists claim evolution follows from the evidence, it is really a deduction from their worldview. This has also made our ministry attractive to non-scientists as well as scientists, whereas the evidentialist ‘creation club’ model would attract mainly the latter. The presuppositional approach affirms the veracity of Scripture, and ultimately the Gospel. In contrast, a pure evidentialist argument from design, for example, could leave the door open to speculative ideas like aliens being our creators. It also leaves people vulnerable to what CMI’s Andrew Lamb called the “evidentialist roller coaster”—where one’s faith goes up and down depending on the status of the latest ‘evidence’. Or, to paraphrase Ephesians 4:14: “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of evidence,” cf. the article Swaying in the breeze.
To adopt presuppositionalism, CMI needed to avoid certain pitfalls. For example, CMI has avoided the error of fideism, which maintains that the Christian faith is totally disconnected from logic/reason and evidence. For example, we show that only the biblical axioms provide a self-consistent worldview with a rational basis for morality and indeed for science itself, while atheism must postulate certain unprovable beliefs that go against observable science, as shown in this reply to an atheist.
We also refute post-modernism, which denies an objective reality that exists independently from what we think about it. However, during Creation Week, God created mankind at the end of this week (which, compared to thousands of years hence, would still be at the beginning of creation), after He had created the rest and declared this “good”. This implies that much of the created order exists, and that God had objectively assessed this, independently of man’s opinion about it.
A behind the scenes stalwart
It is patently obvious that many Christian ministries are strongly tied to a single powerful personality. In a personality-driven culture, it is also easier to build and grow a ministry with a powerful identity as a figurehead. This can work well while that person is healthy, but if he dies or steps down, the ministry can die with him (one might also argue that focusing on a mere mortal might detract from a focus that should be directed solely at the Resurrected One). In contrast, Dr Wieland recognized that he would not be on this earth forever, and tried to make sure this ministry could function effectively without him.
This was apparent to the two of us soon after he recruited each of us. At the time, the ministry stocked video tapes of its other speakers, but none of Dr Wieland, even though he was almost always very well received as a speaker, and had also debated evolutionists successfully. At the time, he thought that he was not ‘animated’ enough to justify spending money to make video tapes of him. In addition, there were initially no books by Dr Wieland. But it would be fair to say that in the early days just about every article or book that we published was vetted by him to ensure accuracy and ensure that it did not veer away from our core ministry mandate of origins. Today there are a number of his books and DVDs, but it showed at the time that he was not trying to turn CMI into ‘Carl Wieland Ministries’. And this is true today: with CMI offices in seven countries, there is no danger of focusing on a single dominant personality. Due to Carl’s selfless and insightful forethought, CMI will always be recognised for its message and not the man who was the real engine behind it for many years.
This also applied to Creation magazine. As the founder, it would be most understandable for Dr Wieland to maintain a hands-on editorial role. However, about 10 years ago he released the reins, so four Ph.D. scientists1 took turns, one every quarter, to be editor for an issue, while he took more of a role as an advisor/adjudicator—still very valuable.
Dr Wieland has also seen the ministry through some of its most difficult times, and for him, personally, some of the most painful life experiences he has endured. Long before either of us had joined the ministry, one powerful personality had ‘gone off the rails’, and denounced personal opponents as witches, with ‘evidence’ as flimsy as the ‘spectral evidence’ used in the Salem witch trials in 1692–93 (and denounced by the Bible-believing Puritans2). The results were loss of some staff and many supporters. The Board of Directors brought Dr Wieland in as CEO to lead the ministry through this hard time, which meant giving up his successful medical career. This proved an excellent choice.
A second major attack on the ministry was by an Australian atheistic geology professor, Ian Plimer, who wrote a deceitful and inflammatory book, which was fêted by the biased media. Once again, too many people (including Christians) didn’t bother to check his claims. But Dr Wieland arranged a complete rebuttal of the book and an independent inquiry led by the honoured corruption-fighting Chief Magistrate of New South Wales, Clarrie Briese, and composed of church leaders of impeccable reputation. The inquiry showed that the accusations were completely without foundation. When Christians realized this was nothing more than a vexatious attack by a God-hater, the ministry’s support grew substantially.
All of this was before the Internet era, so our opponents had a virtual monopoly on the public ‘microphone’ via the mass media. After our website was established, we demonstrated that we could refute false accusations quickly and thoroughly, and reach the public readily as well. After that, Prof. Plimer largely left creationists alone and has taken up refuting global warm-mongering alarmism. Dr Wieland noted that Plimer “[is] now the pariah of the leftist media who once cheered him on in his attacks on creationists,” and sent him a note of commiseration.
But the Plimer episode was by no means the end of testing trials, and of course problems from ‘outside the camp’ are never as painful or damaging as those from within. From his and the ministry’s direct experience, and from observing other Christian organisations and churches frequently suffering painful splits to the detriment of their supporters, Carl initiated our Federation of ministries, known as CMI Worldwide.
Rather than have a duplication of infrastructure in each of our offices, the sister ministries work synergistically to contribute resources for the benefit of all partner offices. And to avoid painful splits as experienced in the past, each of these offices is accountable to each other via a charter document that binds us (so no one office can leave the Federation and take ministry assets with them). Any disagreements, for example, can be sorted out democratically by the members of the Federation, who are representatives of each CMI office. Once again, this was an example of Wieland divesting himself of power (rather than grasping for it, as some claimed). A strong CMI is good for the future of the creation movement as a whole.
In the very earliest days of the ministry, Carl suffered a horrific car accident in the Australian outback that caused a huge amount of bodily harm, the effects of which he bears to this day. Indeed, we can remember him doing ministry with a walking stick and having to sit down on the stage due to disablements. This is a whole other story, explained in Beyond the Shadows book and Walking Through Shadows DVD—very worthwhile resources. These are semi-autobiographical but also feature extensive biblical and logic teaching about how to understand death and suffering in a world created by a God of love.
While the above approach to ministry would be Dr Wieland’s highest impact contribution, he made a number of points to advance the fledgling creationist science as well. Although Carl does not have a Ph.D., his scientific knowledge on a wide range of disciplines is comprehensive.
The most foundational was the approach to science. Dr Wieland pointed out back in 1989 that it was vitally important to hold Scripture as non-negotiable—both explicit propositions and clear logical deductions from these propositions—but ‘hang loose’ on scientific models, which could change over time as new scientific discoveries were made. At the time, one of the models was the ‘canopy theory’, then almost the only Flood model among creationist scientists. But he advised that “it is not and never can be regarded as a direct teaching of Scripture.” Readers familiar with our material will know that all the major creation groups and almost all informed creationists now reject the canopy model.
One reason for the popularity of the canopy theory was that it supposedly explained the decreasing longevity after the Flood. That is, the collapse of the supposed vapour canopy caused a marked worsening of the environment, which led to people dying much younger. However, Dr Wieland seems to have been the first to recognize intractable anomalies in this model, e.g. no actual evidence that the environment could drastically shorten lifespans, and the fact that Noah had the third-longest recorded lifespan while living a third of his life in the ostensibly life-shortening post-Flood world. He pointed out a theological problem as well: there is no evidence that the antediluvian world was a paradise; rather, paradise was ruined at the Fall about 1,600 years before.
So back in 1994, Carl proposed that the real cause was ultimately genetic, not environmental, and the most important genetic difference was the population bottleneck at the Flood. He first proposed this in our Journal of Creation, then a few years later in Creation magazine for mainly lay readers.
This has now been vindicated by groundbreaking research by Dr John Sanford, inventor of the gene gun, and his colleagues, including our own Dr Robert Carter. They showed that mutational load leads to an exponential decay of fitness. Using supercomputer modelling of a large population going through a bottleneck, they found that the population would undergo a large decrease of fitness compared with the pre-bottleneck population because of harmful mutations that reached fixation during the bottleneck. This would be especially drastic with the bottleneck at the Flood, down to eight people. The fitness decay curve worked out in the simulations matches the decay of human lifespans after the Flood recorded in Genesis 11. ‘Genetic entropy’ is a problem for living creatures at the best of times, and far more drastic after a bottleneck.
Applying information to define created kinds
“Dr Dr Dr Wilder-Smith”, as he was affectionately known, pioneered the vital concept of information in creationist apologetics. This was most important for the Intelligent Design movement as well, as its leading intellectual Bill Dembski has acknowledged (incidentally, see CMI’s views on the Intelligent Design Movement by Dr Wieland).
Meanwhile, creationists had long pointed out that we support variation and even speciation within created kinds. Note: this was true of creationists even before Darwin; it was his deist mentor Lyell who had rejected this biblical concept in favour of the Aristotelian view of ‘fixity of species’—see this discussion.
However, evolutionists complained that creationists had not defined the term ‘created kind’. Now, there is no reason why the ‘kind’ needed to match the inconsistently defined modern (and man-made) taxonomic definition; evolutionists themselves can’t agree on a definition of ‘species’ let alone ‘genus’, ‘family’, etc.
So in 1991, Dr Wieland invoked the information concept to produce an operational and biblical definition of created kind: Variation, information and the created kind. This Journal article was published many years before CMI developed its website, so for a long time, it was unavailable online.
Publication online was prompted by Philip Bell, now CEO of CMI-UK. He had joined the ministry in 2001, 10 years after this paper was published, and was unaware of its existence. But he discovered it in 2004 while reading through back issues of the paper journal, and was surprised that the concepts CMI now takes for granted were taught so long ago, saying:
Frankly, I was surprised at how totally bang-up-to-date the article is, including discussion of ‘micro-’ and ‘macro evolution’ (why we should avoid such terms), issue of info’, the direction of change, why mutations don’t help evolution, the ‘created kind’ and how creationists need to be careful about how we apply the concept etc. Of course, this just goes to show that the basic issues don’t change but I want to encourage you to consider posting it on the web. …
[A]lthough this is now 13 years old, the same arguments still stand. I also think it is very noteworthy that the points raised on the information concept and the inability of neoDarwinian ideas of mutation theory (to account for uphill change of the type that increases functional complexity) pre-date IDM [Intelligent Design Movement] books like Behe’s and even Werner Gitt’s In the Beginning was Information book [updated to Without Excuse]. This is quite powerful I think, because it sends a clear message that it wasn’t just that [CMI] jumped on the ‘no-new-information bandwagon’—rather, these later, influential writers provided detailed logical and experimental/observational arguments that confirmed the points already made. …
Frankly, it’s so contemporary-sounding and makes such pertinent (albeit oft-stated) points that I wouldn’t have thought it out-of-place if I’d read it in the current [Journal of Creation].
This has been a topic that has been badly misunderstood by both evolutionists and creationists alike. For example, evolutionists often trot out the ‘earth is an open system canard’ as if that explains anything relevant, while too many creationist authors indefensibly taught that the Second Law began at the Fall.
Fortunately, from time to time, Dr Wieland had given specialist talks at creation camps that lucidly and accurately explained a proper biblical and scientific understanding. At the 2012 Creation Super Conference in North Carolina, there was a chance to fine-tune the talk with good PowerPoint slides (the conceptual outline went back to the days of overhead transparencies), and to make it into a DVD, Understanding the Law of Decay.
Then other colleagues realized that this clear explanation needed to be in writing for maximum benefit to the creationist world. The result was the book, World Winding Down, where simplicity did not mean sacrificing accuracy, as Dr John Hartnett, a Ph.D. physicist and cosmologist, says:
“A very clear, concise layperson-level description of the most powerful law of physics. The author provides strong arguments from this law why the universe demands a Creator.”
Races and the Bible
Dr Wieland’s book One Human Family is a great advance on previous creationist books on race. In fact, we think it is the Rolls–Royce of creationist books on this subject, because it not only discusses the scientific and biblical aspects of this issue, but even the social and political aspects. His landmark book demonstrated the importance of common Adamic descent for the doctrine of the Kinsman-Redeemer or the Last Adam. It rejected racism as unbiblical, and refuted pseudo-biblical arguments about Babel and the non-existent ‘curse on Ham’ (actually it was on Canaan), and showed that objecting to inter-racial marriage was as crass as objecting to inter-marriage between people from different language families. Totally rejecting political correctness, it tackled such contentious subjects as apartheid, the world-wide nature of slavery (including that in the antebellum American Southern States and the Confederacy that formed from them), welfare, affirmative action, the biblical equality of opportunity versus the antibiblical equality of outcome, the evolution-inspired Nazi racial holocaust, and much more. A great lesson from the book is that worldview and culture are far more important than ancestry.
Biomolecules as strong evidence for a ‘young’ earth
Back in 1997, Dr Wieland brought some startling evidence that rocked the old-earth world. This was Dr Mary Schweitzer’s discovery of red blood cells and soft tissue in dinosaur bones. How could they have survived for billions of years? The first reaction was: of course they couldn’t, so they couldn’t be what Schweitzer had claimed. But she was also initially skeptical, and carefully checked and rechecked her experiments. Now the reality of these finds is rarely disputed. So the long-agers are trying to propose ways for soft tissues to be preserved for periods orders of magnitude longer than previously thought possible.
Even before his first article on dino blood cells, in 1994, Dr Wieland pointed out an even bigger problem: remnant DNA from ancient creatures. DNA is so unstable that none should survive even a fraction of the assumed ages of the samples. The article discussed the work of Dr Tomas Lindahl that demonstrated DNA’s rapid breakdown. Even if a DNA molecule was perfectly protected, from the elements, Lindahl pointed out that background radiation would still destroy it. Dr Wieland wrote:
Creationists should strongly support Lindahl’s calls for others to repeatedly attempt to duplicate the results with the most stringent of safeguards, in view of the importance of this issue to the crucial matter of fossil age.
Lindahl was vindicated 21 years later with a share of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2015, precisely for his work on the instability of DNA, and its implications. That is, all life would quickly become a mutated mess unless there was sophisticated repair machinery. Lindahl and the two other Nobel recipients were motivated to look for the repair mechanisms, and discovered several of them.
Conclusion: the end of an era?
The authors of this article were fortunate to have written some quite popular creation books. For example, Sarfati’s Refuting Evolution remains the largest-selling creation book of all time, and Bates’s Alien Intrusion is the only creation book to be an Amazon best-seller. But we can honestly say that without Carl’s approaches for us to join the ministry, and the subsequent mentoring of our ‘creation’ careers, such resources, plus the many outstanding contributions to the creation movement that followed from many of our colleagues, would simply never have occurred. It’s an understatement to say that for many of us it will be difficult to imagine Carl not being around, especially to call on for advice. And although it might be the end of an era in some ways, it is also the beginning of another, mainly due to his foresight. So many of the leading lights in CMI today can testify to Carl’s gentle leading, guidance and wisdom, and this leaves the ministry in really good shape. This includes Dr Wieland’s successor, our friend and co-mentor, Dr Don Batten, who will take over the reins of the Australian ministry, and who will also be Australia’s representative at CMI’s global Federation.
Carl, we may have written this article but we know it represents the tip of the mountain of respect and appreciation for all you have done. Your colleagues and no doubt many thousands of Christians around the world thank you for your tireless and selfless efforts to advance the Gospel and honour your Creator.
Get some well earned rest in your retirement, “Thou good and faithful servant.” You deserve it.
For more, see Dr Wieland’s CV
References and notes
- Don Batten, David Catchpoole, Jonathan Sarfati, and Tas Walker. Now that our valued colleague Dr Catchpoole has retired (although he still writes articles), Lita Sanders, herself a beneficiary of CMI ministry, has taken over his slot. Return to text.
- Muehlenberg, B., On the Witchcraft Trials, billmuehlenberg.com,19 January 2015. Thanks to Christian opposition, the death toll was kept to 19. Return to text.
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