Fossil expert says ... think weird!
Interview with Dr Kurt Wise
Can 'thinking weird' help creationists? Dr Kurt Wise believes so, and he encourages his students to break new ground in their thinking by doing just that.
What is 'thinking weird'? Dr Wise believes that most of us have been trained to be biased towards thinking in an evolutionary way, which unfortunately is not along the lines of God's thinking. So he encourages his students to look at their starting assumptions, and to think about whether those assumptions are correct, or whether there are other options they need to consider.
'For example,' he says, 'I realized that evolution traditionally looked at organisms as being built from DNA. You hear terms like "organisms will struggle to preserve their genetic material into the next generation". I realized that's not the way God looks at things. That's not the way He looks at us. We are more than just a bunch of DNA.'
To illustrate, he says that when God recreates us with a new spirit, He creates us spiritually complete.
'So I began to think that perhaps if we look at the creation as being God's intent for it to be mature rather than just being DNA, we might be able to come up with an admirable explanation for the evidence that evolution always lays captive to. It's subtle but important distinctions like that in conventional thinking that creationists need to consider. The great changes that will advance creationism are going to have to be new theories. Our old theories just do not always explain the data, so I believe we need to "think weird" to get new theories.'
That certainly doesn't mean he believes creation is a theory.
'Creation isn't a theory', he says. 'The fact that God created the universe is not a theory—it's true. However, some of the details are not specifically nailed down in Scripture. Some issues—such as creation, a global Flood, and a young age for the earth—are determined by Scripture, so they are not theories. My understanding from Scripture is that the universe is in the order of 6,000 years old. Once that has been determined by Scripture, it is a starting point that we build theories upon. It is within those boundaries that we can construct new theories.'
As someone trained in science at Harvard—one of the world's leading universities—how does Dr Wise respond to evolutionists who might accuse him of starting scientific investigations within the constraints of his belief in the Bible? Shouldn't science follow truth wherever it may lead?
'Well,' he responds, 'science has never been closed to people who had ideas they wouldn't change. Every scientist has a set of presuppositions and assumptions that he never questions.'
For evolutionists, he says, one of these is the conventional evolutionary assumption that all living things are descended from a common ancestor. Such beliefs are non-negotiable for the evolutionist. 'I would say that if you investigated any scientists in any field you would find issues they assume at the beginning that are unchangeable for them.'
For Dr Wise, the authority of the Bible is non-negotiable. He received Christ when he was nine years old, and maintained the absolute truth of Scripture throughout his school years.
At one stage he even took a pair of scissors to a Bible, and started cutting out the sections which would have to be discarded if evolution was true, with its long ages for the earth. He found that there wouldn't be enough of the Bible left for it to hold together.
'To accept the entire evolutionary model would mean one would have to reject Scripture. And because I came to know Christ through Scripture I couldn't reject it.' At that point he decided his only option was to reject evolutionary theory.
Dr Wise's interest in fossils began when he was very young. Every time Christmas or his birthday rolled around his father gave him a gift that would expand his knowledge. On one occasion his father gave him a telescope. On another it was a microscope. And so on.
'He would go into a store and say to the clerk, "I want to get this for my son. How old should a child be when he gets this?" He might be looking at a telescope, and the clerk would say "He should be about thirteen", so Dad would give it to me at nine. His theory was that even if I put it aside, I would come back to it. And that's exactly what I did.'
He had 36 hobbies and collections by the time he graduated from high school.
And what about that interest in fossils?
'One of the things my father gave me was a little book on fossils. I read that, and ran upstairs to my Dad and said, "Hey, it says here you can go to gravel pits and collect fossils".
'We lived on a gravel road, so Dad said, "Do you think we could find the place where they get gravel for our road?' I didn't know that Dad had already investigated that. But he said, "Let's see if we can find it".'
They found the gravel pit, and fossils too. 'I've loved collecting fossils ever since. That's where that interest came from.'
Apart from evolution, Dr Wise says that one of the things that has really bothered him is finding creationists who fall into the trap of dismissing justified criticism. He said he has presented data to point out areas that some of them needed to change, and it was either fobbed off or was still being repeated next time he saw them.
'You know, there's no data that I ever ran into that bothered me as far as my creationist position went. But this issue did.'
He believes that this may be why he has a reputation for being critical of creationists, or even why some have accused him of being a 'closet evolutionist'. But he says he simply has an extremely high regard for the truth.
'I cannot stand people who propagate non-truth', he says. 'In school, my hand never went up unless the teacher said something I knew was wrong. I didn't care who the teacher was, if they said something I knew was wrong, my hand went up. There's just this automatic reflex action. It's really an issue of integrity.'
He is concerned that there are 'creationists' around who, because of their understanding of particular scientific issues, deviate from the scriptural foundation promoted so strongly by Dr Henry Morris, for example.
'The thing I hope above all else is that no matter what scientific models we play with and toss off the hill, so to speak, that the hill is always built on Scripture. That is one thing I am very concerned about.'
Dr Wise surprised many creationists by earning his Ph.D. under the tutelage of noted evolutionary palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould, a very harsh critic of creationists.
Dr Wise says of Professor Gould, 'He's a libertarian at heart', and thinks that at least some of Gould's criticisms have been justified because of the statements of some ill-informed creationist writers. Professor Gould is said to be very interested in people who show they can do good science, even if they have differing beliefs.
At present, Dr Wise has what he describes as a 'unique and very exciting position' at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. (Bryan College is named after American statesman William Jennings Bryan, who assisted the prosecution in the famous creation/evolution 'Scopes trial' in Dayton in 1925.)
He spends half his time teaching, while the other half allows him time for creationist research. This is not just stuffy indoor work, like sophisticated theoretical modelling. 'I also collect and study fossils, as well as studying caves to reevaluate speleogenesis [cave origins] in the light of young-earth creationism.'
Among positive trends in creationism, Dr Wise sees the four-yearly International Conference on Creationism in Pittsburgh as extremely encouraging. He also regards the continual improvement of the Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal as exciting. He is pleased to see the trend towards a presuppositional approach to the presentation of creationism (as opposed to the 'evidential' approach).
'Another trend that excites me is that there is an increasing number of people who are seeing the value of building a creation model rather than merely attacking evolutionary theory.'
Dr Wise says he is encouraged at seeing an increase in the number of creationist graduate students who are receiving advanced degrees, and who will be able to help build the creationist model. He says the time of the 'lone wolf' creationist is past, where one lone creationist is out trying to attack evolution on his own. In this vein, he is always looking for ways to bring researchers from different fields together, and to get groups working on improving the creation model. At present, one of his undertakings is an in-depth Flood model project with Drs Andrew Snelling, Steve Austin, John Baumgardner, Russell Humphreys, and Larry Vardiman.
In light of his experience in teaching and research, does he have any advice for students reading this article who are thinking of entering a science field?
'Go for it!' he says. 'I always say in my presentations that we need lots of help in any field—biblical or scientific. So if anyone has an interest in any field of science—go for it. You may be able to get an advanced degree and be the expert in creationism in that field.'
And that's really not such 'weird thinking'!