A young-earth creationist will replace departing intelligent design advocate William Dembski at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for Theology and Science.
Kurt P. Wise, a professor at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., was named to fill the vacancy created when Dembski, who held the post at Southern Seminary only a year, was elected to the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary April 4.
Dembski is a leading proponent of intelligent design, a school of thought that says life on earth is too complex to have evolved by chance. Though challenging naturalistic evolution first proposed by Charles Darwin, ID scientists do not argue from science that the inferred intelligent designer is necessarily the God of the Bible.
Wise, on the other hand, holds that a six-day creation described in Genesis is literally true. He says he first encountered problems with reconciling evolution and the Bible working on a science project in the eighth grade. He hit on the idea that perhaps the “day” described in Genesis might not mean a 24-hour day, but could be millions of years. That didn’t solve the problem, however, because the sequence of creation in Genesis is different from how scientists say life evolved.
At one point he set out to resolve the issue, purchasing a new Bible and cutting out with a pair of scissors every verse that would have to come out if he believed in evolution. When he was finished, he tried to pick up the Bible but there wasn’t enough left to hold it together. He concluded that either evolution or the Bible is wrong, and since he found Christ in the Bible, he decided to go with Scripture.
Rather than rejecting science, however, Wise went on to earn a master’s and Ph.D. at Harvard, studying under the famed paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, a harsh critic of creationism.
Wise currently is assistant professor at Bryan College. The school is named after William Jennings Bryan, an American statesman who assisted in prosecution of the famous “Scopes Trial” over teaching evolution in public schools held in Dayton in 1925. Wise also directs the Center for Origins Research, dedicated to the study of origins in ways that do not contradict Christianity.
Wise says he believes the earth is about 6,000 years old, based on his reading of Scripture, but not all young-earth creationists agree with that date. He concurs with mainstream science that species are not fixed but rather change through cross-breeding. He rejects, however, a central element of evolutionary thinking, that all of life evolved from a single source.
Wise believes that modern species instead descended from a number of “kinds” or “types” of creatures created by God in the beginning. The view is termed “baraminology,” derived from two Hebrew words bara, meaning “create,” and min, meaning “kind.” Wise’s specialty is classifying creatures according to those types.
While accepting that basic processes operating today have been operating since creation, Wise and his colleagues at the BSG, formerly called the Baraminology Study Group, reject the view that the rates of those processes has been constant throughout history. They contend that catastrophic events affect history. Most credit Noah’s Flood, “the most catastrophic geologic event in the history of the earth,” with triggering rampant diversification of species.
A critical article in Free Inquiry Magazine dubbed Wise an “honest creationist,” because he volunteered that even if the evidence in the universe flatly contradicted Scripture, he would deny the evidence and take his stand on the Bible.
Russell Moore, dean of theology at Southern Seminary, said Wise’s addition signals recognition that “creation is a ground-zero theological crisis point right now in American culture and even in our churches.”
A moderate Baptist ethicist disagreed, saying Baptists “should be more concerned with the central imperative of the Rock of Ages than the discredited claim that the age of rocks goes back only several thousand years.”
“How we love our neighbors is ground-zero in the age of pluralism, militarism and materialism,” said Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics, “not an esoteric debate between creationists and neo-creationists,”
Moore said Southern Baptist pastors need to be trained “to equip young people to engage Darwinism from elementary school on” and “to train Southern Baptists to recognize Darwinist thinking in ways that are subtle that they don’t even recognize.”
Parham countered: “Having made the Bible about how-and-when rather than who-and-why, Southern Baptist fundamentalists have wandered away from authentic Christian faith, breeding a mulish generation of science-haters and culture-retreaters.”
“Real Baptists,” he said, “will surely engage science and interface with culture in pursuit of the great commandment to love neighbor.”
Along with hiring Wise, trustees at the seminary in Louisville, Ky., on April 11 approved two new theological study centers. The Center for Theology and the Arts will focus on the interaction between Christian theology and the various arts. Steve R. Halla, an artist who has taught at the University of Texas at Dallas and Dallas Theological Seminary, will lead the center.
Peter J. Richards will direct the new Center for Theology and Law, focusing on the interaction between Christian theology and the world of law.
Seminary President Albert Mohler said the new study centers would equip pastors and church leaders to think biblically about pivotal issues which dominate contemporary culture.
“One of the ways we want to lead Southern Baptists is through helping evangelicals and Southern Baptists in particular to engage some of the most critical issues of our day,” Mohler said. “This is not a time for Christians to be out-thought by the world, but in general that is what happens. We find the church behind the times in thinking about some of the most crucial issues of our day.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com