Posted by: paulgarner | March 29, 2010

Todd Wood’s speaking tour: a report

Here’s my report of Todd Wood’s recent speaking tour. I’ve also posted a copy on the Biblical Creation Ministries website:

In March 2010, BCM hosted a speaking tour by Dr Todd Wood of the Center for Origins Research, Bryan College, Dayton, Tennessee. Public meetings were held in Salford, Coventry, Cambridge and Elsenham. Three of the meetings were devoted to the theme of “Science and the Supernatural” while a fourth considered “The Challenge of Darwin”.

SDC11861.jpgIn “Science and the Supernatural”, Todd confronted the popular argument that creationism is not scientific because it invokes supernatural explanations. He demonstrated that science can and does evaluate supernatural claims, using examples from the peer-reviewed literature. His examples included studies of the effectiveness of intercessory prayer and the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. Appropriate scientific studies of the supernatural concern specific claims that are accessible to empirical investigation (e.g. the shroud is a first century burial cloth), they apply suitable tests (e.g. pollen analysis), and they draw limited conclusions (e.g. the shroud bears pollen consistent with or inconsistent with a Middle Eastern origin). In other words, science has the tools to evaluate any empirical claim regardless of its origin or motivation. Todd pointed out that creationism likewise offers testable hypotheses that are amenable to empirical study, and this is in fact acknowledged by anti-creationists every time they offer scientific arguments against creationism. It would be more consistent for critics to argue that creationism is bad science rather than unscientific by definition – but that would open a door they would rather remained closed. If creationism is bad science that means it can be improved! Furthermore, the idea that “science” and “religion” should be kept entirely separate because they deal with non-overlapping compartments of reality was rejected on the grounds that Christianity claims that the supernatural can and does impact upon observational reality. This talk provoked some very interesting discussions, with a particularly lively question and answer session following the Cambridge meeting.

In Coventry the subject of Todd’s talk was “The Challenge of Darwin”. He began by drawing a distinction between high level explanations (e.g. descent with modification) and the low level theories that allow us to connect such high level explanations with the empirical world (e.g. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection). High level explanations may be held for a variety of reasons – pragmatic, philosophical or religious – and are relatively immune to scientific evaluation. However, they help us to formulate low level theories which are very amenable to evaluation. The implications for the development of a creationist science of biology were outlined. In order to provide an alternative to the neo-darwinian synthesis, creationists need to connect the high level concept of “creation” to the empirical world by developing low level theories in five key areas: design, natural evil, speciation, systematics and biogeography. The area in which most progress has been made so far is systematics. Baraminology has allowed new techniques to be developed and applied to identify the created kinds. Some work has also been done to explain biogeographic patterns, such as the proposal that after the Flood animals dispersed by rafting on vegetation mats. Creationist theories concerning speciation (i.e. how species change) and natural evil (i.e. the origin of predators, parasites, pathogens) are less well developed. In addition, there is a need for an overarching theory which explains the large scale patterns of biological similarity and discontinuity – in other words a theory of design in its broadest sense. Todd’s talk provided a helpful context for understanding creationist research in biology and was appreciated by all those who heard it.

We would like to thank the individuals and churches that kindly hosted these meetings, as well as our friends Stephen and Joan Bazlinton for their help in organising the tour. Todd’s own reflections on his visit can be found on his blog – here, here and here.

You may be interested to know that a DVD of Todd Wood’s talk on the Galápagos Islands, recorded during a previous visit to the UK in 2008, is now available from BCM. Galápagos Revisited: Creation and Evolution in the Galápagos Islands runs for about 57 minutes and is a semi-technical talk suitable for adults and older teens. Copies can be ordered for £8.50 (including p&p) from Debra Garner, 54 Frank Bridges Close, Soham, Cambs CB7 5EZ. Cheques should be made payable to “Biblical Creation Ministries”.

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