International Conference on the Bible and Science, St. George, Utah — On Sunday evening Kurt Wise, a Baptist who has degrees in geology from both the University of Chicago and Harvard University, and who directs the Creation Research Center at Truett-McConnell College, spoke on the topic “My Experience in a World of Secular Science.”
Kurt (I don’t think he’d mind if I call him that — he seems a friendly and relaxed fellow) is a charming and witty storyteller, with a flair for both drama and suspense. Much of his time was spent relating anecdotes with a much-appreciated storyline: Young Creationist enters Secular World; YC hides light under bushel; YC is ashamed and owns up to his commitment; SW persecutes and mocks YC; eventually the humans in the SW learn to respect and like YC; YC proceeds successfully with higher education, gradually becoming a Middle-aged Creationist. Many of the stories had wonderfully ironic punch lines, and the geologists on the front row seemed particularly delighted by news from the anti-Lake Wobegon.
This refreshing break from the linear and the argumentative, which had proceeded pretty much non-stop throughout the day on Friday and Sunday, was welcome. Storytime had finally arrived and the audience visibly relaxed into the stream of upbeat humor at the expense of the gods of Science. The underdogs were finally having their day.
All seemed to be continuing in the same vein as Kurt began to speak of Stephen Jay Gould, the widely-read paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science who was Dr. Wise’s advisor and mentor at Harvard. We heard of the grand adventure of trying, as a creationist, to even be accepted into the prestigious Ph.D. program; of the discussions among the men who were writing his letters of recommendation (“Shall we tell Stephen he’s a creationist??”); of being accepted and eventually breaking the awful news (“I am a young earth creationist!”); of the happy ending of a warm and meaningful friendship between the two men.
But — we also hear of the awful moment when Stephen learns that he has cancer, and only months to live. Providentially, he shares this moment with Kurt, who sees the vulnerability in his friend and prays silently that the Holy Spirit will find a way to touch this famously atheist man. And then comes the terrible story, the story we don’t want to hear; not about the creationist who triumphs, the YC who persuades the denizen of the SW to turn his heart toward God.
No, this story breaks our hearts.
Stephen has received a letter from a creationist, just days before his diagnosis, telling him, “I wanted to pray for you to stop teaching evolution, but I know you won’t. So I’ve asked God to give you cancer so you will die and go to hell.”
The shock in the room seems palpable. No! Stop! Surely this isn’t how it goes.
Kurt has tears in his voice. “I loved Stephen Jay Gould. He was my friend. And that letter closed his heart. Evolutionists are souls for whom Christ died. Let us never forget that. We must love our evolutionist friends.”
As we filed out of the room that evening, the mood had altered, or at least it seemed so to me. I myself was deeply touched. I felt that we had been reminded of what was truly important. Not doctrine, not facts, not being right. People. Love.
We returned thoughtfully to our rooms on Sunday evening, full of good stories and the love of Jesus. Outside, the sky was turning deep blue over the red hills of Utah. It didn’t seem to matter quite so much how old they were, at least for a little while.
The author was an attendee of the recent ten-day International Conference on the Bible and Science: Affirming Creation in Utah. The author has asked to remain anonymous.
Image: Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) by Kathy Chapman.