Genesis Kinds conference
Almost two years ago, I was visiting the Center for Origins Research (CORE) at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. Talking to Dr Todd Wood, CORE’s director, our thoughts turned to 2009 as the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s book The origin of species.
Aware that there would be many evolutionary celebrations during the Darwin year, we were keen to make our own distinctive contribution. So between 4-6 February, High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, became the venue for a major ‘Darwin anniversary’ event, with a difference: six speakers examining the ‘mystery of mysteries’, the origin of species from a biblical and creationist perspective.
Variety of views
Fortunately, despite the wintry storms that descended upon southern England in the conference week, our visiting speakers all arrived safely and on time. The proceedings began with my own talk looking at scholarly Christian views on the origin of species, from the seventeenth century to the present day.
Contrary to popular belief, there has never been a consensus view on this question, even among special creationists. Far from unanimously asserting that species are fixed and immutable, many creationists, both before and after Darwin, have rejected fixity and embraced the idea of biological change within broad limits.
The next speaker was Dr Ken Turner, Associate Professor of Bible at Bryan College, who examined the use and misuse of the biblical term mîn or ‘kind’. Dr Turner addressed many of the ambiguities and relationships of the term. He urged creationists to work diligently with the biblical texts and avoid reading modern scientific ideas – even creationist ones – into passages such as Genesis 1 and Leviticus 11.
Having established these historical and biblical baselines, we then turned to scientific matters. Dr Roger Sanders, a plant taxonomist, examined a fundamental question that exercised Darwin – the origin of species on oceanic islands.
Creationists agree with Darwin that the unique species living on these islands are modified descendants of mainland forms. Dr Sanders presented evidence to suggest that tens of new species had arisen from each ancestral form within a few decades of Noah’s Flood, thus supporting the theory of rapid diversification, favoured by modern creation biologists.
Next, Dr Todd Wood evaluated the common creationist claim that the created kind is approximately equivalent to the taxonomic category of family. While the results of his analysis were suggestive – the prediction seemed to hold true in about 60 per cent of the examples studied – there is clearly a need for additional work in this area.
One curious result was that the prediction seemed to fare particularly poorly among the bird groups included in the analysis, and it would be interesting to know why. Nevertheless, discontinuity between groups of organisms does seem to be part of the pattern of life.
Harvard-trained palaeontologist Dr Kurt Wise then gave a fascinating talk which asked ‘How many mammal kinds were on the ark?’ He offered a new approach based on his study of the fossil record and suggested there were 100-300 mammalian ark kinds.
All the modern species of mammals would have been derived from these ancestral forms, implying a significant amount of diversification soon after the Flood. Some implications of Dr Wise’s study were surprising and controversial, and will no doubt generate debate among creation biologists for a long time to come!
Microbiologist Dr Joe Francis then examined the various interactions between living organisms that come under the heading of ‘symbiosis’, suggesting that there were insights here concerning the origin of new species.
Some evolutionary biologists, notably Professor Lynn Margulis, have proposed that new types of cells arose early in the history of life by engulfing and incorporating other free-living cells – what has become known as ‘the endosymbiont theory’. Dr Francis’ talk offered the basis for an alternative, creationist explanation for this data.
The lectures concluded with a look at the life and influence of Charles Darwin, presented by Dr Wood. Darwin was not the ‘bogeyman’ sometimes portrayed by his critics, but a product of his times. His story was in many ways a moving one; his thinking shaped not only by scientific observation, but by personal tragedy. We were urged to keep our focus upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and not to take our eyes away from him as Darwin sadly did.
Dr Wood’s biographical sketch was an excellent prelude to the next day’s walking tour of Cambridge. This included a visit to Darwin’s lodgings in Sidney Street; the precincts of Christ’s College where Darwin gained his BA; and the city museums that house specimens collected by Darwin during his round-the-world voyage on HMS Beagle.
In addition to being a great deal of fun, the ‘Genesis Kinds’ conference was a timely reminder that creationism is maturing. No longer are creationists content simply to critique evolution, but are developing testable scientific theories of their own to explain the data as well as, and perhaps better than, evolutionary alternatives. There is also a healthy level of self-criticism and review; and critics of creationism may have some work to do to catch up with these developments!
Readers wanting to find out more may want to consult my new book The New Creationism: building scientific theories on a biblical foundation, recently published by EP Books.
The conference proceedings have been published in the CORE Issues in Creation series (www.bryancore.org/issues/volumes.html), copies from Biblical Creation Ministries (01353 721578 or [email protected]). Readers may also be interested in Dr Todd Wood’s blog concerning the conference (www.toddcwood.blogspot.com).
The Genesis Kinds conference is being repeated in the summer at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,USA; further details from: http://www.bryancore.org/species.
Paul Garner (BSc, FGS)
The author is a researcher and lecturer with Biblical Creation Ministries