Part 1 of Darrel's series can be found here.
I have just returned home from the Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science Conference in Austin, Texas.
This is likely the first conference of its sort ever held. Although no young earth creation organizations were represented, many from Reasons to Believe and The Discovery Institute were there. Several of us who hold to the evolutionary creation perspective were asked to speak and lead breakout sessions as well.
I first learned of this meeting about a year and a half ago. At the time, we at BioLogos were very hesitant to participate and initially turned down the invitation. Not knowing the organizers, and based upon the prescribed set of speakers in the breakout sessions, our initial thoughts were that the BioLogos invite was largely tokenism. To be honest, we suspected that we were included largely to provide the impression that the view which accepts that mainstream biology is correct—was on the table. We doubted that it really was.
However, about a year ago, I had my first conversation with Larry Linenschmidt, one of the two organizers of the meeting. He stressed that our representation would be more than tokenism and indicated that some people whose work I highly admire would also be present. He assured me there would be broad representation of topics in the breakout sessions—that the deck would not be stacked. He also told me that the overarching theme of this meeting was Christian unity and that all speakers and participants would be held to a very high standard in this regard. I learned that he and his co-organizer, Dan Heinze, would visit with each speaker to ensure that all clearly understood the intended tone of the meeting. Upon receiving those assurances, I told him I would be honored to participate; the meeting’s purpose aligned nicely with ours.
The meeting proceeded at a grueling pace. It started each morning at 8:30 a.m. and went almost non-stop until about 9:00 p.m. On the first day, I did a 55 minute plenary talk at 4:00 p.m., a plenary testimony soon after dinner, and then led a breakout session immediately after that. On the second day, I participated in a plenary panel discussion and led another breakout session in the evening. Finally on the third day I participated in a panel discussion. Many of the speakers had a similar schedule; indeed mine was likely not as heavy as that of some of the others. Every detail of the meeting was planned in intricate detail and I have seldom, if ever, been to a meeting so carefully organized.
There was one session I was invited to co-lead about which I have always been very hesitant. The organizers knew how concerned I was about this session—a direct exchange in a breakout with Stephen Meyer. I have held the position that I would not engage in a public interchange with those who view creation so differently unless we who hold the pro-mainstream-biology position first met informally with those who hold the alternative view. The purpose of such a meeting would be to focus on that which we have in common—which is almost everything when one is a follower of Jesus. I wanted such a meeting to take place—a time of prayer, Bible study, worship, along with a time of thinking together about aspects of our projects where we have common goals and vision. I have wanted that meeting to take place before we publically engaged issues about which we disagree.
So although I had been especially hesitant about this one session, the organizers assured me that since they were travelling to personally meet with each speaker, I could be assured that even this session would exemplify Christians working together in a spirit of Christ-centered unity. We might differ on scientific and theological details, but we each would be held accountable to work within this context. I appreciated that.
It is hard to imagine anyone not recognizing how sensitive these discussions are. On the creation issue, the spirit of acrimony rather than the spirit of love, has too often ruled the day within the Christian community. This has done great harm to the cause of Christ. I know firsthand how fragile these discussions are and I was extremely hesitant to accept until the private meeting I desired had taken place. But the organizers, who I have appreciated so much, reassured me. I agreed to a breakout session with Steve Meyer.
Five days before the meeting, the Discovery Institute posted a statement about the upcoming event:
“Next week the Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science becomes the God and evolution showdown in Austin…”
The posting then went on to state:
Attendees have three days of speakers and sessions but should prepare for a rumble on Thursday, October 28, when Stephen Meyer and Doug Axe will go up against Darrel Falk and Randy Isaac in a debate on the origin of life…
The way this was described by the Discovery Institute was exactly what had concerned me most about this meeting. Knowing that this may have been inadvertently put up by someone who was not aware of the intention of the meeting, I immediately contacted the organizers and asked that the statement be taken down and that it be replaced with a statement which indicated an assurance that the Discovery Institute was committed to enter into our breakout session, not in the spirit of a “God and evolution showdown” or a “rumble” but within the Spirit of Christian unity. I felt the task was difficult enough as it was that unless we both clarified our mutual commitment from the start it had the potential to harm the Church.
The organizers asked the Discovery Institute to take the statement down; it was not granted. I was told that it was an Associate Director of the Discovery Institute who had denied the request. I felt strongly that there was a need to publically acknowledge that the tone of the post was not consistent with the nature of the meeting. I also felt that it was important to make a public statement about our commitment to work together in the Spirit of Christ. Because an Associate Director of the Institute acknowledged that he knew about it and wouldn’t grant the request, I pulled out.
BioLogos remains more concerned than ever about ensuring that we all—together as Christians—can come to peace with mainstream science, including biology. We do not think it is fundamentally flawed even though we know there are those who have misused it for their own philosophical agendas. We look forward to ongoing discussions with those who see things differently---but not where it has been announced to be a showdown and not where it has been presented as a rumble.