Harvard-Trained Paleontologist: “What the Bible Says Is Data to Me”
(EXCLUSIVE TO CHALCEDON)
Dr. Kurt Wise is an anomaly among creation scientists: he has a doctorate in paleontology.
He’s also an anomaly among paleontology professors because he’s a young-age creationist.
“I’m a scientist. I look at the data. But what the Bible actually says is also data to me,” Dr. Wise told Chalcedon recently.
Secular scientists criticize him for interpreting real-world data, such as fossils and their location, in light of his presupposition that the Genesis account of Creation is literally true. Some of them go so far as to accuse him of “doing science backwards,” manipulating the evidence to fit a preconceived assumption.
Wise takes it in stride.
The popular image of a scientist usually features an open-minded seeker of truth keenly observing nature and allowing his unbiased observations to drive him toward a theory based solely on “the evidence.”
“I’ve never met a scientist who didn’t try to make the evidence fit his presuppositions,” Dr. Wise said. “We just don’t let ourselves exist in an unbiased state. All human beings have presuppositions, and scientists are human beings.”
Charles Darwin, author of the theory of evolution, was no different, Wise said. “Darwin had a background in theological studies, but then he had a child die and it shook his faith. He became embittered toward God, and he was predisposed to explain the natural world without reference to God. He really was looking for a way to explain it without invoking God.”
The same holds true for Darwin’s successors today, he said.
“They all believe in evolution, and try to interpret their data in light of it. Take the recent discovery of soft, elastic tissue inside the leg bone of a Tyrannosaurus rex. You suggest they subject it to a Carbon-14 test [a means of determining the age of matter that was once alive; it is only applicable over a range of thousands of years, not millions]. Obviously, they won’t. They won’t even look at the data in a way that violates their assumption that it’s millions of years old.”
Raising the Bar for Creationists
Dr. Wise sometimes comes under fire by creationists for his insistence that creation science adopt higher, more rigorous standards and procedures.
“We should’ve done it years ago,” he said. “We ought to follow an ethic of science higher than the ethic of unbelieving scientists because we’re doing this unto the Lord.
“We have not set the bar high enough and need to set it higher. We need more rigorous peer review and less sloppy science. Too many of us are not properly trained in the sciences. Let’s grow up!”
Creation scientists, he said, have a long way to go toward explaining nature within the boundaries set by Scripture.
“We don’t yet have explanations that satisfy to explain the data,” Wise said. “For instance, with regard to extinctions and faunal succession [the location of extinct animals relative to each other in the rock record], we have to observe the fossil evidence and create scenarios to explain it.
“The truth is that so far neither creationism nor evolution can provide these explanations. In neither case does the theory predict anything.
“We ought to be working harder to present our own case. We ought to be building a model of understanding — not wasting our lives fighting a theory [evolution] we know to be wrong. If we view evolution as the enemy, and if we’re always focused on the enemy, then the enemy determines what research we do.”
Creation scientists, Dr. Wise said, have only just begun to generate testable theories that have predictive value.
“My new theory of biogeography — the distribution of organisms after the Flood — has 17 predictions that we can test,” he said. “Others deal with the magnetic fields of stars, rapid reversals of the earth’s magnetic field, and catastrophic plate tectonics and the Flood.
“These arise from real-world observations. For example, when Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, there were millions of trees left floating on Spirit Lake. Twenty-five years later, there are still hundreds of thousands of them. Imagine the billions of trees that must have been uprooted by the Flood, vast rafts of them floating on the ocean currents for years and years — rafts that could have carried animals to all sorts of places. Today we have giant land tortoises on isolated oceanic islands like the Galapagos and Aldabra. They certainly didn’t swim there; but they might have rafted.”
Master and Mentor
To earn his doctorate in paleontology, Dr. Wise studied for eight years under Stephen Jay Gould at Harvard. Considered by many to be America’s leading Darwinist and promoter of evolutionary theory, Gould died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 60.
For many years Wise kept up an unlikely friendship with his mentor.
“I believe God was drawing Stephen Jay Gould to Himself in ways that were unique to Stephen,” he said. “For instance, it struck him that the fossil record looked like Creation, and that bothered him. He was struggling with spiritual issues in the real of science.
“I loved him; I witnessed to him often, and I prayed for him almost every day of my life until he died.”
The friendly relationship he enjoyed with Gould did not carry over to many other secular scientists.
“I get some respect as an oddity,” he said. “A few say they respect me as ‘an honest creationist.’ But mostly they respond with complete disdain. To them, young-age creationism is unthinkable. One rarely has an opportunity to explain what one’s position is. They won’t listen.”
For the past 16 years, Dr. Wise has been a science professor at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee — the town where the infamous Scopes Trial was held in 1925. Those who have seen Inherit the Wind will remember the playwrights’ depiction of William Jennings Bryan as an arrogant, close-minded reactionary trying to hold back the tide of modernism by preventing the teaching of evolution. The college is named for Bryan.
“It’s ironic,” Wise said. “Bryan was a great Progressive in his day, three times the Democratic candidate for president, who championed reforms which we take for granted today, like the vote for women and the eight-hour workday.”
Wise recalled that he came to Christ and received his salvation at the age of nine and became a creationist during his junior year in high school.
“When I was in the secular universities,” he said, “and my professors wanted to understand me, I told them that the Bible was my evidence: I believed in the Biblical account of the Creation.
“All my secular professors were okay with that. A lot of my fellow students entered college as Christians and came out as secularists, but that didn’t happen to me.”
For now, Dr. Wise continues to try to advance the progress of creation science from his base at Bryan College, contributing to creationist journals, doing research, writing books and articles, and accepting speaking engagements.
“There are still a bunch of things we need to solve as creation scientists,” he said. “There’s plenty to keep us busy for a long time.”
Topics: Biblical Commentary, Biology, Education, Science, Theology