Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Todd Wood on William Jennings Bryan

Todd Wood, who teaches at Bryan College, named for William Jennings Bryan has written a glowing tribute to the late orator. He writes:
As an outspoken critic of evolution (which he called a “guess with nothing in the universe to support it”), the college’s namesake isn’t known for his love of science. In his own day, critics accused Bryan of spreading “appalling obscurantism” and “peculiar imbecilities.” Bryan—and creationists like me—are commonly believed to be antiscience. After all, how could you possibly doubt something so well established as evolution? You might as well believe the earth is flat, or so the common wisdom would have you believe.
But is this really so? Ron Numbers, in his article on the creationists in Science, writes:
Though one could scarcely have guessed it from his public pronouncements, Bryan was far from being a strict creationist. In fact, his personal beliefs regarding evolution diverged considerably from those of his more conservative supporters. Shortly before the trial he had confided to Kelly that he, too, had no objection to “evolution before man but for the fact that a concession as to the truth of evolution up to man furnishes our opponents with an argument which they are quick to use, namely, if evolution accounts for all the species up to man, does it not raise a presumption in behalf of evolution to include man?”
This puts him more in the camp of C.S. Lewis, who was accepting of evolution as a scientific discipline but not of “evolutionism” (what we would refer to as philosophical naturalism). This does not paint a picture of an anti-evolutionist at all but one concerned about the effects of evolution in society.

What is also side-stepped in this article is the fact that Bryan was not a young-earth creationist at all but rather accepted that the earth might be millions of years old. This also puts him at odds with modern creationists and, as Numbers writes, more in tune with other conservative theologians of his time. In writing about William Jennings Bryan's anti-evolutionism, these things should have been addressed.


  1. Hi Jim,
    Enjoy your blog, I know it’s hard work, thanks for continuing to provide interesting topics and discussion. I was wondering if you could help me understand something; Why do YECs feel compelled to stick to their positions in the face of over-whelming scientific data to the contrary? Take Todd Wood for example; intelligent, educated and actively participating in science. I asked him if belief in YEC was a factor for salvation, he stated emphatically that no, that would be ridiculous. So my question back to him was if isn’t a salvation factor why are people being so adamant about defending YEC with no science backing them up? What does it matter? He didn’t answer. There are a lot of YECs that believe any positive talk of evolution is the start of a slippery slope to the dark side. I don’t want to pick on Todd but if someone with his background maintains ardent support for a 6,000 year-old Universe, no common ancestor and a global flood in spite of all the current scientific evidence there is absolutely no hope for there to be a ‘middle ground’ in this debate.

  2. I am intrigued by the fact that he didn't answer. I have never spoken to him about this (actually, I have never spoken to him at all) and I wrote a post a bit back about what I perceive to be his cognitive dissonance about this. Todd also represents a person who is at once at odds with the rest of the YEC crowd (because he thinks they practice junk science, and he is right) and those supporting evolution and an old creation (because it doesn't fit into his biblical hermeneutic).

    One thing that I have found with most YEC supporters is that they are adamantly sure that their biblical model is correct. There is never any room for doubt. Whether this is the product of indoctrination or a sinking feeling that “if this is wrong than what else is?”

    That is the best that I can guess. We have to keep chipping away. Todd obviously understands what good science is, but then we catch him promoting things like the “Origins” conferences, which are chock full of YEC presenters. He promoted a YEC DVD on his blog yesterday, even.

    It is definitely a head-scratcher.

  3. I don't think I've ever commented on your blog, but I've been reading and enjoying it for some time. I just wanted to point out a very interesting recent essay by Todd. You may have already seen it, but I think it helps understand where he's coming from:

    The emphasis on intellectual humility (scientific and theological) and Christian unity is something I've been longing to see in the origins wars.

  4. We have to keep chipping away. Todd obviously understands what good science is, but then we catch him promoting things like the “Origins” conferences, which are chock full of YEC presenters.

    I almost hope Wood never embraces evolution. If he ever did, it would be too easy for YECs to dismiss him as no true believer. As it is, I like having a YEC who will openly admit that the current state of intellectual affairs in that camp is a disaster.

  5. Todd is a puzzle to me too. I have e-mailed him a number of times, including responding to the "things that he would like an EC to say" recently, but he has never responded to me. The thing about him is that he obviously knows what real scholarship and science are, and I wonder if that won't carry over eventually to Biblical studies. In short, I wouldn't be too surprised to see him change his mind about common descent and make the necessary adjustments on Biblical perspective eventually, but I don't know. The more you get invested in some particular point of view, the harder it is to consider that you might be wrong. In the meantime, maybe a few YECs will take him seriously when he tells them they are serving up pseudoscience.

  6. HornSpiel12:03 AM

    I like Todd too. The article zmil referenced above is actually pretty good. I wonder if Biologos would even be willing to post it.

    Reading the article you critique: When you get to the end Todd writes "While we ought not dismiss scientific ideas (even evolution) as mere guesses like Bryan did..." So I did not find it a "glowing tribute" but a fairly balanced and apparently well researched reflection on Bryan's approach to science.

    BTW the picture of Todd at the end threw me for a loop. I expected an older gentleman not a guy who looks like a home school kid with a beard. :)