Professor’s passion is where science, theology meet

TRINITY – He focuses so much on science that his students call him Dr. DNA.

His topic during the lunchtime lecture is on the multiverse hypothesis, an idea that the universe is surrounded by parallel counterparts. His PowerPoint slide show includes galaxies in all their splendor. He cites Albert Einstein and quotes Stephen Hawking as saying that somewhere along the line the universe had to be “fine-tuned” to allow for the development of life.

Yet the setting for this discussion is Trinity College, and the class is not science, but a meeting of the Apologetics Club.

Professor Tom Woodward critiques the multiverse idea, saying it still doesn’t answer the fundamental question of what made the universe.

“What evidence do we have of other universes? No evidence whatsoever. Science is supposed to be based on evidence.” He says the multiverse idea is “birthed by a strong negative reaction to fine-tuning” and therefore a fine tuner. “It’s simpler to say it’s one creator than other universes.”

Critics say Woodward, who teaches science and theology, and is a champion of a movement called “intelligent design,” should leave science to the scientists. They also successfully fought a Pennsylvania school board’s move to get the idea of a designer discussed in public school biology classes. The judge said in his ruling that intelligent design “is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”

Woodward says what he talks about is science.

* * *

Woodward, 57, is a champion of the movement, an idea that says life is so complex that it must be the work of an intelligent agent.

The author of three books on the topic, he has been called “the historian of the intelligent design movement.” His work prompted Trinity officials to name him the school’s first research professor.

“I’m very passionate about this,” he said, handing a visitor of copy of Unlocking the Mystery of Life, a DVD put out by a company with ties to a Seattle think tank that promotes intelligent design.

Woodward’s embrace of the movement, known by supporters as ID, didn’t come without struggle.

He grew up in Ohio, the youngest of four sons. All were high school valedictorians. All followed in their father’s footsteps to Princeton.

The family went to the United Church of Christ. Sermon themes were basically “be nice,” Woodward recalled. One of his older brothers was – and still is – a self-avowed atheist. It was the era of Vietnam, of the Beatles, of getting away from traditional culture.

“By high school, my faith was fading,” he said. “To me, Christianity was like a big unknown. I never read the Bible.”

Woodward, a science fiction fan, even got annoyed with C.S. LewisOut of the Silent Planet because of its pro-Christian bent.

But he continued to be haunted by what he described as angst about what happens after death.

One night in a campus dining hall, a friend talked about a Bible study group that was examining evidence that he said conflicted with Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“I flew off the handle and said, ‘What kind of ridiculous garbage is that?’ ”

Later he got into an all-night argument with the alum leading the study. Finally, to pacify the man and ensure a graceful exit, Woodward said he blurted out a prayer.

“It wasn’t from the heart,” he said.

And the angst didn’t go away.

* * *

Neither did the Bible study group. A young man named Bill Fay paid weekly visits to Woodward’s dorm room. Finally, at the end of Woodward’s freshman year, he told Fay he just couldn’t buy the resurrection of Christ. Fay asked why he would think that a Christ who could perform miracles couldn’t then raise himself from the dead.

“I didn’t have an answer for that.”

Woodward later converted, but he still clung to Darwin.

“I remember my first prayer was, ‘Dear God, I pray I won’t have to get involved with the Princeton Evangelical Group because all they are is a bunch of creationists, and I’m an evolutionist. Is that okay?'”

Woodward continued to study the issue and eventually embraced creationism, and later, intelligent design, because he says it’s based on evidence, not the Bible. His doctoral dissertation at the University of South Florida was published in 2003 as the book Doubts About Darwin. A sequel, Darwin Strikes Back, came out in 2006. He also co-wrote a book with local ophthalmologist James Gills called Darwin Under the Microscope. He debates the issue around the country and once appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box.

A critic recently reviewed one of Woodward’s books and called him “just the latest in a long line of misinformed creationist cheerleaders.”

“The scientific arguments in his books are entirely incorrect and amateurish,” wrote Jason Rosenhouse, an assistant professor of mathematics at James Madison University. Rosenhouse reviewed Darwin Strikes Back for the National Center for Science Education, a pro-evolution group. “His work has far more to do with evangelical Christian apologetics than it does with the advancement of science.”

Woodward says intelligent design is scientific because it merely points to the weaknesses of evolution. It stops short of naming the designer so it does not venture into the supernatural.

“It doesn’t go outside the methodology of science,” he said.

And the man who once hated the C.S. Lewis book now is head of an apologetics society named after him.

“He’s the apostle to the skeptic,” Woodward said.

Fast facts

For opposing reviews of Tom Woodward’s book Darwin Strikes Back, visit discovery.org/a/3885and hernando.tampabay.com.

Tom Woodward

Age: 57

Hometown: Dunedin

Family: Wife, Normandy; four grown children

Occupation: Professor of science and cross-cultural communication, Trinity College. Also director of the C.S. Lewis Society and the Trinity Center for University Ministries.

Education: Bachelor of arts degree in Latin American studies, Princeton University, 1972; master’s degree in systematic theology, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979; Ph.D., communication, with emphasis in rhetoric of science, University of South Florida, 2001.

Books:Darwinism Under the Microscope, co-written with Dr. James Gills; Doubts about Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design; and Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design.

Missionary work: Lectured primarily on university campuses in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 1986-88.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday October 24, 2007.
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