Darrel Falk grew up in a “wonderful home and a wonderful church” near Vancouver, British Columbia. A shy, serious child, he had a reputation among his friends for never lying or swearing. He asked Jesus into his heart at age 4, and through an altar call at age 10, asked for a second work of grace, in the holiness language of his Nazarene church. “I feel so clean inside,” he said afterwards in tearful wonder.
Todd Wood was born a generation after Falk in Rives Junction, an unincorporated village in the heart of Michigan. His father was a truck driver, and they lived on 13 rural acres, out of sight of the nearest neighbor. Northwest Baptist, a small, fundamentalist church his parents had helped to start and many relatives attended, was at the heart of his life. He attended a K-12 Baptist school with 25 students in his graduating class. A quiet boy, Wood loved doing research papers, going far beyond teachers’ expectations in tracking down extensive sources. Few in his acquaintance had been to college, and he had never met a scientist.
Both Wood and Falk grew up with absolute confidence in the Bible, a strong sense of family, and a belief that church was the place to find meaning and community. Both of them had an unusual aptitude for mathematics and an interest in science—though neither one had much idea what science was. They could have followed very similar pathways, and in a sense, they did.
But the controversies over evolution within the Christian community have taken the two scientists on very different journeys in a time when common ground on human origins and the Genesis narrative seems to be shrinking.
As an introspective and worrying child, Falk occasionally wondered whether Christianity was too good to be true. “I wanted it to be true because it was so beautiful. Jesus was my best friend. I felt very close to God.”
In junior high he encountered a textbook that pictured humans evolving from apes. He didn’t believe it was true—his church read Genesis with a strict literalism—but he feared that it might be and that his faith would be undone. Consequently, he stuck to chemistry and physics through high school in the 1960s. His one biology class never talked about evolution or DNA. After a year at a church Bible college, Falk started at Simon Frazer, Canada’s leading research university, based in Vancouver. He had decided to become a doctor, which meant he had to take biology.
He was completely unprepared for the beauty he encountered. “I had known the beauty of Christianity. Now I discovered the beauty of genetics. When I saw how the cell worked, it was unbelievably beautiful. Thousands of protein molecules, intricately folded, each doing a particular job in the cell. This astonishing process was going on in every one of my trillions of cells, making me who I am. Forty years later, I’m still in love with it. It never gets old, never loses its appeal.”
For Falk, evidence that all of life is related due to common origin was clearly written in the cell. Every organism used the same molecules, the same proteins, the same assembly processes. Even for organisms as different as birds and sea slugs, grass and elephants, similarities at the molecular level jumped out at him. In the church of his boyhood, he found no place for this knowledge or this beauty. He only knew how to read Genesis as six-day history, which he could not reconcile with what enthralled him in the laboratory. The beauty of the cell seemed to him evidence of God’s design and providential oversight. But he had no one to help him rebuild his picture of God’s creation.
Read the entire article in Christianity Today.