Theologians and Scientists Present the Case for Creation at Adventist Faith and Science Conference

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Theologians and Scientists Present the Case for Creation at Adventist Faith and Science Conference

Sunday, August 24, 2014, concluded the 10-day International Conference on the Bible and Science: Affirming Creation, held primarily in Saint George, Utah. The conference brought together approximately 400 attendees from all 13 divisions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and more than 35 presenters from the fields of religion, biology, paleontology, geology, earth science, chemistry, physics, archaeology, and other sciences.

The participant list included educators, editors, researchers, church administrators, and some doctoral students from Andrews University and Loma Linda University. The planning committee included the General Conference’s Faith and Science Council, the Geoscience Research Institute, the Biblical Research Institute, and the GC Department of Education.

The purpose of the conference was “to bring together Adventist educators to explore the creation through both Bible study and study of the creation itself.” The organizers hoped that “participants will leave better equipped and inspired to teach about the creation in an informed, responsible, and faith-affirming way” (http://fscsda.org/icbs/).

In harmony with the title of the conference, the lectures presented biblical and scientific evidence and arguments for six literal, consecutive, contiguous, 24-hour days of creation.

The Theological Perspective

The presentations of the theologians and biblical scholars converged around two main points:

  1. the authority of Scripture in biblical interpretation, and
  2. the interconnection of the doctrine of creation with other foundational doctrines accepted by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Participants explore Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, August 20, 2014. Photo courtesy of Valentin Filimon.

Participants explore Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, August 20, 2014. Photo courtesy of Valentin Filimon.

Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary professors Jo Ann and Richard Davidson, two of the main speakers, emphasized the authority of Scripture and upheld the historical-grammatical method of interpretation as the proper hermeneutical method. They offered biblical principles of hermeneutics (in support of which they brought predominantly internal arguments from Scripture) and touched briefly on several non-biblical methods of interpretation. Richard Davidson’s hermeneutical “Decalogue” listed the following principles:

I. Sola Scriptura: By the Bible and the Bible Only

II. Tota Scriptura: By the Totality of Scripture

III. The Analogy of Scripture: The Bible Is Its Own Expositor

IV. Spiritual Things Are Spiritually Discerned

V. Text and Translation

VI. Historical Context

VII. Literary Context and Analysis

VIII. Verse-by-Verse Analysis: Grammar, Syntax, Word Study

IX. Theological Context and Analysis

X. Contemporary Application.[1]

In a multiple-lecture series on the history of hermeneutics, Ed Zinke, past president of the Adventist Theological Society, emphasized the Sola Scriptura principle and the need to test the interpretation of nature through Scripture, given that the knowledge of God in nature is limited and thus “insufficient to prove the moral character of God.”

Through the study of several passages of the New Testament, seminary professor Tom Shepherd showed that the doctrine of creation is inseparably linked with the biblical teachings on anthropology, sin, death, salvation, marriage, Christology, theology, ethics, and eschatology. “If evolution were true,” he stated in his conclusion, then:

  • God is not all-powerful.
  • God is arbitrary, uncaring.
  • We may worship ourselves.
  • Christ is not the Creator.
  • He is not preeminent; we can ignore Him.
  • Humans arose from lower forms of life.
  • Humans are not made in the image of God.
  • Respect for others is rooted in what they do, not what they are.
  • Death preceded sin.
  • Death is the means of development.
  • The world is progressing upward, not downward.
  • Man is progressing and needs no salvation.
  • Progress is measured in humanistic terms, not in comparison with Christ.
  • Marriage is a contract between people. It can be broken at will.
  • Since there is no definite beginning, there is no definite End.
  • The world is getting better, not worse. You are a small cog in a great progression toward evolution’s goal.

The Scientific Evidence

The scientific presentations offered empirical evidence pointing to a short chronology of life on earth, a literal six-day creation, and a global flood. The lectures included the following:

  • “Yellowstone ‘Fossil Forests,’”
  • “Yellowstone and Pseudogenes,”
  • “Design and Evolution of Protein Functions,”
  • “Trilobite: Enigma of Complexity: Why Evolution Is Not a Candidate,”
  • “Comparing the Human and Chimpanzee Genomes: More Difference than Expected,”
  • “Challenges in Chemical Evolution to Life,”
  • “Paleocurrents: A Window into Geologic History,”
  • “Looking for Time in All the Wrong Places: Bioturbation in the Fossil Record,”
  • “Radiometric Dating,”
  • “Carbon-14 in Fossil Carbon,”
  • “Moenkopi/Shinarump Contact and Geological Time,”
  • “Coconino Sandstone Injectites,”
  • “Lessons from Coconino Sandstone Fossil Tracks,”
  • “What Happened to the Dinosaurs?”
  • “Fossil Horses: Testing Macroevolution,”
  • “More Lessons from Fossil Turtles,”
  • “Science and Faith: The Fossil Ape-men,”
  • “Sociobiology: Why Do We Behave as We Do?”
  • “Darwinism’s Influence on Morality, Media, and Political Discourse.”

Some of these papers are in the process of being published.

Zion National Park, Utah, August 16, 2014. Photo courtesy of Valentin Filimon.

Zion National Park, Utah, August 16, 2014. Photo courtesy of Valentin Filimon.

In one of her presentations, Suzanne Phillips, professor of biology at Southwestern Adventist University, used scientific discoveries on “junk DNA” as an example of scientific progress refuting previous interpretation of data. Her presentation showed that further understanding of the human genome is more favorable to creationism than evolutionism.

“Junk DNA,” at one point considered a useless part of the DNA (hence its name), was described by evolutionist Richard Dawkins as

genes that once did something useful but have now been sidelined and are never transcribed or translated. They might as well not exist, as far as the animal’s welfare is concerned. But as far as the scientist is concerned they very much exist, and they are exactly what we need for an evolutionary clock…. What pseudogenes are useful for is embarrassing creationists. It stretches even their creative ingenuity to make up a convincing reason why an intelligent designer should have created a pseudogene—a gene that does absolutely nothing and gives every appearance of being a superannuated version of a gene that used to do something—unless he was deliberately setting out to fool us…. It is a remarkable fact that the greater part (95 percent in the case of humans) of the genome might as well not be there, for all the difference it makes (The Greatest Show on Earth, 2009, pp. 332, 333).

However, ENCODE, a research project launched by the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute in September 2003, turned that wisdom on its head. Based on the work of more than 400 scientists, ENCODE determined that “80 percent of the human genome is now ‘associated with at least one biochemical function’ (2012)” and that “much of this functional non-coding DNA is involved in the regulation of the expression of coding genes,” according to Phillips’ presentation. This demonstrates that “gene regulation is far more complex than was previously believed,” said Phillips.

In harmony with Zinke’s presentations, which pointed to the need to interpret nature through Scripture, Timothy Standish of the Geoscience Research Institute exposed some limitations of Intelligent Design (ID) when it comes to understanding the attributes of God, given that “ID deals only with the question of nature and design, not design and God,” and that it “is not rooted in a specific view of God.”

Intelligent Design, said Standish, is “consistent with Scriptural claims about God’s interaction with the material world,” but it “does not prove specific Scriptural claims true.” Looking at nature alone leaves us with some serious theological issues, particularly regarding the goodness of God—His “competence as a designer when His designs fail” and His “character when designs appear evil.” Standish stated: “ID is half the battle, but a worrying half-truth for Christians unless seeds of biblical truth are sown after the ID plow.”

Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) graduates quartet sings on Sabbath at the Dixie Convention Center in Saint George, Utah, August 23, 2014. Photo courtesy of Valentin Filimon.

Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) graduate quartet sings on Sabbath at the Dixie Convention Center in Saint George, Utah, August 23, 2014. Photo courtesy of Valentin Filimon.

In another presentation, Standish suggested that when comparing the human genome with the genome of chimpanzees, we need to bear in mind that “sequence can be compared in different ways giving different outcomes, not all differences are created equal, and percentage is a misleading metric.” “The differences . . . are more profound than is commonly understood,” he said.

Leonard Brand, professor of biology and paleontology at Loma Linda University, responded to a quote from Eldredge’s article The Monkey Business: A Scientist Looks at Creationism stating that no creationist “has contributed a single article to any reputable scientific journal” (1982, p. 83) and a quote from Kitcher, Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism, declaring that “Flood geology . . . does not aim at advancing science—it does not seek to extend the range of phenomena that are open to scientific investigation” (1982, p. 129). Brand suggested that, on the contrary, belief in the “biblical story of creation and the global flood” makes us ask new questions, and “our eyes are opened to think in new ways not open to those who believe in naturalism.” These questions, he said, “must be answered with quality science.”

Throughout the conference, various speakers emphasized the need to be academically honest and not overstate the case for creation without solid evidence. For example, Phillips reminded the audience that scientists are confronted both with evidence that “support[s] the concept of a fiat creation” (such as “sudden appearances, general absence of intermediate forms in the fossil record, evidence of extraordinary events, general lack of evidence for time, and molecular biology”) and with evidence that “challenge[s] the concept of a fiat creation” (such as “radiometric dating, other dating methods, orderly fossil record”).

The conference included three field trips (to Virgin River Gorge, Zion National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park); student and delegate panels where attendees articulated what creation means to them personally; music provided by various groups; a creation, literature, and the arts evening; and a couple lectures from non-Adventist speakers in which they shared their journey of being a creationist within a predominantly evolutionist academic setting.

The last day brought into focus environmental care, including a biblical case for it and practical ways in which we can exercise responsible dominion. The recently published book Entrusted: Christians and Environmental Care (2013), edited by Stephen Dunbar, James Gibson, and Humberto Rasi, was featured at the conference among other resources.

Throughout the conference, a committee worked on a session statement that affirms a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2, a literal six-day creation, and a global flood. The statement was voted by the participants and accepted in majority. The entire document can be read here:

http://www.adventistreview.org/assets/public/features/International_Conference_on_the_Bible_and_Science_Final_Statement.pdf

[1] You can read more about these principles in “Interpreting Scripture: An Hermeneutical Decalogue,” JATS 4, no. 2 (1993): 95-114 and “Biblical Interpretation,” in Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, ed. Raoul Dederen (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), 58–104.

 

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About the author

Adelina Alexe is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. She loves God and enjoys nature, arts, and meaningful conversation. Her special research interests are narrative theology and hermeneutics.