by Jack Hoehn

There is a confluence of ideas coming from within and without the Seventh-day Adventist church, that suggest places this church can go with its theology and mission. Jack wants to talk with you about some of them.  This article is on an Expanded Creationism for Adventism growing big enough to fit the evidence.  There is a #7a. article before this one and there will be a part c. to follow.)

1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I set aside childish ways. 

In the previous article [1] we reviewed some creation texts in the Bible found beyond Genesis.  The Bible presents a large creation story, one that needs to be “big enough” to hold the whole universe from its beginning with any extra-terrestrial life forms to a new “heaven and earth” prophesied to follow the Second Coming of Christ.  The Bible does not consider creation a magic act, done in an instant, but that creation was intelligently designed with God’s wisdom and planning done long before its implementation by Jesus Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Creation was a process, sequential, step by step–first this was done, then that, then the next thing was done. Wisdom, intelligence, design, process are the kinds of steps suggested in the texts.  Genesis also presents creation as sequential, step wise–first this, then that, then the next thing.

Those Six Days

The 19th century Adventist understanding of Genesis, supported by the writings of Ellen White, is that Genesis tell us not only who created and why, but also tells us when and perhaps how creation had to happen.  We understood this to be quickly, suddenly in minutes or hours, 24 hour days at the most, not over years or long ages.

At the same time Adventists understand the scientific study of the universe, the scientific study of the earth, the scientific study of simple and complex life on earth–both plant and animal–is not consistent with a Biblical interpretation of creation as a recent, quick, almost magical creation. Multiple lines of evidence for the age of the universe suggests more than 14 billion years ago for its creation in a so called “big bang.”  Multiple lines of evidence for the time of creation of earth and it’s moon suggest a time of more than 4 billion years ago.  Independent evidences for the creation of life on earth over 600 million years ago and for the multiple changes in life as recorded in successive layers of fossil bearing rocks are impossible to compress into an age of 6 twenty-four-hour days just 6 to 10 thousand years ago, as we once taught.[2]

Although Genesis has no dates, Adventists face a dilemma. Do we hold on to the “faith of our fathers” (or in the Adventist case the “faith of our Mother” — Ellen White) and fight the science, or do we revise our interpretation of Genesis to try and see the same truths in both science and revelation complementing and explaining each other?

North or South?

Adventists are still being told by the highest denominational administrators that in the conflict between science and Genesis believers have two options:

CREATION

EVOLUTION

God’s Word

Darwin’s Theories

Christ

Satan

Good

Evil

Black

White

North

South

 

Move NORTH?—Young Earth Creationism(YEC):

Like the stubborn “needle to the pole,” Young Earth Creationists firmly hold onto the traditions of “old time religion.” In the past most Christians believed the earth was created about 6,000 years ago in six 24-hour days.  Adventists next taught that all the changes recorded as fossil layers happened with a planet wide Noah’s flood about 4,000 years ago.  This position holds that scientific studies must be judged with this fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.  If a given scientific fact supports a recent creation in a short time, they are true and can be used as “Creation Science.” If a scientific fact contradicts “Young Earth Creationism” it must be wrong, or worse be a deception fostered by Satan supported by deluded scientists under Satanic control.

Young Earth Creationism was elevated in 2015 from an opinion to a SDA doctrine by the Ted N.C. Wilson controlled General Conference.[3]  To move beyond YEC as the only option requires Adventists to acknowledge there are alternate ways to understanding Genesis.  They may still hold on to Ellen White a prophetess of God, but they will need to accept that no prophet is infallible.[4]  They would also have to embrace these words from Ellen White:

“There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed,
and that all our expositions of Scripture are without error.
The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people
is not a proof that our ideas are infallible.  Age will not make an error into truth,
and truth can afford to be fair.
No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation.”
[5]

Go SOUTH?—Darwinian Evolution(DE):

We live in a world ruled by science. Our vehicles, our medical care, our social media, our education system, our government are all controlled or influenced by scientific data, studies, research, and information.  Would you wish to live without the benefits of science and technology?  Even though interpretations drawn from science are fallible and often do change with new data, one response to the scientific evidence challenging a literalistic understanding of the Bible is to throw out the Bible.    Read the Bible as literature, but don’t question any scientific studies simply because they “don’t agree with the Bible.”   Many who accept science as the authority become agnostic (I don’t know about any God or gods) or atheists (no God or gods necessary).  So long Bible, so long miracles, so long resurrection, so long Second-coming, so long God.  Young Adventists taught by fundamentalist Adventism when coming against the factuality of science either give up on Adventism or maintain it as a strictly cultural presence in their lives.  They still like vege-burgers and haystacks, but don’t take anything serious from the Adventist theology that lied to them about the truths of science.

East and West?

Other maintain that there are more Christian options on this issue than just North or South, Creation or Evolution. There are Eastern and Western Christian options between North and South:

YES, GOD
CREATED
PERHAPS
IN ONE
OR MORE
OF
THESE WAYS
:

1.) Young-earth Creationism (YEC)

 

2.) Old-earth Creationism/
Progressive Creationism
(OEC/PC)

3.) Intelligent Design (ID)

 

4.) Evolution 2.0 (E2)

 

5.) Theistic Evolution (TE)
 

 

 OR:
Darwinian or
Neo-Darwinian Evolution/

Materialism (DE)

NO GOD
  NECESSARY.

 

Theistic (God)Evolution (TE). Many have suggested that God created by starting Evolution and letting it run as Darwin proposed.  The Bible they consider mythical but useful for morality.  And they accept whatever current brand of Evolution is offered and believed in by atheists and agnostics, but with the minor modification that either God was good with what Darwin’s system made, or he just nudged it very rarely and with no fingerprints visible.  This is the Bio-logos form of Christianity and has two very obvious weaknesses in my opinion—bad science and bad theology.

Evolution 2.0 (E2) has been offered recently as a synthesis by Perry Marshall[6] that says yes everything evolved, but only because God created specific tools to make it possible.  It gives God a lot more credit and denies neo-Darwinian theories that suggest “random mutation” has enough power to create anything worthy selecting by natural selection.

Evolution 2.0 offers the mechanisms of how cells (and things made of cells) change or evolve over time as evidence something very much like God had to be involved. Transposition, Horizontal Gene Transfer, Epigenetics, Symbiogenesis, Genome Duplication are 5 mechanisms extracted from genetic discoveries that show Marshall the tools God used to make everything possible.

Marshall does not explain how much or how little involvement God maintains with these wonderful systems.  Marshall claims he is improving Intelligent Design, Darwinism, and Creationism, but in reality it is not clear to me how his ideas are not just another repackaged flavor of Intelligent Design?

Intelligent Design (ID) does not deny any of the scientific tools Evolution 2.0 claims to rely on.  In fact, ID does not deny any scientific facts that evolutionists claim support Darwinism.  ID says it is the interpretation of the facts of science that is the problem.  They claim that the science, far from supporting random mutations and natural selection over time as the basis for life, strongly supports that life has been intelligently designed.

The first cells, the earliest fossils and all most complex life forms show the fingerprints not of chance, but of Intelligent Design.  Young Earth Creationists attack ID because they don’t try to prove that the Bible is simplistically true.  ID opens the door of science wide open to the possibility that the God of the Bible is the Designer, but it is not a religious organization whose aim is to convert people to Christ.  Theistic Evolutionists attack ID from the other side because ID reveals that Darwinian explanations of the facts are mythical and scientifically unsupportable if studied free of the naturalistic bias that excludes any possibility of a Designer.

Old=Earth Creationism or Progressive Creationism (OEC/PC). Progressive Creationism is a explicitly Christian form of ID.  It is also known as Old Earth Creationism, since it too does not deny the scientific facts that show that the universe and earth and its moon are billions of years old, and that complex life is millions of years old.  Unlike ID, however, they also claim that the Bible was inspired by the same Intelligent Designer that can be seen in the scientific study of life.  So they explain Genesis as an inspired revelation of who the Intelligent Designer is.

They suggest that the days of creation in Genesis are an outline of the successive steps in creation of the world that Adam and Eve were introduced to.  They suggest that natural events were orchestrated by the Creator of nature, when and where necessary to give us the planet modern humans enjoy.  They write books showing why God would make the world this way, and quote Bible texts to support their explanations.  Good science, good theology they claim are partners in giving us truth.  They deny that science and revelation are in a war, and want them to walk hand in hand.

To me they are ID for those who value the Bible.  They of course do read the Bible as written in the cultures and with the understandings of those who wrote it, but with God revealing to them underlying truths.  Genesis for example does not demand for them 6 x 24-hour days, but shows that the universe had a beginning (compatible with the “big bang” cosmology), that creation was stepwise and progressive (compatible with the fossil records of a progressive creation starting with O2 producing cells, and ending with modern humans), and that life far from being accidental and random, is purposeful and goal-directed by the God revealed best by Jesus Christ.

Old-earth Progressive Creationists actively try to bring scientists to faith by showing that belief in the facts of science is no barrier to belief in Jesus Christ.

Evolving Adventism

Adventists have been taught to fear the word Evolution.  But to evolve is to change, to adapt.  And the truth is that the religion of Jesus Christ has always been changing and adapting.  The text quoted from St. Paul at the introduction of this article, “I put away childish ways”, suggests that change and development in understanding is a fact of healthy life.  Children increase in wisdom and knowledge as they grow.  Understanding changes with maturity.  Should we be surprised if our faith changes and matures, evolves, grows up, as our church matures?  Are we willing to be shackled to the young untested understandings of faith held by our spiritual pioneers in the 19th century? We are quite willing to have the Bible help understand science.  Are we also willing to have science help us understand our Bibles?  And what if anything does Adventism have to offer the faith and science debate beyond our apology?

For those who read and try to understand the Bible in the context of scientific facts there is no longer a simple choice between Darwinism and Creationism. That God created and that outside earth information is absolutely necessary,  is supported more and more by all recent increased understanding of  the DNA code,  and the scientifically proven limitations of unguided mutations as a possible explanation for either the origin or the diversity of life.    But there is less and less, and weaker and weaker support of any kind beyond speculation for a recent creation in the near past.

For Adventists today the question is, with greater support for God necessary as Creator, and less support for a recent quick, magical creation, can we expand or grow-up our Creation doctrines to remain not only beautiful and comforting but also true?  The next article will ask, are Adventists up to the task?

 

____________________________________________

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] This article is 8th of a series suggesting possible new frontiers for Adventism.
Adventist Tomorrow has so far presented:

#1)Better Way to Read Bible.

#2)The Openness of God.

#3)Rethinking Same Sex Love

#4)Becoming Political

#5)Satan and Freedom of Will

#6)Militant Pacifism

#7a.)Robust Creationism

This is #7b.) and a #7c.) will follow.

[2] Jack has discussed natural clocks used to help suggest ages for life on earth in a previous series available here, here, here, here, and here.

[3] Ted N.C. Wilson, August 3, 2015 announced:  “Just this week we have affirmed in an overwhelming manner, the Seventh-day Adventist church both teaches and believes in the biblical record of Creation which took place recently; in six literal, consecutive, contiguous, 24-hour days. The Seventh-day Adventist Church will never change its stand or belief in that foundational doctrine…” [1] https://www.perspectivedigest.org/article/20/archives/15-4/uplifting-a-recent-creation

[4] Jack has written on ways to consider our 19th century prophetess: https://atoday.org/inspired-expired-1/ , https://atoday.org/inspired-expired-2/, https://atoday.org/inspired-expired-3-last-three-part-series/.

[5]  Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, December 20, 1892.

[6] Perry Marshall, Evolution 2.0—Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design, Ben Bella Books, Dallas Texas, 2015.


Jack Hoehn is a frequent contributor to both the print and online versions of Adventist Today. He has served on the Adventist Today Foundation board since 2012. He and his wife Deanne live in Walla Walla, Washington. He has a BA in Religion from Pacific Union College, and an MD from Loma Linda University. He was a licensed minister of the Adventist church for 13 years when serving as a missionary physician in Africa. 

To read part #7a, “A Robust Creationism,” click here.

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