by Ervin Taylor
Let us remind ourselves of the question posed in Part 1 of this topic. Focusing our attention just on Adventism, the question was and is: “What is it about the Adventist theological tradition that has caused this small branch of Protestant Christianity to reject the ideas embodied in Darwin’s great scientific work?”
We began by noting that the views of early Adventists on this topic were essentially the same as many other American Protestant Christian faith communities of similar background. In the 19th century, there was, with some exceptions, a general rejection of Darwin’s views among the majority of conservative American Protestant bodies. However, by the beginning of the 21st century, a number of these denominations – still conservative in many respects –had modified their earlier views about evolution. We listed several parts of these American faith communities who had adjusted their understandings: Baptist, Church of the Brethren, Congregational, Disciples of Christ, and Presbyterian.
In 2013, many churches holding otherwise quite conservative theological positions were celebrating the “2013 Evolution Weekend.” In light of this, we asked “Why is no Adventist Church celebrating the “2013 Evolution Weekend” to show the compatibility of Christianity and biological evolution? What had most influenced the continuing aversion of traditional, institutional Adventism to reevaluate its original understandings concerning biological evolution?
One might reasonably ask, if Adventism was able to make a major adjustment in its theology in terms of moving from its original Arian position of its founders to a fully Trinitarian position, should it not be relatively simple for it to reconsider the compatibility of its theology and evolutionary biology?
Or if it could move from a “Shut Door” theology to an “Open Door” theology – an 180-degree shift – then what is the problem with reconsidering other positions developed in an earlier time and recasting its attitude toward Darwinian evolution?
Another element to consider is that of all contemporary conservative Protestant traditions, Adventism would ordinarily be expected to have a very positive appreciation of a science-based understanding of how plants and animals have developed over time. Adventism is known for its emphasis on the health sciences and its large educational system which includes many colleges and universities. If one knew nothing about Adventist theological history, an observer might assume that Adventism would be one of those otherwise conservative Protestant faith traditions which would have embraced evolutionary biology.
I will offer two suggestions as to the most important factors that prevented this. The first is how corporate Adventism reacted to the fundamentalist/modernist split in American Protestantism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The second factor is the ultramontanist role that Ellen White came to assume in traditional, institutional Adventism. I will suggest that the Ellen White magisterium in traditional Adventism has played the most critical role over the long term. It continues to create major problems as Adventism seeks to mature its message and approach to the modern Western world.
In the next segment of this blog on this topic, I will consider the first suggestion. If others have additional proposals as to other factors responsible for the anomalous historic response of Adventism to evolutionary thought, please share them.