Affirming Creation: a Summer Conference for Adventist Educators
By John McLarty, July 23, 2017: A conference on “Affirming Creation” for Adventist educators and pastors was held July 6 through 13 at the Dixie Convention Center in St. George, Utah. It was organized by the denomination’s North American Division Office of Education and the General Conference (GC) Faith and Science Council in cooperation with the Geoscience Research Institute (GRI), a GC institution.
I registered, responding to an invitation sent to all the pastors and teachers in the North Pacific Union Conference. At the opening session, the conference organizers briefly outlined the objectives for the event. They explicitly ruled out “debate.” There would be no presentation of alternative views. The purpose of the conference was to affirm the doctrine of creation as officially taught by the Adventist denomination. Throughout the week, the focus was on preparing teachers, primarily primary and secondary teachers, to present creationism in their classrooms.
Presentations were roughly balanced between theologians and scientists. There were two field trips, to Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon. However, given the size of the group (about 300 attendees) it was not possible for the scientists to provide any meaningful commentary in the field.
None of the Adventist presenters offered the slightest hint of a Flood model. All of them agreed that the geologic column is real. The fossils and rocks really do have the order described by standard geology and there is no model that reconciles that order with Noah’s Flood. They simply acknowledged the problem and expressed confidence that future research will unravel the mystery. They also unanimously agreed the church has no plausible explanation of radiometric dating. The GRI scientists acknowledge that radiometric dating gives reliable relative dates, that is it can reliably tell the order in which strata were deposited, but they believe radiometric dating gives erroneous absolute dates, that is all fossils must be younger than “recent,” whatever that means.
Leonard Brand and Art Chadwick were quite explicit regarding the relative weight of the evidence. They believe the scientific evidence is evenly split. There is evidence for and against standard geology and for and against a recent creation and global flood. Since the evidence is evenly split, the decision about how to interpret the physical evidence comes down to one’s world view. Those who have a biblical worldview will privilege the evidence in favor of the Bible story. Those who have a secular worldview will privilege the evidence in favor of a long chronology and naturalism. The decision is never purely on the basis of the data.
There were repeated references to “worldview” throughout the conference. The presenters believe their recent creation/Flood geology interpretations of the Bible are the only valid interpretations. So people who read the Bible and the rocks differently, must of necessity have non-biblical worldviews.
I was struck with the enthusiasm of several of the scientists for basic science, especially field work. While their options for interpreting data are very narrowly constrained by their unalterable commitment to Flood geology, they clearly relished the work of observation and data collection. Further, when Leonard Brand, Art Chadwick, and Raul Esperante discussed their personal research, they were careful to distinguish between what they affirmed on the basis of their science and what they affirmed on the basis of their faith. For example, Brand stated there was water present when animals made the tracks visible in the Coconino Sandstone. Chadwick said the Yellowstone fossil forest beds were created by transport rather than in situ accumulation. Esperante said his whale subjects were buried rapidly in a formation whose radiometric dating is problematic. And they said that creation happened in a single week a few thousand years ago and most of the geologic column was formed by Noah’s Flood.
Several different presenters said the Flood created the strata conventionally assigned to the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras. Pre-Cambrian is pre-Flood. And Cenozoic is post-Flood. Several presenters made reference to the idea that major geologic activity continued for several hundred years after the “Year of the Flood” described in the Bible. The Cenozoic strata bear witness to this post-Flood activity. One implication of this: After the Flood there was very rapid evolution. From the fossil record it appears there were few or no modern animals on the Ark. Instead, modern animals are the result of rapid evolution after the animals left the Ark and dispersed across the world. Just as the fossil record in the Paleozoic and Mesozoic shows the abrupt appearance of major types of animals, so in the early Cenozoic all sorts of mammals appear. There are no intermediates between these mammals and the dinosaurs that precede them in the fossil record. And the mammals that show up early in the Cenozoic are now all extinct. So these early mammals must have been the descendants of the “kinds” that were saved on the Ark. In the 4,500 years since the Flood they evolved into the animals we see today.
The most startling claim I heard from a conference presenter was Kurt Wise’s statement that the entire universe is 6,000 years old. His argument is simple. According to a plain reading of the text, Genesis 1 is the record of the creation of the “heavens and the earth.” On Day Four, God created the sun, moon, and stars. And the Sabbath commandment says, “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day.” Wise is not an Adventist. And no Adventist theologian I am aware of teaches that the universe is 6,000 years old. However, when Wise made this declaration during a panel discussion, no one challenged his statement. And since we were told the first night that what was going to be presented at the conference was the Adventist doctrine of creation and that there would be no debate, it is unclear what was intended by this statement from Wise.
The principals at the conference were quite explicit: no amount of scientific data will ever change their minds. And no amount of Bible scholarship will change their minds. In their view the proper role of future scientific investigation and biblical scholarship is to find evidence in support of what we already know.
John McLarty is senior pastor of the Green Lake Adventist Church in Seattle and a contributing editor for Adventist Today. The photo with this report is the Dixie Convention Center.