The Creationism of Evangelical Christians: Why Do Traditional Adventists Object?
by Ervin Taylor, November 22, 2015: Traditional Adventism argues that it is necessary to believe in “recent” Creation in seven literal days because they allege such a belief is the only one that preserves a belief in the veracity of Scripture. Any other view, they insist, would fatally compromise the truths of the Adventist faith. These individuals think that “truth” is so important, they recently caused it to be added as a “Fundamental Belief” of the Church.
We here use the term “traditional Adventist” to designate those Adventists who agree with the most literal and straightforward interpretations of all the “Fundamental Beliefs” of the Seventh-day Adventist (Adventist) Church as voted at a General Conference session. In the current version of those beliefs, there would be 28 statements with which a “Traditional Adventist” would be expected to agree. As defined here, these individuals would have no question about the need and requirement that all Adventists be “real Adventists” and believe all of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. In most cases, a “traditional Adventist” would be expected to hold to a classic, Fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, which includes the proviso that the Bible contains no major or substantive errors of fact when addressing topics in science and history.
If one is interested in obtaining a more balanced understanding of how one part of the evangelical Christian community is addressing this topic, an excellent source is a book by David Young and Ralph Stearley, entitled The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth, published in 2008 by InterVarsity Press, an evangelical Christian publisher.
Davis A. Young (Ph.D., Brown University) is Professor Emeritus of Geology and Ralph F. Stearley (Ph.D., University of Michigan) is Professor of Geology, both at Calvin College, an evangelical Protestant Christian liberal arts college. These geologists are certainly not the “infidel scientists” about which a certain 19th-century Adventist writer warned. The mission statement of the institution at which they were (or are) faculty members states that “Calvin College is a comprehensive liberal arts college in the Reformed tradition of historic Christianity. Through our learning, we seek to be agents of renewal in the academy, church, and society. We pledge fidelity to Jesus Christ, offering our hearts and lives to do God’s work in God’s world.”
The concluding chapter of this volume is entitled “Creationism, Evangelism, and Apologetics.” Here are some quotations from that chapter:
“In this book we have endeavored to show that several purported scientific claims advanced by Young-Earth Creationists [which also includes Young-Life Creationism] do not stand up to scrutiny and fail to establish a young age for the earth [and fossils]. These claims are generally based on incomplete information, wishful thinking, ignorance of real geologic solutions, selective use of data and faulty reasoning” (p. 475).
“When presented with the gospel, unbelieving scientists will reckon that, if it is an article of Christian faith that the world was created only a few thousand years ago and that most sedimentary rocks [those containing fossils] were deposited during Noah’s flood, a religion that tolerates such bogus science is not worthy of further interest. By linking the gospel of Jesus Christ to Young Earth Creationism, Christians place a serious barrier in the way of a person’s acceptance of the gospel. In this sense, modern Young Earth Creationism is a hindrance to evangelism” (p. 478).
“Sadly, too many Christians have distorted the content of the natural sciences in order to gain an accommodation with what they perceive to be a natural interpretation of Scripture. This is, in fact what has happened with the modern Young Earth Creationist movement. Having locked themselves into fixed interpretations of the creation or flood accounts, they find themselves in profound and widening disagreement with the results of modern geology and other sciences. Unwilling to allow conflict to exist, they have sought harmonization with science, not by reevaluating their biblical exegesis but by the wholesale distortion of science and the data of nature. They have tried to force nature to say things it does not say” (p. 494).
In the light of such views by members of another branch of conservative evangelical Christianity, one might ask why traditional Adventism is so concerned with advancing a view of origins that is at odds with so much of contemporary science dealing with earth and human history. Why would it rather align its views with that of Christian Fundamentalists? The argument that one must accept the reality of a “recent” creation and a worldwide flood to support the veracity of Scripture is revealed to be, at best, a highly suspect argument. Is there a different explanation that may be closer to what is actually involved?
The reason most often offered is, of course, the Seventh-day Adventist belief in the importance of Sabbath observance. That view says that without a belief in a literal Creation, the injunction to observe the Sabbath would lose much of its biblical support. The force of this argument can only be sustained by ignoring the fact that there are two completely different reasons given in the Old Testament for why the institution of the Sabbath is to be honored. One reason is cited in the well-known Exodus version of the Ten Commandments in that the Sabbath is stated to be a memorial of Creation. The other reason is given in Deuteronomy, where the justification of the Sabbath is as a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt. This dual justification would appear to indicate that among the ancient Hebrews both of these events were cited as the justification for the institution of the Sabbath. We now might ask why it is important for traditional Adventists to accept one explanation and ignore the other.
One suggestion is that the most important factor involved in the need for a part of Adventism to align its views with the fundamentalist wing of Protestant Christianity is actually not primarily a concern with the veracity of the Bible. It is suggested that the most important reason is the need for traditional Adventism to support the views of Ellen G. White (EGW). While the Bible might be ambiguous about the basis of certain teachings, EGW has made very specific and uncompromising statements about what must be believed on certain topics. Her views on the nature of earth history are well known. She used the expression “6,000 years” on a number of occasions as the amount of time that had transpired since Creation, and she certainly believed in the reality of a recent worldwide flood.
It is posited that until the Seventh-day Adventist tradition has sufficiently matured to be able to accept an understanding that the views of EGW on the subject of earth and life history of our planet are artifacts of the times in which she was living and her own consciousness that sometimes were manifested in the contents of some of her visions, we shall continue to consign our faith tradition to a marginalized position outside of the informed and thinking parts of the contemporary Christian community. This is one factor among many that is being vividly played out currently, causing the high rates of departure of our younger, better-educated members.