This August I was blessed to attend the International Conference on the Bible and Science: Affirming Creation, which was put on by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists’ Faith and Science Council, with significant contributions by the General Conference Education Department and Loma Linda University Department of Earth and Biological Sciences. The 400+ attendees came primarily from Adventist unions, conferences, and educational institutions all over the world. They included scientists, theologians, graduate students, and church administrators as well as some lay members and a few guests from other denominations.
While the topics presented included biology, geology, paleontology, archeology, microbiology, theology, philosophy, and environmental conservation, the unifying thread through the presentations was epistemology—the theory of how we arrive at knowledge. There was also an emphasis on hermeneutics, the method used to interpret data and arrive at conclusions.
Unfortunately, epistemology is something that is not stressed or even acknowledged in most educational curriculums. It is essential, however, for understanding the debates going on in our churches regarding such fundamental questions as creation and evolution and the historicity of the Bible. Furthermore, an understanding of hermeneutics helps us understand how doctrines are arrived at and why it is that equally intelligent, informed, and rational individuals can arrive at profoundly different conclusions while reasoning from the same Bible and from the same scientific observations.
Some have spun this conference as an exercise in "laying down the law" to Adventist scientists. If one cared little for Adventist doctrine and had no idea what actually occurred during the meetings, I could see how he or she might arrive at such a conclusion. What I see, however, is that church administration—along with Bible-believing scientists and theologians—is pushing back against the doctrines of atheism and its syncretistic offspring, theistic evolutionism. As Kevin Paulson pointed out, pastors and church administrators have a divinely appointed duty to protect the church from people that are teaching doctrinal error as acceptable or even accepted church doctrine.
Here is where epistemology comes in: from a purely scientific standpoint, abiogenesis (the origin of life from non-life) and Darwinian evolution are not good explanations for the origin of life, the diversity of life, or the existence of humanity. They are merely the best explanations that currently exist when one presupposes the nonexistence of God, or posits a god that does not ever intervene in the universe in a detectable way as in some flavors of theistic evolutionism.
However, if we allow the possibility of the God of the Bible’s existence and at least potentially detectable action in the universe, we can ask scientific questions about nature and carry out scientific investigations without being constrained by the dogmas of atheism or theological assertions such as the claim that God’s action must be undetectable. What’s more, we can arrive at very good scientific understandings of the origin of life, the diversity of live, the existence of humanity, the existence of consciousness, and many other phenomena that confound Darwinian reasoning. In addition, we will not be inclined to live according to an alternative morality that logically arises from Darwinism.
The God of the Bible is a God of action who is personally involved with His creation. The god of theistic evolution, on the other hand, heartlessly creates via the death and suffering of innumerable organisms and may be impotent to act or be personally involved in the welfare of those who worship him. A religion that substitutes the god of theistic evolution for the God of the Bible will wither into faithless secularism that appeals to secular forms of power to achieve its ends rather than relying on the infinite power of the Holy Spirit. It is the duty of our church’s administration to educate Adventist young people about this antibiblical theology, not to allow it to be taught as an attractive alternative that resolves tension between biblical Christianity and materialistic Darwinism cloaked in the guise of science.
I don’t know all of the personal reasons why some educators at Adventist institutions have chosen to embrace theistic evolution, but I know that many theistic evolutionists do not think that the entire scientific community could be so mistaken on issues as fundamental as the origin of the universe, life, and species, or the age of life on Earth. Biblical history, however, makes it clear that since the dawn of civilization, truth has not been popular. A believing scientist should never allow his or her respect for the authority of the scientific community to prevail over his or her respect for the authority of the Word of God. After all, the history of science is the history of how scientists have been wrong in their understanding of the creation, and our current understanding will always be tentative and subject to new discoveries.
Another primary attraction of theistic evolution is that it tempts scientists into thinking they can believe in God and be accepted and respected in the secular scientific community. While the desire to be accepted and respected is understandable, and while it is not our job to judge any person’s standing with God, this warning from James is an appropriate response to those so motivated: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). It may also be worth noting that paying the price of abandoning biblical Christianity for the clumsy compromise of theistic evolution gains one very little, if any, respect from many evolutionists. In a television interview with Howard Conder, Richard Dawkins made this comment: “I think the evangelical Christians have really sort of got it right in a way, in seeing evolution as the enemy. Whereas the more, what shall we say, sophisticated theologians are quite happy to live with evolution, I think they are deluded. I think the evangelicals have got it right, in that there really is a deep incompatibility between evolution and Christianity, and I think I realized that at the age of about sixteen.”
From a secular perspective, the meetings in Utah were, at best, a misguided attempt by church administrators to forestall the inevitable progress of materialism. From a biblical perspective, however, the administrators and teachers in the Adventist educational system have responsibilities of incomprehensible weight, as their decisions affect the eternal destinies of many young people and the future and mission of the Adventist church. It was greatly encouraging to me to see the faithfulness and dedication of so many of our church leaders and our university professors and administrators to biblical Truth.
For more information, here is a link to the conference website (http://fscsda.org/icbs/), and the Adventist Review has synopses of many of the presentations that were given (http://www.adventistreview.org/affirming-creation).