Avondale College arguing in favor of Darwinian evolution?

This article was originally posted at EducateTruth.com and is reposted here with permission.

In the most recent 2015 issue of Christian Spirituality and Science published by Avondale College (a Seventh-day Adventist institution under the South Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists) there are three articles, all of which appear to challenge the firm position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on the literal nature of the creation week described in Genesis. The authors of these papers suggest that the church should put aside such antiquated 19th century notions and accept or at least tolerate the idea that life has existed and evolved on this planet over the course of at least a  couple billion years or so. Of course, this comes at a time when the church as an organization is considering strengthening its statement of fundamental beliefs by adding language to the existing statement on creation that makes the church’s understanding of literal and recent nature the “creation week” quite clear and unambiguous.

Consider, for example, the article written by Dr. Lynden J. Rogers (Dean of the Faculty of Science and Mathematics at Avondale College) entitled, “Old Universe But Young Life?” In this paper professor Rogers briefly reviews the history of the church’s understanding of the origin of the Earth and the Universe. He then points out that many in the church leadership currently accept that the universe and even the material of the Earth is quite likely very old indeed! – while still holding to the notion that life on Earth must still be of recent origin.  Rogers argues that these views are inconsistent with each other and are based on an inconsistent use of science that is simply irrational. To illustrate his point he cites several examples of why mainstream scientists believe the Earth, and life on it, must be very old – on the order of around 4.5 billion and 2 billion years respectively:

  1. Theory of Plate tectonics: Supported by matching puzzle-fitting continents with actively spreading mid-oceanic ridges that must have taken place over vast periods of time when life was clearly in existence on the planet.
  2. Geologic Column:  With its sequentially-deposited layers that must carry temporal implications which can’t be tenably explained by the usual creationist appeals to various sorting mechanisms such as hydrological sorting, ecological zonation, and relative mobility.
  3. Radiometric Dating:  With its ability to date igneous rocks and the fossils associated with those rocks with a “high degree of data concordance” is “compelling for most scientists” and is only supported by additional methods such as radiocarbon dating and amino acid racemization dating techniques. The usual creationist arguments which appeal to a significant reduction in the half-lives of the various radioactive isotopes is simply untenable as a viable rescue for the young-life perspective on origins.
  4. Ice Core Dating:  With the fairly recent ice-core studies of the vast ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica showing extensive data regarding ancient volcanic activity and climate changes over hundreds of thousands of years – and backed up by very similar findings based on lake-bed sediment cores.  Clearly life has been around this entire time since pollen grains and diatoms are spread from top to bottom within the ice cores and lake bed cores.

And, these are only a handful of the examples that could be provided!  Clearly then, the desire of the church to continue to hold to the concept of a literal interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis is very much outdated and not at all scientifically tenable or otherwise rational – according to a professor teaching and heading the science department in one of the church’s own schools!  One must either accept that life on Earth is old, or if one still believes that life was in fact created within just one literal week, to be consistent, one must therefore argue that the entire universe is young and was also created within that same week of creation. Of course, Professor Rodgers goes on to argue for God being the Designer of the universe, citing some of the numerous fine-tuned features of the universe necessary to support life.  He also notes that several prominent physicists also argue favorably for the “anthropic” view of the universe with some kind of high-level intelligence behind it.

Rogers goes on to explain that there is a real problem with allowing for a “process-driven model for the universe”, starting with a “big bang," while denying a similar process-driven model for the “biosphere” – i.e., for life and its evolution over time.  He goes on to quote himself in an earlier article that he wrote for Spectrum:

. . . cosmologists understand that the Big Bang singularity was just the beginning of a long process, which by all appearances was hugely violent, random and wasteful, but through which God has obviously produced a highly specific outcome – our anthropic universe. How do we feel about God implementing his grand design in such a protracted manner? Further, if as creationists we accept this view, do we in any way weaken the basis on which we might counter others who suspect that God may have used similar processes to develop life?

In other words, what’s wrong with neo-Darwinism and all the pain, suffering, and death, and general waste of life and resources required for Darwinian evolution to work if one already believes that God used essentially the same wasteful mechanism in the creation of the universe?  Or to quote Rogers directly:

If God could set off the blue touch powder of the Big Bang in order to initialise this universe and set it on an inexorable path to a finely tuned state of suitability as a womb of life, why could not some similar event under His direction have initiated life itself and established its path to sentience and God-recognition? If it is theologically acceptable for God to use a developmental process for one, why not for the other? Conversely, if it is theologically unacceptable to entertain the idea of such a developmental sequence for life, then why is it acceptable for the universe?

Rogers goes on to argue that living things on this planet likely evolved in a very similar manner to how the universe “evolves," citing the theory that the first eukaryotic cell (cells that contain a nucleus) evolved through symbiotic means when prokaryotic bacteria were engulfed, but not digested, by the earliest ancestor to all eukaryotes. They eventually formed a symbiotic relationship and worked together to produce the ancestor of all eukaryotic creatures living today, giving rise to such things as mitochondria and chloroplasts.

This fortunate invasion is understood to have enabled a “complexity of structure and function that neither component could have evolved separately.”

So, what does this all mean? Well, according to Rogers, what this means is that “God’s causality is then indistinguishable from natural law....”  In other words, there are no such things as “miracles” in nature that cannot be explained by what we term “the laws of nature” or that would require a special act of “intelligent design” of any kind, much less an act of Divine creative power outside of the natural laws that God originally created, Rogers explains that, “As scientists we can study the arrow in flight but science itself can show us neither the archer directing the process nor the end point – the target.”

Related article: My take on Dr. Rogers' arguments

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