An outright hand-wave dismissal of theistic evolution would be unfair to those in our church that sincerely believe that a compromise is possible. Indeed, it is only fair to give the matter a proper treatise and confront the issue face-to-face. For this reason, this article seeks to provide rational and theological arguments that show the incompatible partnership of theistic evolution and Adventism and why any attempt to prove the contrary is futile and damaging. We shall focus on five points in this article.
1. A High View of Inspiration
Adventism arose from a high-view understanding that Christ's promise to return is literal, so it should be no wonder that the Church also has a very high regard of the Genesis account of Creation. As Darwin's theory began to shape the nineteenth century academic world, however, this view was seriously challenged. Ellen White confronted these challenges in her day:
As in the days of the apostles men tried by tradition and philosophy to destroy faith in the Scriptures, so today, by the pleasing sentiments of higher criticism, evolution, spiritualism, theosophy, and pantheism, the enemy of righteousness is seeking to lead souls into forbidden paths….The work of higher criticism, in dissecting, conjecturing, reconstructing, is destroying faith in the Bible as a divine revelation. It is robbing God’s word of power to control, uplift, and inspire human lives. (White, The Acts of the Apostles 474)
One of the core doctrines of Seventh-day Adventism, the Seventh-day Sabbath, would be rendered null and nonsensical should the Bible be interpreted through the lenses of theistic evolution:
But the infidel supposition that the events of the first week required seven vast, indefinite periods for their accomplishment, strikes directly at the foundation of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. It makes indefinite and obscure that which God has made very plain. (White, Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 1, 86)
Some Adventists suggest that Ellen White was not writing under inspiration here. This is an attempt to give themselves leeway to reject Creationism and still have room to respect the Gift of Prophecy given to Ellen White. Without a literal and historical view of the Genesis account, the authority of the Scriptures vanishes as a logical consequence. The moral compass which is God's Word will fall into obscurity and man's own fallible wisdom shall take its place. As the Scriptures attest, "God forbid: yea, let God be found true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy words, And mightest prevail when thou comest into judgment" (King James Version, Romans 3:4).
2. A Respect for, but not Worship of, Science
One of theistic evolution's pioneers, the famed botanist Asa Gray tried to reconcile natural evolution with his Christianity. Darwin himself thought he succeeded. "It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent theist & an evolutionist" (Charles Darwin, "Letter 12041 - Letter to John Fordyce”).
Following the footsteps of Gray, many have, over the years, accommodated Darwinism into their theism. But while Gray was a renowned scientist and an expert in his own field, he was no theologian. He either didn’t realize or ignored altogether the theological difficulties of enjoining Darwinism with Christianity.
The paleontologist Stephen J. Gould attempted to solve the conflict between faith and science using the concept of "non-overlapping magesteria" or NOMA. He tried to suggest that science and faith lie within two separate spheres of knowledge, and that one could hold both magisteria to be true, although they would not necessarily have to "overlap" one another and thus cause conflict. Lee Greer, a former biology professor at La Sierra University tried to propose a similar solution.
The problem with this compromise is that NOMA is an illusion. It would be fine if science were content with explaining physical and natural phenomenon as it was intended; however, scientists regularly make incursions into metaphysics by saying Darwinian evolution is true to the exclusion of Divine Creation.
Christians ought to have a respect for the sciences; after all, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork" (King James Version, Psalm 19:1). But when science is given more authority than God’s Word, science is worshipped. When science is worshipped, atheism is not far behind. Stephen Hawking suggested, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing…It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going” (Hawking, The Grand Design, 180). While theistic evolutionists don’t travel this far into atheistic territory, their logic pulls them into that direction with relentless ferocity.
3. Worldview on Sin
Our understanding of sin precludes a creationist's acceptance of a theistic evolutionary worldview. Sin is a violation of God's moral law. Evolution undermines this by suggesting that selfish genes vying for supremacy existed prior to the development of moral discernment. The theistic evolutionist Dr. Karl Giberson writes:
Selfishness… drives the evolutionary process. Unselfish creatures died, and their unselfish genes perished with them. Selfish creatures, who attended to their own needs for food, power, and sex, flourished and passed on these genes to their offspring. After many generations selfishness was so fully programmed in our genomes that it was a significant part of what we now call human nature. (Giberson, "Living with Darwin's Dangerous Idea," Christians and Evolution, edited by R. J. Berry, 169)
To Giberson, original sin and evolution can co-exist. Creatures had inbred evil in them, and this genetic depravity spread at the molecular level to give rise to the diversity of species we notice and observe today. The forbidden fruit eaten by Adam and Eve was just an analogy for the first morally conscious hominids to indulge in the experiential knowledge of good and evil by partaking of the selfishness already developed through natural processes over billions of years.
The Scriptures state: "And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good" (King James Version, Genesis 1:31).
Even if taken allegorically this statement violates evolutionary theory. In describing the state of goodness in the New Earth, the Scriptures state: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them" (King James Version, Isaiah 11:6).
4. Worldview on Death, Pain and Suffering
Adventists believe strongly in the benevolence and mercy of God. We believe God would not allow death, destruction and pain unless He had morally sufficient reasons to do so. Since death and pain are a result of sin, there is no reason for God to allow animals to suffer for billions of years before a conscious sin was committed by a morally discerning species.
There is no room for dying organisms giving way to newer, more improved generations looking to survive. On the Creation view, all creatures were made perfect. When sin entered, mortality was a consequence and both of these will be destroyed at the end. On the evolutionary view, sin is a necessary part of the process to develop and maintain life, so there would be no sense for God to eliminate it.
We see then, how our religion is being skewed on the basis of human inventions and for no rational reason other than to appeal to the scientific opinions of the day. Science often changes based on the latest evidence. This is no fault of science itself and is actually a virtue that allows us to refine and improve our understanding of nature. Science describes to us our physical world, but to explain our origins we would have to seek answers outside of the physical realm and appeal to the metaphysical. The believer in a literal Genesis account can appeal to Scripture for that transcendent explanation. A Christian evolutionist, on the other hand, would not be sure where to appeal since he has destroyed the authority of the Bible with an allegorical reading of its testimony.
5. The Great Controversy Theme
The Great Controversy Theme (GCT) is our “theodicy,” a term coined by the Mathematician and Philosopher Gottfried Leibniz which means an explanation for the co-existence of sin, pain and death with a benevolent God. This theodicy is incompatible with macro-evolution over long ages of time because this would involve the death and suffering of animals and sub-humans long before the advent of conscious sin on this Earth. The GCT teaches us that we were once created perfect, and because our first parents made a choice to disobey God, mortality was a result. Theistic evolution teaches a reverse order of these events; we were created imperfect, and we are evolving into more advanced species.
The GCT theodicy is Adventism’s worldview. An Adventist embracing Darwinian evolution would be like putting a square peg into a round hole. "Day-age" Creationists are those who do not necessarily ascribe to the Darwinian theory of origins, but their "day-age" scenario, one that relies on interpreting the days of Genesis to be metaphorical, is no less problematic. What other reason would there be to ascribe ages to the length of Genesis' days if not to explain the creation and development of life forms from something other than God's spoken command? And if something other than God's command developed life, then we must ascribe it to a gradual change, and if we are to claim that the fossil record reflects that change, sin and death certainly played a part in this process. Theologically speaking, evolution is antithetical to the GCT at all levels.
We can try to differ. Perhaps Lucifer rebelled against God and was able to turn many of his fellow angels to join his forces. He is forced out of heaven and then exiled to the third planet from our Sun. In the meantime, life is on the verge of forming on Earth as described by Darwinism. Then, somehow, Satan was able to imbue his evil to the tiny one-celled organisms in the chemical soup of a prehistoric Earth, and for the next three billion years he and his fallen cohort of angels sit, twiddling their thumbs...perhaps Satan entertained his companions with a thrilling Tyrannosaurus bout against a Triceratops to pass the time during the lengthy Cretaceous era--who knows.
This scenario makes no theological sense and Adventists are intellectually justified in rejecting it altogether.
I believe that enough rational and theological reasons have been given here to refute the idea that there is some measure of compatibility between theistic evolution and Seventh-day Adventism. The Church has historically been the bastion of Creationism because of its dedication to God’s Word as the final Authority on matters metaphysical. To the charge that because the Church refuses to renege on its stance regarding special Creation it is therefore anti-intellectual, we respond with a question: Is it any less anti-intellectual to embrace the Adventist faith and hold to theistic evolution at the same time?
Our theology has thrived because of its loyalty to Scripture. Why not rely fully upon the literal testimony of the Bible? We must realize science can explain only so much and it has its limitations. This is what prompted the agnostic NASA astrophysicist Dr. Robert Jastrow to admit:
For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries. (Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, pg. 107)
Will you stand upon the sand of fallible human knowledge and experience? Or would you rather cling to the Rock of Ages?