My intent in this article is threefold: first, I would like to encourage Adventist scientists to help the debate in geology between the Biblical flood and mainstream interpretations of events become a philosophical issue rather than a scientific issue. What I mean to convey by this statement can, perhaps, best be explained by reference to the field of biology. In recent years it has been shown that the mechanism of evolution proposed by modern Darwinists (natural selection acting on random mutations) is inadequate to generate new species (1, 2). Even in paleontology, the evidence has mounted against evolution as Darwin envisioned it (3). But, though Darwinian evolution has lost the backing of empirical evidence (4), the scientific community has not abandoned Darwinism. For those that are aware of the failure of Darwinian evolution, this choice is philosophical, rather than scientific, as it is no longer based on empirical evidence.
Second, I would like to exhort all who are interested to intentionally seek and promote a Biblical foundation for the purpose of effecting a fundamental change in Seventh-day Adventist education, so that our teaching might more fully reflect a Biblical view of creation and its implications for science.
Third, I will provide what are, in my opinion, the best and most accessible sources for scientific information that is most easily understood within a Biblical worldview. For the reader’s convenience, I’ve included websites as references along with articles and books.
I’ve noticed two troubling ways in which many conservative Adventist educators approach science education: the first tendency is to conform to mainstream science in every way possible, except where it directly contradicts the Biblical narrative, and the second is to use atheistic theories as a foundation for scientific thinking, even while believing in the literal truth of the Biblical narrative. These tendencies are not mutually exclusive, and point to the same basic problem: the majority of the science courses taught in our schools lack a truly Biblical foundation. In many cases, our teachers have not had adequate opportunity to encounter and develop such a Biblical foundation.
Here is an example from biology: how do organisms change and adapt? I’ve heard creationist professors say that change results from selective pressures acting on random mutations of the genome. This, of course, is the Darwinian answer. A much better answer, however, is that a limited amount of change (such as sickle-cell anemia in humans) can be brought about by the Darwinian processes of random mutations and selective pressures. These changes are, ultimately, a net loss of information, and amount to burning a bridge to save a city (5). Much of the change we observe in nature (such as the incredible variety of phenotypes derived from the dog genome) results from built-in adaptability, placed there by the Creator (6, 7).
Resources for the Field of Biology
In the field of biology, the information necessary to form a Biblical worldview is readily available, both in books and in the scientific literature (8). Here are a few works that have compiled years of research and will get anyone off to a good start:
Mike Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box presents the argument that the cellular machines and biological Rube Goldberg mechanisms at work in nature are irreducibly complex and could not have been formed through step-by-random-step processes. Random mutation cannot supply enough information.
The mainstream scientific community responded by claiming that irreducible complexity was an argument from ignorance—they said that the fact that we don’t know how something evolved doesn’t indicate that it didn’t evolve.
Mike Behe then wrote the book The Edge of Evolution, which shows exactly what Darwinian evolution can do, based on a huge amount of data. The evidence he presents demonstrates that making random changes to a complex code doesn’t tend to improve things. Behe is being exceedingly generous when he says that, in the history of the universe, we should expect no more than two protein-protein binding sites to have evolved by Darwinian means. This makes it is perfectly clear what evolution can accomplish, and we can say with certainty that cellular machinery, and certainly life, is far beyond any creative capacity random processes might posses. In his book Evolution: a View from the 21st Century, James Shapiro, a convinced evolutionist, agrees that random mutations cannot do the job.
The third book I suggest is Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome by John Sanford, based on his career as a geneticist at Cornell University. Here are the key points he makes:
1. Random mutations are damaging—this point is generally agreed upon and is entirely logical if one acknowledges the fact that genes contain information. A mutation is a loss of information.
2. Humans have a high mutation rate—Dr. Sanford uses a figure of 100-150 mutations per generation (9).
3. Selection can’t stave off deterioration—there are a number of reasons for this:
- Humans reproduce so slowly that, given our mutation rate, mutations accumulate much faster than mutated individuals can be selected away before reproducing.
- The connection between mutations and selection is cushioned by numerous intermediate processes, each of which creates noise in the system of selection. In this way, the signal to noise ratio is exceedingly small, rendering selection impotent. The signal is the individual mutation, while the noise would be other effects, such as nutrition.
- Selection works only on phenotype (physical characteristics), which only very loosely correlates with genotype (genetic code). Individual mutations are usually imperceptible in the phenotype, because they are so small relative to the total information present.
- Most selection is random (deaths by war and disease, for example), as is most reproduction. Thus the selection that can actually work on genotypes is vanishingly small.
4. There is no way to permanently improve humanity through breeding. The application of Darwinian theory to social programs or politics has been disastrous. There is no single trait or set of traits that can be selected to preserve the human race, because all of us carry similar mutational loads. Even if a good mutation popped up that made someone reproduce more, that good mutation would be tied to many bad mutations in the same genome, and selecting for it could not permanently improve the genome.
Finally, I recommend Faith, Reason, and Earth History by Leonard Brand. This book goes a long way toward providing a foundation from which to understand the observed adaptation and speciation in biology within a Biblical worldview.
Resources for the Field of Cosmology
Cosmology is worth a short discussion because of its close ties with geology. The ruling paradigm in modern cosmology, the Big Bang Model, has been propped up by ad hoc proposition after ad hoc proposition for the last several decades, kept alive by the momentum of the scientific community and because evolution demands the deep time it provides. Dark matter and dark energy, for example, are patches to the theory, used as variable fudge factors to keep it mathematically viable. Many anomalies have surfaced over the last several decades, any one of which should cast serious doubt on the Big Bang Model. The primitive universe, for example, should be made up of light elements according to the Big Bang Model, but many very distant objects contain heavy elements (10, 11).
While a comprehensive theory that could replace the Big Bang does not yet exist, we do have some good leads, and we should move in the direction that has the most solid empirical support. The work of Kristian Birkeland (12, 13), Hannes Alfvén (14, 15, 16) Halton Arp (17, 18), and others has provided a lot of fodder for creationists, but very few have taken advantage of their findings and theories (19).
Resources for the Field of Geology
For geology, I would again recommend Faith, Science, and Earth History by Leonard Brand. This book summarizes a lot of geological and paleontological knowledge, and presents it in a way that shows how large-scale trends actually support the hypothesis of a global flood. One such trend is that abundances of fossil tracks of given groups of animals tend to be stratigraphically lower than abundances of body fossils for the same groups. This is something we would expect in a flood, but not in a stable ecosystem.
The geological literature is full of good data that needs to be mined and interpreted. There are many articles on taphonomy (the study of how things decay), for example, that recognize that organisms must be buried quickly and protected from scavengers to be preserved as fossils (20, 21). Modern environments rarely, if ever produce fossils. This disparity between the ancient and modern environments points to a very significant difference between the geological processes that buried the animals and the geological processes that we now observe.
There has been some very good work done by creationists in geology, but few of our schools offer many geology classes, and compared to the countless billions of dollars mainstream science has used to back up their models, we have been able to appropriate very few resources to understanding serious challenges to the Biblical model (22).
I believe it’s time to focus our attention more intently on these challenges. If we are correct in a literal interpretation of the Bible, as we use our worldview to develop definite predictions and hypotheses, we will make scientific progress in the right direction. If we work together and allocate resources to understanding these challenges, we will push geology to where biology is, building up empirical evidence and moving the debate over the age of the earth and whether or not there was a Biblical flood away from the scientific details and toward the philosophical underpinnings of our interpretations.
Science Education and the Big Picture
From a religious and philosophical standpoint, taking the Bible’s promises literally and viewing nature as a revelation of the Creator should enrich our educational programs by building on the assumption that the wonders of the universe are infinitely complex, but were designed to be intelligible. We should assume that God has surprising, awe-inspiring, and intellectually satisfying discoveries for us, and that, at the same time, we will never, even in eternity, learn everything there is to know. God instilled us with great curiosity about the world around us, and His original plan was for us to live forever and study forever. Ellen White put it this way:
There, immortal minds will contemplate with never-failing delight the wonders of creative power, the mysteries of redeeming love. There will be no cruel, deceiving foe to tempt to forgetfulness of God. Every faculty will be developed, every capacity increased. The acquirement of knowledge will not weary the mind or exhaust the energies. There the grandest enterprises may be carried forward, the loftiest aspirations reached, the highest ambitions realized, and still there will arise new heights to surmount, new wonders to admire, new truths to comprehend, fresh objects to call forth the powers of mind and soul and body (23).
In our educational institutions, we should strive to provide this kind of instruction now. Whatever the subject matter may be, a deeper understanding of God through His revelation and works should be seen as the highest gain.
The Adventist Mission
Regarding geology in particular, there is a very pressing reason for us to focus on geological research that will help us with a flood model. The flood was God’s first great judgment of the world, and as Adventists, it is our duty to preach the message that judgment is coming again, very soon.
Before the flood destroyed the antediluvian civilization, God made it perfectly clear that judgment was coming. The Garden of Eden was still on the earth, guarded by angels with flaming swords. Noah preached about the coming deluge, and God sent the animals into the ark in the sight of all as one last sign that Noah’s message was true. We should not expect God to do any less for our civilization. The angel quoted in Revelation 14:7 says “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” The mention of “fountains of waters” is a direct reference to the flood and the first great judgment of the world.
God has already provided us with compelling evidence that He designed life. If we provide our students with a Biblical worldview and use our resources to promote promising investigations and test naturalistic theories on their weakest points, we should expect many new scientific discoveries that will help us design a flood model and strengthen our preaching of the angels’ messages of Revelation.
There is a great need for an organization, educational institution, or group of educational institutions to intentionally support and publicize high-quality scientific projects that are conceived and executed from a Biblical worldview. The first step, I think, would be to fund students to research the areas that are the biggest challenges for flood geology, or show the greatest promise for understanding the flood. This would build up our knowledge base, and eventually it would make a viable flood model possible. Much of the Christian world has given up on a literal interpretation of the Bible, but such an interpretation is central to the SDA message.
All of this brings us back to the challenge presented at the beginning of this article. In any field where a Biblical worldview is applied, we will see a great benefit for students and for science. We must use our resources to seek the scientific insights that God has in store for us. This information, shared with our educators and students, can bring us closer to a truly Biblical foundation for Adventist education.
1. Meyer, Stephen C. (2004). The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2) 213-239.
2. Behe, Michael. (2007). The edge of evolution: The search for the limits of Darwinism. NY: Free Press.
3. Prothero, Donald R. (12/05/2012). Darwin’s Legacy. eSkeptic. Retrieved from http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/12-02-15/
4. I do not mean to imply that Darwinian evolution was ever the scientifically preferable model. I agree with the Apostle Paul: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20, NIV
5. Behe, Michael. (2007). The edge of evolution: The search for the limits of Darwinism. NY: Free Press.
6. If adaptions were only the result of Darwinian processes, the rate at which organisms could adapt would be limited by the organisms’ mutation rates. Adaptation happens many orders of magnitude faster than Darwinian evolution would predict, which is evidence that a different mechanism is driving it. It is also evidence that this mechanism was designed. See Coyne, Jerry. Why Evolution is True. (2009). NY: Viking. He mentions the fruit fly studies, but doesn’t talk at all about their implications.
7. This raises the question of where adaptations such as venom came from. Interestingly, venom tends to be a broken protein—one that used to have a normal function, but whose function has been modified to make it damaging. One area that should be studied is the difference between these negative adaptations and their normal precursors. We know very well what random processes can do. If we find that the negative adaptation is irreducibly complex, it is probably evidence of malevolent tampering with God’s creation (see Genesis 3:18).
8. The scientific literature is usually written within the framework of evolution, so extracting the information from it requires a lot of critical reading.
9. Mutation rates present evolutionary theory with a catch-22. If they are too high, the population suffers genetic meltdown and is threatened with extinction. If the mutation rate is too low, there is not enough variation for natural selection to operate on the genome.
10. Fan, Xiaohui, et al. (2001). A Survey of z > 5.8 Quasars in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey I: Discovery of Three New Quasars and the Spatial Density of Luminous Quasars at z ~ 6. The Astronomical Journal, 122(6), 2833-2849.
11. Constantin, Anca, et al. (2002). Emission-Line Properties of z > 4 Quasars. The Astrophysical Journal, 565, 50-62.
12. Egeland, Alv and Burke, William J. (2010). Kristian Birkeland: The First Space Scientist. Astrophysics and Space Science Library, 325 Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.
13. For a summary of Birkeland’s work, see http://www.plasma-universe.com/Kristian_Birkeland
14. Falthammar, Carl-Gunne. (1997). Plasma physics from laboratory to cosmos-the life and achievements of Hannes Alfven. IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, 25(3), 409-414.
15. For a summary of Alfvén’s work, see http://www.plasma-universe.com/Hannes_Alfvén
16. Here is an article by Wal Thornhill, a leading proponent of the Electric Universe model: http://www.holoscience.com/wp/alfven-triumphs-again-again/. While the model is naturalistic in its assumptions, many of its proponents are electrical engineers who have seen first-hand the failures of the Big Bang model and have chosen to do science based on empirical evidence. I believe that any truth about the natural world that they discover, properly interpreted, will only reveal more of the Creator’s glory and ingenuity. Thornhill and others have made many successful predictions based on the Electric Universe model (see http://www.thunderbolts.info/predictions.htm), and in this article he points out two of Alfvén’s predictions that have been verified recently.
17. Arp, Halton. (1998). Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology, and Academic Science. Montreal: Apeiron.
18. Halton Arp was one of the most prominent astronomers in the world until he fell out of favor with the scientific community for reporting what he was seeing rather than upholding the status quo. (For information on the anomalies Arp publicized, see Arp, Halton. (2003). Catalogue of Discordant Redshift Associations. Montreal: C. Roy Keys, Inc.) Here is Dr. Arp’s personal web page: http://www.haltonarp.com/
19. Barry Setterfield has done some good work on a Biblical cosmology. He has tried to make a model that is consistent with both the Biblical account of creation and the principles of plasma physics. While I don’t think it’s a final answer, I do suspect that his work is worth considering. His articles are available here: http://www.setterfield.org/
20. Allison, Peter. (1988). The role of anoxia in the decay and mineralization of proteinaceous macro-fossils. Paleobioloty, 14(2), 139-154.
21. Meyer, Christian. (1991). Burial experiments with marine turtle carcasses and their paleoecological significance. Palaios, 6, 89-96.
22. Radiometric dating is one of the strongest challenges, and we aren’t likely to answer it from inside the box of mainstream science. To sum up what I’ve gathered from the available scientific literature on radiometric dating, it appears that it suffers from a systematic error, because several other indicators of time disagree with the radiometric dates in a predictable fashion. Among these other indicators are sedimentation rates and rates of the decay of ancient, preserved proteins. Also, in the last few years, at least two papers have come out in the scientific literature showing that radioactive decay is probably not, in fact, constant. (See Jenkins, Jere H., et al. (2009). Evidence of correlations between nuclear decay rates and Earth-Sun distance. Astroparticle Physics, 32(1), 42–46. and Jenkins, Jere H. and Fischbach, Ephraim. Perturbation of Nuclear Decay Rates During the Solar Flare of 13 December 2006. Astroparticle Physics, 31(6), 407–411.) The papers blame neutrinos for changing the decay rates, but they contradict each other as to whether neutrinos speed up or slow down decay.
23. White, Ellen G. (1911). The great controversy between Christ and Satan. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald. Quote taken from page 677.