Adventist Postmodernism: Analyzing the Credibility of Fundamental Belief #6

In San Antonio a few weeks ago, Church delegates voted modifications to the wording of Fundamental Belief #6 having to do with the Genesis story of creation. The innocent sounding word recent was added, declaring that the creation was recent. While there were other words added that probably deserve attention also, brevity requires that I keep the discussion to this one word. The silence from the Church at large is probably some indication that most members are either supportive or indifferent to this vote, yet for me as someone who would like to see the best interest of the Church advanced, it is difficult to envision how staking out a position that runs directly against an abundance of physical evidence will have a positive outcome for the Church. As we analyze the credibility of changes to this belief, it will be important to keep in mind the “what” and the “how” elements that pertain to all knowing. What do we know? How do we know it? And specifically, how do we know creation was recent?

These are not trite questions as some of the brightest minds on earth spend their lives studying the critical role “process” plays in the acquisition of knowledge. In my use of the word “knowledge” I am referring to understandings that have some correspondence to reality, assuring that the idea will stand the test of time. But it is the process itself that gets us there—the “how” in knowing that is critically important.

Unfortunately, many people today are inclined to push aside attention to process, for we live in a postmodern culture that is focused primarily on the “what.” The trend for many is to not be burdened with the detail, all that is wanted is the end conclusion. This is painfully obvious on talk radio and some of the cable news channels that spout all kinds of things without offering up any supporting data—or tangential at best. As a procedural matter, the “how” must be discussed first if the “what” is to have genuine credibility, otherwise we are left with nothing but more than cheap opinion.

If length were not a consideration it would be worth reviewing the reign of superstition and credulity down through history, as there are lessons to be learned. But as Enlightenment values gained currency, the undeniable power of sense and reason led to a paradigm shift. Central to this shift was the discovery that the world was governed by regularities that could be distilled to laws and principles. The power of this approach is now on full display by way of our modern technological world.

Yet, in spite of this, there are still voices who question the value of the Enlightenment thinking on issues where scriptural interpretations intersect with science. So, let’s spend a few moments reflecting on each of these values, and start by considering the role of the senses in human knowing. Most of the time we take them for granted, and it is not until we lose one or more of them that we discover their real importance. Most of us know people who have lost at least one of their senses—sight, hearing, taste, touch or smell. But what if a person lost all of their senses? What then?

Think about it, if we were to lose all of our five senses at once, we would be completely isolated from the rest of the world. We would have no sensory inputs, no sensor feedback mechanism. It would be the ultimate prison—merely an isolated mind in a sea of seeming nothingness. This, then is the point: whatever the limitations of the senses, they are extremely powerful, and we diminish their importance to our detriment.  Those who give reflection to the quest for knowledge and how it is acquired in any formal sort of way often put religious dogma in the category of mythology. Not infrequently religious people can be quite offended by this designation, and partly this is a function of not fully understanding the definitional usage. In common parlance the term “myth” references an idea or story that is not real. But as more formally used in academic circles, it refers to the tentative. When used in this broader way it becomes easier to see that myths can be profoundly true, but they can also be profoundly off base. Mythology often addresses purpose and meaning, and talks about what is ultimately real without the ability to deliver proof in the same way that empirical knowledge can. This is the reason why ethereal matters should hold a more tentative place in our thinking. It perhaps offers a clue as to why on those occasion when the ethereal has the capacity to be informed by sense data, there is wisdom in paying attention.

Let me provide a pragmatic example of real world problem religion in general faces. Consider the universe of religions that exist in the world today that offers up some explanation of reality. Objectively it would be a daunting task to evaluate all of them, particularly if we want to drill into the “how do we know” aspect of these master narratives. Even if such an inquiry were to be limited to just Christianity, there are still an estimated 40,000 or so permutations. Each offers a view of reality that differs in some respect from the others, with some of these formulations even being mutually exclusive. For this reason alone we know they can’t all be right. But which one is right and how would we know?

This brings us to Adventism. Most readers familiar with Adventist history will be aware that the Church was founded by individuals with a high interest in “right belief.” Adventists, from the beginning, wanted to put together a formulation of reality that had integrity. This involved a lot of study and debate, with the process extending over a period of many decades. During those earlier times “truth” was understood as a dynamic process and was often referred to as “present truth,” meaning, this is how the founders understood things at that time, with it being subject to new evidence affording a more mature and informed understanding at some later date.

But an interesting transformation took place as the community of believers gelled on understandings, the dynamic that started as “present truth” tended to fossilize—both formally and informally—into rigid dogma that was referred to as “the truth.” Colloquial language is now often sprinkled with expressions that suggest the unchanging nature of human understanding of the sacred—expressions such as, “being born into the truth,” “converting to the truth,” “having the truth,” and “sharing the truth.” Such phrasings tend to trivialize what humans know, particularly the ethereal realm of religious dogma, and they also treat doctrine inflexibly. When flexibility of understanding diminishes the less it can be counted as something dynamic.

In reflecting on this trend, it seems to me that perhaps the key to understanding the tendency towards rigid and inflexible beliefs and the diminishment of a dynamic truth is a latent tendency to elevate tradition, with it often acting as the gatekeeper. There is a bit of irony in all of this given the Church’s founders vehement opposition to both creeds and undue reliance upon tradition.

But when tradition is in control, the first level of analysis for a new idea goes to the question of whether it is compatible with the traditional understanding. It often becomes an obstacle in the way of serious analysis, but if a process is to be credible, tradition cannot just be the gatekeeper, it must also be a part of the analysis. In today’s Adventist Church, this does not seem to be happening.

Perhaps the most recent example of this new way of doing business was the Faith and Science Conference last year in St. George, Utah. In an open and honest inquiry it would have been expected that all of the leading scientists within the denomination (including those that have challenged the traditional Adventist interpretation on Genesis) would have been called in to dialogue with the theologians, with no preconceived end-result other than to find a way to elevate the best Adventist understanding of reality regarding Genesis. It is realistic to assume that optimal framing could only have occurred through a dynamic, rather than a closed, process.

By taking a hermeneutically narrow approach, Adventist dogma on Creation has done a number of things: 1) it has elevated an informal belief to a formal status; 2) in the process it has made doctrine in this area less open and flexible (the dynamic has been neutered); 3) it has declared by its action that the human senses contribute nothing of value; 4) by formally adopting this narrow interpretation, the Church now has a Fundamental Belief that is unaccountable to the senses—one of the elements most central to human knowing; 5) finally, it would appear that tradition has been the most important driver in arriving at the word “recent,” it being a stand-in term for the Adventist traditional understanding of Creation having occurred around 6000 years ago. While there are a few apologists for this view who are practicing scientists and perhaps argue that science is misinterpreting the data, it is important to remember that science is not practiced as a partisan sport, nor are the views of individual scientists considered dispositive—as the science disciplines are practiced by peer review. So the burden of proof is on the outliers. The end result is a Fundamental Belief that runs decisively against consensus science, with tradition apparently being the tail that wags the dog.

As a 4th generation Adventist, my own worldview was shaped early by the traditional Adventist interpretation of Genesis that purported to address the age of the earth. Yet we do not live in a vacuum, and we have been forced to confront some very inconvenient facts represented in nature. So much so that one of the Church’s leading scientists from the Geoscience Research Institute is quoted as saying: “We have no working ‘short creation’ [scientific] model and probably shouldn’t expect one.” Left unspoken was the fact that there is a working scientific model that fits a long chronology and it is based on multiple streams of data that are quite consistent.

The historic framework for the Adventist view that Creation was “recent” is quite well known among its members. While the term itself is ambiguous, Adventist history in this regard is not, given the numerous Ellen White citations that this event occurred about 6000 years ago. The point here is this, the word “recent” for Adventists is not a relative term. It is, in fact, quite specific.

If we were to trace this idea back, it appears to have come from Bishop James Ussher, a 16th century Anglican, who developed a biblical chronology that involved stringing the ages of the biblical Patriarchs end-to-end, and from that, deducing that creation occurred around 4004 BCE. This idea gained wide currency in earlier generations and probably partly as a result of it appearing in the margins of most King James Bibles printed up through the end of the nineteenth century. In addressing this methodology the late Siegfried Horn, a well-regarded professor at Andrews University, explained the folly of relying upon such methodologies.1 The Bible was simply not written to provide humans with an answer to the question of when creation occurred.

Given the Church’s now adopted formal position that is specifically contrary to an overwhelming amount of physical data—and recognizing that the idea of the word “recent” comes directly from the views of Ellen White—likely influenced by Ussher—the elephant in the room must be confronted directly. The question that must be asked today is, "Since the Church is now staking its credibility and relevance in the world to views held by Ellen White 150 years ago, are there any examples of things Ellen White said that are unambiguously falsifiable?" If the answer is “NO” then perhaps we could conclude that the San Antonio update to Fundamental Belief 6 was reasonable. However, if the answer is “YES” then surely there is folly in what happened.

As we contemplate this question I am mindful that whatever the flaws of Ellen White, she was remarkable in many ways, and certainly deserving of respect. So what I am doing here is not so much attempting to diminish her genuine gifts, as to lay out the nature and basis of what has just taken place in San Antonio. The reality is, there are numerous examples of her having made incorrect statements, including some that come with the solemnity of “I was shown...” There is no need to dig up every example of error, as one good example should demonstrate the point I wish to make by the Church now formally positioning Ellen White against the considered wisdom of 21st century science.

Let us reflect, for example, on Ellen White’s statement regarding a conference she had attended where she said: “I was shown the company present at the Conference. Said the angel: ‘some food for worms...some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus.’” See Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1, and p. 131-132. This statement was made in 1856, and it should be obvious by now that no one at that conference is still alive, and therefore the statement turned out to be false.

As we consider the “what do we know” aspect of Fundamental Belief 6, it should be clear that the “how do we know it” part of the equation is critical, given this traditional view is in significant tension with physical data. We now find ourselves living in parallel worlds—one world that attempts to remain true to the fair reading of data, and the other being the world of dogma, literal readings and such. So how do we sort this all out?

For starters, this is a postmodern age. It is the age that primarily concerns itself with the “what” of belief. This is an age that allows Adventist to throw off the shackles of Enlightenment values. “How” questions for postmodernists now appear to be frivolous. Sense-based knowledge has been deemed as unimportant. No longer does God’s book of nature count as a worthwhile part of the equation.

There are a variety of postmodernist definitions, but the common thread, other than the rejection of the Enlightenment values, seems to be the tendency to hold “truth” to be relative to the holder. As Edward O. Wilson states in his book Consilience, for postmodernists, reality “is a state constructed by the mind, not perceived by it.” That’s a pretty important insight and probably bears pondering. As such, process is not terribly important to the postmodern, nor particularly sensory inputs. In such a world there may be a scientific reality, but for the postmodern Adventist, there is now an Adventist reality that doesn’t care much about the scientific reality.

There would seem to be no immediate penalties for postmodern Adventism. But those who now dismiss data will be forced to confront it at some point. First and foremost it will come up in evangelistic outreach because the targetable audience has been narrowed significantly. The present wording of Fundamental Belief 6 will be a red flag for many potential interests. How does the evangelist get around telling potential converts who reads the belief, they must put data aside if they are to make a decision for Jesus? This may not be a problem for other postmodern converts or those who suffer from an information deficit, but it will represent a barrier for the vast majority of those living in the first world. There will also eventually be a rendezvous with history, and from past history, itself, we already have a clue how this all turns out. Furthermore, the term “Adventist scientist” has now become a bit oxymoronic, and a somewhat endangered species.

Regardless of how the average member currently relates to this Fundamental Belief revision, real world data will not be going anywhere, and thus, neither will the controversy. In the meantime, those who know something about the evidentiary lay of the land will surely mourn the hermeneutical indifference shown to the sense realities. Meanwhile, we can hear echoes of “truth can be fair,” and “...we must walk in the increasing light,” and other such statements.2 Reflectively, perhaps the biggest tragedies out of San Antonio related to the disrespect shown to the Church’s founding mother in light of her attitude towards truth, but also lost opportunities for turning reachable convert interests into the unreachable.

___________________________ 1 Siegfried Horn's article first appeared in the print addition of Spectrum Vol. 10, No. 3, p. 15. It was also reprinted in the Spectrum website series, Bringing the Real World to Genesis, Apr. 30, 2014.

2 See, specifically Counsels to Writers and Editors, beginning the section around p. 33 and forward. Ellen White stated, “We must not look upon new light with suspicion; truth can be fair, but we must not think, "Well, we have all the truth, we understand the main pillars of our faith, and we may rest on this knowledge." "The truth is an advancing truth, and we must walk in the increasing light. When God's people are at ease, and satisfied with their present enlightenment, we may be sure that He will not favor them. It is His will that they should be ever moving forward, to receive the increased and ever-increasing light which is shining for them" (Counsel to Writers and Editors p. 33; 41); "There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people, is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation," p. 35.

Jan M. Long, J.D., M.H.A., works for the County of Riverside, California.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7008
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Good things come from Riverside, CA… :wink:

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Our position is not “contrary to an overwhelming amount of physical data;” rather, it is contrary to how most scientists interpret that evidence. That should not bother us, since science is often wrong, and is continually revising its understanding of the cosmos. Science does not believe in resurrection from the dead, but Christianity stands or falls on the believe that Christ rose from the dead–contrary to all available scientific evidence.

And it appears that the author does not believe in the inspiration of Ellen White. Ussher’s conclusions are irrelevant. Ellen White was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write as she did; a position which, I realize, is contrary to what most Spectrumites believe. So be it.

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We only need to see the attrition rate of the church in the first world to see the affects of such beliefs.

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It seems the “unreachable” are the fortunate ones in this “game of thrones”. What, on earth, do we have to offer anyone, if we can’t handle truth for ourselves?

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… unlike the dogmatic stand of those who fear the progression of “truth”. You should be thankful that the Pasteures and Einstines, as swell as the Luthers of history didn’t have the same attitude you display, or we would all be curtsying in the hallowed halls of ignorance.

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Pici, this is your lucky day! I am with you on this one. I agree with you that It’s not “our position” that is contrary to the “physical data.” Not at all!

It’s rather the “physical data” that is contrary to “our position”… :wink:

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The “progression of truth” does not mean that we toss out old truth, since authentic truth is eternal. We may discover new angles and new aspects of truth, but those new understandings will not contradict real truth. Science is not our guide, and I refuse to filter Scripture through the sieve of science. I filter science through the truths of Scripture.

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Great question!
I am also thinking of young girls who may be willing to be part of God’s team to “spread the Word,” but will be discouraged by those men who think that they are the sole owners of God’s truth - therefore they have all the right to discriminate against women.

I don’t understand why women, the majority of our membership, take this kind of “stuff.” Being raised brainwashed certainly makes many women believe that men should be indeed in control of everything! Too bad…

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Aren’t the “halls of ignorance” decorated by denial, rejection of facts, and creation of illusions (left alone delusions…)?

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If anything, this essay redefines the meaning of “brevity”. :sunglasses:

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We used to read of Members of our Universities taking their students of various disciplines into the extremes of Wilderness here in the US to “dig and play in the dirt.” Some excursions down the waters of deep river canyons and look up and contemplate, take pictures.
Will they continue to do this? And how will the the Class Syllabi change in printed commentary this coming year, as compared to those in the past as they make those trips?
OR, WILL they not be going on Field Trips any more? Since it will be useless to spend 2 weeks or more [336 hours] to be asking a continued flow of questions.
When the Answer is in FB#6.

Sorry! It is difficult when one is NOT a 5th grade drop-out.

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Birder, it will be a happy day - for you - when you recognize that you are already filtering the truths of scripture through the seive of your preconceptions. We all do but you are in substantive denial. Couple that with your lack of knowledge regarding the relevant sciences (do you deny this?) and you get an opinion that is frankly not worth considering.

You are welcome to it and I actually have no burden to disabuse you, but when the church at large takes up your ill-considered refrain - then we all suffer. And this is one of the points Jan is speaking about.

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I know my creation was kind of recent! My first ‘historic’ memory, one which can be corroborated by historical evidence, was the receipt of the ‘new’ US penny with Lincoln on the face and his Memorial building on the obverse. I know that for some here that was back in the dark ages, before they burst on the scene bringing light to life. Others here may recollect when the Jefferson head replaced the Indian head nickle, so their ‘recent’ past includes a lot of historical events of which I have only selective information, including the Depression, WW2, QOD, etc. So it seems imperative to define recent.

[quote]re·cent
/ˈrēs(ə)nt/

adjective

  1. having happened, begun, or been done not long ago or not long before; belonging to a past period of time comparatively close to the present.
    "his recent visit to Britain"
    synonyms: new, (the) latest, current, fresh, modern, contemporary, up-to-date, up-to-the-minute
  2. GEOLOGY
    another term for Holocene.

noun GEOLOGY
1.the Holocene epoch. google [/quote]

Note as well this from Dictionary.com:[quote] (initial capital letter) Geology. noting or pertaining to the present epoch, originating at the end of the glacial period, about 10,000 years ago, and forming the latter half of the Quaternary Period; Holocene.[/quote]

As the authors of this reformulated FB failed to include the initial capital letter, it cannot legitimately be assumed that they are referring to the Recent geologically-speaking, the Holocene period. Thus, it must be construed that a ‘recent creation’ as having happened, begun, or been done not long ago or not long before; belonging to a past period of time comparatively close to the present. It is something: new, (the) latest, current, fresh, modern, contemporary, up-to-date, up-to-the-minute. There is no dictionary that contradicts this position.

Thus I find it most discrediting of the organisation which, in order to remove an apparent ambiguity, it ties itself into a logical fallacy. As is well known the organisation was officially formulated more than 150 years ago. And anybody who has paid the least attention to historicity wells knows that that is not recent. And now it is claiming that creation is since then?

Trust BEing!

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lol…perhaps in terms of a word count it’s a bit long…but if we consider the themes raised in this article, it actually could have been much longer…

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perhaps it is unfortunate that this article uses 1T:131-132 as its uber evidence that egw made “numerous” “incorrect statements”, “including some that come with the solemnity of ‘I was shown’…”…this particular vision, read in context, was given to indicate the true spiritual condition of those present should their probations be fixed, and last day events transpire in their day…it was a powerful device that added weight to egw’s call away from conformity to the world…there’s no indication that this vision was meant to be a free-standing prediction of what would actually happen…such an approach trivializes the scope of the second coming…

perhaps it is also unfortunate that this article appears to equate the evolutionary view with sensory perception of physical evidence, as though the evolutionary view isn’t an interpretation of that physical evidence…this is really the weakness, i think, in the position of those who decry the modification of fb#6…they never make it clear that it is their interpretation of physical evidence, rather than physical evidence itself, that is not being allowed to function as god’s second “great lesson book”, 6T:185.

perhaps it would be useful to recall that evolution hasn’t produced a long line of converts to anything remotely connected with a supernatural god, who’s existence and intervention are excluded as a starting point for interpreting physical evidence…this fact is lost on no-one…

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I am an Old Earth Creationist (OEC) because: 1) I am a Creationist; and 2) people keep telling me “Rich, you’re older than dirt.”. Since this is all clear to me I cannot imagine how I could be mistaken so I’m sending the memo to God now.

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There are plenty more windmills on the horizon - keep swinging!

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I just don’t how postmodernism is in any way applicable to my life. It seems to be the domain of philosophers constructing the next best thing by deconstructing the last best thing. In the mean time, the rest of us go along with our lives and let the philosophers duke it out to build the next-next best thing, which will be called re-reconstructionism or post-postmodernism or something like that.

The values of the enlightenment are alive and well, living alongside skepticism and postmodernism, and millennialism and all the other isms.

It seems to me that the changes to FB6 are quite more simple than philosophy or a movement, they are about control. Not inviting some scientists to Utah was about control. Cutting members off from their senses is about control.

Why do we need more control now? you ask. Because in our age of knowledge and information it is difficult to control what is available to members. Once we has some control of information coming in. The next level is to control how people are to react to information and how to think about it.

Is this postmodern?

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[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:9105”]
Let us reflect, for example, on Ellen White’s statement regarding a conference she had attended where she said: “I was shown the company present at the Conference. Said the angel: ‘some food for worms…some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus.’” See Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1, and p. 131-132. This statement was made in 1856, and it should be obvious by now that no one at that conference is still alive, and therefore the statement turned out to be false.
[/quote] And this is why your positions are unsupportable. Illogic. You assssume the conference in question was one prior to 1856. She never said it was a conference she attended. You did.