An Invitation to a Road Trip (An Open Letter to Clifford Goldstein)

Dear Cliff,

It comes as no surprise that you are unhappy with my book, "Death Before the Fall." You have declared that evolutionary biology is less compatible with Christianity than Nazism. You have defended the idea that dinosaurs are the “amalgamated” creations of evil scientists who conducted genetics experiments in technologically advanced laboratories prior to Noah’s flood. You have denounced in strident language the many careful biblical scholars, theologians, and scientists who reject “scientific” creationism and rigid literalism when it comes to Genesis. My book is a sustained and I hope vigorous critique of ideas such as these, which you have confidently asserted in your opinion pieces in the Adventist Review over many years. As difficult as it might be for those who share your views to hear a strongly worded critique of their ideas, however, careful readers will find that I strive throughout the book to avoid unnecessary harshness. I have made a sincere effort to extend greater civility and charity to those I disagree with than many of them have been willing to afford others. For example, near the end of my chapter dealing with the philosophy of science I write:

Contrary to popular stereotypes, creationists can count among their ranks some very serious scientific thinkers, and one cannot but admire the tenacity and persistence—indeed, the faith—of scholars who hold fast to a failing line of investigation decade after decade—provided only that they do so with intellectual integrity in their methods, with full acknowledgment that the challenges they face are not only scientific but theological and biblical as well, and without any prevarications about how little progress they have actually made in the face of the obstacles.”

I refer to my reading of Genesis as a “plain reading” not because I claim a “view from nowhere” as you strangely assert in your review. As I write in the book, “We all bring important background experiences and beliefs about the structure of reality with us to our readings of the text, and this means there are no ‘plain’ or purely ‘religious’ readings of Scripture untainted by philosophical perspectives or by our culturally embedded worldviews.” The reason I have called my reading “plain” is to highlight an important but often overlooked fact in Adventist contexts: by any plain reading, Genesis is not “plain” at all. It is filled with insoluble riddles, mysteries, depths, and tensions that pose grave challenges for self-described “plain” readers who insist that the creation narratives are a straightforward historical and “scientific” account. What is more, the “plain reading” hermeneutic itself arises from complex philosophical and cultural assumptions about the nature of truth. These typically unexamined assumptions are, ironically, thoroughly infected by the tenets of a modernist scientific rationalism.

In his preface, John Walton notes that beyond any debate we might have about the meaning of Genesis my book is at heart a pastoral intervention that is concerned with the way in which we debate. It “calls us to be better conversation partners; better people.” I am sure that you will agree that the Adventist church is in need of individuals who model more gracious ways of talking across deeply held differences, at times without resolution of their disagreements. I would therefore like to extend an invitation to you. Rather than engaging in a back and forth argument in print, which I think tends to bring out the worst in all of us, let’s take a road trip together across the country. We can visit several Adventist colleges and universities and engage in a series of public conversations about creation and evolution in which we try to model a more authentic, more Christian dialogue. I will strive to listen to you as carefully and openly as possible if you are willing to extend the same courtesy to me. If your position is as strong as you believe it is, and if my ideas are as transparently false and easily refutable as you have suggested, the event would only help to confirm Adventist students in their commitment to strict biblical literalism and young earth or young life creationism. We can share our playlists with each other in the car and search out classic diners along the way. From what I know of you personally, I am sure you would prefer the fresh air of the open road over yet another week at the office.

Ronald E. Osborn is an Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the Peace and Justice Studies Program at Wellesley College and a visiting professor at Mandalay University in Burma/Myanmar as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar. He is the author of "Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering" (IVP Academic, 2014) and "Anarchy and Apocalypse: Essays on Faith, Violence, and Theodicy" (Cascade Books, 2010).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I sure hope this road trip intersects my own itinerary somewhere!


What a great idea, Ron! Cliff, hope you do it! :smiling_imp: :zap:

You could start in Silver Spring and travel to San Antonio–I’m sure you’d be besties by then! :sunny: :yellow_heart:

Then, we could all gather around with the flags and costumes of all nations and sing kumbaya. :heartpulse:

Actually, I’m not kidding…

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neither the story of Genisis nor the hypothesis of evolution are verifiable or subject to experimental falsification. both are at the irreducible minimum faith. Christainity is based on just three primary points.

  1. in the beginning God.
  2. Man created perfect in harmony with the God of beginnings rebelled.
  3. christ came as undefiled man to show God!s true character and to pay in full the price of man’s rebellion and to provide a way back in faith, trust, confidence in that demonstration.
  4. in the mean time Lucifer has had the earth as his playground and man as his pawn.

Once it was monsters, now it is microorganism, but alway war and persecution. Neither Ron nor Cliff have laid a glove on the other. nor did either establish everity. The substance of the Christian faith is not Genesis but the Gospel of John.

Tom Z


Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.


Anyone willing to bet that Cliff will take up Ron’s invitation? Is Ron paying? Cliff could continue receiving his pay as this could be “research” for further Review articles. Go for it, Cliff!


A perfect response in every way—academically, rhetorically, personally. “We all bring important background experiences and beliefs about the structure of reality with us to our readings of the text, and this means there are no ‘plain’ or purely ‘religious’ readings of Scripture untainted by philosophical perspectives or by our culturally embedded worldviews. . . . What is more, the ‘plain reading’ hermeneutic itself arises from complex philosophical and cultural assumptions about the nature of truth. These typically unexamined assumptions are, ironically, thoroughly infected by the tenets of a modernist scientific rationalism." And there you have it. This should be printed on the bottom of every program at San Antonio.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this road trip really did happen?


Love the idea for a road trip/public conversation tour. If I didn’t already have a full time job, I’d offer to be a roadie! I’ll have to just settle for catching a stop on the tour.

In the chapter you and Cliff mention on a “plain reading” of Genesis, I understood you to present challenges to the very notion of the possibility for a plain reading and as you noted to further assert that a “view from nowhere” is not possible.

Cliff also suggests that you are attempting to read evolution back into Genesis. You didn’t specifically answer this charge; but, it seems to me that your intent is rather to demonstrate how all of our cultural, scientific, philosophical, and theological perspectives influence our reading of the text. This underlying bias is insidiously invisible to those in the privileged position as modern scientific rationalism has been in Christianity since Newton.


18,000,000 [Eighteen Million] personal views of WHAT Genesis 1, Genesis 2 is really saying. And also parts of Genesis 3.
The ONLY Real Truth is Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-5. And our daily Mantra — Immanuel. God WITH Us/Me.
YES! We CAN say, Immanuel, in our favorite Yoga Position, our favorite Meditative Moments, in all our necessary and un-necessary movements and activities of the day, When I get up, When I lie down.

Immanuel – Perhaps we need to teach this word to Hindus, to Buddhists, to other World Religions. God is WITH [surrounding], not someone far away, who has to be yelled at, appeased with offerings, with celebrations. Immanuel – the God who Suffers WITH the Suffering.
NOT the God who brings suffering.


love the idea…and don’t limit yourself to a car…take an aircraft to Germany as well! Contact me if you like the idea…

what the debate should be about is destiny not origins. The New Testament accepts a Godly beginning and establishes a Divine Rescue. We know we are here for a brief time, then what? Adventism is in trouble at every turn. The Glory we need to be celebrating is the Glory of the Manger, The Glory of the Cross, the Glory of the Resurrection, and the Glory of a Redemptive return of the King of Glory. The Letter to the Church in Rome written as the Book of Hebrews should be our study. At the end of the road trip can either one say, I serve a Risen Savior? if not it has been all vanity. Tom Z


Ron, do you know Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, formerly at Wellesley? I recently heard her lecture at Naropa Institute.

I love that woman–I treasure a picture of my friend Ellen and me hugging her. A wonderful, grounded visionary. She said, “Empathy repairs brokeness,” and “Forgiveness creates a completely new intersubjective context.”

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, PhD, is a a clinical psychologist and senior research professor at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

After serving on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of South Africa as coordinator of victims’ public testimonies, and as facilitator of encounters between family members of victims and perpetrators who appeared before the TRC, Gobodo-Madikizela has been involved in the study of the process of forgiveness to deepen understanding of its reparative elements in the aftermath of gross human rights violations and mass trauma.

Her current research applies the insights emerging from her study of forgiveness in victim-perpetrator encounters to explore the psychoanalytic dimensions of empathy in the context of perpetrators’ remorse and victims’ forgiveness. Her interests in relation to empathy focus on the feelings and the shifts that open up in dialogue processes between former enemies.

I’ve often thought that Adventism would find a sort of “Truth and Reconciliation” process healing.


I would want to see this if it indeed was a good modeling of civil, respectful dialog, but if it were to descend into typically heated and contentious banter, I’d want quickly out!

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This could never be sanctioned unless the outcome was predetermined. Like I was told after a school board meeting, “We never bring up a problem unless we have solved it before the meeting.”

There is no such faith, even in Silver Springs.


Ron, a plain reading is a plain reading. Yom= day. Numbering them from 1 to 6 indicates consecutive days, especially with evening and morning in there. That’s the beginning. It’s really not that hard.

If you can get evolution and millions of years in there, what could you do with a plain reading of “the cat sat on the mat”?


I wouldn’t mind joining you on your road trip. That is really the best we can hope for in this world, to process our differences in an atmosphere of respect and love. We are never going to resolve each other’s ideological problems. Cliff tries to approach reality through the Bible, while Ron seeks to work out a cease-fire agreement between faith and emerging knowledge in an attempt to fraternize openly with both sides. And then there are people like myself who enjoy immersing the mind in the mysteries of the universe without feeling any urge to draw any premature conclusions. We pretty much share the same values, and that is what real friendship is based on. Ideological friendships, those based on shared opinions–and unfortunately, that’s what you mostly see in dogmatic churches–are contingent on precarious agreements and break down as soon as the King of the North in Dan 11:45 starts acting up and no longer wants to play ball with orthodoxy. We can at best resolve our personal ideological issues; we can’t do much about other people’s. But we can be friends and fight for values that transcend mere opinion.


I see “the cat sat on the mat” as a deep existential statement. It could be said that many theories concerning the subsemanticist paradigm of context may be revealed. The primary theme of de Selby’s[4] critique of neocultural capitalist theory is a dialectic totality.

However, Debord uses the term ‘the subsemanticist paradigm of context’ to denote the fatal flaw of subcultural sexual identity. Several sublimations concerning not narrative, but neonarrative exist.

Therefore, Marx uses the term ‘Lacanist obscurity’ to denote a self-fulfilling reality. Bataille’s analysis of capitalist deconstruction implies that government is capable of significance.

If you don’t see it that way, it’s obviously because you don’t meditate enough.


Or how about the plain reading in the Gospels, which state that Jesus died on Friday and rose on Sunday? The sky is the limit, once one begins to discard the obvious meaning of a text.

But is that a “plain reading”?


That’s a plain CassandraPerelandra reading.

What? You don’t like?

I levitate when I meditate on “the cat sat on the mat,” therefore, my plain reading is obviously the nagelian “view from nowhere.”

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