Bible & Science Conference Reflections: The Silent Crickets


(system) #1

It seems that two species of male crickets in Hawaii have evolved an inability to sing so that they can escape killer flies. When I read about their plight on the BBC website under the headline “Crickets in two places fall silent to survive” it made me think of Adventist scientists. While it has always been difficult for them to talk about evolution in our creation-based Adventist culture, the recent International Conference on the Bible and Science in St. George, Utah seems to have brought the conversation to a crashing halt. To survive as an Adventist church member, there will be no singing about evolution.

How did we get to this point of not being able to talk to each other about something that means so much?

Ten years ago a series of conferences were held in Utah and Colorado, sponsored by the Geoscience Research Institute based in Loma Linda that began a significant conversation about faith and science. The 2003 conference in particular included a wide variety of voices in panels, presentations, and responses. It was an exciting time to see the number of scientists and theologians coming together to explore ideas.

The following year, in 2004, there was a strong conservative push at the meeting to change Seventh-day Adventist Fundamental Belief #6. The vivid memory that I have of that conference is then-President Jan Paulsen addressing the assembled body and saying, “You are not here to change the Fundamental Beliefs. That is not why you have been brought together.” (That is my memory of what he said, anyway.)

But the push to change the belief continued and came to the floor of the last General Conference session. The Faith and Science Council at the General Conference was formed after that Colorado meeting in 2004. It has been sponsoring Creation-focused events since that time — at the last General Conference session, at the General Conference office in Maryland, in Loma Linda, at Andrews, in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Puerto Rico. And then this year in St. George, Utah. These events are meant to showcase creation. To inspire. These are creation evangelistic meetings.

What surprised the academics who were invited to Utah this year was the amount of secrecy that surrounded the proceedings. One scientist in attendance said:

“The materials of the conference were posted on a website, and we were all given a password and told not to share it with anybody. They didn’t give any reason for the secrecy except that a couple of the scientists’ presentations included unpublished material that shouldn’t be shared until they published it. But there was no other reason given for the secrecy. Then it came out that someone had published somewhat inflammatory material about the conference.

Tim Standish, of the Geoscience Research Institute, said: ‘You have all promised not to share this and so whoever did this is dishonest — they’re lying. We’re going to give you a new password and we don’t want you to leak this or share this information with anybody else.’ I really didn’t see any need for the secrecy. If the presentations were appropriate for us, why would they not be appropriate for the whole church?”

The question is a good one, considering that the first recommendation listed in the resolution voted at the end of the conference was the need to develop materials about creation for wide circulation.

Secrecy also surrounded the development of that resolution. Early drafts carried warnings at top and bottom, “This draft document is not to be shared with anyone other than members of the committee that drafted it.” Over the course of the session, the one-page document grew to two. Statements became more and more specific. The sentence

“We affirm an environment of intellectual honesty where competing theories in relation to origins are presented and openly discussed”

became:

“We affirm the necessity of an intellectual environment in which competing theories about origins are presented and openly discussed within the context of a biblical worldview. We commit ourselves to teaching and advocating the biblical understanding of origins in our professional roles as Adventist educators.”

A new sentence was also added:

“We understand that the purpose of the Seventh-day Adventist education is to restore in human beings the image of the Creator and that this goal has implications for educational curriculum and instruction; the structuring of human relationships, including divinely ordained marriage; and stewardship of the earth.”

By the end of the conference when the final statement was voted, some of the attendees were unhappy about the process, feeling like they had been manipulated, used as props. Here is the reaction of one administrator in attendance:

“The overriding lesson I took home was that, if you are working toward a conservative cause, process can be abridged even in public. Put another way, if you are working to do "God's conservative will," the end justifies the means. I make this comment in direct response to the public process of creating and voting the resolution document. Never before have I seen church leaders initiate a process of getting public and collaborative reaction on a document, then, at the last minute, inserting words more acceptable to them followed by an orchestrated plan to limit discussion and debate, followed again by calling for a vote, followed still again by making light of those who voted "No!"

I have been around the Adventist church a long time and I have had occasion to know a good number of General Conference leaders along the way. And I found them, for the most part, to be good and honorable, broad-minded, even noble people who were respectful of others opinions and of process. Those who led this conference demonstrated themselves to be of a much lesser caliber than those who have gone before them. They showed themselves to be narrow ideologues who were not above manipulating process to get the kind of document they wanted. And though they pledged the resolution would not be used for purposes other than to serve as a report to Annual Council, I fully expect to see the document show up as support for their fundamentalist interests. When that happens, they will prove themselves to be disingenuous to say the least.”

Adding creation stewardship to the resolution statement reflected the presentations at the conference on the topic, and the enthusiasm there for expanding the Adventist discussion of creation. But the phrase about “God-ordained marriage,” had never been part of the discussion. “During the early drafts of the document, there was no mention of “God-ordained marriage,” said one participant, “but in the final draft that was voted and published in the Review, that language was inserted. I’m not sure who put it in or why because it was never a topic of discussion during the conference.”

To find the voted resolution, one must go to the story posted in the Adventist Review on August 26. The document sits on the Review’s website — not that of the Faith and Science Council.

With the headline-grabbing statements by the President of the General Conference disavowing any Adventist who believes in evolution, attendees to the conference have been very hesitant to say anything — whether or not they do or don't believe in evolution. One attendee acknowledged: “It is a story: the fact that nobody wants their names attached to their comments. We are at a time where a verse from Amos fits well: Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil." Amos 5:13 (NIV)”

In our conversations with faculty and administrators from five Adventist colleges, only one person was willing to speak on the record.

However, the conversations were insightful. We learned that an effective case was made at the conference as to why Darwinian evolution is today in lots of trouble. We also learned that history does repeat itself. One of the attendees said:

“Prior to the conference, I read with care some literature on how three debates - (1) Copernicus, Galileo, and the Solar System, (2) Newton, the Mechanical Universe and Deism; and (3) Darwin and the Biological Origins of Humanity – have challenged traditional Christian beliefs. I was struck by the similarity of the language of the Adventist scientists and theologians with the language of church officials during the Galileo controversy. Just as the theologians of the Catholic church condemned the scientific discoveries of Galileo on the basis of a literalistic interpretation of Scripture, likewise many Adventist theologians and scientists appear to be condemning many of the modern scientific discoveries on the basis of a literalistic interpretation of Scripture. It was remarkable to notice the similarities. History does indeed repeat itself!”

Dr. Zane Yi, assistant professor of religion, Loma Linda University, said:

"I'd like to think of the conference as the beginning of an international inquiry and conversation for our church. Due to the complexity and variety of issues that were broached, we really needed more time, not only to reflect on the presentations, but also to learn about the diversity of views that exist in Adventism and the wider world of Christian scholarship. We were presented with one perspective and now need to hear and consider others before making any definitive conclusions. We're doing that with the issue of women's ordination as a church and the issues that were broached at the conference are just as important.”

Is the Faith and Science Council interested in further conversation? What kind of conversation can take place when people cannot speak openly and honestly without fear of reprisal?

After the opening remarks by President Wilson, one Adventist theologian commented, “We don’t have a unity problem, we have a trust problem.” Will we ever be able to trust each other again with a conversation about origins?

Can we end the silence in which our scientists now live?

Bonnie Dwyer is the editor of Spectrum.

Image: The silent flatwing cricket.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6242

(jeremy) #2

Who ha sinned, he or his partents ? Is the illness aa result of his own sin - sinfull life - or did others sin on him (by exploiting)
Now I must get cynical : amybe leave yor violin -playing for a time and join a social worker; maybe experience th ebrutality in gentlemen in good standing in the church, regularily seen on gthe pulpit, and teh atmospphere at home - where thebrutal man believes to serve God by beating wife nd children ?

gerhard, your first question is what john 9, one of the great chapters on inherited human suffering, is all about…here we have the case of a man born blind from birth, a situation which jesus’ disciples believed represented divine punishment for someone’s sins…recall that in jesus’ day, any type of misfortune was regarded as a direct punishment by god for someone’s sin…yet, what does jesus say…he says:

“neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of god should be made manifest in him”, john 9:3…

jesus is essentially saying that all deviation from eden’s perfection is a general consequence of sin operating in our genes - these deviations are not specific divine punishments for specific sins…but instead of feeling discouraged or guilty that we inherited something challenging, our condition is actually an opportunity to be exhibits of the grace of god in our individual context…evolution, of course, promises gradual improvement in our general condition…the truth is that sin is bringing gradual deterioration for all of us, and in some cases, that deterioration shows up in unexpected ways…this is exactly how i view my homosexuality…i didn’t ask for it, and for years i prayed that god would change me to be like other people…but now, because i understand john 9, i’m actually thrilled to born in a way that shows what the grace of god can really do…had i not been born gay, it is possible that i may never have understood that the grace of god is given to us so that we can actually live above the pull of our genes…for me, constant victory is completely thrilling…i don’t feel in any way cheated because i don’t have a sex life - can you believe someone can say that and mean it…

as for your second question, you must remember that i was born in apartheid south africa, where wife beatings were not all that uncommon…two of my uncles were caught up in this mind-set at one time - i’ve heard horror stories that are very complex to unravel, and both these uncles were church members, even elders, i believe…but all of this is merely a manifestation of what sin has done in the culture, and in the mind…unless people are truly converted, they will simply be reflections of their culture…even after we are converted, we are the products of our culture, but at least we have the power to buck the trends in that culture that conflict with the word of god - the bible and egw…and it is in this life - in this context - that we have the opportunity to learn and apply these great spiritual lessons…


(jeremy) #3

You can and will believe whatever you want. Just be honest enough to admit that your position is driven by religion, not science.
There are interlocking evidences for long age. It is not an a priori presupposition. There is no substantive evidence that the physical constants of the world have gone out of whack due to some cataclysmic event.
We both agree God could have created the world in an instant. The problem with that is that the evidence left behind is then dramatically misleading. Which leaves God with the problem of apparent deception. Read some geology before you jump to the conclusion you seem to want so badly to be true.

rich, i actually do agree that my position is driven by inspiration, not science…to me, inspiration is more real than something that cannot be demonstrated without assumptions that exclude inspiration…your interlocking evidence is really using one line of evidence to define the other, all of which are driven by an assumption of long age - and i totally disagree that long age is not an a priori presupposition…i also disagree that there is no substantive evidence that the physical constants of the world are different now due to the cataclysmic event of the flood…

but the most important contribution to your view, as i see it, is that you place the objectivity of science above the absolute authority of inspiration…you are not willing to accept inspiration that is apparently contradicted by physical evidence…i believe that this is essentially where we differ…


(Winona Winkler Wendth) #4

People in this council, along with other Denominational leadership and college/university faculty in both sciences and humanities must enlarge their scope and participants—this is a shared issue, not simply a “science v. theology” or “fact v. faith” one. Psychologists, anthropologists, literary scholars, archeologists, historians, poets and prosodists must be in this conversation. And all of everyone should plan to lunch, once in a while, with the good (and very smart) folks over at The Templeton Foundation: http://www.templeton.org/who-we-are/about-the-foundation/mission.

Given the Denomination’s highly conflicted attitude toward “outside” recognition, applying for scholarships to programs or receiving a grant from the Foundation would complicate this issue nicely—and, possibly, elevate the discussion beyond the political.