Bowing to the Golden Calf

Most of us have heard it said that we live in a postmodern world, but what exactly does that mean? More specifically, what does it mean for Adventists?

It is fair to say that there are a variety of definitions floating around, but if we start with Enlightenment thinking where sense and reason play a central role, we can contrast this modern approach to that of postmodernism. For this latter category a theme that often emerges involves reaching conclusions in ways that ignore or deny some aspect of verifiable reality. I am personally partial to the definition offered by the eminent biologist, Edward O. Wilson, who refers to postmodernism as a state “constructed by mind,” which he contrasts with a “perception of mind."1 Here he is taking aim at those who do not take seriously the evidentiary lay of the land that in many cases conveys widely shared understandings of reality based on sense and reason. Proceeding, then, in a postmodern way often requires a proponent to pretend that what might otherwise seem obvious in light of the evidence, isn’t.

The fact that this postmodern approach is trending is manifest from the daily news — be it conclusions about crowd size, climate change, the efficacy of vaccinations, or to many other issues where truth-claims are made out of whole-cloth and are simply not borne out by the facts. The broadcast cable world in particular is filled with voices offering strident assertions that frequently are based on little more than thin air, as opposed to actual verifiable facts.2 The effect is to create a framework in which beliefs are held that completely ignore evidence that should matter. For this mode of thinking to become a cultural phenomenon, a large-scale suspension of reality is required so that what is seen and heard need not be believed.3

For Adventists who have historically been highly concerned about truth, a postmodern world should be cause for great concern. Yet, a strong case can be made that Adventists are themselves immersed in the postmodern world. While some may be sympathetic in general terms to a grounded understanding of the nature of reality, it is not uncommon for there to be an unwillingness to follow the leading of reality on some important areas of study. This, then, produces a bit of irony where some who feign sympathy for enlightenment thinking continue to align their discernment in ways that most objective observers would identify as postmodern because of a general refusal to confront evidence from fields of study such as cosmology, genetics, and geology. Not only is there high-level disregard for physical data on these matters, some go further by attempting to savage the scientific method itself in an effort to elevate dogma.4 Generally the dogma I am thinking about is derived from a “tailored” reading of Genesis that runs contrary to nearly all expert interpretations of the physical data. It is this very behavior that should be understood as postmodern to the core where “belief” is asserted that is contrary to physical data that most expert observers view as compelling. Whereas a modern would proceed with extreme caution in contradicting scientific details around which wide consensus exists, Adventists and a few other religious groups have chosen the postmodern path.5

Some readers may ask, “Is all of this an argument for worshipping at the feet of science?”

The answer is no. This is primarily an argument against abandoning our God endowed powers of sense and reason. We should be mindful, here, that the scientific community universally attests that it is not above critique — in fact it welcomes it as the life-blood of advancing knowledge. We should probably keep this in mind when we consider the ecclesial capacity for openness in the same sort of way. It is important to recognize that failure on this key procedural point (openness to evidence) misses an opportunity to set in place a process that could promote self-correction. A failure to self-correct can result in an unnecessary denominational catastrophe down the line, for as the nature of reality becomes more rooted and established within the culture through multiple layers of confirmation it increasingly undermines the credibility of those who refuse to be so guided. It also sets people up for disillusionment when the factual reality begins to set in.

We should all recognize the natural tendency to allow long-held traditional assumptions to trump infringing data, and for many of us this would include the assumptions that grew out of a particular reading of the early chapters of Genesis. We all know that this traditional understanding does not fare well from the community of subject matter experts outside the Adventist echo chamber. In most cases the scientific consensus is very broad, with near unanimity based on the wide-ranging depth of the evidence. In reaction to this, it is not uncommon for Adventists and other conservative ecclesial communities to argue that these scientific conclusions are the product of Godless scientists, even though in reality many such scientists are members of the believing community.6 More importantly, evidence does not come with a bias; it simply sits there waiting to be objectively analyzed. Much of the more mainstream Christian world has taken its cues from the physical evidence and have consequently moved beyond a narrow reading of Genesis. They have done so by seeking ways to understand theological premises in light of the physical evidence.

When the last chapter of this period is written about by historians, surely focus will be given to those scientists in our midst who know the compelling nature of the evidence that should inform interpretations of Genesis, but instead have lighted the pathway that has enabled the scientific laity (most of us) to deny the temporal reality. In this search for answers to the complexities of the real world, theology majors can be forgiven; scientists who know better — not so much. This is particularly true when prudent scientifically-based caution has not been proffered against ecclesial inclinations to ignore important pieces of physical data.

It is probably worth noting that an understanding of some of these matters is difficult because of the complexity of the evidence itself. In order to get a sense of the quantity, depth, and breadth of data behind the scientific narrative requires lengthy and serious study. Because of this, it can be easy for some to simply capitulate, holding firm to a contrary narrative tradition. I would like to be as charitable as possible for those bound by tradition, yet when dogma is treated as impervious to physical data (think San Antonio 2015) it is hard not to think of such behavior as a symbolic bow to the golden calf.7

It is perhaps time to distinguish the contemporary Adventist postmodern impulse with that of the founders where there existed the concept of a living, dynamic truth. These founders were willing to set aside personal convictions in favor of new evidence (a.k.a., “present truth”). In light of this history, it is profoundly disheartening to see Church administrators move to replace this historic and centered Adventist concept with a creedal statement that dishonors that history.8 The danger of the current path is that by allowing dogma to be unaccountable to grounded and universal forms of knowing, it elevates a process in by which doctrinal integrity becomes subverted.

Like never before, the current century finds large segments of humanity who seem to have lost their capacity for connecting factually to the world. We are now living in a postmodern age where “belief” often assumes more importance than what the factual lay of the land will allow. In such a world we find a variety of political and ecclesial institutions filled with true believers fawning after a golden calf. The antidote to all such postmodernist impulses would be a renewed commitment to God endowed sense and reason, replacing self-assured, “rightness of belief,” with a dose of humility. This is the pathway to present truth in our time. If we are concerned about an age “when the very elect may be deceived,” the forgoing suggestion would immeasurably protect from that possibility, and would give institutional relevance to those parts of the world still committed to living as authentically connected to reality as is humanly possible.

Notes & References:

1. See Edward O. Wilson, Consilience, Alfred A. Knopf, p. 40 (1998)

2. Or as in the case of Presidential Advisor, Kellyanne Conway, we now have “alternative facts,” which should inspire us to wonder what that means.

4. See generally, Clifford Goldstein, Baptizing the Devil, Pacific Press, 2018; see also Fundamental Belief #6.

5. Exhibit A would be rewording of Fundamental Belief #6 in 2015 to use the extra-biblical and non-biblical word of “recent” in describing when creation took place. Adventist beliefs regarding Genesis are based upon an interpretation — one among many. The Adventist interpretation must therefore be seen as “chosen” rather than compelling.

7. This is perhaps most clearly evident in Clifford Goldstein’s work referenced in note #4 above.

8. See SDA Fundamental Belief #6.

Jan M. Long is author of the book When Religious Faith Collides with Science: A Navigational Guide, from Wipf & Stock Publishers, and available from major book retailers.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

That is probably the real golden calf of Adventists. Present Truth. Notice no definition of present truth is even given. How would one determine if something is present truth? What did the founders call present truth? Was what they called present truth even truth at all? When does old present truth pass away and become new present truth? Seriously this is one golden calf that we must grind to powder. See my article

Yes I may seem to be on a crusade to bash present truth but consider this I just saw on Wikipedia for present truth via google. That is the kind of meaninglessness we should all avoid:
" What does present truth mean?

" Present Truth " may refer to any of the following: In the Seventh-day Adventist Church: Seventh-day Adventist theology# Present truth , a belief in truth as appropriate to any given time.


Present Truth - Wikipedia



Ron, we are in agreement so far as the term “Present Truth” is concerned. That is not my term, but that of the founders. However, if we move past the actual term to recognize that human understanding of reality at all levels progresses, I think we capture the sentiment that the term embodies. So, I do not defend the term, only the concept behind it.


Hi Jan,
All of us can make our own definitions.
Perhaps the pivotal moment of Postmodern philosophy input was with Derrida and Foucault.
Nothing can be claimed as totalization and absolute truth. Final answers are always illusive. Totalizations must be deconstructed through frolic to avoid coercion and conformity to any authority.
This varies from the classical Protestant world view that would say scripture is authoritative and rightly interpreted absolute truth for faith and practice for Christians.
While Christians may not have exhaustive answers through scripture it is in “the faith” that we have faith that we have “better answers” and there are “worse answers.”
The “golden calf”, I suggest, is human wisdom that says there are no absolutes including scripture. That is what the present desert rebellion in society and spiritual autonomy is about.

Postmoderism is to be set adrift.Human constructs are fables at best. What a world. I would rather build upon the Rock of Ages. Our firm foundation. There is substance to life and being.


Brain imaging studies have shown consistently that the part of our brain involved with what we are to do lights up up to 3/4 of a second before we become conscious of what we are to do. Talk about free will. The more we discover how complex the brain is, the more we realize how much we do not know about the brain.

“Believing” does not make a fact. Neils Bohr, he of the quantum theory, was known to have a lucky horseshoe above his office door. When confronted by his colleagues about his superstitious belief, he remarked “I don’t believe in it, but it works anyway.”

Happy Thanksgiving to ALL!


It is the founders term…it was then and still is today a marketing term. We have the truth, you all might have once had truth but now we have the present truth. You don’t move past something by using it continually however.

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Very interesting info. Believing does not make a fact. That applies to all people with all belief systems ,theory, logic and incomplete empirical evidence also. So none perhaps do have claim to exhaustive truth.
However, if one accepts an epistemology that God has indeed wired us to receive objective truths, even if not exhaustive, he requires us to respond to that truth when called.
Christian Faith “is faith” in “the faith.” It does not make it so, agreed. But, to deny the written words of God in “the faith” is to deny Him. That is the objective truth delivered in scripture. Dt.30:11-14; Rom.3:2; Jn.3:16. These truths are ours to deny or accept. The natural man alone, denies.
Likewise Elmer,

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Interesting. Agreed that we are wired for spirituality. The problem is some of us change those wired pathways and then use it in the wrong way. The left cerebral hemisphere in known to deconstruct meanings and be analytical. If there were gaps in between ideas that are not consistent with its conclusion, the left brain is known to spin yarn to connect the dots and make it come out analytical, according to what it wants to conclude. A perfect example would be the Necker Cube of Old/Young Woman photo. The right brain on the other hand is known to be the creative hemisphere that create meanings to our world, regardless… So some “responds to the truth” by using the right brain while some responds by using the left brain. And at times the results are incongruent and inconsistent. And there is absolutely nothing a Compliance Committee can do.


The Protestant “Christian faith” believes objective truth is outside of us. In that, It is not dependent on our reception to make it true. Of course, how different individuals receive that objective truth is up to God and the responding individual. If there is a strong in-congruence from the written word then, Houston, we have a problem. :slight_smile: I am speaking of the Christian church in general. Not SDA’s and the compliance committee. :slight_smile:


It’s not uncommon to see Adventist founders idealized like this.

I wonder what “living dynamic truth” Jan feels the Adventist founders discovered, and what “new evidence” they found compelling.

Is there any actual substance behind this idealization?

I picture the founders as shipwrecked people casting about for bits of flotsam to keep heads above water.

Searching desperately for an identity, they grabbed and cobbled together whatever bits came to hand and called it Present Truth.

Then Ellen White put a ring-pass-not around the lot of it.

And here we are stuck and wondering why nothing can move.

It has nothing to do with “postmodernism.”


In any case, postmodernism was a necessary developmental progression, surely.

As Ken Wilber puts it, the Modern paradigm considers that there is one “pregiven” world, and that knowledge entails making accurate maps of that world, and to the extent these maps are accurate, they constitute “truth.”

He calls that “the representation paradigm.” An empirical world that can be mapped by empirical methods.

The problem, says Wilber, is that “the representation paradigm” ignores the existence of the mapmaker. An important omission, as it turns out.

A reactionary retreat, then, to enlightenment thinking is scarcely possible, and certainly not desirable, it seems to me, from my educationally very limited perspective.

We must forge a way forward making maps that integrate the mapmakers into the information, for we are not external to the world, and no map can be complete without us.

”Truth” includes us. This is complicated.

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It has nothing to do with “postmodernism.”<<

Nothing against the author but I would have to agree Cassie.
It was a noble effort but it kinda morphs and convolutes terms to bring about a desired end.

Post modernism at it’s core rejects the claim of totalization or claims of absolute objective authoritative truth. Authoritative truths applying to all people don’t exist and the work of postmodernism is to challenge and deconstruct them. And, regarding scripture, I reject that movement although acknowledge that understanding “exhaustive truth” is limited as far as mankind’s limited ability of comprehension.
The secret things belong to God but the things revealed belong to us and our children.
Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll take some time off.

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“No creo en brujas,… pero… que las hay, las hay!!!” … :rofl:


So, in Ken Wilber terms, perhaps the Modern worldview could be represented by Daniel Dennett, who believes consciousness is nonexistent.

The Postmodern worldview could be represented by David Chalmers, who believes consciousness is fundamental.

My money is on David Chalmers.

Of course—never!

But it’s easy to see a pattern of where Spectrum articles are going these days, regardless of topic, such as Golden Calf.

Anyway, it doesn’t make any more sense to me to pit Modernism against Postmodernism, than it does to pit Deductive reasoning against Inductive reasoning, or to pit Left brain against Right brain, for that matter.

False dilemma, seems to me.

But the religious views Jan seems to be taking issue with could be called a totalizing metanarrative, which is the opposite of what could be called Postmodern thinking.

Confused, I am…but then that’s normal. :thinking:

Great article on a highly relevant theme! I think that its fair to say that the modern (Western) version of truth, often discourages acceptance of religious beliefs. Neil Van Leeuwen calls this the “Factual Belief Fallacy,” i.e. beliefs that are contrary to established scientific facts. Here we must differentiate between “believe” and “think”. Whereas the former is used in conjunction with religious beliefs and credences, the latter is used in conjunction with factual statements. This implies that “Believe” and “Think” are qualitatively different. The problem arises when the modern versions of religious and scientific fundamentalists collapse “Faith” into mere “Thinking”. A good example is the controversy over creation. Postmodernism , as I see it, is not some kind og pragmatic overreach where “anything goes”, but a critique of the Western notion of a universal and unifying “Reason”, that overlooked the fact that our thinking is conditioned by certain contexts. For me, the conflict between faith and reason is a (constructed) fallacy.


As you can probably guess, I am not impressed with naturalistic interpretations of how creation and consciousness occurred/occur.
To me, God wired us, as part of “living beings”, to receive stimuli and process it and have consciousness.
Likewise, the creation responded to His voice.
In one sense, I agree we are part of “the truth.” Without we “receptors”, the sheep, then none could hear his voice/waves and testify of Him.
I agree with your last sentence. All of us should be careful we don’t overplay our “filters” and become like the baptist preacher who could take any biblical text and turn it into a sermon on Baptism. Even Jesus wept led to tears and the water in tears that leads to water and my discussion of Baptism! :slight_smile:
Off with my wife now to some friends house for a once “living being” turkey who no longer has consciousness.:slight_smile:

That’s why I feel it is important to speak of the cognitive “the biblical faith once delivered” we have faith in.

Patrick, let me offer up several observations on your critique.

  1. You should probably notice that I acknowledge from the outset that there are a variety of “post-modern” definitions, so the definition I employed is acknowledged to be one among many.

  2. The definition I used was borrowed from E.O. Wilson, and he is a heavyweight, so his definition does count for something.

  3. Most importantly, though, is the fact that my definition and your definition of “postmodern” are not in conflict.

  4. Thus, if you or I believe something that ignores compelling scientific evidence to the contrary, we would fit the postmodern definition provided by either me or you.

Always good to find Unity with a brother. :slight_smile:

So you and Jan agree about Postmodernism.

You believe in the absolute revelation of Scripture.

Apparently, Jan believes “compelling scientific evidence.” (?)

Neither works for me, given the checkered history of religion and science, both of which are hard for me to idealize with a straight face.