Bringing the Real World to Genesis: Some Concluding Thoughts that Motivated this Series

(system) #1

Over the past many months through this series we have examined the scientific method and considered significant pieces of data that would seem to either shed light on our interpretations of Genesis, or represent points of caution. While this series has not been comprehensive or detailed, the intent has been to at least put enough information out there so as to provide the average reader with some basis for assessing the appropriateness of incorporating language in Fundamental Belief #6 that would ignore sense-based data — data that can be seen with the eyes. It is now time for this series to submit on the record what has been laid out.

In closing out this series, I thought it might be worth giving brief consideration to the proposed wording changes to Fundamental Belief #6 that recently circulated at the 2013 Annual Council. These changes were billed as “minor and editorial in nature.” Two of the proposed changes include the following:

Current WordingProposed ChangesIn six days the Lord made…In a recent six-day creation the Lord made…He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work…He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His creative work performed and completed during six literal days…

Should this wording proposal elicit tears of joy or sorrow?

As a practical matter, there are many members with little exposure to the sciences and for them this proposal will likely be viewed as insignificant to the credibility of the Church, and perhaps may yield little more than a yawn. Others who have followed this issue may be quite pleased, while still others may be disappointed that it doesn’t go far enough in its wording. Yet, the real question before the Church must be, “Does this proposal move the Adventist articulation of belief closer to the reality, and if it does, how would we know?”

Here is just one small example of what is at stake: consider the proposed use of the word “recent.” This word seems innocent enough, but every Adventist knows the implicit definition of this word is — something along the lines of “about 6,000 years.” Meanwhile an overwhelming amount of multidisciplinary scientific data — from geology, astrophysics, chemistry, and biology among others — unambiguously hold that the genesis of the universe, the earth, and life on earth are not recent. That is not to say there are not people around with science training who would argue the alternative. But I am referring to genuine subject-matter experts who have been through the peer review process.

The irony for Adventists — people who claim to be interested in truth — is that the Church is contemplating word changes that will completely ignore a body of evidence that is currently interpreted by the science community (the scientific version of Present Truth) in a way that would falsify this proposed wording change. Even for those who harbor doubts about how the science community interprets its data, the question arises, on what basis does the Church conclude it appropriate to ignore the scientific part of God’s revelation?

Here are some of the possible responses that cover a rather wide spectrum:

  • Scripture has provided humans with an exact literal explanation of beginnings, and therefore physical data means nothing.
  • The scientific data-set is incomplete since we can assume that new data in the future will modify current ideas of beginnings, therefore we cannot trust the current scientific consensus, and it is therefore appropriate to ignore it.
  • Scripture has presented a poetic and strategic outline of beginnings though not literal in all its detail, and physical data can assist in putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
  • The scientific data, when assembled together creates an accurate and reliable portrayal of what really occurred, and therefore, Adventist interpretations of beginnings need to be modified.

There are obviously many other permutations, but the point is, the human ability to ascertain truth is much more complex and illusive than many realize. For one thing it doesn’t come labeled as such, either in nature or in Scripture, and as a result conflicts are inevitable. When conflicts emerge it has been my observation that some are inclined to throw nature under the bus either by outright rejection of science, or by engaging in a game of self-deception — cherry-picking helpful data, and diminishing the damming data. Yet this is probably not a very helpful recipe for successfully achieving a more precise articulation of reality. The rule of thumb for anyone really interested in truth, it seem, would be to never prematurely dismiss data…Period. If God is the author of nature, then he also authored the data that lends up its secrets, and thus we ignore that data at our peril.

Retracing history, humans have emerged over the millennia from superstition — from a world in which the gods (or God) were invoked to explain the otherwise inexplicable. It was not until the discovery that nature is governed by regularities that can be reduced to laws of nature that the value of systematic inquiry took hold. With few exceptions, we now no longer attribute phenomenon of nature to God because we recognize the superiority of evidence-based rationality.

So, where do we go with the current controversy? I would propose that the present broad wording of Fundamental Belief #6 regarding beginnings currently embraced by Adventists would be a good place to start, not the least of which, it avoids the use of words that would contradict a large body of evidence to the contrary. Surely patience could be a virtue in the quest for resolution in as much as it can be a useful tool in avoiding mistakes and embarrassment.

So, we close this series just as formal consideration begins on this proposed statement. The question that remains is whether the small conclave that will have a vote on this issue will seek a more inclusive approach of looking at all the data from both nature and revelation, or whether it will follow the more narrow path of shunning an important part of God’s revelation that comes to us from the world of nature.

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

Previous "Bringing the Real World to Genesis" articles can be found here.

Image: Seven Days of Creation by artist Suzi Furtwangler.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at