Dinosaurs, Volcanoes, and Holy Writ: A Boy-Turned-Scientist Journeys from Fundamentalism to Faith — Book Review

James L. Hayward, Dinosaurs, Volcanoes, and Holy Writ: A Boy-Turned-Scientist Journeys from Fundamentalism to Faith (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2020). 236 pp. $26.00.

In this evocative and engaging memoir of an Adventist biologist, James L. Hayward tells the story of his evolution from a young-age creationist to a science-embracing theist and a productive member of the mainstream scientific community. After teaching stints at Southwestern Union College, Walla Walla College, and Union College, in 1986 he joined the biology faculty at Andrews University, from which he retired in 2015.

The son of a conservative Adventist minister, young Hayward fully embraced the fideistic, anti-intellectual worldview typical of most Seventh-day Adventists. As a student at Southwestern Union College, he “remained a staunch defender of young-age creationism and continued to believe in a worldwide flood, but… was beginning to appreciate the importance of physical evidence as a control on the limits of belief” (33). Prompted by a personal examination of the ballyhooed Paluxy River footprints, which many prominent creationists interpreted as showing that dinosaurs and giant humans lived contemporaneously, Hayward “began to recognize that Christians, including members of my own faith community, were not necessarily persons of integrity, and that belief often trumped evidence” (40).

In 1970 Hayward transferred from Southwestern to Walla Walla College, where he “continued to identify with traditional notions” but found himself “creeping ever so cautiously out of the fundamentalist camp” (46). In the fall of 1972, he moved on to Andrews University to earn a master’s degree in biology. There he encountered Richard M. Ritland, a Harvard Ph.D. in comparative anatomy with an interest in paleontology who had recently moved from the Geoscience Research Institute to the Andrews biology department. Hayward signed up for a course in paleontology with Ritland, who introduced him “to the geological column and the types of fossil organisms found at each level…. The most important concept I learned in paleontology was that as one goes to deeper levels of the geological column, the types of fossil organisms become progressively more dissimilar in comparison with those alive today” (59). From Ritland, Hayward also learned that the ancient fossil forests of Yellowstone National Park, stacked one upon another, apparently had grown in succession over long periods of time rather than having been deposited during Noah’s flood, as young-age creationists taught (60-61). His brief period at Andrews studying with the open-minded Ritland and interacting with the progressive young members of the Geoscience Research Institute turned out, in retrospect, to be “life-changing” (66).

In 1978 Hayward enrolled as a doctoral student in the zoology program at Washington State University, where he took up the study of shorebirds and four years later received his Ph.D. degree. While doing fieldwork on the nests and eggs of gulls in eastern Washington in the spring of 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted, dumping tons of ash on the objects he hoped to study. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because he subsequently discovered “entire nests and eggs preserved beneath the ash,” which led to his interest in the fossilization of dinosaur eggs, and in dinosaurs generally. For an Adventist scholar, this was hazardous ground, because, as Hayward observes, many fellow believers doubted the very existence of these reptiles “or regarded them as ‘inventions of the devil’” (80). Nevertheless, Hayward took it on himself to educate Adventists on this controversial topic, publishing articles in Adventist Review, Spectrum, and Journal of Adventist Education.[1]

By the turn of the century, Hayward had become the leading SDA authority on dinosaurs, but, if one counts paleontologists with an Adventist background, he was neither the first nor the most influential. Earl Douglass (1862 -1931) grew up Adventist in Medford, Minnesota, later becoming superintendent of the local Sabbath School and, briefly, a colporteur. As an undergraduate and graduate student, he developed a fascination with fossils, which became his lifework and accelerated his drift out of Adventism. In 1902 he moved to Pittsburgh, where he became a star collector for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, specializing in discovering dinosaur skeletons in the West. While exploring in northeastern Utah in 1909, he uncovered one of the richest dinosaur fossil beds in the world. Recognizing its unique value, the president of the United States six years later declared the site a national monument.[2]

Hayward devotes the bulk of his book to describing his growing scientific interests and his corresponding rejection of fundamentalist Adventist beliefs. Along the way he credits various SDA scholars for exposing the spurious claims of Ellen G. White and for demonstrating the unreliability of the Genesis genealogies as a basis for geochronology (70-76). His lifelong study of the fossil record taught him that “most biblical stories took place on the presently recognizable landscape of the Holy Land, which sits atop a vast and complex set of rocks that involved many long-term processes” (160). He tells us much less about his retention of religious faith in the face of so many intellectual challenges. Through the years he held firmly to “a belief in divine creatorship,” while declining to provide “details of what that might mean in terms of earth history” (77). He came to see the Bible not as God’s infallible word but as consisting “of writings by people who, like me, were searching for meaning and a better understanding of reality and the sacred” (118). “Faith,” he concluded, “should be consistent with physical reality, not contradictory to it” (101). God, in his evolving worldview, became “ineffable,” incapable of being described in human words (146).[3]

Hayward excels at explaining scientific ideas. In contrast, his theological beliefs remain somewhat elusive. Nominally Hayward identifies as a Christian, because he aspires to follow “the teaching of Jesus” (200). At one point near the close of his book he explains that the “biggest reason for why I believe in a larger reality… is simply that we exist” (193-94). Is this “larger reality” related to the Judeo-Christian God? He denies that he’s “a young-age creationist, flood geologist, or biblical literalist” as well as “an atheist, deist, materialist, theistic evolutionist, or many of the other philosophical ‘-ists’” (201). Although he explicitly opposes the belief that God is directly involved in the evolutionary process, his rejection of theistic evolution came as a surprise to me. The theistic evolutionists I know would, I suspect, unhesitatingly embrace him as a fellow believer. All thoughtful Adventists interested in the intersection of science and religion should read this faith-affirming, if unconventional, book.


Notes & References:

[1] James L. Hayward, “Dinosaurs,” Adventist Review 170 (1993): 12-14; Hayward, “Noah’s Ark or ‘Jurassic Park’?” Spectrum 23 (August, 1993): 6-14; Hayward, “A Closer Look at Dinosaurs,” Journal of Adventist Education 67 (February-March, 2005): 29-36. Hayward also published widely in mainstream scientific journals, often in recent years with his wife, the mathematician Shandelle Henson, a colleague at AU.

[2] T. Joe Willey and Ronald L. Numbers, “The Adventist Origins of Dinosaur National Monument: Earl Douglass and His Adventist Roots,” Spectrum 43 (Winter 2015): 48-56. Another ex-Adventist, Kirk Johnson (1960-), went from a creationist schoolboy in Seattle to become one of the leading paleontologists in the country, currently serving as Sant Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, home of the largest fossil collection in the world. Among his areas of expertise is the extinction of the dinosaurs. See Kirk Johnson with Ray Troll, Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway: An Epoch Tale of a Scientist and an Artist on the Ultimate 5,000 Mile Paleo Road Trip (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2007), esp. 110-11, which mentions his SDA background.

[3] In some ways Hayward reminds me of the prolific popularizer of science and mathematics Martin Gardner (1914-2010), who in his youth briefly joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church and embraced the flood geology of George McCready Price. Subsequently he lost his faith as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago and became one of the most respected sceptics in the United States. Nevertheless, he remained a theist, believing in a personal God, to the end. See his The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (New York: St. Martin’s, 1983). See also his semi-autobiographical novel, The Flight of Peter Fromm (Los Altos, CA: W. Kaufmann, 1973).


Dinosaurs, Volcanoes, and Holy Writ is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle, or directly from the publisher.

Read Chapter 1 in Dinosaurs, Volcanoes, and Holy Writ by clicking here.


Dr. Ron Numbers is Hilldale Professor Emeritus of the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has been on the faculty since 1974. Prior to joining the faculty there, he served on the faculty at Andrews University and Loma Linda University School of Medicine. He is a past president of the American Society of Church History, the History of Science Society, and the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology.

He has published over 25 scholarly books dealing with the history of science and medicine. His pioneering work, Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White, led to a revolution in Ellen White studies within the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. His forthcoming book on the physician Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, an influential but controversial figure in Adventist history, is under contract to Harvard University Press.

Book cover image courtesy of Wipf & Stock.


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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10562

A very helpful book review. I plan on getting hold of a copy, now. Anticipating the coming thread, all I can say is, let the fun begin!




I am. Therefore I’ll think.

Why have SDA’s been so adamant in defending the concept of creation ex nihilo some 6,000 years ago along with a flood 4,000 years ago, in the process denying everything evident in the fossil record, the evolution of the species, genetic and comparative biology, geologic history with the incredible lapses of time; in short, the existence of a cosmos, earth, and evidence that gives every appearance of having developed naturally over billions of years?

I will suggest the need to defend Genesis doesn’t proceed from a search for the truth about origins. Rather, it proceeds from the need to underpin one of the two pillars of the reason for the church’s existence; that is, the sabbath. Once committed to the sabbath, it immediately became absolutely necessary for theological and self-identifying purposes to defend the Genesis story as literal history at all costs. If that “history” falls, so does the reason for the sabbath and by extension, the reason for the existence of the denomination. When they “discovered” the sabbath truth, they were committed to an anti-science position from that point forward.

The apparent reason for this is the 4th commandment in Exodus 20 pointing back to the creation story as the origin and reason for sabbath observance. Without the cause, there is no reason for the command. Perhaps it should be noted that at the second presentation of the 10 commandments in Deut 5 (call it the revised version), the sabbath command isn’t connected to the creation at all. Instead, it is presented as a part of the covenant coming from the supposed rescue/exodus from Egypt, a perpetual observance thereof.


You’re correct, of course. They could just as easily have based their faith upon Deut. 5:15 and observed the Sabbath as a memorial to deliverance from Egypt and left all that controversy and contention aside. It would have opened up a world of faith,science, and study to Adventism that has long been denied Adventist students unless they want to knowingly and often tragically buck the system.


In reviewing the Notes & References, I do not see any reference to the “watershed” book on Dinosaurs by Atty David Read @dcread and foreword by our highly esteemed president of the GC TW. Perhaps having read the book would have convinced the author to remain a fundamentalist.

Bart, here is your once-in-lifetime chance to shine.


I can’t think of anyone more qualified to address dinosaur questions than an attorney.


“Why have SDA’s been so adamant in defending the concept of creation ex nihilo some 6,000 years ago along with a flood 4,000 years…”

Because Ellen says so…:grinning:


I saw this book online a few a weeks ago, read the preview pages, and added it to my wish list. I was interested to read this review and discover that Earl Douglass had an Adventist background. Too bad I didn’t know about that background when I wrote my book on dinosaurs.

Intimate knowledge of the fossil record does not necessarily lead to a loss of faith in Bible history. Many PhD scientists have studied dinosaurs very carefully and have not lost their creationist faith, including my friend Art Chadwick. My own study of the topic has considerably strengthened my faith in Bible history, and especially in the writings of Ellen White.

Whatever the fossil record is, it does not document Darwin’s theory of origins. As Darwin himself admitted, if his theory was true, we should find the common ancestor of the Cambrian forms in strata about 1 billion years old, with a steady increase in complexity and differentiation of forms leading up to the Cambrian, which is supposedly about 550 to 530 million years old. (By the way, some “molecular clock” studies, i.e., studies of the rate of mutations, say that the common ancestor should be around a billion years old.) But of course, that is not what we find in the pre-Cambrian fossil record. We find single-celled creatures and then the odds and ends of the Ediacaran forms, and then the Cambrian explosion, when something like 30 different phyla appear more or less all at once. That’s not Darwin’s theory of evolution; that’s a seafloor fauna being buried near the beginning of the Genesis Flood. The rest of the fossil record is the same–animals appearing fully formed, with candidates for ancestor forms few and far between. Again, not a record of evolution, but of ecological zones or biomes being sequentially buried.

Well, obviously I could argue this all day (and already have at 600 page book-length), but suffice it to say that Ron Numbers’ insinuation that knowledge of the fossil record leads inexorably to the defenestration of creationism is not true.


…”but suffice it to say that Ron Numbers’ insinuation that knowledge of the fossil record leads inexorably to the defenestration of creationism is not true.“

I would expect nothing else from you, David. A true Believer…is a true Believer. :smile:


My personal experience is that true believers are always suspect in some way. Maybe @dcread is my first introduction to one who is not? I’d actually like to discover that I’m wrong.


Spectrum readers could benefit from a believer’s perspective, at least every once in a great while.


Yes, we do need that “perspective” every now and again. For the rest of us…we have the Bible. :wink:


Your reason does make sense on the surface. Yet, I think, keeping of a holy day, must have been the intent of God in teaching the Hebrew peoples to observe the Sabbath since their beginnings. At least since the time of Moses forward. Maybe… in God’s mind, whether long creation or short 6 day creation was not a concern. Either way God is still the author of the life coming into existence. Without God there never would be no human consciousness.

Maybe… it is like a person thinking about doing a major project gathering materials that may be needed, for years. Then, all at once the conditions are right and with a burst of energy in 6 days he finishes and cuts the ribbon on the 7th day. Although it took him almost a lifetime to assemble the funds and needed materials, with a vision of the completed project always in view.

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To me, untrained in earth sciences, it seems that even the existence of billions of years of fossil records and old dated human bones, should not exist, if all of creation was a 6 day event. The two events are not compatible.

Maybe…God started life on earth with a small seed of DNA (whatever). Then he gave time (billions of years) for its development. Then when conditions were ripe, he stopped the evolutionary clock and quickly finished the work in an orderly method, concluding in the creation of Eden and Adam & Eve. Human life at that time had all it needed to prosper and reproduce on earth for an indefinite period of time. Until God’s plans for humans all blew up–with humans refusing to be accountable to God and his earth created laws and rules.

Maybe…the lessons of creation God intended to teach humanity had nothing to do with geological record. Instead from creation we learn of Sex and Marriage, family, loyalty of Adam to his wife, discernment between truth and error, holy time to communicate with earth’s creator, and appreciation of the world of nature in plants and animals. Until it all blew up–nature morphed into killers of mankind.

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However it all happened, we live in a broken world with broken people, both of which need to be rescued. We believe that rescue began in earnest with the Hebrew people beginning with Abraham. We also believe that the rescue mission was victorious in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth but incomplete until all creation and all human history is “new.” We should think more of apocalyptic and looking ahead as the energizing force for faith, not looking back to define what is or is not history, a job we cannot do to everyone’s satisfaction.


Neither the attempts to explain prehistory or to predict the future, based on claims of “inspiration”, have worked out so well.



This is where one has to look past the Genesis narrative and understand the psychodynamics that promoted the need to believe in a literal creation. Then it makes total sense…


[quote=“frankpeachamvt, post:14, topic:20444”]
“must have been the intent of God”

[quote=“frankpeachamvt, post:14, topic:20444”]
“Maybe… in God’s mind”

[quote=“frankpeachamvt, post:14, topic:20444”]
“Maybe… it is like a person thinking about doing a major project”

This is what I would term the IPHWCTF argument (If pigs had wings, could they fly?). It requires getting into and understanding the mind and intent of a god, then speculating on what might have happened. Too many maybe’s and not enough probability. Coulda, woulda, shoulda, is not a good model for discovering knowledge.


You know very well that apocalyptic isn’t predicting the future per se, but anticipating BY FAITH a future that exists in “promise,” more like what one hopes for when getting married and planning on children rather than planning now for a war you know is coming. You are correct on the “inspiration” concern, in my view. If that is what you mean by “prediction,” no quarrel. But the apocalyptic future is an expectation developed over millennia, we believe, “guided” by events and the work of the Spirit in cooperation with scores of writers, etc. that struggled to explain the meaning of what they were experiencing. We believe there is a future with God that cannot be described or explained or imagined, but is nevertheless real. If there is no such future, we will not experience disappointment since we will no longer be. If there is such a future, we will experience a surprising joy, for no believer lives without profound doubts bubbling up in her sea of faith.


I assume, then, that you reject the historicist method of interpreting apocalyptic writings, since that method presumes the future (from the writer’s perspective) would unfold as predicted with clearly identifiable milestones along the way.

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