How Not to Defend Genesis

I believe that God created the earth, its inhabitants, the universe and everything in it. I believe God is capable of having done that in any way that God wanted to do it, including by speaking the earth into existence in six days at some comparatively recent past date.

Yet I find it impossible to explain what I see in the natural world in terms that support a literal reading of the first few chapters of Genesis. I cannot explain fossil records, radiocarbon dating, geological layers, continental drift, evidences of evolution in living things, or a score of other scientific facts.

And, apparently, neither can most scientists. We are, when we say that Genesis gives a factual account of creation, in contradiction with what nearly all serious scientists say happened, based on the evidence they find.

This, it seems to me, leaves us three options.

The first is to deny what the Bible appears to say, to assert that the Bible is false in its claims about creation. This, of course, isn’t acceptable to those of us who believe in the Bible. Some Seventh-day Adventists may be able to shoehorn theistic evolution into the space occupied by Genesis’ special creation, but many of us won’t be comfortable doing even that.

The second (the one we Seventh-day Adventists have emphasized) is to declare the scientific consensus wrong, and suggest new scientific explanations that fit with our Biblical point of view.

Recently a pastor friend sent me a book that had been given him and his colleagues at a conference pastors’ meeting. In The Bible, Anthropology, and the Ancient Caveman, Adventist author Audra Wells Mark tried to explain the existence of prehistoric humanoid remains. By reference to some questionable minor quotes from Ellen White, she advanced the theory that the antediluvian people were master genetic scientists who introduced animal DNA into humans to create all of the varieties of primitive humanoids in the fossil record. She mentions the Greeks’ snake-haired Medusa and the chimeric sirens as evidence that the ancients knew how to cross humans with animals.

I have a deep appreciation for the sincere faith that led Audra Wells Mark to try to search for answers to the conflict between the Bible and science. (This is important to say, since Mrs. Mark is unable to speak in her own defense, having passed away last year.) She’s not the only one to attempt it: we have a department in the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, the Geoscience Research Institute, whose purpose appears to be to advance scientific theories to explain the fossil record in terms of a fairly recent fiat creation and universal Noachian flood.

It’s important to remember that we Seventh-day Adventists have had an important rôle in the history of young earth creationism. We kept to this path even when other Protestant churches accepted Darwinian evolution, probably because of our respect for the Sabbath which in Exodus 20 honors God as creator. What purpose, we asked, is resting every seventh day if there was no real seventh day rest after six days of creative activity?

Even had we been able to explain away Genesis 1 and 2 as being ancient and imprecise, it is much harder to say that about a prophet who wrote in our own language in relatively recent times. Ellen White was very specific about creation, including references to the 6000-year age of the earth. This common belief was based on a chronology written by a 16th century Irish bishop, James Ussher, which set the date of creation at sunset on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BC.

The scientific defense of the Genesis creation story was taken up by Seventh-day Adventist George McCready Price, who wrote his first book, Illogical Geology, while working as a handyman at the Loma Linda Sanitarium in 1906. Price believed that there was no evidence for evolution in the fossil record, theorizing instead that Noah’s flood washed over the land in such a way as to bury life forms in layers, the simplest at the bottom, the more complex, which presumably could stay afloat longer, nearer the top. (The holy grail for creationists is to find something out of sequence: a human skull or a tool, for example, down among the trilobites. So far that’s been elusive.)

George McCready Price, like Audra Wells Mark, wasn’t a scientist. Neither is David Read, whose book Dinosaurs - An Adventist View also relies upon the premise that ancient gene splicers messed about with DNA to create gigantic lizards whose bones we find when we peel back layers of Montana and Wyoming.

The Geoscience Research Institute team is made up of scientifically-trained people, like their lay counterparts committed to young earth creationism. There are scientific studies referenced on their website, bits that are said to fit into a young earth creation model, yet that never add up to anything directly usable, which may be why treatments of the subject like those by Mark, Read and Price have had more appeal.

I have read some of the young earth creation materials, and as science it is as thin as broth. Although there may be occasional pieces of potential evidence, it never crystallizes into a platform upon which a scientifically-minded Christian can comfortably stand. It is part flimsy geology and paleontology, part faith backed by Bible verses, and part maledictions upon scientists, a perverse lot who stubbornly refuse to let the truth about Genesis be discovered. Occasional bits make reference to genuine science, but (like Audra Wells Mark’s gullibility about gene splicing) are likely to have been misunderstood or misinterpreted. If I had found this body of argument able to stand up to even light scrutiny, I would think the effort worthwhile. But one must suspend disbelief, as though reading fiction, to accept it. Still, many Christians do believe it, just as many convince themselves that Donald Trump is a godly conservative Christian.

The most popular Adventist answers all seem to revolve around Ellen White’s amalgamation statements. These ancient gene splicer theories make us look foolish, because there is no scientific evidence for them. Their only documentary evidence is two passages in an early edition of Spiritual Gifts that were eliminated when that same material was reproduced in Patriarchs and Prophets. This isn’t even solid Ellen Whitology, much less science.

Perhaps the most serious critique of creation science for us is that it is unbiblical. The Bible says nothing about antediluvian geneticists or dinosaur breeding experiments. Bishop Ussher’s short chronology is known, even among conservative theologians, to be wrong, the genealogies from which it was calculated inconsistent with one another. Genesis’ account of Noah’s flood doesn’t attempt to explain how geological layers were made. As for Mark’s notion that Medusa and the mythological sirens of the Sirenum scopuli are evidence of amalgamation, there is no Biblical reason to consider that at all.

By what rule do creationists get to make up fables to fill in where the Bible seem to them insufficiently comprehensive? It certainly isn’t a privilege we grant to Roman Catholics to support their unique unbiblical notions. And make no mistake: these are fables. Stories of ancient amalgamation are only a step away from mokèlé-mbèmbé and the Loch Ness monster; from yetis in the snowfields of Tibet and mothmen in West Virginia; from a flat earth surrounded by endless bounds of ice under a levitating moon and stars. That is it say, this is all mythology under tissue-thin pretend science.

That’s why I suggest a third way of dealing with the clash between science and the Bible, one I rarely hear mentioned: to let science and the Bible be in tension, making no attempt to reconcile them at all. Rather than concocting tall tales, it would be far better to say, “We believe what the Bible says, and we make no attempt to find scientific evidence to back up our beliefs, trusting that in time God will make everything clear to us.”

Each one of us has to decide the Bible’s truthfulness for oneself, of course. All I am suggesting is that it is a mistake to defend with bad science something that can be simply and sincerely accepted on faith. We do not pretend to prove God’s existence scientifically. Evidence of God is subjective and personal. The heavens declare his glory and the firmament his handiwork, but there is nothing but expansive feeling and inner conviction for the Christian sky gazer to anchor to. And perhaps we should do the same thing with the Genesis creation account: give up the attempt to prove it, and instead let it remain in tension with science and the geological evidence, just as we do with the existence of God.

I’m not saying this is an ideal solution. I’m only arguing that it is a better solution than wrapping the Genesis accounts in risible fictions. Like some other Bible believers, I would be pleased to discover good evidence for young earth creation. But I’m beginning to believe God may not want us to find that. So if a dedicated believer is unable to let theistic evolution stand in for the Bible’s description of creation (so far the only answer that makes sense for believers, though Bible literalists will necessarily struggle with it), then the better option is to let science and the Bible be in this matter separate, disconnected from one another, rather than inventing a mythology both unscientific and unbiblical to harmonize them.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7640
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Loren, you’ve thrown down the gauntlet! How long have we waited for someone to be truthful about the fantasy the church has created about the Biblical creation story? As a project of unknown duration, the church members have faithfully funded through their tithe money, the GRI has been given a Mission Impossible, never producing anything of value to “Creation Science.”

As the church continues this fiction it loses more and more of its educated members, especially the young who have gone much further in their understanding of the world around them than the founders ever dreamed. To paraphrase what someone on another thread recently said: “The church doesn’t need anymore bullet holes in its feet.”

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Perhaps part of not resolving the apparent “tension” between science and the Bible is to consider whether or not the tension actually exists on its own, or whether it is something we create. Perhaps the question to ask is “what do scientists set out to do?” and then let them do that to the best of their ability; and then ask the question, “What is it the Bible writers were actually trying to get across to us?” and then not superimpose our questions on their communications. If the purpose of science is not, primarily, to communicate what God is like, and the purpose of scripture is not, primarily, to engage in science, then we might do better if we let each one talk about what they want to, not what we want them to. We can still appreciate the hand of a Creator in what science reveals, even if we don’t know everything . . . and if we just let the Bible address the themes it wants to from its own perspective and in its own context as it reveals an amazingly loving God, the points of apparent tension would probably trouble us less, Just a thought . . …

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I agree with Loren about non-scientists doing science. I am not, as Loren notes, a trained scientist, which is why I don’t do science. I do apologetics, an endeavor for which I am well trained and qualified, having graduated from a top 15 law school and practiced law for 20 years.

Loren is essentially arguing that Adventists should not do biblical apologetics. He is arguing that Christians should abandon the field of origins apologetics and leave it to atheists and unbelievers to argue that the facts support only an atheistic narrative of origins, and that the biblical narrative is counter-factual.

This way lies failure and ruin. If anyone would comprehend how well this approach works, let him observe the appalling collapse of the mainline Protestant denominations in America. As Loren notes, these denominations have largely abandoned the work of defending the truth of the biblical narrative. Their numbers have shrunk and their influence has waned even more rapidly. If we would preserve the vitality of our religion, we must not eschew the hard work of apologetics.

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Yes, but Loren, you are asking humans to do something that is contrary to human nature. We are born with a brain that insists on “filling in the blanks”, or manufacturing missing information. A good article on that is found here:

But those who are honest, intelligent, and aware of this brain function are able to override that natural process and protect the information gaps from being filled in with suppositions.

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Loren,

Yes, faith seems to have too easily become belief. But belief is dependent on proof and subject to disproof.

Religions and churches have all seemed to morph their sanctuaries of faith into gallows of belief only to find themselves with the ropes of disproof around their necks.

Seventh-day Adventism for generations and for more than a century deliberately and specifically refused to morph their common faith into a voted statement of beliefs.

Alas, not even 50 years after the Seventh-day Adventist church first voted a statement of ‘fundamental beliefs’, we are left today with moaning calls for revival and reformation, as though we can recover faith lost to belief by believing with greater determination and persistence and prayer.

It is as though Paul senses our very experience while writing in his first letter to the Corinthians. After wrestling with the confusion of beliefs the majority of his letter, Paul describes ‘a more excellent’ way, a way that ends its dependence on knowledge, spiritual practice, and prophecy, and which is anchored in the eternally enduring substance that is faith, hope, and love.

Will Seventh-day Adventism and the church that borrows the name, morph back into faith from belief?

Thank you, Loren, for continuing in supporting Spectrum and especially now Adventist Today in nurturing us in seeking to support Seventh-day Adventism in discovering such a transforming experience of faith.

Thank you for calling us to faith, rather than mere belief.

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When Stephen J Gould suggested that science and religion should be regarded as non-overlapping magisterial it always seemed an unsatisfactory solution as each ‘magisterium’ makes claims that affect the other. To totally separate the two intellectually is a head-in-the-sand approach. Living with the tension appears, at this time, to be an honestly inevitable way forwards. With a nod to Tom De Bruin, it is very metamodern; perhaps even Hebrew-like in its approach.

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I always look forward to Lorens pieces. Its always of interest to see him pick another subject and tell us how it should be done.

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It is odd that the author finds it “impossible” to explain these things, given the fact that many creationist scientists have no problem explaining much (not all, of course) of it. And of those things which can’t be fully explained, they have proposed reasonable theories which are in harmony with the biblical record. When one understands that true science is always in harmony with Scripture, there is no problem. What too many Christians do is place more faith in the conclusions of finite scientists (many of whom are atheist/agnostic in their thinking) than in God’s word.

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99% of the Christian world do not support all of the 10 commandments. This creation/evolution fray is one of the tactics used to get Sabbath observers to cease their support of the 4th commandment. One of the other tactics is antinomian clergy warping some of Paul’s verses.

To feed the multitude so fast, would it be more believable if Jesus had made caviar instead of multiplying the fish?

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Every Friday night and every Sabbath morning, around the world [depending on where on the globe it IS Friday nite and Sabbath morning] Jews get together and repeat their Liturgy faithfully from their prayer
books, the dialogue which are mostly taken from Scriptures.
They repeat the 4th commandment. They honor the Creator who separated night from day. Who filled the Earth with all good things. And recite many Psalms declaring God’s watchfulness over his people – singly and collectively.
They can declare 13.5 Billion years has passed since some things in the Universe have happened.
Some, like one at the shull where I attend, can go to Wyoming, look over the edge, peer at the bones.
Then return and give glory to the Creator on Friday nights and Sabbath morning, repeating and singing the Liturgy with enthusiasm.

I know persons in other Christian groups who question the surface of the Earth having been made this way 6000 years ago. Even quote their Jewish brethren with 13.5 Billion years. But each Sunday, faithfully attending church saying , I believe [have trust] in God the Father who created everything. God the Son who was virgin born, lived, died, resurrected, and sitting at the right hand of the Father. And will be coming in glory. I trust in the Holy Spirit.
And during Eucharist sing in unison — Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Perhaps WE NEED MORE FAITH like our Sunday go-to-church neighbors.
Maybe WE NEED to recite their affirmation in the Creator like they do and do it Each Sabbath.

Gideon – According to the Gospel Record – Jesus created [or maybe the Father did] bread and roasted fish twice.
5000 men + women and children – Matt 14, Luke 9, John 6. 12 baskets of food left over
4000 men + women and children – Matt 15, Mark 8. 7 baskets of food left over
No water into wine, this time.

Our Christian brethren spend a lot more time on Gal 5:19-22, and less emphasis on Gen 1 and 2 and more on Gen 3.
God Removes – impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, greed [idolatry] hatred, enmities, fighting, strife, discord, jealousy, anger, fits of rage, quarrels, dissensions, envy, drunkeness, wild parties.
God gives – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
However, The Nicene Creed “maker of heaven and earth” each Sunday does cover Gen 1 and 2, Exod 20, Deut 5.

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Loren, I can appreciate the tensions that exists between creation, as espoused by Adventist, and the wide array of science that goes under the heading of evolution. The many separate branches of science and the use of the scientific method of experimentation, prediction, validation converge of certain accepted findings that contradict the statement that the scientist cannot prove some of the assertions they have made. At issue is the nature of acceptance of what is truth and what the material world reveals. The recent change in Fundamental Belief # 6 in which the church codified that the earth is about 6,000 years old has no basis in the words of the Bible nor in the findings of science. To suggest that there is some type of equivalence is to continue the delusion of the probability of a young earth.

As Adventist, we sometimes are smug in asserting that all science must bow to the Bible, as we have interpreted it. We remain steadfast is concluding that without a young earth, literally created in six days, we have no foundation for the Sabbath. Thus, we bend the knee to the Sabbath question and throw out all material evidence, scientific testing and two hundred years of detailed research in order to justify an interpretation that is increasingly becoming difficult to sustain.

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The SA position ala Ted Wilson is without merit. But neither does the NeoDarwinian hypotheses have reproducible evidence which is the ground substance of science. The ground of Christsinity is aCreator, Redeemer, coming King of Kings and Lord of Lords. That system is one of trust or faith built upon John, Romans, and Hebrews in particular…

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Whenever people have used religious documents to make accurate predictions about our base knowledge of the physical world, they have been famously wrong.

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David, I believe that you can make the point that there should be a place for “biblical apologetics” but to tie the lack thereof with the sole decline of mainline Protestant denominations is at best, simplistic, and at worst, naive.

As you must realize (with your stated training) that there are far more than two positions or arguments for every situation. To me, what Loren is close to proposing is a religious “Third Way”…something that Adventism’s literal fundamentalism hasn’t been ready to accept. However, it may have no choice if it is to endure as a religion.

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David,

That I am opposed to apologetics is nonsense. I’m very much in favor of a good defense of my faith and of the Bible.

But if one’s definition of apologetics means having to create fictional stories with no Biblical warrant to fill in gaps, then yes, that is something I’m opposed to.

Loren

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@blc, I have read these authors, too, and I have found very little there. I suppose it depends on what you call “reasonable theories,” but I’ve come across none that are solid enough to convince even a gullible scientist.

As for true science always being in harmony with Scripture: to bend science to scripture is, simply, not science. It may have some truth in it, but it isn’t science. If you are going to say that, then you have to make scientific arguments for a great many things in Scripture that are simply not defensible by that method, from the existence of God to why some foods were clean and others weren’t. These may be accepted by faith, but please don’t say that somehow the rules of the universe can be bent.

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Thank you for this much needed reality check. Faith is the evidence of things unseen. We lose the theological purpose and spiritual power of Scripture when we hand over the control of our faith to science.

How can Christians promote the expectation that we must affirm faith—not in God—but in a changeable scientific construct? Especially after what should be the unforgettable lesson of the church rejecting a round earth because the Bible states there are four corners to it.

Spiritual things are spiritually discerned.

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I often disagree with Loren, even vehemently, but on this one, I am in at least partial agreement.

What is faith if there is not some contradicting evidence? Faith does not rest on proof, but on evidence. Is there evidence fro a young earth? Well, I would say, not so much scientific, although there is some. The most convincing is the evidence that the Bible is true in other areas: the evidence of a changed life and the prophecies of Daniel, and those showing that Jesus was the Messiah. These are pretty convincing, or at least are quite solid evidences. But they are not proofs, and can be contradicted, that is, there is contradictory evidence.

Denying a short Creation, though, calls into question Jesus veracity, and Paul’s arguments about salvation in Romans 5, which are foundational. And the Sabbath, and the Fall.

For those of you interested in knowing some of the weaknesses of the science, spend some time on the Uncommon Descent website. I have found them the most useful at showing the weaknesses of evolution, and of the evidences for it, and common descent, which has been abandoned by some scientists on the basis of some strong contradicting evidence. In other words, the “evolutionary tree” is not a tree, (like with one trunk on which originate all life) but a bush, with multiple origins. That is much closer to the Creation story.

And they have some pretty animated arguments over on Adventist Today.

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I think if we are honest we have to be willing to live with ambiguity. God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, so it is hubris to say we can understand how God created the world. I have found Fritz Guy’s and Brian Bull’s book, Understanding Genesis, very helpful. Far from being master-geneticists, our early forefathers were ignorant of much scientific information that we know today. The good thing about science is that when it discovers something new it is willing to replace former understanding. It is easy for me to read Genesis 1-8 as oral history that utilized the understanding of those days and was eventually committed to writing. I am willing to wait till God explains it personally in heaven.

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