This title apparently sounds like a useless and weird question. In fact nobody would answer it affirmatively. That would be too naive and pretentious. But also the negative answers should awaken suspicion and concern. Because what would be the real value of a theological apparatus that so easily gives up the scientific implications of its own theological declarations and beliefs? The SDA church has to deal here with structural tension, as would any other church, between remaining faithful to the Biblical view of origins and the necessity of listening to what our contemporary Science tells us. On one side we don't want to be anti-scientific. That, we sense, would be anti-Biblical. For this reason we teach science in our universities or have created some scientific institutions. But on the other side we don't want to make modern science our new Bible. Nobody will ever be able to dissolve this tension without risking destroying theology and the Bible itself.
But, what happened at Bible & Science meeting in St. George, Utah last August, is not encouraging because it seems that our leaders and the general church are determined to dismantle this structural tension instead of learning to work humbly and patiently within it. It may be the excessively pragmatic accent of our theology and ethics that pushes us to look for immediate and definitive answers. We are allergic to paradoxes, heterogeneity, complexity or long cycles of thought and life, in science as well as in theology. In order to focus on a better way we need to understand and accept the relationship between Adventism and Science.
Let's consider the topic from two different perspectives.
1. Adventism and Science
The relationship between Adventism and Science, as with any religion, is not an easy one. This is due to various factors. One, that transcends culture, is that both entities are comprehensive, not sectarian, enterprises. Both aspire to tell the ultimate truth about reality and human destiny. A second, more specific to our contemporary culture and precisely what Adventism is too easily neglecting, is that Science today is the philosophy of our time. We can't say that we respect contemporary people in order to bring them the Gospel without also taking their Science seriously. What philosophy, ethics or religion represented for other past historical periods, in delineating the “Weltanschauung” and the “Geist” of communities and groups, is done today by contemporary Science.
All this should mandate more careful and open-minded searching and dialogue. We surely don't show respect for contemporary Science just by teaching it in our colleges or by having some scientific institutions (e.g. the Geoscience Research Institute). We tend to use Science to reinforce our own theological agenda. And, the fact that every religious group and secular society usually does the same can't be an alibi for us. To relate correctly to Science shouldn't be an administrative or evangelistic strategy but rather a theological necessity. Because nature, which we call Creation, is never given to us in an immediate form. It is always mediated by Science, and the imperfect scientific categories of our own culture that we use in the street and the marketplace. We cannot say that we love Creation but hate Science. Both, at this level, are synonyms. To respect Science is to respect Creation.
True respect for today’s Science is shown by some more consistent attitudes that represent a real challenge for us. I’ll mention just two of them. The first is respect for Science's autonomy. God's intention concerning the relation between him and his creation (nature and humans) was not intended to be forced by either side. God is in dialogue with his creatures but is not dependent on them. As much as humans and nature are dependent but not determined by God. But while we better understand the category of “human relative autonomy” as a prerequisite of our relation to God, the category of “nature relative autonomy” (the starting point and the sine qua non condition of scientific inquiry) instead is very often overlooked.
The second required attitude is maintenance of a difficult but confident dialogue. Since Christian theology claims to believe in a God who is king, not only of the human soul but also of the universe, we can't deliver a speech on nature – and particularly on nature's foundation, origins and destiny – only within scientific discourse. But in trying to formulate this discourse we are not alone. Science is also there. And we need to understand and take seriously that the relationship between Science and Religion is not merely complementary. It implies also a structural and irreversible tension we can't overlook, dismantle or condemn. We can't use Science only when it supports our religious agenda. This difficult dialogue belongs to the very core and task of theological reasoning. And, instead of becoming immediately apologetic and defensive, we should learn to live in structural tension with Science without losing either our critical capacity or confidence in scientific inquiry.
2. Bible and Science
Science is never static. We observe in history the continuous shift of scientific paradigms. But the same phenomenon actually happens also within the Bible with the description and the understanding of nature. The Biblical message of creation is not given in a monolithic way. There are in the Bible, notwithstanding the cosmocentric view typical of pre-modern times, a diversity of understandings of nature. In fact, we find in the Bible theocentric, anthropocentric and soteriological narratives of creation. Then, what is legitimate inside the Bible becomes also legitimate outside the Bible. There is not just one way of understanding nature either inside or outside the Bible. But the particularity of the Biblical understanding doesn't stop here. It emerges also in processing the two above mentioned attitudes we should have in face of Science: respect for Science's autonomy and maintenance of a confident dialogue.
Nobody will doubt today that the science as understood by the patriarchs was at an embryonic stage. That scientific vision, partially based on the ancient Middle Eastern understanding of the cosmos, was in fact also contaminated with some social superstitions and with some deforming anthropological mechanisms typical of that period. God could have said that that scientific understanding was imperfect and unfit to transmit the message of Creation. But He actually used it, allowing it to communicate the message of Creation in that limited and imperfect scientific perspective. By doing this He affirmed two important facts. On one side He considered that vision as suitable to transmit the essentials of Creation and on the other side this fact didn't legitimize or represent an endorsement of the anomalies and short-circuits of that limited scientific vision.
Concerning the second attitude – that of maintaining an honest and confident dialogue with Science in whatever historical stages –the Bible didn't abandon or declare any scientific period or culture unfit to transmit the message of Creation. Notwithstanding the evident imperfections, God engaged with them in a confident – sometimes direct, sometimes indirect – dialogue in order to communicate to them the essentials of Creation. If the Bible did so in the Biblical times it likewise does the same today. Our scientific version of reality, with all its hypothetical stands and short-circuits, is not less fitted to communicate the essentials of Creation. This fact nevertheless doesn't represent an endorsement of today’s scientific anomalies and mistakes. This is the Biblical base for also maintaining an honest and open dialogue with the evolution-centered science of today. As much as the social anomalies of ancient Israel (e.g. polygamy) were tolerated but not endorsed, also some elements of the patriarchs' scientific vision were tolerated but not endorsed. These Biblical era elements, social or scientific, are surely not mandatory for us today. And the only way of knowing better which elements are or are not mandatory is to engage in an honest and continuous dialogue with current Science.
Following the same Biblical pattern we can't expect today’s Science to be perfect or to become religious before initiating a true dialogue with it. That would be petty, short-sighted and finally anti-Biblical. It's true that current Science has a strong naturalistic character that is visible in the defense of radical Evolutionism. But should this represent an insurmountable obstacle to start a true dialogue with Science? No. If that happens outside with Science, synchronically it will happen also inside with Adventism. We will start looking with suspicion and antipathy to Adventist evolutionists, as we already do with Adventist gays and lesbians or with Adventist women ordained pastors. And that is a deplorable condition that becomes more destructive and alienating to the excluders than to the excluded themselves.
Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher and physician. Currently he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6311