Molleurus Couperus (1906–1998) — Founding Editor of Spectrum

Editor’s Note: This profile of Molleurus Couperus, founding editor of Spectrum, was written by James L. Hayward for the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists (ESDA). It is reprinted here with permission from the ESDA.

Molleurus Couperus was a professor of dermatology at Loma Linda University during the mid-twentieth century. He enjoyed broad interests, especially those involving issues related to science and faith. He served as the founding editor of the independent Adventist journal Spectrum.

Early Life, Education, and Profession

Molleurus Couperus was born in Essen, Germany on January 17, 1906, although he spent most of his childhood years in the Netherlands. When he reached college age, he immigrated to the United States to attend Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University). After completing a Bachelor of Arts degree with a “Literary” major in 1927, he served for one year as a missionary in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Upon finishing his year in Southeast Asia, he returned to the United States to continue his education at the College of Medical Evangelists (now Loma Linda University), graduating with an MD in 1934.1

Over the next several years Couperus studied at Edinburgh University, Scotland, took three years of specialty training in dermatology at Columbia University, New York City, and began teaching at Loma Linda University in 1942, after earning board certification in dermatology. He taught dermatology at Loma Linda until granted emeritus status in 1981; from 1973 to 1977 he served as chief of the Dermatology Section of the Department of Medicine. He was described by colleagues as unfailingly cheerful, courteous, affable, capable, intelligent, polite, and caring.2

Avocational Interests, Affiliations, and Travels

Couperus enjoyed broad interests and traveled widely. In addition to his professional teaching and clinical practice, Couperus studied theology, translated works from English to other languages, and took special interest in issues related to science and religion. Aside from his responsibilities at the medical school, the relationship between science and religion attracted most of his attention. He developed expertise in physical anthropology, particularly paleoanthropology, and he taught a course in physical anthropology for many years at the University of California, Los Angeles. His extensive international travels provided him with many adventures. During one trip to the Middle East, he was asked to treat the ailing grandson of Jordan’s King Abdullah I, Hussein. Years later, having ascended to the throne, King Hussein thanked Couperus for saving his life.3

Participation with Issues Related to Science and Faith

As a young man, Couperus defended traditional views of Seventh-day Adventist creationism, similar to those of his contemporary, George McCready Price. In a 1942 article in Ministry magazine, Couperus, still in his dermatological residency at Columbia University, praised Price, writing that “it is gratifying to know that the ceaseless toil and labor of many years of research and writing by Professor Price have not been in vain, and are bearing a rich fruitage.” Couperus challenged fellow Adventists to continue to “take a leading part in the fight against the theory of evolution… since we find few outside the ranks of Seventh-day Adventists defending the account of creation as written in Genesis.”4 As a means of educating himself about the issues involved, he attended lectures at Columbia delivered by Theodosius Dobzhansky, the Russian émigré who played a major role in the “modern synthesis” of evolutionary theory. Couperus also developed a keen interest in radiometric dating, believing that the truth or falsity of the entire theory of evolution was based on the age of the rock layers and the fossils they contained.5

After moving to southern California in the early 1940s, Couperus became an active member of the Society for the Study of Creation, the Deluge, and Related Science, also known as the Deluge Geology Society (DGS). The DGS was the brainchild of Price and like-minded friends, mostly Seventh-day Adventists, who defended the view that creation of both earth and life occurred a few thousand years ago, thus negating the possibility there was sufficient time for organic evolution to have taken place. In this view the great flood described in Genesis was responsible for most fossils and the rock layers in which they are preserved.6

Beginning about 1943, a controversy developed among DGS members involving the question of when the material of the earth was created. Some members were adamant that both the substance of the earth and the life it supports were created ex nihilo only a few thousand years ago. Given his understanding of radiometric dating, however, Couperus was not so sure. He believed there was ample time for the billions of years demanded by radiometric dating between the “In the beginning” described in Genesis 1:1 and the creation of life. George McCready Price himself temporarily became convinced by Couperus’s logic and evidence, stating that “the body of the earth had existed long before Creation Week,” and estimating the universe to be “about 2,000 million years” old. But Couperus’s defense of this “gap theory” perspective greatly stressed some of his more conservative colleagues in DGS.7

Fallout from the DGS controversy led to reorganization of the society under a different name, the Natural Science Society, which published a new, short-lived journal, the Forum for the Correlation of Science with the Bible, to which Couperus was appointed editor in 1946. Only two volumes, 1946–1948, were published, both of which featured articles addressing the age of the earth. “Young earth” and “old earth” advocates contributed articles and rebuttals, including a piece from Couperus. Much of his article was a discussion of the meaning of various Hebrew words used in Genesis predicated on the assumption that “there was some reason in the mind of God why certain words were used to express the inspired thought instead of some other word.” From his word study, Couperus concluded that “‘in the beginning’ refers to a time which preceded the six days of creation, and that the Bible gives us no information as to when this beginning was.”8

In the 1950s Couperus began attending professional meetings for anthropologists, and he took coursework in physical anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. In the 1960s he developed a friendship with Louis B. Leakey (1903–1972), the internationally known paleoanthropologist from Kenya, and spent significant time with Leakey studying fossil hominins in East Africa. As Couperus immersed himself more deeply in professional anthropology his views diverged from the positions of his former DGS colleagues. He quietly shifted to the view that God had used natural processes over a long period of time to create the diversity of life we see today.9

Founding Editor of Spectrum

In 1967 a group of graduate students and church leaders developed plans for an organization that would serve the intellectual needs of Adventist graduate students. They took the name the Association of Adventist Forums and christened its journal Spectrum. Couperus served as the journal’s first editor from 1969 to 1975, a role he considered to be his most important contribution to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Many of the articles he solicited and published during those first years reflected his long-standing interest in theology and the history of the earth and life.10

In 1980, a year before earning emeritus professorship at Loma Linda University, Couperus authored a retrospective entitled “Tensions between Science and Religion” for the journal Spectrum. After suggesting that the “apparent fixation [of Adventists] on the issue of time invites comment,” he went on to ask, “Was it overblown and unnecessary? Many Adventists would say ‘yes.’ Surely time is intrinsically of limited importance to our understanding of God’s nature and character. Are not 1,000 years as a day for God?” He concluded by contemplating the impact the concept of extended time would have on Adventist perspectives:

Most participants in the debate about origins sensed that if modern science is right about time, Adventists will probably have to do theology differently. Furthermore, some of the most knowledgeable scientists suggested that if science is right about time, Adventists will probably have to reevaluate the church’s posture relative to many scientific theories that model the origin of our world as we know it. The ‘when’ and ‘how’ of origins are not easy to disentangle…. Can the tensions over origins in Adventism be defused—either theologically or scientifically? How will the church ultimately come to terms with these issues? In more ways than one, time will be telling.11

This exemplifies Couperus’s prose style, which was vigorous, erudite, often eloquent, and clear. He could be quite persuasive, yet the positions he propounded are still held only by a minority of Seventh-day Adventists; he had, indeed, helped to give rise to the “tensions over origins” that he wrote about in 1980. Nevertheless, in contributing to important conversations about Creation and the relationship between faith and science, Couperus did a service to the Church, even though he generated considerable controversy.

Death and Legacy

Molleurus Couperus died in Loma Linda, California on January 31, 1998 at age 92, having participated in Adventism’s science-faith discussions for more than a half century. He was not as widely known as other Adventist science-faith apologists. Most of his written work was directed toward fellow academics rather than the lay public. His influence in shaping the views of Adventist scholars on issues related to earth history was significant.12 He also, however, helped to stimulate scholarly debate about a range of other issues, giving a voice to the increasing number of Adventist professionals. The career of Molleurus Couperus in a number of ways exemplifies some trends in late twentieth-century Adventist scholarship, especially in North America. 

 

Sources

Branson, Roy. “Molleurus Couperus’ Grand Adventure.” Spectrum 26, no. 4 (January 1998): 2.

The Cardinal 1927. Berrien Springs, MI: Emmanuel Missionary College, 1927.

Couperus, Molleurus. “The Creation of the Earth.” In The Forum 2 (1948): 97–105. Reprinted in Early Creationist Journals, edited by Ronald L. Numbers, 593–601. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995.

Couperus, Molleurus. “Seventh-day Adventists and Evolution.” Ministry 15, no. 6 (June 1942): 27–29.

Couperus, Molleurus. “Tensions between Science and Religion.” Spectrum 10, no. 4 (March 1980): 74–88.

Mayr, Ernst. The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 1982).

“Molleurus Couperus Collection (Collection 184).” Center for Adventist Research, Andrews University. Accessed August 2, 2017. http://www.centerforadventistresearch.org/manuscripts/

Numbers, Ronald L. The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design. Expanded ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Osborn, Richard C. “The First Decade: The Establishment of the Adventist Forum.” Spectrum 10, no. 4 (March 1980): 42–58.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook 1973. Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1973.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook 1977. Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1977.

 

Notes

1. Molleurus Couperus Collection (Collection 184), Center for Adventist Research, Andrews University, accessed August 2, 2017, http://www.centerforadventistresearch.org/manuscripts/The Cardinal 1927 (Berrien Springs, MI: Emmanuel Missionary College, 1927), 20; Roy Branson, “Molleurus Couperus’ Grand Adventure,” Spectrum 26, no. 3 (January 1992): 2.

2. Molleurus Couperus Collection (Collection 184); Ronald Carter to James L. Hayward, email, October 24, 2016; Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook 1973, “Loma Linda University” (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1973), 317; Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook 1977, “Loma Linda University” (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1977), 355; Branson, “Molleurus Couperus’ Grand Adventure”; Juanita Ritland, unpublished telephone interview with James L. Hayward, October 17, 2016;

3. Branson, “Molleurus Couperus’ Grand Adventure.”

4. Molleurus Couperus, “Seventh-day Adventists and Evolution,” Ministry 15, no. 6 (June 1942): 27–29.

5. Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, expanded ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 154; for information on Dobzhansky, see Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1982), 569.

6. Ibid., 137–142, 154.

7. Ibid., 153–158.

8. Ibid., 156; Molleurus Couperus, “The Creation of the Earth,” in The Forum 2 (1948): 97–105, reprinted in Early Creationist Journals, edited by Ronald L. Numbers (New York: Garland Publishing, 1995), 593–601.

9. Numbers, The Creationists, 159, 160.

10. Richard C. Osborn, “The First Decade: The Establishment of the Adventist Forum,” Spectrum 10, no. 4 (March 1980): 42–58; Branson, “Molleurus Couperus’ Grand Adventure.”

11. Molleurus Couperus, “Tensions between Science and Religion,” Spectrum 10, no. 4 (March 1980): 74–88.

12. Branson, “Molleurus Couperus’ Grand Adventure.”

 

 

James L. Hayward is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Andrews University. He is the author of The Creation-Evolution Controversy: An Annotated Bibliography (1998), selected as an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice, and the memoir Dinosaurs, Volcanoes, and Holy Writ: A Boy-Turned-Scientist Journeys from Fundamentalism to Faith.

Image: Molleurus Couperus. Photo courtesy of Loma Linda University Photo Archive; Department of Archives and Special Collections, Loma Linda University

 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10703
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Spectrum has been a blessing to the SDA community. I can’t imagine what it would be like without Spectrum, and then Adventist Today (@lorenseibold) as well. These two entities force transparency from the SDA Denomination - sometimes being considered “inconvenient” for publishing materials that would otherwise be just hidden from the public.

It’s now about 50 years since I got my first Spectrum Magazine, when I was still a college student in Brazil. Spectrum has been a blessing to me, and a significant source of learning as well. The online experience is time consuming, but it’s worth the “sacrifice” … :innocent:

Thanks Spectrum!

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Dr. Couperus’ treatise on the medical conditions of EGW opened my eyes to other possibilities, for sure. He came from a family of physicians, one of whom delivered me and my siblings into the world. Thank you, Spectrum, for a wonderful article.

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A personal anecdote may be relevant here. As I prepared to attend the special 50th anniversary SPECTRUM Conference at La Sierra University in September 2018 my schedule gave me some extra days there in advance of the conference. I found myself wondering whether I should think of moving to the area “around Loma Linda” at this stage in my life, for it seemed a good place to be finishing the books on Adventism that I have been working on for some years. So I made contact with a realtor and arranged to see some homes for sale to “check out what was available.” One of the homes she took me to was in Loma Linda itself, and while I was checking out the house the realtor looked into some wide drawers in the library, where she found the architect’s plans for the house. When I looked them over I was amazed to see that the home had been built for Molleurus Couperus. As one who has spent almost 50 years heavily involved in Forum chapters, and who had gotten to know both Molleurus and his wife Dos, I thought that such a home had a special meaning to me. I told the realtor I was interested in the house, but within days it was removed from the market. It turned out that the family who owned it had decided to do some renovating before returning it to the market. At almost year-end it became available again, and my partner and I flew to California to see the house. We bought it, and moved in in March 2019. It is not surprising that it is a Dutch house, with a typical Dutch roof line, tiles with Dutch scenes and symbols in bathrooms, and a Delph-made Dutch chandelier in the Kitchen. I had a similar chandelier already, and that now hangs over the dining table. It feels just right for us here.

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Although I appreciate men who do real research, I am skeptical enough to say that the age of the earth cannot be proven by the scientific method. Creation was a singular event.

If we choose to “prove” that life on the earth is young, we are doing so from a religious and not a scientific point of view. “It is written.” End of debate.

If we choose to “prove” that life on earth is very old, we are doing so by starting from observations and cognitive assumptions that may or not be accurate.

If we choose to have it one way in church and the other way in the secular world, we need to be schizophrenic.

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Interesting, Molleurus was born one year after my dad and died one year after my dad did.

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"If we choose to have it one way in church and the other way in the secular world, we need to be schizophrenic."

“Schizophrenia” is a good explanation for how Adventism has handled some things such as EGW. :laughing:

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Much thanks, Spectrum, for such an informative article. I really did not know anything about Couperus- it is fascinating.

I am grateful that Spectrum exists as one of the alternatives to the otherwise biased “official” SDA publications. Many of us have enjoyed the opportunity to both learn and participate.

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It may have been-but we trapped in chronos are at a disadvantage, because we insist on spreading it out over time. Doesn’t really matter if it’s a literal 7 days, a prophetic 1000 years per “day”, or X billion years.

Perhaps-but not certain that discourse, reason, thought terminating cliches either were divine intention, or at all desirable.

I’d offer that if it were “written in stone” it had better be in the native language of God and His created human beings and penned by only His divine finger. We run into trouble quickly if we apply this technique to all writ.

Why do we have this proclivity to remove all doubt, to claim we definitely know everything, let alone anything? Is our faith afraid of fear?

Though few, they were strong supporters of the biblical accounts of the six-day creation and the worldwide deluge:
Martyn Paine (1794-1877) A Review of Theoretical Geology, p. 65, 1856.
Thomas Dick (1774-1857) The Works Thomas Dick, volumes 1-4, p. 126, 1836.
The Christian Observer : (Volume 38, p. 401, 1839).
Henry Cole (1792-1858): Popular Geology subversive of Divine Revelation, pp. 35-37, 1834.
George Bugg (1769-1851): Scriptural Geology; or Geological Phenomena, vol. 2, p. 3, 1827.
Thomas Hartwell Horne (1780-1862): Deism Refuted, pp. 59, 60, 1826.
Henry Cole, George Bugg rank top among these.

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That’s an amazing story, Ron! How wonderful that the house is being appreciated. Thanks for sharing.

You caught me in both a gross error of logic and in wording. How could I know for sure that the creation of matter was a singular event unless I was there–or read the notes of someone who was there?

I believe I am on more sure footing in my belief in six days of creation and a Sabbath because Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy (written by Moses) when he was tempted in the wilderness. In John 10:35, Jesus quoted from the Psalms and said, “and the scripture cannot be broken”.

I have walked a similar path as Molleurus Couperus. I tried my best to synthesize the Bible story with what is in scientific literature. No luck. I had to make a choice. Although I chose the church with all its bumps and rough edges, I have the highest respect for those who have made a different choice.

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Wasn’t hunting or trapping, sorry! I’ll spring the leghold right away. Just asking a question about using thus sayeths so blatantly and literally. The fact God neither gave literature to Adam, nor penned it himself in a verified eyewitness account does introduce confounding qualities.

We probably all see far more dimly than dare we admit, but eye salve is assured!

Thanks, Ron, for this interesting story. What would life be without coincidence and serendipity!

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5th generation SDA, now 83, out of my upbring choosing Medicine and there Psychiatry - Psychosomatics and besides : Expert for the court : I just have to seek my balance between the “world” and the SDA Church bubble ! My living is not to be made with “Ministry of Healing” - the most time; but the Bible is my foundation, always… ( - - tell the judge :" This question I am not going to answer because - - -". !)

THANK YOU; BROTHER COUPERUS; FOR THE MILESTONE YOU SET FOR US !

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Look at the dates of publishing the material ! Dont you have any serious publications one nd a half cenury younger ?

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“Though few, they were strong supporters of the biblical accounts of the six-day creation and the worldwide deluge.” This was my point. I am not referring to those authors who do not believe in bible account of creation. Are you familiar with any one of those authors I have mentioned?

I’d appreciate if could give us some younger authors on this subject.

No, I just refer to the publishing data and reconsrtruct their inetelectual atmosphere .

By the way : The 19th century wa maybe the best time für Bible commentaries ! See the dictionaires ! See Bauer - Danker - Gingrich ! See Harnack ! See Tholucks commentary on the Bokk of Hebrews !

Just expressing gratitude for the life and friendship of Molleurus and Dot Couperus who were at PUC when we were there. Molleurus came back from visiting the Germanic countries after Glacier View and went as a representative and voice for the germanic countries as I understand it (Holland, Germany, Switzerland included). They hope that Des could remain in the denomination and that the church could have differences in belief. Neal Wilson said, ‘We have done what we have done’, and that was that. Molleurus was a courageous voice for the church. God bless his memory and thanks for the article.

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Before thins topic closes, please take notice of tomorrow’s presentation at the “Faith & Reason SS” (Sligo).
=-=-=-=-=-=

Faith and Reason Sabbath School , Sabbath, September 12, 10:00 am. Social hour starts at 9:30. (ET)

This Sabbath, Charles Scriven, “Time to Start Over: Reconstructing Adventism”. Chuck’s conviction is that “thoughtful Adventists need to supplement criticism of conventional doctrine with construction of fresh Adventist perspectives”. For nearly fifty years now Chuck has restlessly stimulated
Adventist enquiry as one of our church’s most prolific and thoughtful theologians. He is a former pastor of Sligo and member of our class among his many previous vocations.

Next Sabbath, September 19. Interview with Dan Jackson , recently retired President of the North

American Division (NAD).

September 26 James Londis, pastor, theologian, author and former member of our class.

October 3, Richard Osborn

October 10, Gilbert Valentine

SSZoom Link: https://adra.zoom.us/j/826609270?pwd=eENoK05MWUdaVVN0aWNDZUYzVThEQT09

Password: @sligo7700 Problems connecting? Call/Text Dona Sandefur at 301.693.7970

See you this Sabbath! . . . Chuck Sandefur

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