Perspective: Clarifying "Understanding Ice Core Science"

The Record is the official publication of the Adventist Church in Australasia. The March 7, 2015 issue featured an article titled "Understanding Ice Core Science," by Dr Sven Ostring, on pages 16 & 17. Further discussion of this article seems vital, because it relates to a proper understanding of Genesis and an accurate understanding of the aims of science, and hence, the relation between science and the Bible.

Our clarification brings critical facts about ice cores into focus. In Greenland and Antarctica great ice sheets are present and cores have been removed in sections, which collectively reach a depth of about 3 km. In the Greenland ice cores, annual layers can be counted back to 90,000 years before the present (BP) and there is yet more ice below.1 The isotopic composition of the ice and studies of the trapped gases have yielded much information regarding past climate. Since the ice core record extends back in time to beyond Creation Week (about 6,000 years BP), it is commendable to assess ice core findings critically as done in the Record. Others have done this before and the authors of this clarification do so in support of both science and the Bible. However, our overall conclusions differ from those of the Record. We hope these clarifying comments will be taken as constructive so that the discussion is elevated beyond argument, and that it does reveal harmony between science and the Bible. We are encouraged by a quotation from Patriarchs and Prophets:

Science opens new wonders to our view; she soars high, and explores new depths; but she brings nothing from her research that conflicts with divine revelation. Ignorance may seek to support false views of God by appeals to science, but the book of nature and the written word shed light upon each other (p. 115)."

Before critical counting of ice core layers began, sound evidence indicated that each layer almost invariably represented one year.2 The accuracy of the counting of layers has been confirmed by the layer specific occurrence of volcanic ash from dated eruptions, by geochemistry, and by sudden climate changes independently dated by other methods and also dated by the ice core layers. All these methods contributed to confirmation of counting before 2,000 BP, which was extended back to 74,000 years BP at the Toba eruption. The Greenland ice cores indicate that an ice age terminated about 11,700 years BP but the Antarctic ice cores and the ocean sediment layers, which date further back in time, indicate the occurrence of recurring ice ages.3

Because the age of the Earth revealed by ice core layers appears to be inconsistent with some theological opinions, for example, the young earth creationist (YEC) belief that the planet originated 6,000 years BP at Creation Week, attempts appear to be made to discredit ice core science. It appears that YEC have resorted to inaccurate reporting and misquotation of science articles in an attempt to support their views. Their approach is illustrated below with reference to the published Record article.

Based on misquotation, the Record states, for example, that scientists assumed each ice core layer represented one year, that Richard Alley states we could all be fooled today by the ice core data, that laser light scattering creates serious errors in layer counting, that layer counting has not been verified beyond 2,000 years BP, and that "scientific conclusions are based on unverifiable assumptions, reductionist models and equivocal data." The above have no valid basis and are the product of out-of-context statements, misquotation and biased views. The following quotation from the Record serves as an example:

Richard Alley has noted 'Agreement [between these parameters] does not prove accuracy, however; perhaps all of us were being fooled in the same way.' Alley, R. The Two-Mile Time Machine, p. 57. He is referring to the reality that we could all be fooled by scientific assumptions and models being used to interpret the data."

Alley was not providing comment for us today as implied by the Record. He was referring to a time early in their research (ca 1990) when they were uncertain of the accuracy of the layer counts. The next sentence (omitted by the Record) in his book reads: "To check for this possibility, we needed to look for other help." They did—and they found it—independently dated climate changes, and historically dated volcanic eruptions, to serve as reference points for comparison with their own data. The agreement was excellent. They were not being fooled. Richard Alley's words have been taken out of context to create doubt in the minds of Record readers. Why?

We could go on in this vein, but that only becomes tedious. It is more meaningful to assess what ice core science really tells us, especially in relation to Creation. It is relevant to note that all the science references except one quoted in the original Record article are pre-2000 vintage. The discussions are mainly of the early Greenland ice core GISP2—"one ice core illustrates the process", the author says—and the Record appears to be quite critical of this pioneering work. However, six major ice cores have now been drilled in Greenland, nine in Antarctica and four in Canada, nearly all made independently and all critically assessed. A total of nineteen ice cores drilled, and the results all correlate and are in close agreement with the pioneering work described by Richard Alley.

When one considers the entire picture more fully and more carefully, as hinted at above, a view emerges concerning ice cores that differs quite markedly from that published in the Record. The emergent view, we suggest, is one of great achievement, meticulous science and innovative ideas regarding the planet Earth. The results may not agree with some theological views, but they are an honest attempt to arrive at accurate information concerning our environment. Similar accuracy by theologians would be welcome, but often appears lacking in statements on science by YEC. A firm belief in theology does not give licence to misquote science in order to support belief. Nor does it give the right to promote, in a scriptural setting, ideas that are essentially speculative and lack a biblical basis. The post-flood ice age is an example.

The Record article initially asks an important question:

But does the history [of the earth's climate as revealed by ice cores] they are finding disprove the biblical account of earth's history?"

This question was not addressed directly and consequently not answered, so perhaps we can venture an answer, which is: No! In fact, ice core studies and other science support the Bible as we discuss below, and this science also assists in defining creation theology.

There is a problem in the interpretation of Genesis 1:1-3. Is Genesis 1:1-2 part of Creation Week? This question appears to have perplexed theologians for centuries and no resolution seems to be in sight. Although several lines of Scriptural evidence, discussed clearly by Davidson,4 indicate that Genesis 1:1-2 occurred before Creation Week of Genesis 1:3-2:4, an unequivocal resolution has not been achieved.4

That suggests it is time to consult God's other (second) book, the book of Nature. When this is done, a clear resolution appears and the harmony of science with the Bible is confirmed. Thus studies of ocean floor sediments, the dating of rocks by modern methods, and now the ice core record, establish that the planet Earth was created "in the beginning" (Genesis 1:1), long before Creation Week of Genesis 1 dated by genealogies at 6,000 years BP (Genesis 5 and 11).

The above diverse studies also provide support for the biblical interpretations of Davidson [] that suggest a temporal separation of verses 1-2 and verse 3 of Genesis 1 (the "Gap" proposal). Davidson notes that Scripture gives no indication how long the "Gap" period was between creation of the universe and Creation Week, of Genesis 1. He suggests "millions or billions of years" which would accord with science. Davidson places Genesis 1 in a broader perspective when he said4:

Furthermore, if the passive gap interpretation is correct (as I have argued above), then the creation of 'the heavens and the earth' during the span of time termed 'in the beginning,' encompassed the whole galactic universe, including the planet Earth in its 'unformed and unfilled' condition (Gen 1:2)."

Returning to the question above that we set out to answer, clearly the ice core science does not disprove any biblical history. The science is in accord with the Gap concept and the occurrence of Creation Week on an "old" Earth. The ice core science is also in accord with the Bible regarding Creation Week as a recent event. Based on biblical chronologies (Genesis 5 and 11), this occurred 6-7,000 years BP. Ice core studies indicate that the last glacial period (Ice Age, glacial maximum about 23,000 years BP) ended 11,700 years BP and the low and very variable temperatures of the glaciation would not be compatible with life in Eden prior to the Fall when temperatures were "mild and uniform" (Patriarchs & Prophets, p. 61). The last 1,300 years of the Ice Age (termed the Younger Dryas) have been further characterised by the ice core studies. For over a millenium, the earth was locked in cold, dry and windy conditions that greatly affected climate and plant growth throughout the Northern Hemisphere.5 However, after the end of the Ice Age and at the beginning of the Holocene, temperatures gradually increased, stabilised about 10,000 years BP and remained remarkably constant thereafter. Based on ice core studies, it is reasonable to propose that Creation Week occurred after 10,000 years BP.

Thus ice core studies have given insight concerning the time when Creation Week occurred on an "old" earth and the climate on the planet in relation to Creation Week. Creation theology has been clarified by ice core science, which is in accord with Scripture.

References:

  1. K.K. Andersen and 49 colleagues, Nature, v. 431, pp. 147-151 (2004). See also: A. Svensson and 7 coworkers, Journal of Geophysical Research (Atmospheres) v. 110, D2 (2005).
  2. R.B. Alley and 11 colleagues, Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 102, pp. 26,367-26,381 (1997).
  3. L. Augustin and 55 colleagues, Nature, v. 429, pp. 623-628 (2004).
  4. R.M. Davidson, "Understanding the 'When' of Creation in Genesis 1-2", in Bryan W. Ball, (Ed.), In the Beginning, Science and Scripture Confirm Creation, Pacific Press Publishing Association, Nampa, Idaho, U.S.A., 2012, Ch. 7, pp. 97-113.
  5. R.B. Alley and P.U. Clark, Annu. Review Earth and Planetary Science, v. 27, pp. 149-182 (1999).

D. Stuart. Letham was awarded a PhD (Birmingham, UK) in organic chemistry in 1955. His subsequent research work included the purification, determination of structure and synthesis of the first naturally occurring cytokinin, compounds that induce cell division in plants. They occur in plants at the level of 1 part per billion (see Letham, Annual Review of Plant Physiology 1967, 1983). He is the author of over 190 refereed papers in biochemistry and plant physiology journals. He retired from the Australian National University 1992 as Professor Emeritus.

Col J. Gibson worked in accounting in industry for a decade before taking an academic position as a senior lecturer in accounting at universities in Australia, New Zealand, and the University of South Pacific (Suva, Fiji). As a natural naturalist from an early age he has been active, as a hobby interest, in helping many professional scientists in fieldwork, and now in retirement still acts as a citizen scientist, which includes field observations and bird photography.

Both authors have discussed the Science/Creation subject for the past few years and thought it was time (obviously after reading a particular Record issue as noted in this article) to put some of their thoughts on this interface into the public arena for others to consider and comment.

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7074
1 Like

Thank you for this interesting article.

For my personal faith the issue of timing is of rather limited importance, yet the issue of truth and truthfulness is. The well documented misrepresentation of sources in the Record well fits a troubling line of similar reports of misrepresentation of facts. Do we as a church really need to resort to such means?

Somehow the authors of the article still try to harmonize schedules of Genesis with science. From a theological perspective I wonder why we can’t see the beauty and meaning of the creation story independently of any “timing” or “schedules”. But then - I certainly respect the scientific search for answers of the authors.

13 Likes

Thank you for your critical discussion of the Record article and proposed counter theory regarding the fit between scientific data and biblical texts. It is important to not only correct factual and rhetorical errors in presentations but to call out deliberate misquoting of authorities. I hope that the Record publishes your response!

But I believe your solution does not go far enough. Your hermeneutic is doomed to uncover even more discrepancies, and only ends in a bog of irreconcilable and conflictual evidences–of which the Ice Ages and “deep time” are only one complication from the scientific side. I much prefer an alternative hermeneutic to the one proposed by your article and Richard Davidson’s essays, such as the one suggested by Guy and Ball in their book.

In summary, a different kind of fit is possible between scientific data and the biblical text. Instead of trying to establish a common timeline between the two, I propose that the types of data are disparate and need not be reconciled on the material or factual levell. The Genesis text is not a scientific or historical or geographical or biological or astronomical text at all, but is representing and transmitting a cultural heritage. Genesis thus presents ancient Hebrew ideas, but even these are provided against the ancient Sumerian and Babylonian worldviews, and have their primary meaning in that relation–not in relation to modern science. Attempts to find historical gaps in the text–such as between Gen 1;1 and the rest of the that story, or between Gen 1 and Gen 2, or make the stars “appear” on the fourth day of creation, etc etc – are residue from this fated idea of chronological integration.

Genesis is a theological text, and its kernel of monotheism lies within the husk of cultural ideas of the ancient near East. To confuse the two is to not understand what texts are, or what theology does. A critical reading of creation stories from Sumer, Babylon, etc shows this very clearly. You should abandon your hope of reconciling Genesis with scientific and historical data --as understood by modern standards–and instead read it in comparison to its cultural and theological predecessors. That is where its meaning arose, and that is where its significance lies.

15 Likes

As Andreas said, the issue of timing is of little importance to my personal faith. I read the Record article, but not delve through it’s sources to confirm what Letham and Gibson have said about it. After, essentially debunking the Record article, the authors go on to suggest that an alternative creation explanation is that the world could be billions of years old, per Gen. 1:1-2, while creation is 6,000 years, Gen. 1: 3-30 and that this eliminates any conflict.

I don’t see how that eliminates conflict. It might eliminate conflict with ice-core dating, but doesn’t address all other forms of conflict between scientific theories and the Biblical version of creation. For example, verses 3-5 are about light, dark and day and night, this is the first day. Does that mean the authors are suggesting that the sun was created after the earth since the light from the sun is what gives us light? The same is true with the sun, moon and stars in verse 4.

On the 3rd day God created vegetation and yet there are archeological records of plants predating the Ordovician Period of some 400 million years ago

My point is the author’s attempt to create a narrative that matches science and the Bible, but only in one tiny area without addressing all the related concerns regarding timing. I do not see that their hypothesis in fact “clarifies creation week theology”, rather it’s an unsupported alternate theory that is at odds with the rest of the scientific evidence regarding the development of the earth.

I welcome a chance to see science and Scripture match. But I don’t see that this is it. Nor does this affect my faith in God.

4 Likes

Ice core dating is far from something which can produce reliable results. Your own Spectrum regular Andre Reis wrote about this a couple of years ago.

Here’s a good place to start when it comes to deconstructing ice core dating:

http://creation.com/ice-cores-vs-the-flood

1 Like

By definition, an ideology is ‘the body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, a group, a class, or a culture.’

YEC is an element of an ideology of people who need for and aspire to the earth having been created by fiat 6,000 years ago.

What is the need that results in the YEC ideology?

We do well to consider such a need, and then address it, rather than approach an ideologist with a defense of our belief that they are wrong.

So let’s concede that we will not argue against YEC.

Let’s acknowledge that God could very well have 6,000 years ago created the whole of the universe and created it to be and to be functioning as old as it looks in the very first instant of its existence.

The question that remains, then, is what need is being served by believing that this explains the universe as we observe it?

This the where the conversation will become most fruitful in finding common ground it seems. And common ground is a worthy goal.

2 Likes

This type of misquoting is nothing short of deceptive. And while the editorial staff at Record would not be sufficiently knowledgeable of the subject material to have been aware of this, it does highlight the care that needs to be taken when publishing articles of a specialized or technical nature, particularly when the view being expressed is counter to the prevailing science. It would be interesting to know whether Record had this article reviewed by an Adventist scientist with knowledge in the field, prior to publication.

Then there is the question about the author’s own qualifications in the field in which he’s writing. It is easy to assume that if he’s writing a specialized article and has the title of “Dr”, that he would have a research background germane to the subject on which he’s writing. The only information Record provides about the author is “Dr Sven Ostring is director of Personal Ministries, Sabbath School, Stewardship and Discipleship for the Greater Sydney Conference.”, at the footer of the article. Elsewhere I was able to learn that he was formerly a university chaplain, and prior to that a university lecturer in Electrical Engineering. (see link below)

http://sydney.edu.au/chaplains/chaplains/adventist.shtml

As suggested by at least one other commenter, it would be good if Record would publish this critique.

5 Likes

I dealt with this issue a while back. Ice core science is far from conclusive.

http://spectrummagazine.org/article/andré-reis/2012/11/20/drilling-little-deeper-how-long-has-snow-fallen-greenland

2 Likes

thx for this reference to michael oard’s “ice cores vs. the flood”, pago…every time i read a thorough analysis of the problems under-girding the various methods used to establish deep time, i become even more convinced that creationists do not need to cede ground to evolutionists, such as this gap theory article by letham and gibson appears to attempt to do…i think the real problem is evolutionists’ blind reliance on their uniformity principle, which of course obviates a catastrophic world-wide flood…michael describes this problem well in his concluding paragraph:

“If one starts with the uniformitarian paradigm, it is easy to see how the various methods appear to be corroborating. However, when one steps back and questions the unspoken starting assumptions and allows the parameters to vary by the full range available, completely different consistent results can be obtained. This shows the importance of where we start. The Bible claims to be a reliable historical record and this history from the very beginning was attested to by Christ and the Apostles. Thus, it is a logical starting position from which to create our worldview. On the other hand, belief in deep time may be internally reinforcing, but has no external reference point. Either must be accepted by faith, only one will be right.”

1 Like

I appreciate the tone and reasoning of the article, and the appeal to integrity. Nevertheless, it misses the issues of translational variations and disagreements between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3.

The latter tells us that creation was finished in a day (Gen 2:4), that primitive animals could talk (no Satan in Genesis), and that there was no plant life before humans and animals (Gen 2:4-5).

Historicity doesn’t fit well with pre-history stories.

6 Likes

On the “Other Side”, Ron Simpson stated:
19 ice cores from different places tell the same story.
Tree rings tell the same story.
Cave stalagmites/stalagtites have rings that tell the same story.
God made hundreds of clocks that record time and events.
Either God’s clocks work or man has misunderstood the creation story.


My response:
Ron: what you have stated is a problem.
"God created hundreds of clocks, and EACH record Time and Events."
Then we attempt to interface these Clocks not only with Each Other, BUT also with the written word that comes to us through Jewish Culture over several thousands of years.
It makes us realize how little we do know about “In beginning God created…” and what “6days” of Exodus 20 actually means.
How do stories from the Crescent Circle over millenia, interface with stories that are not told about the rest of the Planet Earth except by Scientific Observations?

4 Likes

verse 6 of Genisis 1 indicates that waters preceded creation week. since water can appear as a gas, liquid or solid.There is no indication of the forms of that pre existing water. Creation is recent in terms of God. distant in terms of man’s life span. what science has not proved is the evolution of simple life forms to man. Tom Z

2 Likes

I commend the authors (Letham and Gibson) for highlighting the dishonesty with which some creationist authors use the scientific literature to fool their followers and bolster their “faith”. It is understandable that scientists are upset when scientists are misrepresented in this way.

However, I suspect that creationists* are equally disturbed when scientists misrepresent creationist authors. Thus, creationists may be unhappy that the authors quoted Ellen White (PP 115) without considering the full scope of her work, which leaves little doubt that White was essentially a young earth creationist. When it comes to reconciling science and religion, she was quick to dismiss “false” science, noting that “true” science always agrees with the Word of God (and in that respect she meant a 6000 year old earth created in 6 days, not the “tens of thousands” of year old earth of the “infidel geologists”). For Ellen White (CT 530), scientific data can only be correctly interpreted by aid of the Holy Spirit—a notion that strikes at the heart of modern scientific self-understanding, not to mention the evidence of scientific achievements by atheists and others without soliciting the Holy Spirit’s aid (see also FE 328, 329). Scientific attempts to explain climate change are doomed, according to White (TT6, 408), since they ignore the true cause (God, or his withdrawal).

The authors argue that the introduction of a temporal gap between Gen. 1:1-2 and 1:3 resolves the apparent contradiction between science and religion, noting that, “studies of ocean floor sediments, the dating of rocks by modern methods, and now the ice core record, establish that the planet Earth was created ‘in the beginning’ (Genesis 1:1), long before Creation Week of Genesis 1 dated by genealogies at 6,000 years BP (Genesis 5 and 11).” However, those dated rocks include sedimentary rock and fossils, which the overwhelming majority of experts believe support the evolutionary hypothesis and not the young life creationist interpretation.

Davidson, a creationist and biblical literalist, would likely be surprised to learn that his “passive gap” interpretation was used to argue that the scientific interpretation of ice core data is consistent with biblical history. The authors write, “clearly the ice core science does not disprove any biblical history.” Yet, ice core data include pollen and other evidence of life from well before 6000 BP. Thus, the biblical history to which they refer is certainly not the literal 6-day recent creation of life that Davidson and other YEC/YLC creationists believe the Bible teaches, let alone one about 6000 years ago.

Contrary to the authors, ice core evidence for the end of the last glacial period does not bear on the timing of life in Eden. For one thing, we don’t know at what latitude Eden was located or the extent to which it was affected by glaciation. Additionally, I am not aware of any credible scientists who hold that life could not exist during the glacial period. Glaciation did not cover the entire earth, and not only other animals (wooly mammoth, etc.), but man also, adapted to cold climates. European artifacts support the existence of man during prehistory in southern France around 24,000 BP, and many scientists believe that man used ice bridges to cross into North America.

The authors seem reluctant to let science fully inform the Bible and its interpretation. The scientific consensus describes a process of evolution over eons, not a literal creation week even if it follows on the heels of a separate, earlier Gen. 1:1-3 planetary creation. As Bull and Guy have pointed out (God, Sky & Land), contrary to Davidson, Gen. 1:1-3 did not describe an earlier planetary creation to the first hearers of Genesis, but was a summation of that which followed. This, together with evidence of life in deep time, suggests that reconciliation of science and religion requires rethinking the nature of inspiration and scripture. The human aspects of the biblical authors (and Ellen White), embued with the philosophy and understanding of their age, become more prominent. (Graeme Sharock makes this point in his response, which I agree with).

Though there is much to commend this article, and I thank the authors for their contribution, in the end I think it fails for the same reasons as the original Record article: it marshals facts and quotations selectively in support of its position, rather than grappling with the full range of material in context.

*I use the term “creationist” to refer to those holding a YEC/YLC view.

4 Likes

Prof Letham is probably one of Adventisms most accomplished Australian scientists with a publication record that includes 5 paper in Nature and Fellow of the Australian Academy of science. What he and Col Gibson have written here in response to a record article should not be taken lightly and I applaud the continuing contribution of committed Adventists with expertise to the current discussion of Adventism’s response to the reality of a world increasingly understood by the process of science based as it is on methodological naturalism. The forum for such contribution however seems to be limited. Comment in the record seems to be restricted to a coterie of authorized Intellectuals which according to the editor of the record “include intellectual giants like Dr John Ashton, Dr Grenville Kent, Dr Sven Ostring, Dr Ross Grant and my brother, Dr Timothy Standish”. http://record.net.au/items/build

It would be interesting to if the record would publish a critique such as Letham and Gibsons now that the editor seems to have embraced a more open and candid reflection on the state of the church. http://record.net.au/items/thoughts

The position that Letham and Gibson take affirming the scientific validity of the ice cores back at least 74k years and a creation of life in a period since the last ice age is not however without its scientific critique. Under this model one would predict that the ice cores should according to the standard YLC model that Letham and Gibson seem to support , no tree or grass pollens or bacteria before 10000 years in the ice cores. This does not appear to be the case as bacteria in the NEEM ice core extends as far back to the earliest cores at the 60000 year mark http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24450335 and pollen has been described well beyond the 10000 year predicted by the modified YLC model. Either we continue to discount scientists that have produced the work on ice cores (and all other science indicating deep time) as Ostring would appear to do but which accomplished scientists like Letham will find disquietening or we look again at the provenance and message of the Genesis account as people like Walton, Guy, Bull, Osborn and Gerraty have urged in their publications and discussions at this site.

We as a church community cannot afford to play the zero sum game and advance creedal statements over the conscience of those who have expertise and knowledge and who remain faithful to our community of believers. On this James Standish is absolutely right;

“Which goes to my greater concern—our drift from our radical Reformation roots. We believe God speaks to all. But we voted to shut down the conscience of others. We have no creed but the Bible. But we spent an inordinate amount of time debating jots and tittles in Fundamental Beliefs. As a movement, we are drifting very dangerously into the hierarchicalism, formalism and dogmatism that our pioneers explicitly rejected.” http://record.net.au/items/thoughts

7 Likes

This article and the comments made are informative and serve to highlight a variety of viewpoints concerning my understanding of origins. After much study and thought given to this topic one thing remains absolutely clear to me: Genesis is not a make-believe story of the beginning of things but a factual history of the origin of everything. God as my heavenly Father and Creator are the foundation of my spiritual journey. My understanding of science is does not dictate my faith. “In the beginning” is not simply an introductory phrase like “once upon a time.” It is a solemn affirmation that God created everything from nothing (ex nihilo). The familiar opening verse of Genesis is not a guess or theory about how creation came to be; it is a statement of what truly was for me, I am in AWE of God. I don’t have to figure out the intricacies or details of God’s creation work. For me to remain in AWE is enough. Rudolf Otto the German theologian said it “is the only way to love and respect God, to reain in awe of him.” from his book “The Idea of The Holy” I realize that may not be enough for others, but it is sufficient for me.In reading a book by Michael Shermer I came across this great quote which informs my understanding of AWE in God’s work in creation.

― Michael Shermer, Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design
“How can we find spiritual meaning in a scientific worldview? Spirituality is a way of being in the world, a sense of one’s place in the cosmos, a relationship to that which extends beyond oneself. . . . Does scientific explanation of the world diminish its spiritual beauty? I think not. Science and spirituality are complementary, not conflicting; additive, not detractive. Anything that generates a sense of awe may be a source of spirituality. Science does this in spades. (158-159)”

1 Like

I find it antithetical to refer to Rudolf Otto’s appeal for the numinous in our worship, and even description of God, while claiming scientific accuracy of the Genesis story of creation. His entire book, The idea of the Holy, reflects on the irrationality of God which inspires awe. It is the same quality C.S. Lewis was so keenly aware of in his youth; and was ever illusive in his later years. Lewis’ Pilgrim’s Regress was entirely dedicated for the search of the numinous.

Is creation less mysterious, less awe inspiring when combined with the science we are aware of? Is the study of the sciences somehow disrespectful to God? The opening verses of Genesis are not, as you say, guesswork or a theory about creation; but it is a description that any man, in any age can relate to as a statement of faith - not process. Process is the job of science as we “reason together” with God’s “second book” as Adventism likes to call it, while not abiding by it.

Adventist treatment of God and the spiritual realm He occupies has nothing to do with the numinous experience Otto is referring to. Just the opposite, God has been anthropomorphized so we can relate to “Him” as “old man with a long white beard” sitting on a throne in a specific room; and His Son, moving from room to room in the literal heavenly sanctuary. - nothing numinous about it.

I, too, have studied origins; and it is absolutely clear to me that God can’t explain how He created this universe so we can understand it. All He is asking, is for us to acknowledge His sovereignty as our Creator and sustainer, worthy of our worship and awe.

Jesus is the rational expression of an irrational God - not the story of creation.

4 Likes

I agree with Prof. Johnston that references to other authors must be honest on the part of all. These days “spinning” is the common currency, much to the defeat of honesty.

I also agree with those who point out that the effort of the authors to provide a scientific understanding of the matter which is in accord with Scripture is a misguided endeavor doom to failure.

The effort to harmonize scientific findings with the account of Genesis 1: 1-4:4a on the basis of the the argument presented by Guy and Ball in their book, based on the work of John Walton, fails to convince because it presupposes that the author of Genesis made a distinction between matter and form, something which the ancient Hebrews did not make until the Greeks taught them about it.

What needs to be taken seriously is not what science says today or may say tomorrow, and it is a certainty that tomorrow it will say something different from what it says today. What needs to be taken seriously by people of faith is what the Scriptures say about creation and God as Creator. To reduce the biblical teaching about creation to the first two or three chapters of Genesis is to willfully be dishonest. As I said at the beginning of this post, all must be honest when claiming to represent others. To select a passage and ignore the rest is not the way to go. Some time back I wrote a series of columns in this page about the different views of creation in Scripture. They were polished and enlarged into a book, Creation in Scripture. Claims to present the evidence of Scripture which do not take all of Scripture into account lack credibility.

Herold Weiss

3 Likes

Robert Johnston makes the following comment:

“Scientific attempts to explain climate change are doomed, according to White (TT6, 408), since they ignore the true cause (God, or his withdrawal).”

This observation is but one of many, on both sides of the climate change debate, which leaves me puzzled. In what way does man-made climate change contradict the belief that God is withdrawing His protective care in these last days from humanity and from nature? The book of Revelation, after all, speaks of how God will “destroy them which destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:18). Often, in sacred history, God’s withdrawal of protection is made manifest in destructive human activity.

Equally baffling to me is the notion that belief in macro-evolution and deep time so far as origins are concerned, is the logical and necessary ideological companion of belief in man-made climate change. Particularly is this a strange notion in light of the fact that climate change theory, as I understand it, speaks of human destruction of the environment as occurring primarily within the past several hundred years, not in deep evolutionary time.

Sadly, most of the conservative Christian objections to the reality of man-made climate change which I have encountered, have less to do with perceived association with evolution than with knee-jerk revulsion to any perception of a global problem which might require international cooperation at the expense of American capitalism, whose perogatives these seem to consider sacred and whose regulation by government they find intolerable for just about any reason. Secular conservative sociopolitical ideology, not a literal understanding of the Bible, is what I have found to be the principal impediment between these folks and acceptance of the scientific data regarding man-made climate change.

5 Likes

Any evidence that disrupts a vested paradigm can be very unsettling. For most of my life I have simply relied upon the Church’s master narrative that creation was a very recent event. A number of years ago I commenced investigation of the actual scientific evidence for the earth having been around for a very long time. Initially I was primarily interested in finding ways to support my young earth creationist views, but over time it became clear to me that if I was to be objective about this matter it would be necessary to modify my views.

As most regular readers will know, I ran a fairly lengthy series a while back titled “Bringing Genesis to the Real World” as push back against forces in the Church intent upon ignoring key scientific findings. The purpose of this series was not to diminish the overriding thrust of Genesis, but simple to highlight the vast body of knowledge now available that should convey the wisdom of avoiding dogmatic positions on the age of the earth. Those who have even an elementary understanding of epistemology will recognize the importance of modesty in this regard. It may be that some of the current conclusions of science will need modification down the line, but what seems fairly secure at this stage is any potential necessity for future scientific revision of the conclusion that earth and life came into existence a very long time ago. The evidence on multiple fronts simply appears overwhelming, and ice core data is a part of this mosaic.

Beyond the ice core data, I would suggest further that both the age of earth and life is most clearly demonstrated in the evidence found in the world’s oceans, where microscopic organisms multiply on the ocean floor at a rate that demonstrates the life and death cycle having existed for millions of years. Further study on this can be found in the volume “God’s Time-Records in Ancient Sediments” by Dan Wonderly, a Christian geologist. This is a somewhat dated volume, but has been cited approvingly in a very recent book written by two geologists with terminal degrees, thus suggesting that in the main, the findings outlined in this volume still hold currency. Anyone who gives study to the data represented in this volume will have some understanding of what the YEC/YLC position is up against. It is not a pretty picture.

As the realities continue to tear at the fabric of the traditional Adventist master narrative, the question arises as to how we should respond? We can act in lock-step like lemmings and deny the scientific data, as well as the consensus developed around it, as if we can “will” some other reality into existence. Alternatively we can start living in the real world and seek to find ways to create a new master narrative that is open to the actual evidence found in God’s book of nature. A third more nuanced possibility is to maintain respect for both the traditional master narrative and scientific understandings, and simply maintain a position that is tentative, hoping that in time a way can be found to integrate the data with traditional understandings.

Unfortunately, the Church has corporately chosen the path of folly by taking the first of these approaches, with the Record article illustrating this point–as well as the recent ill-advised changes to FB-6. There will be a day of reckoning and in the interim a lot of lives will be impacted negatively as the weight of the evidence continues to roll in. We can do better, and this can be accomplished by Church administrators offering both objectivity and candor to the membership.

10 Likes

I beg the moderator’s forgiveness if I interject a second comment to clear up a case of mistaken identity: I am not “Prof. Johnston”. I am Robert T. Johnston, a retired industrial research chemist. I believe Herold Weiss is referring to Prof. Robert M. Johnston at Andrews University. If Prof. Johnston should choose to comment on this topic, he would no doubt do so much more elegantly than I did.

2 Likes