Report: "Age of Life on Earth" Conference — Part 1

“Age of Life on Earth” Conference, Part 1: Acknowledging Tensions, Seeking Dialogue


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11293

If the SDA community, writ large, could abjure our traditional “fundamental belief” time frame on Creation as a precondition for membership or credentials for teachers and pastors. we would be free to enjoy its theological richness and possibly eliminate a dispute that cannot be settled with evidence or a theology of inspiration. There is no way to determine how or why the narrative was written (“dictated by God,” a “vision” from God?), only that it exists and has informed the Hebrew and Christian traditions so powerfully it is treated as “canon” or “authority” for the believers. That is all we can or should declare as “doctrine.”

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Hi Jim
Actually the debate could be ended; either by a reliance on evidence or a reliance on inspiration (magically acquired knowledge claim).

By evidence, the problem could be solved by first recognizing what evidence is and is not. Evidence is the data obtained by observation and testing via the scientific method. “Inspiration”, the Bible, is not evidence; rather, it is the claim. Relying solely upon evidence indicates that the so-called Biblical chronology is baseless.

By relying of inspiration, the problem can be solved by denying actual evidence, searching for “evidence” which seems to confirm one’s prior conclusions, and attempting to denigrate the scientific method.

Reason and faith are incompatible. Choosing one or the other would end the debate. The problem comes from attempting to sit on two chairs with one butt.

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The sabbath commandment in Ex 20 said that God created the " sky, the earth (dry land) and oceans and everything in them in 6 days". What it did not say is how long it was that the earth existed before this 6 day creation. So, lets keep our eyes open.

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Hi Bart, You well understand that “reliance” on evidence cannot verify or falsify metaphysical claims; and by the same token, such claims are not demonstrable or “provable” by empirical evidence. What is most often done is to gather what not only “empirical” (in this case perceptual evidence) but conscious experience (morality,
aesthetics) and inexplicable"facts" of nature (big bang, quantum mechanics, the so-called “fine tuning” some evolutionists point to which they believe moves beyond a strict naturalism or materialism) together and ask: what explanations best account for such “facts” or “phenomena.” Many adopt a thorough-going “materialism” as their ultimate explanation; those that do not go elsewhere, including varieties of “theism” or non-theistic religiously ultimate explanations. If the universe is a “mystery” as a strictly natural/material entity, and one does not feel that adequately accounts for the phenomenologies of human consciousness, and is not a good candidate for self-explanation, other options are possible, but cannot ever be scientifically adjudicated. Faith in one’s metaphysical convictions (Is Process Philosophy magical thinking?) is not “magical” but another way to engage in the quest for understanding. If Genesis alone teaches a “beginning” by a personal God (as opposed to the age of the planet and the explanatory power of evolution for much of what we experience today) that is accepted by faith, but not accepted as completely irrational.

John Walton and BioLogos have done some interesting work along these lines. Of course, Genesis 1:1-2:4a, and the rest of the creation narratives, were written within the cultural matrix of Israel and other Semitic cultures. It was not addressed to us, nor meant to answer our modern scientific or historical questions. It was also meant to help Israel make sense of their present as the people of God, through a theological look at their deep past, not to be a scientific or coldly historical account of origins.

Even the focus on units of seven, while referencing the sabbatical cycle, also pointed to Israel’s tie to the land and the temple, also crucial points of identity and covenant belonging. Temple construction stories in the ANE, were often cast in units of seven, seven days, weeks, years, etc. The garden story fits this mold. Six days of bringing order to sacred space, where God and humans, heaven and earth, would be brought together. The final act, as in any temple construction story, is the bringing of the image of the god into the temple. This was the man and woman themselves, and their calling to be wise managers, bringers of order to all creation. God then comes to rest/reign with and through them, his image bearers out to his entire creation, the symbolic idea of the open ended seventh day in the narrative. This was also Israel’s own calling and vocation, to be God’s image bearers to the entire world.

The ensuing sin, unfaithfulness, alienation, and the exile from paradise of the man and woman later in Genesis, also mirrors Israel’s own history and failure, exiled from the land that was the Edenic land of milk and honey because of their own unfaithfulness, the temple lying in ruins, and the loss of access to God’s direct presence among them. It seemed that their entire vocation as the image bearers of God into the world was also lost.

Yet, their hope, like the man and woman in the Genesis narrative, remained in the gracious promise and covenant faithfulness of God. The promise of redemption and restoration that he held out, that was greater than their unfaithfulness. Their calling to bless the world, their election, and hope were rooted in the God who not only judges, but who delights in showing mercy. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more.”

Geological columns, age of the earth, etc., were not on the radar screen for the author(s) or their audience. We read these issues into Genesis. Issues that are simply not there.

Thanks…

Frank

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If we deal with objective metaphysics, as I do, that reality consists of the objective and concrete existence in which we find ourselves, then our task as conscious beings is to determine that which exists and to organize existants into identifiable and conceptually logical categories, as determined by evidence. If you include non-objective propositions as a part of metaphysics, then by definition they can neither be validated or falsified by evidence since they are arbitrary. But to use Hitchen’s razor, “That which can be proposed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” It does not, indeed cannot be accorded the status of knowledge.

Now, back to the subject at hand, the age of life on earth. It is interesting that no “scientist” wished to offer a paper at the event defending a short chronology. I think that even SDA biologists and geologists are beyond trying to defend the indefensible. Maybe I’m wrong.

It is time to recognize that the mystery of the creation story in the Pentateuch is the creation of the story itself. The entirety of the writings and of the authors/editors of the 6th century BC was likely political; to legitimize the current regime and to give an explanation to the people of how they came to be; religion acting as validation for the government. Very little prior to the Babylonian invasion should be considered to be historical. The Pentateuch along with Joshua etc is an establishment myth. From the creation narratives to the flood to the sojourn of Abraham to the slavery in Egypt, to the Exodus to the conquest of the land to the empire of Solomon; it is all part of the establishment myth with no correlation to historical reality. It served the purpose of showing that their tribal god had set them aside as special along with covenant rules; nothing more.

Even for those positing inspiration for the texts, there is a problem. The writers of those scriptures never claimed such. They don’t say where they got their information. “Authority” or inspiration has been claimed on their behalf by those who believed their tales.

The attempt to reconcile these stories with scientific discovery is a fools errand. The stories are claims, not evidence.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I think you would agree that:

A literal garden of Eden with two original ancestors living about 6000 years ago is not reality.
The incredible ages of the first humans listed in Genesis are simply unbelievable.
The story of the flood is just a theological narrative without a basis in history, likely adapted from other legends from surrounding cultures.
El was the most high god of the Canaanite pantheon, also shared by the Hebrews.
The proper method of determining the facts of cosmology, geology, paleontology, genetics, and archaeology is the scientific process of observation and correlation with other disciplines.
In short, the OT is devoid of actual knowledge about the deep past, origins, and chronology. Find personal theological meaning if desired, but the mythical stories lack any validity for gaining knowledge of history and the hard sciences, and contain many, many errors.

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When studying creation and focusing only on Gen 1&2 your study is incomplete. There is much more creation material in the entire bible There is something like 20 other passages that are seldom mentioned. For instance Ps 104 and Job contain many details of creation that are not found in Gen. Gen 1 major contribution is the chronology and sequence of events leading to the creation of Adam and Eve. Here is where Einstein’s equations of general relativity is very helpful Until. he published his thesis the idea of this universe having a beginning was not known. The theory of relativity is one of the most tested theories in astro-physics and establishes that the universe does in fact have a beginning which is clearly stated in Gen 1 “in the beginiing. The question then becomes, when is this bginning. With the development of the telescopes and computer technology, the current measurement has established the age of the universe at 13.71 billion yrs +/ - 30,000 yrs That age is constantly being refined. The age of the earth is roughly 4.5 billion yrs. With that knowledge to suggest that Adam and Eve were created 60 -100,000 yrs ago is reasonable. To try to force the text to say that the universe was created in 6 literal 24 hr days flies in the face of physical reality. The fact the universe has a finite but huge time frame speaks of the nature of God whose existence transcends our finite understanding of time itself. The bible seems to even suggest that God dwells in more than one dimension of time " a thousand yrs is like a day unto the Lord” That statement would make sense if time were a plane and not linear. In a plane of time, yesterday, today and tomorrow are the same instantence That idea is hard to understand because there is no way we can experience it but that doesn’t mean God is limited to our linear time line To me it only adds to the mystery of God and explains how He can be everywhere at once. Finally the days of creation are sequential They are best interpreted as long but finite linear time eras which the hebrew allows since "yom " can be interpreted as an era and not just 24 hrs
Dave Okamura

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[quote=“daveokamura, post:8, topic:21762”]
"the universe does in fact have a beginning which is clearly stated in Gen 1 ‘in the beginning’ ".

It seems that the KJV translation “in the beginning”, although clearly stated, is likely wrongly stated. There are many highly respected translations that support the JPSOA’s version that declares that the six days of Genesis 1 were an upgrade of something already existing, not a claim of *** ex niihilo creatio***.

When God began to create the heaven and the earth–the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water–God said, “Let there be light…” (Gen 1:1-3a, The Torah, The Jewish Publication Society of America)

IOW, the Hebrew of Gen 1 already answered the very question that KJV raises.

A fascinating find was just discovered by Israeli archaeologists; a previously unknown human ancestor from 130,000 years ago. It procreated with both Neanderthals and homo sapiens. Maybe this was Adam? The knee-jerk reaction, as always, will be to attempt to debunk the scientific method when it conflicts with prior conclusions derived from revelation claims…

Fascinating to be sure but pure conjecture. There is evidence to support the existence of both Neanderthals and hominids In the bio-evolutionary model they are considered to be ancestors to homo sapien sapien The evolutionary models requires the belief (not a fact) that there is a common ancestor to all living organic creatures. I think that core tenet is unprovable and requires a “leap of faith” There is no question about the uniqueness of humanity and there is laundry list of qualities that only humans are endowed with not the least of which is bearing the image of the Creator In Genesis the Hebrew word for create is “bara” meaning that it is making something that never existed before I think Hebrew scholarship would support that translation It is reserved for creation (bara) of the universe and creation (bara) of Adam and Eve Other than that is not used elsewhere unless God is the subject. What that tells me God did not make the first humans from pre-existing materials as this discovery seems to claim Sorry, but nice try to remove God from the human ancestry.
Dave Okamura

As you know, modern humans (with the exception of sub-Saharan Africans) have in their genome, small percentages of both Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA (both groups of hominids now extinct except through our own ancestry. My Neanderthal percentage is a bit over 2. Our ancestors mated with the mystery 'Denisovan' people – twice | New Scientist.

This information doesn’t necessitate eliminating a deity from the process, but it does make one seem superfluous, and it is at odds with the Hebrew belief system. Certainly the creation of man ex nihilo flies in the face of the quite evident biological transformations from various pre-human hominids to our current state.

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You are treating Genesis as though it were a credible source for information about origins and ancient history. Why have you taken this position? Do you know who wrote it? No, no one does. The form in which we find it shows editing from multiple sources, and the consensus is that it was compiled in the 6th to 5th centuries BC. Do you know where the authors got their information? Your argumentation indicates that you think it came from from mode of inspiration, yet the anonymous authors don’t claim that. Were they simply gathering legends from their surrounding culture? Were they making up the stories “ex nihhilo”? Later believers who accepted the authority of the writings imposed the concept of special revelation on the composition out of theological necessity. Why would you impute a supernatural source to one particular collection of ancient myths and legends while denying the same to others? On what basis would you assume that in order to find information about earth’s past, one should be informed by the musings of unknown bronze age mystics who are unknown to us and cannot be questioned? Is this really how you think knowledge is to be gained and verified? I’d suggest working on your epistemology; what do you know and how do you know it? If you can’t verify and validate “knowledge” it should be dismissed.

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It seems that where science, for all of its benefits and achievements, falls short is that it does not and cannot justify its own first principles.

For example, there is no scientific explanation for human curiosity about our origins, and which inquisitiveness is also the genesis of all scientific inquiry.

To paraphrase the old beer commercial, “Why do we ask why?”

Sure, we can say these traits are “natural” or “instinctive” but knowing that there are many things about nature and instinctive behavior that we do not understand, this answer is to replace one unknown with another.

Similarly, there is no logical way to explain why we prefer that which is logical to utter nonsense. The temptation is to say that logic provides theories and machines that work better than those that predictably won’t work because they don’t make sense, but this is to simply kick the can further down the road where we still have to answer the question of why is a working something seen as necessarily better than an absolutely inert nothing?

So again, while I don’t think any rational person would find reason to debate the givens you’ve cited, there are still many matters, and perhaps the most profound ones, which science and logic, by definition, have not and perhaps cannot answer. Certain commodities—consciousness, conscience, metaphysics, emotions, etc.—are found to be essentially “hyper-logical” or unscientific and are not susceptible or responsive to physical investigation.

Prophecy and life experience (the joy of salvations etc.) are evidences that do speak to this issue. But they are not science.

All reason requires faith (note that there are some these days that feel logic is racist etc.). Even math is not based on principles that do not require faith. Science is base on certain faith assumptions (the universe is orderly and capable of being understood, etc.). Do you have fath in your sensory input? There ae those that even doubt these things, and their arguments are not easy to refute.

Abiogenesis is based solely on faith. There is no evidence for it at all.

I assume you believe in evolution, but that the complex organisms we see could come into being by chance is certainly an act of faith, for there is no evidence that it could actually happen that way. When you come upon a table of 500 coins all heads you do not think chance, but manipulation.

I agree that Gen 1-11 have little scientific evidence to support them (although I think the flood has some evidence). But Jesus and Paul endorse them, and that counts for something.

As far as after that, Gen 12 tells of God’s promise to Abram. The promises have come true. Particularly the fact of Abraham’s name being great, It is easily treatable:.He is honored and revered by half the world’s population. (The same can be said for Mary. see Luke 1:46-49).

The chronology of the Hebrew kings have been accepted as confirmed and are used as a measure of other happenings of that time.

So, it is all not smoke and mirrors.

Are you are materialist? What is your view of the self? Are we just a bag of chemicals fortunately put together for senescence? No one can live that way and think of his children like that either.

The way one feels about something is evidence only of an emotion.

You are playing a word game with “faith”. It is a loose term with many definitions. I’m using it exclusively in an epistemological sense; a method to gain knowledge. Reason is the exact opposite of using faith as a method to gain knowledge. It assumes fallibility and requires a constant, rigorous questioning and process of validation and verification. These are built-in safeguards which faith lacks. Faith, is exercised toward other people and taking their word at face value for that which they claim. It resists questioning and a need for a method of verification.

Yes, there is no shortage of ignorance and stupidity.

That some ancient, superstitious characters would believe older myths/legends isn’t evidence for anything other than credulity.

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No I am not.

Fatih is requrid to gain knowledge as without it, no one can gain it. You believe your teachers are telling the truth, and so believe them and move onward. You believe the books you add etc. No faith, no progress in knowledge. Now they can let you down, and then you loose trust, but faith is required of all of us.

And the assumptions that we make to approach the universe and math, are believed without airtight evidence. They are assumptions.

And if you believe in abiogenesis, you are really really acting on faith. There is no evidence for it.

I am not playing loosely.

Hmmm, Jesus and Paul, superstitious characters?? And stating my belief in them is not credulity. It is a form of evidence, that is testimony of respected persons. You have too low a view of these men, and it actually discredits you.

I don’t think you really know how much faith in necessary for science and living life on this planet. Accepting a dollar bill in payment is an act of faith. The government says it is “legal tender”, but actually it is just a piece of paper that we all accept on faith.

I need to see your evidence for abiogenesis, if you believe it. It will show your faith.

That’s not the case, given that almost every scientific model of events inaccessible to direct observation has to be described as a model, which has to subsequently reified as a physical reality as opposed to mere collections of ratios linked together by a narratives we can relate to.

There isn’t evidence for electron apart from aggregate phenomenon we reduce to describe it, for example.

In such context, God with all of its metaphysical concepts as it relates to real is similarly a model distilled from certain observable aggregate. It’s not arbitrary.

You would be making the very same error as fundamentalists do, as opposed to attempting to consolidate thematic references that are viable attempt to describe transcendent scope of reality that structures everything.

These people had only rudimentary tools to access and structure relationship narratives as a model of reality. They were obviously not describing it literally, even if they thought they did… anymore than physics students today may be confused about difference between models they learn and reality that they’ve never observed and have no means to observe.

Hitchens rightfully railed against the pitfalls of fundamentalism, but he was ironically a different brand of what he was railing against. Scientific orthodoxy that believes in their models to be “the reality” isn’t much different from narratives that fundamentalists build to limit our understanding of reality.

It wasn’t the point of OT to structure the nature of actual reality. The point of OT was to structure moral relationships in context of a nation and its ideals, and subsequent broader model to mitigate larger scope of human relationships.

You are correct in saying that faith in human senses and sensibilities is required to amass what humanity subjectively refers to as “knowledge”.

However, it’s my sense that people who claim to speak for an omniscient, omnipotent god—JC, Paul, EGW, and many many other—are essentially redundant and I put little faith in such hearsay.

If god is all powerful he must posses the power to communicate directly and more efficiently with every part of his creation. Any person claiming otherwise, or who insists that he has the only direct link to man’s maker and that all others must go through him to participate in that dialogue, is seemingly on a con man’s ego trip.

(I’m not accusing JC of this as I have nothing other than more hearsay to believe that he ever said he, himself, was man’s only link to god. In fact, there are citations from him in the gospels alluding to just the opposite.)

Paul and Jesus never really met, to be fair to his point. Jesus is an aggregate of stories, and Paul could be a personal reification of narrative after a psychological event that rearranged these into some coherent worldview.

If you notice, Paul never actually speaks about his communications with apostles in any depth. There are no passages in his writings to the likes of “Peter told me about how Jesus did XYZ”.

The Acts is problematic when it comes to that narrative, because it’s not structured from any relevant and direct eyewitness methodology. It never describes how the writer of Acts gets the information he writes about, especially about events in isolated locations.

So, all of the has to be some aggregation of various stories that one has to guess as to where these were sourced… and you can’t make appeals to “well it’s obvious that eyewitness told these stories” given that there isn’t any guarantee that certain eyewitness made these up for notoriety.

I’m not saying that you can’t have any level of provisional trust, but such trust needs to be validated beyond mere narrative that such stories structure. It can’t be coming from ritualistic reification that these narratives become to circularly feed that as “evidence” for why these narratives are true.

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