Report: "Age of Life on Earth" Conference — Part 2

Editor's note: click here to read part one of this report. 


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11299

I find it odd that this conference is described as, “one sided,” and indeed that the convenor offered an apology for language critical of young earth creationists.
The Age of Life Conference was a welcome and necessary contrast to the Adventist status quo where only young earth perspectives are allowed. It is remarkable that such a ‘safe space’ was required to allow Australian Adventists to voice their scientific and theological conclusions about old life.
Any language critical of young earth creationism was incredibly mild compared to the derision, damnation and threats of dismissal and dis-fellowship from fundamentalists towards anyone who challenges their paradigm.
I admired the restraint and polite language of presenters, despite having endured decades of suspicion and ill-will from fellow church members.
Thank you for this conference. We need to burst the bubble that pretends that all serious Adventists believe in a young earth.

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I read this with some degree of amusement. As radical as this presentation might seem to many readers, that the earth shows all the signs of incredible antiquity, the presenters still hedged their presentations.

  1. On the dinosaur presentation, while it was admitted that the dino’s lived millions of years ago, they were safely kept there. The current scientific consensus that birds are the direct descendants of some of the dinosaurs was omitted probably because recognizing this would recognize macro-evolution.
  2. The ice core discussion showed great age and a series of ice ages and warming periods over vast lengths of time. But it was then stated that Noah’s flood didn’t reach the polar regions.?!?!? Really??? A scientist doesn’t recognize the basic causality of sea level? Water was high in one place but not in another? Get real. Noah’s flood is a myth. No data indicates such a thing ever happened.
  3. The theological presentation couldn’t/wouldn’t deal with the possibility that ancient writers simply made up stories; they might have been deeply meaningful to the recipients, but they didn’t come from any supernatural source. They were simply establishment myths and shouldn’t be read as history.
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The issue for science and the Bible really comes down to what the “worship hour” presenter pointed out…how was the creation story viewed before it was used as a polemic against evolution. There it is. Geological columns, age of the earth, evolution, dinosaurs, etc., were not on the radar screen for the biblical author(s) or their audiences. We read these issues into Genesis. Issues that are simply not there.

Genesis was written within the cultural stream of ancient 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.

This is crucial…the Bible was written for us, but not to us. It must, then, be taken on its own terms, and appreciated for its own purposes. For creationists to do science beholden to the creation stories in Genesis, is a categorical mistake. For others to reject the Bible, because it doesn’t conform to our contemporary understandings of the age of the earth and cosmos, macro evolution, etc., is equally wrong headed. The creation stories were never meant to even address such issues. To force the biblical narratives into such a framework in order to address such questions and issues brings to mind fitting square pegs into round holes, by all concerned parties, on all sides.

Both strands, of faith and of modern science, need to be held in tension, and also held somewhat loosely, I believe. We do not have the last word of understanding in either domain, there is always more to be revealed, understood, and emended. What will science, cosmology, and theology look like three hundred or a thousand years from now?

This question should give all of us, who are overly certain, pause…and humilty.

Thanks…

Frank

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I hit the wrong key too soon. I’ll try to salvage my thought. (Blush!)

For the life of me, I can’t think of anything in the Bible that was written early for us who live late. Pretended prophecy for contemporaries. Symbolic prophecies to avoid specifics.

In any event, the writers could have saved later readers bazzilions of hours of attempted deciphering.

Just think. No horns growing out winds!

(Oh, cryptic, I get it.)

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What’s the rest of your thought, Harry?? Or is it meant to be cryptic? Lol!

Frank

I don’t think that the writers were thinking of later readers, like us poor mensches. I think that they were writing to their own people, with little to no thought of posterity, or what we would do to what they wrote!

Horns growing out of winds. That one is the best! Lol!

Frank

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A teacher wanted to show his students about eisegesis in regards to horoscopes, so he asked each student to provide his or her birth date.

The next day he handed all of them a personality profile with each student’s name on it which he said was based on an extensive study of the alignment of the stars and planets on the day they were born.

After studying the results, he asked them to say how accurate the readings were. The overwhelming majority said he was either right on, or very close.

Then he asked all of them to exchange their profile with another student. It didn’t take long for them to figure out that they had all been handed a personalized copy of the exact same profile.

I’m not saying this same “reading oneself into scripture” is what people do absolutely all, or even most of the time when reading the Bible. But to claim that this can’t possibly happen—or that it doesn’t happen a lot— would certainly stretch the gullibility of even the most credulous among us!

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Nailed it, Frank!

And I suspect you’ve probably read it long ago, but if not, I’d recommend Alan Watts’ “The Wisdom of Insecurity”.

The basic point being—I think!?!?:wink:— that if you’re sure of your answer to any question, you immediately become incapable of learning anything new on that topic!

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All our problems with the above issue have have root in one simple (but catastrophic) misreading, Genesis 1 and 2 is, above all, a story about benevolent Creator- and only then- about Creation… Just have a look at contemporary stories that were circulating around that time in and around the fertile Cresent. In all these stories humanity is, at best, a kinda afterthought, accident or dangerous virus escaping from the lab, that gods never really had any compassion for apart intending them to be servants or slaves…Only in Genesis God said after He created humans that it was:" very good"

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Scientists will tell us Jesus cannot rise from the dead. And all miracles in the OT and NT are bunk. So, where does that leave your faith? Scientists also tell us that humans were not created. We evolved from a single cell in some promordial soup. Now that, my friends, takes faith!

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Although it is heartening to hear about Adventist scientists and theologians separating themselves from beliefs based on Archbishop Ussher’s 17th century views, it is disappointing to see the theological baby steps appear not to have made a substantial difference in Adventist belief. In dealing with a women’s place in the Adventist ministry the church made more progress after a few fed-up unions said “enough already.” This led to a few satisfactory changes in parts of America and Europe (and maybe, I’m not sure, in the antipodes.)

Bartwillruth,

Having attended the conference online (you may read my own review over at Adventist Today), I think you are misunderstanding the presenters. They spoke carefully, not “hedging[ly].”

  1. On the dinosaur presentation, Timms did put up a phylogenetic tree of dinosaurs with which he said he mostly agreed, even though taken from David Read’s book; it included a link relating dinosaurs to birds. Timms argued for dinosaur extinction with the meteorite theory of Alvarez et al. But dinosaur extinction doesn’t imply extinction of their descendants (birds), and you shouldn’t infer from lack of an ornithology component to the lecture that Timms was reluctant to recognize macroevolution.
  2. That is precisely what the data shows: there was no flood event corresponding to the creationists’ Noachian flood recorded in polar ice core data. It wasn’t necessary to explicitly tell this intelligent audience that sea levels are approximately the same globally! For Annable, this was an accurate way to state a conclusion without making unnecessary additional assumptions. For example, it was not necessary to assume, as you did, that “Noah’s flood is a myth.” It may be. But it could also be that it was a local event (that obviously didn’t reach the polar regions), though not portrayed “literally accurately” in the Genesis account. By not making sweeping denials as you did, but staying within what the data support, Annable preserved the credibility of his scientific presentation. That isn’t hedging. That’s just smart, especially when presenting information to an audience that may include skeptical young earth creationists.
  3. There was more than 1 theological presentation, so I am not sure what you are referring to. However, between the 3 presentations (one 2-part lecture by Van Moere and then Thiele’s presentation), there was clear support for considering interpretations differing from traditional SDA ones, including (especially Van Moere’s) that it wasn’t history, and was written for a specific purpose in the period after Judah was exiled,

My personal impression was that this was a thoughtfully organized conference that adhered closely to the scientific consensus, considered the theological implications (I’d have liked more of that), and was generally respectful of young earth creationists despite showing over and over the evidence for a long, developmental period of life on earth. I’m looking forward to the book of conference proceedings when it is published.

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Some people, perhaps even most, who subscribe to the theory of evolution lose sight of Darwin’s original claim; his book title uses the term “Origin of Species”, not “Origin of Life”. I don’t think it’s hard to believe that Galapagos turtles have adapted to their environment over time but the claim that organic, sentient life spontaneously generated itself from inorganic materials without some sort of conscious selection, is an irrational assumption based on something no scientist has ever observed (an effect without a cause) and is evidence for a leap of faith I suspect Darwin himself would have been very uncomfortable in making.

That said, I think most people, myself included, wouldn’t and don’t find it hard to accept ideas attributed to Jesus such as “love the neighbor” and the assertion that our creator is interested in what happens to all of his creatures. However, IMO, Christianity would be much more palatable to rational people if a foundational belief in miracles—which acts, even if all of them actually happened, do nothing to prove any of the claims made about or by Jesus—were not considered an essential part of the dogma.

Even if we had certain, irrefutable proof that a person had raised people from the dead, or had been granted this privilege himself, these miracles do nothing to establish or even imply that the miracle worker is the one and only son of god or that everything he says is by divine decree. In fact, persons whom have had made similar claims more recently (and there have been more then a few in the past two millennia) are typically dismissed—and reasonably so, it seems to me—by more skeptical women and men.

For my part, I’m willing to grant JC a partial pass on this as he didn’t write any of the gospels, himself, and the people who did commit his speech to writing are known to have often misunderstood what he said, by their own admission. Thus I only have second and third hand translations and interpretations of what he may actually have said about his life goals or his role in the universe.

On the other hand, Paul, EGW, Joseph Smith, David Koresh, clairvoyants, televangelistsf, and many others who have gone on record insisting that god sent a message for me though them, I reject out of hand.

The formulation of the above makes it irrational. It wouldn’t be formulated as such by any scientist who promote abiogenesis, which is BTW just a generic term for organic living matter arising from inorganic one.

Adventist ironically believe in abiogenesis :wink:

There are a number of hypotheses that can be made that make abiogenesis coherent, and all involve pseudo-rational forces shaping life as a complex arrangement of functional reality, which is naturally oriented towards complexity in some “energetic funnels”.

But then one has to think about emergent consciousness as first-hand experience, which even difficult to explain with God as a hypothesis. So, it’s not what science can tackle at the moment. Philosophy didn’t do much better though.

I’m not an Adventist (except that I would love to have JC return and vindicate my belief that he had no intention of starting a new religion :rofl:) nor do I accept the claim that the god of the OT and the creator of the universe are one and the same entity.

(I have good reason to doubt the existence of the former as firmly as Christopher Hitchens did.:wink:)

Further, I see no reason to assume that consciousness emerged from matter. It is just as reasonable, it seems to me, to think that the two are one and the same thing and that mind and matter, creator and created, are evolving in a natural process that I call conscious selection.

(Not a new idea, I know, and I also don’t claim to be a scientist who, despite having no conclusive evidence for this assumption, insists that “rationality rules”, when in fact our attachment to logic stems from something which is essentially irrational and ultimately subjective.)

I don’t see religion as algebra. I see it more as Calculus that attempts to compile approximations of consolidated principles that transcend individuals and cultures. As such these are not wrong, these are generally “less right” in broader context, especially as precursors to philosophy and science.

https://hermiene.net/essays-trans/relativity_of_wrong.html

I think there are good reasons to doubt Hitch on anything he has to say about metaphysics, since he didn’t really care about it beyond deconstructing fundamentalist assumptions about God and railing against religious establishments. He wasn’t really interested into digging into science or philosophy of metaphysics.

:slight_smile: We are actually running out of reasons to assume why such would be the case.

I agree with your assessment of Hitchens to some extent as he, like many atheists, seemed to equate debunking religion with proving god’s assumed lack of existence.

To my mind, this is like saying that just because a fisherman using a photo graph of worms as bait “got skunked”, I’ve proved there are no fish in the sea.

I do agree with his insistence, however unmetaphysical as it is, that the god described in the OT is not only undeserving of our worship and respect but is probably only a literary construct created by the ancients to keep their tribe in line.

Staying with the fishing analogy—and while I know this doesn’t prove anything either—I’m fairly certain that any effort “real in” (pun intended) that god will be as fruitful as trying to catch Poseidon in a net!

There are larger conceptualizations of God and underlying reality that are in line with QM since its inception.

Whitehead is perhaps a nuanced and complex example that attempted to unify QM physics with religious conceptions of God. But, it’s generally to complex for people to get into, since his writing style isn’t very simple with him being premiere mathematician of that era… and you know how accountants can be :rofl:

If you are interested to read… this book is a great read regardless, and perhaps it may have you reconsider a few things.

I MAY check out Whitehead but I’m generally not that good with maths!:crazy_face:

I think I do get your idea about how religions can only ever be ‘less wrong”, though.

I have a similar theory that which holds that since all religions are based on words and no word is the thing it represents—that is, the word “dog” is not a dog and there is only hot air in the sound we make when we say the word “truth”—all religions are based on lies and none of them can be absolutely true.

However, as pithy, reasonable and “relatively true” these, or the concepts of Spinoza, Darwin, Nietzsche, panpsychists, et.als., may be, I know of no organized religion which would countenance any of them, given that they’re seemingly too wrapped up in apologetics for, and proving the authority of, their own supposed “divine correctness”.

Either that, or it seems they’re too busy “teaching god’s will” to learn anything new about our maker!:rofl: