Proposition One: The two creation narratives of Genesis describe historical realities—that is, facts about how God acts in space-time—and so cannot be reconciled with the theory of evolution by natural descent in its claim that all of biological existence has emerged through a combination of random mutations and competition for scarce resources. Adventist scientists therefore need to offer a vigorous and forthright critique of current evolutionary theory insofar as it has evolved into a metaphysical prejudice or species of philosophical naturalism claiming all of “factual” reality as its own while excluding the very possibility of divine control over the natural world and biological processes.
Proposition Two: While Genesis is concerned with conveying facts about God’s creative activity in history, many Christians—including staunch defenders of the faith and opponents of evolutionism such as C.S. Lewis, Jacques Ellul, and Karl Barth—have nevertheless resisted woodenly literalistic interpretations of Genesis and allowed for evolutionary concepts in their biblically-based worldviews. They have suggested that Genesis might be conveying facts about the creation in a highly allusive and mythopoetic form rather than in the form of a "scientific" or "historical" treatise in the sense a modern scientist or historian would demand. Adventist leaders therefore need to make clear to all church members that while a literalist interpretation of Genesis is currently the consensus Adventist view there is a great deal of diversity of thought and discussion within orthodox Christian faith on the possible meanings of Genesis 1 and 2, and that biblical literalism and young earth creationism are not litmus tests for fellowship in the Adventist community or employment in Adventist institutions.
Proposition Three: We do not know all that God has and has not permitted to unfold since the beginning of time. It is possible that God’s original creative activity included scope for principles of freedom in the natural world that we are not aware of, and that this freedom contained the possibility of suffering and evil. The problems of suffering and evil, all Adventists believe, predate human existence and so might have much to do with what we see in the natural world (no less than the human), as well as the original purpose of human beings (who we are told, in the enigmatic language of Genesis, were put in a "garden" with a task of tending it, and who are later expelled from this same garden into a larger, more hostile world). Further, human language is itself implicated in humanity’s fall. Adventist theologians and pastors therefore need to encourage and model an approach to reading scripture that starts with a humble confession of ignorance in the face of many questions and that maintains a constant awareness of the limitations of fallen human language to convey ultimate realities. Refusal to allow for any sense of mystery, ambiguity, tension, difficulty or paradox in one’s faith is not a mark of superior wisdom. It is a sure sign of spiritual and intellectual hubris.
Proposition Four: Being "made in the image of God" means, among other things, having the ability to think and to gain knowledge about the world through things like observation, reason, and experience, so that living a life of faith that reflects the image of God in a holistic way means using our mental abilities to their fullest capacity—not denying our senses and observations on fideist grounds. The overwhelming consensus within the scientific community—including among scientists who are Christians—is that there is a great deal of evidence for common ancestry among organisms and that the earth is very old. Adventist students therefore need to know why most scientists have come to these conclusions and to be exposed to legitimate scholarly debate in a way that does not tear down their faith but that does force them to wrestle with difficult questions and unorthodox ideas, at times without tidy resolution.
Proposition Five: While using one’s mind and one’s faculties of logic and reason are part of the life of faith, the attempt by some members of the Adventist community to ground their beliefs in evidential proofs and to generate an absolute correspondence between highly literalistic interpretations of scripture and scientific evidence is in fact a mirror image of skepticism. Those who would turn all matters of faith into matters of positive knowledge and defeat philosophical naturalism according to philosophical naturalism's own rules of the game have entered into a devil’s bargain that is destructive of both faith and reason. It is not non-literalists like C.S. Lewis and Karl Barth but those individuals who will argue vehemently that the firmament of Genesis 1:6 was a literal hardened canopy of polarized hydrogen ice crystals who in a profound sense are absolute unbelievers. Persons whose beliefs would crumble without the support of material artifacts such as polarized hydrogen ice crystals therefore need to confess their unbelief and return to the life of Christian faith.
Proposition Six: The attempt by some lay members to define other believers out of the Adventist community or Adventist institutions because of disagreements over how to interpret Genesis 1 and 2 and how to approach scientific evidence is both arbitrary and absurd. It is arbitrary because by exactly the same criterion (appeals to Ellen White and the Adventist pioneers, references to church resolutions and official statements, and analysis of scripture), numerous self-described “historic” Adventists could easily be defined out of the church as well. For example, they could be branded as unfaithful Adventists for their refusal to embrace an ethic of strict nonviolence and for their public support of (and even voluntarily service in) the U.S. military as it has waged wars against other countries. The attempt by some lay members to separate the “true” from the “false” Adventists is also absurd because these individuals are simply that: lay members. They have no greater claim to defining Adventist identity than any other group of lay members and no proprietary guardianship or ownership over the meaning of Adventist community. Church administrators therefore need to resist the temptation to listen to only the most strident voices within the body of believers. They should recall and remind others that while the Adventist church has official positions on many beliefs and practices (such as pacifism) it has not made all of these things conditions of fellowship or church employment because it has recognized the need for individual freedom of conscience in numerous areas. This should include different views on questions of origins and different approaches to reconciling faith and science.
Ron Osborn is an Adventist lay member, a graduate of Atlantic Union College, and a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1881