Viewpoint: "Dictating Answers" at the International Conference on the Bible and Science?


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[On Monday] Adventist General Conference President Ted Wilson told a conference on The Bible and Science, “Scientists: Continue to do good scientific research. Do the work God has given you in a profound and careful way."

Superficially, that sounds encouraging — that the head of a very conservative Christian Church is encouraging the pursuit of the scientific enterprise. Sadly, he also said that the only acceptable position for Adventists is the conclusion that life has been on earth less than 10,000 years, and was created in six 24-hour days.

The important part of this is not the actual position on the age of the earth and the nature of "Creation Week." Life here is as old as it is, and that is not changed by institutional fiat or roll call votes. The problem is the profound attack on science and intellectual and academic freedom any attempt to order scientists worthy of the name who work for the Church to tailor their results to fit some preconceived notion represents. I don't want to get into what the actual evidence is regarding Evolution, nor here am I interested in trying to persuade anyone of any particular conclusion. What is much more important is a more accurate understanding of how science works. Science is a human, "gutsy" and subjective enterprise, embedded in time and culture and subject to its limitations. But it also represents a commitment to following the evidence where it leads, regardless of preconceived notions of the truth. It is hard, very hard, to do that, and science is often less than fully successful, but that is the goal. In one sense science is a set of rules and practices designed to work around and minimize human bias.

We don't tell scientists what conclusions we want from them in advance and charge them with coming up with a rationalization for it (if we did, I would start by telling them that I want them to conclude that eating chocolate candy, watching television and not exercising is the best way to lose weight). We tell scientists to do their best to approach truth. If we believe in God, we have confidence that eventually the scientific search for truth will bring us closer to an understanding of the universe she has created. If we have integrity, and courage, we do not try to cheat the process by stacking the deck in favor of an answer some powerful other thinks is required.

If life on this planet really is less than 10,000 years old, and was created in 144 hours, then those who already believe that should have no fear in allowing and encouraging scientists to follow the evidence wherever it leads — their only charge and condition to be as honest and careful and accurate as they can. Such a process will be messy, and there will be disagreement and inconsistency, and we should make sure there is room for divergent voices that can find support in reliable and valid data. But any attempt by "Religion" to dictate to "Science" what its answers must be in advance is an attempt to undermine and prostitute science, not promote it. It would be no different than whatever that gross substance was that was created by Big Tobacco companies ordering "scientists" to find "evidence" that tobacco is good for you.

I do hope that scientists continue to do good scientific research, and do the work God has given them in a profound and careful way. I hope, and pray, they also continue to find the courage to do this good scientific work even when it is institutionally unpopular and threatened.

Aubyn Fulton is a psychology professor at Pacific Union College. This short essay first appeared on his Facebook page.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6214