Viewpoint: Science or Scripture? A Pastoral Perspective

(Spectrumbot) #1

I am not a scientist or a theologian, so for the last few years I have been doing a lot of careful listening. What I have noted regarding the debate on science versus Scripture within our denomination is that a pastoral perspective seems to be missing.

I think most Adventists agree that there is no actual conflict between science and Scripture when both are properly understood. To paraphrase St. Augustine, “All truth is God’s truth.”1 Ellen White concurs. Her first line in "Steps to Christ" reads, “Nature and revelation alike testify of God's love.”2 Both science and faith are seeking for truth. Tension arises when current interpretations of scientific data cannot be neatly reconciled with current interpretations of the Scriptural text. What happens then? Obviously, more information is needed that will help us reinterpret the scientific data, or the scriptural text, or both. Adventists should be the most open to new ways of looking at things. Growing up, I heard our evangelists recruiting members from other churches with the promise that we will always be open to following the truth, wherever it leads.3

As a non-credal community of faith, we cannot say, “This is what we have always believed, therefore it must be correct, and we will never change our interpretations.” Several years after our disastrous General Conference Session in 1888, Ellen White wrote,

There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people, is not a proof that our ideas are infallible.”

“… we should be teachable, meek and lowly of heart. There are those who oppose everything that is not in accordance with their own ideas, and by so doing they endanger their eternal interest as verily as did the Jewish nation in their rejection of Christ.”4

Let me reference two scientists whom I highly respect: Dr. Timothy Standish, an Environmental Biologist and a Seventh-day Adventist employed by our Geoscience Research Institute in Loma Linda, and Dr. Deborah Haarsma, an Astrophysicist and President of the Biologos Foundation. Having personally met these two scientists, I have found that both are exceptionally intelligent (this is not a question of intelligence5); both have strong integrity (this is not a question of moral character); both are very committed Evangelical Christians, meaning that they both take the Bible seriously6 as an authoritative revelation from God and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior7 (this is not a question of faith); and yet one is a Young Earth Creationist8 while the other is an Evolutionary Creationist. While both fully believe that God created everything, they differ in their views on exactly “how” God did that.

After listening to Dr. Standish and Dr. Haarsma, I heard both of them say that they have yet to discover a model for reconciling science and Scripture that completely settles all of the scientific and theological questions at the same time. Such an admission requires honesty, humility, and spiritual maturity. These scientists acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers. Both are hoping that one day, a satisfactory model for complete reconciliation between science and Scripture will be found, while they are even willing to accept that it may not happen on this side of heaven.9

As a pastor, I would encourage these two scientists (and many others like them) to continue searching and enlightening us along the way. It seems premature at this point to demand total commitment to any incomplete model for reconciling science and Scripture when our understanding of both is continually advancing. A pastor’s responsibility is to create a safe space where earnest truth seekers can ask honest questions.


1. On Christian Doctrine, Book 2, Chapter 18 2. Steps to Christ, p.9 3. For more on this, please read my article called, “Adventism and Fundamentalism Cannot Thrive Together” here: 4. Review and Herald, December 20, 1892 5. I am thankful to Pastor Walter Kim from the Park Street Church in Boston for this insight and a number of other insights in the article. 6. Evolutionary Creationists would even say that they accept a “literal” interpretation of the Bible, including the early chapters in Genesis. By “literal” they mean how they believe the author intended the writing to be understood (rather than reading the text “literarily”). 7. I heard Dr. Leith Anderson, the President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) use this broad definition for the term, “Evangelical” while acknowledging that there are significant differences within the community. By the way, in private conversation, Dr. Anderson told me that he personally considers Seventh-day Adventists as Evangelicals, even though our denomination does not hold membership in the NAE. 8. A more descriptive term for Dr. Standish’s views on origins would be Young Life Creationist. I don’t think Dr. Standish would have a problem with the concept that the earth itself is much older. 9. Dr. Standish talks about putting certain questions on the shelf and being willing to wait for heaven in order to get all the answers.

Sam Millen is an Australian Pastor in Virginia. His self-imposed North American exile has now reached its 17th year.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Elaine Nelson) #2

If that were the statement of the G.C. President it would evaporate much of the current controversy.

(David Read) #3

Except that this certainly is a question of faith. There is more to the Seventh-day Adventist faith than accepting Christ as Savior and Lord. If that were all we believed, there would have been no reason for the founding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, because essentially all Christian denominations before us also believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

We Adventists also believe that “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Ex. 20:11. The rediscovery of the Seventh-day Sabbath, and its universally applicable rationale in God’s creative act, was and is one of the main reasons for the founding of our denomination and for our continued existence. This is at the heart of the Seventh-day Adventist faith, as it is distinct from generic evangelicalism–and there’s a reason why we aren’t a member of the NAE. So, obviously, this is a question of faith.

Moreover, even the heart of Christianity is drastically undermined and deracinated by a Darwinian worldview. If God “created” by evolution, then we are not fallen from a primordial state of moral innocence, and thus we are not in any need of a redeemer. The Christian concept of redemption from the moral and physical results of the Fall (including death in both the human and animal kingdoms) makes absolutely no sense in a Darwinian worldview. Trying to overlay Christianity onto a Darwinian worldview is trying to force a square peg into a round hole; it makes the whole Christian religion senseless. To say that this isn’t a matter of faith breathtakingly false.

(Bille) #4

To realize that you have accumulated enough of what you consider facts to have written a whole book taking this perspective… is, to say the least “breathtakingly” beyond comprehension.

But when you not only do that, but describe a “Darwinian worldview” in the terms that you do… and give the “if/then” sentence you do regarding the effect that has on our understanding of our “need of a redeemer”… you have moved beyond “beyond comprehension” and into the area of putting your negative spin on to all who believe differently than you do.

You would do well to take the opening essay seriously and do some careful reading in Haarsma’s book… where she carefully delineates at least 18 differing views on the topic of origins. It is against the backdrop of these 18 views and her evaluation of them that one can appreciate her fidelity to scripture… and to the “whole Christian religion”… when she points out that in spite of all the thought and study that has gone into these matters… there is still more to learn… and that doubtless we shall not cover all of that before we meet in the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the meantime, you would do yourself a very big favor if you would learn a little humility regarding your own opinions… and allow for the possibility that those who do not think just like you do may still be committed Christians… and Seventh-day Adventist Christians as well.

(David Read) #5

Those who submit to the written word of God are exercising true humility, and that entails interpreting the data of nature pursuant to what God has revealed in Scripture:

“The deepest students of science are constrained to recognize in nature the working of infinite power. But to man’s unaided reason, nature’s teaching cannot but be contradictory and disappointing. Only in the light of revelation can it be read aright. ‘Through faith we understand.’ Hebrews 11:3.” Education, 134.

It is those who insist on interpreting the data of nature pursuant to atheistic theories and hypotheses who must learn humility and submit to God’s word.

But the issue is not my humility or lack thereof, the issue is the stark incompatibility of a Darwinian worldview, which is atheistic, with Christianity. It won’t do to berate my arrogance; show me with reason and logic how Christianity and Darwinism are compatible. I’ve read books on this topic, and no one has been able to square the circle. What liberal Christians who accept Darwinism end up doing is opting for cognitive dissonance. They simply live with a religion in which atheistic science claims the high ground of reality and faith tenets are not expected to be reasonable or consistent with (what they understand to be) reality.

(jeremy) #6

in this question of origins, given that we know the final test for the world will center around the seventh-day sabbath, anything that attenuates the imperative of that sabbath cannot be viewed in a neutral light…for a hundred years we’ve been warned that the powers of evil will make their onslaught on the sabbath, and everyone who keeps it…i think it’s fair say that for this reason, more than any other, fiat creationists are not likely to budge on a six-day creation week…there is the further detail in egw that a creation week requiring “thousands upon thousands of years” is very definitely a species of “infidelity”, patriarchs and prophets:111…those who are therefore seeking room in fb #6 for an evolutionary approach to origins are probably touching on a core, existential issue for adventism…it will be a shock of the greatest magnitude if our general conference acquiesces to pressure from modern science…

(Pagophilus) #7

This is a question of faith more than anything else.

The scientist often is not satisfied until he/she knows EXACTLY how something happened - for example, how a particular feature in the rocks got there. The Bible-believing (YEC) scientist may not have a good explanation for how that particular feature got there, but he/she has enough evidence to believe what the Bible says.

The non-YEC scientists doesn’t have a good enough explanation for that feature, so he/she automatically accepts the mainstream (long age) explanation, even though all it is is a plausible explanation. It is not necessarily the only possibility, nor is it necessarily correct (as not a lot of time will pass before it is revised), but it is accepted because it fills a perceived hole in their heart, the hole which is not satisfied unless it happens to have “AN” answer to the question - not “THE” answer, but “AN” answer. And it is accepted because the majority accept it, and it is not good in terms of employment prospects etc to accept a contrary position (intellectual suicide). So, all up, it is fear of man, and lack of trust in God (Excessive. - website editor) which leads Christian scientists to choose mainstream, long age, evolutionary answers to scientific questions rather than to accept what the Bible teaches.

(Kim Green) #8

David, I do think that Bille has a point. If one believes in what you describe as your beliefs, there are many that would doubt that you live in reality. Many Christians believe in various forms of “creationism” but yet you insist on there being only one way. The only reason that this is such an issue with conservative Adventists is because of their belief that it connects with the 7th day as Sabbath. Otherwise, what real difference does it make if God created in 6 days or in 6 million years? None, really…but that is the challenge with Adventism.

(Kim Green) #9

Naturally, Pago…and you have interviewed all of these Christian scientists and know that these are the reasons! lol


When I look at both sides of the controversy between science and religion I see huge weaknesses(in my perspective) in both positions. I think scientists tend to grossly overestimate the current body of scientific knowledge. Christians that accept a Genesis young earth position are basing it on a very brief description of the events. It just seems to me that neither argument has the complete story. The answer for me comes from taking a walk in the garden. The things I see there, tell me there is a creator that loves me so much he made a beautiful place for me to live.

If you like reading on the topic, I thought Francis Collins’ book The Language Of God was a good read.

(Pagophilus) #11

But did He make it through millions of years of death, mutations, violence? Or did He make it as He described, by speaking the beauty into existence over 6 days?

(Pagophilus) #12

Well, how can you claim to have faith in a God if you don’t even believe some of His most plain statements?

All scripture is given by Inspiration, right? God claims to have made the earth in six days. If you add up the various ages and time spans in the Bible it comes to around 6000 years. God claims to have destroyed the world in a flood. Now, how can you claim to trust in God when you then say that it’s impossible, the earth looks old, that the worldwide flood never took place, that humans have existed here for millions of years and evolved out of apes? How can you take a God seriously who says that Adam’s sin caused death, and the remedy is with the second Adam, Christ, when you don’t believe that the first Adam existed, and when you believe that death existed for millions of years even before the first humans turned up?

The Bible either means what it says or it doesn’t. There is NO wriggle room to allow that much of a disparity.

(Sirje) #13

That means an automatic salvation for the traditional Jews!

Are you kidding?!? The final test, as it has been from the beginning is “Who do men say that I am?” Peter’s answer: “You are the Christ”. “UPON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH”. Not upon one commandment out of ten.

(Sirje) #14

Why does the choice have to be between DARWIN and Genesis… Science and Darwin don’t agree. Darwin was a fledgling. He found clues and made assumptions. Science has come a long way since then. The choice is between Hebrew poetic description of the indescribable vs. a scientific quest for answers based on basic logic - a God given gift to man, by which man has been blessed in so many areas.

(Kim Green) #15

The difference lies in whether you view the Genesis account literally or that it is a descriptive story. It is the official Adventist version to view it literally. One could still believe that God created the earth but not in such a precise timetable. To me what is important is acknowledgement of a supreme and creative God.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #16

We have two basic hypotheses 1. in the beginning God. 2. In the beginning a Big Bang. neither are falsifiable. neither can pin point the time of that beginning. The issue is from Chaos to design How?

An equally pressing question is death the end or the beginning? Man is left without a clue, except Revelation which proposes to answer both questions–How and What then? Interesting man has his choice. Tom Z

(k_Lutz) #17

It seems to me that, rather than getting our tail-feathers ruffled by an irrational conflagration, @imdigginthis has opted for the higher path of peace and joy in the Spirit of God. What we believe is based upon the ignorance in which we are born. And from what I can tell, the more desperately we hang onto it the less likely can God give us the Peace that passes all understanding. Does it not require TOTAL surrender to truly …

Trust God.

(jeremy) #18

it’s not that simple, sirje…after probation closes the whole world will be worshiping what they think is god…some will have aligned themselves with the pope, the world and evil spirits pretending to be christ himself, having many supernatural miracles to support their side…rumors abound even now that the pope’s interest in global warming is setting the stage to urge sunday laws as a way to curb greenhouse gases…

on the other hand, the true followers of christ will be filled with the power of the latter rain, but they will be scattered, cut off from every earthly support, and looking doomed as the time of their execution approaches…because sunday will be enforced by the state, and it will be seen as the responsible, sensible option, not all jews, let alone adventists, will maintain their faith…check this out:

(Kevin Paulson) #19

It is simply impossible to harmonize the Biblical worldview, that revolves around paradise lost and paradise restored and the great controversy between good and evil, with the evolutionary model of origins. Not only do we lose any need of a Redeemer, as there is no perfect state to which we can return, but we also lose any need to be merciful to the weak and downtrodden, as Darwinian “survival of the fittest”—with its brutal, merciless process of natural selection—is perceived by the evolutionary worldview as both the norm and the ultimate good in the saga of life.

The essential task before those of us who serve the church as pastors and theologians is to uphold the Biblical standard of right and wrong, truth and error, as the ultimate, transcendent measure of all things. Putting everyone at ease who happens at the moment to reside within our fellowship is not our job. Pastoring is not about “making room for everyone,” regardless of faith or practice. Rather, the duty of the faithful undershepherd is to lead and guide both lovingly and firmly in the way God’s Word directs.

(Jan Long) #20

Tom, either/ or constructs sometimes can create unnecessary problems. To say we have either the hypothesis that 1) God created, or 2) the Big Bang is to ignore a third philosophical possibility that God has created through natural processes and the Big Bang could be a part of that creative processes.

The observed universe is in a constant state of dynamic change at this very moment, with new solar systems currently coming into existence, and some in a death spiral as its central star implodes into a supernova. In essence creation and death appear to be built into the structure of all material nature.