Wednesday, June 30, 2010

So are Adventists Anti-Creedal or Creedal?

Once, a long time ago, Seventh Day Adventists were very suspicious of creeds. They believed in present truth and progressive revelation. This allowed for some movement and discussion about what it is we actually believed. It allowed for diversity of opinion among members.

In 1980 the General Conference decided to publish a list of "fundamental" beliefs. It is my understanding that it was originally conceived as documentation of the concensus views among members what were the beliefs of the church. Lately there seems to be more and more people attempting to marginalize voices in the church who dissent from the fundamental beliefs. It could be called small tent adventism. This has been combined with attempts to more precisely define the beliefs to allow for less room for interpretation and to shut down internal debate.

The latest evidence for this is the latest General Conference session (meets every five years to approve officers and changes to church operations, but mostly it is a huge cheerleading and networking type of event.) I've been concerned by the tone of some of Ted Wilson's (the new President) comments. Additionally they have decided to affirm the traditional understanding of origins that has been held by the church and request a committee to look at strengthening the wording of the 6th fundamental belief that is concerned with creation and origins. Spectrum Magazine has some good articles about this if you are interested in more details. I particularly liked this segment that discusses statemetns from Ben Clausen of the Geo Science Research Institute.

Quoting from the statement, Dr. Clausen said that "it is impossible," to teach students "scientifically rigorous exposure to and affirmation of our historic belief in a literal, recent six-day creation."

He added: "There are no available models."

"There are no available models." This is a striking admission from somebody who works in an Adventist Apologetics Organization. As a church, we can decide that the earth was created 6000 years ago. But not only is there no evidence for it, but that viewpoint is contradicted by the evidence. "There are no available models." There is no explanation that can adequately deal with the evidence while maintaining a young earth view.

This is a position that basically shuts down any outreach efforts to educated professionals. I once tried to explain the whole La Sierra controversy and young earth creationism to a coworker. Her immediate response was, "who would be stupid enough to believe that!!" I've had several lunch conversations with coworkers. Whenever the topic of creationism versus science is brought up, creationism is thouroughly ridiculed. I am told at church that I should invite my coworkers to church. But why would I invite them to a place that wants them to discard 15 to 20+ years of education in order to fit in?

Of course the people I feel the most sorry for are the professors who work for the church. These are the people who are trying to have this discussion while also maintain their jobs. But as Adventists move more toward making the foundamental beliefs a creed, discussion is becoming more difficult. Talk about a tight rope!


  1. Here's my two cents about the entire science v. religion battle as played out in North American Adventism.

    An analogy:

    Let the real science v. religion debate be represented by a multidimensional object like the 6-D Calabi-Yau manifolds made famous by string theorists.

    What do orthodox and even progressive Adventists do with such complexity?

    They project these multidimensional objects onto the small, narrow, myopic, flat square that represents the range and domain of Adventist discussion on the science v. religion debate.

    No one can publicly (even in Spectrum) ask questions orthogonal to the tired old issues surrounding a literal or metaphorical view of scripture, or a young earth creationism v. theistic evolution view of science.

    It's frustrating and so Cartesian.

  2. What do you expect from a thoroughly modern institution?

    Multidimensional manifolds make a good metaphor, applicable to most contentious debates. Occaisionally an article will treat the subject or science/religion in a mildly interesting manner. But so many of the participants are church employees that they can never speak too freely. The comments are usually a waste of time. It inevitablly devolves into a back and forth between aggrieved fundamentalists and angry former Adventists.

    I would love to have a discussion that would take that evolution happened as a basis and then go on to discuss what that would mean in a religious context. I think that is why I like and other blogs in that vein. Luke's "Conversation's from the Pale Blue Dot" has become one of my favorite podcasts that deals with this issue. He usually has a wide variety of guests and he lets them present their view without getting in the way.

  3. Indeed, I've been enjoying Luke's blog and podcasts since you recommended him.

  4. I happen to think the two views, made to appear as a bitter dichotomy, are actually compatible with one another - it's just we don't know enough to link them together at this time.

    We are wasting our breath arguing - instead, we should be seeking common ground between science and religion.

  5. As a mathematician, I feel compelled to point out that a flat square is, in fact, a multidimensional manifold.

    "I am told at church that I should invite my coworkers to church. But why would I invite them to a place that wants them to discard 15 to 20+ years of education in order to fit in?"

    I have been facing this problem for awhile now. At my church it's less about education and more about bigotry spouted from the pulpit dressed up like Christian doctrine.

  6. As an Engineer, I feel compelled to point out that if I start out at one end of a room and take a step that is half the remaining distance to the other side. I will eventually get close enough. :)

    BTW thanks for stopping by. I have enjoyed your comments on Spectrum and elsewhere.