Ariel A. Roth
Retired Director, Geoscience Research Institute
Author, Origins: Linking Science and Scripture
How shall we relate to current conflicts over origins?
The newspaper headlines read "Creationism Is Scientific Prostitution." I had heard a prominent scientist make this exact statement the day before, but I was surprised that such an accusation should make the headlines. I was in New Orleans attending the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, and of special interest to me were two symposia on creation and geology.
The statement quoted above came from a professor of geology at Oregon State University. Other statements from noted scientists included: creationists are "as crooked as a three-dollar bill" and they "intentionally and cynically mislead well-intentioned citizens." "Biblical catastrophism is dishonest, nasty." Creationism is the "tyranny of a well organized and strongly motivated minority," "erroneous pseudo-science they pass off as scholarship," "a ruse," and one "should not let science fall to the fraud of creationists."
This was not your usual scientific meeting presentation. The emotionalism I saw far exceeded that of ordinary scientific discussion. Gone was the image of the white-coat-clad, cool, calm, calculating, objective scientist.
Scant Acceptance. Lest we creationists settle smugly into self-righteousness, I should note that these scientists were reporting on a number of well-documented errors made by creationists. It is not that difficult to find significant errors in any broad area of science. What had especially irritated these scientists was a Gallup poll of adults in the United States taken two months earlier that showed how few were accepting the evolutionary model that life came about by itself. The same poll has been taken during the last two decades, and the results indicate a consistent preference for the creation of humans by God within the last 10,000 years (44-47%) as compared to an evolutionary process over millions of years where no God is involved (9-12%). A significant group (37-40%) believes that God has guided the development of humans over millions of years (see table at right).
Scientists at these symposia discussed why so few were following them. Some suggested poor teaching. In my opinion this was not the problem. More important was the fact that they had a weak product to sell. It is difficult for many to believe that all of the universes amenities for life, and the complexities of life itself, just happened by themselves.
Warfare. The Gallup poll demonstrates the ongoing warfare between science and the Bibleone of the greatest intellectual battles of all time, and especially during the last two centuries. Science advocates evolution, sometimes called naturalistic evolution, which postulates that life developed on earth, all by itself, without God, gradually, over billions of years. The Bible, on the other hand, suggests creation, also called biblical creation or recent creation, in which God created life in a six-day period a few thousand years ago. The Seventh-day Adventist church has a special concern about this matter, both because of our belief that the Bible is the Word of God and because our Sabbath is based on a day of rest that followed a six-day creation by God. Sciences evolutionary model negates both of these tenets.
How has our church been affected by this conflict of views? What are some of the solutions that have been proposed? How do these measure up to the evidence, both in nature and in Scripture?
Discussion of Origins Within Adventism
Our early church pioneers were not especially concerned about the burgeoning theory of evolution. Sometimes they discussed it, but usually they simply dismissed it as invalid. They were more concerned about the Bible, its prophecies, and carrying the gospel to all the world. Ellen G. White occasionally referred to evolution; she considered it, and ideas that life developed over eons of time, as incorrect and even harmful. In the first half of the last century, pioneer Adventist scientists such as George McCready Price, Harold Clark, and Frank L. Marsh helped steer the church away from any evolutionary ideas, all affirming that God had created life on earth in six days a few thousand years ago.
However, by the middle of the 20th century some Adventist science teachers had some concerns, especially about radiometric dating and the fossil record. At their suggestion, in 1958 the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists organized what became the Geoscience Research Institute. It was not long before some scientists at the Institute started suggesting, subtly at first, and later more openly, that life had existed on earth for a much longer time than the few thousand years suggested in the Bible. Other scientists at the Institute felt that the scientific data could be reinterpreted otherwise, and indeed some data suggested a much briefer period than the millions of years that science was claiming.2 This discussion among scientists in the church has continued ever since then.
Scientists. For Adventists, the main issue is not especially about whether evolution or creation is correct. Most Adventist scientists do not accept the main tenets of evolution. The real question is whether life developed gradually over millions of years, or whether life was created by God in six days a few thousand years ago as the Bible indicates.
A survey of Adventist college-level science teachers in North America taken in 1994 found that nearly two-thirds believe in a six day creation. More than two-thirds of those that believe in a six day creation think it occurred less than 10,000 years ago, while the rest opt for a six day creation between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago. Only 18.2% opt for lifes having developed by Gods activity over millions of years, while a few have other ideas.3
Almost two-thirds of the scientists believe that most fossils result from the biblical flood. This great worldwide4 Genesis flood is a crucial point in the discussion,5 because that flood is the way one can reconcile the sequence of fossils found in the crust of the earth with a six day creation. Instead of the fossils having been laid down gradually over millions of years, as evolution postulates, the creation view proposes that most fossils resulted from burial of animals and plants during the year-long Genesis flood.
Theologians. We do not have a survey of the thinking of Adventist theologians in North America on this question. In some of our institutions most of them would support a six-day creation while in others almost all would side against the concept. Sometimes the discussion on this issue is friendly, and sometimes it generates more heat than light. Most of the debates participants are sincere and concerned scholars who evaluate science and the Bible in different ways.
Unfortunately, in some cases emotions have been so strong that participants have compromised the truth, both in oral and written argumentation. In my opinion, the discussion would profit from a greater willingness on the part of some Adventist scholars to be more open to alternatives to traditional scientific interpretations. Science repeatedly reverses its views. Todays dogma can be tomorrows heresy.
Books. Recently an unusual number of books on this topic have been published within the broad Adventist sphere of influence. I know of at least ten within the last five years.6 Nine of these strongly support the biblical model of a recent creation. Of special note is the book In Six Days: Why 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation, which validates the fact that one can be a scientist and also believe in creation. The most comprehensive book in the list is Origins: Linking Science and Scripture, which is, or soon will be, available in fifteen translations, including Chinese and Russian. These translations are being published largely by Adventist publishing houses and reflect the depth of interest within the church in the relation of science to the Bible.
Adventisms rank and file are not greatly troubled regarding the validity of the Bible and its creation account. They generally accept the Bible as the Word of God. The church focuses on evangelizing the world, and membership is growing at an unprecedented, almost unbelievable, rate.
However, not all is well. Questions arise about the truthfulness of the Bible and its creation account, especially in some of our advanced educational institutions. This is more important for Adventism than would seem so at first, because Adventist beliefs are largely maintained or changed in our influential advanced educational institutions.
Alternatives to Creation
While many view the battle between science and the Bible as a conflict between creation and evolution, the issue is complicated by important views that try to reconcile one to the other by accepting and rejecting parts of each. These intermediate views, popular in many mainline Christian churches, figure largely in contemporary Christianitys debate about origins. In these intermediate models you can still have a personal God and yet have life develop over millions of years, as evolution asserts.
A variety of such models has been proposed.7 The two most prominent ones are progressive creation and theistic evolution. Recently a new movement called intelligent design has appeared. Its focus is very much on the scientific evidence for the existence of a designer. This movements parameters are broad enough to incorporate theistic evolution, progressive creation, and many other such views.
Progressive Creation. This model assumes that God performed many different creation events over many millions of years. Within this model, some try to interpret the days of creation as vast periods of time (the day-age interpretation), but the order for the various kinds of fossils we find on earth does not at all match the Genesis sequence of the creation events (Gen 1:9-29). Still, those who hold this view interpret the limited degree of progression from simple to complex in ascending through the fossil layers of the earth as degrees of progression in Gods creative acts.
The progressive creation model faces a number of problems:
Neither the data of nature nor the Bible suggests directly that creation occurred this way. The idea itself lacks support from any good source of evidence.
The model disallows the Bibles concept of a six-day, all-inclusive creation as given in Genesis and the Ten Commandments.
In the progressive creation model, the presence of fierce predators long before the creation of mansuch as the 50-foot, flesh-eating dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rexnegates the Genesis account of a good Creator and a perfect creation. Here we have evil, in the form of predation, before the fall of humanity and the consequences of sin (Gen 3:14-19). This challenges not only the Genesis account of beginnings; in the New Testament, the apostle Paul attests that evil originated with mans transgression (Rom 5:12-19).
Progressive creation also implies many errors or failures by God over long periods of time. Thousands of important groups of plants and animals at various levels in the fossil record are not now living on the earths surface. Why would a loving, all-knowing God create so many forms of life, just to have them die out? Again, in the progressive creation model, this occurred long before the advent of man, his fall, and the consequences of sin on nature as reported in Scripture. Progressive creation raises this question without providing a good explanation. One can imagine a God who would create by this method, but this would not be the kind of God portrayed in the Bible, whose creation is described as "very good" (Gen 1:31). The explanation for these extinct organisms that harmonizes with Scripture is the worldwide flood brought on as a result of human wickedness.
Theistic Evolution. The theistic evolution model associates God with a continuous process of evolutionary development from simple to complex over many millions of years, with evolution a paramount part of the process. The idea fits fairly well with many concepts of the general theory of evolution while still permitting Gods activity. God is available to bridge some of the difficult barriers that evolution faces.
The model, however, faces some serious difficulties:
The problems we noted above for progressive creation also apply to theistic evolution.
In addition, the missing links between the major fossil groups suggest that no continuous evolutionary process ever occurred. Where we would expect thousands of evolutionary intermediates, especially between the major groups of organisms, virtually none are found that can be considered valid.
The model is demeaning to God. In contrast to the all-powerful Creator described in the Bible, this God uses the crutch of evolution to produce advanced forms. An evolutionary model implies slow progress and competition, but these challenge Gods creative power, knowledge, and goodness. Survival of only the fittest by competition and the death of the weak, as proposed for the evolutionary model, seems especially out of character with the God of the Bible who has concern for the sinner (Isa 44:21, 22), does not forget the sparrow (Lk 12:6), and whose ideal for life includes the lion and the lamb living peacefully together (Isa 11:6; 65:25).
Relation to Scientific Data
The evolutionary model, as accepted by science, faces serious scientific problems.8 While evolutionists suggest some answers, these are unsatisfactory, and the problems persist. Especially noteworthy are:
How could living forms, which even at their simplest level are very complex, arise all by themselves?
How could complex organisms or systems gradually evolve from simple ones? Random evolutionary changes have no foresight to plan ahead, and survival of the fittest would eliminate the intermediate forms because they could not function and would be useless until all the necessary parts had evolved. The very mechanism which Charles Darwin proposed for evolution would actually interfere with the gradual development of complex biological systems.
The gaps or "missing links" between the major fossil groups suggests that evolution never occurred.
In several ways, a significant body of geologic data suggests that the long geological eons proposed for evolution and the deposition of the earths sedimentary layers did not occur. For instance, the present rate of erosion of the continents by rain and rivers is so fast that, if the earth had existed for as long as geologists claim, we should have no continents left by now. They would have disappeared in less than just one percent of their proposed geologic age. Evolution needs all the time it can muster for the highly improbable events it postulates, and the billions of years suggested are totally inadequate, yet the rate of erosion of the continents suggests that much less time was available.
When we look at the arrangement of fossils in the layers of the earths crust from the perspective of long geological ages, we see a very strange thing. During the first 5/6 of the assumed evolutionary time (i.e., 3,000 million years), virtually no evolution took place. Organisms are essentially still in the one-cell stage over that entire period of time. Then suddenly, in less than 1/35 of evolutionary time (less than 100 million years), practically all the major groups of animals appear. Plants also appear quickly but a little less suddenly. Evolutionists call this sudden appearance of animals the Cambrian explosion and acknowledge the problem. This pattern does not fit what we should expect from a gradual ongoing evolutionary process. The pattern fits better with creation. In that model the Cambrian explosion represents the marine organisms buried in the lowest seas during the great Genesis flood.9
To all this we can add the new evidence for the fine-tuning of the universe. That evidence points to a number of physical constants that are essential to our universes existence and that are so precise that they must have been designed by some intelligent mind. All of these things make one wonder how the data of nature can point so well towards God, while scientists keep pointing away from Him. How long can scientists keep on pretending that there is no God?
Mixed Scientific Picture. In poorly-authenticated views such as theistic evolution and progressive creation, which are intermediate between naturalistic evolution and biblical creation, one finds a mixed picture regarding the scientific data. Some of the problems listed above for evolution, such as the data that challenge the long geological ages, also apply to both theistic evolution and progressive creation. The existence of gaps or missing links between major fossil groups favors both the biblical creation and progressive creation models, because one would expect missing links in both models. However, the same data challenge both naturalistic evolution and theistic evolution, where missing links are not expected.
Challenges to Creation. The most serious challenges that the creation model faces from science are:
A general increase in complexity of fossil types as one ascends through the layers of the earths crust. Evolutionists consider this as evidence for evolutionary progression over time. One creationist explanation for this is that it reflects the distribution of organisms before the Genesis flood. The gradually rising waters of the flood buried these organisms sequentially, in order. Todays distribution of organisms on the earth, with microorganisms in the deep rocks in the lowest position, marine organisms in the oceans in an intermediate position, and the most advanced on land higher up, reflects some of this general increase in complexity. In other words, the pattern of increased complexity of fossils is not due to evolution but to the effects of the flood on the organisms in their natural distribution.10
Radiometric dating methods such as potassium-argon and carbon-14 often give dates far beyond a biblical time frame. These methods are complex and involve many exceptions and assumptions. The dates obtained are subject to some valid reevaluation when the Genesis flood is taken into account.11 We would expect such a flood to change some of the parameters associated with these complex dating methods.
Many of the scientific problems of evolution, and the evidence for design referred to above, provide scientific support for the biblical creation model. The new trend in geology, called neo-catastrophism, interprets a significant portion of the geologic layers as a result of rapid catastrophic deposition.12 This is scientific evidence that especially supports the biblical model of a worldwide flood.13
Relation to the Bible
The only model that fits the Bible is that of a recent creation by God in six days. The Bible has only one model of creation. Nowhere do we find suggestions that life developed over eons of time. In this respect the biblical creation model stands in stark contrast to models such as naturalistic evolution, theistic evolution, or progressive creation. Ellen White also supports only the biblical model of origins.14 The question of the amount of time for the development of life on earth is a major difference between biblical creation and the other leading models that propose millions or billions of years for the gradual development of life.
Allegory or History? Those who adopt one of the views intermediate between creation and evolution often assume that the creation and flood accounts in the first part of Genesis (Genesis 1-11) are allegorical. Such an approach undermines the Bible as a whole because, either directly or by implication, the leading Bible personalities refer to the first part of Genesis as factual history and not allegory. Their testimony supports the truthfulness of the biblical account of beginnings. Peter, Paul, Christ, and God are among those in Scripture who in various ways authenticate the truthfulness of the creation and flood accounts.15 In the most direct words we have from Him, written with His own finger (Ex 31:18), God Himself states in the Ten Commandments that we should keep the Sabbath holy because He created all in six days (Ex 20:11).
If you believe in the biblical account of beginnings, you are in the good company of Peter, Paul, Christ, and God. It would be a strange kind of God who would create over millions of years and then ask human beings to keep holy the seventh-day Sabbath as a memorial of His creating all in six days. Repeatedly Scripture tells us that the God of the Bible always speaks the truth and detests lying. As God, He could order that the Sabbath be kept for a variety of other reasons. It would likewise be a strange God who for millennia would allow His prophets to misrepresent the all-important story of beginnings, only to wait for Charles Darwin and others to present the correct view.
There does not seem to be any way to reconcile the biblical account of beginnings with the long geological ages proposed in models like naturalistic evolution, theistic evolution, and progressive creation.
Eroded Beliefs, Membership. Views lying somewhere between biblical creation and naturalistic evolution have profoundly influenced the beliefs of many Christian churches. Since the theory of evolution became popular more than a century ago, many religious denominations have adopted various ideas of lifes progressive development over many millions of years. It is disappointing to see churches that once placed a high priority on biblical truth eventually abandon their position, yet it occurs, often slowly and insidiously.
Loss of membership often accompanies erosion of beliefs.16 In recent years the mainline churches in the United Stateswho no longer believe in the biblical account of creation and many other traditional biblical conceptshave lost millions of members, while the more conservative evangelical churches have grown rapidly. It is particularly difficult to convince people that Christianity is for real when churches consider the Bible to be in error, especially with respect to the important question of origins.
Drifting away from the Bible and God is a common sociological pattern, repeatedly illustrated in biblical history. Over and over again, God had to use drastic means to reverse such trends. Incidents such as the Genesis flood, the Israelites long sojourn in the desert, and the Babylonian captivity depict how difficult but important it is to resist such pressures.
Educational Drift. Modern educational institutions also reflect the same tendency to drift. A large number of institutions of higher learning in the United States (such as Auburn University, Boston University, Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Rutgers, Tufts, the University of Southern California, Wesleyan University, Wichita State University, and Yale) began as religious institutions but have moved well down the path of secularization and are no longer church-related. It is significant that (at least to this writers knowledge) no institution which began as secular has become religious. Here also the trend seems to be away from God.
This is not entirely surprising. As long as the dominant climate of scholarly pursuits is secular, we can expect this to happen. Without special efforts to counter these trends, we must expect drifting. Public educational institutions, and many private ones, no longer condone, let alone encourage, religious commitment. Throughout history, the pattern of gradually sliding away from God illustrates how one can easily and imperceptibly amble from a belief in a recent creation by God to a naturalistic evolutionary model where there is no God. Adventism needs to be especially wary of such insidious trends.
Adventism is facing some of the same sociological pressures that have brought other churches to give up belief in biblical creation. However, one of the problems facing those who reject the biblical model is their failure to provide a more authenticated model than creation or an adequate substitute for the Bible as the Word of God. It is becoming increasingly clear that for two centuries science has led us down an evolutionary pathway that is becoming less and less tenable. Has science also led us down an erroneous pathway about the amount of time life has been on earth? Some of the scientific data that challenge the long geological ages is hard to explain away.
Makes Sense. When I look at both the Bible and the data from nature, the creation model makes much more sense to me than the other proposed models. The Seventh-day Adventist church has a particularly important creation message for this time. The first angels message urges the worship of the Creator. The seventh-day Sabbath, essentially our most distinctive doctrine, is founded on a seven-day creation week.
Our confidence that the Bible is the Word of God does not allow for such alternatives to creation as progressive creation, theistic evolution, or naturalistic evolution. We should not yield to fruitless speculation. As "the people of the Book," we have a special opportunity and responsibility to represent the whole Bible, including its creation message, to a world that is adrift on the great question of how life began here on earth.
2. For some examples, see Chapters 13 and 15 in Ariel A. Roth, Origins: Linking Science and Scripture (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1998).
3. F. Peterson, "Science Faculty Vary in Views on Creationism," Adventist Today, November-December 1994, p. 19.
4. Richard M. Davidson, "Biblical Evidence for the Universality of the Genesis Flood," Origins 22 (1995):58-73.
5. John T. Baldwin, ed., Creation, Catastrophe and Calvary: Why a Global Flood Is Vital to the Doctrine of Atonement (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2000).
6. J. F. Ashton, ed., In Six Days: Why 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation (Sydney, Australia: New Holland Publishers, 1999); John T. Baldwin, ed., Creation, Catastrophe, and Calvary: Why a Global Flood Is Vital to the Doctrine of Atonement (see Note 5 above); Leonard Brand, Faith, Reason, and Earth History (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1997); J. Flori and H. Rasolofomasoandro, En Busca de Los Origenes: ¿Evolution o Creación? (Madrid: Editorial Safeliz, S.L., 2000); P. A. L. Giem, Scientific Theology (Riverside, Calif.: La Sierra University Press, 1997); C. Mitchell, Creationism Revisited (Alma Park, Lincs., England: Autumn House Limited, 1999); James L. Hayward, ed., Creation Reconsidered (Roseville, Calif.: Association of Adventist Forums, 2000); Dwight K. Nelson, Built to Last: Creation and Evolution: A Thoughtful Look at the Evidence That a Master Designer Created Our Planet(Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1998); Ariel A. Roth, Origins: Linking Science and Scripture (see Note 2 above); Randall W. Younker, Gods Creation: Exploring the Genesis Story (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1999).
7. For numerous references to some of the literature and for an evaluation of a number of these models, see the following by Ariel A. Roth: Chapter 21 in Origins: Linking Science and Scripture(see Note 2 above); "How to Invalidate the BibleUnconsciously: Some Thoughts on Pluralism About Origins," Adventist Perspectives 2/2 (1988):12-27; "Implications of Various Interpretations of the Fossil Record," Origins 7/2 (1980):71-86.
8. For discussion of these problems, see Chapters 4-8, 11, 13, and 15 in Ariel A. Roth, Origins: Linking Science and Scripture (see Note 2 above).
9. See Note 6 above.
10. For a comprehensive discussion of this and other explanations for the fossil sequence in a creation context, see Chapter 10 in Ariel A. Roth, Origins: Linking Science and Scripture (see Note 2 above).
11. For further information, see Robert H. Brown, "Compatibility of Biblical Chronology With C-14 Age," Origins 21 (1994):66-79; Robert H. Brown, "Correlation of C-14 Age With the Biblical Time Scale," Origins 17 (1990):56-65; Chapter 5 in P. A. L. Giem, Scientific Theology (see Note 6 above); and Chapter 14 in Ariel A. Roth, Origins: Linking Science and Scripture (see Note 2 above).
12. See Chapters 12, 13 and 15 in Ariel A. Roth, Origins: Linking Science and Scripture (see Note 2 above).
13. For some references, see Ariel A. Roth, "Catastrophism? Yes!" Dialogue 10/2 (1998):11-15.
14. See, for example, Education, p. 128.
15. See 1 Peter 3: 20; 2 Peter 2:5; 3:3-6; Romans 5:12-14; 1 Corinthians 11:8; 15:22, 45; 1 Timothy 2:13, 14; Hebrews 11:4-7; Matthew 19:4-6; 24:37, 38; Mark 10:6; Luke 17:26, 27; Isaiah 54:9; Exodus 20:11; 31:17.
16. Dean M. Kelley, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing: A Study in Sociology of Religion, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1972, 1977).