SDA Fundamental Belief Number 6 (Creation)

God is Creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the authentic and historical account of His creative activity. He created the universe, and in a recent six-day creation six days the Lord made “the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in themand all living things upon the earth, and rested on the seventh day of that first week. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work the work He performed and completed during six literal days that together with the Sabbath constituted the same unit of time that we call a week today. The first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was “very good,” declaring the glory of God.  (Gen. 1-2; 5; 11; Exod. 20:8-11; Ps. 19:1-6; 33:6, 9; 104; Isa. 45:12, 18; Acts 17:24; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; 11:3; Rev. 10:6; 14:7.) (Gen. 1; 2; Ex. 20:8-11; Ps. 19:1-6; 33:6, 9; 104; Heb. 11:3.)

In the 1980 version, this fundamental particularly sought to deny, on the basis of Scripture, three beliefs that Seventh-day Adventists in general reject. 1) It denied that each of the days of creation in Genesis 1 can or should be interpreted as representing long ages. 2) It denied the “gap theory” in which long periods of time occur between the various days of creation. 3) It denied that life on this earth, particularly human life, began long ages in the past. The large scientific picture of the universe is in broad agreement with that perspective. According to the current scientific understanding, the universe is perhaps 13 billion years old, the earth has been around for 2-4 billion and human life is an extremely recent development. While there were many issues unaddressed by the 1980 statement, it affirmed a broad consensus between the evidence of Scripture (the earth and the heavenly universe were here before creation week—Gen 1:2) and the evidence of science. A broad-based, inclusive statement like the 1980 version allowed for a variety of solutions to perceived differences between Scripture and science. But a series of conferences and recent science/faith controversies led church leadership to the conclusion that the 1980 statement wasn’t specific enough.

So this is the fundamental belief that was most changed by the recent actions in San Antonio.  As originally expressed (in 1980), the wording was largely drawn from the biblical text itself, and was careful not to say much more than what the biblical text actually said. This style was and is in keeping with most of the fundamentals, so there is danger that the changes mandated by a group process may create a type of fundamental that is different in kind from the others. The major concern is whether the new wording will tend to divide more than it unifies believers.

Looking specifically at the changes, four phrases are crossed out, not because there was anything wrong with them, but because the new wording replaced them with different, lengthier or more specific language. So let’s focus on the additions. To the first sentence was added the words “and historical.” This was to exclude the idea that Genesis was not intended as literal history, but as legend or poetry that should not be taken literally. As a student of Hebrew, I can affirm that Genesis is not poetry, it is narrative. Adventists generally agree that Genesis 1 is historical rather than legendary narrative, hence the addition. The addition of Genesis, chapters 5 and 11, to the text list was to provide biblical evidence for the relatively short length of the history between Genesis 1 and Abraham.

The addition of “He created the universe” is deliberately separated from the six-day creation to leave open the reading that suggests an old earth but a much more recent creation of life as we know it. A recent six-day creation” was designed to conclusively rule out the idea that the days of Genesis could be read as long ages, although the previous statement was clear enough for most on that point.

The biblical quotation from Exodus 20:11 was expanded to include “the sea and all that is in them.” The language of Exodus 20 seems to restrict the six-day creation to this earth. It is not talking about the original creation of the universe. Since Adventists believe there were other worlds watching the creation (Job 38:7) and that sin arose before the creation of humanity, it would be consistent to see Genesis 1 as describing a later act than the creation of the universe. So this expanded statement does not take sides in the young earth vs. old earth debate. The age of the earth is an open question, it is life on this earth that is “recent.”  The lengthy and awkward addition in the fifth through seventh lines (the work He performed and completed during six literal days that together with the Sabbath constituted the same unit of time that we call a week today”) was designed to exclude the idea the days of the week were different in length at the time of creation than they are now. The assertion, generally accepted by the church’s membership, is that the days of creation were roughly 24-hours long in today’s terms.

Because this fundamental has become as controversial as it has, it is difficult to get groups of people talking honestly about it. The discussion often bogs down to assertions, condemnation and ridicule, and such tactics can be used by all sides. A thoughtful exploration of what we know and what we don’t know on the topic can be hard to come by. One of the problems with this topic is that many or even most Christians who think carefully about the topic have come to believe that the science on the matter of origins has been settled, so the only issue is how to accommodate Scripture within the scientific worldview.

While there are a few Adventists, mostly practicing scientists, who have adopted such a view, most Adventists tend to differ. They believe that origins science is still in its infancy and that creation may one day, when we know more than we do now, have scientific credibility. So they are reluctant to allow science to determine how one reads Scripture and often feel that the “science” itself is more determined by atheistic presuppositions than by the evidence. So the Adventist Church has always been at the forefront of “creation science,” the attempt to apply sound scientific research principles to the matter of origins, seeking the holes in the arguments for macro-evolution (evolution as applied to long ages rather than observable experience) and also evidence for God’s design in creation and a relatively recent history for life on this earth.

But this viewpoint is challenging for most Adventist scientists, particularly when the evidence creation scientists uncover does not support traditional views, as is frequently the case (I have done tours of geological formations with some of the most fervent creation scientists and they have candidly pointed out difficulties). The danger of a more-detailed fundamental on creation (as recently voted by the world church) is that it glosses over the challenges and tempts proponents to manage the evidence in their teaching and preaching so as to win an argument rather than pursue the truth. Such “fudging” is very challenging for young people learning their way into the basic sciences. It can lead them to believe that the arguments for creation depend on the ignorance of the audience. They often feel that the more you learn, the less satisfying are the answers sometimes given.

I am not a scientist, I am a biblical scholar. So my default position is to approach the subject on the basis of the best understanding of Genesis 1 and 2 and similar biblical texts, rather than merely accept the consensus of science. But I realize that for a scientist, the matter is not so simple. I do not believe, therefore, that we should ask people to suspend logic, evidence, facts or reason in their pursuit of truth. I do not believe that we should ask people to believe that science as generally practiced is an elaborate deception, foisted upon us by those who are seeking ways to undermine the Bible and belief in God. What we need alongside this fundamental is a companion statement, written by believing scientists, that articulates exactly how evolutionary science should be taught and practiced in the light of the faith statement the world-wide representatives of the church have voted. I have often called for this, but I am not aware of such a statement at this time. Until it is there, believers will need to be very understanding of the deep challenges that young scientists face when they seek to integrate their faith with their practice of scientific method. Scientists need room to explore or they quickly fall behind their peers.

Let me suggest one possible way forward. The Asian mind can deal with tensions like this (between science and creation) better than the Western mind. The Western mind is shaped by Greek philosophical concepts that require black and white outcomes, and uniformity of thinking. This philosophical foundation permeates biblical scholarship as well as science, demanding precision where the Bible offers little, demanding answers when it asks all the wrong questions (like “Should women be ordained?” a question not asked in the Bible and, therefore, not answered compellingly in the Bible). The Asian mind, like the Hebrew mindset of the Bible writers, is OK with a little ambiguity. Perhaps on this fundamental, we should be OK with a little ambiguity as well.

Our discussion at the School of Religion raised some fresh questions that might illustrate some of the above. Do Genesis 1 and 2 discuss the creation of matter or the organization of matter? In the Hebrew mindset could there be distinctions between different kinds of death (first death, second death, natural death, death caused by sin), and would that have implications for the geological column? Is there a “biblical world view,” or is claiming such the result of organizing the Bible’s teachings on the basis of a person’s own experience and reasoning? If the purpose of Genesis 1 and 2 narratives is more theological than scientific, how much scientific information should we really expect from it? Genesis 1 is like a birth certificate, it establishes our identity as human beings more than it declares exactly how we got here.

The Loma Linda approach to this topic is grounded in our value of humility (LLU has seven foundational values: justice, compassion, humility, integrity, freedom and self-control/purity). True scholarship is not so much about how much one knows, it is about knowing how little one knows. What science does NOT know is much greater than what it does know. What Genesis does NOT say is much greater than what it does say. A standpoint of humility allows the freedom to think and explore within broad general guidelines. On the whole, the 28 SDA Fundamentals do a marvelous job of managing the church’s approach to challenging topics. Time will tell how the changes voted in San Antonio will play out in the church’s experience.

2 thoughts on “SDA Fundamental Belief Number 6 (Creation)

  1. Ed Reifsnyder

    “The Asian mind, like the Hebrew mindset of the Bible writers, is OK with a little ambiguity. Perhaps on this fundamental, we should be OK with a little ambiguity as well.”

    I am completely in synch with this suggestion. There is so much of this matter that is unknowable, in spite of the best work of young earth creationists and of those who see a different history.

    Ambiguity may be particularly appealing to non-scientists who are tempted to say “a pox on both your houses” to those who with a high degree of certitude argue endlessly about the limited, knowable body of information about what really happened thousands or millions of years ago.

    And of course, one’s view of origins may be colored by one’s view of inspiration. Did the Holy Spirit say to the writer of Genesis, “Here is exactly what happened” or did the writer pass along what the writer knew at that time? The answer to that question may well determine how one talks on this subject.

    Reply
    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      Your last sentence is quite sobering in face of all the certainty out there. 🙂 I believe we will all face many theological surprises in the kingdom.

      Reply

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