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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.

Other Cautions with the Design Argument

This is the eighth in a series of guest blogs on science, religion, and design by Dr. Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The words that follow are his.

(1) Design arguments are good, but not an air-tight case for a Designer. Although I believe that the universe, Earth, and life were designed by God, I am careful (often uncomfortable) about using design arguments. Looking at the natural world and universe as a believer, I can see the evidence for God’s direct design; but looking from a scientist’s perspective who uses methodological naturalism, I realize that other explanations are often possible and at times may be better (Young and Edis, 2004; Stenger 2011). The design argument is a good one, but it must be used carefully. Dependence on it can be like Israel depending on Egypt (Isa 36:6). Using design to encourage faith in the believer is well-intentioned and probably useful; using design as an anti-evolution polemic to convert the unbeliever has pitfalls.

(2) Design arguments often use marketing flair and rhetoric over academic rigor and full intellectual honesty. Arguments that need to be used carefully are: chance and incredulity (how could this complexity have occurred randomly?) and the cool factor (it’s so neat that God must have done it); they appeal to the non-scientist by not giving the full set of data and interpretations.

(3) The design argument may leave one with a God who designed the evil in the world, or at least allows it. Weinberg (1992, p.250) says, “Although I understand pretty well how brightly colored feathers evolved out of a competition for mates, it is almost irresistible to imagine that all this beauty was somehow laid on for our benefit. But the God of birds and trees would have to be also the God of birth defects and cancer.” Are the catastrophes in the universe designed – colliding galaxies, exploding supernova, and what at times appears to be chaos? Does God use stellar evolution to design the necessary elements for the universe? Did plate movement form the continents before life existed on earth? Are the catastrophic earthquakes and volcanoes directly associated with plate tectonics part of the design?

(4) Design arguments do not necessarily require the God of the Bible. They can also lead to various other metaphysical philosophies: New Age, Eastern mysticism, pantheism, theosophy, Hare Krishna, etc (e.g., Bhaktivedanta Institute). The design argument can also leave one with a deistic God – a God who sets things up correctly at the beginning to have the right fine-tuned constants, habitable planets, and life-developing properties and then just lets history take its course without further intervention. Projecting from methodological naturalism to philosophical naturalism in its extreme form is insufficient, but in some modified form it appeals to some, e.g., Howard van Till (1995).

(5) One cannot prove the existence of God and shouldn’t feel the need for science to prove the Bible. That may be like expecting proof of Jesus’ Messiah-ship by asking for signs and wonders (John 4:48). The design argument is not a silver bullet; humans have a choice. As observed by Blaise Pascal in his Pensées:

“We have an incapacity for proving anything which no amount of dogmatism can overcome. We have an idea of truth which no amount of skepticism can overcome.” — frag. 406

 “God wishes to move the will rather than the mind. Perfect clarity would help the mind and harm the will.” — frag. 234

To be concluded. . .

Caution: Design Can Be a God-of-the-Gaps

This is the sixth in a series of guest blogs on science, religion, and design by Dr. Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The words that follow are his.

These naturalistic explanations for design have their problems, but an appeal to a supernatural being also has its problems as pointed out in the book 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Goldstein (2010). The design argument can easily degenerate into a god-of-the-gaps argument (McGrath 2014; Luskin 2014): Anything humans can’t explain, must have been by God’s specific intervention.

Before Sir Isaac Newton, God was thought to be directly responsible for making sure the sun rose every morning. Then Newton explained the motion of the sun, moon, and Earth using the laws of gravitation, while still attributing the laws to God’s design. Because of these natural laws, the observation of Halley’s comet in 1682 resulted in a predicted return in 1757; a yet to be observed planet (Neptune) was used to explain what would otherwise be slight gravitational irregularities in the orbit of Uranus. However, equations for a solar system with more than two bodies could not be solved exactly, and perturbations could accumulate and disrupt the order. So Newton felt that God (a god of the gaps) had to occasionally intervene to adjust the orbits because they were unstable and could become chaotic.

Eventually it was found that the perturbations averaged to zero and planetary motions were stable, so that equilibrium in the solar system could be explained without some supernatural intervention. Pierre Simon de Laplace further developed the theory of cosmology and carried naturalistic determinism to the point of saying that the future behavior of the universe is absolutely predictable, given the present position and motion of every particle today. He believed that nature was so well designed, that there was no need for a “god-of-the-gaps”. Tradition has it that Laplace gave his 1798 book, Mécanique Céleste to Napoleon, who said: “M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.” LaPlace responded, “Je n’ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse” … “I have no need of that hypothesis.”

Now theists seem comfortable accepting that God works through natural law to keep the solar system working without occasionally intervening in some “supernatural” way not amenable to scientific study. Over time the need for God seemed to decrease and this god-of-the-gaps design argument has fallen into disrepute. Thus, using the design argument as a god-of-the-gaps argument can be dangerous, because further evidence can refute the argument. Intelligent design arguments can do religion a disservice. One who makes a proof for God on the evidence of design today must be prepared for a possible disproof tomorrow.

To be continued. . .

Suggested Naturalistic Explanations for Design

This is the fifth in a series of guest blogs on science, religion, and design by Dr. Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The words that follow are his.

The evidence of fine-tuning has been explained naturalistically in various ways:

(1) Perhaps the fine-tuning of the constants is the only possible way that the laws of nature could exist (Weinberg 1992). Natural design happens all the time; take the intricate frost patterns for example, just based on the properties of water molecules.

(2) Perhaps it is not so much that the universe is finely adapted for life, but that life adapted itself to the universe through evolution, natural selection, and survival of the fittest. Organisms adapt to conditions, so perhaps other conditions than those on Earth could be adapted to by some form of life. The designer is just the environment.

(3) The Anthropic Principle is a suggested alternative to requiring a Designer (Carr and Rees 1979; Carter 1974; Barrow and Tipler 1986; Greenstein and Kropf 1989). The weak form of the principle states that: if the laws of the universe weren’t such as to allow life, we wouldn’t be here to notice, i.e., what we expect to observe is restricted by the conditions necessary for the presence of an observer. The Strong Anthropic Principle states that the laws of the universe necessarily must be such as to allow life. To many this explanation is lacking in appeal; it is like explaining why you can see an elephant in your living room by saying that you wouldn’t see it there if it wasn’t there.

The anthropic principle suggests that the laws are the way they are by chance and low probability events happen all the time. For example, the chance of you having your parents, being born where you were, and having the characteristics that you have is very small, but it happened. Any calculations concerning the likelihood of chance events are based on assumptions and changing the assumptions can profoundly change the calculated chances. Many features are necessary for life to exist on a particular planet, but with many planets orbiting many stars, it is possible that some might have the right conditions. In The Grand Design, Hawking and Mlodinow (2010) say, “In the same way that the environmental coincidences of the solar system were rendered unremarkable by the realization that billions of such systems exist, the fine-tunings in the laws of nature can be explained by the existence of multiple universes.”

(4) Infinite time and space have been suggested as possible explanations for the chance coincidences. Infinite time could be provided by multiple universes in series. Infinite space could be provided by having multiple universes in parallel. Perhaps many different universes exist in different spaces with different physical laws and we just happen to live in the one universe with the laws that make life possible. A multiverse was suggested by Hugh Everett in the 1950s to remove the strangeness of the observer effect in quantum mechanics. A non-observable universe has been suggested beyond what we can see out to 14 billion light years. And general relativity suggests additional dimensions beyond the three space dimensions that we observe. The multiverse concept is interesting, but beyond what science can observe.

Hawking explains the multiverse theory as Richard Feynman explains the quantum mechanical nature of light – just as light particles take multiple, in fact all possible, paths in the double slit experiment, the presence of “all possible universes” best explains the many options for choices in quantum theory (Bortz, 2010). M-theory allows 10500 universes, which would then allow for the possibility of different theories for each of the different universes. In The Grand Design, Hawking and Mlodinow (2010) explain that “according to quantum theory, the cosmos does not have just a single existence, or history, but rather that every possible history of the universe exists simultaneously … [Hawking and Mlodinow] question the conventional concept of reality, posing instead a ‘model-dependent’ theory of reality … the laws of our particular universe are extraordinarily finely tuned so as to allow for our existence … quantum theory predicts the multiverse–the idea that ours is just one of many universes that appeared spontaneously out of nothing, each with different laws of nature.” A universal inflation is continuing and verified, but the spawning of bubbles of space-time to make the multiverse is not really science, because it cannot be tested.

Physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything; they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions. Naturalistic theory would tell us not to confuse law with agency (Lennox 2010). “Science doesn’t do ‘why’ – it does ‘how’” as Feynman warned (Turner 2010).

To be continued. . .

A Designed Earth and Solar System

This is the third in a series of guest blogs on science, religion, and design by Dr. Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The words that follow are his.

This Earth has a unique set of conditions necessary for life. According to Ward and Brownlee (2000) in their book, Rare Earth, planets with conditions necessary for life are rare in the universe.   However, the on-going search for planets similar to Earth that could support life and for other intelligent beings (SETI) is engendered by the belief that although Earth is rare, it is not impossible to have such conditions elsewhere in the universe (Kasting 2010; Elkins-Tanton 2013).

Here are several examples of Earth’s unique features that make life possible: It rotates fast enough on its axis to give an equitable climate over much of Earth, but not so fast as to give a merry-go-round effect; The force of gravity on a much larger planet would be too great for humans to withstand its force but a smaller Earth with less gravitational attraction would not hold the atmosphere from escape; The molten nature of the interior of Earth creates a magnetic field that shields radiation from space; Earth has an abundance of the correct elements for life (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous), has the necessary atmosphere (nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, ozone), and has abundant water.

Another frequently mentioned design feature of Earth is the need for plate tectonics to sustain life. A planet with moving plates makes possible the formation of continents and the recycling and concentrating of the elements and nutrients necessary for life at the surface of Earth by the processes of volcanism, erosion, and subduction.

The unique properties of light in behaving both as a wave and a particle are important for life. Light can be reflected from a mirror and refracted, or bent, as it passes through a pair of glasses or a microscope lens. Light displays interference patterns as seen in the colors of a peacock wing or the hologram on a credit card. Some of the light spectrum is visible as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet, but most light frequencies are greater or smaller than those in the rainbow, just as most sound frequencies are smaller or greater than those from a piano. Beyond violet are sunburn-causing ultraviolet and the even more energetic X-rays. Below red is infrared felt as heat, microwaves used in ovens, and radio and TV waves. Light behaves as a particle of energy when it hits a solar panel, or in photosynthesis. It has mass and is bent in strong gravitational fields. It sets the speed limit for the universe, 300,000 kilometers/second. According to special relativity, this speed is a constant and everything else is relative. This high speed is the “c” in Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2. When the mass “m” of even a very small atom is multiplied twice by the speed of light, it results in a very large amount of energy.

Earth’s fluid covering of air and water make life possible. The 20% oxygen and 80% nitrogen of Earth’s atmosphere are ideal. More oxygen would make fire control difficult, whereas less oxygen would be insufficient for life. Ozone, made up of three oxygen atoms, shields Earth from radiation coming from space. Air is “strong” enough to support an airplane and “heavy” enough to exert hundreds of pounds of pressure on our body surface. Water covers 70% of the planet. Its high heat capacity decreases Earth’s temperature fluctuations to a range acceptable for life. Unlike most substances, water expands on freezing; thus ice has a lower density than water and will float. If this were not the case, ocean basins would fill with ice from the bottom up. Water is as important for chemistry as light is for physics. It is a basic ingredient in biochemical reactions in our bodies, which are more than half water.

In 1913 Lawrence Henderson, a professor of biological chemistry at Harvard University, wrote The Fitness of the Environment, providing numerous examples of design from chemistry. A number of properties of water are essential to life: specific heat, freezing point, latent heat of fusion, latent heat of vaporization, thermal conductivity, expansion before freezing, solvent power, dielectric constant, ionizing power, surface tension. The chemical properties of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are also essential to life: number, variety, and complexity of compounds, number, variety, and complexity of reactions, evenness and lack of energy change of the process of hydrolytic cleavage, chemical relationship of carbonic acid and water to the sugars, instability of the sugars, variety and reactions of the sugars, and on and on.

Our solar system is uniquely able to sustain life. The distance to the moon is ideal to provide tides that keep the oceans from stagnating, but not so large as to inundate the land areas. Earth’s orbit is nearly circular giving a constant distance to the sun and constant heating for Earth. The sun is the right distance from Earth to provide the necessary light, but not too much heat. Thus water can exist in abundance as liquid, as well as ice and vapor. The other giant planets are far enough away to not disturb Earth’s orbit, but yet close enough to protect Earth from life-extinguishing extra-terrestrial impacts. The solar system is in the ideal location in the galaxy: closer to the edge of the Milky Way galaxy stars have too few metals and closer to the center extreme energy processes occur.

To be continued. . .

The Wish for Design

This is the second in a series of guest blogs on science, religion, and design by Dr. Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The words that follow are his.

Evidence of design for life counters the trend of the Copernican revolution where there is nothing special about this planet, and the Darwinian revolution that says there is nothing special about life. Being designed or planned for, not just some accident, gives an individual worth. Perhaps this is the reason for the disgrace attached to being an illegitimate child—one who is an accident and wasn’t planned. We want to have purpose.

Even though Steven Weinberg’s writings (1992) emphasize a lack of evidence for design, he points out some emotional reasons for wanting to believe in a Designer.

“It would be wonderful to find in the laws of nature a plan prepared by a concerned creator in which human beings played some special role. I find sadness in doubting that we will.” — p.256

 “The lessons of religious experience can be deeply satisfying, in contrast to the abstract and impersonal worldview gained from scientific investigation. Unlike science, religious experience can suggest a meaning for our lives, a part for us to play in a great cosmic drama of sin and redemption, and it holds out to us a promise of some continuation after death. For just these reasons, the lessons of religious experience seem to me indelibly marked with the stamp of wishful thinking.” — p.255

 “… religion did not arise in the minds of men and women who speculated about infinitely prescient first causes but in the heart of those who longed for the continual intervention of an interested God.” — p.248

 “I do not for a minute think that science will ever provide the consolations that have been offered by religion in facing death.” — p.260

 To be continued. . .

Reflections on Annual Council: Fundamental Belief 6

A number of changes in Fundamental number 6 (Creation) have been recommended by the Annual Council. This was in response to the action at the General Conference in 2010 to revise FB6 in light of the Affirmation of Creation document produces at the Science and Creation Conference of 2004 (Glacier View, Colorado). Among the changes is the adjective “recent” in relation to the creation of “the heavens and the earth.” The chronologies of Genesis 5 and 11 were added to the list of Scriptures because they offer the only basis for calculation of ancient biblical dates.

The new statement itself seems to me to support so-called young earth creationism (everything, including the rocks, was created in recent times), which is popular with some protestants outside the SDA Church. This is different from the “young life” position (earth may be billions of years old but life was a fairly recent creation) I generally heard in my years at the Seminary (Andrews University). The chair explained that the statement was intended to leave both options open. In his view, this was done by referencing Exodus 20 in the statement instead of Genesis 1. Exodus 20 does not refer to “in the beginning” but has to do with the creation of this earth only.

This stimulated a vigorous discussion in the Biblical Research Institute Committee (BRICOM). Many members are clearly uncomfortable with the “young earth” position. They note that the Institute for Creation Research (evangelical operation) goes so far as to state a “young universe” position (the entire universe, including galaxies, was created a few thousand years ago). The SDA statement must be worded in such a way that people don’t think it advocates young-earth or young-universe positions.

The chair of the FB committee (Angel Rodriguez) responded that the statement begins with “God created the cosmos,”and no reference to six days or recent history is made. Then the “six days” are brought in and Exodus 20 is quoted. The statement, to Rodriguez, is deliberately ambiguous on the creation of the universe and the physical planet earth. Room is left for theologians to discuss the details.

But some committee members were not satisfied. They noted that Exodus 20 is merely quoting Genesis 1 and that most readers of FB6 are likely to read “heavens” in Exodus 20 as the entire cosmos. Unless the statement is more nuanced, literalistic readers are like to attach the Seminary and other educational institutions simply for teaching what most Adventist creationists have believed for years.

This discussion was most interesting. Even in a group that is firmly committed to SDA beliefs and traditional readings of Scripture and science, there was considerable disagreement on just how FB6 ought to be worded. It was then reported that when the 27 Fundamentals were written up in 1980, not one of the original fundamentals was voted unanimously by the committee. The fundamentals should be understood as a statement of what most Adventists believe, rather than what all believe or should believe.

That raised the question of the purpose of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. In legal terms, are they prescriptive (indicating what everyone “should” believe) or descriptive (describing what most Adventists believe). The Preamble of the Fundamentals suggests they are descriptive. They are intended as a helpful resource for explaining what Adventists believe and inviting others to consider and embrace those beliefs. But more and more voices are treating the Fundamentals as prescriptive, spelling out exactly what people must believe. It seems to me that this is a dangerous turn, one that the early pioneers of the Church would have vigorously opposed.

The fact that the Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists can be changed suggests that they are not a creed. But it is a strange thing to have changeable fundamentals and then enforce them. That suggests that early pioneers like James White and J. N. Andrews could be disfellowshipped today for not believing everything that is now present in the fundamentals. Are we moving toward a fixed creed that all must subscribe to? Or is it still true, as our pioneers said, that the Bible is our only creed? Do we submit our understanding to the Bible, or to our understanding of the Bible. There is an important difference. If the “biblical view” is not what is contained in the Bible, but is now what we think the Bible says, we have made a significant shift. In a very subtle way tradition begins to supplant Scripture. I hope we don’t go there.