Comment on Revisiting God, Sky & Land by Fritz Guy and Brian Bull by Phillip Brantley.
Drs. Guy and Bull are to be commended for the thoughtful book they have written. They are entitled to respect.
Their thesis faces significant headwinds:
1. It is an open question whether their view of ancient Israelite cosmology is correct. In the 2011 spring edition of the Andrews University Seminar Studies journal, Drs. Richard Davidson and Randall Younker have an essay that elaborates on Dr. Younker’s quote above. A fuller treatment of what they wrote is promised. I anticipate that Hebrew cosmology will be rigorously studied rather than assumed in future scholarship. Future scholarship is necessary, because all of these authors’ writings on this matter are at present thin.
2. I spoke to Dr. Walton in Texas last fall when he shared with me his scholarly version of his book The Lost World of Genesis 1. I asked him if there were any refinements. He mentioned a couple, including his view of Raquia. In Chicago, he offered that he was not sure whether Raquia was like the air in the balloon or the solid membrane on the perimeter. In Texas, he stated that he now believes that Raquia is the air in the balloon but finds one verse in Job (I don’t have the specific cite off hand) that depicts the solid dome. I find it risky to base one aspect of Hebrew cosmology on one verse in Scripture. But I find it interesting he has abandoned the view that Raquia is a solid dome.
3. Drs. Guy and Bull were smart to limit their focus to Genesis 1. But the problem remains: how does their thesis accord with the rest of Scripture?
4. There is a hermeneutical problem as well. The innocent reader may be shocked to learn that how the author and his contemporaries understood the text is not dispositive concerning what the text means. 1 Peter 1:10-12 reflects that the ancient rabbis did not always understand the meaning of what they wrote. We see here that Peter introduces a hermeneutical principle that to ascertain the meaning of the text, original intent is insufficient.
Recent Comments by Phillip Brantley
Why those who hate the Bible love blind-faith Christians
The Seventh-day Adventist Church endorsed the Historical-Grammatical hermeneutic of biblical interpretation in the 1986 Annual Council. In so doing, the Church expressly rejected the Historical-Critical hermeneutic of biblical interpretation, as reflected in this statement: “Even a modified use of this method that retains the principle of criticism which subordinates the Bible to human reason is unacceptable to Adventists.” AR, Jan. 22, 1987. The 1986 Annual Council action is reflective of what has been orthodox theology of the Church during the past 147 years.
The Historical-Grammatical hermeneutic accepts scripture at face value and interprets scripture based on principles of interpretation that arise out of scripture itself. In contrast, the Historical-Critical hermeneutic puts scripture to the test and relies on external norms and bodies of knowledge to determine the meaning and truthfulness of scripture. For an excellent tutorial on hermeneutics, read the essays written by Richard Davidson, which can be found here: http://www.andrews.edu/~davidson/bibliography.html.
The cryptic language Dr. Pitman quotes in “An Affirmation of Creation—Report” from 2004 was not intended to effect a change in the Church’s hermeneutical approach to scripture. This statement did not and does not open the door to countenance criticism of the sacred text that Dr. Pitman has engaged in, notwithstanding how poorly drafted the statement may be. I make this assertion with confidence, knowing full well the fervid “line in the sand” feelings of Adventist theologians about hermeneutics.
Ellen White was a harsh opponent of criticism. Criticism as discussed above is a term of art that describes a hermeneutical effort to validate or invalidate biblical text based on an external body of knowledge such as science. She wrote, “God will punish all those who, as higher critics, exalt themselves, and criticize God’s Holy Word.” BE Feb 1, 1897.
Directly on point is her following statement: “But God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the DEDUCTIONS OF SCIENCE, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority–not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence FOR OR AGAINST any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain ‘Thus saith the Lord’ in its support.” GC 595 (emphasis added).
I trust the reader can now see that the Ellen White quotations assembled by Dr. Pitman in his essay are not on point.
The writings of Ravi Zacharias, a non-Adventist critic of the Bible, are void of authority in the Church and, to my knowledge, have been of negligible interest to Adventist scholars.
I know of no Church leader or theologian who presently supports this website’s campaign against La Sierra University, embraces Dr. Pitman’s hermeneutical approach to scripture, and is willing to make a public admission to that effect.
I sympathize with those who are attracted to Dr. Pitman’s views. Very few Adventists understand hermeneutics. I think about Uzzah. Uzzah was a good person. He tried to bolster the ark of the covenant. And the Lord killed him for it. Bolstering the Word of God with external evidence seems pious, too. But when one puts the Genesis account of creation to the test, and freely admits that his or her belief in that sacred text rises or falls based on science data, that is heresy.
To be rejected on theological grounds is this website’s claim that teaching mainstream science in an Adventist university science class undermines belief in the Genesis account of creation, because science has no evidentiary basis in determining one’s interpretation of the sacred text or one’s belief in the truthfulness of the sacred text. See Phillip Brantley, “An Open Letter to La Sierra University”, published on www.spectrummagazine.org, 10/24/10.
Clifford Goldstein: ‘A Safe Place’
I agree with Elder Goldstein that an Adventist university should be a safe place for our students. I suggest that our universities adopt and implement a rigorous screening process to determine which students should be allowed to study science and which students should not be admitted to class.
The screening process should include the following elements:
1. The university should make full disclosure of what is taught. The university should fully disclose that mainstream science is taught and accorded factual validity to the degree warranted by the natural evidence. In addition, full disclosure should be made regarding what science is, what mainstream science is, what the scientific method is, and what the differences are between science and theology/philosophy. The student should be warned that there are some Adventists who find the teaching of evolution in science class to be offensive. The disclosures should be comprehensive and exhaustive, so that no admitted student is surprised or upset. If the prospective student does not evidence a thorough understanding of these disclosures, he or she should not be admitted to class.
2. The student should be required to pass a biblical hermeneutics examination that demonstrates that he or she understands the relationship between the Bible and external data. The student should know that for Seventh-day Adventists science has no relevance in determining how the sacred text is interpreted or regarded. If the student lacks a cognitive and experiential understanding and affirmation of the historical-grammatical hermeneutic that rejects criticism of the sacred text, he or she should not be admitted to class.
3. The student should submit to an interview. If the student appears to lack emotional stability or the intellectual ability to compartmentalize and bear with tension between contradictory ideas, he or she should not be admitted to class. A psychological instrument could also be implemented to test the student to assess his or her suitability for the class.
Elder Goldstein’s concerns should be taken seriously. Not every student who wants to study science should be allowed to study science in an Adventist university. Not every student possess the requisite spiritual maturity to study science.
To study science in an Adventist university is not a right but a privilege.
It is appropriate to explain to a young person who might respond to the curriculum by passing out protest flyers in the middle of the church parking lot, “Son, I don’t think you are ready for this class. For you to discover that there is natural evidence that is not in harmony with the Genesis account of creation would be unduly traumatic for you. For your sake, we are not able to admit you to class. Thank you for submitting your application. God bless you.”
NAD President, Education Director Dialog with La Sierra Campus Community
Mr. Pickle, this is my response to your question:
1. It is irrelevant whether the presiding judge in a case possesses any expertise about the subject matter of the case. The judge does not decide the case based on his or her personal knowledge of the subject matter but on the evidence that is presented.
2. In our constitutional form of government, federal judges force public schools and other state actors to do certain things, namely in this particular case to desist and refrain from violating the first amendment to the United States Constitution.
3. Evolution is not a religious-based origin theory. It is mainstream science. Creationism is neither science, nor mainstream, and more problematically, a religious belief in which public school students have a right not to be indoctrinated.
This jurisprudence is not unduly contentious or controversial. These are not difficult cases to decide. A long string of court opinions demonstrates that the law in this area is well-established.
NAD President, Education Director Dialog with La Sierra Campus Community
Here is the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Edwards vs. Aguillard case that was decided in 1987: http://supreme.justia.com/us/482/578/case.html. You can read the opinion and form your own judgments. I think the case was rightly decided.
La Sierra Univeristy Fires Dr. Lee Greer; Signs anti-Creation Bond
I posted this comment on the ADvindicate.com website:
The ghost writers of this story should be ashamed of themselves for smearing La Sierra University. Many of our Seventh-day Adventist educational institutions, including Andrews University and Southern Adventist University, finance their capital needs with revenue bonds. Such capital financing does not undermine or diminish an Adventist university’s ability to promote its faith, including the biblical account of creation. The statement in the story’s last paragraph that the “covenant agreement” prohibits La Sierra University from “promoting Seventh-day Adventist beliefs” is false, ignorant, untutored, imprecise, incredible, and scandalous.
Perhaps if the ghost writers would have bothered to read the entire Official Statement, they may have been more reticent in opining on matters that are far beyond their expertise. As stated on page 49-50: “Thus La Sierra does the things most other universities do: all information and course work used to teach secular subjects are neutral with respect to religion. But La Sierra does these things as the fruition of its Adventist heritage and commitment, even as it welcomes students from all religious and cultural backgrounds. La Sierra’s religious orientation provides a perspective for its educational programs and projects, a motivation for its intellectual vitality and rigor, a framework for its moral values and lifestyle, and a basis for its social consciousness and public service. Convinced that God is the author of all truth, La Sierra maintains an atmosphere of freedom and openness for intellectual exploration and expression.”
The issuance of the revenue bonds has no relevance to the creation/evolution discussion.