Comment on Ted Wilson: No Room for Evolution as Truth in Adventist Schools by Sean Pitman.
The problem with this approach (for those of us who do not claim to be prophets or talk directly with God in such a privileged manner) is that it is a feelings-based approach – which can be used to accept or reject anything as “true”… to include Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Christianity, Judaism, agnosticism, and even atheism (all of which have their own “prophets”). Upon what basis then does one pick among so many competing options if there is no rational reason for determining which claims of which “prophet” are more or less likely “true”? After all, from the fideistic perspective, the rational mind doesn’t play a part in determining truth from error. The process of “weighing the evidence” simply isn’t important in this approach. For the fideist, it’s all a matter of personal feelings regardless.
Now, this approach may be fine when it comes to general ethical questions since the moral law (the Royal Law) is “written on the hearts” of all human beings. This morality is therefore given to us as an internal moral compass that lets us know right from wrong. However, when it comes to the numerous doctrinal truths that are presented in books like the Bible (and other religious texts), these have not been given to us as “internal truths”. Their validity must be based on intellectual study and supported by empirical evidence that appeals to the rational minds that God has also given to us to appreciate Him on a different level.
The rational minds of those who are honestly and sincerely dedicated to searching for truth are therefore important and should not be discarded when it comes to the doctrinal questions of religion – or discussions about faith in the various empirical claims of the Bible or the existence of God and his Signature behind various features of the world in which we live.
“God is the foundation of everything. All true science is in harmony with His works; all true education leads to obedience to His government. Science opens new wonders to our view; she soars high, and explores new depths; but she brings nothing from her research that conflicts with divine revelation. Ignorance may seek to support false views of God by appeals to science, but the book of nature and the written word shed light upon each other. We are thus led to adore the Creator and to have an intelligent trust in His word.” – Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 115
In other words, science and empirical reasoning are not the enemies of true religion – but its base. These are gifts of God which, rightly used with sincere motives and an earnest heart, are the only rational options we have to appreciate God and worship Him in the “intelligent” and thoughtful manner that He wants us to realize – a religion that goes beyond mere emotion and empirically-blind faith.
To further clarify that Mrs. White was actually speaking of empirical evidence as a basis of faith in God’s word, consider the following comments found just before the above-listed reference in Patriarch and Prophets:
“In the days of Noah, men, animals, and trees, many times larger than now exist, were buried, and thus preserved as an evidence to later generations that the antediluvians perished by a flood. God designed that the discovery of these things should establish faith in inspired history; but men, with their vain reasoning, fall into the same error as did the people before the Flood–the things which God gave them as a benefit, they turn into a curse by making a wrong use of them.” – Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets
In other words, according to Mrs. White, God actually gave the fossil record to us as a gift that was intended to help establish our faith in inspired history – i.e., the Bible. This is a very direct appeal to empirical evidence as a basis for faith. Just because many have made a wrong use of these evidences and have misinterpreted them, does not mean that such empirical evidences have nothing to do with rational faith. According to Mrs. White, empirical evidence does have a role to play in establishing a rational faith in the credibility of the Bible. It’s all based on careful, very thoughtful, investigation of the “weight of evidence”:
Those who desire to doubt will have plenty of room. God does not propose to remove all occasion for unbelief. He gives evidence, which must be carefully investigated with a humble mind and a teachable spirit, and all should decide from the weight of evidence. God gives sufficient evidence for the candid mind to believe; but he who turns from the weight of evidence because there are a few things which he cannot make plain to his finite understanding will be left in the cold, chilling atmosphere of unbelief and questioning doubts, and will make shipwreck of faith. — Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, 5:675, 676 (1889).
The Bible also makes this point quite clear. Consider, for example, the following well-known passages:
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” – Romans 1:20 NIV
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” – Psalms 19:1 NIV
Clearly, the works of an author do in fact say something about the existence and nature of the author… a fundamental concept that William Lane Craig came to realize.
Sean Pitman Also Commented
Ted Wilson: No Room for Evolution as Truth in Adventist Schools
As I’ve pointed out before, there are a lot of books claiming to be “The Word of God”. How do you know that the Bible’s claim, among so many competing options, is true? – based on a feeling? That’s how you know? Did an angel show up and tell you that the Bible’s claims are true? – or how to interpret it? Were you born with this knowledge? or did you have to learn it? If you had to learn that the Bible’s claims are true, upon what did you base your learning? – and how did this basis of your learning help you distinguish the true from the false?
At first approximation, the Bible is just a book making a bunch of claims. How can you tell the difference between the origin of the Bible and the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an? In order to determine that God had anything to do with its creation, you have to read it and make judgments about it. If you base your judgments on some kind of deep feeling or gestalt sensation of truth, I say that this isn’t a reliable basis for a leap of faith. However, if you base your acceptance of the claims of the Bible on rational arguments that make sense given what you already think you know to be true, then you have yourself a much more useful and helpful basis for faith… as the Bible itself recommends.
God does not expect us to believe or have faith without sufficient evidence to establish a rational and logical faith in the claims of the Bible. Have you not read where the Bible challenges the honest seeker for truth to “test” even the claims of God? (Judges 6:39; Malachi 3:10; John 14:11; etc…). We are not called to blindly accept anything as true, not even the Bible. The claims of the Bible must be tested to see if they truly are what they claim to be – i.e., the Words of God.
Ted Wilson: No Room for Evolution as Truth in Adventist Schools
I haven’t changed my mind. I still see atheism as the most logical alternative to Christianity and any other view of God if such views of God are only based on a wishful-thinking type of fideistic faith. Why should one be a Christian or believe that the Bible is anything more than a good moral fable? – or believe that God exists any more than Santa Claus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists? For me, it’s because I see real empirical evidence for God’s existence as well as His Signature within the pages of the Bible and within the universe and the world in which I find myself.
You see, we are called to have an “intelligent trust” in God’s Word – a trust that is based on something more than a deep feeling or internal gestalt. Otherwise, you’re really in the same boat as my LDS friends with their “burning in the bosom” argument for faith in what is or isn’t true.
Now, it is possible to doubt the Divine origin of the Bible while still recognizing the Divine origin of the universe – based on the weight of empirical evidence. This is where quite a number of modern physicists are in their view of God. And, it is a reasonable position given the honest conviction that life and its diversity can evolve via the Darwinian mechanism of random mutations and natural selection over long periods of time to produce what we have today on this planet.
So, there are different “levels” of recognition when it comes to seeing God’s hand behind various phenomena. And, once His Signature is recognized at a different level, the implications and responsibilities change for us. It’s a “first step” toward God to recognize a Divine Signature behind the origin of the universe and the natural laws that govern it. However, once one recognizes the Divine Hand behind the origin of the Bible and the credibility of the Bible’s empirical claims, one is called to experience different responsibilities and privileges in a higher level walk with God – “in Spirit and in truth”.
Ted Wilson: No Room for Evolution as Truth in Adventist Schools
Again, there are somethings that, if seen in vision, cannot be easily misinterpreted. If you see that “there was light” then “there was darkness” and that this pattern of was used to mark off a series of seven days, that’s pretty hard to get wrong or misinterpret. Mrs. White also confirms these biblical claims by arguing that God specifically showed her that the creation week was a literal week “like any other”.
So, what needs to happen now is see which claims among competing claims are most likely true. Where does the “weight of evidence lie”? If the claims of neo-Darwinism are true, then the claims of the Bible aren’t just a matter of honest misinterpretations – they are either completely made up fabrications or they are outright lies – from God.
I will say, however, the Darwins observations did help to shed light on the Bible. For example, there were those who believed in the absolute fixity of the species – that nothing could change and that no new species of any kind could be produced by natural mechanisms. Darwin showed, quite clearly, that this interpretation of the Bible was false. So, Darwin’s discoveries did shed light on the Bible’s comments about reproduction “after their kind”. However, the Bible sheds light on Darwin’s claims by showing the clear limitations of Darwinian-type evolution – to very low levels of functional complexity over a short period of time (i.e., not hundreds of millions of years of evolution).
Again, we have science and Scripture shedding light on each other…
Recent Comments by Sean Pitman
“Essentially all the administrators, staff and faculty on our campus, including the pastors on our campus already know where I stand. I have never kept any secrets. I have to laugh when I see you say that I am upset because you ‘blew my cover.’ There was no cover to blow.” – Bryan Ness
You’re not the main problem here. I’d have no problem with you personally and what you personally believe at all except that you are a professor in an Adventist school – Pacific Union College.
It’s this school who presents itself as being in line with the primary goals and ideals of the Adventist Church, when it really isn’t. I have friends of mine who have gone to PUC and talked to the leadership about sending their children to PUC. They’ve specifically asked about the situation at La Sierra University and asked the PUC leadership and heads of departments what their position is on teaching the theory of evolution as “the truth” – and if the teachers at PUC support the SDA position on origins and other issues? They were told that PUC does not condone what happened at LSU and that the professors at PUC are fully in line with the SDA position on origins and all of the other fundamental positions of the church.
Of course, you know and I know that this just isn’t true. You, for one, publically speak and teach against the church’s position on origins as well as human sexuality. This reality is not being presented by the leadership of PUC to the parents of potential PUC students. This reality simply isn’t being advertised to the general church membership at all. What PUC should be advertizing to parents and the church membership at large is,
“Yes, we do maintain professors who teach our students that the church’s position on various fundamental doctrinal issues is in fact wrong and should be changed to reflect the more popular secular position on these topics.”
That’s what it should be telling everyone, but this just isn’t what is being done.
I am attacking no one… Since when is a difference of views an attack on the church?
Since it was placed as one of the church’s “fundamental beliefs” by the church (Link). When you publically publish an article stating that the Church’s position is clearly mistaken and should be changed, that’s an attack on the church’s position.
And of all the issues facing the church, same-sex marriage hardly rises to the level of a “primary goal and ideal.”
The SDA Church has chosen to describe the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman as one of the “fundamental” messages to spread to the world – as one of the fundamental reasons for its very existence…
Now, you call what you’re doing, not an “attack”, but a “plea for compassion”. However, your plea for compassion is presented as a clear statement that the church’s position is absolutely mistaken – that the church’s position is not at all “compassionate” or even biblical. Now, you may be very honest and sincere in your views here, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not attacking the church’s position in a very real and fundamental way. The fact is that you are making a very clear attack on the church’s position while accepting money from the church as a representative who is supposed to be supporting the church as a paid employee.
Why do you want to cause such people so much pain?
That’s not my goal. However, if a person wants to know what the Bible has to say about what they are doing, I’m not going to pretend that the Bible has nothing to say when the Bible does in fact have something to say. If what the Bible says “causes pain” to a person living in what the Bible says is a “sinful” lifestyle, that’s between them and God. The very same thing is true of me and my own sinful tendencies. If what the Bible says about what I’m doing causes me pain, I can either respond to that by ignoring what the Bible has to say, or I can ask God for help in changing my ways.
Jesus himself said that He did not come to bring peace to those who are living in rebellion against God’s ideals for humanity, but a “sword” (Matthew 10:34). The denial of self and what we naturally want to do given our fallen condition, in order to follow God and what He calls us to do, is often quite painful indeed. That doesn’t mean it’s not the best path to follow. There simply can be no peace between God and those who wish to hang onto what God has said to give up. God does not condemn the sinner for being born broken, but He does warn those who refuse to accept His offer of help to escape their broken condition that, eventually, such refusals of help will not end well for those who are determined to follow their own way.
Yet, these professors get very upset when their actions are made public – when they can no longer hide what they are doing from the church at large. – Sean Pitman
Uh, I have never hidden my support and affirmation for LGBTQ+ individuals, and any parent who wanted to know my views on the subject could easily look up what I’ve written, or they could just plain ask me. I openly acknowledge where I stand on these issues on social media too. Essentially all the administrators, staff and faculty on our campus, including the pastors on our campus already know where I stand. I have never kept any secrets. I have to laugh when I see you say that I am upset because you “blew my cover.” There was no cover to blow.
You have not simply let people know what I advocate, you have attacked me personally and impugned my motives and personal spiritual path. You are causing pain not just to me, but to the very people I am trying to comfort and encourage. Your words are not just being seen by the legalistic and judgmental people like yourself, but by parents of LGBTQ+ children and those LGBTQ+ individuals themselves, many of whom are likely already heavily weighed down with self revulsion and depression. And you are doing this for who’s good?
And you wonder why I might be angry and upset? As hard as it is for me to do, I have daily decided to pray for you and those like you that God would soften your heart and show you the grave wounds you are inflicting on God’s beloved. I pray God will help you find compassion and clearer spiritual insight.
Do you really think it’s a “little thing” when our own professors are attacking the primary goals and ideals of the church from the inside? – Sean Pitman
I am attacking no one. You act as if you have not even read my article. I did suggest in there that I think it is time for the church to change and affirm same-sex marriage, but that is not an attack, that is a plea for compassion, a plea that the church return and study this topic again, and I laid out the reasons I think it is fully warranted that we do so. Since when is a difference of views an attack on the church? And of all the issues facing the church, same-sex marriage hardly rises to the level of a “primary goal and ideal.” You are inflating the importance of this topic. the only place where same-sex marriage really rises to a high level of importance is when you are an LGBTQ+ person contemplating marriage, or are the parent, relative or friend of an LGBTQ+ person. Why do you want to cause such people so much pain?
The purpose of the H.E. is not to wall people off by modifying curriculum of every subject to fit dogma. The dogma itself has to be enhanced with broader understanding of how to relate various perspectives to these fields of human enterprise.
Certainly, Adventist schools should by no means isolate students from popular ideas that are prevalent within secular culture. If anything, students educated in our schools should have a much better understanding of ideas like neoDarwinism or homosexuality than students educated in secular institutions. However, the education of students within Adventist schools shouldn’t stop here. Adventist education should also give students a reasonable explanation as to why the Adventist perspective on these ideas is actually supported by the Church – by professors who actually personally hold to the Church’s positions on these topics (like the topics of origins or homosexuality, etc).
Again, it is simply counterproductive to have a church school if professors in that school teach that the church’s position is not only wrong, but downright ludicrous, outdated, and completely opposed to the overwhelming weight of “scientific evidence”. Such teaching, by professors that are respected by the students, will strongly influence most students to be naturally opposed to the church’s position on these topics. Clearly then, this would not be in the church’s best interest. It would be far better, from the church’s perspective, not to form church schools at all than to have professors within their own schools attack the church organization from the inside.
But there is world of difference between presenting it as fact that the teacher believes, and a theory with problems. – @ajshep (Allen Shepherd)
I’m in total agreement here. Again, it is one thing to teach about a particular concept that opposes the teachings of the church. It is a far far different thing to then support this particular concept as “true” as compared to showing the students why you, as their teacher, don’t find it convincing.
That is why a teacher, employed by the church, is actually stealing from the church when they attack the church’s position on a given topic from within their own classroom or via a public forum. Such activity simply goes against what a teacher is being paid to do by his/her employer.
Your presumption and hubris are exactly what Jesus pointed out to those who brought the women caught in adultery. Have you learned nothing from the examples of what it means to be a Christian that you would indulge in such harshness and judgemental words and pronouncements.
Consider that while Jesus most certainly was very kind and gentle and forgiving to the woman caught in adultery (certainly one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible), that He did in fact tell her to “go and sin no more”.
I would say that the very same action and recommendation should be given to all who find themselves part of the LBGTQ+ community. God loves sinners and came to save all of us who find ourselves caught in the web of fallen and sinful lives. He doesn’t condemn us for being broken, but He does offer us a way out and tells us to “go and sin no more”.
In light of this, my problem with the efforts of Dr. Ness is that he is making the claim that there is no brokenness or moral problem with committed monogamous homosexual lifestyles – that the Bible says absolutely nothing in this regard and therefore there is nothing for God to forgive here. There is simply no need to say, “I love you, now go and sin no more”.
I’m also not quite sure why Dr. Ness draws the line with monogamy since he doesn’t accept the Biblical statements, often within the same passages as those discussing monogamy, that speak against homosexual activities? This seems inconsistent to me since it seems quite reasonable, given the arguments presented by Dr. Ness, that polygamy could also be argued as being even more consistent with God’s will and natural genetic mutations that God Himself designed. Upon what “scientific” or “religious” or “philosophical” basis does Dr. Ness draw the line at monogamy as being the clear Biblical standard where God draws the line? – when many have very strong and very “natural” polygamous tendencies?
Of course, I also have a problem with a paid representative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, who is responsible for teaching our youth in support of the primary goals and ideals of the Church, publicly arguing that these goals and ideals are completely wrong – on the church’s dime. Such activity, even if one is totally convinced as to the error of one’s employer, is unethical since it is a form of stealing from one’s employer.
At the very least, parents who are paying a great deal of money to send their children to one of our church schools should be very well informed as to what they can expect their children to be taught at our schools and what positions the teachers at the school are publicly promoting. Providing this information to such parents is my primary purpose in responding to Dr. Ness’s publicly published article in public forum.
Do you not understand what it is like in academia? Differences of opinion among scholars is not only tolerated, it is valued. I have nothing more to say concerning your accusations. Our church has no “official” stand on this issue, if by that you mean I am disavowing my membership in the church by simply believing that gays should allow ro get married to one another. That is not even how our church operates. I can point to many other church employees who openly disagree about certain issues of belief, including this one, and congregations that are fully affirming of same-sex marriage. They are a part of the SDA church just as I am.
My concern still is more about the tone and stance of your attacks. You are attacking fellow SDAs, some of them being the most vulnerable members of our church, and you seem to have no sense of the damage you are potentially doing to these individuals. By attacking me in the fashion you are you are also attacking all those for whom I am standing up. You may want to take Jesus’ words to heart:
But whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea. Matt. 18:6
I know very well what it’s like to be involved in leadership positions within the church and within academia. My own father is a retired pastor and teacher. It’s one thing to publicly present and even promote various opinions that do not directly undermine the church or school one is working for. However, it is another thing entirely to directly attack the fundamental positions of the church while being a paid representative of the church. Such activity is not at all encouraged and is, in fact, unethical – a form of theft from your employer. Sure, there are many pastors and teachers who think to do such things anyway. That doesn’t make such activities morally right. It’s still wrong to do what you are doing.