Evolution in Education?

Jay Gallimore, President of the Seventh-day Adventist Michigan Conference, released this article on the Michigan Conference website August 1, 2009. It was also published in the official newsletter for the Michigan Conference, “Michigan Memo,” August 2009, Volume 21, Number 5.

Source: Michigan Memo

By Jay Gallimore

Adventists have always shown a keen interest in science. After all, the God of the Bible is the God of creation. Unlike some other denominations, we have not promoted a separation between faith and science. In our view God uses true science and true faith to work together to reveal Himself to His children. From the revelation of Scripture we know that the world and nature have been heavily damaged by sin. Therefore, empirical evidence alone is not able to give us a clear picture of truth. So when there is a seeming contradiction between Scripture and science we have chosen to trust Scripture.

This has served us well. For instance, about a hundred years or more ago our teachings on health were not supported by the scientific community. Nevertheless, we trusted divine revelation. Today, our teachings on health are being increasingly affirmed by science.

Our colleges and universities are confessional educational institutions. Secular universities by their very nature are humanistic. However, Seventh-day Adventist universities and colleges confess the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, and the Bible as the highest authority. We believe God is the author of wisdom and knowledge. However, we sometimes hear the argument that our schools should have academic freedom like the secular schools.

No one is against academic freedom. Yet all academic freedom has a context. In secular universities it is “human reasoning.” In confessional universities it is “divine reasoning.” For the secular, “human reasoning” is the final court of appeal because that is what they trust. For confessional universities, “divine reasoning” is the last word because that is what we trust. This means academic freedom in a confessional university is viewed in the context of our faith in God and His divine revelation in Scripture. If we do not understand and support this criterion, then it is only a matter of time before our confessional schools of higher education will become secular like other universities that started out as institutions of other denominations.

While there can be advantages of having some teachers receive training at secular universities, there is also a danger. Secular philosophy will sometimes piggy back undetected into our schools and thinking. This is why some ancient Christian communities were very careful in choosing which of their young people would go to the universities of their day. They wanted to glean true knowledge but not the error.

They wanted educators who could use Scripture to separate the true from the false. Similarly, as Adventists we must ensure that a deliberate screening process is in place for those who teach or desire to teach in our Seventh-day Adventist institutions.

It is my belief that, by and large, most of our science teachers are creationists, not evolutionists. Many are doing a great job of helping young adults understand arguments on both sides. Where there are appearances of contradictions between science and inspiration they are teaching students to trust divine revelation. This is wise because history is full of examples of how science ends up confirming facts of faith that it once denied. It is also reasonable in a world where science keeps changing its theories. Waiting on God has always brought large rewards. Unlike human reasoning in connection with science, God and Scripture never change.

Adventist parents should be able to trust their colleges and universities to build the faith of their young people. They should not have the additional burden of trying on their own to figure out whether their youth are going to be taught evolution rather than creation. They are already paying sacrificially for private Seventh-day Adventist education. In addition, church members support our schools with additional millions of dollars annually. Certainly, administrators and teachers have a sacred responsibility to make our schools safe for the faith we confess.

With sorrow I must inform you that that is not always the case. In a recent Adventist World issue, Dr. Angel Rodriguez, Director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference (GC), affirms that there are professors in our schools “who no longer believe that God created everything in six literal days” (Adventist World – NAD/July 2009). Adventist students taking classes from these teachers are being taught the evolutionist view. Dr. Rodriguez rightly identifies this situation as “outrageous.” We appreciate his and the Adventist World’s courage in speaking out. While these teachers cannot be labeled atheists, they do fit the definition of “theistic” evolutionists. This means that they believe that Genesis is not true, and that God used evolution to “create” life over hundreds of millions of years. This of course is the Roman Catholic and liberal Protestant view.

At the church-sponsored Faith and Science conferences of 2002–2004, leading Seventh-day Adventist scientists and theologians, among other points, affirmed the following:

1. We affirm the primacy of Scripture in the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of origins.

2. We affirm the historic Seventh-day Adventist understanding of Genesis 1 that life on earth was created in six literal days and is of recent origin.

In light of this, one would have thought that evolutionary professors among us would have had the integrity and intellectual honesty to resign from Adventists schools. Sadly, that has not been the case. In the business world you would be promptly fired if you worked for one auto manufacturer but promoted the cars of another on company time. And neither company would question your exit. Why? Because there is just no respect for that kind of dishonest behavior in the business world. Adventist parents trust Adventist professors to build their children’s faith. So when an Adventist professor takes Adventist tuition money but proceeds to promote anti-biblical evolutionary theories and destroy faith, righteous indignation is certainly an expected reaction.

Yet, how wonderful it is when we see our children graduate from an Adventist school with a strong vibrant faith in God and the three angels’ messages. What joy and gratitude fill our hearts for such Adventist teachers and schools. Such professors and schools are held in high esteem by parents, youth and church leaders.

Recently, our General Conference President, Dr. Jan Paulsen made a printed appeal in the Adventist Review (July 9, 2009): “We reaffirm the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the historicity of Genesis 1-11: that the seven days of the Creation account were literal 24-hour days forming a week identical in time to what we now experience as a week; and that the Flood was global in nature.” Dr. Paulsen went on to plead with all Adventist teachers and institutions to continue to uphold and advocate that position.

It seems possible that this appeal happened in part because an Adventist physician (and graduate of Adventist schools) sent an open letter to the GC officers. This letter, sent just a few months ago, appeared to give substantial evidence that theistic evolution is being promoted at least in some places of higher education. Eventually his letter, along with others, and more revelations created an electronic fire storm.

Then certain independent magazines began to defend the alleged right of Adventist universities to teach evolution. While not surprising, it adds credibility to the concerns that in some places evolution is being taught as the preferred worldview. The rhetoric by these magazines and their supporters toward those who defend the Church’s Genesis position is appalling, as well as revealing. Can one have a high Reformation view of Scripture and simultaneously abandon the Genesis record of creation?

Let me say again that I believe most of our colleges and universities are supportive of our fundamental beliefs. There are many blessings for our youth at these institutions. Nevertheless, parents and students should remain vigilant. I have been assured by Dr. Keith Mattingly, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, that Andrews University, while making students aware of the evolutionary arguments, is committed to teaching that creation, as revealed in Genesis, is the true understanding of origins.

One does not have to be an astute theologian to understand that the biblical doctrine of creation supports the whole understanding of sin and redemption, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the seventh day Sabbath, the authority of the Bible, and the list goes on and on. They all stand or fall together.

In light of the GC president’s appeal in the Adventist Review, and the article in the Adventist World addressing this issue, the Michigan Conference Executive Committee has also reviewed the issue (and this article) and has given it their support. The GC leadership has made a clear appeal to be faithful to the Genesis view of origins. We will be watching to see if the institutions involved produce a positive, correcting response.

This is a defining moment in the history of our Church and its institutions of higher learning. We have a responsibility to the members, parents and students of the Michigan Conference who we encourage to go to Adventist higher educational institutions. We do so, on the premise that youth will be instructed in the spiritual teachings of this Church. Hopefully, we will not have to be more specific and public about this matter than is found in this article. But if the situation does not change, we may find our responsibilities to Michigan members putting us in the same position as Ellen White and other church leaders in their day. When one institution flagrantly strayed after patient appeals, they took the right action of informing their membership.

For all faithful Seventh-day Adventists, teaching evolution as the preferred view of origins in an Adventist college or university is an awful betrayal of sacred trust. If tolerated, it will become a powerful destructive force undermining Adventist churches and schools. The salvation of our youth is a precious responsibility—one we cannot and must not abandon!

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