By Educate Truth
On October 28, 2010, Dr. Bryan Ness, a biology professor at Pacific Union College since 1989, gave a lecture to a class of theology majors during a colloquium. Throughout his lecture Dr. Ness presents numerous challenges from mainstream science for the worldwide nature of the Noachian Flood (seeming to favor a local flood). He references evidence for a local Black Sea Flood around 4,500 years ago along with a complete lack of scientific evidence for a worldwide deluge as Seventh-day Adventists have historically believed and taught. He also presents questions regarding the importance of the literal 6-day creation week to Adventist theology.
[The video has been pulled until we are confident it complies with copyright laws.]
Dr. Ness has research interests in plant systematics and genetics and an advisory role at PUC in the areas of biology, natural science, veterinary medicine, medical radiography and occupational therapy.
Per report, Dr. Ranzolin, head of the theology department, and Dr. Jean Sheldon were also present in the room during this lecture.
Note that PUC has recently responded to this video clip arguing that Dr. Ness was simply role-playing or playing Devil’s advocate; not actually promoting the definite bias he seemed to be supporting in his lecture against the position of the SDA Church on origins (Link). Many others have commented below that Dr. Ness is a rather outspoken advocate of the SDA stand on a literal 6-day creation week – which is encouraging.
However, as Dr. Ness himself notes in the comments below regarding a worldwide Noachian Flood, “As it stands now I have an open mind on the subject (and I would hope you and others could respect me for that). I would love to find more credible evidence to support the traditional view on the flood, unfortunately, at the moment, such evidence is difficult to find.”
While admirably honest, we find that statement rather disheartening coming from a well-respected and much-loved SDA professor in one of our schools of higher learning. We wish Dr. Ness and all other professors teaching our youth would be able to present evidence for why the SDA position on origins, to include a worldwide Noachian Flood, is a very rational position from an empirical perspective that goes beyond blind faith. Our students need reasons to believe – not just a long list of tough questions without any answers provided by those who are in the best position to know at least a few good answers and competing evidences to give to our youth. Our youth are earnestly searching for good reasons to view the Bible as credible and the basis of the Gospel Message as rational.
After all, the SDA Church has officially asked (at the most recent GC session and prior) for all of its educators to promote the Church’s position on origins. Consider the following request from the General Conference Executive Committee of 2004:
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.
“We call on all boards and educators at Seventh-day Adventist institutions at all levels to continue upholding and advocating the church’s position on origins. We, along with Seventh-day Adventist parents, expect students to receive a thorough, balanced, and scientifically rigorous exposure to and affirmation of our historic belief in a literal, recent six-day creation, even as they are educated to understand and assess competing philosophies of origins that dominate scientific discussion in the contemporary world.
Now, we take the word “all” to actually mean “all”. Of course, Dr. Ness did in fact educate his students in his lecture regarding the competing philosophies of origins that dominate contemporary science. However, Dr. Ness did not offer anything to counter or even buffer these interpretations of the evidence. In this particular lecture, he did not even hint at “a thorough, balanced, and scientifically rigorous exposure to and affirmation of our historic belief in a literal, recent six-day creation” or the “global nature” of the Flood.
We certainly welcome him to do this if this is in fact his true goal in the education of our youth. We’d gladly post any video clip or personal statement along these lines that he is willing to submit (in addition to those already posted). Such a statement would go a very long way to clearly putting the video clip presented above into much clearer context. However, the students leaving this one particular lecture would have had to leave with serious doubts in their minds as to the solid credibility of the Biblical accounts as well as the SDA position on origins. That, in our mind, is not the goal of Adventist education.
UPDATE 11/5/2010: Ness’s reference to the formerly lax language of FB#6 (courtesy of Fritz Guy and Lawrence Geraty) in his lecture is no longer valid and should never have been a valid argument for professors in our own schools to see themselves free to undermine the credibility and fundamental importance of the historical SDA position on a literal creation week and worldwide Noachian Flood. But, since many of our professors have in fact been hiding behind the claimed ambiguity in the wording of FB#6, this language has now been more clearly defined, as of this latest GC session (and even as far back as the GC’s executive committee statement of 2004), to include the word “literal” when referencing the creation week.
Now, there may indeed be many who consider our posting of Dr. Ness’s lecture, to be uncalled for; but the word should be out by now to SDA professors at large that they are not free to teach whatever they want in our own schools without any question or general knowledge as to what they are really teaching our youth by the Church membership at large. We all have a right to know what and how our own young people are being taught in our own schools â€“ and to have a say in this process.
UPDATE 11/6/2010: In fact, the following is an audio clip from a talk he gave for a colloquy at PUC on October 22, 2009 (see: link to PUC website), in which he seems to strongly support the literal creation week:
UPDATE 11/7/2010: Below is a short clip of relevant excerpts from Dr. Ness’s discussion with PUC’s theology majors (originally over 42 minutes long):
UPDATE 11/8/2010: From a comment posted by a former PUC student @Benjamin Burkhardt regarding what Dr. Ness taught him when he was at PUC between 2004 to 2006, regarding a local vs. a global Noachian Flood:
In REGARDS TO NOAHâ€™S FLOOD some minor issues came up for me. I did not quite understand what Dr. Ness was trying to say about it, but I didnâ€™t like a point that was made. So, I asked him about the matter after class and he explained to me that perhaps the flood could have been a more local event, and the authors of the Bible were reporting it merely as they had perceived it.
This is not some minor point. The local Flood idea opens the door, and essentially requires, the intelligent mind to interpret the geologic column and fossil records as being the records of vast periods of time of Earth’s history. It is an argument that is directly in support of the idea that life has existed and evolved on this planet far longer than the SDA belief that all life on Earth is very young and that death did not exist here, for any sentient form of life, until the Fall of man.
Dr. Ness may not consciously realize it, but his teaching on this particular topic of a local vs. a worldwide Flood is a big problem for an SDA institution like PUC.