Comment on Adventist Education–at the crossroads? by Sean Pitman.
Sean, you state that,
“in my own research into this topic, I’ve found a great deal of what seems to me to be very solid evidence in favor of a recent arrival of life on this planet as well as a recent universal catastrophe, or very shortly-spaced series of watery catastrophes, that produced the fossil record and geologic column. Of course I’m in the minority here….”
My query to you is, how does this universal recent watery catastrophe square with the 100,000 or so confirmed annual layerings of the Greenland ice sheet? How about the several hundred thousand years of the Antartic ice sheet?
You assume that the “annual” nature of the layers has actually been confirmed beyond any real reasonable doubt. Consider that as one considers deeper and deeper ice within these ice sheets the layers can no longer be counted visually, only chemically. At this point, the resolution of an “annual” layer counting falls off significantly to the point of “decadal averages”. That means that a hundred thousand layers could be accounted for in less than 10,000 years. Consider also that even when the layers can be counted visually that it is very difficult to distinguish an “annual” layer from sub-seasonal layering (i.e., storms, etc).
“Fundamentally, in counting any annual marker, we must ask whether it is absolutely unequivocal, or whether non-annual events could mimic or obscure a year. For the visible strata (and, we believe, for any other annual indicator at accumulation rates representative of central Greenland), it is almost certain that variability exists at the subseasonal or storm level, at the annual level, and for various longer periodicities (2-year, sunspot, etc.). We certainly must entertain the possibility of misidentifying the deposit of a large storm or a snow dune as an entire year or missing a weak indication of a summer and thus picking a 2-year interval as 1 year.”
Alley, R.B. et al., Visual-stratigraphic dating of the GISP2 ice core: Basis, reproducibility, and application.
Journal of Geophysical Research 102(C12):26,367–26,381, 1997.
Contributing to these problems in determining annual layers in ice is the fact that chemicals in ice are not fixed, but move around – quite easily. There are microscopic channels of water between the ice crystals that allow for the movement of various chemicals used to try to analyze for annual layers.
There is also the problem if the warm “hypsithermal” period which was warmer than it is today – supposedly for some 5,000 years. The Greenland ice sheet is currently melting much faster than it is being formed, resulting in an overall loss of ice of around 250 cubic kilometers per year. Some scientists are now suggesting that Greenland’s ice may be complete gone within one or two hundred years. So, how did Greenland’s ice avoid a complete meltdown during the Hypsithermal? – when it was warm all around the globe on all sides in recent history?
For more information on this topic see:
As to your discussion of the philosophy of science I am well aware of the fact that conclusions can be influenced by presuppositions, yet I don’t find a boogyman in scientific materialism. If not for scientific materialism, we would still assign a role to the gods for all manner of natural phenomenon. I would simply say that scientific materialism has its limits, as does revelation. Wisdom is demonstrated in understanding the limits of each.
I agree. Where we seem to disagree is over where these limits are or should be placed.
You seem uncomfortable with the SDA Church’s clearly stated position on origins. This is in spite of the fact that the SDA Church takes its stand on a clear reading of the Bible – of what the Biblical authors clearly intended to convey to their readers. It is quite clear that the author(s) of the Genesis narrative intended to convey to their readers, to us, a literal historical account of God’s creative act in the formation of life on this planet. I don’t think even liberal secular scholars of Hebrew would deny this. Take, for example, the comments of well-known Oxford Hebrew scholar James Barr:
“Probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that: (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience. (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story (c) Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark. Or, to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose the “days” of creation to be long eras of time, the figures of years not to be chronological, and the flood to be a merely local Mesopotamian flood, are not taken seriously by any such professors, as far as I know.”
Letter from Professor James Barr to David C.C. Watson of the UK, dated 23 April 1984.
Consider that Prof. Barr made this statement while personally considering the Genesis narrative to be false. He did not believe that God created life on this planet in just six literal days. He believed that life existed and evolved on this planet over billions of years just like most mainstream scientists do today. Yet, he still was quite clear that the author(s) of the Genesis narrative intended to say something about real historical events. They did not intend to be figurative in their language.
Now, it is quite a different thing to say that the Biblical authors where simply mistaken compared to the argument that suggests that they were intending to write symbolically or figuratively. The SDA Church takes the Bible at its word, as the revealed Word of God. So, in suggesting that the SDA Church not put so much stock in a literal reading of the Genesis narrative, you are suggesting that the Church back off of its position that the Bible was in fact inspired by God to give us privileged information about Himself and about the world in which we live. If the SDA Church were to do this, it would basically undermine the entire purpose for their being a unique Seventh-day Adventist Church. After all, if one can pick and choose what is and what is not correct in the Bible, what’s the point?
Of course you might argue, and have argued, that prophets can make mistakes. And, I agree. However, if a prophet specifically says that God showed him or her a specific vision of historical reality, and that prophet simply recorded what he/she saw, you’d have to conclude one of two things with regard to the Genesis account. Either God was lying to the prophet about true historical reality, or the prophet was very dull witted in order to get something wrong that is as obvious as “evenings and mornings” marking off the boundaries of the “days” of creation. I mean, even a small child can get that much right. This isn’t rocket science here… if you know what I mean.
You mention the Cornell geneticist John C. Sandford, and I am familiar with his book on genetic entropy. He proposes some interesting ideas and since I am not a geneticist, I must rely upon the scientific community to assess his argument. To date I have not seen any movement in his direction and that could be telling. That having been said, however, there is currently a clear demarcation between the evolutionary process and the question of origins. Perhaps we can find common ground on this. Since we are so far afield from the thrust of my article, I won’t detail it here, but DNA is an information rich system as you know, and information theory cannot explain, on the basis of random probability, how DNA got its start is the odds appear to be too staggering. The resolution of most of these issue—including evolution—likely resides in a better understanding of DNA. We can anticipate that surprises await science on this front, but it may also hold a few surprises for literalists. In the meantime the Church would be much better served by allowing science to finish its work before it leaps into a place that it quite likely will one day regret.
The origin of very high levels of information/functional complexity within DNA is indeed very very hard for mainstream science to explain using mindless naturalistic mechanisms alone. However, I can assure you that the origin of novel information within living systems, with the full use of the mechanism of random mutation and natural selection, is equally hard to explain beyond very very low levels of functional complexity. Popular scientists usually get hung up over explaining the similarities between living things when the similarities aren’t the real problem for the theory of evolution. Similarities are fairly easy to explain using naturalistic mechanisms. The insurmountable problem for the modern theory of evolution is in explaining the qualitatively novel functional differences beyond very very low levels of functional complexity. That’s where the rubber really meets the road.
It is for such reasons that I think it very unwise of the SDA Church to give up its stance on taking the Bible as it reads, as the Biblical authors originally intended it to be read and interpreted. The SDA Church maintains its whole reason for existence on being fairly unique in this regard. If you remove the unique SDA take on the Bible, you remove its very reason for existence. There’s really no point in having a SDA Church at all if you remove the literal 6-day creation week as being a literal creation week. Again, this is the basis for the very name Seventh-day Adventist.
Thanks again for your thoughts and questions,
Sean Pitman Also Commented
Adventist Education–at the crossroads?
My point in quoting Davies’ review of Polkinghorne was to show that they base their ideas on God’s existence on evidence, on certain features within the universe, which they think can only be explained by deliberate intelligent design on the level of God-like intelligence. That is an intelligent design hypothesis on at least some level.
Just because those who appeal to intelligent design theories on at least some level may also believe in various aspects of the modern theory of evolution doesn’t mean that an ID theory hasn’t been invoked on at least some level. It has.
After all, even I believe in evolution via RM/NS as being responsible for many features of living things. Many features of living things are very well explained by neutral evolution or by low-level functional evolution. This doesn’t mean that all features of living things can be therefore be explained by RM/NS. It is this leap of logic or extrapolation of low-level evolution to much higher levels of evolution, within mainstream science, which isn’t scientific. Many features of living things go well beyond the creative potential of any known mindless mechanism while being well within the realm of ID. This is the very same argument used by Davies to support his belief in a God as the designer behind certain features of the anthropic universe.
By the way, I do know Norman McNulty. I’m just not familiar with his views on perfectionism – which is, in any case, irrelevant to this purposes of this particular website. Also, my transitional internship was completed at Eisenhower Army Medical Center (not an SDA institution) and my hemepath fellowship was completed at the City of Hope under the world-renown Lawrence Weiss (not SDA either).
I remain as perplexed as ever how you can hold views on the the nature of intelligent design as a natural phenomena and the requirement for faith to be subservient to reason and evidence but deny anyone in church employ any leeway to explore or articulate anything beyond what you consider truth.
It isn’t what I consider truth. It is what the Church as an organization considers to be fundamental “present truth”. All are free to join or to leave the Church at will. This is a free civil society in which we live – thank God. However, the Church, as with any viable organization, must maintain a certain degree of order and discipline within its own organizational structure if it is to survive. The Church simply cannot afford to hire those who are ardently opposed to the basic fundamental goals and ideals of the Church as an organization and who go around teaching and preaching against the fundamental positions of the organized Church.
You may not consider the organization of the Church to be all that important. I think that without organization, and the order and control that goes along with maintaining any organization, that the Church would quickly fragment into a meaningless hodgepodge of isolated groups with widely divergent ideas. The organizational aspect of the Church is what gives it its power to spread a unified Gospel message more effectively.
I appreciate your responses to my questions and the glimpses I have gained into the mind of a person who seems to discern truth and sees the justice in imposing it on others.
What employer doesn’t impose various rules and restrictions on its paid employees? – rules that are known upfront before the employee agrees to take the job? You very well know that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t be paid by an organization for doing whatever you want. You are paid to do what the organization wants you to do. If you don’t like what the organization wants you to do, you don’t have to take the job. Again, it’s as simple as that. This isn’t some deep philosophical mystery here.
It is self-evident, is it not, that when one takes on employment in an organization of one’s own free will, one is obliged to take on the restriction, the rules, of that organization. Is it wrong of Reebok to require its own employees to only promote and even wear Reebok shoes? Would it be wrong of Reebok to fire and employee for publicly promoting Nike as making a superior product?
Come now. If you really believe that Nike makes the better shoe, and you are bound and determined to be honest to yourself and tell everyone about the superiority of Nike, why on Earth would you expect to be paid by Reebok to promote Nike? You’re simply making no sense here. You’re basically an anarchist who thinks you deserve to be paid simply for your honesty. I’m sorry, but no viable organization works that way. An honest Catholic should work for the Catholic organization. An honest Baptist should work for the Baptist organization. And an honest evolutionary scientist should work for those numerous organizations who would be more than glad to pay such an individual for their efforts. Why should the SDA Church pay anyone who doesn’t actually want to promote what the SDA Church, as an organization, wishes to promote?
God bless and give you as much insight into his Grace.
Likewise. God is a God of order and disciplined government – not anarchy. All are free to come and enjoy the gifts of God as given through the inspired organization of the SDA Church. However, not all are free to expect payment from the SDA Church for their services since not all are well suited to be official representatives of the Church as an organization.
Adventist Education–at the crossroads?
As already noted, challenging fundamental aspects of Darwinian evolution is not like challenging most other aspects of science. It is like challenging some fundamental religious aspect of most mainstream scientists.
It’s not like there aren’t very good scientific reasons for challenging the mainstream paradigm in many respects. A similar case, as already noted, is the fairly recent E-mail scandal over global warming: where scientists in charge of journals deliberately falsified data and blocked the publication of minority opinions from scientists with which they disagreed. The very same thing happened to Stephen Meyer when he tried to publish in mainstream literature. And, the one time he was successful, Richard Sternberg, the editor who was brave enough to publish a paper from an scientist supportive of intelligent design behind any aspect of our universe, was demoted and lost his job at the Smithsonian.
I’m sorry, but I don’t think you comprehend the strong emotion and even religious zeal that mainstream scientists share for the defense of Darwinism against any fundamental counter within the journals that they control.
Adventist Education–at the crossroads?
Every reference you give [regarding the Sternberg case] is filtered through a creationist source.
And all of the references you listed were filtered through evolutionist sources. The fact is that the original references in this case are clearly listed and are readily available. There is no cover-up of the actual facts involved in this case – to include Sternberg’s exoneration by the OSC and the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources. Those are the facts.
Yet, you write:
You must understand that we all start from certain assumptions. On origins you start from a certain reading of an inerrant canon and the writings of EG White. If you at all understand science it is based on the assumption that nature can be explained by natural law. To then inject miracles into that understanding is to subvert the core process.
Wait just a minute here! Since when does the detection of the need for intelligence to explain a given phenomenon violate scientific methodology? Since when is the detection of the need for intelligence to explain certain phenomena excluded from science by definition? Since when does the invocation of “natural law” mean that only “mindless natural laws” can be invoked in all situations?
Do you not realize that many fields of modern science are based on the ability of scientific methodologies to detect the activity of deliberate intelligence in play within our universe? – to include forensic science, anthropology, and even SETI science? Don’t tell me that when an anthropologist picks up a rock and declares that it has the features of a deliberately carved arrowhead that real science isn’t in play. Don’t tell me that when a man walks into his house and sees a freshly baked chocolate cake sitting on his kitchen table that rational, even scientific, thought isn’t involved in determining an intelligent origin for the cake. Don’t tell me that if one of our rovers were to find a highly symmetrical polished granite cube, measuring one meter on each side, on the surface of Mars, that such a discovery would not be hailed as evidence for the existed of non-human intelligent life by mainstream science.
You know as well as I do that these things are all true – that the detection of the “miracle” of intelligence in play within our universe is by no means beyond the powers of scientific investigation. Just because intelligence itself most certainly is a “miracle” from certain perspectives does not mean that it’s detection is beyond science. It isn’t.
The irony is as I have pointed out repeatedly you as a practioner of evidence based medicine (Admittedly I am making an assumption here as you have been LLU trained) do adopt a naturalistic approach to medicine. In this there is a clear disparity with your writings on origins.
I am board certified in anatomic, clinical and hematopathology (with a hemepath fellowship from the City of Hope under Dr. Weiss). I’ve also worked for several years as an urgent care doc back when I was in the Army and have been involved in a number of forensic investigations. You are ignorant to think that a “naturalistic approach” to medicine means that only mindless natural causes can be invoked to explain all situations that doctors encounter. If this were true, the crimes scenes I helped to investigate would never have been detectable as crime scenes. No one would have ever been charged with a deliberate crime of any kind if your notions and concepts of the “miraculous” and of “naturalism” were correct.
I hate to break this to you, but intelligence is “natural”.
I’m just hoping that you don’t actually teach this stuff in one of our SDA schools… but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Recent Comments by Sean Pitman
Science and Methodological Naturalism
Very interesting passage. After all, if scientists are honest with themselves, scientific methodologies are well-able to detect the existence of intelligent design behind various artifacts found in nature. It’s just the personal philosophy of scientists that makes them put living things and the origin of the fine-tuned universe “out of bounds” when it comes to the detection of intelligent design. This conclusion simply isn’t dictated by science itself, but by a philosophical position, a type of religion actually, that strives to block the Divine Foot from getting into the door…
Revisiting God, Sky & Land by Fritz Guy and Brian Bull
Why is it that creationists are afraid to acknowledge the validity of Darwinism in these settings? I don’t see that these threaten a belief in God in any way whatsoever.
The threat is when you see no limitations to natural mindless mechanisms – where you attribute everything to the creative power of nature instead of to the God of nature.
God has created natural laws that can do some pretty amazing things. However, these natural laws are not infinite in creative potential. Their abilities are finite while only God is truly infinite.
The detection of these limitations allows us to recognize the need for the input of higher-level intelligence and creative power that goes well beyond what nature alone can achieve. It is here that the Signature of God is detectable.
For those who only hold a naturalistic view of the universe, everything is attributed to the mindless laws of nature… so that the Signature of God is obscured. Nothing is left that tells them, “Only God or some God-like intelligent mind could have done this.”
That’s the problem when you do not recognize any specific limitations to the tools that God has created – when you do not recognize the limits of nature and what natural laws can achieve all by themselves.
Revisiting God, Sky & Land by Fritz Guy and Brian Bull
Since the fall of Adam, Sean, all babies are born in sin and they are sinners. God created them. Even if it was by way of cooperation of natural law as human beings also participated in the creation process.
God did not create the broken condition of any human baby – neither the physical or moral brokenness of any human being. God is responsible for every good thing, to include the spark or breath of life within each one of us. However, He did not and does not create those things within us that are broken or bad.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?'” Matthew 13:27-28
Of course, all humans are indeed born broken and are in a natural state of rebellion against God. However, God is not the one who created this condition nor is God responsible for any baby being born with any kind of defect in character, personality, moral tendency, or physical or genetic abnormality. God did not create anyone with such brokenness. Such were the natural result of rebellion against God and heading the temptations of the “enemy”… the natural result of a separation from God with the inevitable decay in physical, mental, and moral strength.
Of course, the ones who are born broken are not responsible for their broken condition either. However, all of us are morally responsible for choosing to reject the gift of Divine Grace once it is appreciated… and for choosing to go against what we all have been given to know, internally, of moral truth. In other words, we are responsible for rebelling against the Royal Law written on the hearts of all mankind.
This is because God has maintained in us the power to be truly free moral agents in that we maintain the Power to choose, as a gift of God (Genesis 3:15). We can choose to accept or reject the call of the Royal Law, as the Holy Spirit speaks to all of our hearts…
Remember the statement by Mrs. White that God is in no wise responsible for sin in anyone at any time. God is working to fix our broken condition. He did not and does not create our broken condition. Just as He does not cause Babies to be born with painful and lethal genetic defects, such as those that result in childhood leukemia, He does not cause Babies to be born with defects of moral character either. God is only directly responsible for the good, never the evil, of this life.
Revisiting God, Sky & Land by Fritz Guy and Brian Bull
Again, your all-or-nothing approach to the claims of scientists isn’t very scientific. Even the best and most famous of scientists has had numerous hair-brained ideas that were completely off base. This fact does not undermine the good discoveries and inventions that were produced.
Scientific credibility isn’t based on the person making the argument, but upon the merits of the argument itself – the ability of the hypothesis to gain predictive value when tested. That’s it.
Gary Gilbert, Spectrum, and Pseudogenes
Don’t be so obtuse here. We’re not talking about publishing just anything in mainstream journals. I’ve published several articles myself. We’re talking about publishing the conclusion that intelligent design was clearly involved with the origin of various artifactual features of living things on this planet. Try getting a paper that mentions such a conclusion published…