By Sean Pitman
The Collegian, the school paper for Walla Walla University, just published an entire spread on the topic of evolution vs. creation with authors (primarily students) from multiple departments contributing. An interesting survey was also published primarily reflecting the beliefs of WWU students on the topic of origins (a smaller percentage of faculty, staff, and alumni were also included in the survey).
While opinions both for and against the traditional Seventh-day Adventist perspective on origins were published in this issue (noting Alden Thompson’s positive article in particular), most of the articles seemed to undermine the importance of teaching the validity of a truly literal six-day creation week – despite the historical position of the Church that the literal nature of the six-day creation week is “fundamental” to the faith of Seventh-day Adventists.
For example, Katie Wittlake, a Religion Editor for the paper wrote in the lead article for this section:
To enforce a specific belief as necessary, especially one that is at odds with the general scientific community, is dangerous ground for Adventism. As I hear about the proposal to rewrite the 28 Fundamental Beliefs to include a more literal understanding of Genesis, I worry more about alienation from the larger community than I do about whether or not the belief is valid. Whether or not you take the Genesis account to be literal, figurative, or complete fiction, the message and mission of Adventism is not conveyed well if we put ourselves in a position of intolerance with disagreement (Read More).
In the lead article for the opinion pieces Jeff Ladish wrote:
I am horrified that the leaders of an Adventist conference would dramatically condemn fellow Adventists for teaching a standard scientific theory… To the vast majority of biologists, questioning the explanatory power of evolution would be like questioning the existence of atoms… While some Adventists believe that a literal seven-day creation week is essential to the Sabbath doctrine and Adventist belief as a whole, other Adventists don’t see the details of creation as a church-breaking issue (God can still make a day of rest even if He didn’t create the earth in 144 hours). I agree with the latter group of Adventists. The church shouldn’t dictate which precise interpretations of the Bible are “correct,” and it definitely shouldn’t decide which scientific theories are legitimate (Read More).
Even one of the main characters involved with actively promoting long-age evolutionism within our schools from the beginning, Erv Taylor, professor emeritus of anthropology at UCR and self-styled “Christan Agnostic“, was asked to write an article for this issue:
If we all agree that all Adventist Christians confess that God is the Creator, may I submit that the current debate within Adventism is about the details of how and when God did it? It’s about what processes were used by God in creating the world and life forms. It’s also about how long it took for God to create the world and living organisms… Since the 2010 General Conference session, there are now a number of influential Adventist administrators who are publicly calling for the advancement of an Adventist shibboleth over this issue. This shibboleth would not be a single word, but a phrase. That phrase would be something similar to: “Creation in seven recent consecutive contiguous 24-hour days.” Regretfully, some are advocating the placement of some version of that code phrase into the statement of Adventist fundamental beliefs. If successful, this action would only create and foster even more polarization in our faith community (Read More).
In short, while the survey results did show that a small majority of students at Walla Walla still believe in the Adventist position on origins, a large number do not. From this article it also appears that they are not getting much support from the professors at WWU when it comes to providing students with good reasons, scientifically valid and doctrinally sound reasons, in favor of the Adventist perspective on origins.
Clearly, La Sierra University is not the only Adventist school that has been challenged by the issue of origins. While LSU may have been the most blatant in attacking and undermining the Adventist position on origins, many of our other schools (with the exception of Southern Adventist University and Southwestern Adventist University where the Adventist position on origins is still strongly upheld and promoted) seem to be heading down the same path or are at least very weak in their active support of the Church on this issue.
Our Adventist Church needs to take a hard look at what it expects from our own schools. In the mean time, both our church and our school system need to be very open and honest with students, parents, and the church membership at large as to what exactly is being taught to our young people on the topic of origins. At the very least we should not be advertising one thing, the promotion of the official standards of Adventism, while actually undermining or even attacking certain of these basic goals and “fundamental” ideals.
More than ever it is time for the Adventist Church to take a clear stand on the importance, or non-importance, of its views on origins. Either the Church’s “Fundamental Belief #6” on origins needs to be clarified to highlight the Church’s stand on the nature of the creation of all life on this planet in just six literal days, and hold its pastors and teachers accountable to this standard, or it needs to clearly and decidedly remove this concept from the fundamental doctrinal positions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Follow up note (2/10/2012):
Mandi, a fourth year biology student at WWU, wrote a very interesting comment in response to this article:
If they had asked me to respond I would have shared my belief, which is the same as my major professors and I believe most of my fellow students, that I believe in creation and have been encouraged by all my professors to study not only my textbooks but my Bible as well. So often I get into conversations with fellow students and professors about complexities of cellular signaling or the fine balance of our universe… (Read More).
Also, R., a biology major at WWU, wrote:
The Biology department had no part in writing the survey and the majority of biology majors were both deeply saddened and offended by the published paper. It was neither an unbiased or fair look at any of the issues covered. If you are looking for a fair, realistic look at what the students and faculty of Walla Walla believe, this was not it. The staff at WWU is very conscientious to teach in ways that are in line with Biblical teachings. The school goes out of its way to teach students like me to grow in faith and knowledge. (Read More)
However, in a post by “Student at WWU” the following disturbing comments were made:
Ya’ll are being lied here at the request of the biology department. They set off the alarm this (Friday) morning and urged their students to defend them by talking about how their having faith and belief in creation had been affirmed at WWU to “prevent another La Sierra.”… The comments over at freethoughtblogs are much more accurate in relation to what the faculty at our school teach and support. (Read More)
Here’s a comment from a physics student at WWU:
When I arrived at the school [WWU] a few years ago, I was definitely Adventist. Now, as a result of my education (and also my friends), I am agnostic trending toward atheist. Yes, there are a lot of very religious people here. Yes, I used to be one of them. Now, I think I know the majority of my fellow skeptics here. We exist underground and the group is slowly growing… No one has yet lost their job over this, but I may be speaking too soon. Apparently the General Conference (the highest power in the Adventist Church, for the uninitiated), has been in communication with the school over this issue. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. (Read More).
From another WWU student, Beemack:
Most of the biology professors there [at WWU] do actually teach straight evolution, even though they’ll offer the qualifier on the first day of class, something like “whether you believe it or not, this is what you have to know to be a scientist”… What people who’ve never been part of this denomination may not know is that there is a big difference between what the SDA scientists teach/think/believe and what the mainstream student body (or mainstream church) believes – also between what the scientist can admit to believing and what they actually think.” (Read More)