Thursday, August 27, 2009

Belief #6: Reality is Fatal to Fundamental Adventist Beliefs

I feel like I've been stuck on one topic for awhile. I'm not exactly sure why that is. It might be just because I have less time to write on things that are only sort of interesting to me. That the Seventh-Day Adventist church has chosen to highlight creationism this year has definitely provided plenty of material. In the future I'll try to diversify, but this is just too easy.

This month's topic in The Adventist World's series on fundamental beliefs is belief number six - creation. The official position is stated as:
6. Creation:
God is Creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the
authentic account of His creative activity. In six days the Lord made
"the heaven and the earth" and all living things upon the earth, and
rested on the seventh day of that first week. Thus He established the
Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work. The
first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work
of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with
responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was ``very
good,'' declaring the glory of God. (Gen. 1; 2; Ex. 20:8-11; Ps. 19:1-6;
33:6, 9; 104; Heb. 11:3.)

Which leaves a slight bit wiggle room, to adapt to scientific reality. You know, the moderate Christian position of symbolic time periods with a special 'ensoulment' of humans at some point in the recent past. However, fundamental Adventism cannot accept a moderate interpretation -
even of this easily falsifiable claim. The reason is probably clear to almost everyone, but for some reason only came into sharp focus for me after reading this article. It is this: young earth creationism is like a keystone. If it slips, it starts a cascade of failing fundamental beliefs and dearly held doctrines.
"Special creation preserves the integrity of Scripture, safeguards the loving, praiseworthy character of God, establishes the reality of the atonement and redemption, and the soundness of the seventh-day Sabbath. These reasons, and more, show why a special creation worldview matters so deeply to the Adventist message and mission."

Most important is the seventh day Sabbath, which is the nearly the entire identity of Seventh-Day Adventism. The other beliefs specifically mentioned in the article that are threatened by reality are "authority and inspiration of Scripture", "the biblical teaching of the
loving character of the Creator" and the "literal fall" of man.

This last is significant because absent a literal fall and a historical Adam who transfers sin to humanity, we no longer require atonement and redemption. No need to for Jesus to die, no need for Christianity. Clearly no religion is going to acknowledge and embrace its own obsolescence.

Although creationism is demonstrably false, I'm sort of in favor of the SDA position of holding firm. It seems to be fairly benign in practice. I don't think my science education was irreparably damaged. But, it serves to underline the ridiculousness of the religion and hopefully decrease its influence and relevance in the culture. As PZ Myers eloquently put it.

"When fundamentalists tie their faith absolutely to a claim that is easily refuted, that contradicts the evidence, and that requires them to constantly escalate their denial and delusions in order to sustain their belief, it makes it really easy for atheists to demolish their religion. We don't even need to attack religion in the classroom at all - we just calmly lay out the facts, let the students work out the conclusions, and's epiphany time! They realize their pastor lied to them, or was just really ignorant, and suddenly their respect for Christian authority begins to crumble away. It's not the atheist's fault, though. The lesson should be, "Don't lie to your kids,"


Tim said...

Why are you in favor of Adventism resisting change with regard to #6? If you think of it as a keystone, I would think you would be even more excited for it to be changed.

There are lots of Adventists, even Adventist theologians who think that Saturday worship doesn't need to be dependent on a literal 6 day creation. That one is really easy, I think. And the integrity of the scripture is easy, too, since there is so much stuff already that gets interpreted as metaphorical. But you are right, I think, that the "literal fall" issue is more difficult. I think liberal Adventists do have some answers, but I don't really know them very well at all because I find that I don't have the patience any more to read an extended theological discussion when both sides are trading EGW quotes, bible verses, etc, in all seriousness. I'm sure you understand.

This is all just to say that I don't think the church or its doctrinal structure would collapse given a more liberal interpretation of Genesis. And even if that structure did collapse, would that be such a bad thing? The Adventist church might not be as distinct doctrinally as it was before, and if they could learn to live with that, it seems like it would be a huge improvement. Maybe they could focus on values instead of beliefs, and put more energy into doing things via ADRA, etc. I don't really have a dog in the race, as they say, but I definitely hope that the liberals win.

Do you admire the conservatives for their logical rigor (such as it is)? For their devotion to "Truth"? Do you feel like you share hard-headed intellectual values with the conservatives that are lacking in liberals? Perhaps like favoring science over philosophy or literary criticism? I'm not trying to be snarky.

Tim said...

OK. You answered my question in the last two paragraphs: As long as they hang on to their traditional answers, they will be increasingly irrelevant. Could be. If the goal is for the church to wither away completely, that may be the best way forward. I'm not sure. But I do think the church can do some good, and for that liberalization might be best.

Iron Soul said...

I'm sure the church can and does do good. I also think Adventist are better than many in that regard. I'm just not convinced that the church is the best way to do good. I think really I'd like to see liberalization. It is fundamentalism I'd like to see wither away.

Reverted said...

I suspect the reason that Creation, specifically, has been highlighted lately has to do with this being the 150-year anniversary of "On The Origin Of Species" (which has been getting at least some media attention).

I think you're right about the basic SDA fundamentalist outlook, Jeff. My dad's cousin---also a physician, and a bright, nice guy---is one of those who thinks that the Sabbath means nothing if a literal 6-day creation is turned metaphorical; he thinks it all just crumbles away if you give-up the literalism. It's a row of dominoes. And, I think a huge number of SDA's would concur (though obviously not all).

Anyway, did you watch PZ's recent "Counting Coup" lecture? (If you do, then note, especially, his comments about Cain... lol)

Reverted said...

I guess there's also that whole La Sierra thing that recently cropped-up (about teaching real science, instead than religious fantasy). That could, perhaps, be driving some of this year's especially loud SDA lunacy as well.