EVOLUTION VS CREATIONISM in ADVENTISM
DEATH BEFORE SIN? –NO
By J. David Newman
Within the Adventist Church, there is a growing chorus of voices proclaiming that macroevolution is consistent with the Bible and especially the book of Genesis. These voices state that science has overwhelmingly shown that life on this earth is hundreds of thousands of years old and that one can no longer accept a short chronology—that is, a creation of this earth only a few thousands of years ago.
This article will not discuss the pros and cons of this debate. Instead, it will focus on the core issue: how does death fit into what God originally said when he created this world, “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31, ASV)?
What does “very good” mean? According to Christian evolutionists, death was part of God’s strategy from the beginning, as evolution cannot take place without endless dying and suffering. It also means that earthquakes and tornadoes and mudslides have all been part of God’s creating activity down through the millennia. So Christian evolutionists say that death is natural and normal, while the Bible says that death is an enemy.
“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. … The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:22, 26, NIV). And it will not exist in the new earth (Rev. 21:4).
The Bible is very clear that there was a time in this world’s history when death did not exist. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’” (Gen. 2:16-17, NIV).
This passage is saying that Adam would live forever if he abstained from eating from this tree. He would never die. Paul, when writing to the church at Rome about how we are saved, says this: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come” (Rom. 5:12- 14, NIV).
Paul makes it clear that death did not exist before Adam sinned. Several verses on, Paul reiterates his point: “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17, NIV).
If death were taking place in the world before Adam, and if Adam was simply the end result of the evolution of human beings, why would death be an enemy? And why would it need to be destroyed?
Interpreting the Evidence
Both evolutionists and creationists look at the same facts, the same evidence. The issue is how do we interpret the evidence, whether from science or from the Bible?
This subject is very important, because it impacts how we look at Jesus, at the cross, and at the whole question of sin. If science explains where we come from, then the same science tells us that people do not come back from the dead, and that Jesus may have lived and died on a cross but could never have come back to life again. The same people who believe in Christian evolution also believe what the Bible says about the end of this age—that one day death will no longer exist—even though that is not what science says. So why accept what science says for the beginning of this world but not accept what science says for the end of this world?
There is a second huge issue in this debate, and that is the question of evil. If God used evolution to create this world, which involves death and destruction, is that evil or not? Is evil only what humans do? Is it evil for a lion to tear apart an antelope to satisfy its hunger? As humans evolved, were they innocent, not evil? When did sin come into existence? The Bible says clearly, as we have seen, that sin came into being when Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit. The Bible says they were the first humans. Evolution says they were simply the culmination of the evolving of humans.
The real issue is one we seldom ever discuss: the assumptions or presuppositions with which we come to the evidence. Assumptions can lead us to all kinds of false conclusions. Here are my assumptions.
First, I believe there is a God who created this world and this universe. I cannot prove this assumption, but neither can anyone disprove it. That is what makes deciding which assumptions to believe so difficult.
Second, I believe that I need special revelation (the Bible) to help me understand general revelation (this world, science). Without special revelation, I would not know I am a sinner. Without special revelation, I would not know I need a Savior and that I am saved by believing in Jesus and by letting his blood wash away my sins.
Third, I believe that there is good and that there is evil. I believe that the good comes from God and that evil comes from Satan. The Bible describes a war in heaven and the rebellion of Satan against God (Rev. 12:7-12). As a result, Satan tries to discredit God every way that he can and has introduced the carnage in nature that we see today, whether the killing of life or the natural disasters in this world. He has tried to confuse us as we interpret nature to find God or to cry against God.
The book of Joshua tells a story that illustrates the importance of special revelation over general revelation. The Israelites are conquering Canaan. Just over the next hill live the Gibeonites. They do not want to be conquered by the Israelites, so they resort to a deceptive stratagem. They send ambassadors pretending that they have come from a far-away country and desire to make a treaty with the Israelites.
The Bible says “they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy” (Josh. 9:4-5, NIV).
The Israelites concluded by the visible evidence that these men were telling the truth. Three days later, they found that they were their neighbors and they had made the wrong assumption about the evidence presented to them. There is a very telling verse tucked away in this chapter. It says, “But they did not ask counsel of the Lord” (Josh. 9:14, NKJV).
I believe that I must use the Bible to correctly interpret the scientific evidence. But immediately someone will ask: “How do you know that you are interpreting the Bible correctly? Hasn’t the church—such as in the days of Galileo—interpreted the Bible wrongly?” This is a very good question. That is why I am dealing with the issue of death as the foundational issue. It is very hard to interpret the Bible in any way that suggests that death existed before Adam and Eve took the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.1
If Adam and Eve were not historical figures, then we have no information on how we became sinners. If human beings gradually evolved from the Neolithic man to Homo sapiens, at what stage did they become sinners? If other humans existed along with Adam and Eve, how did they become sinners? Who, then, did Christ save?
Christian evolutionists operate under their own assumptions, as well. One of their foundational assumptions is that of uniformitarianism. This assumption means that we can learn about the past by using the laws of the universe as we know them today. It assumes that no laws have changed. But what if we challenge this assumption, this presupposition? If some of the fundamental laws regarding our earth have changed, then we can only interpret the past back to the time when these laws changed. Beyond that we have no tools with which to examine the past.
Here is one example of a fundamental law that I believe has changed: the second law of thermodynamics, more commonly known as the law of entropy. This law states that disorder never produces order but order turns into disorder—that everything is slowly running down until it reaches equilibrium, so that in some distant future there will no life left in the universe.
You only have to look at your house to see the proof of this law. It doesn’t take any effort for it to become dirty and untidy. It takes much effort to keep it clean and tidy. It doesn’t take any effort for the paint to chip and get dirty, but it takes lots of effort to restore the paint.
I believe this law—along with other laws that lead to decay and death—did not exist before sin entered the universe. Let’s take a look at Scripture to see when God changed fundamental laws under which our Earth operates.
Adam and Eve have disobeyed God. They have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God spells out some of the consequences of their disobedience. “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.”
Thorns and thistles did not exist prior to the curse, just as death did not exist. This means that some laws had to change. God gave new laws that would guide the life-to-death cycle in the human, animal, and plant worlds. All animals were vegetarians, but now some could prey on other animals for their food. This meant a change in how they processed food. Microevolution comes into play. And Satan can use all of his skills to help evil develop.
But this was only the beginning of the changes. God pronounced another curse. After Cain murdered his brother, Abel, God held him to account. God said to him: “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:10-12, NIV).
The first curse was on the ground. A literal translation says, “You are more cursed than the earth.” Cain had been a farmer. He had brought fruit and grain as a sacrifice to God against the command of God. Now God is telling Cain that he is going to have a much tougher time farming. More changes are coming to the environment.
But there is an even bigger curse to come. Genesis tells us that God did not create the world to experience rain. We read in Genesis: “When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up; the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground” (Gen. 2:4-6, NIV).
It was not until the time of the great Flood in Noah’s day that rain began to fall. “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights” (Gen. 7:11-12, NIV).
Here was another change in the fundamental laws that govern our planet. New weather laws came into play.
There is a further reason why I believe rain did not fall before the Flood. After Noah and his family exited the ark onto dry land, God made a covenant with them. “And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth (Gen. 9:12-13, NIV).
Rainbows occur only when it rains. If there had been rain before the Flood, then there would have been rainbows—and nothing special about them. Now there is rain, and the refraction of the sun on the water gives us the rainbow. God used it as a symbol of his promise never to destroy the world by a flood again. What made this symbol so significant was the fact that they had never seen it before.
Christian evolutionists accept the assumption of uniformitarianism. I challenge that assumption. If uniformitarianism is correct, then the whole plan of salvation as outlined in the Bible becomes suspect. But if fundamental laws did change—and they would have had to for sin to enter this world—then there is no conflict between science and the Bible.
- David Newman is senior pastor of New Hope Adventist Church in Fulton, Maryland, and is editor of Adventist Today.
1John Walton in The Lost World of Genesis One says that death did not exist for humans before the fall, but it did exist for all other aspects of God’s creation (pp. 99-101). Denis Alexander in Creation or Evolution—Do We Have to Choose? says that the death that God told Adam and Eve they would experience if they disobeyed him was spiritual death, not physical death (pp. 244-253). William Dembski in The End of Christianity believes that just as justification is imputed back through time before the cross (before salvation became effective), so death can be imputed back before Adam and Eve sinned (see p. 10). His entire book is devoted to this understanding. Hugh Ross in Creation as Science says there have been multiple creations with death involved and agrees with Walton that death involved only humans not other aspects of creation (pp. 78-79).
DEATH BEFORE SIN? –YES
By Ervin Taylor
Essentially all of the historic, mainline Christian Protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic communion, and (with exceptions among some segments of their laity) the Eastern Orthodox traditions view biological evolution over billions of years of geologic time as the means, or one of the means, which God employed to create living forms on planet Earth, with, for some, the exception of the human species. This general approach or understanding, with a number of permutations, is often referred to variously as theistic evolution, progressive creation, continuing creation, or most recently, evolutionary creation.
In contrast, the younger Protestant fundamentalist Christian faith traditions, and fundamentalist elements within many of the conservative evangelical and Pentecostal groups of churches, actively reject—sometimes with great vigor and vitriol—such an understanding. The positions many of these groups advocate are typically referred to by historians and others as Young Earth Creationism (YEC) and/or Young Life Creationism (YLC). YLC advocates typically insist that all living creatures, from bacteria to mammals, were created by God over a period of seven literal, contiguous 24-hour days less than about 10,000 years ago.
YLC believers typically often also argue that a literal, Noahian worldwide Flood as described in Genesis occurred a few thousand years after this very recent creation. They argue that this worldwide catastrophe produced all, most, or much of the geological column studied by geologists. Corporate and traditional Seventh-day Adventism has aligned itself with this Protestant fundamentalist tradition in understanding how the Genesis narratives are to be interpreted.
It is important to understand that the terms “fundamentalist” and “fundamentalism” are not used as pejoratives in this discussion. They are being employed exclusively as descriptive terms to refer to any individual or group within the Christian tradition, beginning in the early 20th century, that held or holds to the view that a non-negotiable commitment to five doctrinal propositions is absolutely essential to defining an authentic or “true” New Testament Christianity. The first of these allegedly fundamental and thus “fundamentalist” Christian doctrinal precepts is that, because the text of the Bible has been inspired by God, all Scripture is thereby inerrant, i.e., no statement contained in Scripture contains any substantive errors. The other four fundamental precepts involve beliefs concerning Jesushis virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, literal bodily resurrection, and the literal reality of his miracles.
The implication of the belief in the inerrancy of all Biblical texts is that they are to be regarded as being free of any substantive error of fact, irrespective of their subject matter. Thus, the mantle of inerrancy has been bestowed by fundamentalists on Biblical statements that not only speak to devotional, religious, spiritual, and/or theological topics and themes, but also to subject matter that today would be considered to impinge directly on modern historical or scientifically based understandings. In the context of this discussion, this includes topics such as the age of the Earth and living organisms upon it and the process by which God created them.
There appears to be a strong correlation between adopting inerrancy as a principal of Biblical interpretation and holding that all Biblical texts should also be interpreted literally unless there is some very obvious and compelling reason for not doing this. Thus there is a general understanding that classical fundamentalists adhere to the view that correctly interpreting the Biblical texts also means taking them both in a literalistic sense and as inerrant.
Death and Darwinian Evolution
There is a theological theme cited by a number of fundamentalist adherents—including many traditional and institutionally affiliated Adventist authors—as, they state, one of the principal reasons for their opposition to biological evolution occurring over “deep time” in geological history. This is the role that physical death plays in the currently prevailing scientific model of how biological evolution is considered to operate. The fossil record, on its face, reflects a massive amount of death and extinction before the appearance of humans. There is a modern scientific understanding that that some 98 percent of all species of organisms known from the fossil record no longer exist. They are all dead. Their species no longer exist. The death of all organisms and extinction of species are great, inescapable facts of both modern and past physical reality.
Most educated individuals know that the current most-favored scientific model of how biological evolution has occurred bears the name of the 19th-century English naturalist, Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882). It is Darwinian evolution that is the most often vilified by Christian fundamentalists as anti-Biblical and anti-Christian. This rejection is based on an understanding that if the Darwinian model provides the correct understanding about how life evolved on this planet, then it would follow that God caused, was complicit in, or at the very least permitted the physical death of millions of creatures over eons of time, with all of the inevitable attendant suffering that this is assumed to entail. This, many fundamentalists insist, is not consistent with the picture of God represented in the Bible—or at least, they will say, the picture of God that Jesus presented.
We thus are confronted with very conflicted understandings. On one hand, physical death over hundreds of millions of years of geologic time is an important component of the Darwinian evolutionary model. The fossil record taken at face value involves massive amounts of death. On the other, there is the view that such a model is totally incompatible with what is viewed as orthodox Christianity, and certainly with traditional Adventism. In light of this conflict, it might be helpful to very briefly outline the concept detailed by Darwin more than a century ago to explain scientifically how modifications in biological forms over very long periods of time could be explained, how geological time is documented, and then consider the nature of theologically based objections.
Micro/Macro Evolution and Geochronology
Although subsequent research since Darwin’s time has documented several other mechanisms responsible for biological evolutionary change, the central idea addressed in the Darwinian model of biological evolution involves the understanding of the processes involved in natural selection. In his “one long argument” in On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life (1859), Darwin outlined his understanding of the evolutionary biological process as proceeding primarily in small, incremental steps over long periods driven primarily by the effects of natural selection.
In Darwin’s view, natural selection involves differential reproductive success for some populations and species in that they pass on more of their progeny to succeeding generations than other populations and species competing for space, food, and other resources in the same environment. This outcome is viewed as being the result of the fact that populations of organisms which pass on more descendents do this primarily because they are better adapted to their environment. In this model, differential death rates of better-adapted species explain why these species increase their populations over time and why other species not as well adapted to the same environment will eventually become extinct.
The effects of natural selection in the relatively small changes in both gene frequencies (genotypes) and in the visible structures of various organisms (phenotypes) have been clearly observed in the laboratory and field. These effects are widely referred to as microevolution. My understanding is that this form of Darwinian evolution by natural selection is readily accepted by many fundamentalist Christians who possess some scientific training, including traditional Adventist interpreters of Genesis, since it involves directly observable variations within species.
The conventional scientific understanding is that over millions of years, microevolution becomes what is sometimes called macroevolution, the creation of new species of living organisms. This occurs when the gradual or more abrupt changes produced by the mechanism of natural selection, and the other factors involved in biological evolutionary processes, slowly accumulate. When the accumulation of genotypic variation within one species—perhaps as the result of, for example, geographic isolation—results in two populations with clearly distinct genotypic and usually phenotypic expressions, we can then say that a new species has evolved and that what was once one species is now two or more species. Over long periods of time in response to changing environments, this process will produce organisms very different from the original parental population in previous environments. Using modern scientific protocols of scientific taxonomic nomenclature, we would classify such organisms into different genera and families and, as appropriate, other groupings even further up the taxonomic ladder.
The most direct, physical evidence that evolution at whatever level has actually occurred is based on inferences from observations of the characteristics of the ancient life exhibited in the paleontological or fossil record contained in the geologic column. What is critical to the general understanding of the great strength of the scientific evidence supporting the reality that life has evolved over multiple hundreds of millions and billions of years on planet Earth is that beginning in the last half of the 20th century, an increasingly accurate and precise time scale for the geological and fossil record has been provided by isotopic dating methods.
The accuracy of the age determinations produced by the application of geochronological methods has absolutely nothing to do with whether Darwinian macroevolution is or is not “true.” Almost all geochronometric methods, now numbering more than 20 distinct (or clusters of related) dating techniques, were developed not by geologists or evolutionary biologists, but almost entirely by physicists and chemists. Few of these scientists had little, if any, direct interest, in addressing issues involving the validity of Darwinian or any other kind of biological evolution— pro or con. The temporal framework for the fossil record, totally mischaracterized as an “evolutionary time scale” by YEC/YLC advocates, was developed completely separate of any considerations of the current biological evolutionary model.
As is the case in the vast majority of controversial subjects of the type being discussed here, it seems that a clear explication of the assumptions standing behind theological discourse is a necessary prerequisite if one wishes to conduct a reasonable dialogue when highly variant conclusions and opinions are being offered.
One of my presuppositions is that while it is certainly appropriate to expect that a Christian adherent would take Biblical texts seriously, it does not follow that this individual would be expected to take all Biblical statements literally. Let us quickly note that it would appear that even self-identified fundamentalists, as a practical matter, do not take all Biblical texts literally. It would seem that many of them express the awareness that Biblical writers employed a wide range of literary structures and motifs such as metaphors, similes, and the language of appearances in their narratives.
I would therefore suggest that few modern Christian believers, even those who have adopted what we have here defined as a fundamentalist Biblical hermeneutic, actually interpret each and every Biblical text in a literalistic manner. I submit that what actually occurs is that a contemporary reader will decide which Biblical text to interpret with some degree of “literalness” and which to interpret with some other degree of “literalness” on the basis of some modern rationality or in support of some specific theological or doctrinal point of view.
In the first instance, for example, I suspect that the “plucking out of the eye” comment of Jesus is very rarely understood as a literal command—even by fundamentalists. In the second instance, I submit that the reason why a given set of texts—in this case texts assumed to be related to how one interprets the Genesis narrativesare interpreted by Adventist fundamentalists “more literally” than some others is not based primarily because of a concern with what is appropriate Biblical exegesis. I suggest that textual interpretations assumed by Adventist fundamentalists dealing with the doctrine of creation are guided primarily by the perceived need to defend the various elements of a highly structured and unique doctrinal system. This system has been assembled in great detail as a means of defending the classical Adventist theological worldview as expressed in its master story motif—the Great Controversy metanarrative. I will elaborate on this observation in the last three paragraphs of the next and concluding section.
One alterative to that worldview is another vision of how Adventism could approach the Genesis narratives, but in a nonfundamentalist mode. What would that kind of creationism look like?
A Nonfundamentalist Creationism: Answers to Objections
In considering one nonfundamentalist Christian perspective of how God created our world and its life forms, let me first briefly elaborate on what I understand to be the most common fundamentalist Christian—and therefore classical Adventist— theological objection to the standard scientific understanding of how the biological world has evolved over geologic time.
I understand that one important reason why there is a negative response to the question “Has Physical Death on Earth Always Existed?” comes from an interpretation of the views expressed in the writings of Paul of Tarsus in the New Testament. I further understand that the traditional understanding is that Paul in a passage in his letter to the Romans is linking the existence of physical death in this world with what is characterized as a “sinful” act of Adam. On the basis of this statement, it is thus alleged that a phenomenon called human sin must have existed before any physical death could have occurred on planet Earth. Therefore, physical death could not have existed prior to the creation of humans. No physical death equals no Darwinian evolution! In my view, this is truly a breathtaking series of inferences.
There is no question that the first unintentional theologian of the Christian Church believed and wrote that human sin began with the first human and, because of that act, physical death entered the world. I understand that this statement is contained in a document composed as a pastoral homily—really something of a written sermon—that sought to communicate a theological point of view to solve a contemporary problem in the early Christian Church. That problem was conflict between Jews and Gentiles about how to reconcile their theological differences about the relationship between the “Old” and “New” Covenants.
That a theological understanding of a first-century A.D. pastoral theologian should be taken as explaining the origin of death in the physical world is a classic illustration of the result of applying a set of fundamentalist assumptions to the interpretation of a Biblical passage. It apparently matters not at all to the fundamentalist mindset that the passage in Paul’s writings to which they refer has completely and absolutely no conceptual relationship with the whole point of the Genesis narratives. The cliché about “apples and oranges” immediately comes to mind.
Another objection sometimes raised derives from inferences based on statements of Jesus that suggest he believed that Adam and Noah were “real” individuals and thus the incidents described in connection with their lives must have been “real” and “literal” events as well. It seems to me that all Biblical writers refer to and certainly believed that the individuals they referenced as earlier actors in various Biblical narratives were “real people.” There was no differentiation applied when referring to David, Moses, Abraham, Noah, and Adam.
There are some who view the statements of Jesus in an entirely different light than even Biblical writers. It is argued that statements attributed to him are to be evaluated on a different standard. However, I understand that the historic orthodox Christian perspective—at least since the 4th century of the Christian era—holds that Jesus was 100 percent God and 100 percent human. If Jesus was really 100 percent human, that would seem to indicate, at least to me, that he carried in his consciousness the human cultural perspectives and assumptions of his time and place. And in his time and place, Adam and Eve and Noah were “real” people and the stories told about them “really happened.” Again, it would seem that this is only a problem for a fundamentalist Christian who believes both in an inerrant Bible and a Jesus who was not really human.
Finally, there is a central point of this discussion that I wish to propose for a reader’s consideration. That point is my contention that it is views of Ellen White that lie at the heart of why traditional Adventism has been so adamantly opposed to the concept of biological evolution and long geological ages. It is her understanding of what the Bible says about creation, the Flood, and related matters that has created the problem for the faith tradition she helped to establish. It seems to me that what is at issue is not primarily a case of the holding of different hermeneutical models as applied to the understanding of Biblical materials, but holding different hermeneutical models having to do with the understanding of the appropriate role of Ellen White in relationship to Christian doctrinal matters. For those who were and are inspired by her words to live fulfilling and meaningful lives of service, she is a prophetic figure. But prophets are human; they can and do make mistakes, and they can and do hold what are, from a strictly factual perspective, erroneous views. In Ellen White’s case, I wish to propose that some of what she remembered about her out-of-body experiences and communicated to others was extremely helpful to those who witnessed her visions and heard about these visions from those who were actually there. She accomplished what she set out to do—keep a “Little Flock” together. But I would suggest that over the long term, there has been created some very negative unintended consequences. Some of the incidental details which she “saw” while in her trance states were solidified into factual assertions concerning, among other topics, details about how God created the world and life forms on it.
So we come back to the original question with some slight modification: How might a non-fundamentalist Adventist Christian answer the question: “Has physical death on earth always existed?” In my current view, the most probable answer is “Yes,” since the best evidence we now have about how God created the world has been revealed to us in the great advances in science inspired by God, which has occurred over the last 500 years. In addition, God has graciously allowed us to obtain much better understandings of how the divine presence communicates to the human family in all cultures in ways they can best appreciate and understand at the time that the communication occurred.
Ervin Taylor is emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California, Riverside, and retiring executive publisher of Adventist Today.
EVOLUTION vs. CREATIONISM in ADVENTISM
My response to “Death Before sin?—Yes” By J. David Newman
“Did death exist before sin entered this world?” was the subject for Dr. Taylor’s and my articles. Death has always existed in the evolutionary model, but the Bible calls death an “enemy” and states that at one time it did not exist. Dr. Taylor spends more than half of his article explaining why the evolutionary model is the only one that fits the scientific data.
When he reaches the Biblical material, he begins by asking how one should interpret the Bible. He points out, rightly, that we don’t take everything literally. But we all take death literally. When he gets to the New Testament texts about death, he agrees that Paul understood what he was writing to mean that death came only after Adam and Eve sinned. But he dismisses him in 300 words out of the 3,000 words in his article. Yet the writings of Paul are where you find the reasons for why death came into this world.
Dr. Taylor says that Paul wrote what was common knowledge in his day but that we cannot take what the apostle says as having any literal application for us today. Totally absent from his article is any reference to sin and the need for a Savior. He does not deal with where sin came from or what will happen at the end of the age. Paul explains that it was because of Adam’s sin that death came into the world and humans needed a Savior.
Our subject was not to prove either evolution or creation but to deal with the meaning of death and how the Bible explains its origin and its remedy. The whole purpose of the Bible is to explain that there is a great controversy going on between God and Satan. Humans defected to Satan, and Jesus came to reclaim as many of these rebels as he could. The Bible then tells us how it will all end. Satan and all evil will be destroyed along with death, and perfect peace and joy will reign throughout the universe.
Dr. Taylor made no attempt to wrestle with this overarching motif of the Bible. It seems that the assumptions with which he comes to the Bible are the opposite of the assumptions with which I come. Unless we can agree on the assumptions with which we approach the text, we are whistling in the dark and there is not the slightest chance of any agreement or even any fruitful dialogue.
My response to “Death Before sin?—No”
By Ervin Taylor
In the two responses to the question posed, we clearly illustrate how difficult it is for members of the same church community— even for two individuals who are Adventist Today colleagues—to achieve some general consensus, let alone agreement, on an important point of doctrine when there appears to be such a profound difference of approach to something as foundational as the nature of Scripture.
However, let me first agree with my colleague. It is certainly true, as he states, that the “real issue [which] … we seldom ever discuss” are the “assumptions or presuppositions with which we come to the evidence.” As an example, Dr. Newman seems to assume that all of the Biblical passages he cites should automatically be considered of absolutely equal weight and relevance to the particular topic at issue. He quotes texts without any attempt to put any of them into a relevant historical or interpretative context or a broader framework. I used to believe that he did not adhere to the key text approach to an understanding of what the Biblical writers were trying to communicate, but the manner in which he here quotes a string of Scriptures is making me less sure of my understanding of his belief on this point.
In his essay, four explicit assumptions are offered: They include: (1) “there is a God who created this world and this universe,” (2) that we need “special revelation (the Bible) to help [us] understand general revelation (this world, science),” (3) that “there is good and … evil … that the good comes from God and … evil comes from Satan … [who tries] to confuse us as we interpret nature to find God or to cry against God.” And (4) we “must use the Bible to correctly interpret the scientific evidence.”
I am happy to affirm the first assumption as well as the assumption that there is both good and evil in this world and that good comes from God. The question of the ultimate source of evil will have to wait for another time, except for the comment that I would submit that we humans can create great evil all by ourselves. I would also affirm that humans have a great capacity to be easily confused about many things, and we mostly do it to ourselves. I am not sure what the role of any proposed supernatural agent might be.
It would appear that the area of needing “special revelation,” i.e., the Bible “to correctly interpret the scientific evidence” is where much of our most serious disagreement is centered. If we can decide on how to appropriately understand and appreciate the Biblical writers’ assumptions about the topics we are considering and to consider the validity of these assumptions, I would then be quite happy to talk about why and how we might wish to interpret the scientific evidence based on Biblical statements. After all, are not Adventists supposed to believe in “present truth”?
Ref: J. David Newman and Ervin Taylor, “DEBATE EVOLUTION VS. CREATIONISM IN ADVENTISM” in Adventist Today, Fall 2010, pp. 6-14. visit at wwww.atoday.com