Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Searching Sabbath 06: Creation


This week I continue on with my series of blog posts and videos exploring the fundamental beliefs of my church, how I understand them and where I stand in relation to them.

None of the beliefs I’ve posted about so far have made me feel as vulnerable as posting this one about Creation. That’s because Seventh-day Adventists hold to a very traditional, literal interpretation of Genesis and believe in a recent six-day Creation. And I have a lot of struggles with that belief, for reasons outlined in the vlog above.

By posting this video and blog I feel like I’m opening myself up — to disapproval from fellow SDAs for whom belief in a literal Creation week is an article of faith not to be questioned, and to scorn from others who can’t believe I would belong to an organization that believes something so “backward” and scientifically unsound.

The irony is that this isn’t something I’ve ever talked about or posted about before and wouldn’t have addressed now if I hadn’t committed to exploring every one of my church’s beliefs in this series. It’s an issue that arouses tremendously strong feelings both from those who believe in Creationism and those who attack it, but to be honest it doesn’t matter a whole lot to me. I know for some people this is the question that has shipwrecked their faith or otherwise provided a real turning point, but I find it rests quite well with me to leave it in the “Questions I Don’t Know the Answers to” category. I have no trouble believing that God created this universe … I’m just sketchy on the exact details of how God did that. To be honest, I’m fine with not knowing that.

But a lot of other people are probably NOT fine with me not knowing that, and think it’s of vital importance that I get this sorted out one way or another. I can only say, “Don’t hold your breath.” There are a lot of things higher on my Get It Figured Out list than the issue of when and how God created this world.

In a fun twist, this week’s video is set up as my end of a dialogue with fellow Adventist writer Ed Dickerson, whose Grounds for Belief series of videos about the Genesis narrative I’ve been watching on YouTube. I’m intrigued by the idea of hearing his responses to some of my questions … the only downside being that planning out the video this way made it considerably longer than usual. I try to keep these in the 3-4 minute range but this one is 8 minutes long. Hope you get a chance to watch it though. When Ed posts his response I’ll post that here too.


10 thoughts on “Searching Sabbath 06: Creation

  1. I have grappled with this one, too. I don’t care if God used billions of years, or if he used 6 days, either. That doesn’t really matter to me. But I get hung up when it comes to evolution, because the theory of macro-evolution uses death to move forward–birth defects that go in a positive direction (while some are just agonizingly lethal). I just can’t believe that a God of love, who didn’t intend death in the world, would use such a cruel way to bring about our world. But that’s all I’ve got! That’s as far as my personal grappling goes into the subject, and for me, it’s enough.

    • I agree — I struggle with that idea too, PJ. But I also struggle with the fact that unpleasant as the evolutionary narrative is, it does seem to fit with the observable data.

  2. A literal 6 day creation is something I’ve always taken for fact. It was morning and it was evening and the first day was over and so forth. I never really questioned it I guess. With that background, your video raised some interesting questions I’d never thought about. I’m a little shaken about all this even though it’s not a deal breaker for me as a Christian. However as an Adventist, it is a deal breaker for me. The saturday seventh day Sabbath, a central part of our beliefs, is very much tied to a literal creation week, 24 hour periods. The creation story is where we go to prove that Sabbath is not a Jewish holiday. It’s where we go for the peculiar belief that Sabbath begins at sundown Friday. Really it’s where we say Sabbath was instituted. I’m just not sure I could believe in one without the other.

    Totally unrelated comment: What exactly was created on the first day if the sun was created on the fourth?

    • disturbedsda, I hope not to make you any further disturbed (love your screen name btw) by raising these questions. I highly recommend checking out Ed’s videos that I’ve linked to in mine … he even addresses the “light without sun on the first day” question. This Sunday I’m going to post his “reply video” to mine, and a further response from me. I know this question is a dealbreaker for some regarding their faith, and I believe the reason SDAs cling so tenaciously to the six-day literal creation week is exactly what you say … without it, it makes support for a literal seventh-day Sabbath seem much weaker. I don’t have any answers for that one … I’m just still trying to puzzle through it all. I think it’s very clear that, no matter what literally happened, the author of Genesis wanted us to picture Creation unfolding over a literal seven-day week with a Sabbath rest at the end of it … so the seventh day Sabbath is definitely vital to that story!

  3. Many of the critiques in support of or against a literal six-day creation are grounded in the context of biology and geology — and I suspect it was these sciences to which you referred when you mentioned physical evidence. However, what many fail to realize is that science, in regard to the question at hand, has so eclipsed the framework of the argument that any bantering back and forth is almost absurd.

    I don’t intend to be insulting here at all so before anyone takes offence, let me try and explain. Clearly, as you have stated, the Bible is not a book about science and neither is it a book of history. Isn’t it at least about the history of God dealing with his people? Yes, there are stories in it about this very thing, but I’m using the term “history” in the modern sense. For example, the Iliad contains historical incidents and perhaps even people but it is not a “history” of the times as we would define a history today. The same must be said of the Bible.

    The reason I say this with confidence is I believe the Bible’s only purpose is to illustrate to us our separation from God and how she is trying to bridge that separation.

    That being said let me continue with my explanation. The language and culture of the Bible is couched in a science that saw the earth as flat space that rested on pillars with pillars reaching into the heavens that supported the sky. Each night a tent-like covering was stretched across the sky. Pin pricks in this covering were the stars. The sun held a specific track in the heavens as it moved across the sky. (It would not be accurate to say it orbited the earth as the ancients had no such concept) If the Bible were science, then clearly all Christians would have to maintain this view today.

    Galileo and Copernicus of course began to change our views about earth’s position in the solar system. Newton, with his theory of gravity, cemented these ideas and now his science is the context out of which Christianity today speaks and sees the world. Indeed, this could be extended and said for much of the westernized world today. This context we get from Newton sees the world/universe as basically an ordered place that is explainable and therefore understandable and more importantly: predictable. There is no indication of a beginning (other than faith that God spoke) or of an ending. Granted, there are variations and minor changes (specifically, the wide acceptance of the big bang theory) but Newton is the context out of which most of us live and speak.

    However, science has not only passed Newton by but also Einstein. We now are in the age of cosmology and quantum mechanics. It is these two sciences that so eclipse age-of-the-earth questions as to make such musings seem irrelevant. I read much on these two subjects but can’t help think of that delicious quote from “A Fish Called Wanda,”

    “Apes don’t read philosophy!”
    “Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it!”

    Nevertheless, there is enough there for my infantile mind to understand that makes grappling with questions about the nature of the universe, of reality, and of beginnings and endings to bring so many long-cherished beliefs into question.

    One of the things you said resonates so well with me was that you are comfortable with not knowing. This is one of the foundations of quantum theory: Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. It has to do with the states of sub atomic particles but we can extrapolate it to the theological. I put it this way: a faith that is certain is by definition not a faith.

    Here are some examples from astronomy. Our SDA end-time mythology says that this earth will be destroyed by fire and then after being in heaven for a thousand years we will return to an earth made new and live on it for eternity. If you believe in a God as creator then you must also believe that she created the physical laws under which the universe operates. Given this, living on earth forever is a physical impossibility. We know how the sun operates, how much fuel it has and how long this fuel will last. In 5 billion years (a fraction of eternity) the sun will enter its death phase and expand to where its outer layers will encompass the earth’s orbit and earth will cease to exist. Not to worry however, because, in just a billion years earth will be uninhabitable as the sun will be so hot that all water will be baked away.

    We tend to forget that Newton’s universe extended only as far as Saturn. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1924 that we knew another galaxy existed. Until then the universe was only as large as the Milky Way. Now we know that there are at least 300 billion galaxies and perhaps as many as 500 billion. Here is something that helps give some understanding of the scale of the universe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er7tKurvBW0 Remember, at the end of the video, each point of light is a galaxy that contains at least 100 billion suns. How is it possible in a universe that is this large to think we are the center of God’s attention? Hubris indeed!

    What is also clear in the universe is nothing is forever. Life and death are ineradicably linked. We say that sin has brought death to this world but if that is true then sin is pervasive throughout the universe. Stars are born and stars die – some in a spectacular fashion. Super novae are the results of a star’s violent death. When a star explodes destruction extends across tens of light years of distance. One of Hubble’s most famous pictures is of the gas clouds from the eagle nebula dubbed “The Pillars of Creation.” http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120722.html. The larges pillar is about 4 light years in length and all three are star forming factories. Or at least they were. Seven thousand years ago a star exploded in the nebula destroying the pillars. The light showing this destruction will reach us a thousand years from now.

    These death-bringing explosions are also a source of life for it is in these explosions that the heavier elements so necessary for life are created. Through its life a star converts hydrogen to helium and oxygen – this nuclear reaction is what creates the heat we see as light. As the star “burns” it produces the other elements until iron. Once a star starts to produce iron its death is assured and if it is a big enough star it will explode and in this explosion all the other elements are created. So without this death, there is no life. This process is observable throughout the universe so it is not limited to this “vale of sin.”

    One final example, this one from earth itself: A few years ago when the devastating earthquake hit Haiti, many were using it as an example of evil acting in this “fallen world.” They were shocked at my retort: “Thank God for the earthquake for without it we’d all be dead!” Earthquakes are an evidence for why life is possible on earth. If there were no earthquakes earth would be a dead planet. Simply put, earthquakes are the result of earth’s molten core. If earth didn’t have a molten core it would have no magnetic field. Without a magnetic field we’d have no protection from solar storms and particles shot out by the sun would quickly strip away our atmosphere. Mars has a solid core and no magnetic field protection and thus it is a dead planet.

    I could go on but this has been a very long response. So I will just say two things more: 1) it is a mistake to link Sabbath and creation but I’ll refrain from saying more until you post on the Sabbath belief and 2) I stand with Job and say, “Though he slay me yet will I trust him,” which is just another way to say I don’t know anything and understand little, but there is a core to which I hold.

    • Referring to God as She AND quoting A Fish Called Wanda, all in a post on Creationism? You can comment on my blog anytime…

      You obviously have a much better grasp on the scientific side of things than I do. I think what I find discouraging is how it’s taboo in many circles even to raise these questions or bring in any hard science to the discussion, without instantly being labelled a heretic.

      What do you think, then, about “eternal life”? If it’s not possible according to the physical laws of the universe will there be no eternal life?

      I disagree with you about the size of the universe meaning we can’t be the centre of God’s attention … I think it’s bizarre to think that but also true. And I do think God CAN somehow suspend or overrule they physical laws of the universe God created (I believe in the Resurrection, so I would have to think that’s possible). In fact, I believe God COULD have created the world in 6 days 6,000 years ago … I just find it troubling that almost no evidence seems to point to this being the case.

      I like your “Though he slay me yet will I trust him.” Dpn’t forget it goes on: “Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him.” That feisty Jewish attitude that it’s OK to talk back to God so often gets lost in modern Christianity. In this series I guess I am — not defending my own ways, exactly, but at least shouting out my own questions to the whirlwind.

  4. Eternal “life” is certainly possible. The laws of physics don’t deny it; they just deny living on Earth forever and ever. I would suggest that the next thing you need to question or admit to not knowing is what happens at death (presumptuous of me I know). As I’ve seen in some other posts, if memory serves, this has been addressed somewhat. Nevertheless, it is true as I think one commenter may have posted, that in the OT there was no concept of an afterlife. The new earth the prophets were talking about was in regard to the first coming. From the days of my OT theology classes, I began to sympathize with the messianic kingdom views held by the Jews of Christ’s day. A reading of Isaiah and Jeremiah clearly indicates how these views we now, with hindsight, call “misconceptions” came into being.

    The idea of a soul living beyond death entered Jewish thought through the Greeks and was accepted by the middle and lower classes. However the educated upper elite (the Sadducees) did not. It is interesting to me that Christ did not go out of his way to correct or affirm either view. Yes, he did say there will be no marriage in heaven but he also appears to endorse the idea of eternal hell/soul through his Rich Man and Lazarus parable. (This is just one example that has led me to question the importance of doctrine. What is its purpose if Christ essentially ignored it?)

    This is not to say I believe in an eternal hell. I emphatically reject that idea. But I do believe we do not know what happens at death. Certainly resurrection is possible (it doesn’t contradict the laws of physics) but so is entering another plane of existence. I have done some study of “near death” experiences. Yes, these can be duplicated in the lab when an individual isn’t “near death” thus suggesting these events may be the result of a chemical reaction. However, I am finding it increasingly difficult to dismiss these experiences as just the automatic firing of neurons, especially when cases have been documented when there has been no brain activity at all. Perhaps someday these will be definitively explained through biology as I’m reluctant to relegate the unknown to divine action. But I am convinced there is more in heaven and earth than is contained in my philosophy.

    Anyway, your response, and please don’t take this in any way to be critical, comes from an understanding and grounding in Newtonian physics and illustrates to me why we need to shift the scientific context of theological discussion away from Newton to the discoveries of Planck, Heisenberg and so many others. What Christians (and indeed the larger world) do not understand is how fundamentally modern cosmology has shifted things, as I’ve described previously, the “context” of the discussion. I wish I had a better grasp of the science and could better articulate the nature of this shift. Nevertheless, quantum theory brings into question all the standard views of the nature of reality, of consciousness, of time (there is no physical law that says time must flow in one direction) and ultimately of God.

    I go back to the mention of life and death in my previous comment. Death on Earth is fundamental to life. Without it there would be no life at all. Plants must die to replenish the soil from which they grow. Christians have traditionally attributed death to sin. However, in the larger universe where we believe sin has no sway, death is essential to creation. Suns explode and thereby give life and lay the foundation for new suns and planets to form. Entire galaxies collide creating havoc for all the stars they contain. Someday our neighbor, Andromeda, will collide and obliterate our home – the Milky Way. Black holes devour stars, planets and even light – the very source of life. If death and destruction equal sin then at every large galaxy’s core is a center of sin – a super massive black hole for it is death incarnate.

    I find it fascinating that some of today’s physicists are also becoming today’s theologians – in a manner of speaking. This is not to say the majority of cosmologists believe in a deity. But there are a significant number who have come to conclude or continue to hold onto the idea that there something they call “God.” I highly recommend Bernard Haisch’s “The God Theory” a readable cosmological and theological treatise. He also gives an answer to the question asked by disturbedsda above, “What was created on day one?” His answer comes from physics, not theology and I find it mind blowing! Though somewhat dated (black holes were still a theory when he wrote it), there is Paul Davies’ “God and the New Physics.” This was my first foray into the genre. A more challenging read than Haisch, it provides a broader examination of theological implications of cosmology. But read it only if there is interest in a deeper learning of the field. Finally, I’d cautiously recommend a book by a theologian Peter Rollins, “The Idolatry of God.” He does attempt to bring cosmology to the conversation but his major point is that to believe a doctrine with absolute certainty is a form of idolatry. His subtitle is “Breaking our addition to certainty and satisfaction.” He takes uncertainty quite far thus the caution.

    Finally, I ended my previous comment with a little tease about the linkage of the Sabbath and Creation. I’d like your English teacher’s insight: in Exodus 20:11, to what does the “Therefore” refer?

    Love the discussion. Thanks for providing the opportunity.

    • I’m reading The Idolatry of God now … have some mixed feelings about it, but will post a review when I’m done and have had a chance to reflect. Also, I’ll look at Exodus 20:11 and give some thought to “therefore.”

      Scientifically, you are WAY over my head with most of your post (although I like to think I’d be capable of understanding most of this stuff if I applied myself, but the interest is just not there). A question for you, though … how much about physics (Newtonian or otherwise) is it necessary for what our Catholic friends call “the simple faithful” (i.e. the average believer) to understand, in order to have faith in “life after death”?

      I do agree (and wrote an article to that effect for Adventist Today’s website awhile back) that although I have always liked the Adventist view of body/soul unity and no disembodied souls floating around after death, there are things that can’t be easily explained using that paradigm … like NDEs, as you mention, and also the sense of “presence” of a loved one — a sense that often seems quite benign and even God-filled — after death. I don’t like to discount people’s experiences based only on doctrine (and I agree with you that Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus suggests that there are many things more important than right doctrine).

      That said, about the time I wrote that article, two years ago this month, I experienced for the first time the death of someone I was really close to, someone who I believe would truly have tried to “get in touch” if there was any way to do so beyond the grave, and despite my longing to feel that he was around in some sense, I have never felt that to the slightest degree. I wonder how much our beliefs AND our desires (which are sometimes in conflict) affect what we experience and feel?

      Well, this is quite off the topic of Creation now, but much of this will come up again, no doubt, when I get to talking about our beliefs on the afterlife. Thanks for participating!

  5. You ask a couple of good questions. First, Newtonian physics as a context is woven into our thought and speech to the point that we’re unconscious of it. We think that the world and universe is basically an ordered place that is, on its surface, understandable. Effect follows cause. Something is not created out of nothing (without divine intervention). We feel these at our core. Except for the last, these are all an outgrowth of Newtonian physics. So by default it is a part of a simple faith.

    At this point it is difficult to imagine the concepts of quantum mechanics (QM) integrated into our (everyday people) thoughts in the same way. But perhaps in several hundred years. . . What QM does show is that the universe is not the ordered place we’ve thought it to be, randomness and chaos play significant roles (just finished a wonderful mystery novel that wove in chaos theory and eschatology), cause can follow effect and something can be created out of nothing – this up until just recently was a theory of QM but it has now been proved conclusively.

    I don’t ever want to deprive someone of a simple faith. As a Universalist, I see no reason to do so – unless someone wants to say that anything but their faith is taboo and heretical, that a literal six days is the only correct. . . However, I do think theologians have a responsibility to recognize that unless theology remains current with proven scientific concepts faith will become irrelevant. For example, how relevant would Christianity be if it still maintained the Earth was flat and all heavenly bodies revolved around it?

    Moving on, our perception certainly determines our reality and our belief shapes our perceptions. Of course the reverse is true as well. National Geographic recently did a great three-part series on the brain. We see what we expect to see and don’t see what we don’t expect. Anyway, this is why I appreciate finding a like-minded individual who says “I don’t know and I’m OK with not knowing.” I believe in a Creator but I claim no insight into how he does it. Admittedly though, I have some strong ideas about how she didn’t do it.

    I look forward to dialoguing with you on Rollins. I take it you are at least somewhat of a Sci-Fi fan? Have you read the novel “Calculating God” by Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer? He takes up the issue of science and God. An alien comes to the ROM and is shocked to learn its paleontologist doesn’t believe in God.

    • I’m not a huge sci-fi fan — have enjoyed some, but if I’m not reading realistic fiction I’m more likely to enjoy fantasy than sci-fi. However, a friend of mine has been recommending Sawyer for a long time and that book sounds like one worth checking out. I’ll add it to the list, and I’ll give you a heads-up when I finish Rollins and post my review.

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