The Creation Debate: Why Does it Matter if it Happened in Six Literal Days?

The Creation Debate: Why Does it Matter if it Happened in Six Literal Days?

Story by Edwin Manuel Garcia

A decades-old dispute within Seventh-day Adventism about when and how the Earth was developed may have been settled to the liking of the church’s top officials and a majority of its worldwide delegates this summer at the 60th General Conference (GC) Session in San Antonio. However, the intra-denominational conflict doesn’t look like it’s about to cease.

Supporters of the official Adventist tenet—that creation was a literal, six-day event that occurred roughly 6,000 years ago—claim that evolutionary teachings have been seeping into some of our universities, and they fear that these theories being taught as fact could further expand into academies and elementary schools.

Critics of the church’s view—those who side with the scientific community that believes Earth could be millions or billions of years old, and formed in time spans much longer than literal days—contend that the denomination’s stance isn’t backed by Scripture, isolates Adventism as an extremist religion and threatens to erode the confidence of young, intellectual church members.

Do you believe in a literal seven-day creation week or not? Join the conversation!

The divide has reached the highest levels of the General Conference, most notably when Ted Wilson, world president, last year urged hundreds of Adventist-school educators at the International Conference on Bible and Science to “be loyal to God’s biblical truth” by accepting the creation belief. If not, he said, they should reconsider having denominational jobs.

Most recently in July, GC Session delegates took two days to discuss and finally vote to modify the church’s creation statement known as Fundamental Belief #6. The edited section adopted words such as “recent,” meaning creation occurred not too long ago, and “literal,” to signify creation took place in six literal days.

Wilson prefaced the second day of discussion by saying a word could be interpreted in many ways, but “recent” was chosen because “we need to clarify that this process was not old.” He added that “recent” also acknowledges that Adventists are not uniform in their understanding of the exact age of the Earth.1

The revision drew praise from supporters, such as Brandon Senior, a Bible worker in Chambersburg and Waynesboro, Pa., who preaches sermons on creation and is disappointed that all Adventists are not on the same page. “God the Creator is being attacked,” he says. “What I see inside the church is absolutely heartbreaking to me. I’ve talked to Seventh-day Adventist ministers that don’t believe in the seven-day creation week.”

But others, namely vocal, evolution-minded Adventists, say modifying the Fundamental Belief was a mistake that will damage the church’s image because the Bible, they say, doesn’t provide evidence of a 6,000-year-old planet.

“We have aligned ourselves as a church with what I would call extreme fundamentalism,” says Ervin Taylor, professor emeritus in anthropology at the University of California, Riverside. He frets that that will hurt the credibility of the church and prompt “even more people, young scientifically literate people, to leave the church.”Read and share these stories from the September 2015 Visitor:

The Origin of the Controversy

The creation-evolution debate intensified at different points between about 2005 and 2009 when a few La Sierra University (Calif.) students and a larger group of influential outsiders took to the blogosphere to declare that some La Sierra biology professors were emphasizing Darwinism.

Not everyone was surprised. Supporters of the church’s official position say PhD candidates who attain their advanced degrees in biology from secular institutions are apt to receive a heavy dose of evolutionary theory. And, when the newly minted biology professors accept teaching jobs at the denomination’s campuses, some may struggle to reconcile their new views with biblical belief and introduce the evolution concepts into the Adventist classrooms.

“I think the constant bombardment from the scientific community is having an effect on our educators, unfortunately,” says David Byrkit, who ministers in the Chesapeake Conference churches of Chestertown and Rock Hall, Md., and who presents evangelistic series on creation versus evolution from a scientific perspective.

Despite the newly revised Fundamental Belief, pro-literal creation adherents continue to express concern that church leadership lacks authority to censure professors who push an evolution agenda.

The North American Division Education Department, led by Larry Blackmer, seems to favor professors being allowed to teach evolution only so students understand both sides of the issue, but expects educators to strongly emphasize the church’s own fundamental belief as fact.

And, it would also help if universities carefully screen job applicants, Blackmer says. “I truly believe with all my heart that we have every right to ask candidates what they believe about Adventist beliefs.” That way, he adds, universities can root out candidates who favor evolution over creation.

The Significance for the Church

While Adventists can agree that the Bible doesn’t provide a date of creation, church co-founder Ellen G. White stated in numerous writings her belief that Earth is about 6,000 years old, and that time frame has been widely accepted.

Among the reasons church leaders were compelled to revise Fundamental Belief #6 to more clearly state that creation was a literal, six-day event is because of its connection to the denomination’s stance on the 24-hour Sabbath. If the creation belief erodes, they say, then the church’s prominent view of the Sabbath doctrine—and a core component of the denomination’s own identity—could be jeopardized.

Or, as Franke Zollman, pastor for Chesapeake’s Williamsport (Md.) church, puts it: “If the days of creation are not literal days, then our emphasis on the seventh-day Sabbath is misguided.” Zollman, who will give an evangelistic series on creation at his church this fall, adds, “The doctrine of the Sabbath and creation are bound up together.”

Zollman says he understands some of the arguments propagated by evolutionists, but implores Adventists to accept the church’s view of creation because the Spirit of Prophecy and authority of Scripture must outweigh science. “I am not anti-science, but we have to remember that all scientific data is based upon interpretation,” he says.

If church members can’t accept the literal creation week as fact, says Sean Pitman, a physician in California who runs the conservative Educate Truth website, which posts developments in the intra-denominational squabble, then the rest of the Bible is open to interpretation in a way that could oppose Adventist beliefs. The creation story, Pitman continues, gives validity to the rest of the scriptures, which is why the church supports it. “The Bible is very clear,” he insists.Read and share these stories from the September 2015 Visitor:


1Source: July 07, 2015, Andrew McChesney, Adventist Review/ANN