On Ben Carson’s Adventism, Creationism, and the Bible

I wrote a piece at ReligionandPolitics today about how Ben Carson’s SDA beliefs put him close to the source of creationism. Please give it a read. Ronald Numbers, eminent historian of science, creationism, and Seventh-day Adventism offered useful critique of an earlier draft, my thanks to him.

There were a few questions I wanted to address beyond what I wrote, that get more into the history of interpretation.

What was the genesis (sorry) of the seven-day structure of Genesis 1?  Wasn’t young-earth creationism the only understanding of Genesis until Darwin and evolution force a reevaluation of it? Below, some quick and dirty historical responses to these questions. I find this stuff fascinating, and it will be partially covered in my book.

Genesis includes two originally separate accounts of creation, Genesis 1-2:4, and Genesis 2:4 onwards. They overlap and repeat somewhat (were man and woman created simulaneously after all the animals per Genesis 1:26-27 or  was man created first, then animals, then woman, per Genesis 2:15-22?). But they are also different. Like many other creation accounts from the ancient Near East, Genesis 2:4ff isn’t concerned about the creation of everything (no mention of sun, moon or stars) nor its timing (no first day, second day, etc.) other than a brief mention that it takes place in one day.

This second account, canonically speaking, is actually the older account, and the first account is the newer, younger account. As I write in the piece, Genesis 1 is attributed to Israelite priests exiled to Babylon, after Israel had been destroyed. There, they innovated, reshaping Israelite tradition (including, some think, Genesis 2:4ff and/or Psalm 104) in ways that were respectable to Babylonians, to justify them to their cultural overlords. At the same time, they encountered a lot of ideas while living in Babylon that were simply unacceptable, like polytheism and the low nature of humanity, and shaped Genesis 1 to argue against those ideas.

Of particular interest is the priestly innovation of a 7-day creation structure (not found in the earlier account of Genesis 2:4ff or elsewhere), which  grew out of two things. First, priests conceptualized creation as the construction and dedication of God’s universal temple. We know now that not only in the Bible, but temples in the ancient Near East were often built or dedicated in patterns of 7; 7 days, 7 years, etc. Second, while Israel’s sacred space -the Jerusalem temple- had been destroyed by the Babylonians, Israelites in Babylon could still respect sacred time, namely, the seventh day or Sabbath. Creation was thus expressed and schematized in a priestly and practical way, that emphasized those aspects of Israelite religion that could be kept in Babylon. The seven-day structure thus had little to do with modern scientific ideas about the age of the earth, and was not trying to make such a statement. It’s easy for moderns to misread it that way, context free.

With the passage of time, Babylonian culture, history, and language was lost. Much ink was spilled interpreting and understanding Genesis 1 without the benefit of that contextual knowledge. Although many different views were held about Genesis by prominent Christian and Jewish interpreters through the ages, in the absence of anything to suggest it, no one conceived of an earth millions of years old. But no one really seemed to care how old the earth was. What, after all, was the relevance?

While Darwin and his Beagle are often thought to be the beginning of scientific disruption of a supposedly unified interpretive tradition, such conflict goes back much further. Augustine, for example, expressed scientific anxiety about what Genesis said in the 4th century CE.  Conflict grew widespread in the middle ages, as explorers, astronomers, and “natural philosophers” all began realizing that Genesis simply didn’t match up with the world around them in a variety of ways. Indeed, “by 1800, geologists had shown that the earth must be far older than this estimate [of 4004 BCE], and, by the time Darwin published his book, all educated persons accepted that the biblical timescale was untenable.” (Bowler, below.)

With the dawning of the Enlightenment, distinctions arose about different kinds of knowledge, with “scientific” knowledge prioritized. As a result, an assumption took hold that as inspired scripture, Genesis should match up completely with burgeoning scientific knowledge. At first, this meant the age of the earth. Two primary methods arose to interpret Genesis as an “old earth,” such as reading in a “gap” of untold geological length between the first three verses of Genesis and reading the seven “days” as geological ages. Both solutions had serious problems. Gap theory has been largely rejected, though still sometimes promoted by televangelists and Pentecostals. The “day-age” theory is a poor reading of the text, which, with its regular morning and evening, years, and seasons, seems quite clearly to indicate regular workaday days, as do other passages in the Hebrew Bible like Exodus 20:9-11. Both theories became popular in the 19th century; the relevant Babylonian texts would not be discovered, translated, or published until the late 19th century, and understanding their actual relevance for Genesis still later.

Today, many people read their Bible in English, with no idea how translation and loss of cultural/historical context deforms their understanding of what it meant and how it was used. We read and assume it is inherently scientific, since that is what “truth” means today. However, when we read, we must be able to distinguish between those parts of the model that correspond to reality and those that don’t (to paraphrase Hummel, below.) That means, for example, with a London transit map, knowing that it shows routes, not geography. You can’t navigate above ground with such a map, because that’s not how it corresponds to reality. Or, for another example, if we made a model of the solar system using a basketball for the sun, and much smaller sphere for planets, set at equivalent distances, we would be focusing on the wrong parts of the model to conclude that it claimed the sun to be bouncy and made by Spalding. Such is not the case. But that is how we (mis)read Genesis and other ancient scripture.

Accessible Readings-

  • Nahum Sarna, Understanding Genesis (Shocken Books, 1970)
    • A Rabbi with a PhD in Semitics, Sarna provides one well-informed Jewish perspective.
  • Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design (expanded ed.; Harvard Press, 2006)
    • Numbers, self-described as coming from “a fundamentalist Seventh-day Adventist family of ministers,” no longer holds to creationism, and has become a pre-eminent scholar on the history of science, evolution, and creationism at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Stephen Barton and David Wilkinson, eds. Reading Genesis after Darwin (Oxford Press, 2009)
    • “There is a widespread assumption that before Darwin, all Christians believed that the world was created some 6,000 years ago over a period of 6 days. After Darwin, the first chapters of Genesis were either rejected totally by skeptics or defended vehemently in scientific creationism. This book tells a very different story. Bringing together contributions from biblical scholars, historians and contemporary theologians, it is demonstrated that both Jewish and Christian scholars read Genesis in a non-literal way long before Darwin. Even during the nineteenth century, there was a wide range of responses from religious believers towards evolution, many of them very positive.”

 

 

50 comments for “On Ben Carson’s Adventism, Creationism, and the Bible

  1. Thanks, Ben, and congrats on the article. Well done. Here’s a nice (short) article I found a while ago that argues that Christians before Darwin read Genesis much more in line with the “snow globe” model that modern biblical scholars argue for than readings like Carson’s. It’s hardly comprehensive, but nicely illustrative.

  2. I too believe Darwin evolution was brought on by the devil. Hopefully Carson will get elected and we can have God once again at the forefront of America.
    In LDS scripture (section 77) it states that man wasn’t formed from the earth until the seventh day. This would line up well with the PoGP and Genesis in teaching that no life was put on the earth until the seventh day and that Adam was formed before any of the animals.

  3. Ben, I know the Psalms creation account is often judged to be the oldest of the creation accounts. I wonder on the dating of Genesis 1. While the documentary hypothesis seems persuasive in the big picture in the small picture it always seems like it’s reasonable speculation based on very little data. I think the argument for two accounts is strong. The argument that it was composed after the exile seems a bit more speculative. How do you view that? I know Smith argues it’s evidence for the rise of a mystical tradition, which is interesting from a Mormon perspective, but it’s the dating of the whole Babylonian connection that always seemed a bit more of a leap. Also others see it more as an emphasis of the sabbath.

    When I raise this question I’m not doubting multiple authorship just that sometimes it seems a little too pat to tie it all to a particular time and group. Even these stratas may be made up of others. Also as others have noted it tends to assign a single style to a group whereas often single groups have multiple styles and concerns.

    It all seems just a bit too neat. It’d be more believable in the details were we to have texts that consisted just of a single one of these traditions prior to the codification of the Old Testament in a more firm fashion after the return from exile.

  4. Ugh. I don’t think Carson has any illusions of winning. This seems designed to help his book sales.

    Also PoGP doesn’t say there was no life until the seventh day. It says God rested on the seventh day and that everything had been created spiritually first. The date of the second creation (starting in Moses 3:6) isn’t specified. The change Joseph makes to the Genesis text is that there are two separate creation accounts but that the first deals only with a spiritual creation. (Exactly what is meant by that isn’t clear, although it has some echoes of Philo’s interpretation along similar lines around the time of Christ)

    Also the second account doesn’t say that Adam and Eve were created first. It has the interesting phrases “out of the ground made I, the Lord God, to grow every tree, naturally, that is pleasant to the sight of man; and man could behold it. And it became also a living soul.” But I’m not sure one should read this as a temporal progression. i.e. because Man’s creation is given first the tree was created second. For one thing if we took that reading it’s a problem since the trees are given narratively after the garden. Second he talks about he’d prepared these things for man and then man saw it was good for food. Well, what were they eating before the creation of these things? There’s lots of those sorts of questions.

    There are lots of interesting aspects to the changes from Genesis. One is whether the garden is on our earth or whether (as in Jewish thought) it’s paradise and part of an ascent to heaven. In this reading it’s when Adam and Eve are cast out of the garden that they arrive at our earth, all ready prepared.

    Also as I said the meaning of the spiritual creation just isn’t clear. But interpreting it in terms of three levels (spiritual, paradise, telestial world) is a pretty obvious one. Although one could also interpret it more like Philo where the spiritual creation is an idea creation or mere description of God’s planning phase rather than implementation phase.

    I’m not saying these are the only ways to read it. Just that they can’t be discounted. Trying to read it in protestant terms seems at odds with the D&C.

  5. Ultimately it is not Carson’s religious beliefs per se that prove problematic, but what they and his simplistic biblical interpretations reveal about his breadth of knowledge beyond the realm of medicine. He may be a brain surgeon, but to be president Carson needs critical thinking skills outside the operating room.

    While I may agree with your final sentence, it really feels like the exact kind of attack that we do not want others making of LDS politicians.

  6. Interesting article. I hadn’t realized Seventh Day Adventists’ teachings on the literal seven-day creation went back to Ellen White. I really need to read her works one of these days, although from what I understand, she wrote an enormous amount.

    I find your final sentence, the one jader3rd quoted, to be troubling. Why does it matter at all whether someone believes in a literal seven-day creation or not? Any religious person believes in things that aren’t scientific. Going beyond what science can explain is the whole basis of religion. But to suggest that this somehow makes religious people anti-science is a big jump, and one I think is most often not warranted.

    The truth is, belief or disbelief in evolution does not have a practical effect on 99% of how a person lives her or his life, even in regards to science. It seems a silly debate for people on both sides to be so worked up over. The fact is, except in some very limited genetics applications, evolutionary theory just isn’t very useful. Since for me, science is all about practical application, I would even go so far as to consider it therefore largely unscientific except as it relates to those narrow applications. The origin of life is, at least so far, an unprovable hypothesis, since we are unable to independently recreate life. So why does it matter whether someone believes it or not?

    Has Ben Carson said he doesn’t believe in supporting science? Did he incorrectly perform a surgery because of his beliefs? If not, then what’s the problem on what he personally believes? The majority of the world disagree on matters of religion. That means, no matter who is right, the vast majority of people are wrong. Should we never vote for someone who believes differently than we do? To me, that just seems silly. We should vote for people based on what they will do. And belief, or lack thereof, in evolution or a seven-day creation seems to have absolutely nothing to do with how a president will act.

    Opposition to someone because of their religion seems just as silly to me as opposition based on race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

    Sorry to disagree so strongly.

  7. Clark,
    The Moses account does indeed say that on the morning of the seventh day there was yet any living thing on the earth because God had not yet caused it to rain. If we take this into account coupling it with D&C 77 then we learn that before life was put on the earth it had to be sanctified (set apart for holy use) so that it would be ready for its purpose- to bear life out of it. In section 77 it gives the same pattern for Christ’s return where on the seventh day he will come (beginning of the millennium), sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man whereas before, in the beginning, he came on the seventh day, sanctified the earth, and the formed man from the earth and placed him in the garden. This places man on the earth on the seventh day, not before. The obvious implication here of course is that with Adam being first and animals second, there could have been no evolution of species from common descent.

  8. That’s a pretty circumstantial and speculative reading Rob. That’s fine I have different speculative readings too. But it’s not explicit in the text and I personally think it’s really reaching. I think it’s far more natural to simply say, as the JST does, that they are separate creation accounts.

    D&C 77 is commentary on Revelation. While John’s apocalypse is undoubtedly influenced by Gen 1 I don’t quite see the connection you are seeing.

  9. “The fact is, except in some very limited genetics applications, evolutionary theory just isn’t very useful.” That’s nonsense. It’s extremely useful in medicine and determining how to stop diseases; it’s extremely useful in agriculture, in both improving what we grow and in stopping pests and diseases; it’s extremely useful in the study of ecology, in order to determine how ecosystems will adapt to a changing environment. I’m sure biologists could tell you more useful applications. But I wouldn’t expect a surgeon who majored in psychology (like Carson) and who never took an upper level evolution course (courses like, by the way, your tithing dollars are paying for at BYU and other church schools) to have any kind of understanding about it.

  10. Congratulations on a fine article, Ben.

    One of the things I like about John Walton’s approach is that the general argument does not hinge on separating the creation accounts. Certain insights stand or fall based on what one thinks about that, but the general notion that Genesis was written from and to an ancient perspective still holds.

    Thus, people who aren’t comfortable with a late Genesis 1 need not reject the main point.

  11. Tim, you misunderstand. I’m not talking about general evolution and inheritance of genes. Ben Carson accepts that; pretty much everyone does. I’m specifically talking about evolution from inorganic life to single-celled organisms, to each species we have today. That’s the kind of evolutionary theory Ben Carson rejects: cross-class evolution (or cross-order, or cross-family; I’m sure different people disagree where to draw the line).

    If there’s a lot of places where that kind of evolution is essential to stopping diseases or agriculture, I’d be interested in some specific examples. I may very well be wrong, and will gladly change my view if there is reason to do so.

  12. I would agree that a person’s private beliefs about evolution have little practical relevance to being President. However, it does serve as a data point for judging overall intellectual orientation. In Carson’s case, it’s one of the least important data points because he has so readily held forth on other issues that eclipse it. Evolution is of the devil? Shoot, lots of evangelicals believe that, and you almost can’t be a Republican heartthrob without it. The pyramids were built by Joseph to hold grain? Okey dokey. Next to stuff like that, who cares what he thinks about evolution?

  13. Ben S. An excellent reading list as always, but there’s a new Living Faith book from MI that people may be interested in: Evolving Faith by Elbert Peck.

  14. “I’m specifically talking about evolution from inorganic life to single-celled organisms.” Inorganic life is an oxymoron (but I imagine that was a typo). In any case, the origination of life from non-life isn’t part of the study of evolution.

    My experience has been that most people who have an issue with what they call “macro-evolution” have no idea where to “draw the line.” In fact, creationists are entirely at odds when classifying humanoid fossils–one creationist’s “human” is another’s “non-human.” Whether you’re comparing the flu viruses from last year to the evolved flu viruses this year, or you’re comparing an octopus to a crocodile, the same science of evolution applies.

    For example, the LDS essay on Lamanite DNA cites from several evolutionary biology sources. The essay discusses “bottlenecks” and other evolutionary concepts. These concepts are a part of evolution, and apply equally to “microevolution” and “macroevolution.” It’s the same science.

  15. Mirror, I can somewhat appreciate that perspective. There are definitely elements I’m very sympathetic to. Tyler Cowan did a defense long those lines last week. Compared to other scientific issues like climate change, the “blank slate” theory of personality, and a lot else evolution-denial is fairly benign in a practical sense.

    That said, I do think there are more important practical implications of evolution than you suggest. I don’t think you can understand how bacteria or viruses adapt and change without understanding evolution. Likewise I think how people understand non-GMO food and genetic engineering in general tends to be fairly misleading unless they have a fair understanding of evolution and how it works. So I suspect things like anti-biotic resistance are tied to evolutionary understanding.

    I think the reason why evolution and a few other items tend to be litmus tests is because often when they are in denial about those things they tend not to appreciate science in other areas. Especially when it’s inconvenient. They tend not to value basic scientific research or its funding. So while I tend to think evolution belief or disbelief is much more signaling about religious commitment to the base, I also think it signals much more. It’s significant I think that Romney, for all his flaws, stood up and said he accepted evolution. (Huntsman did too) If I recall no one else in the GOP that cycle did.

    All that said I think it unfortunate that evolution and climate change are the only areas of science that get focused on. (Although anti-vaccine issues also popped up – unsurprisingly and sadly tied to Carson as well) Oddly things that used to be much more left wing issues such as anti-GMO or anti-vaccines have the past decade been accepted more and more on the right as well. To the point where I don’t think there’s much of a political divide on them anymore. It is unfortunate that there is a rise of a counter-enlightenment on both the right and the left. (On the left it’s been in the news of late on university campuses with dubious rejections of a lot of science with fuzzy so-called postmodern cultural critiques)

    Anyway, while I agree Carson’s free to have such views I think there’s a difference between believing against weak evidence or when there’s no evidence versus believing against abundant and strong evidence. That latter suggests a mindset that I think is at odds with how a commander-in-chief should think. I want them to go where the evidence leads and not ignore evidence in preference to bias or ideology.

  16. Mirror, I’m not sure what you mean when you say Carson accepts the evolution of genes. What else is there to evolution than the evolution of genes? They didn’t know the nature of genes when Darwin was alive but these days what else is there to evolution than change in RNA, DNA and maybe (and more controversially) epi-genetics?

    When Carson says things like “we’re going to talk about the organs of the body and how they completely refute evolution” it seems clear he’s talking about standard evolution and it’s also clear he’s completely clueless on it.

    I should note he doesn’t just go after evolutionary theory. He also goes after the laws of thermodynamics.

    You have all these highfalutin scientists, and they’re saying that there was this gigantic explosion and everything came into perfect order. Now, these are the same scientists who go around touting the second law of thermodynamics, which is entropy, which says that things move toward a state of disorganization. So, now you’re going to have this big explosion, and everything becomes perfectly organized. When you ask them about it, they say, “Well we can explain this based on probability theory, because if there’s enough big explosions, over a long enough period of time, billions and billions of years, one of them will be the perfect explosion”…. What you’re telling me is, if I blow a hurricane through a junkyard enough times, over billions and billions of years, eventually, after one of those hurricanes, there will be a 747 fully loaded and ready to fly.

    It’s fine to be ignorant of this. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to know he’s ignorant and doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. He honestly thinks he’s informed on thermodynamics and probability theory.

    A person completely ignorant, unable to admit he’s ignorant, unwilling to inquire and strongly willing to make decisions on his ignorance is not someone I’d want President. The issue ultimately is not his scientific ignorance but that basic character of intellectual humility and inquiry.

  17. Jared*, the pyramids being built as grain storage is almost as crazy as the idea that an executed criminal from 2,000 years ago came back to life and was an incarnation of God, and forming a cult of personality around that person. I hope for consistency, you’re not voting for anyone with that belief, either. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge that leaves you with only third-part candidates.

    TIm, yeah, I worded that part incorrectly—thanks for catching that. I admit it seems a thin line, between micro and macro evolution, but it is one a lot of people I know draw. The difference seems to be between what is directly observable, and what is suggested. I understand it doesn’t make sense for you, but for a lot of people it does. Personally, I don’t think it is irrational to disagree with statistical probabilities, and definitely is not the same as ignoring direct evidence.

    Clark Goble, I’m guessing his organ discussion is going to be about the complexity of the human eye, the same one Latter-day Saint apostles and countless other Christians have been making for many decades. While it might not be a compelling example for you, there are a lot of people who are persuaded by it. I would consider it at least a rational argument, and not the sign of someone who completely disregards science at every turn.

    As for his opposition to the Big Bang Theory, it is not the second law of thermodynamics he is going against: he is using thermodynamics to oppose the Big Bang Theory. Again, it is the distinction between what we can directly observe—entropy—with something we cannot, the Big Bang, even though there is evidence to suggest it happened, like the Doppler Effect showing that the universe is expanding. For you the distinction may be insignificant, but for many people, it is an important one.

    I find myself in the strange position of defending a belief in something I don’t believe in myself, and a presidential candidate I don’t plan on supporting. But such is life. I am probably not doing either justice, though.

    Here is the underlying problem, as I see it: there are a lot of people who believe everything scientists say should be taken on faith. There are a lot of other people who believe scientists should be held to the same standard as everything else, and that people should be able to make up their mind on whether things scientists agree on are rational or not, and correct or not.

    While I don’t agree with most of Ben Carson’s views, I am with the latter group. Anyone with an undergraduate degree has probably had to gain at least a cursory understanding of the theory of relativity to pass her or his science classes. If someone can grasp that, he or she can probably grasp the science behind most other things, including global warming, cross-class evolution, the Big Bang, etc. It is then up to that person to decide if she accepts it or not. And a lot of people I consider completely rational do not accept some of those things. I may disagree with them, but I do not believe they have impaired judgment or are unfit to make decisions. If anything, the fault is with the scientists, for not having evidence so definitive that no one can reject it. Everyone accepts that the earth is round. If the science for other issues was at that level, people would accept them, too.

  18. He’s using a misunderstanding of thermodynamics to oppose the big bang (which he also misunderstands – at least as tied to a multiverse)

    I’m sure he is using something like the evolution of the eye (which is fairly well understood). I don’t really care if others are persuaded. Usually they’re persuaded because they too are ignorant. I’m sure they’ll vote for him. I sure won’t. While I’m coming to think Romney for all his flaws was better than any of the current crop I’ll probably go Rubio. (Who hasn’t rejected evolution but sure has been trying to not say an explicit position due to Evangelical primary voters)

    Again, in other settings I wouldn’t care. I do care a lot when people with these views set on committees deciding science policy. (Sadly for inexplicable reasons a lot of unqualified congressmen and senators set on the science committees – often denying evolution and many other basic scientific theories)

    To say the fault is with the scientists is a bit staggering. The evidence is there. Typically people don’t want to look at it. The problem is that sometimes it’s more complex than looking at a picture from outer space as with say the earth being round. However we should have representatives who can handle at least modestly complex data.

  19. (I’d add after teaching freshmen physical science and physics that one can pass a class and not have a clue about the science)

  20. For all his flaws, and we will see them, Carson strikes me as the most righteous of the candidates, the kind the Nephites preferred as administrators. It gives me an odd and somewhat pleasant feeling to contemplate putting a righteous man in the White House. Not merely a good man, but a man whose faith comes first.

    I don’t think we deserve Carson as president, our nation. I don’t think we’re righteous enough. I don’t think his completely orthodox (for his social group) views on intelligent design have anything to do with how well he would serve us as President, though.

  21. I didn’t give a reference when I said apostles said the same thing, so here’s a recent one:

    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/thanks-be-to-god?lang=eng

    I’m glad to hear people saying that apostles are wrong on important truth matters, and that they wouldn’t trust the apostles on matters of public policy—that’s not something I often see here at Times and Seasons.

    So, I got some benefit from defending things I don’t believe in after all.

    Clark, I don’t really want to argue the particular points further. It’s clear we have a difference of opinion on what constitutes rational beliefs, and why people form the beliefs they have. I may be too optimistic about people’s motivations; maybe you’re too pessimistic. Who can say?

    As for me, I’m going Bernie Sanders. If he wins, he’s sure to give lots of funding to science.

  22. Ben Carson’s unchristian approach to the refugee crisis doesn’t strike me as righteous at all. If he’s putting his faith first on that point, it’s not Christian faith he’s putting first. Actually, it seems that he’s putting fear first. Christ had harsh words for those who refuse the stranger (Matthew 25).

  23. “…we would be focusing on the wrong parts of the model to conclude that it claimed the sun to be bouncy and made by Spalding.”

    Nice try, but we all know that the believers in the so-called “sun” got their beliefs from Solomon Spalding.

  24. Clark,
    The relevent passages-
    “A. We are to understand that as God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it, and also formed man out of the dust of the earth, even so, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man…”(D&C 77:12)
    “…And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. For I, the Lord God, had not caused it to rain upon the face of the earth. And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air…”(Moses 3:5)

    Its pretty straight forward that until the seventh day of creation, man was not yet formed and placed on the earth. I am leaning heavily on the doctrines of sanctifying the earth here because it is the key to understanding this knowledge. It makes sense that God would sanctify the earth before life comes about on the earth, not after. To sanctify means to set apart and make for holy use. Creating the earth over six days, or 6 periods is the preparation of the earth and heavens to support life. Life, is holy. Thus, the need to sanctify the earth prior to it bearing life is paramount. So, we can thus say that the Lord blessed and set apart the earth and made it holy so that it could then bear life out of it in holiness.

  25. Mirror, I think apostles aren’t necessarily selected by their ability to reason over evidence. They simply have a different job than the President of the United States. Further they also are not alone so there are significant checks and balances which our foreign policy for instance doesn’t have. To me the most significant capability for an apostle is their ability to discern revelation, not reason. I’ve certainly met people who were fairly ignorant in many areas of life but were extremely in tune with the spirit – far more so than I am.

    But I think we’ve both made our points on the matter clear. As I said I’m actually quite sympathetic to many of the points you make. I just think we need to expect more from a President. That said it’s always a balancing of many issues trying to pick the best overall.

    Rob, OK, I can see how you’re reading it now. I’d still disagree but I think that reading is stronger than how I saw you initially taking it.

  26. Thanks for the comments all. I haven’t had time to respond, and probably won’t until tomorrow. This post was obviously timed to correspond with the posting at R&P.

  27. It gives me an odd and somewhat pleasant feeling to contemplate putting a righteous man in the White House.

    Poor GW. I guess he isn’t even remembered as a righteous President.

  28. the pyramids being built as grain storage is almost as crazy as the idea that an executed criminal from 2,000 years ago came back to life and was an incarnation of God

    Oh puh-leeze. We have plenty of experience that people who believe in Jesus can be good leaders of nations. Again, an isolated odd belief here or there might not be an issue. A collection of them combined with the general attitude that experts who disagree are just ideological foes—I think it’s legitimate to wonder whether such a person would make or encourage good decisions about domestic and foreign policy.

  29. Tim Jones – do you believe there are any potentially Christian ways to handle the refugee crisis that don’t involve taking people away from their homelands? I believe we settled the refugee issue in Europe in 1945-46 quite well without repatriating large numbers of people.

  30. We’re not talking about “taking people away from their homelands.” I think there are any number of things Christians can do, and among those most pressing and most helpful right now is to welcome those who are fleeing from violence and poverty. I believe refusal to welcome refugees (like the U.S. refused to welcome refugee Jews in the early 1940’s) is unchristian.

    And apologies for participating in the thread jack.

  31. I agree with Jared, I think. For me, the mainn point is this: Because Ben Carson has no public record to run on (never elected to office; never participated as a leader in government) then we are stuck with parsing his words/beliefs to determine how he might rule.

    Thus I find his views on evolution to be highly concerning, and those regarding global warming. They suggest that he does not, and thus likely will not, turn to experts when a crisis occurs.We have the National Academy of Sciences, which provides advice to the President, and to the country on issues of science and technology. I’m not sure that someone who so entirely rejects scientific evidence on issues such as the age of the earth, or the patterns of climate would be someone I want in charge these days.

  32. I don’t have a problem with a politician having some wacky personal religious beliefs, as long as they are able to differentiate between spheres of faith and spheres of science and learning. If Ben Carson says, I believe the earth was created in 7 days a few thousand years ago, but that is my belief based on faith, and science should follow the evidence in the classroom, then great. But what I think I’m hearing from him is that the science is actually in support of a 7 day earth, and the classroom should “teach the controversy” and evolution should be debunked.

    It would be a bit like Mitt Romney wanting textbooks on the history of the Americas to include a few chapters on the Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites. But he was pretty good at recognizing the difference between his sphere of religious beliefs and tenets and the public, secular sphere.

  33. Apart from belief in God being creator of the earth, Adam, Eve, and the Fall, and the seven days being matched to the days in a week culminating in the Sabbath, I don’t see anyplace in the scripture where God or the prophets and apostles insisted that anyone had to believe God did the work of creating the earth in only six 24-hour periods. Rather the emphasis is on the eternal nature of God, reaching back through infinite time, which raises the question why a God who has infinite time at his disposal would feel the need to rush.

    Latter-day Saints have no excuse for embracing Young Earth Creationism. Joseph Smith rejected creation ex nihilo. Both the Book of Moses and D&C 76 insist that our earth is only one of uncountable worlds inhabited by God’s children that are at different stages of their development. The Book of Abraham teaches that our premortal life with God predates the creation, and that rather than being instantaneous miracles, the creation required existing materials, craftsmanship and time. Most of all, God is a material being who is NOT utterly unlike the world he made for us, and did NOT bring time and matter into existence in an instant. Many YEC believers insist that our earth is the sole home of humanity. Their concept of God and his purposes and our relationship to him are very distinct from theirs.

  34. Raymond Swenson, I agree that Ben Carson’s beliefs are very different than the average Latter-day Saint’s. But I don’t think that means we should disrespect them, nor do I believe the fact that someone believes differently than I do makes them mentally incompetent.

    To the contrary, I respect someone who is genuine enough to be honest about what he believes, even when he knows other people will make fun of it or think he is wrong. And Joel, as a Republican, Ben probably thinks education should be given back to the states, so there’s probably no risk of him imposing his ideas in classrooms across the country. :)

  35. “Raymond Swenson, I agree that Ben Carson’s beliefs are very different than the average Latter-day Saint’s. But I don’t think that means we should disrespect them, nor do I believe the fact that someone believes differently than I do makes them mentally incompetent.

    To the contrary, I respect someone who is genuine enough to be honest about what he believes, even when he knows other people will make fun of it or think he is wrong. And Joel, as a Republican, Ben probably thinks education should be given back to the states, so there’s probably no risk of him imposing his ideas in classrooms across the country. :)”

    I agree, don’t you? :)

  36. “Latter-day Saints have no excuse for embracing Young Earth Creationism.” Mostly we get there through simplistic readings and (as is often the case) authoritarianism. Joseph Fielding Smith and then Bruce R. McConkie were both influential (though not identical) in this regard.

    Joseph Fielding Smith was very much a YEC, once writing that he was “of the firm opinion, perhaps… almost conviction, that the dinosaurs lived here with man less than six thousand years ago.”

  37. Ben S., Joseph Fielding Smith had good reason: Doctrine and Covenants 77:6:

    “Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?
    A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.”

    Reading it naturally, I think most people would say this is talking about an earth that is only 7,000 years old. That’s not the only way to read it, but it’s the most straightforward one.

    Packbear, as my presidential pick in #26 suggests, I don’t agree with the standard Republican position on education. :) But I can understand why people like it, and I think Ben Carson likely does believe in it.

  38. “Reading it naturally” often means without context. I agree that reading it in black-and-white, years later, it looks that way. But I don’t think this is actually the best reading, even if it is the most obvious reading at first blush. (Insert long notes about the nature of the JST, commentary on Revelation, the publication history of D&C 77, no extent copies, lack of inclusion in D&C until 1876, WW Phelps contemporary interpretation of millions of years, etc.)

    All that said, I have little problem with inspired scripture being “wrong,” to use binary language.

  39. No need to convince me: I’m not a believer in the earth only being 7,000 years old, or in a literal six-day creation. I’m just suggesting it is a very easy conclusion to come to, from the text. I disagree with much of what Joseph Fielding Smith taught, but I believe he was an intelligent man, and had reasons for believing and saying the things he did. I also agree years of scholarship will help give a better view on every possible matter, and the more years the better.

    But I also feel the general public should be able to expect scholars to be able to explain themselves succinctly, logically, and often. If that doesn’t happen, or cannot happen, I see no fault in people believing things that they would not believe if they knew all the facts.

    And if someone does know all the facts, but still chooses to believe a certain way, then I believe the issue is not as clear and obvious as I or the scholarly community like to believe. So, bringing it back to Ben Carson, since, due to both his impressive life and professional experiences and the few opportunities I have listened to him speak, I consider him to be a sensical human being, I have to accept believing in a young earth and six-day creation really is rational for him. Likely, this is because he belongs to a religious group that believes such things, and he has had sufficient, life-changing spiritual experiences to sufficiently outweigh his scientific skepticism.

    I have had the same kind of experiences on different matters, to the point where I believe there is an invisible God who really does help me make decisions in my everyday life, and that I was promised this invisible God could never leave me because a man dunked me in a large bathtub and a bunch of other men touched my hair for a couple minutes and told me to do something. All this despite the fact that I don’t generally think groups that exclude females should have any power or make any decisions for other people. My life is full of contradictions that make sense to me. Why not the same for everyone else, too?

  40. D&C 77 is not talking about the length of time involved in the creation, but is referring to a measure of time since the dispensation of Adam, saying nothing explicit about the events that transpired before that. Since the original text of Revelation that is being discussed is symbolic, how much of the concept that is explicated here should be taken as a literal, cut-and-dried measurement of time?

    Henry Eyring was not afraid to sit down with Joseph Fielding Smith and share his own view of what science says about the age of the earth and its development over time, a topic where Smith was not especially knowledgable. Smith’s was respectful of Eyring’s understanding and did not denounce him as departing from the doctrines of the Church, even though it differed significantly from Smith’s own viewpoint. As I understand it, when Smith published his own views in a book, it had specifically not had an endorsement from the First Presidency, and Elder Talmage of the Twelve WAS then endorsed in giving a talk in the Tabernacle and publishing a Church pamphlet which offered acceptance of modern geology, and thus a rejection of YEC.

    This issue is a good place for Church members to learn the distinction between actual Church doctrines, which members are expected to believe in, and opinions of individual Church leaders, even if they are Apostles or Seventies. Most of all, the lack of any urgency by the Church to require members to believe any particular variation of beliefs about the details of the creation of the earth and life means that it does not really matter, to your salvation or anyone else’s, what you believe about it, and that members should NOT demand that other members agree with their own views.

  41. Jared (33) I think George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter are both excellent examples that being a nice guy doesn’t mean being a good president. In the case of Bush in particular good people can make bad decisions that lead to very bad outcomes. By way of contrast I don’t think too many people think Nixon a particularly good guy yet in terms of accomplishments he did a lot of good policies. (And with Viet Nam going on so long arguably a few bad ones too) So it can be tricky and we can’t be simplistically reductive.

    Raymond (40) there are arguably places where prophets have said life’s been going on longer than 7000 years. (Depending upon how one takes the 2.5 billion figure)

    I definitely agree that Mormons have no really good theological reason to embrace young earth creationism. However many buy into the “no death before the fall” rather than the “no death in the garden before the fall” view. That gives one a de facto young earth creationism. Not to mention those who believe that the flood story literally meant all life on earth except what fit on the ark end up with a de facto young earth at the time of Noah. I don’t think those readings are correct mind you. But I can understand those who don’t have much nuance in how they read thinking along those lines.

    Ben S (43) It’s interesting that Joseph Fielding Smith rejected the sort of cataclysmic dispensations that Brigham Young embraced, which some used to explain dinosaurs. Of course there is a connection between Smith and Carson in terms of the 7th Day Adventism apologetics as you noted.

    Raymond (47) Yes I agree with that. But D&C 77 has that phrase “temporal existence” which tends to push the idea that it’s dealing with it’s fully existence. There are reasons to reject that (not the least of which being the D&C 77 appears composed from fairly fragmentary notes – and looking at similar speeches where there were multiple note takers gives us reason to be a tad skeptical of reading too much into particular words).

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