Top Seventh-day Adventist theologians and scientists convened last weekend as part of a worldwide denominational celebration of the biblical account of creation.
In an event held at Southern California's Loma Linda University, geologists presented evidence of a biblical global flood and theologians shared the importance of special creation to a Christian's worldview as part of the church's first Creation Sabbath, affirming the church's fundamental belief of a literal and recent six-day creation.
"That's not a very popular idea these days, but the Adventist Church is committed to that belief," said Randall Younker, professor and director of the Institute of Archeology at the church's Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
The October 24 celebration was created in April by church leaders wanting to emphasize the sixth of the denomination's 28 Fundamental Beliefs. Though leaders originally said the celebration was not established to counter other worldviews, participants in the official ceremony on Saturday said the discussion was relevant.
"The evangelical world at large is moving toward theistic evolution," Younker said. "In the broader world of evangelical Christianity, including Seventh-day Adventism, there is a tension, there is a discussion. Some feel they have to accommodate scripture in order to meet the scientific evidence."
The weekend's proceedings were held at University Church at Loma Linda University, an institution directly affiliated with the world church's headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. The Friday night panel discussion and Saturday presentations were sponsored by the Adventist Church's Faith and Science Council and broadcast on its television network, Hope Channel. The event was initiated by the church's Ministerial Association. Programs were held throughout the church worldwide.
At Loma Linda, scientists presented evidence for the biblical account of a worldwide flood, including turtle fossils in the United States and whale fossils in Peru that are in the same state of decay, indicating they were likely buried at the same time.
Some also pointed out shortcomings of evolution, theistic or not.
Leonard Brand, chair of the university's Earth and Biological Sciences department, said the only difference between the two is that one has God in the process and over "millions of years we gradually become better and come to where we are now."
Brand, author of several geology journal articles, said micro-evolution, or changes in animals over time, doesn't lead to changes into other species.
"Changes are a biological canyon between micro-evolution and mega-evolution," he said.
Others said the debate between creation and evolution wasn't necessarily about God versus science, but two debating faiths.
"There is a kind of naturalism that is very troubling; it arbitrarily eliminates God from the picture," said Art Chadwick, research professor of geology at Southwestern Adventist University. "They are violently opposed to people outside who threaten their beliefs. That sounds a lot like a religion, and not even a good one."
Adventist Review columnist Clifford Goldstein took aim at theistic evolution, hinting that a future article would point out other ideas once brought into Christianity that have since been discarded.
"All through history, there isn't an idea - no matter how ludicrous, no matter how stupid, no matter how contrary to the basic views of Christianity - that we're not going to find some 'progressive' Christians wanting to incorporate," said Goldstein, who edits the church's Adult Bible Study Guide. "I don't buy into the idea that they're the Galileos of their time and that we're retarding progress."
Still, the issue is one of balance, Goldstein said. "The struggle, I think, for the church has always been, how much of the ideas of the world ... can we bring in without threatening our underlying [beliefs]? How far do we go? At what point do we say, 'No this is what we believe, and what we don't understand we just have to go by faith?'"
At several points, presentations reiterated the belief in a loving God, who accepts people regardless of their belief on origins. Several speakers also shared how they are able to share their beliefs with non-Christian colleagues by their work ethic and rational approach in seeking evidence.
"He'll ask [me] questions he would never ask a pastor," Brand said of an atheistic archeologist friend.
Several audience members said they appreciated the church's commitment to a literal creation, including Danilo Boskovic, who afterward offered a loud "Amen" when asked what he thought of the Creation Sabbath.
"For the first time in a long time I see people talking about creationism with enthusiasm, with confidence, without this business of apologizing for our beliefs," Boskovic said. "Some people have an inferiority complex about our heritage. This was titled correctly. It is a celebration."
Pat Hamoodi, who drove about 30 miles from her home in Pomona for the service at University Church, said she attended to see the issue of creation discussed by some of the church's experts. She was raised in an atheist home and said she wants to debate her family on the matter of origins "in a good way."
"I came here to get ammunition, you could say," Hamoodi said.