Presenting evolution and Creation: How?

Presenting evolution and Creation: How? (Part 1)

In dialogue with non-Creationists; indispensable attitudes and approaches

Cindy Tutsch is associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate, Silver Spring, Maryland.
Leonard Brand, Ph.D., is professor of biology and paleontology at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.

Because we begin with these premises, (1) that God is love, (2) that He is light, and (3) that "in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5)—we are convinced it's unreasonable that He would leave us with a Bible story of creation we can't trust.

Genesis, we believe, is the actual description of how our planet was prepared by God to accommodate life. It is an account of how God created life in six literal, historical, 24- hour days, culminating with a literal 24-hour Sabbath day of rest. This Creation event was later followed by a worldwide flood, also depicted in the Genesis account.

Why would a God of love who wishes to be trusted and loved, a God who is light, a God in whom there is no darkness, give us an account of creation totally at variance with what really happened? We don't believe that He would.

However, while convinced of the literalness of the Creation account, we have reason to be concerned about how creationists express or present the chronicle to others.

Win arguments, lose souls

As creationists, what is our goal in a publication, a lecture, or a sermon dealing with a literal creation? What impression do we want to leave? A sermon can uplift Jesus Christ and leave the audience wanting to follow Him, or it can leave the audience with the impression that we have disdain and even animosity for those who disagree with us.

James was a graduate student in molecular biology at a large state university. He became friends with another graduate student, an evolutionist and atheist. They discussed many topics, and as their friendship grew they discussed religion. James finally invited his friend to attend a Seventh-day Adventist evangelistic meeting, and he came.

That night the topic was creationism. The evangelist used the all too common sarcastic, condescending approach to the topic so often seen in our publications and sermons. James's friend would never talk about religion again.

We need to be careful and thoughtful about how we deal with this issue. Much of the material in creationist publications is written by people who do not understand evolution and evolutionists. They often misunderstand what evolutionists believe; they misquote them by taking part of a statement out of context, thus making it say something that the person was not really saying. They use the evidence that seems to fit our creationist beliefs, while they ignore other evidence that is more of a challenge to us as creationists.

On top of this, creationist writers generally seem to follow the pattern seen in other creationist publications, and thus the cycle continues.

Well-founded animosity?

Many scientists harbor a deep-seated resentment for creationists. Creationists, in turn, tend to think this is because those scientists hate and look down on God, or the idea of God. That may be true of some, but not all. The resentment is often fueled by the way they are treated by creationists.

We make fun of their beliefs; we make sar castic comments about evolutionists, implying that they are stupid, and we misuse their statements, making them appear to say things that they are not saying. They do not see us as loving, kind fellow human beings with strange, implausible beliefs; they see us as dishonest and hateful dogmatists—and in response, many of them hate us.

A prominent evolutionist and outspoken anti-creationist at a famous university has been heard to say that creationists are "cheats and liars." A few years ago he had a graduate student who was a conservative creationist. The professor had a hard time accepting this at first, but finally professor and student became friends. The graduate student was a kind and thoughtful person, a true friend to the evolutionist, especially during the evolutionist's bout with cancer. The evolutionist continued to be an outspoken anti-creationist, but he seemed to value his ongoing friendship with a creationist who was a real friend. He even told the creationist that he did not see him as a cheat or liar like the rest. Friendship can gradually break down barriers and draw people to us and to our Lord.

God's love for evolutionists

At Loma Linda University, several faculty members do research in biology and geology, and at times work in collaboration with scientists from other universities who believe in the evolution of life over millions of years. We can successfully work with them because our specific research projects do not depend on whether one believes in large-scale evolution or in long geologic ages.

If we treat them with respect and are true friends to them, and are also careful scientists, when they find out we are creationists they do not reject us but continue to respect us despite disagreeing with our beliefs. We do not need to make evolutionists hate us in order to tell the truth about our commitment to our Creator.

The world is not divided into the good creationists and the bad evolutionists. Many scientists have never had opportunity to see reasonable alternatives to a materialistic evolutionary process. Many scientists, though convinced by the evidence for evolution, are unwilling to give up on God and/or are searching for some meaning in life. Do we want to draw these people to us or drive them away?

Certainly God wishes to give them a fair opportunity to learn that He has a message of hope for everyone and that He is worthy of their confidence. We have a passion to see believers realize that these evolutionary scientists are people who need to be thoughtfully and even tenderly introduced to a Savior, not turned away by our shrill publications or sermons.

These persons include Christians who have accepted evolution as God's method of creation. That belief seems like a dangerous view because, while appearing Christian at the out set, theistic evolution denies that sin is the source of death and thus eliminates our need of a Savior. However, those who hold these beliefs are also persons whom God loves.

If you were giving a sermon at an evangelistic meeting about which day is the Sabbath, and some of your audi ence were Sunday keepers, would you poke fun at Sunday keeping and make sarcastic comments about them? Certainly not! We must recognize that this is not appropriate when it comes to the topic of Creation, either.

Think carefully about your audience

When presenting this topic publicly or discussing it privately, it is helpful to think of what types of per sons could be in the audience, or what the person feels or is really like with whom you are speaking.

They could represent at least three types: (1) those who firmly believe in the Genesis account of Creation and are not likely to change their mind, (2) those who definitely don't believe in Creation and are also not likely to change their mind, and (3) those who are searching or are at least open to see this question in a new way, or (4) those who don't know how to explain the evidence for earth's origins but are searching for meaning in life.

There is always the possibility that some in the audience are in the third category; even if there is only one, our sermon should be addressed to that seeker. When the opportunity arose, Jesus was glad to give His personal attention to just one seeker. Our goal is to reach that one seeker, not to amuse or impress the others with our witty comments about evolutionists.

Adventist young people

Much of the existing creationist material takes the position that evolution is just a mindless theory giving people a way of evading the truth about God. Such creationists think that if evolutionists would simply look at the evidence that is so obvious to the creationist worldview, they would realize that Creation is obviously correct.

We like to think that we can prove that the Bible is right and prove that evolution (speaking about the largescale aspects of evolution theory, beyond the changes that occur with in created groups) is wrong.

Well intended as we may be, we sometimes present this approach to our young people, many of whom attend public universities where scientists spread before them an overwhelming array'of data that destroys their creationist beliefs. Here these creationist young people find out that evolution is not a stupid theory but can be supported by an array of evidence that looks convincing, and many lose faith.

How much better it would be if we taught them that evolutionists are intelligent people, with abundant evidence for their views, but that there are other ways, better ways, to interpret that evidence. Though we have good reasons for our beliefs, we should not underestimate the ability of non-creationists to make their views look convincing.

Dealing with difficult evidence

The most difficult evidence for creationists comes from paleontology (fossils) and geology. We did not observe the events that produced the fossil record, and we do not know enough to be able to explain much of the evidence. There are no simple answers to some of the scientific data.

Some lines of evidence clearly support Creation and challenge materialistic evolutionary theories; other evidence challenges our biblical understanding of a literal Creation and global flood.

We believe that some day we will understand how the Genesis account can explain all of the evidence, but that is not the way it is now, even though today much can be explained satisfactorily. Thus we should be honest and help our readers and hearers see that there is reason to trust God's communication to us, even though we don't have all the answers.

We need not be insecure about our beliefs; we can live with some unanswered questions. Too many Christians seem to depend on being able to prove Creation, and this often becomes the focus of creationist publications. Other scientists don't have proof of their non-creationist view either, and they would not be realistic to expect such proof. There is evidence for Creation, but if our faith in God depends on proof, we are in serious trouble because we will never be smart enough to prove our creationist beliefs on a simply scientific or rational basis.

Though presenting the literal Creation account is imperative, may we suggest that, perhaps, no one should write creationist publications unless they have some good personal friends who are evolutionists and consequently have a burden to win those friends by a loving, kind, tactful presentation. The scientific evidence is much too complex, and the existing creationist literature is too full of errors, for anyone to write more creationist literature without careful consideration of how to present the topic.

Qualified scientists with experi ence in this area (such as the staff of the Geoscience Research Institute) should be consulted to check the con tent and the approach.

We need God's blessing in a special way as we consider how to present this aspect of the gospel. Our prayer and desire is for all of us to work together to find better ways of reaching people and drawing them to Jesus.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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Cindy Tutsch is associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate, Silver Spring, Maryland.
Leonard Brand, Ph.D., is professor of biology and paleontology at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.

February 2005

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