Post 43: “Educational Events” at Avondale College of Higher Education

This year (2012) will again provide stimulus for “thinking believers” who seek a fuller understanding of Adventist Studies. Here is a preliminary list of Educational Events, sponsored by the Avondale College Church, that are planned for the immediate future. The usual venue is Ladies Chapel; if an alternative venue becomes a necessity, that fact will be advertised nearer the actual time of any particular presentation. Watch this page as more details and other events are added.

March 24: Dr Ross Cole, “Reading Genesis in the 21st Century.”

For further information , see the blog on this website dated 3 February 2012, “Genesis, the Jewish Bible and Adventist Studies.” Dr Cole is a senior lecturer in Old Testament at Avondale College of Higher Education.

March 31: Dr Andy Nash, “Meet at the text: The case for a strong Adventist centre.”

Dr Nash is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at Southern Adventist University (Collegedale, Tennessee, USA), a former editor of Adventist Today, the author of five books, including the spiritual memoir Paper God, and a columnist for Adventist Review.

April 21: Dr Steve Thompson: “Hard Spirits versus Holy Spirit: Wine in and around the Bible.”

According to early church tradition, Paul’s young companion Timothy lost his life when he confronted a procession of devotees to Dionysus, the god of wine. This illustrates the tense standoff between early Christians and those devoted to the most popular and celebrated god of the ancient world. This and other discoveries have come to Steve’s attention during 30 years exploring the ancient cultural context of the Bible’s references to wine and drinking. He now reads biblical references to wine and drinking against this emerging context, with some interesting results, which he will summarise in his presentation. As a biblical scholar, Dr Thomson’s teaching and research embraces both the Old Testament and the New.

June 9: Dr David Trim: “‘Making room for two creationist positions’: The origins and evolution of Adventist Fundamental Belief No. 6.”

Dr David Trim is from the Washington, D.C. area; currently he is the General Conference Archivist, Statistician and Director of Research. Many readers will remember Dr Trim’s scintillating presentation on 20 August 2011, one of last year’s Educational Events sponsored by the Avondale College Church.

August 4: Dr Kendra Haloviak Valentine and Dr Gilbert Valentine, “The Prophet and the Present: The Ordination of Women in the Seventh-day Adventist Church”

Gilbert and Kendra will bring us up-to-date on the significant events of this year and then Gilbert, a specialist in Adventist history, will offer a way to better understand and apply the writings of Ellen G. White.

August 18: Launch of the newest book edited by Dr Bryan Ball, a series of essays on creation by some of the finest writers in the worldwide Adventist church.

September 15: Dr Rolf Pöhler: “Understanding continuity and change in Seventh-day Adventist thought.”

For further information, see the blog on this website dated 10 October 2011, “Rolf J. Pöhler is coming to Australia in 2012.”

October 13: Nathan Brown, book editor of Signs Publishing Company: “Ellen White, a voice for justice.”

Nathan is author of five books, including the novel Nemesis Train and another which was recently published in German. He is currently writing monthly short stories for the magazine, Spectrum. He also is a continuing tertiary student, studying writing, literature and history.

I advise that you check the College and College Church websites for more detail about the educational events that are scheduled six or more times each year. Everyone is welcome. Usually the Church Office Administrator (Joy Taplin, 02 4980 2272 or can supply a DVD of the presentations for $3, or, with packing and postage, $7.

Arthur Patrick, 10 February 2012

Post 42: From Radiocarbon Dating to the Volcanic Soils of New Zealand

I asked a geomorphologist, who lives in another country, if the recent blog about radiocarbon dating made sense to him. Here is his response:

It certainly makes sense to me. Radiocarbon dating has some limitations but overall is pretty reliable. It is always nice to see confirmation of carbon dates through correlation with other dating techniques. This can certainly improve people’s perception of these techniques. With cross-correlation of dating techniques one can eliminate some of the criticism that is often brought up (by outsiders) against carbon dating. Off the top of my head I can, for example, think of tree rings of very old trees that can be counted and dated, and stalagmites or stalactites from limestone caves that can be cross-dated with other isotope techniques. It is refreshing to see these issues being discussed among “thinking believers.”

A biologist who earned both a PhD and a DSc gave me a similar perspective. I find it is interesting to check the conclusions of a particular scientific discipline through the insights of scientists who are experts in quite different disciplines.

While the 3 February 2012 blog on radiocarbon dating is still fresh, it may be well to investigate claims and counter-claims about its usefulness for dating volcanic soils in New Zealand.

Graham Will lives in a tourist mecca, Rotorua, New Zealand. His career as a scientist helped his country grow better forests; as an Adventist, he supported his church as an elder and his conference as an astute adviser. For many years he has engaged in the ongoing discussion of faith and science.

Some of Dr Will’s research is well reported in an article entitled “What Have Volcanoes and Soils Told Me,” Spectrum 38:4 (Fall 2010), pages 64-69. Spectrum 39:1 (Winter 2011), pages 8-9, carried a helpful exchange between Dr Will and Dr Ariel A. Roth, Emeritus Director of the Geoscience Research Institute, Loma Linda, California.

Dr Will’s major article points out that careful studies of New Zealand soils indicate a time frame quite other than that proposed by Archbishop James Ussher (see the earlier blogs on this website). For instance, near the Rotorua Airport, “Nine buried soils developed one after the other as successive pumice ash eruptions covered the landscape over a period of 15,000 years.” Close to Auckland there has been a succession of basaltic volcanic eruptions. On Rangitoto Island there has been little or no soil development and tree ring counts and archaeology suggest an age of 500 to 700 years. Shallow soils on One Tree Hill suggest an age of 15,000 years. Deep market-gardening clay soils on Bombay Hills suggest 100,000 years. Glacial moraine soils, as in Fiordland and close to the Southern Alps indicate an even longer time frame. Loess that is up to ten metres deep (as in the Canterbury Plains), eroded by glaciers from the Alps, “is made up of four distinct layers with a soil developed on each.” The evidence leads scientists to “estimate that major deposits … date back 10,000 to 80,000 years.” Dr Will adds: “It is of particular interest to note that, in China, loess deposits up to 300 metres have been found in which 20 paleosols have been identified.”

It is important to note that in the two Spectrum journals referenced above, Dr Will has carefully assessed all the caveats that Dr Roth raised. Dr Will’s conclusions are reinforced by independent evidence from lakebeds “where over the years peat sediment has built up.” “The depths of the peat layers between the ash layers gives further evidence that considerable periods of time must have elapsed between these volcanic eruptions.”

We have noted in other blogs that the Bible, rightly understood, does not claim to give us the age of the earth. However, science gives us some important clues. Dr Will quotes Ellen White, who states, “The book of nature and the written word shed light upon each other.” Dr Will’s article is so clearly written (even though it embodies a long lifetime of painstaking research) that we would all do well to get a copy of it and read it thoughtfully. At the very least, it informs the contemporary Adventist discussion responsibly, and make us patient with each other as we examine both Scripture and crust of the planet.

One further question: Can non-Adventist authors help our quest to understand the interaction between Scripture and science? I mention just two of many potential examples.

John Polkinghorne, Science and Religion and the Quest for Truth (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011). This fine book also refers to fifteen other chapters and books that Polkinghorne has written on this subject since 1991, including such titles as The faith of a Physicist (1996) and Quantum Physics and Theology (2007). Polkinghorne is somewhat unique in that he is both a scientist and a theologian, and has achieved worldwide respect in both spheres.

Alister E. McGrath is a person of similar background, in that he was a scientist before he become a world-renowned theologian. Two of his recent books are Mere Theology: Christian faith and the discipleship of the mind (London: SPCK, 2010), and Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith and How We Make Sense of Things (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011). He is the co-author (with Joanna Collicut McGrath) of the international bestseller, The Dawkins Delusion?   

The Seventh-day Sabbath reminds us every week that “In the beginning God created.”

As Dr Taylor points out (see an earlier blog), the when and the how of that creation are details. Because God has not disclosed such details does not mean we are hindered in our worship of the One who made the heavens and the earth!

Arthur Patrick, 8 February 2012

Post 41: Genesis, the Jewish Bible and Adventist Studies

The Adventist Review that arrived in our postbox this week, dated on Australia Day (January 26), carries the heart-warming story of how a Jewish girl is reaching her people with the aid of “authentic Hebrew music.”

Rachel Hyman, after a troubled childhood and youth, was baptised in the Richardson (Texas) Seventh-day Adventist Church on 20 May 2000. Then she studied theology in Southwestern Adventist University before becoming a very successful literature evangelist and a literature evangelism leader for the Southern Union Conference. But a new question was forming in Rachel’s mind. Adventist Review observes:

Why, she wondered, were there so few young Jewish Adventists? She concluded that most Jews had never even heard about Seventh-day Adventists, and most Adventists did not know a lot about Jewish culture.

Having a musical background and being able to read Hebrew, Rachel was impressed to record a Hebrew CD and start giving concerts as a creative avenue to share Jewish culture and to give her testimony. After her outreach concerts Rachel places the books The Great Controversy and Steps to Christ beside her CDs. Her first CD, Hebrew Psalms of Light, features a collection of spiritual songs giving insight into the depth and beauty of authentic Hebrew music.

Rachel has already shared her music and her message in Ireland, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway, Germany and Ukraine. It looks like this ministry will expand in the immediate future; her energies also have created, an “Adventist dating site that provides numerous educational resources for those seeking spiritual wisdom on how to follow God in their relationships.”

Rachel’s experience can inspire the worldwide Adventist family. As a Jew, she cherished the Scriptures that we call the Old Testament, and their witness about the Seventh-day Sabbath. It was a high-school friend who explained to Rachel the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament; when she saw how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies, faith began to spring up in her heart.

I have been surprised recently, on a number of different occasions, to learn that Adventists I have long known and valued as friends have Jewish backgrounds. We need to tap into the wisdom of such people as we build bridges of understanding between their spiritual culture and our own.

One thing that all of us can do is seek a better understanding of the Jewish Scriptures. They are the writings that the Apostle Paul tells Timothy are “God-breathed” and “able to make you wise for salvation” (2 Timothy 3: 14-17, NIV).

I am very much looking forward to a series of Educational Events that Dr Wendy Jackson (who teaches Systematic Theology and Church History) and I plan for the members of the Avondale College Church and their friends. Insofar as is possible, we schedule these events when students are on campus; that means the first event for 2012 will convene on Sabbath afternoon, March 24, under the leadership of Dr Ross Cole.

Ross graduated from Avondale with a Bachelor of Arts (Theology) degree in 1980. A number of that year’s class have distinguished themselves in ministry and mission, further study and teaching, or in various other pursuits; note, as examples, the careers of Stephen Currow, David Thiele, Lance Tyler, Graeme Humble and Gary Webster. Ross made his mark as a lecturer at what is now Pacific Adventist University, then as a PhD student at the SDA Theological Seminary (Andrews University), and more recently as a senior lecturer in the School of Ministry and Theology at Avondale College of Higher Education. His specialty is Old Testament; those who wish to do so can find his articles in Andrews University Seminary Studies and other journals. One of his research manuscripts is entitled The Sabbath and Festivals: Why Stop at One?

For his March 24 presentation, Ross has chosen as his title, “Reading Genesis in the 21st Century.” This will be a feast of relevance for all of us who want to understand the Word of God and its message for the contemporary world.

Arthur Patrick, 3 February 2012

Post 40: Radiocarbon Dating, Adventists and the Antiquity of the Earth

I am a novice when it comes to scientific matters, but I have a bevy of wonderful friends around the world who have earned doctoral degrees in chemistry, physics and a raft of other sciences. Over many years of conversation and by reading what they write, I am convinced that when I ask them questions within their fields of expertise, I receive reliable answers.

Dr Ervin Taylor is professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California, Riverside, and a co-founder of the journal Adventist Today. He wrote a book on radiocarbon dating way back in 1987. In an e-mail dated 2 February 2012, he tells me that “the basics are still the same,” but he is working on a revision of the book that should be finished later this year. Recently Dr Taylor has written several encyclopedia entries on radiocarbon dating. He kindly sent me what he calls a “A Brief Introduction” to radiocarbon dating, as follows:

In the second decade of the 21st Century, after more than a half a century of continuing technical refinement and expanding applications, radiocarbon (14C) dating continues to be the most widely-employed scientific method of obtaining chronometric age determinations for late Pleistocene and Holocene carbonaceous (carbon-containing) materials.  Radiocarbon dating is one of a number of nuclear decay or radiometric methods of dating that takes advantage of natural radioactivity to provide a nuclear-based clock.  The routine lower limit of the 14C method is about 200 years while the routine upper limit ranges between 40,000 and 60,000 years. Under some circumstances involving the utilization of special instrumentation, the upper limit can sometimes be extended to as much as 75,000 years.

Critically evaluated suites of calibrated 14C age determinations constitute the “gold standard” for assigning accurate chronometric frameworks for carbon-containing or organic compounds from Late Quaternary archaeological, geological, historical, oceanographic, paleontological and paleoenvironmental contexts.  The development of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) technology for 14C measurements beginning in the late 1970s initiated a continuing expansion in the areas of 14C research made routinely feasible to pursue in a wide spectrum of scientific disciplines.

Radiocarbon dating is widely accepted in the scientific community as a definitive means of authenticating or disconfirming proposed ages of artifacts of historical or cultural interest, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and Shroud of Turin.  It has even been applied to pseudo-artifacts such as wood allegedly removed from a mythic “Noah’s Ark” purported to be situated on the slopes of Mt. Ararat in northeastern Turkey.  Radiocarbon dating by five laboratories determined that the alleged “Noah’s Ark” wood samples dated to the Middle Ages.  

The research that ushered in the “radiocarbon revolution” was initiated in 1946 at the University of Chicago by Willard F. Libby (1908-1980).  Libby received the Nobel Prize in chemistry for 1960 for his development of the 14C method.   There are currently over 100 laboratories in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Europe and North and South America undertaking 14C measurements on a routine basis.

For those of us who don’t feel drawn to the task of reading a whole book, such a brief introduction to this complex subject is invaluable. Dr Taylor has also sent to me a copy of an article he has just written for The Collegian,”the official newspaper of the Associated Students of Walla Walla University. As a publication made by students for students, its primary objective is to inform, entertain, and serve as a facilitator for relevant discussion.”

This article is so helpful that I will ask The Collegian if I can post it on this website. It seems to me that the newspaper itself is not available on the web. However, let me say that Dr Taylor’s article is entitled “God is the Creator: How and When Are Details.” His first paragraph is as follows:

One would reasonably assume that all Christians are theists and thus, almost by definition, would confess that God is the Creator of all that is good in the universe. We could also reasonably assume that all Adventists are, first of all, Christians. On this basis, we can anticipate that all Adventist Christians would confess without hesitation that God created all good things in the universe. Thus we could say that all Adventists would agree: God is the Creator. But there are major theological battles currently underway in the contemporary Adventist Church over the issue of Creationism. What is the problem?

The problem is that some Adventists are hesitant to listen to both the evidence from Scripture and from the universe. God is the author of both. Dr Taylor puts it well: God is the Creator, the how and the when are details!

I plan to go on discussing some of the details on this website, in ways that may be of help to “thinking believers.” But let me thank Dr Taylor for his insightful “Introduction” (above) to one of the important sciences that tell us plainly the earth is, indeed, very old.

For those who would like to read more of what Dr Taylor has written on the subject in hand, he offers us the following.

Radiocarbon Dating: Basic References

R. E. Taylor. 1987. Radiocarbon Dating: An Archaeological Perspective.  New York: Academic Press.

R. E. Taylor. 1997. Radiocarbon Dating.  In: R. E. Taylor and M. J. Aitken, eds. Chronometric Dating in Archaeology, pp. 65-96. New York: Plenum Press.

R. E. Taylor. 2000. Fifty Years of Radiocarbon Dating.  American Scientist 88:60-67.

R. E. Taylor. 2001. Radiocarbon Dating. In: D.R. Brothwell and A.M. Pollard, eds. Handbook of Archaeological Sciences, pp. 23-34.  London: Wiley.

Arthur Patrick, 2 February 2012

Post 39, Defending and Seeking the Truth?

Occasionally an article or a book is so memorable that, years after its publication, we readily recall its main thrust. Forever after we feel a warm glow of appreciation when the author’s name is mentioned.

Chris Blake penned the piece “Are We Guardians of Truth or Seekers of Truth?” that was printed in Spectrum 34:1 (Winter 2006), 28-29. Why is such a short article so everlasting in the mind?

Since I couldn’t remember the exact date that the article was published, this morning I entered “Seventh-day Adventist Periodical Index” into GOOGLE, clicked on the “author” option, then entered “Blake, Chris.” Immediately I had a listing of 202 articles by the right Blake (GOOGLE references so many Christopher Blakes that it is of no help at all). It was easy to scroll down to find the details of the article that I wanted to re-read; then all I had to do was go to the shelf that preserves my back issues of the journal.

Some of us remember Chris as a must-read writer in Insight magazine (he was also Insight’s editor for eight years). As an author, lecturer and speaker he has not only kept people in the church he loves, he has fostered their spiritual and intellectual growth-and thus helped them engage in the mission of Jesus Christ.

Blake’s article starts with the bold claim: “Of the many fundamental divisions in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, perhaps none is as practically meaningful as the difference between Guardians of Truth and Seekers of Truth.” Then he offers an initial seven definitions:

Guardians serve God and fear him. Seekers serve God and enjoy him.

Guardians talk of historic truths. Seekers live out present truth.

Guardians emphasize performance. Seekers emphasize participation.

Guardians consider early Adventists guardians. Seekers consider early Adventists seekers.

Guardians interpret literally. Seekers recognize irony, audience, symbolism, and context.

Guardians believe the Church is an organization. Seekers believe the Church is a force.

Guardians defend the truth. Seekers feed on it.

Blake has three other similar lists of descriptors. He abbreviates the Guardians Of Truth as GOT, and the Seekers Of Truth as SOUGHT–Seekers Of Undeniable Good, Healthful Truth. He admits:

Both GOT and SOUGHT camps harbor committed Christians. Both carry accumulated penchants, motivations, and aptitudes. And we can all find ourselves deep in the other camp depending on the issue or circumstance. Still, we see differences emerge in myriad ways.

For GOT, the Christian life is mainly sin management. For SOUGHT, the Christian life is mainly inclusive friendships.

Guardians confuse tastes with morals. Seekers confuse saints with forgiven sinners.

Guardians define who is worthy to belong. Seekers refuse to allow others to define them outside the Church.

Guardians prescribe and proscribe. Seekers say “whosoever will.”

Guardians are quick to count decisions. Seekers aim at creating disciples.

To Guardians, it’s all about salvation. To seekers, it’s all about love.

Guardians see life in terms of “us” and “them.” Knowing we’re all in this together, Seekers don’t view even Guardians as “them.”

If you’d like to know Chris Blake better, he will smile at you from the Union College (Lincoln, Nebraska) website, where he is Associate Professor of English and Communication and “Leader in the Something Else Sabbath School.” You may like to look up his article and ponder applications of the fourteen defining ideas that I have quoted, and the other fourteen that I have not quoted. You may even want to read his 2007 book published by Pacific Press, Swimming Against the Current, a volume that includes the article under discussion as well as many others of the 202.

Then, you may like to go to the Ellen G. White Estate website and do a word study on how Ellen White uses such graphic terms as “present truth” and “the truth as it is in Jesus.”

I love the challenge in her chapter entitled “Great Distress Coming,” written early in American Civil War, Testimonies 1, page 262:

Greater light shines upon us than shone upon our fathers. We cannot be accepted or honored of God in rendering the same service, or doing the same works, that our father’s did. In order to be accepted and blessed of God as they were, we must imitate their faithfulness and zeal,improve our light as they improved theirs,and do as they would have done had they lived in our day. We must walk in the light which shines upon us, otherwise that light will become darkness.

This website is centred on the idea that, while there may be times that Christians are called to be Guardians of Truth, our main commission is to be Seekers of Truth.

Thanks for the apt descriptors, J. Christopher Blake!

Arthur Patrick, 1 February 2012