Post 28, Thanking God for Scientists That I Know

On the morning of December 3, I received the following message from Dr James Gibson of the Geoscience Research Institute in the United States:

The latest GRI Newsletter is now on-line at

Contents: Reports

3rd Conference on Teaching Origins, in Canmore, Alberta, Canada; Creation Conference at SahmYook University, South Korea; Book review, Evolution. A view from the 21st century. James Shapiro.

Science Notes

Gene duplication questioned as source of new enzyme functions; Rapid change in island birds; Evidence of Paleozoic chitin.

My readers can access the website (above) for succinct, attractively-presented data that supports the contemporary understanding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church about creation, time and related matters.

Historical Reflection

I’ve been thinking recently about the ongoing warfare between believers and scientists. The conflict goes back to (and far beyond) Galileo (1564-1642) who observed that spots on the Sun moved, and inferred that must mean the Sun rotated! He closely watched the Moon, the Milky Way, Jupiter and more. However, as rewards for his diligent study of the heavens, Galileo suffered a wearisome trial, imprisonment, condemnation, then house arrest.

What relevance does such a sad record have for Adventist Studies? A bit more than meets the eye. Perhaps I can explain a little by briefly telling some of my story.

As a college student (1954-7) I came to love the writings of George McCready Price (1870-1963), the stalwart “Crusader for Creation,” teacher and author of some 23 books. Price convinced me that the geological column was a figment of the flawed imaginations of misguided scientists. I still deeply respect Price. As an historian I am interested in the profound impact he had on the Protestant world, far beyond the borders of our church. But I now believe that Price’s lifelong crusade was, at its core, a sad mistake.

Late in his life Price realised some of his best and brightest students, now mature scientists doing their own research, were already beginning to seriously question what he had taught them. The scientific evidence was so powerful that these dedicated Christians were no longer vigorously denying the existence of the geological column (like Price did), they were explaining it (as Dr James Gibson and his team at the Geoscience Research Institute are still attempting to do). Hence, much of what I learned as a Theology student in the 1950s was no longer taught when I was a Seminary student in the 1970s. More than that, some of what I learned in the 1970s is now no longer either believed or taught.

What does this mean? First, that truth is in God; it is unchanging. Second, that our perceptions of truth are always partial. Usually we “see through a glass darkly,” to cite an apt symbol given to us by the Apostle Paul.

Having left school at eleven years of age, I was delighted to be able to begin high school in 1950, on the campus of Avondale. That year the College welcomed to its campus three students who undertook external science degrees from the University of London: Eric Magnusson, Laurie Draper, and Ken Thomson. Each of them graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and then went on to complete a doctorate, except Eric completed two, one in Australia and one in England. Eric, Laurie and Ken taught countless students in Australia, the Pacific and the United States, always sensitively in terms of the debates between science and religion.

During August 2009, Joan and I spent a wonderful day with Eric and other friends, walking for some hours in the beautiful National Park just north of the mouth of the Hawkesbury River. When we arrived back  at the Avoca home of our mutual friends, Eric and I sat on the verandah in deep conversation. After perhaps an hour, we were about to join the others in the lounge; Eric glanced in, commented that there were already too many people in that space before saying “let’s talk in the family room.” Until we were called for a delightful evening meal, Eric shared with me his life experience as a Christian dealing with the issues of science: the Theology students he had taught, the Geoscience field trips he attended since 1968, and much more.

Eric’s headlights were in our rear vision mirror for several minutes that evening as we each drove toward our respective homes. Within two hours his life was violently taken by an aneurism.

Ever since that night, I have felt deeply grateful for the in-depth conversation we shared, Eric’s commitment to Scripture and his unyielding quest to understand God’s other book, Nature.

I thank God for so many of the people I have known personally, trained to PhD level in physics, chemistry, botany, biology, archaeology, anthropology and other branches of science, who also respond to the message of Revelation 14:6 and 7: “Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” I have great trouble with what many earnest individuals expect our young people to believe about both Science and Religion.

But that will be the focus of other blogs. This one is about being thankful!

Arthur Patrick, 4 December 2011