Editor's Note: After reading the Teachers notes for this week's Sabbath School lesson, Phillip Brantley was moved to send us this comment, which we are sharing here.]
This quarter’s Sabbath School Lessons—Glimpses of our God—devotes the second week’s lesson to the biblical teaching about Creation. I am dismayed to note that the Teachers Edition sets forth comments I find disturbing regarding science, the scientific method, and scientists, as follows:
Most scientists today work with an assumption known as “methodological naturalism.” In essence, this is the view that everything that has happened, is happening, or will happen, has a natural cause and, specifically, not what we would call a “supernatural” cause. Critics, however, have also labeled the concept “methodological atheism,” because, strictly applied, it rules out God as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer.
Yet, many people find it to be a persuasive assumption because most of the events that occur in our daily lives or in our observable environment do not appear to have direct supernatural causes. Even events or phenomena in which we, as Christians, can see the hand of God could be explained, however implausibly to us, as resulting from circumstances alone. Methodological naturalists also assume that if this is the way it is now, this is how it has always been. Their position might be compared to the skeptics who are given voice in 2 Peter 3:4: “everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (NIV).
For this to be true, methodological naturalists need time, a lot of it; as well as some very improbable throws of the dice that somehow resulted in the beautifully designed and ordered world in which we live. But where methodological naturalists see blind chance, Seventh-day Adventist Christians see a world that came into being in a state of perfection at the will of a benevolent Creator—but it is a world now marred by sin. And we await a Redeemer who will restore it to its original perfection.
We know that all scientists are methodological naturalists in that they limit their study of the world to natural tools and mechanisms. We also know that scientists, as methodological naturalists, need not and should not be philosophical naturalists—those who believe that nature is all there is to understanding the world. All Seventh-day Adventist scientists are, by definition, methodological naturalists who, nonetheless, refuse to limit their understanding of the world to what is found in nature.
The author’s above-quoted comments, however, posit a disparaging contrast between “methodological naturalists” and “Seventh-day Adventist Christians.” By suggesting that some scientists are not methodological naturalists, the author implies that there are some scientists, more righteous than others, who operate under a different methodology. By caricaturing methodological naturalism as “methodological atheism,” the author (perhaps unintentionally) invites the reader to infer that scientists are atheists and that their scientific endeavors are atheistic. Indeed, the author likens “methodological naturalists,” i.e. scientists, to the evil scoffers criticized by Peter.
Are we to tell the young girl studying the effect of water and sunshine on plants that she is engaged in methodological atheism? Are we to chastise the young boy doing a radiometric dating test of a sample that he is wrongfully limiting his scientific study to natural tools and mechanisms? It is no wonder that many Seventh-day Adventist scientists are discouraged.
I suppose we can charitably give the author a pass for conflating and confusing methodological naturalism with uniformitarianism and by suggesting that 2 Peter 3:4 is a Scriptural refutation of either. And we can charitably overlook the author’s characterizations about deep time and biological change. But what is difficult to overlook is the curious approach to science, the scientific method, and scientists that the author’s comments reflect. Perhaps the author does not realize how offensive and clearly erroneous the comments are.
Let us all agree that the Sabbath School Lessons should be ideal for providing instruction in a safe environment where faith and doctrine can be affirmed. Indeed, millions of Seventh-day Adventists place their trust in the truthfulness and spiritual wholesomeness of the Sabbath School Lessons. Anything that detracts from the credibility of the Sabbath School Lessons is an injury suffered by us all.
I speculate that there are some well-intentioned Seventh-day Adventists who reason that we must buttress our opposition to theistic evolution by attacking and disparaging science, the scientific method, and scientists. I suggest that such an approach surrenders the moral high ground to theistic evolutionists, many of whom are not at a loss in understanding what science is and what scientists do.
 The Teachers Edition can be found online here: http://www.absg.adventist.org/2012/1Q/TE/PDFs/ETQ112/ETQ112_02.pdf. This three-paragraph quote is on page 25.