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In the last article I discussed the credibility of two key ideas related to evolutionary science, namely mutations and natural selection. As it stands, it is generally recognized that nothing in biology makes sense outside of acceptance of these two processes, and more importantly they are well documented. In this article I am going to direct our attention to the most significant development in biology over the past few decades. It is a development that has fundamentally changed the conversation.
First off, it is important to recognize that throughout most of history biological knowledge has generally been descriptive and analog. In general the process of acquiring that knowledge has started with a hypothesis and then progressed to a theory, all the while supported by data derived by dissecting, categorizing, along with comparison of body plans. For the past several hundred years this accumulating data has been informed by a study of the geologic column and the fossil record that it displays. Clearly this approach has provided a lot of useful information, but it has also taken place at a level of tentativeness that would not exist if biology operated on a more quantitative basis. That has now changed. With the unraveling of the DNA structure, it has become increasingly possible to explore the secrets of the DNA code itself. With the recent completion of the genome map for humans and a number of other species, the methodology has dramatically transformed biology from a qualitative science to that of a quantitative and computational science. In short, the genetic code is a complex information system and can be thought of as a digital data recording and processing technique. Most significantly, it is now being studied on those terms.
The old argument many Adventists use in opposing evolutionary theory, has often been based on “missing links.” Such argument is no longer relevant. For one thing many transitional forms have been found, including the fossil remains of a number of key hominids (and in the case of the Neanderthals, a portion of their DNA, while in the case of the Denisovans a complete genome). More importantly the quantitative tools afforded by science's expanding knowledge of DNA now give us data that renders most of these old lines of argumentation moot. In short, the debate has changed—and it has changed fundamentally.
In the pre-computer era, Claude Shannon, the father of modern information theory, proposed that communication errors could be overcome by building in sufficient redundancy and by proceeding in a “segregated, linear, and digital fashion.” This idea is, in fact, foundational to all computer technology and to the binary code that developed around it consisting of just two coding elements—a positive represented by the number 1 and a non-positive represented by 0. From the arrangement of these 1s and 0s, humans have managed to create all the powerful and precise activities that computers are known for, including programmed decision-making and other extraordinary capacities that have transformed human life in so many ways. For a visual map of this code take a look at the alpha http://www.convertbinary.com/alphabet.php and numeric http://www.convertbinary.com/numbers.php arrangement of the binary code as it will give you some idea what you might expect with the DNA code.
As scientific understanding of DNA came to maturity it became clear that it is at its essence, a digital code that is not unlike computer software code with four-nucleotides. That DNA four-nucleotide code for humans is a little over 3 billion base pairs in length, and generally goes by the abbreviated form: A-T-G-C. These nucleotides are grouped into approximately 23,000 genes, and 46 paired chromosomes. They are the code of life, though the exact definition of life is still being worked on. Clearly it is much more sophisticated and complex than anything that humans have created with binary computer code, but it does have some remarkable similarities.
Let’s suppose we were to write a message using binary code. In the process let’s assume that one or more of those 0s and 1s of code got mixed up. Clearly the receiver of the instructions will need to translate the message into English (or whatever language that is being used) in order to understand the instructions. The end result might very well be a set of instructions where say one alphabetic letter has been substituted for another. The receiver might end up with instructions that when translated were still understandable, or an instruction not actually intended, or one that makes no useful sense. This is analogous to what happens with mutations where the genetic code has become scrambled. Sometimes it is just one nucleotide letter that has been affected—sometimes more. Sometimes it will be critical to the overall integrity of the organism, and sometimes not. The important point in all of this is, that biology can now be analyzed in quantitative ways. It has become transformed it into an objective science.
Hubert Yockey, a prominent physicist from the University of California, Berkeley, CA, author of the book Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life, states: “information, transcription, translation, code, redundancy, synonymous, messenger, editing, and proofreading are all appropriate terms in biology. They take their meaning from information theory and are not synonyms, metaphors, or analogies.” He further notes that the existence of the biological genome and its supporting code divides living organisms from nonliving matter. He concludes, “There is nothing in [the realm of physics and chemistry] that remotely resembles reactions being determined by a sequence and codes between sequences.
Science now understands that the digital sequence of nucleotides in DNA is the software of life and that it controls all biological processes. It is coded to maintain the integrity of the organism in real time, but also provides a wealth of information about current relationships as well as ancient ancestral ones. The sequences of nucleotides or amino acids that carry the genetic message have explicit specificity. As Yockey notes, by employing information theory the message in the genes can be explored based on a comparison between the genetics of organisms, and that exploration can now be undertaken with the same quantifiable accuracy that is typical of astronomy, physics and chemistry. 
One of the most important points for readers to grasp is that DNA is now being sequenced for a wide spectrum of organisms ranging from bacteria and viruses, to humans and other species. Thus the relationship of all organisms can be determined based on the amount of similarity, and the degree of closeness in terms of DNA sequenced information that is shared. It is now possible to make comparisons, in numerical terms, between all these organisms, comparisons that go well beyond mere armchair speculation.
Naturally some will question whether differing species are the product of an Intelligent Designer who merely used common body plans to create distinctive forms of biology, or whether the degree of separation is one of coding. As to the first of these two possibilities it is important to remember that science, proceeding on the basis of methodological naturalism will never be equipped to fully address purposeful design considerations, though the question of common descent may eventually be resolvable with some degree of certitude. Conclusions on descent would be based simply on a more complete understanding of the DNA code, how it modifies, and whether it contains certain limits that are not currently understood.
At this point no one really knows where this new quantitative tool will lead given biological complexity and the relatively new era of DNA genetic research. It will take time to sort out the precise details; however, science now has a reliable mechanism that will allow it to explore biology with a high degree of objectivity and in detail at a level never before seen. There will likely be many surprises that await science. Unfortunately there are also likely surprises that will challenge Adventist sensitivities. The question that remains is whether Adventists collectively are open to receiving new light?
In the next article we will take a look at the most controversial aspect of evolution, that being the idea of common descent. Some readers have already made up their minds without having looked at the evidence. The next article will actually look at some of the key pieces of evidence that suggest common descent.
1. Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life, Hubert P. Yockey, (Cambridge University Press, 2005)
2. The Rough Guide to Genes and Cloning, Jess Buxton & Jon Turney (Penguin Books, 2005)
3. DNA: The Secret of Life, James D. Watson, Winner of the Nobel Prize for his role in uncovering the secrets of the double helix (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006)
See Hubert P. Yockey, Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life (Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. ix
These letters representing four chemical units that make up the nucleotide bases of DNA: (A) adenine, (T) thymine, (G) guanine, (C) cytosine
See Hubert P. Yockey, Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life (Cambridge University Press) 2005, p. 6.
Ibid, p. 2
Ibid, p. 8-11; 184
Ibid, p. 179
Juan Perla, Jason Hines and Michael Peabody discuss two Supreme Court cases that challenge same-sex marriage laws: Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. The panel is moderated by Alexander Carpenter.
In a tiny room on the island of Ebeye, without chairs, couches, a dining room or a window, Tiffany dos Santos enjoyed the best Sabbath lunches of her life. Scrambled eggs were served on a small coffee table with lumpia (similar to fried spring rolls), a large fish, and other edible offerings every week. A single open door provided the only light, as dos Santos rubbed elbows and knees with the seven friends that became like family that year.
“Those lunches connected us beyond our cultural and food histories,” reflects dos Santos on her time as a missionary teacher. Although she grew up vegetarian, she gave it up while previously a student missionary in Palau. Without an official church potluck, dos Santos and her friends improvised their own unique meal. “We brought the best we had, and we were OK with that,” says dos Santos.
Back in the United States, dos Santos’ Sabbath table now includes places to sit, and still feeds friendships. And with “A Clove of Garlic, A Pinch of Salt,” her food blog, dos Santos has joined an international community drawn together for a virtual feast. The blog, with about 11,000 visits each month, was originally a way to “record her journey of learning how to cook,” which she began at age 27. Before marrying her Brazilian husband, she might not wanted to have begun the trip. dos Santos hated cooking, and planned to wed someone who would cook, while she did the dishes. When life changed her plans, she decided that if she was going to provide most of the food, she wanted it to be truly good food, and shortly afterward, began to blog about it. Now, her recipes (example pictured) connect her with readers around the world.
An 18-year-old girl in Wisconsin is a devoted reader. An atheist American expatriate in Brazil who stumbled upon her blog is now a good friend; dos Santos and her husband visited her on a recent international trip. The blog is also how she and fellow bloggers raised $1,300 in one day, through an online bake sale to support a girl with Crohn’s disease (dos Santos also has Crohn’s disease). Connected by a shared food philosophy—to eat well, at home—dos Santos says that “real friendships have formed that might not have happened in the real world.”
But eating healthfully called for a hard look at the “healthy” vegetarian diet of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Rice-a-Roni, TV dinners and lots of cookies, the usual at dos Santos’ childhood table. “We thought, ‘We don’t eat meat, we don’t eat a lot of dairy, therefore we are healthy,’” says dos Santos. Visit her blog, and none of these processed items are in sight. Instead, you’ll find dishes from avocado pizza to strawberry chocolate French toast, in a new take on a healthy diet. And although many of the dishes that dos Santos prepares are vegetarian, she doesn’t “open cans or buy veggie meat,” preferring to cook from scratch—normally in 20 minutes or less.
Dos Santos terms this “real food.” Girl Scouts bearing gifts are still welcome at her door, but simple foods, like veggie burgers made out of beans and rice, are more often on her table. “I enjoy cooking, but want to do other things with my time," says the California elementary school teacher. "I make dinner every night anyway.”
"Food is a pillar of community, and that is what the Adventist church is," notes dos Santos. “We use food to help us connect.” Whether friendships are nourished online or over Sabbath lunch, a sense of community is the main dish.
This week’s recipe is for Sweet Potato Tacos (pictured), adapted by dos Santos from Jess Dang at Cooksmarts.com. Dos Santos writes, “They are fast, easy, and vegan unless you add yogurt or sour cream, and a complete meal in a tortilla.”
Sweet Potato Tacos
Prep time: 10 min.
Total time: 25 min.
2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into ½ inch cubes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 ½ cup fresh black beans OR 1 can of black beans, drained
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cumin
12 tortillas, corn or “soft taco”
½ cup low-fat Greek yogurt, to top
2 avocados, sliced, to top
1 lemon or 2 limes
¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
1. Heat oil in large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once oil is heated, add garlic, red onion, and a dash of salt to heated oil. Sauté until softened, about three minutes.
2. Add sweet potatoes to the pan with a generous pinch of salt and the spices. Add 1/3 cup of water to the pan, cover with a lid, and lower heat to a simmer. Cook about 8 to 12 minutes, until sweet potatoes are softened.
3. Add beans to the pan and toss everything together until beans are heated through.
4. Warm tortillas according to package instructions. Fill with sweet potatoes, a dollop of yogurt (if you want), avocado, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice.
Total Cost: $9 (approximately)
In an article titled "Neurosurgeon’s Speeches Have Conservatives Dreaming of 2016," the New York Times writes about Seventh-day Adventist Dr. Ben Carson:
Overnight, he was embraced by conservatives including those at The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which proclaimed, “Ben Carson for President” — a suggestion Dr. Carson helped feed at a high-profile gathering last weekend, the Conservative Political Action Conference. He was interrupted by sustained cheers when he coyly said, “Let’s just say if you magically put me in the White House...”
In an interview in his office at Johns Hopkins University, he said he had been told for years that he could have a political career. It would be built on his compelling personal story that began in poverty in Detroit, leading to fame through pioneering work separating conjoined twins and his own self-help and inspirational books, including “America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great.”
While Dr. Carson, 61, said that there were better candidates out there, he did not rule out a presidential run in 2016. “Certainly if a year and a half went by and there was no one on the scene and people are still clamoring, I would have to take that into consideration,” he said in the interview. “I would never turn my back on my fellow citizens.”
He is in some ways a dream candidate for Republicans. But he also fits nicely into the realm of fantasy where the very early jockeying over 2016 now plays out. No modern contender without a political résumé has ever gotten close to a major party nomination. . . .
Sales of “America the Beautiful,” his latest book, soared to 46,000 in the six weeks since his prayer breakfast speech, from fewer than 1,000 sold this year before to the speech, according to Nielsen BookScan.
Here is Carson's Saturday morning speech at last weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference
St. Francis of Assisi was born in the 12th century. As a young man, he felt called by the gospel to give up his possessions, and rebuild a ruined church in the countryside. He founded the Franciscan Order on the principles of poverty and service to the poor. Desiring to live “like the birds of the fields,” he dressed in simple rags, and called the Church to return to simplicity, humility, and love.
Recently the world was introduced to “Pope Francis,” the newly-elected bishop of Rome. In keeping with the spirit of his namesake, Francis rebuked the worldliness of the Church in his first address: “When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.” He is setting the tone for a deeply humble ministry, austere and evangelical. Before giving a blessing himself, he stunned millions, asking the city of Rome and the world to pray for him first. Though a pope, he refuses to set himself above other Christians; he silently kneeled before the world as millions prayed for him.
He has since declared it his mission to make the Catholic Church “a poor church for the poor”: humbler, simpler, Galilean. He has insisted on riding in buses and humble sedans since being elected. He has personally paid his own bills. He rejects the more elaborate garments and shoes offered him. He has asked that people give money to aid the the poor and suffering rather than visit Rome. He has called the Church “to profess the one glory: Christ crucified,” for only “in this way, the Church will go forward.” In short, he has acted like a Christian.
Adventists have always admitted that there are true Christians within the Catholic Church. What if the Pope himself was one of them? What would that mean for Adventists?
A Sabbath Sermon
This week, Doug Batchelor, a pastor and media personality, attempted to answer that question, cancelling his scheduled sermon to address Pope Francis’ election. He admitted that the new pope “impresses” him, being “very loving, humble, and charismatic,” and “a man of the people.” He suggested that one cannot judge the heart of a man, and claimed there will probably be “a few bishops of Rome in heaven.” But naturally, his message was centered around another theme: the potential impact of this election in earth’s final days.
And that is where my sadness began to set in.
I have no objection to an Adventist pastor reaffirming the teachings of the Adventist church on “the beast,” and “whore of Babylon.” I expect that. And though I may be a Catholic, I converted from Adventism, and have never lost my appreciation for Pastor Doug. As a teenager, he was my favorite evangelist, full of warmth and humility.
But very quickly, it became clear that his recent sermon was no mere Bible study.
Early on, the sermon had a propensity for misinformation. “John Calvin was once a Catholic priest”; Pope Francis was “probably” named for “St. Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuits.” Neither is correct.
But it got worse. Halfway through the sermon, Batchelor raised fears about the Pope’s Jesuit background. He read excerpts from the so-called “Jesuit Oath,” in which, he claimed, Jesuits vow to “exterminate” Protestants. He mercifully omitted the most sensationalist lines of the piece, in which the initiate vows to “hang, burn, waste, boil, flay, strangle and bury alive these infamous heretics,” but no matter. The “Oath” is actually a forgery of the 19th-20th century American nativists; it appears elsewhere as “the Knights of Columbus Oath,” its various attributions betraying its contrived nature. In a 1913 Congressional House report, it is described as a “forged paper” so “revolting” that its damage “to Catholics in general can hardly be measured in terms.” Unfortunately, its circulation continued into the mid-20th century in among anti-Catholic groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
Pastor Doug continued reading passages from the Great Controversy couched in the conspiracist language of the 19th century “Know Nothing Party”: “The Roman Church is far-reaching in her plans and modes of operation. She is employing every device to extend her influence and increase her power in preparation for a fierce and determined conflict to regain control of the world, to re-establish persecution. . . .” (GC 565-66). In positive terms, Batchelor recalled an instance of anti-Catholic paranoia and mob action in the 19th century—the destruction of a stone for the Washington monument. He decried the fact that Catholics form the majority of the Supreme Court, arguing that America once “picked Protestant judges” because our nation “wanted to protect the Protestant principles of religious freedom and liberty.” (Are Catholics unfit for political office? Should we have religious tests for office in this country?)
He continued into still stranger ground. He saw the lightning bolt that struck the Vatican the day Pope Benedict resigned as a potential omen of the end. He speculated on future activities of Pope Francis, including speaking before the UN, and receiving President Obama in the Vatican, instructing his congregation to watch these events closely. He pointed out similarities between the Capitol and St. Peter’s Basilica.
Sadly, this was no mere Bible study. It never is.
When Adventists speak of Catholics, it is all too frequently an occasion for misinformation, speculation, and even slander. Sadly, after a few moments dwelling on the possibility of Francis’ authentic Christianity, a very popular Adventist pastor spent the next forty-five minutes showing seeds of mistrust in Christendom.
A Call to Prayer
I grew up with the same misinformation, prejudices and fears. But then, while a freshman at Southern Adventist University, I became fascinated by St. Francis of Assisi. In his poverty, in his innocence, I saw Christ. He seemed to embody my early suspicion that there is nothing wrong in the Catholic Church that cannot yet be corrected by what is right in the Catholic Church. Christ is still at work.
When I see Pope Francis calling Catholics to “embrace the cross,” “serve the poor,” and abandon “worldliness,” I am reminded of St. Francis. And yet, I have Adventist friends whose only response to the pope’s teachings is that “even Satan appears as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).
Jesus faced similar accusations. He responded simply: “If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” (Luke 11:17-18). No, I don’t think the enemy inspires the Pope to remind us that “God never tires of forgiving us,” and invite us to “never tire of asking God’s forgiveness.” Adventists should recognize Pope Francis’ words for what they are: profoundly Christian words.
We need grace. We need mercy. And the world certainly needs Christ. The reach of Pope Francis in one week of media attention is greater than the impact of the entire Adventist church all year.
What if, among the millions of true Christians, one could also number Pope Francis?
—Hugo Mendez, an Eastern Catholic, is an alumnus of Southern Adventist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Linguistics at the University of Georgia.
Since my first blog on HuffPost, "I'm a Seventh-Gay Adventist," my email has continually been flooded with people wanting to have a dialogue with me. People of all different backgrounds, religions and beliefs on sexuality have sent emails wanting to have constructive conversations on human sexuality and religion. Above all the other questions I receive in those emails the one that always gets asked is "Why are you still Seventh-day Adventist?"
First, let me give you a little bit of history: Seventh-day Adventism grew out of Methodism and the Millerite movement, dating back to the 1800s. In addition to anticipating the second advent of Jesus Christ, a distinguishing belief for Adventists is keeping "Sabbath" on Saturday. Adventists keep Sabbath more like Jews than like other Christians, and community around Sabbath is a core component of this faith. There are also quite a few cultural traditions—like (mostly) being vegetarian, abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, dancing, sometimes even caffeine and movies. It is a worldwide denomination, and according to USA Today, Adventism is the fastest growing denomination in the United States.
I have attended Adventist educational institutions my entire life, from pre-school to the university level. I was involved in Pathfinders, a spiritually based group similar to Boy and Girl Scouts with a spiritual emphasis on mission work. Music ministry is my passion: singing in the pews since I was three-years-old, playing the flute in orchestras and singing in choirs. I have been connected to this religion my entire life. It is more than a community of believers; it is my family. Yet, for the majority, my sexuality has severed my relationship with many of them both spiritually and literally disowning me.
Earlier this week my friend messaged me on Facebook:
I say this all objectively because I don't even consider myself an Adventist [anymore]. But I have a hard time understanding why LGBT folk would want to be part of a denomination that condemns them ... What's the problem with starting something new?
I've asked myself the same question for years. When I first came out to myself at an early age, I was riddled with disgust and hate for myself—a mindset that was formed from a narrative given to me by my spiritual leaders. Pastors continually condemned "homosexuals" and their "lifestyle" using phrases like "love the sinner, hate the sin" with an emphasis on hating the sin and very little loving the sinner. Teachers in grade school told me to act less girly to escape being bullied. A pastor at a local grocery store looked at my hand and walked away as I greeted him, shortly after my sexuality was common knowledge. I have many stories of constant marginalization by Adventist pastors and teachers. Recently, relationships have been severed due to my lifestyle and my advocacy for LGBT Adventists. Yet just as I identify with being bisexual, I identify with Adventism theologically and culturally.
I believe in the Seventh-day Sabbath as the day of worship. I believe in the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ and the great controversy between Christ and Satan. I believe in the gift of prophecy, and above all I believe in God's gift of salvation, mercy and infinite love. I know what I believe; I cannot simply choose a different faith any more than I can choose my sexuality.
Although it's true that I've been condemned, ex-communicated (although we Seventh-day Adventists don't officially practice it) and hurt by Seventh-day Adventist people, I understand that they are human. Truly people of any faith or religion will be given many reasons to leave at the hands of others. But shouldn't leaving and staying should be based on belief in one's heart and not solely on the words or actions of other people?
These past two years I've dealt with political walls in my mission to make Adventist universities safe for LGBT students. Many Adventists have used an interpretation of scripture to allow dehumanization and inequality of LGBT students. My entire life has been a fight for my right to fellowship with my church family despite my sexual orientation. Through it all I hold to this promise:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Although many hurtful things have happened to me, I've also had great experiences. The Adventist educational system has taught me to think spiritually and academically about my beliefs. It's because of Adventist education that I'm still Adventist. Some of my most respected mentors are in the church. My freshmen year at Andrews University, my spiritual life was revitalized by a vespers named "Fusion" that placed its emphasis on bringing all of the diverse nationalities and backgrounds on campus to one common ground to worship. It is the Seventh-day Adventist church that taught me about God's love and it is God who shows me love every time I'm hurt by other Christians.
Daneen Akers, a friend and also director of "Seventh-Gay Adventists: A Film About Faith on the Margins," was recently quoted by Believe Out Loud, an online network that empowers Christians to work for LGBT equality, elevating the people and places where Christianity and LGBT justice intersect.
Why should someone have to change their religion if that's the language and view of God that brings them clarity and peace.
Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13: 35). I had a chance to leave the church a long time ago. Even now, as my blog posts create waves in the Adventist church and I'm faced with losing relationships, my personal life completely torn apart by the general public, and even legal threats, I still remain Adventist. We may disagree on what the Bible says about human sexuality, but I still love them. When I was little, my mom would not allow us to go to bed angry at each other. Even through teenage years we would stop whatever argument we were having long enough to let each other know we love each other before going to sleep. The Adventist church is my family. So no matter how much people try to "other" me and tell me I'm an abomination—I will still stay. I don't care the consequence, I will not abandon my family.
—A student at Andrews University, Eliel Cruz is President of the Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition. This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.