On the Passing of Ervin Taylor

Dr. Ervin Taylor, the co-founder and guiding influence of “Adventist Today,” passed away on May 9, 2019, at the age of 81.

Most of you are probably familiar with Taylor, if only from his writings at AToday. That website has posted a good biography, and my purpose here is not to reproduce it or compete with it. I intend rather to comment on the underlying tragedy, not of Dr. Taylor’s death, but of his life.

Dr. Taylor’s scientific specialty was radiometric dating, specifically carbon 14 dating, which dates organic material based upon the proportion of radioactive carbon it contains. He had a good reputation in this field and, as I mentioned in my book, was instrumental in dating an important archeological find in North America, “Kennewick Man.” Dr. Taylor was a believer in the conventional chronology of human history, which posits that modern man (homo sapiens) emerged from preexisting hominid species in Africa about 200,000 years ago.

Sadly for Dr. Taylor, who was a life-long Seventh-day Adventist, that story conflicts radically with the biblical account of human origins found in Genesis one and two. The conflict is especially jarring for Seventh-day Adventists, who emphasize that God created all living things in six days and rested on the seventh day, forever hallowing the Sabbath Day for all people. The conventional chronology that Dr. Taylor espoused in his professional life also conflicts with the chrono-genealogies found in Genesis 5 and 11, which point to a human history of just a few thousand years duration.

It is not surprising, since Darwin created his theory as an atheistic apologetic, a way to explain the creation without resort to a Creator God, that there is no way to reconcile the Darwinian origins narrative with the Biblical origins narrative. They are two entirely different and conflicting worldviews. Bible history has its own internally consistent logic, as does the Darwinian theory of origins. But when one tries to blend the two conflicting systems—and thousands have tried—he is rapidly hemmed in by logical contradictions that require the deracination of one or both systems. The whole exercise is demeaning.

And yet AToday’s founding mission, or one of them, was to create an Adventism that would compromise with Darwinism and the conventional long chronology. In the quarter century since its founding, AToday hasn’t succeeded in that mission, at least not officially. Our official doctrine is the same; in fact, the wording of the Fundamental Belief on creation has been tightened up to clarify that when we speak of creation in six days, we mean literal 24-hour days.

AToday has, however, in conjunction with Spectrum and other liberal California Adventists, enjoyed some local successes, such as La Sierra, which became a rats’ nest of Seventh-day Darwinians. It has also been successful, at least locally, in creating an adoctrinal Adventism that revolves around large institutions, cultural affiliation, and personal relationships—and largely ignores doctrine.

I never met Dr. Taylor. When my book was published ten years ago, however, a good friend of mine was editing the online version of AToday. Looking for any publicity I could find, I asked him if AToday would review it. They decided to run two reviews, one by Dr. Taylor, who would oppose my creationist view, and one by Clifford Goldstein, who would affirm it. Needless to say, I was thrilled with getting two reviews for the price of one. As expected, Dr. Taylor did not agree with my take on the dinosaurs, calling it an “Adventist folk belief,” but he was gracious enough to say that my effort in writing the book was “heroic.”

As I mentioned at the top of this piece, the plight of people like Dr. Taylor is essentially tragic. They believe something in their professional lives that conflicts with their religion. Their response is to try to new-model the religion to alleviate the conflict. Thus tragedy gives way to farce. Their belief system becomes self-contradictory, and they become the adversaries of people like me, who do not want a religion of foolish nonsense.

Ave atque vale, Dr. Taylor. If I’d ever met you, I probably would have liked you, but that would only have made it more difficult for me to oppose, as I must, what you wanted to do to my church.