Until this month, a group of Seventh-day Adventist educators and pastors might have supposed that lava was only lava — the molten rock that flows out of volcanos destroying everything in its path.
Now they are wiser after spending a week on an island composed almost entirely of lava — an experience that can quickly make you an expert, especially when accompanied by a local geologist.
Seventy-five mostly European delegates converged on Iceland this month for a major faith and science conference organized by the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Geoscience Research Institute.
Event organizer and institute director L. James Gibson said the unique nature and beauty of the Icelandic countryside may have made it particularly easy to attract presenters to the European Faith and Science Conference in Hlíðardalsskóli, located 30 miles (45 kilometers) east of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. In addition to an enthusiastic and knowledgeable local geologist, 14 experts lectured on plate tectonics, fossils and the geologic column, and on practical subjects that directly affect the classroom.
Nina Bergene, a science teacher at Tyrifjord school in Norway, acknowledged that she had arrived somewhat skeptical about the conference but said she was pleased with the results.
“I wasn’t prepared for the high standard of the scientific data,” Bergene said. “I was a bit critical. But the way they presented the data and the fact that they are so humble when it comes to interpreting the data, that is very good.”
That humbleness was exemplified by Leonard Brand, a professor of biology and paleontology at Loma Linda University.
“If we had all the answers, we would give them to you,” he said in a presentation. “We don’t have all the answers. There are many questions. But that is why we keep doing research.”
While that is true for creation science, the same applies to the evolutionist worldview, Gibson said.
“The evolutionist worldview doesn’t have all the answers either,” he said. “Both worldviews have much to discover.”
Raúl Esperante, a paleontologist with the Loma Linda, California-based Geoscience Research Institute, took a close look at evolution in school textbooks and demonstrated how the teachings often hang onto old models not even recognized by modern evolutionary science. Noemi Duran, recently appointed as the institute’s representative for Europe, bubbled with enthusiasm as she shared how the positive values of a creationist worldview can undergird many aspects of learning in school, church, and home.
Suzanne Phillips, chair of Earth and Biological Sciences at Loma Linda University, dug down into molecular structure and looked at how the minute machines within the molecule point to a Creator.
“Every time I learn about a new process, I really feel I learn something new about God,” she said.
As a biologist, she added, “I have the privilege of studying about God more than any theologian.”
About lava, attendees learned that the way the molten matter sets as it cools can tell an intriguing story: Did it explode through the air or push up under a glacier? The cooling process leaves some lava plains very smooth, while others are bubbled, sharp, and rough.
Attendees’ days were filled with research reports, a discussion on radioisotope dating, a theology of creation, Q&A sessions, field trips, and devotional periods. Did the conference live up to their expectations?
“It encouraged me and inspired me to learn more about these things,” said Mark Szallos-Farkas, a Romanian teacher with an interest in apologetics.
Norwegian teacher Rene Havstein appreciated just being able to “talk with scientists and people who know a whole lot more than me and also believe in the Bible.”
Hungarian geologist Judith Horvat said she was grateful to attend because she has little opportunity for such interactions in her home country.
“I think it is really important to see that as a geologist you can be a Christian,” she said.
Sharon Sinclair, a teacher at Stanborough School in England, said she was delighted to have received additional scientific evidence confirming Creation that she could share with her students.
“God did indeed create our world,” she said.
Watch a video report about the gathering of 75 scientists, teachers, pastors, and church administrators to discuss issues of faith and science in Hlíðardalsskóli, Iceland, in August 2016. (Trans-European Division)
The Geoscience Research Institute has organized similar conferences in the past. Among the largest was the International Conference on the Bible and Science held for about 10 days in St. George, Utah, and Las Vegas, Nevada, in August 2014.
Arthur Chadwick, a professor of biology and geology at Southwestern Adventist University in Texas, who attended both the 2014 conference and the one this month in Iceland, said it was important to be “able to interact and discuss the issues openly, freely, and express our views.”
“This is without parallel,” he said.
Artur Stele, a general vice president of the Adventist world church, said he was proud of the church’s hard-working scholars and glad to see them share their research with educators and pastors.
The local hosts of the conference, three families who turned a former Adventist boarding school in to a retreat venue in Hlíðardalsskóli, welcomed the attendees warmly. After the school closed amid a changing education environment in 1999, the families volunteered their time and invested their own finances to keep the place open as a retreat venue for local and international groups. This was the largest group they had hosted, but they were overwhelmed with the thanks for the quality, home-baked, plant-based menu and the friendliness and care they provided — all with a smile on their faces.
“Where else can you go where you get totally unpolluted spring water in your taps, a quiet, stunningly beautiful environment, geothermal heating, and a relaxed atmosphere for worship and learning close to magnificent beauty spots,” said one of the hosts, Elías Theodórsson.
“I would not hesitate to come here again,” Gibson said.
Both in terms of learning and environment, the 75 delegates would no doubt agree.