Loma Linda’s Earth and Biological
Sciences Department Turns 50
Has only accredited Geology program supporting a Seventh-day Adventist worldview (Posted May 23, 2013)
BY HEATHER REIFSNYDER and NANCY YUEN
, Loma Linda University
he flagship medical and health professions university operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Loma Linda University, recently marked 50 years of a unique graduate program.
The department of earth and biological sciences celebrated the anniversary April 21–27 with events that included field trips, a ‘wild animal vespers,’ and discussions on both creation and environmental stewardship.
It was in 1961 when several biologists from the basic science faculty in the School of Medicine proposed a doctoral program in biology for non-medical professionals. Its geology program is the only accredited doctoral-level program that subscribes to a recent, six-day creation worldview.
CENTER OF ATTENTION: Loma Linda University students take turns being photographed with an Amazon parrot. The colorful parrot was present as part of “Entrusted: Christians and Environmental Care,” a symposium sponsored by the LLU department of earth and biological sciences and the LLU Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Studies. [PHOTOS: Nancy Yuen/LLU]
The goals were threefold: to prepare science teachers who were trained with a biblical worldview for Seventh-day Adventist schools and colleges; to develop a better understanding of the relationship between faith and science; and to provide basic science faculty members new avenues of research.
LLU’s Board of Trustees approved the new department of biology in December of 1961, and the first students arrived in fall of 1962 — all three of them.
Since that beginning, enrollment has grown 16-fold to its present high of 50, and the department now also offers degrees in geology, environmental sciences, and natural sciences. Students can shape their degrees to fit their goals and interests.
The department’s name has changed to earth and biological sciences, and its faculty are involved in research including studies on sea turtles, crabs, rattlesnakes, and venoms, and a variety of geology and paleontology topics.
“We’re getting to be better known,” said department chair Leonard Brand, PhD. “Students value our programs because this is a unique place. At many other schools offering these degrees, anyone who asked a question about religion would be laughed out, but at LLU our students can talk about anything and ask any questions.
“This is the only place in the world where a Christian student can get a doctorate in biology or geology and study under faculty who accept the Bible,” he continued. “We’re a creationist faculty. The students learn our viewpoint as well as secular viewpoints. They need to know what they’re choosing and why.”
Richard Hart, LLU’s president, said: “Though the department has changed names several times, it continues to train faculty for Adventist colleges and academies with an understanding of core Adventist beliefs about creation and the origins of this earth. Its current six faculty rely on other programs in the university for complementary courses and research collaboration. Most major Adventist higher education institutions now have one or more faculty who have graduated from this program, with a current enrollment of around 25 representing many international institutions."
The anniversary celebrations included a banquet on Wednesday, April 24, in the Wong Kerlee Conference Center of the Coleman Pavilion. Citations were given to distinguished alumni and department professors, including Brand, who is retiring this year.
Other aspects of the celebration were designed to bring in other LLU students and community members, with organizers seeking to reach out as well as commemorate. To do so, officials created the “Entrusted: Christians and environmental care” symposium, sponsored by the LLU department of Earth and Biological Sciences and the LLU Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Studies.
To the question “Why a symposium?” event organizers posted this explanation: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. When finished, God saw all that He had made, and declared that ‘it was very good.’ He then tasked humans—the crown jewel of His creation—to care for all that He had made.”
One LLU professor expanded on that thought: “Our department,” said William K. Hayes, PhD, professor of biology, “has a long history of contributions to the relationship between faith and science. In addition to serving as the concluding portion of our department’s weeklong 50th anniversary celebration, the symposium represented the second and more recent thrust of our department: environmental care and biodiversity conservation.
–VOICE FOR ANIMALS: Marianne Thieme of the Party for the Animals, Netherlands, answers questions about her seminar: “Advocating for animals: political action and the global consequences of intensive livestock farming,” as Ronald Carter, PhD, provost, Loma Linda University, serves as moderator.
Those who arrived at the school’s Centennial Complex to attend “Entrusted” paused to meet -- and take pictures of -- Zorro, a sleek black leopard. Zorro wasn’t the only special guest that morning and news that wild creatures were visiting LLU quickly spread across the campus and into the community.
Students grabbed time away from their studies to see the animals, and took turns holding a brightly colored Amazon parrot while friends and classmates captured their enchantment with cameras and smartphones. On Friday and Saturday hundreds of students, staff and members of the community listened to another parrot enthusiastically sing “Amazing Grace.” Parents brought their young children, who asked questions about a fluffy white baby barn owl rescued after it had fallen from a nest and baby opossums being fed by a handler.
Just past the opossums, an Egyptian cobra peered out of its glass enclosure, exploring every corner as it took in its new surroundings while a stunning green mamba coiled on a branch nearby. A popular display consisted of samples of medications and anti-venom made possible because of research done with venomous reptiles, illustrating the value of biodiversity and bioprospecting to human health.
“Through faculty and student research projects on endangered species in several biodiversity hotspots,” Hayes emphasized, “and our advocacy through public presentations involving live animals we are trying to get the message across that we need to be proactive in caring for the planet. We need to value all of the creation—not just the parts that benefit humans. Wholeness encompasses more than just mind, body, and spirit; it also includes the environment. Healthy humans need healthy environments.”
Recent studies suggest that Christians and those of other faith groups are less interested in environmental and conservation issues than the public at large.
“One of our main goals in hosting the symposium,” Hayes said, “was to stimulate discussion on how Christians can become more involved with environmental stewardship.”
Much thought went into planning the symposium. “In order to draw a wider audience, we felt it was appropriate to bring in external speakers,” Hayes said. “We wanted a terrific treatise of what the Bible has to say about creation care, and no one is better suited for that than Jo Ann Davidson at Andrews University. We knew of a geologist in Colorado, Steven Smith, who gives an outstanding lecture on mineral and resource use, which is a far more fascinating story than many people might believe. We had recently learned of Marianne Thieme, the charismatic parliamentary leader of the Party for the Animals of Netherlands. [She] converted to the Seventh-day Adventist faith after learning about our position on vegetarianism and concerns regarding humane care of animals.”
The Sabbath afternoon programs were available at no charge, and the Entrusted symposium concluded with a family vespers program, “Wild Minds: Animals that Think,” featuring live exotic animals.
-- with additional reporting by Lael Caesar,