Let’s look at SDA doctrines and the religious language used to give meaning to Adventist doctrine. Here we will explore the relevance of the signs and symbols and their role in shaping our worldview.
To get some background on this discussion you may wish to read SDA Doctrines: What to Do?
Signs and Symbols
We communicate information within a construct or system by means of “signs” and “symbols:” words, sentences, etc. According to the discipline of semiotics, human beings are “meaning makers.” In the process of meaning making, linguistic signs, words and speech signify what is beyond their mere forms. That is to say, they have no meaning in themselves; thus the relationship among signs and their meanings is constructural and highly psychological.
Furthermore, when they are endowed with meaning, it is contextual. Words have different meanings in different contexts. Think of how many meanings words like “open” and “shut” have depending on context. Any image, word, or mental construct, be it story, or by arbitrary extension doctrine, becomes functional when a meaning attaches to it. A doctrine is not a description of the empirical world or even of a biblical message or idea; the doctrine creates the reality, or the meaning of a biblical text. If this is so, then linguistic signs can take on different meanings when circumstances demand them. This perspective on language is useful when we consider the possibility that doctrines may take on different meanings due to what they sign in situations other than those in which the meaning originated.
It is doubtful that form can be completely separated from content, so the formal aspect will retain some representation even though the content changes. Examples might include how the “fear of God” is never really lost theologically even though God is said to be a God of love; or justice is still demanded though God is merciful. A change in doctrine may be coextensive with a change of world views; from a precritical world view uninformed by science and history to one in which science and history play an appropriate role.
Insight informed by science and reason
Adopting a scientifically informed world view does not assume infallibility or a claim to know reality even though one assumes (postulates) that it exists. It is an attempt to make the best sense of empirical evidence within our scientifically informed construct of reality.
What we know of reality is dependent on the way our minds work to create a picture from the noise and unorganized data surrounding our narrow focus within a more extensive unknowable context. The scientific and rational mind is not perplexed with the resulting uncertainty because it is simply the case that with our limited brain capacity and focus we can know no more than our minds and our senses, which receive information, are able to process.
If this claim is the case, then the fundamentalist doctrine of revelation and inspiration which was formulated to guarantee the infallibility of the biblical text, but which also resulted in sanctioning an ancient mythical world view contained therein, will have to be transformed to make it understandable as theological imagination or insight informed by science and reason, but not necessarily limited to them.
Revelation & Salvation
Inspiration will define the creative spirit and quest of the human being responding to the mysteries of life and the world; and rather than being understood as knowledge attained supernaturally which bypasses the rational and scientific processes, revelation will be understood as embracing salvation, a perception of deliverance, or new life, rather than “new light.” Appeal to a supernaturally inspired revelation not only diminishes the human capacity for freedom but is a means of circumventing the hard work of reason, experimentation, and discovery. Because revealed knowledge is considered certain rather than provisional, no scientific or rational argument is allowed to be effective against it. It is immune to experimental falsification.