Monthly Archives: August 2021

Some thoughts about climate change

Anyone who visits Dutch museums that feature paintings of Dutch Masters from earlier centuries quickly discovers that many artists depicted winter scenes, with lots of skaters and others who enjoy the snow and ice. While many winters in our country now pass with hardly any snow, and at most a few days of skating on canals and ditches, there were apparently also times with “real” winters. Those who dive a little into climate history soon discover that Europe experienced a so-called “little ice age” from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, during which the average temperature in our region was about two degrees lower than before and after that period. However, as we also know from our current climate debates, two degrees higher or lower is enough to bring about drastic changes.

The “ice age” of a few centuries ago is called “little” because there have been much more extensive ice ages in the past. Science tells us that there were numerous ice ages in the past three million years. During two of those ice ages, the ice sheet also reached the Netherlands. The ice sheet carried with it an enormous amount of rocky material. From large boulders left behind in the eastern Netherlands, when the ice had melted again due to climate change, early inhabitants of the province of Drenthe built the so-called hunebeds, of which 52 have been preserved in this province and 2 in the province of Groningen. Around 3,000 B.C. the earliest farmers of this region used the boulders that came from Scandinavia to build their communal tombs–the so-called “hunebeds” (or: dolmens).

The “great” ice ages of several hundred thousand years ago, which left behind the material for the dolmens, were thus of a completely different order than the “little ice age” of which we get a glimpse when admiring the wintery paintings of which the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum has a fine selection. See:

I will leave aside for now the fact that the “great” ice ages are difficult to fit into the time frame used by the so-called young creationists, who allow at most 10,000 years for creation and everything since. I believe that we are unable to give a date for the “the beginning” of Genesis 1:1. But a visit to the Hunebed-center in Borger in the province of Drenthe makes it clear in an attractive–and convincing way—that in the course of earth’s history there have been enormous climate changes with very far-reaching consequences for mankind.

This fact places our current climate discussion in a broader context. After all, some climate changes in the past were much more drastic than what we are experiencing today. It also places man’s influence on our climate in a different light. How big is that influence, really? Are there perhaps also—-perhaps even more important—-factors that play a role? How much influence did the early inhabitants of the earth have on the changes in the climate that took place in their time?

I am a total layman in this field, but I follow as closely as I can the news coverage of the issues of global warming, and the consequences thereof that the experts foresee. I have faith in science and it seems irresponsible to close our eyes to the ever-increasing capriciousness of nature. The big difference between the time in which we live today and the time of the Vikings and the dolmen builders and other people of days gone by is that the planet has now become much more crowded. Today we have 7.7 billion fellow human beings. A thousand years ago, the world population was estimated to be less than 300 million. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the global population grew from 1 to 7 billion people! In addition, the large number of people who have populated the world in the last few centuries have used the earth and its resources in very different ways. That makes it very plausible (at least for me) that the influence of humans on the development of our climate is now very significant. And if we begin from the proposition that humans in many respects have initiated and promoted processes that, among other things, cause accelerated global warming, we must also be open to the idea that we, with more than seven billion others, can jointly do something to counteract these harmful processes. This happens partly through political will–national and international–but also through individual action. How much it helps we don’t know, but doing nothing is not an option for those who consider themselves stewards of the earth. And that is certainly the case for people who live in a country where the majority of the population lives below sea level.

A one-billion book project

I felt frustrated and unbelievably sad when I read about the plan to distribute in the coming years a billion copies of the Great Controversy by Ellen G. White. The president of the General Conference made the announcement at a meeting of the ASI—the independent organization of Adventist Services and Industries. The organization is known for its conservative tendencies, but has among its members quite a few people with deep pockets, who may be expected to make large donations to pet projects of the president.

It is no secret that pastor Wilson and a number of his strong supporters have a special relationship with this particular book by Ellen White. Her own instruction that this book should be distributed as widely as possible provides the marching orders. One wonders about the timing of this project, however, less than a year before the leadership of the church is up for (re)election. Do they want to be seen as the kind of strong leaders that make such daring plans? But, really, is this the best they can think of when it comes to letting the world know what the Adventist message is all about?

The plan to distribute one billion (free, unsolicited) books raises all kinds of questions. How many of these free books will actually be appreciated by the recipients? How many will actually be read? (And I am not just referring to the hundreds of millions who are illiterate.)

And, do we really want the entire world to read this 19th century book, that was written against a background that totally differs from today’s world. Apart from the fact that the book is very Euro- and America-centered, and does not address situations in other regions of the world, it also contains the kind of language about other faith communities (Roman Catholics in particular) that many would nowadays consider offensive or even hate-speech.

Do we really want to launch this project at a time when, more than ever before, a significant percentage of our membership wonders about the credibility of Ellen White as an inspired modern-day prophet? Will this one-billion-book plan not put further fuel on the fire? What does it tell those church members who have serious doubts about the ministry of Ellen White, that all issues around her inspiration are so blatantly ignored?

What does it say about the stewardship principles of the church to mass-produce such a huge quantity of books that results in an enormous amount of waste that will end up in landfills around the globe? Is that giving an example of a careful use of the earth’s resources? Going through with this plan could cause a terrible PR disaster for the Adventist Church. This danger may well lead many church entities around the world to be very reticent in promoting the plan. Speaking about stewardship: whoever will foot the bill, is this a responsible way to spend so much money? If the project would succeed, hundreds of millions of dollars would be involved. Millions of people, who live at the margins of their societies, could receive food and medical help if these funds would be made available for that purpose. Millions in developing countries could be vaccinated against Covid-19. If that were done, it would make me proud of my church!

It gives me some comfort to think that the project will probably fail or not succeed in the measure that the initiators envisage. It will be difficult to “sell” the project to the leaders of many of the “lower” organizations. The General Conference and other sponsors may also face much adverse publicity and even some legal obstacles. Moreover, the logistical problems are immense. How likely is it that the book can be widely distributed in large parts of Africa, China, India, the former Soviet Republics, the slums in the megacities of South- and Inter-America, etc.?

We must become much better in presenting our message in ways that radiate world-wide relevancy, and that respond to the needs and issues of people in the twenty-first century. Saturating mail boxes everywhere with an unsolicited 600-page 19th century religious book, that is mostly focused on past developments in North America and Europe, with conjectures about the future, may give a feel-good sense to the planners of this project, but will do little beyond that. It makes me frustrated and sad.

Why I de-friended Steve Daily

I remember reading Ronald Numbers’ book Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen White, shortly after it was published in 1976. To say that it shocked me would be a major understatement. Although I was not a zealous Ellen G. White devotee to begin with, I was not prepared for the revelations of Numbers about how she borrowed most of her “health message” from contemporary health reformers. Clearly, if what she wrote was the product of divine revelation, I had to seriously adjust my concept of inspiration. Numbers’ book prepared me for Walter Rea’s book The White Lie, which appeared some six years later, and for other publications which confirmed the fact that the prophetess of Adventism had been heavily dependent on other authors, often copying not just words but entire paragraphs or even more. But also in other respects my picture of Ellen White had to be adjusted. Historical studies by Adventist and non-Adventist scholars have shown that she was not always the nice, kind lady that I once thought she was. She was, in fact, a very human being, with many shortcomings. She could be judgmental, manipulative and downright unpleasant. And in many of her ideas she was much more Victorian and a child of her time than most denominational books about her life and work had been willing to admit. Somehow, I found this both disconcerting and a relief: she was not a saint but someone very much like most of us.

The recent book by Steve Daily, Ellen White: A Psychobiography, further completed the picture that others painted of her. It is an important book that cannot be ignored. However, I did not need Daily to tell me that Ellen White was far from perfect. Yes, admittedly, there were things I did not know about her. Some of what she said and did was not just uncomfortable, or wrong, but ugly. The book has (rightly, I think) been criticized for being one-side and unbalanced, but it cannot be denied that Daily’s findings are documented in great detail. However, as I wrote in an earlier blog, I found the tone of the book very unpleasant. I repeat what I wrote a few months ago:

“. . . what upset me as I read the book was its aggressive tone and the constantly repeated accusation that Ellen White was a crafty liar and deceiver, who enriched herself in very dubious ways and was a “con artist” in optima forma. I wonder whether those epithets are justified. Was she indeed the kind of wicked person who persisted in a life-long project of deception? I find that hard to believe. It seems to me that the book manifests a kind of aggressive disdain for the object of its research that appears (at least to me) to go beyond objective scholarship.”

Since I read the book and wrote these comments, I have seen numerous posts by dr. Daily on FaceBook about the topic of his book, with the reactions of regular followers. However, the moment has come that I want to say: “Enough is enough.” I have increasingly wondered what motivates Daily to write all these posts and to keep the correspondence going with many of his followers. After all, he has left the Adventist Church. He has established his own independent congregation. What then pushes him to continue to spend so much time and energy in his bitter campaign against Ellen White? What causes this obsession? Does he not realize that in this stage of his campaign he is no longer convincing anyone?

Over time my view of Ellen White has certainly changed. I have come to realize that many of the criticism from people like Numbers, Rea and Daily are indeed justified. And I believe it is high time that the Adventist denomination comes to terms with this, even if this may be difficult to swallow for many who have been indoctrinated in the traditional view of Ellen White. The more this is postponed, the more damage it will do, and the more frustrated many will be when they finally must conclude that the real Ellen White differs significantly from the picture the White Estate has promoted.

Yet, I am not ready to totally jettison the contribution Ellen G. White has made to Adventism. From whatever sources her information may have come, and by whatever processes her writings may have been created, and whatever may have been her shortcomings and failures—I cannot deny that she did play a very significant role in the founding and growth of the Adventist denomination. It cannot be denied that she greatly contributed to the fact that Adventists developed such a strong interest in health, temperance, education and publishing, with a worldwide network of schools, health institutions and publishing firms.

I do not recommend the continued reading of some of Ellen White’s books, at least not without some careful introduction with information about the context in which they were written or compiled. She was no expert in the domain of history or science, and was not a trained theologian. Many things in her books may be historically debatable or plainly wrong, and many statements do not hold up when subjected to current scientific scrutiny. Yet, it is a fact that cannot be denied—-and Steve Daily should be willing to at least give her credit in this respect—-that millions of people have been spiritually blessed by such books as Steps to Christ, The Desire of Ages and several others.

Having come to these conclusions, I have no further interest in Steve Daily’s continued attacks on Ellen White. He fights against a version of Ellen White that I have renounced a long time ago. There are so many others things I want to read about—things that may hopefully inspire me in my preaching and writing. Steve Daily’s constant FaceBook posts do not inspire me. They more and more irritate me. De-friending the author seems the best way to ensure that I am no longer confronted with them.

For the reviews, see e.g.
Alberto M. Timm,
Jonathan Butler,
and André Reis,

For my earlier blog about the book by Steve Daily, see, my blog of March 14,

80/20 and 90/9/1

In 1906, the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) introduced the so-called 80/20 principle. He noted that eighty percent of all possessions in Italy were owned by twenty percent of the population. Comments from various quarters affirmed that the 80-20 ratio can be applied to many aspects of life. Even today, Pareto’s formula is very popular. For example, entrepreneurs appear to spend about eighty percent of their time on the problems of twenty percent of their customers. Most people (myself definitely included) are among the eighty percent who only utilize twenty percent of the software they have on our computers. In the chemical industry, I read somewhere, twenty percent of the processes cause eighty percent of the harmful emissions. Of course, the 80/20 principle does not apply in all cases, but surely most of my fellow pastors would agree with the observation that eighty percent of the problems in their congregation(s) are caused by no more than twenty percent of the members.

I have known the Pareto’s 80/20 principle for a long time, but recently I ran into another interesting combination of numbers, namely 90/9/1 formula. One of the students I supervise in their MA leadership studies wrote about it in one of his papers. Danish IT specialist Jakob Nielsen is an expert on the usability of software and websites. In 2006 he published a book on the use of social media, and in it he launched the 90/9/1 principle. Based on extensive research, he discovered that on interactive websites only about one percent of readers post with great regularity and nine percent do so occasionally. Ninety percent of readers he defines as “lurkers.” They visit a site, read and consider what they find on it, but never respond by posting a comment or by contributing in some way to a discussion. He indicated afterwards that the ratio for blogs is even more unfavorable and is about 95/4.5/0.5 That is pretty much in line with what I observe with regard to my own weekly blog. My blogs are read by several thousand people, and the Nielsen formula seems to be a fairly accurate reflection of the number of people who occasionally, or reasonably often, respond.

At first glance, this seems rather disappointing: so many “lurkers” and so few people actively participating. But before I feel too disappointed by this, I have to realize that even in my own (fairly active) use of social media, I am mostly a “lurker.” However, this does not alter the fact that through my use of the social media I gather a lot of information and gain a lot of knowledge. And so, I may assume that a lot of “lurkers” who read my blogs and FaceBook posts are definitely interested in what I write, and are intentional in visiting my blog. The paper of the MA student I referred to above was about innovation in church work, and focused specifically on the use of social media by the church during the Corona pandemic. Many church services were streamed, or offered through other virtual channels. Often the number of direct responses was only relatively small. But here the Nielsen formula certainly applies as well, and we can assume that many “lurkers” benefited spiritually from these virtual services. That should certainly be reason enough to continue with providing virtual services in addition to the physical ones, which are now again available. After all, there is reason to hope that some “lurkers,” who were largely estranged from the Church before the Corona crisis, may decide to renew their physical ties with the church in the future.