Reasons to Believe or Seasons of Deceit
Dr. Hugh Ross, astronomer and President of Reasons to Believe, a self-styled apologetic ministry, has gained a wide following among Christians who are uncomfortable with young-earth creationism and is considered by many to be the premier defender of the faith in America. His books and tapes, boasting scientific "proof" of God and the Bible, are widely circulated among those seeking a rational basis for Christian beliefs. He is also the darling of a host of popular evangelical leaders, counting Dr. Dobson, Bill Bright, Paul Crouch as staunch supporters (he and his supporters cite this group's approval as evidence that he must be okay). This popularity is easy to understand since he makes Christianity intellectually respectable and provides weighty scientific "proof" for the truth of scripture and the existence of God. And, after all, that's what we're all looking for. Isn't it?
An objective examination of the "proofs" offered by Dr. Ross reveals that they are neither scientifically nor theologically reliable; and that claiming to show such proofs represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of both science and proofs on his part, and dishonors the God he claims to defend.
The proofs which Dr. Ross promotes consist of the application of current scientific theories (particularly Big Bang cosmology) to scripture to show that it is true, and that the elements of design in the universe, which are increasingly being recognized by all scientists (according to Ross) demonstrate that the Universe is created and that the God of the bible is the only possible candidate. However, there are two problem which undermine this thesis: science cannot prove anything, and neither the truth of scripture nor the existence of God are subject to proof except the self-authenticating work of the Holy Spirit.
Science, in its most basic form, is an attempt to understand how nature works. More to the point, it is an attempt to understand how God works in and through his creation (Christian theism is the only true basis for science). Since science, even as practiced by Christians, is subject to the fallibility and finitude of human understanding, it can make no truly authoritative statements about any aspects of nature, it can only describe and report on what it observes. It can predict the behavior of nature based on previous experience but cannot state with certainty why it behaves that way or that it must behave that way in the future (in other words, science is a faith enterprise). Therefore, scientific "laws" are always tentative and subject to revision or complete rejection, as the history of science shows. Only God can speak authoritatively about his creation and we must look to his word for that information.
Proving something involves subjecting it to a test which can determine if it is "true" or not, e.g., we prove gold ore by subjecting it to chemical tests. To be valid, the testing mechanism must be known to be reliable and sufficient (water cannot prove gold). To prove God or his word implies that we have a test which is known to be reliable and sufficient. The test to which Ross and his fans want to subject God is nothing less than the infallible, infinite, and omniscient reason of fallen men. The inadequacy of such a test is apparent, not to mention the blasphemous concept that the creator can be tried by his creatures.
However, Dr. Ross faces an even more daunting problem with his proofs. Modern scientific theory does not agree with the plain teaching of scripture, so he must correct our "misinterpretation" of scripture to conform with the facts of science so we can show that the bible is true.
Ross accomplishes this feat of hermeneutical legerdemain by promoting a theory of "dual revelation." Although this theory is not original with Ross he has certainly advanced it to a new level calling nature the "67th book of the Bible." He reasons (correctly) that "since nature and scripture are both revelations from God, they must both be true and they must agree."
However, he commits two errors in applying this principle: 1) Making General Revelation (nature) equal to Special Revelation (the Bible), and 2) designating modern science as the official interpreter of creation. Although they are both serious, the first is certainly the more egregious of the two.
First, scripture assigns no such stature to General Revelation, and such a view ultimately holds our understanding of scripture hostage to whatever scientific theory is in vogue. While theologians have historically understood creation to be a true witness to God as creator and sovereign, they have held that it cannot be correctly understood without the illumination of Special Revelation. The clear message of creation is confused (though not hidden) by man's sin-corrupted reason. The scriptures, on the other hand, were given for the express purpose of providing a "clear" revelation of God and our relationship to him. This principle is referred to theologically as the "perspicuity" of scripture, i.e., the truth is not hidden or mysterious -- it is plain and "clear."
Because scripture deals with the specifics of God's plan in creation and redemption, it must be clear in its meaning and message. Nature, on the other hand has no such function and has no such clarity. In fact, to truly recognize the witness of creation, we must first believe in the creator. Creation is a true witness of God but it is not a sufficient witness, as Ross believes.
Further, Ross' dictum that General Revelation and Special Revelation must always agree (which is correct) works out in practice to mean that the "uncertain" revelation of scripture must match the "certain" revelation of nature as interpreted by modern science. Ross will deny this, but in every case where there is a disagreement between modern scientific theory and scripture, he adjusts scripture. Notable examples are his rejection of the six literal days of creation, the re-ordering of the creation events, sickness and death as part of the creation before the fall, the creation and extinction of spiritless man-like creatures prior to Adam, and his rejection of Noah's flood as a global catastrophe, .
In each case, the only compelling reason to force such meaning on scripture is that modern scientific theory does not agree. Certainly, Ross claims hermeneutic and linguistic justification for his interpretations, i.e., the word "day" can mean "age", the word "make" can mean "cause to appear" (the Sun and Moon were created during the first "age" but only "appeared" during the fourth "age," but he offers no authoritative support for such assertions and is himself not an expert in biblical languages.
Ross also contradicts scripture in explaining the purpose of RTB. He claims that many "sincere" skeptics don't believe because they have legitimate questions about the conflict between science and the Bible. If he can show them that there is no conflict, then the "barriers to their trusting Christ" will be removed. This belief is based on a misinterpretation of scriptures relating to the function of General Revelation, and the clearly unscriptural notion that men are sincerely seeking God.
In justifying his approach to apologetics, he often quotes two verses: Psalm 19:1, "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork," and Romans 1:30, "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead; so that they are without excuse." From these verses, he concludes that men can come to a true knowledge of God if they just study nature with an open, honest heart. In fact, he teaches that we can come to understand the whole redemptive plan and purpose of God (excluding the specifics of Christ and his atonement) without ever coming in contact with scripture. However, a careful exegesis of these verses provides no support for Ross' claims.
Psalm 19 was written at a time when science, in the modern sense, was virtually unknown. They certainly did not posses the kind of detailed astronomical and physical information that we possess and yet David says emphatically that "The heavens declare the glory of God." Notice that he does not say "The heavens, when properly interpreted by modern scientific theory, can declare the glory of God if we receive it with an open, honest heart." No, the point is that the creation bears clear and unmistakable witnesses to its creator, day by day and moment by moment, without any interpretation or explanation. So why don't all men recognize this witness? Ross says it is because they lack adequate knowledge to make the correct scientific interpretation.
Ironically, the answer to this question is clearly given in the verses immediately preceding Romans 1:20: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold (suppress) the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be know of God is manifest in them; for God hath shown it unto them," Romans 1:18 & 19. These verses couldn't be clearer: the problem with "skeptics" is not that they don't have enough information or haven't correctly interpreted the information the problem is sin, i.e., "they suppress the truth in unrighteousness." They "know" God but are unwilling to acknowledge him and submit themselves to him as their sovereign creator. Instead, they make other gods for themselves gods of nature and gods of science.
Ross often speaks authoritatively on such topics as linguistics, theology, and history in for which he is not formally trained (a fault he often points out in others) . In almost every case, he presents erroneous or distorted data to support his unorthodox interpretations of scripture. While he might be excused for making mistakes in these areas (if his teaching wasn't so dogmatic) that is not so easy regarding the frequent mistakes and exaggerations he commits in science. These range from calling DNA a protein (it is an amino acid) to making up statistics out of thin air (your vision is 3 times better than people in New Testament times). These mistakes indicate either an incredible intellectual sloppiness on his part or a deliberate attempt to mislead his lay audience. In any case, he cannot claim ignorance since these errors and distortions have been pointed out by critical reviews of his work (the stuff real scholars rely on) by Christian and non-Christian writers.
Of course, Dr. Ross' antics would not matter if he did not have an enthusiastic, receptive audience which either lacks the training and knowledge to recognize his gaffs (if that's all they are) or which recognizes them but is willing to overlook them for the greater good he apparently accomplishes (he often touts the number of "skeptics" who have been brought to faith through his work). Assuming that his supporters are composed primarily of the first type, the question remains why Christian leaders who are well trained in theological and scientific disciplines fail to hold Ross accountable. Instead, they laud his work (in a panel discussion sponsored by Philosphia Chrisit magazine, even those who had strong criticism of Ross' mistakes prefaced their remarks with effusive praise, and gladly associated themselves with his work).
Their reluctance to hold Ross accountable on the larger issues is apparently a misguided desire not to censure a "brother" in public and so give ammunition to the infidel opposition; and a sense that even if he stretches the bounds of intellectual integrity and doctrinal orthodoxy, he means well and should be encouraged. After all, if he gives Christians the sense that their faith rests on solid scientific grounds (rather than "just" in the word of God) isn't he providing an important ministry?
What makes Dr. Ross' popularity inexcusable among Christians, especially those who are theologically and philosophically astute, is that his errors are not hard to see. They lie fully exposed across the landscape of his works. It takes a deliberate mental (and moral) predisposition to miss them.
The following quotation is taken from an article that appears on the RTB website. It is a critical review by Dr. Ross and an associate of a book by Dr. Russ Humphreys, a creation scientist.
"The one moral criticism which we would make of Dr. Humphreys' advocacy of his model, is his failure to heed the counsel of skilled Christian physicists in this matter. This is not a small criticism, for Humphreys' overconfidence in this matter has led to the widespread dissemination of a false theory. The inevitable collapse of this theory may damage the faith of many Christians who have leaned on it to reinforce their faith. The responsibility for such damage will rest with Dr. Humphreys and those of his associates who have promoted his theory, disregarding the expert counsel which God has made available to them. It is also possible that the widespread distribution and acceptance of his theory will have negative consequences for the credibility of Christian testimony to unbelievers (only if Christians promote human reason as the final judge of truth). Again, responsibility for this will lie with Dr. Humphreys and his associates." The Unraveling of Starlight and Time, Samuel R. Conner and Hugh Ross, Ph.D.
There is a poignant irony here since this quotation describes Dr. Ross' situation exactly. He has hitched his scientific and apologetic wagon to Big Bang cosmology. If and when the Big Bang is discredited (it is not universally accepted) or revised so that it no longer supports his system of proofs, Ross' entire apologetic will fall and with it "the faith of many Christians who have leaned on it to reinforce their faith." When such happens, "the responsibility for such damage will rest with Dr. (Ross) and those of his associates (and supporters) who have (uncritically ) promoted his (ministry), disregarding the expert counsel which God has made available to them." "This is not a small criticism, for (Ross') overconfidence in this matter has led to the widespread dissemination of a false (apologetic)." "The one moral criticism which we would make of Dr.(Ross') advocacy of his model, is his failure to heed the counsel of skilled Christian (scientists and teachers) in this matter." Dr. Ross would indeed do well to take his own advice.
As one observer stated, Ross has been getting a "free ride" to this point. It's time for his supporters in the Christian community, especially those with standing, to honestly "prove" his work by the reliable, sufficient, and greater test of scripture and the historic doctrines of the church and expose and reject it as the intellectually flawed and doctrinally unfaithful system that it is.
August 16, 2000
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