Hugh Ross launched his career at age seven when he went to the library to find out why stars are hot. Physics and astronomy captured his curiosity and never let go. At age seventeen he was the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver's Royal Astronomical Society. With the help of a provincial scholarship and a National Research Council (NRC) of Canada fellowship, he completed his undergraduate degree in physics (University of British Columbia) and graduate degrees in astronomy (University of Toronto). The NRC also sent him to the United States for postdoctoral studies. At Caltech he researched quasi-stellar objects, or "quasars," some of the most distant and ancient objects in the universe.
Not all of Hugh's discoveries had to do with astrophysics. He observed with amazement the impact of describing for people the process by which he came to personal faith in Jesus Christ. Some have expressed dismay but most have been overjoyed to meet someone who started at religious ground zero and through scientific and historical reality testing, became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God. He was stunned to discover how many individuals believed or disbelieved without checking evidence.
Hugh's unshakable confidence that God's revelation of Himself in Scripture and nature do not, will not, and cannot contradict became his unique message. Communicating that message as broadly and clearly as possible became his mission. He scouts the frontiers of origins research to share with scientists and nonscientists alike the thrilling news of what's being discovered and how it connects with biblical theology.
Between writing books and articles and recording the weekly television program Reasons to Believe, he travels around the world challenging high school and university audiences, churches and professional groups to consider the evidence for what they believe. He presents a persuasive case for Christianity without applying pressure. Because he treats people's questions and comments with respect, he is in great demand as a speaker and as a talk-radio and television guest.
A strange phenomenon you may have observed in recent years is the willingness, even eagerness, of our academic colleagues to affirm recent creation (creation of the universe, earth, and life in the last few thousand years) as the Biblical teaching on origins. On this issue they seem to concur wholeheartedly with a sizable and vocal segment of the evangelical community, but there's no cause for rejoicing here. The reasons for this concurrence are diametrically opposite.
Some academics find in young-earth creationism a ready excuse to disregard "archaic notions" about the authenticity and authority of the Bible as a revealer of truth concerning God and man. If scientific absurdity shows up on the very first page, there's no need to give serious attention to whatever other "myths" may follow. Any attempt to demonstrate that the Bible teaches a different view, an old-earth view that is scientifically credible and aligns perfectly with even the latest data, is immediately and often vehemently dismissed as propagandistic.
Other academics support the six-day story for its poetic beauty. They insist that scientific fact and religious faith have nothing to do with each other, that they can and must exist separately, the one as a matter of mind, the other as a matter of heart or intuition, and never the twain should be asked to meet. These folks, too, react strongly against any attempt to reconcile the accepted scientific record with the words of Scripture.
For years a Biblically and scientifically plausible old-earth interpretation of creation events has met with no less vitriolic opposition in evangelical circles, though that response is beginning to change. Some pastors and parishioners have come to recognize the "when" of creation as a peripheral issue in their relationship to Christ. They can reexamine the arguments used to support the young-earth position and acknowledge a strong case for an old-earth interpretation. But there are still many others who uphold the young-earth position as the front-line defense against modern (and postmodern) assaults on the Christian faith.
Reasons for this emotion-charged entrenchment are discussed in Creation and Time, a book written by Hugh; we will attempt to summarize them here. The source of resistance in all groups of young-earth proponents, however, seems the same: fear. In the anti-Christian academics we see the fear of having to take the Gospel into careful consideration. That's just too risky for those terrified by the prospect of peer ridicule and rejection, terrified to face the losses that might accompany a change to Christian values and morals through a relationship with Christ.
The fact v. faith separatists harbor some of the same fears, but especially the fear of "literal" interpretation and application of Biblical truths. Abuses of "literalness" may trample grace and truth under foot, but so does the utter lack of it. And yet subjectivity feels much more comfortable - and it's certainly more accommodating to modern cultures.
In the Christians who remain adamantly committed to the young-earth view exists a deep-seated fear that someday, somewhere, somehow scientists will discover some fact that clearly and irrefutably contradicts a scriptural statement. And then where will we be? If we trust science, we'll lose our faith in that moment. But if Biblical truth stands above all else, above the so-called facts discovered through the work and thoughts of fallen men, our faith will remain intact. (That's how the reasoning goes.) Science, then, is entirely suspect and may be judged as hopelessly flawed.
Sadly, with the slamming down of that gavel, the Christian community walks away from some of the most powerful faith-building tools available since the founding of the church. All the great cosmological discoveries of the twentieth century fly in the face of materialist notions about the infinite, random universe. On the contrary, they support the fact of a finite beginning caused by and guided by a divine, personal, caring designer, who exists before and beyond the universe. We yearn to see those tools put to use (see, for example, our books The Fingerprint of God and The Creator and the Cosmos), for we have found them effective, dramatically so.
But how can we open the door to dialogue? How can we appeal this unwarranted judgment? Willingness to understand and address specific fears is an important step, often a first step, in the long but worthwhile process.
With the first two groups described above, compassion, trust, and sharing of personal histories will be essential to exposing and breaking through emotional and spiritual barriers. Experiences will vary from individual to individual, but the antiChristian's fears are usually rooted in painful encounters with Christian (sometimes in name only) people. Defensive or pat responses to these wounding encounters will only heighten the barriers; so we must proceed with utmost care, consideration and prayer, not to mention humility.
These qualities are important in discussions with the third group, as well. In the case of these individuals, we can anticipate some of the most troubling barriers they face by reflecting on what they've probably been taught about the "dangers" of old-earth creationist views, and we can start by addressing those specific issues. The five fears we encounter most often are these:
Relief of such a fear can come through demonstrating that a several-billion-year-old universe and a few-billion-year-old earth are hopelessly too young to accommodate the strictly natural process assembly of even the simplest possible life forms. The difference between 104 years and 1010 years appears trivial compared to the approximately 10100,000,000,000 years non-theistic interpretations of life require. And that's not just the conclusion of Bible-believing Christians. It's the central point of several widely known, academically respected books by nonChristian researchers in a variety of relevant fields (e.g., Robert Shapiro's Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth, Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, and Hubert Yockey's Information Theory and Molecular Biology).
Beyond the origin of life, a comparison of speciation vs. extinction rates before and after the first human beings may help expose the limits of natural processes to explain the observed changes in life on Earth. The speciation rate before humans slightly (but significantly over the millenia) exceeded the extinction rate. Since humans came on the scene, however, the extinction rate has remained fairly constant (about one species per year discounting the effects of human abuse), but the speciation rate has dropped to virtually zero. What could account for this dramatic change? The best explanation, given the provable limitations on natural selection and mutations, is a divine Speciator intervened through all the years recorded in the fossils and then ceased to intervene once He created the first humans. (Does that story sound familiar?)
While it is true that some old-earth creationists deny the historicity of a literal Adam and Eve or identify Adam and Eve with an ancient australopithicene couple, many (if not most) old-earthers accept the factuality of a recently and specially created Adam and Eve. While the scientific record establishes the existence of bipedal primates as far back as three million years, it does not establish that these bipedal creatures were humans (that is, spiritual beings) and it suggests that they did become extinct.
Genesis states that God created only one species with body, soul, and spirit. Anthropological evidence for spiritual expression dates back only 8,000-24,000 years. (Primates' and other mammals' burial practices serve only as evidence for soul.) The anthropological dates are consistent with the best Biblical dates for Adam and Eve, specifically 6,000-60,000 years ago.
What is vital to the Christian doctrine is to know who created and perhaps something about how He created, but not when He created. This ranking is reflected in the structure of Genesis One. The text clearly identifies the who and some of the how of creation, but it says little about the when, other than to indicate what came after what. Some young-earth creationists express concern that if God took billions of years to create, He must be less than all-powerful. But the logic of this supposition does not hold. If a four-minute miler chooses to walk along a garden path, his speed (or lack of it) in no way reflects limitations on his capability.
Rather than denying Biblical inerrancy, most old-earth creationists appeal for uncompromising consistency in interpretation of Scripture. Paying due respect to the entire canon requires consideration of all relevant texts when interpreting a particular verse or passage. In the case of creation's time frame, integrative analysis strongly supports, and in no way contradicts, an old-earth interpretation of Genesis One.
At the second summit of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, the issue of the age of the universe and earth appeared on the agenda. Three papers were presented, and long deliberations followed. The conclusion of all the theologians and Old Testament scholars present was that inerrancy requires belief in creation but not in 24-hour creation days.
Creation and Time (Navpress, 1994), Dr. Hugh Ross's most recent book, addresses the creation date controversy from historical, scientific, theological and evangelical perspectives. R.C. Sproul, president of Ligonier Ministries, writes, "With gentleness, compassion, and scintillating logic, Creation and Time shines the light of revelation on the too-dark dispute between those who would banish God and those who would banish reason from their thinking."
The problem lies in confusing "science" with the facts of nature. Science is man's attempt to discover and interpret the facts of nature. Errors and contradictions are possible in science, as well as in theology, since human reasoning and interpreting is involved. But no possibility for error or contradiction exists in either the facts of nature or the words of the Bible. Both are perfect, for both came from God, the source of all truth, in whose character is no deceit or capriciousness.
That which is perfect cannot be inferior or superior to anything else that is perfect. Truth will always be harmonious and consistent with truth. No book of the Bible is more true or less true than any other book. Nor is any book more true or less true than the facts of the natural realm, which also emanated from God. When apparent contradiction arises, it's time for further study into both Scripture and nature.
Given that most young-earth creationists have been taught to discount science, a beginning dialogue about the plausibility of the old-earth view will go further if it focuses on Biblical rather than scientific evidences in support of long creation periods and an ancient earth. Creation and Time lists (and more fully develops) the following Biblical arguments for interpreting the Genesis One creation days as long epochs rather than as a span of 144 hours:
When presented with these Biblical arguments and evidences, some young-earth creationists respond by suggesting that only someone with a modern, science-trained perspective would ever see them as such. If that's the case, however, we would expect the early church fathers to be unanimous in affirming the young-earth, 24-hour-day interpretation. And that is not what we find. In fact, few of the early church fathers took a dogmatic view on either the time or timespan of creation events. Most saw these as a wonderful mystery yet to be unfolded. Young-earth creationism really arose after the King James translation of the Bible and a sequence of clashes between the theological and scientific communities that followed.
If and when a person becomes willing to examine the scientific evidences for an old universe and earth, the fun can really begin. A long and exciting list awaits. (Creation and Time presents a sizable chunk of that list.)
But what we recommend is to begin with a simple, irrefutable piece of evidence, such as the vast size of the universe, which, as mentioned above, reliably indicates age. The most distant objects in the universe are about a hundred billion trillion miles away. With light traveling at 186,000 miles per second, light takes about 15 billion years to reach Earth from these distant objects. And since we do see them, and since our distance measurements have been tested and affirmed, and since we can prove the constancy of the velocity of light and that the light actually emanated from the distant objects and not from some intervening point, those objects must really be that old.
Beyond simply rejecting such scientific evidences for a vast and ancient universe and an old earth, young-earth creationists have gone on to assemble approximately eighty "scientific" evidences for a creation date of roughly 10,000 years. If you have tried these on your science-trained colleagues, you have no doubt discovered (perhaps with painful embarrassment) that all these "evidences" are based on misunderstanding and error.
Please be encouraged yourself and encourage others, as 1 Thessalonians 5:21a says, to "test" what is taught both on campus and in church. As a professor, you are accustomed to having students and others test their ideas on you, and if it is known that you are a Christian, those ideas probably include views on origins and time scales. If every Christian professor were equipped and willing to discuss such issues, the damage caused on many campuses by the misconstrued "Christian" view of creation could begin to undergo repair.
Sadly, it is in our churches that the fires of the creation controversy are fanned most vigorously. Controlling the flames will require college and university professors to take a more vocal role than they may be accustomed to or comfortable with. Most Christian professors we know, especially science professors, prefer to avoid science-and-faith issues in their fellowship groups, partly to keep from stirring up hornets' nests, partly to keep from sounding know-it-all, and partly to be true to their quiet, cautious personalities. But the stakes are too high and the number of scholars in evangelical churches too low for even a few to remain on the sidelines. Look for opportunities to form teams in communicating with pastors and lay people.
Creation and Time closes with the call for a Council similar to the Jerusalem Council of the first century (Acts 15) to resolve the creation-date controversy. Imagine what could be accomplished if prominent Christian leaders, including seminary professors, research scientists, pastors, missionaries, and leaders of parachurch and missions organizations, gathered for deliberation on the controversy with the goal of producing a document similar to that published by the Jerusalem Council.
Just as the Council of Acts 15 made a clear distinction between the essentials and nonessentials of the Christian faith, so, too, this council could distinguish between the essential belief in c+reation, more specifically in Jesus Christ as the personal, transcendent Creator, and the nonessential belief in a particular view of when creation took place and over what time span. The issue of when God created must never again be used as a yardstick to measure a person's sincerity of faith or spiritual maturity.
To end needless division is a worthwhile goal in itself, but we are convinced that a far greater benefit would accrue from the work of the proposed Council. Evangelical scientists and scholars, set free to minister in Christian fellowships, could equip tens of thousands of Christians for more effective, fact-based outreach to an increasingly secularized world. By introducing secularists to Christ and welcoming them in our congregations, we could be paving the way for one of the greatest ingatherings the church has ever seen. God is giving us an unprecedented opportunity to fulfill His assignment, to graduate into His presence, and to witness the beginning of His next creation sequence when He will replace this universe with a new heaven and earth.
Reasons to Believe can be reached at P.O. Box 5978, Pasadena, CA 91117 or by phone at (818) 335-1480. It maintains a hotline for fielding questions on science, faith, and the Bible and providese free subscriptions to its newsletter Facts & Faith.