Reviewing Navigating Genesis [1]

genesisPreliminary Remarks 

I want to embark on a new blogging project with this post.

For sometime now, I have been reading through the book Navigating Genesis: A Scientist’s Journey Through Genesis 1-11 by Hugh Ross, founder of Reasons to Believe ministries (RTB). My goal is to provide a review and critique on what he teaches regarding Genesis, creation, and deep time over the course of a series of blog articles. I am not entirely sure how long my series will be. I won’t commit to a chapter-by-chapter review, but I certainly will work through the major arguments presented in the book from beginning to end.

With this introductory post, I’ll explain why I want to go through it.

Those who are frequent readers of my blog know that I have published a lot on the topics of Genesis, creation, and evolution since I began writing in 2005. I have a number of articles that can be found HERE. Additionally, I have taught three series on matters of origins, Genesis, creation, and evolution (one that specifically interacts with Hugh Ross’s progressive creationism) that can be downloaded from my other website, Fred’s Bible Talk. I am convinced that what we as Christians believe regarding origins is foundational to our overall biblical worldview and our apologetic engagement with unbelievers

For a while now, I have noticed a heavy dependence upon Ross and RTB among a number of online apologetic web hubs and social media groups as the default, go to expert authority when defending Genesis and creationism against evolution and scientism.

If one were to scan over the reposted articles at such sites as The Poached Egg, Apologetics 315, or the Christian Apologetic Alliance, for instance, the overwhelming majority are written by Ross, or RTB staff, or bloggers sympathetic to his old earth views of Genesis. For example, search the category tag “creation” at The Poached Egg site. All the articles that pop up addressing the topic are written by RTB team members or surrogate bloggers and favor Ross’s deep time interpretation of the book of Genesis.

Moreover, Ross and members of his staff, like Kenneth Samples and Fuz Rana, are frequent commentators on apologetic radio programs and podcasts. They will be interviewed about the latest evolutionary/creation controversies on such programs like Stand to Reason and the Bible Answer Man. Often, their particular brand of progressive creationism and their views of Genesis is the only perspective many listeners are ever exposed to.

I personally think that is a troubling trend for a number of reasons which is why I wish to offer some reviews of this book. I’ll note three areas of concern,

First, the mishandling of Scripture on the part of RTB apologists is appalling, especially the book of Genesis and other texts that recount the creation event. I will demonstrate this as I move through my series. Suffice it to say, RTB and their associates are essentially training a generation of apologists in sloppy exegesis that takes passages out of context and violates any number of simple rules pertaining to hermeneutics. Ultimately, that diminishes the authority of God’s Word, not to mention making those apologists to appear foolish to anyone who actually does know how to handle God’s Word.

Secondly, RTB apologists allow the conclusions of mainstream science to govern their interpretation of Scripture. That is because they adhere to an erroneous hermeneutic about nature being a 67th book of the Bible that is an equal authority with Scripture. Because nature is God’s nature (He created it, after all), it is self-evident and sufficient as a source of truth in the same way Scripture is. Thus, when the consensus of scientific researchers make authoritative claims about the age of the universe or the formation of the oceans or whatever, if what Scripture states on the matter appears to be at odds with the scientific “truth,” it is Scripture that is often adjusted in order to fit around that so-called truth.

That apologetic talking point of RTB can be inconsistently applied at times. For instance, on the one hand, scientists will dogmatically insist that overwhelming evidence proves no global flood could ever have happened, the view held by the RTB apologists. Yet on the other hand, those same exact scientists will also insist the overwhelming genetic evidence proves modern man share a common evolutionary ancestor with chimpanzees, a view obviously rejected by RTB apologists. Why is the application of their “nature is a 67th book of the Bible” hermeneutic appropriate in the first example about a global flood, but rejected in the second example regarding men and chimps? That clearly comes across as cherry picking what fits your presuppositions and makes the whole idea of “all truth is God’s truth” to be subjected to the whims and fancies of men.

Thirdly, because of that “nature is a 67 book of the Bible” hermeneutic, they believe general, secular science, represents a fairly accurate understanding of events in earth’s historical past. Their commitment to those conclusions often times leaves them no other choice but to accommodate biblical revelation to that misplaced certainty in those so-called scientific authorities. Thus, the plain teaching of Scripture is typically adjusted to account for the “science.” That, however, results in their apologetics manufacturing troubling theology.

One significant illustration of their troubling theology is RTB’s views regarding what they call “soul-less hominids.”  Secular anthropologists have cataloged the remains of a number of man-like creatures that supposedly represent an ancient relation to modern human beings. Hence, according to their research, evolutionary theory is affirmed as true. Ross, and RTB, on the other hand, teach those so-called ape-men are to be understood as extinct, soul-less hominids that predate the creation of Adam and Eve by hundreds of thousands of years if not more. Neanderthals, then, would be one of those extinct soul-less hominids.

However, forensic anthropologists have shown what appears to be a genetic connection between Neanderthals and modern humans. That, in turn, creates a problem for the RTB view of soul-less hominids. Rather than recognizing that Neanderthals are more like an isolated ethnic group of people who went extinct after the dispersion from the events of the flood and the Tower of Babel incident, what young earth creationists believe, they developed a stunning apologetic talking point to explain that data. They basically state that humans and Neanderthals mated and the mating was sinful per Leviticus 18 and the prohibitions against bestiality. Their response, however, creates some terrifically bad theology regarding what the Scriptures teach about the sin of Adam and the imputed righteousness of Christ to all humanity as I document in this article HERE.

I’ll flesh these points out as I move along in my series, but it is those areas of concern where I see a need to address this book.

Overview

Now, just to give a quick overview so as to close out this introductory post. Navigating Genesis is an updated reprint of Ross’s The Genesis Question published in 2001. The book is a study of Genesis 1-11 in 23 chapters. Topics covered,

Chapters 1-2 – Ross’s personal testimony and the reasons why people resist Christian belief because of what Genesis says.
Chapters 3-9 – An overview of the creation week itself.
Chapter 10 – A spiritual perspective on creation from Genesis 2.
Chapter 11- The fall of man from Genesis 3.
Chapter 12 – The Cain and Abel events.
Chapter 13 – The genealogies from Genesis 5-6 and the possible explanations for their long lives.
Chapter 14 – A study on the Nephilim in Genesis 6.
Chapter 15 – The boundaries of God’s wrath and an introduction of the flood events.
Chapters 16-18 – Ross’s defense of a local flood and critique of a global flood.
Chapter 19 – The origins of the nations and races.
Chapters 20-23 – A discussion about higher criticism, “creation science” (in scare quotes), and new criticisms of creation.

Three appendices round out the book.

I have to admit that I was expecting way more from this book than what I found. The only original language work he seems to be familiar with is The Theological Workbook on the OT. He cites it frequently throughout his book for the definition of specific words. I would think if a person was going to insist upon a particular way to read the creation account, he would do much more than cite repeatedly from one lexical source for the background to the OT text.

However, the real let down was how he ignored the apologists and theologians who are young earth creationists. In fact, that was rather surprising. I believe if he would have engaged their arguments in greater depth it would have improved this book tremendously.

The original edition was published in 2001, and in the dozen years between the original and the new, updated version published in 2014, there has been a lot written in defense of the positions of young earth creationism. At least three major creationist apologetic ministries have come to the forefront of this discussion, Creation Ministries International, Answers in Genesis, and ICR.  All of them have published some excellent material in both print and media content providing a sound presentation of creation in 6 ordinary days. For instance Andrew Snelling’s massive two-volume work on the flood, Terry Mortenson’s work on the history of early earth geologists, and Jonathan Sarfati’s detailed critique of Hugh Ross himself and the RTB apologetics, Refuting Compromise.

Yet Ross seems to be oblivious to the existence of any of those works and others like them. Granted, he references some things in the footnotes; but he either never fully interacts with their objections to his position at all, or does so in a shallow fashion. And the objections to his apologetics is rather solid. I am not talking about simple, “Oh, we could look at creation this way” kind of arguments. Sarfati’s book, Refuting Compromise, is a devastating rebuttal to the RTB apologetic. Other than providing a general citation of the book, he doesn’t even attempt to offer anything close to a refutation to any of his arguments.

My desire with my reviews is not to needlessly bash Hugh Ross and RTB. I don’t question his salvation, or that of his co-workers at his ministry. I do, however, wish to raise alarms to what I see is an a-biblical approach to defending the Christian faith and the creation account. I maintain that the secular, deep time interpretations of earth’s history can never be synced with what Scripture tells us about creation. They are two entirely different worldviews at odds with each other. Ross’s apologetic that attempts to marry them ultimately has a  deleterious impact upon the Christian faith and evangelism. The RTB apologetic does much greater harm for the Church that Ross and his surrogates believe, and Christians should be warned away from it. That is what I hope to demonstrate with my reviews.

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21 thoughts on “Reviewing Navigating Genesis [1]

  1. Great blog post, Fred, and I’m looking forward to the rest of this series. This is an issue I also feel very strongly about, after so many years. As one who came to Christianity from a secular atheist, evolution old-earth modernist background – there simply is no excuse for Hugh Ross’s basic reasoning that the Genesis age question is somehow any type of stumbling block to Christians, and that to attract evolution-minded unbelievers to the truth of Christianity means that they need this apologetic, his “reasons to believe” with an old-earth version of Christianity.

    It’s not surprising that he refuses to interact with the serious, scientific work done by young-earthers, and I have encountered the incredible scorn, even from a Calvinist church pastor who follows the Hugh Ross error, the ridicule of “those YECers” as beneath any dignity to even be considered or taken seriously –such profound ignorance and incredible hubris. The animosity I encountered was equivalent to the Dave Hunt style anti-Calvinist Arminians, regarding this issue.

    But indeed it all really does come down to presuppositions, and the “two books” idea (or the 67th book), the book of nature, is laughable. The same physical evidence can be viewed in different ways, based on one’s presuppositions: uniformitarianism, or the global flood (catastrophism). And once this issue of presuppositions is rightly understood, the same physical evidence gives even greater proof a recent creation, rather than the long, slow gradual uniformitarian processes of evolution/old-earth.

  2. Hey, Fred, looking forward to this series. Just to make clear I am the guy you spoke to from Alabama last week. Again, I thank you for you council on that.

    If nothing else good comes from that drama we spoke of at least my searching led me to your blogs and theological mind. I have learned much already.

    I have for quite some time been an old Earth creationist of sorts but only from the relatively shallow perspective of the layman. I’ve based this on my understanding of 2 Peter 3:5-9 and what is said in Psalm 90 about time being meaningless to an eternal God. I’ve always held that the six days were His days by His reckoning rather than ours. It’s how I countered skeptics that point to carbon dating for example.

    But as I was scanning through some of your other articles this morning something else came to mind: attempting to square carbon dating with the history of the Bible is to constrain God to the laws of physics which is silly since he created said laws. Just because the carbon 14 isotope decays at a measurable rate doesn’t mean that God couldn’t create it anywhere along that decay curve.

    May God bless your writings on this topic.

  3. Hi Rose, thanks for embarkingvon this project.
    I wonder if you have time that you can also comment and critique non-six day creation positions, which may or may not be related to the Ross view, that are adopted by a vast majority of Reformed teachers.

    For instance, i heard a noe retired evangelical Anglican Archbishop of Sydney publicly dismissing Answers in Genesis arguments on six day creation. The Reformed circle I’m familiar with are probably 75% for non-six day positions. I have even encountered not a few Reformed evangelical teachers and lay believers, who suport theistic evolution!

  4. There was a typo, my comment is to you Fred but it showed up as Rose. Apologiesfor any inconvenience caused by that.

  5. Good stuff Fred. I’m looking forward to your writing on this.

    I always find it interesting how Theistic Evolutionists will use the “uniform testimony of empirical observation” to trump the Scripture on questions of origins, but they somehow don’t want to go with the equally “uniform testimony of empirical observation” on questions surrounding the incarnation.

    I mean, why don’t they apply the testimony of “science” to the virgin birth? Or the resurrection? Walking on water? Feeding the 5,000? Turning water into wine? Spontaneous healing of limbs or blindness? Any of them want to propose a natural mechanism for any of that? Any of them want to face the reality that the unwavering and uniform testimony of all empirical observation across all recorded history calls every single one of those examples a blatant and unavoidable fabrication?

    Academic liberalism is the unavoidable cake that they are baking, but they just don’t want to eat the nihilistic frosting. For no consistent reason, they seem to try to hang onto the religion that they work so hard to rationally undermine.

  6. Interesting. I have moved away from a literal 24 day creation for reasons or re-visiting the text, so I wonder if you will be able to persuade me back again!

    I don’t consider old earth creationism ‘compromise’, as the text itself does not date the creation of the universe and earth within it (taking Gen 1 : 1 as a description of the creation of the universe, and the rest the formation of the earth). Does it really matter how old the earth is? Isn’t it a bit like arguing whether the millenium is literal or figurative?

    Considering Genesis is literal events, facts, couched in symbolic language ought to make eveyone pause before labelling any one interpretation as unorthodox. Literal may not necessarily mean most faithful. Genesis doesn’t cover everything, such as the creation of angels and the fall of Satan – this is assumed, and further revelation given later in other parts of the bible.

    What I would regard as compromise is theistic evolution, where God is tacked on to a system designed to explain the universe without him. I also think denying the direct creation of Adam and Eve in the image of God a compromise, the bible is very clear on that. Again, preparing the world for Adam to inhabit it may or may not have taken a large amount of time. 4.5 billion years is not the only alternative to YEC.

    Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.

    I do not doubt for one second the ability of God to supernaturally create the universe and all that is therein in a literal week; I’m not so sure that is what he intends us to understand though. That he created it all is an absolute non-negotiable, and maybe Christians should make more effort to emphasise this rather than differences of interpretation.

  7. I have moved away from a literal 24 day creation for reasons or re-visiting the text

    Really? What reasons would that be? The reason I believe in a 6 day creation comes directly from the language of Genesis one. There is no other possible way to understand the first chapter except that it is normal, 24 hour day events over the course of 6 days.

  8. Fred – without over-anticipating your forthcoming series, there were various reasons for moving away from the literall 24 hour day creation

    This was all I was taught, by faithful men whom I saw no reason to question. I realised this can be unhealthy if you are unwilling to consider alternative views as you grow in grace and knowledge. My reading on this used to be confirmation bias, with an element of group-think in that a woodenly literal interpretation was seen as the only viable one. I had to realise other views are not automatically compromise.

    Primarily I noticed the use of the word ‘day’ was clearly figurative in chapter 2, where the seventh day is not literal, nor the ‘day’ in which God created the heavens and earth. This would allow for a non-literal meaning in chapter 1, although evening and morning have to be taken figuratively as well. Creation was ‘all in a week’s work’ from God’s perspective.

    Details of the length of time creation took would be meaningless to the original audience, and must be a secondary issue.

    There is also the problem of other created intelligence (angels) and Genesis.

    The creation of man on day 6, and the events detailed in chapter 2 seem unnecessarily rapid if completed only in daylight hours on one day.

    I would suggest that when God created the various forms of vegetation, for example, he created the seeds, they germinated and grew much as they would now – over a natural period of time rather than supernaturally quickly. So I don’t think even a figurative ‘day’ is equal to billions of years!

    I have no scientific training, but am wary of dismissing it out of hand, in particular when done so by those with no real scientific training. I must add I don’t think this has unduly affected my thinking, but it is difficult to ignore it altogether. It s not an idol of mine!

    There are problems with any view of Genesis. At the moment I believe an oldish earth and physical universe, I’m not sure this is an issue of any great importance; but I do take the recent, direct creation of man and woman in God’s image as literal.

    I do not doubt that Genesis is true in all that it affirms, including the fall as the diagnosis of man’s condition. I’ve not moved that far away from my original position, and it is true that a low view of Genesis can result from or result in a falling away from a truly evangelical faith. I don’t think that faith hinges on a woodenly literal reading of Genesis.

    At least next time round, when God creates the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells we will be present to see just how long he takes!

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  10. Ken,

    The issue with the age of the earth has implications beyond just Genesis and the meaning of the Hebrew word for ‘day.’

    1. Since Genesis 5 and 11 have kept detailed accounts of the lineage and genealogies from Adam to Abraham, one would have to discount the clear amount of time that is said to have passed to accept long ages. If Adam was truly created at the beginning of creation as Jesus said in Mark 10:6, then the earth is only about 6000 years old by adding up the ages of the patriarchal fathers as mentioned in Genesis 5 and 11. Why would one choose to discount this revelation from God?

    2. Death. Genesis 3, Romans 5, Romans 8, I Corinthians 15 all clearly teach that death is a result of sin. Based on the secular timeframe , then the death and bloodshed of animals and proto-humans would have been happening of billions of years prior to Adam’s sin. This is incompatible with the teaching of scripture. The sin of mankind brought death into the world, and for this reason, God sent his only Son to pay the penalty for that sin. He paid the price of sin by taking on the curse of sin from Genesis 3 (thorns and physical death) and the curse of being spiritually separated from the Father on the cross (Matt 27:46).

    3. There are thorns in the fossil record. If thorns are truly a curse that came after Adam’s sin, then the geologic layers were not laid down billions of years prior to mankind by slow processes. The geologic layers were (as scripture would attest) laid down by catastrophic worldwide flooding as recorded in Genesis 7. Most misconceptions about the age of the earth can be corrected with a biblical understanding of the worldwide flood and its catastrophic effects.

    4. There are many other time-limiting evidences that are addressed by creation.com and answersingenesis.org. It would be well worth your time to take their credentialed and biblically-sound arguments for trusting God’s Word rather than the atheistic interpretations of origins.

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  12. ApoloJedi My views on Genesis have not changed all that much. I still believe in the direct creation of man, not in his evolution from earlier ‘versions’. In that sense I see no reason why traditional YEC is wrong.

    I’m less sure about the age of the physical universe. I’ve revisited the text, and tried to look at it without the creation/evolution religion/science dispute having any influence. Not easy!
    I’ve also been defending the truth of creation against atheists and agnostics on another forum (purely secular), and dealing with some of the objections, such as light being created before the sun and moon. If you regard Genesis 1 : 1 as meaning everything was there by the end of the verse, and the following ‘days’ as a description of the formation of the earth and creation of life upon it, some of these difficulties go away.

    Does it really matter how old the universe is? Does Genesis really tell us this anyway?

    One line I have taken with those who think science as disproved the bible in this context is that Genesis is not a scientific account, and therefore science cannot have disproved it. It is factual account, given in such a way that the original audience – and all of us since – really ought to be able to understand it. So many stumble over it very simplicity.

    I have read AiG and some other YEC sites on and off for years. I read and listened to David Pawson on Genesis as well. I was struck by his comment about not dismissing all scientific dating methods out of hand, which is something I have tended to do on the assumption such science was merely a manifestation of unbelief. This is certainly something that stops unbelievers even listening if it comes from popularisers such as Ken Ham, or others with no scientific training at all. This shows a certain lack of wisdom in my opinion.

  13. Ken,

    What are your thoughts about Jesus’ words in Mark 10 about man and woman being created at the beginning of creation?

    For me, looking at the timeline proposed by Ross and atheists that has billions of years prior to the creation of mankind contradicts sharply with Jesus’ words. Therefore, this timeline can be disregarded as unbiblical.

    I agree that the Biblical text is not a scientific one, but it is a historical one. So, if scientific paradigms contradict with the historical revelation from God, then I will question the scientific interpretation before I question God’s revelation. In much the same way that I do not question the historical revelation of the parting of the Red Sea, or the virgin birth, or the resurrection. All of these things are scientifically impossible without supernatural intervention.

  14. AJ – I think the Mark reference specifically relates to the creation of mankind as male and female – it is about the institution of marriage and the disputes about divorce. So I would agree with a young date for the creation of man, but am not so sure this has much bearing on what happened prior to this. It would still allow for creation of the physical universe and preparation of the earth for habitation of life to be at and over an unspecified time prior to this, which is one way of interpreting Genesis 1. This unspecified time does not necessarily have to be billions of years, nor the literal 24 hour day interpretation.

  15. Fred – Thanks for the link which I did read. I don’t see very much conflict between OEC and YEC as outlined there when compared to theistic evolution. This latter, imo, is a contradiction in terms. Evolution is an explanation of the universe without God, so why God would choose a method of creation and forming the world that hides his existence is a mystery to me, as is why Christians would want to believe it. The heavens are telling the glory of God …

    The main argument between old and young creationists seems essentially to be literal versus more figurative understanding of scripture, rather than the authority of scripture itself. Was the serpent of Gen 3 literal or figurative? Or in some sense both?

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