I am doing a review and critique of Hugh Ross’s progressive creationist book, Navigating Genesis. Introductory post can be read HERE.
With chapter 2, before he delves into his study of the creation week, Ross attempts to identify obstructions many have to the Christian faith that pertains to the book of Genesis. One of the key objections he hears frequently when he interacts with non-Christians is that the book of Genesis is unscientific. People will skeptically ask, “Why should I believe the message of a book that at the start contradicts the known facts of science?”
Ross then highlights four creation models that have been developed by believers and unbelievers alike in order to answer that objection.
First is a separatist model that says science and Scripture are completely independent of one another. Stephen Gould’s philosophy of non-overlapping magisteria is probably the most notable example.
Second is a conflict model, or the idea that science and Scripture are in direct opposition to one another and can never be reconciled. Atheist Richard Dawkins is a proponent of this model. He says that because religion makes existence claims, that obviously means scientific claims, and because religion is wrong about science, it is ultimately wrong about our existence. It then cannot be trusted and should be rejected.
Third is a complementary model that says science and Scripture compliment each other. Generally, those who hold to theistic evolutionary beliefs will utilize this model.
Fourth, is a constructive integration model, also called concordism. It states that both the words of the Bible and the record of nature provide trustworthy and reliable revelation from God. Ross and his apologetic crew would fancy themselves as constructive integrationists.
After discussing the models, Ross further explains how he has identified additional forces he says is working to sustain separatism between science and faith. Ultimately it is a “turf war,” writes Ross, that erupted a few centuries ago when scientific specialists and biblical specialists were competing to establish the ownership of truth.
First is a database difference. The canon of Scripture was completed at the end of the first century and is now a closed database, whereas the database of science is always growing with the inclusion of new discoveries. Second is the isolation of specialization, in which scholars who specialize in the various sciences remain isolated from those scholars who specialize in biblical studies and theology. And then third is the intellectual resistance people have to what Genesis records and what it tells us about reality.
By identifying those obstacles, Ross is hoping that the remainder of his book will help tear down any mistrust anyone has in Scripture.
Review and Critique
Ross is partially correct when he writes that the battle between Christian faith and so-called science is a “turf war” between specialists for the ownership of truth. Where he is mistaken is that this war did not erupt only a few centuries ago around the time of the Renaissance and Reformation, but it is a battle that began as soon as Satan asked Eve, “Yea, hath God said?”
According to Ross, unbelievers cite intellectual problems they have with Genesis as one of the motivating factors why they reject Christian faith. People regularly ask him why they should believe the message of a book that contradicts the known facts of science right from the start. He even notes how “new atheists” and popular skeptics like Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris openly mock the book of Genesis in their talks and written materials.Their widespread appeal and intelligent articulation of their views is compelling argumentation with audiences who are largely ignorant of what Scripture teaches. But is that entirely accurate?
I’ll outline a few problems I have with his thesis regarding the unbeliever’s resistance to truth.
First, skeptics of the Christian faith are not hostile to Christianity because they have an intellectual problem attempting to reconcile alleged contradictions between modern science and the Genesis record. They are hostile to the Christianity because they are sinners who have a moral problem with their creator. That is what the Bible clearly teaches throughout its pages, for example Romans 3:9ff., 8:7,8; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Ephesians 2:1-3, 4:18,19.
Ross, and his RTB gang of apologists, could provide all sorts of airtight responses that soundly answer all the objections of a skeptic, but that skeptic will still find something to be skeptical about. As much as he wishes to think he is removing stumbling blocks to faith with his apologetic, it is doing no such thing. The skeptic’s problem is a rebellion against God problem and only a supernatural work of God can change that.
Second, a so-called “turf war” between Christians and skeptics vying for ownership of truth didn’t first appear just a few hundred years ago. Skeptics challenging biblical truth have existed since the world began. In fact, the NT church was forged in a crucible that involved refuting challenges to their faith, even during the time of the apostles. Consider that by the end of the first century AD, early Christian apologists began writing against skeptical Jews like Trypho and hostile, non-religious sectarians like Porphyry.
By the end of the first millennium, Christians were interacting with Muslim critics, and by the time of the Reformation, Roman Catholic apologists threatened the claims of sola scriptura and the other theological truths the Reformers were proclaiming. The challengers from the so-called scientific realm really didn’t come around until the last two hundred years or so, and they stand at the end of a long, long line of other sundry cranks. In all of those instances Christians interacted with skeptics long before the science specialists came on the scene, and none of them took Ross’s approach of constructively integrating the truth of Christianity with perceived “truth” found in their challenges.
Third, one may object that what Ross has in mind with “constructive integration” is specifically identifying truth from specialists who deal in the science pertaining to nature, or God’s creation. Seeing that Scripture speaks of nature telling forth God’s existence, it is entirely appropriate to apply constructive integration between those two areas.
Ross claims the Belgic Confession even confirms his constructive integrationist model. He writes, “Article 2…states that both the words of the Bible and the record of nature provide trustworthy and reliable revelation from God, giving testimony to God’s attributes and handiwork,” .
However, he is overreaching.The entire article from the confession states,
Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God
We know him by two means:
First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.
All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse.
Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.
Reading article 2 carefully, it is saying that God is known by His creation, which would be the nature part. That is standard orthodoxy with regards to general revelation. But that is not what he has in mind exactly.
Ross tends to overemphasize the importance of nature as a revelation for God, conflating it with the modern views of the specialists. For example, because cosmologists say the universe is billions of years old or geologists claim a global, Noahic flood could never have happened, those positions are considered to be legitimate revelation regarding nature. Hence, the biblical record has to be accommodated to explain that “revelation.” That is not what article 2 of the Belgic Confession, or any historic confession for that matter, is saying about general revelation.
What Ross is saying represents the so-called revelation of nature is really man’s interpretation of the nature, and interpretations that have only existed for as little as half a century or so. Such knowledge is not only questionable as legitimate, but it has not been accessible to all men at all times, a crucial component to general revelation.
Additionally, I take his unquestioned confidence in the findings of those specialists to be a major weakness for his apologetic. It is as if he just assumes all of them are biased-free and reporting their findings honestly. In many cases, they are not; but they have a significant agenda to promote. Any attempt to constructively integrate biblical truth with what Ross has mistakenly identified as the “truth” of nature is a major compromise that has manufactured a hybrid view that is comprised of truth, partial truth, and maybe even intentional lies.
Fourth, Ross has something of a troubling, continuationist view of natural revelation. He writes,
“The biblical canon…has been completed since the first century…AD. In the sciences, the databases never stops growing and in some cases doubles within a decade or less. Because scientists’ aim is to break new ground and replace old understandings with new ones, science claims exclusive rights to tell the unfolding story of what really happened,” .
He goes on to suggest there may be some instances when misinterpretations of texts need to be revised due in part to these new discoveries in nature.
That is an extremely dangerous position to hold with regards to revelation, and in my mind, it is the most disturbing area of Ross’s apologetic. He essentially places God’s special revelation of Scripture in conflict against the general revelation of nature. Whereas the special revelation of Scripture is fixed and unchanging, according to Ross, general revelation is fluid and can change every year depending upon what specialists discover. Not only that, those new discoveries can influence how Christians interpreted Scripture for centuries.
I am left wondering if he is aware of the significant inconsistency he has created? If new discoveries within general revelation can revise interpretations regarding special revelation, then what exactly were generations of Christians believing before those discoveries? They taught a view of Scripture according to what was a normal, exegetical interpretation of a text that is now overturned due to a discovery by specialists in a field of study. If this is the case, God’s revelation is in conflict with itself. How can Christians be certain that what they teach from Scripture today will not change next week depending upon something supposedly added to the database in nature?
Ironically, this continuationists, neo-orthodox apologetic of God’s revelation unintentionally creates a separation between biblical authority and nature’s “authority,” the very kind of separation Ross is attempting to bridge with his book. We will see it play out again and again as I work through his book.