Reviewing Navigating Genesis [4]

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The Creation Week – Chapters 3-6

I continue in my review of Hugh Ross’s progressive creationist book, Navigating Genesis. Again, my purpose in reviewing this work is to offer a corrective to his creationist apologetic that is adopted without criticism by a number of mainstream Christian ministries and amateur apologists who desire to defend the Christian faith within the general public.

I want to center my review this time on chapters 3-6. They are Ross’s treatment of the events of the creation week, and I want to review them as a whole rather than one by one individually. The primary reason being is that the material is so overwhelmingly bad, that in order to address it in full would require a number of lengthy posts. My goal is not to turn my reviews into a long, extended series of detailed analysis, but to provide a basic framework demonstrating that Ross’s apologetic is detrimental to a defense of biblical Christianity.

As much as I know there are readers who would enjoy reading such a detailed analysis, I refer them to works available online at Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International, as well as two book length treatments by Jonathan Sarfati, Refuting Compromise, and Jason Lisle’s Understanding Genesis.

With that in mind, these four chapters cover the creation week up to the seventh day. Chapter 3 discusses the beginning of creation which is Genesis 1:1,2, chapter 4 is creation days one and two, chapter 5 is creation days three and four, and chapter 6 is creation days 5 and 6.

Let me back up and provide a review of some of the critical flaws I see with his understanding of the creation week.

First, Ross has a strident, unflinching reliance upon modern scientific conclusions as factually accurate. I’ve made passing mention of this in my previous reviews. His reliance upon scientific analysis misleads him to an uncritical utilization of it as an overriding authority when interpreting Scripture. That dependence only pushes him into dark holes of wild speculation when it comes to reading the Bible and developing a theology of creation.

He cites heavily from a variety of secular scientific papers, reports, and books, because he believes they lend insight to how Christians should read Genesis 1. Glancing over his end notes, he uses articles published in Nature, the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Astrophysical Journal Supplement, Sedimentary Geology, Astrobiology, and Science, just to note a few.  While certainly it is fine for any author to reference such works if he is writing a book on the topic of Genesis and creation, the problem with Ross is his use of those sources as providing factual conclusions as to what we are to believe about the history of an ancient cosmos and life on earth and how those beliefs should inform the Christian’s interpretation of Genesis, even when those conclusions drastically contradict the narrative of the creation week.

Let me give you some examples.

In chapter 4, on page 38, Ross discusses how the Bible describes God’s spirit hovering over the waters in Genesis 1:2. Seizing upon that description, he states how that picture is found in other portions of Scripture of a mother eagle or hen using her wings to protect her young. He then shifts to the “record of geology” referencing at least four secular sources to explain how science confirms that the earliest life on the planet was single-celled microorganisms that provided nourishment for the oceans and oxygen for the planet. He believes those sources provide some apologetic nugget about how God cares for His creation as a loving creator.

Following up that discussion, on page 39 of the same chapter, Ross talks about what he calls the “moon miracle.” Appealing once again to the secular astronomy version of how the moon was made, Ross retells how scientists know the moon was formed when there was a planetary collision with the earth by a body at least the size of Mars. That collision, Ross confidently explains, would have blasted nearly all the Earth’s original atmosphere into outer space, while the cloud of debris arising from the collision would have orbited the Earth and eventually coalesced to form our Moon [40].

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Of course, that is entirely whimsical speculation; but he cites the experts who have mathematical models and he provides the numbers showing how that the moon just had to have been formed in that fashion. There is no explanation as to whether or not how all the life giving microorganism in the ocean discussed previously could have survived if a Mars sized planet hit the earth, but oh well.

Indeed, Ross’s appeal to the secular, scientific literature is rather troubling, because the way he utilizes those sources, the reader is left with the impression that the Genesis account itself would be unconvincing as a revelation from God. It is as if he thinks he is helping out God by mentioning how popular atheist, Richard Dawkins, is flummoxed by the appearance of life in the Cambrian explosion because he has no way to really explain its sudden appearance [59]. In some unspoken fashion, the Bible is supposed to be much more reliable because Ross has highlighted various scientific factoids pertaining to modern evolutionary theories regarding the earth. How could anyone have believed what Genesis was saying about creation before old earth apologists synchronized secular theories with the text?

Another flawed problem area with his presentation is Ross’s mishandling of the original Hebrew language. He is dependent upon secondary sources, and even then it is a limited source like the Theological Wordbook of the OT. Other sources noted aren’t linguistic experts either, but other authors and apologists who are also ineptly attempting to reconcile deep time views of the secularists with what the Bible plainly says in Genesis.

For example, Ross appeals to Psalm 104 as a supplemental creation text [31]. He specifically notes Psalm 104:6, which reads, You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains, and suggests this is speaking of the conditions on the first three days of creation. But a reading of Psalm 104 tells us that the Psalm is referencing the global flood as recorded in Genesis 7, not the events of creation. In fact, the same expression, the waters stood above the mountains, is used in Genesis 7:19,20. Here we have Ross taking a passage out of context and misapplying it to an unrelated section of Scripture.

He does a similar thing with Job 38:9 which reads, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band,… suggesting this passage describes the opaque enshrouding clouds that blocked light from the already created sun from reaching the earth, [31]. But, while Job 38 is recording God’s creation of the early earth, it is an inaccurate misapplication to claim the darkness covering the earth is a result of the light from an already created sun being prevented from reaching the surface. The two are really unrelated, especially given the fact that the sun light is not created yet.

Ross also claims that God, rather than creating the sun and stars on day four for the first time, merely caused the already heavenly bodies to “appear” in the sky by rolling the clouds out of the sky. He argues that the Hebrew word, asah, translated as “made,” is not a synonym for “create,” but is a word that means “made to appear.” He writes, “The Hebrew verb, asa, translated “made,” appears in an appropriate form for past action. There are no verb tenses in Hebrew to parallel verb tenses in English…Verse 16 makes no specification as to when in the past the Sun, Moon, and stars were made, [54].” He goes on to write that the phrase “heavens and earth” in Genesis 1:1 places the existence of the Sun and stars before the first creation day.

Ross’s interpretation of the fourth day of creation is not only a disparate attempt to explain away the text, but it is also dishonest. Ross puts himself forth as a champion apologist for understanding creation and the Christian worldview, but here he does a great disservice to anyone who would utilize his argument in a discussion.

First, the word asah, as it reads in 1:16, is also used in 1:25 where the text states, And God made the beasts of the earth… Given the context, it is clear the word made is a synonym for create. The beasts hadn’t previously existed and then were “made to appear.” Further more, 1:26 has the Godhead stating, let us make man in our image, or asah. Was Adam “made to appear” in the same way that the stars were “made to appear?” Ross’s view is akin to the heretical arguments of Biologos who insist that there were many evolved humankinds and Adam was a chosen representative, or God “made him appear” out of all of humanity. Given Ross heterodox teachings about soulless hominids, his interpretation of asah comes dangerously close to affirming Biologos’s heresy.

Secondly, asah is used in Exodus 31:17, For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, 2 Kings 19:15 [Isaiah 37:16], You alone have made heaven and earth, and 2 Chronicles 2:12, Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who has made heaven and earth. All of those instances are synonyms to Genesis 1:1 where it says God created the heavens and the earth.

And then thirdly, if God wanted to communicate that the Sun and stars were already in existence on the first day and that they appeared in the sky from the vantage point of looking up into space from the surface of the earth, Moses had already used a perfectly good word to describe such an event. Genesis 1:9 states, Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. The Hebrew word raah, means exactly what Ross is forcing asah to mean, appear.

This is a major reason why Ross’s progressive creationists apologetics are detrimental for unlearned, but eager apologists. Instead of carefully researching and staying faithful to Scripture, Ross has only formulated a strained proof-text for his problematic apologetics. He is not defending the faith at all, but instead has led his readers astray into gross error that when scrutinized, will only bring them embarrassment, placing a major stumbling block before unbelievers.

Reviewing Navigating Genesis [3]

scienceChapter 2 – Reasons for Resistance

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

turfwarRoss 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,” [19].

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,” [21].

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.