[The following was edited from a series of review articles I wrote examining Hugh Ross’s book, Navigating Genesis. The entire series can be read at my personal blog located HERE].
I have published a lot on the topics of Genesis, creation, and evolution since I began blogging in 2005. A number of my articles can be found HERE. I have also lectured on the subject in various venues. 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 Hugh Ross and his ministry, Reasons To Believe, 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 that favor Ross’s deep time interpretation of the book of Genesis.
Moreover, Ross and his associates like Kenneth Samples and Fuz Rana, are frequent commentators on apologetic radio programs and podcasts. They are often interviewed about the latest evolutionary/creation controversies on such programs like Stand to Reason and the Bible Answer Man. Their particular brand of progressive creationism and their views of Genesis are the only perspective many listeners will ever hear. That leaves a rather lopsided, and honestly, biblical black hole of sorts in their ability to defend Genesis. But is Ross’s deep time, progressive creationist apologetic reliable? Is it even biblical? And dare I say, Christian?
Navigating Our Way Through Ross’s Book on Genesis
Ross’s book, Navigating Genesis, is meant to be his attempt at integrating the book of Genesis with the current scientific knowledge that supposedly challenges the claims of the Bible. It is an updated reprint of his previous book, The Genesis Question, published in 2001. The preface states that Navigating Genesis is a fresh discussion interacting with the latest scientific discoveries that challenge the Christian faith. However, rather than accomplishing that stated goal, the book is a real let down. Let me highlight three areas to illustrate what I mean.
First, he ignores 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 remarkably improved this book.
Again the original edition was published in 2001. A lot has been written in defense of the positions of young earth creationism in the dozen years between the original and the new, updated version published in 2014. 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 six 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 oblivious to their existence. Granted, he provides references in the footnotes, but he never fully interacts with their objections to his position. And their objections to his apologetics are rock 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, Ross doesn’t even attempt to offer anything close to a refutation. What response he does provide is rather shallow.
Second, the only original language work Ross utilizes is The Theological Wordbook on the OT. He cites it frequently throughout his book for the definition of specific words. His appendix B, which is a breakdown of all the important Hebrew words in Genesis 1, is taken exclusively from the TWOT.
While I would certainly agree that the TWOT is a fine reference work, if you are an apologist writing a book length treatment advocating your unique apologetic for the book of Genesis, and insisting to your readers you alone have the correct understanding of the text, it would behoove you to expand your material beyond just one resource, albeit a good one. Yet he merely cites repeatedly from that one lexical book for the background to the OT text. That presents a problem in that the TWOT is limited in its scope. It doesn’t cover grammatical and syntactical matters of the Hebrew texts under consideration. A number of Ross’s assertion about how the original language should be understood doesn’t even take into mind those grammatical and syntactical nuances.
Third, Ross has a strident, unflinching reliance upon modern scientific conclusions as factually accurate. His dependence upon those conclusions provides an overriding authority when interpreting Scripture. However, such misplaced dependence 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 (many of them extremely dated), 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. He insists those conclusions should inform the Christian’s interpretation of Genesis, even when they drastically contradict the narrative of the creation week.
The Problems with a Old Earth Creationism and Ross’s Apologetic
Reading this book alerted me to a number of problems with Ross’s progressive creationist apologetic. Moreover, the attempt to synchronize deep time constructs onto the biblical text opens up some serious theological difficulties that leads many astray into heretical notions.
First, is the gross mishandling of Scripture on the part of RTB apologists. It is absolutely appalling, especially the book of Genesis and other texts that recount the creation event. 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.
Second, as I noted above, RTB apologists allow the conclusions of mainstream science to govern their interpretation of Scripture. The main reason for that is because they adhere to an erroneous hermeneutic about nature as a “67th book of the Bible” that is an equal authority with Scripture. They argue that nature is God’s nature (He created it, after all), and 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 Scripture appears at odds with that scientific “truth,” it is adjusted in order to accommodate it.
Third, their commitment to the “67th book of the Bible” principle is inconsistently applied. For instance, on the one hand, scientists will dogmatically insist that overwhelming evidence proves no global flood could ever have happened. That has led RTB apologists to argue for a local flood model regarding Noah’s flood. Yet on the other hand, those same exact scientists will also insist the overwhelming genetic evidence proves modern man shares a common evolutionary ancestor with chimpanzees. That is 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” subjected to the whims and fancies of men.
Fourth, their further commitment to the “nature is a 67 book of the Bible” principle results in their apologetics manufacturing troubling theology. A significant example 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 that those so-called ape-men are extinct, soul-less hominids that predate the creation of Adam and Eve by hundreds of thousands of years if not more. One of those extinct ape-men, Neanderthals, would be a soul-less hominid.
However, forensic anthropologists have shown a genetic connection between Neanderthals and modern humans. That, in turn, creates a problem for the RTB view of soul-less hominids. Young earth creationists have always maintained that Neanderthals are fully human. They 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. Instead of acknowledging what creationists have always insisted, RTB developed a stunning apologetic talking point to explain that data. They basically state that humans and Neanderthals mated creating hybrids. Their “mating” was sinful per Leviticus 18 and the prohibitions against bestiality. The RTB 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.
Fifth, Ross’s insistence that modern, scientific conclusions must govern our reading of Scripture creates an open canon. In other words, Christians believe God’s revelation in Scripture is closed. No further divine revelation will be added to the 66 books of Bible. However, insisting that modern scientific interpretations of nature is equivalent to nature as a “67th book of the Bible,” means God’s revelation in nature is continuous and on going. That is because modern scientific conclusions frequently change.
The biblical doctrine of general revelation is what holds men accountable to God (Romans 1). Ross mistakenly equates his notion of a “67th book of the Bible” with general revelation. But general revelation must remain fixed and available to all men everywhere at all times. Take his appeal to big bang cosmology as an apologetic talking point. If we believe the big bang model correctly explains how God created the universe, that means no one was aware of that revelation until the 20th century. But in order for general revelation to be meaningful with making men accountable, it must be known universally known by all men at all times. Modern science cannot provide that knowledge and so appealing to modern science as an interpretive magisterium over Scripture makes God’s Word open to any number of the changing views of scientific evidence.
So Is This Book Worth Your Time?
I am sure there are readers thinking to themselves, “Okay, thanks for the review, I’ll pass on this book.” My exhortation, however, is read it. Navigating Genesis provides a basic overview on how progressive creationist apologetics handles Scripture and defends the faith. Sadly, as I was noting at the outset, that perspective is a common one among young apologists, and we need to be aware of their apologetics. Believers should engage those arguments, offering a needed refutation in return. This book prepares us with that needed background.
Also, for those interested, Jason and I did a LBM podcast specifically addressing Hugh Ross, RTB, and progressive creationism. See HERE.