A book review of A Matter of Days, by Dr Hugh Ross.
Often people are caught between two choices, or the horns of a dilemma. Should we have the soup or the salad? Should we get an android or a smartphone? A bit weightier of a matter, should we trust the findings of science, or the creation account in the Bible!?
Sports fans can usually divide gently over their favourite teams and one can usually move on with life if they regret getting the salad instead of the soup, at a restaurant. But the relationship between our faith and science tends to get a bit more heated, we tend to be defensive about our beliefs as we often identify very personally with them, especially when they are to do with protecting matters pertaining to our respective holy texts.
Astronomer and apologist, founder of Reasons to Believe, has written a second and expanded edition to ‘A Matter of Days.” He has subtitled it, “Resolving a Creation Controversy,” and even though I admire the author and enjoyed the book, I personally doubt this book resolved the issue, but I do believe the author, Hugh Ross, has shed valuable light on this debate and has sincerely attempted to extinguish much of the heat generated in Christian circles, by treating it as a soup or salad issue, and is emphatic this is non-essential to our faith.
While I agree with Dr Ross, that this is not a salvation issue, what I have come to see this debate as an evangelism/biblical inerrancy issue. Two main questions that need answering are:
1. Was the Bible written to correspond with the world it was written in?
2. Which is the corrective and which is the corrected, science or scripture?
In the chapter titled, “The Clouds Burst,” Ross recognizes this very problem. He notes that the outspokenness of the young earth camp has resulted in many holding to the notion that belief in a young creation is the norm for Christianity. It is difficult to ask someone to abandon, as a belief, what is to a high degree of probability true, in exchange for believing what appears to contradict.
The question I raise, for myself, is, “Why should we submit our lives to the morality of the Bible if what it says is not factually true?” Dr Ross brings up his own conversion story where he evaluated the truth claims of various holy texts, keeping in mind that error would be the signature of human rather than divine authorship.
Reasons to Believe holds to a strict doctrine of inerrancy, that the Bible is inerrant, and their staff members are required to sign statements agreeing to this. Does this book maintain that spirit?
The main premises that Dr Ross maintains throughout this book, and in his ministry of reconciling science with faith are:
1. Science is the study of nature.
2. Theology is the study of, in this case, the Bible.
3. The record of nature is complete and inerrant.
4. Scripture is complete and inerrant.
5. Therefore, any tension between nature and science, as far as our understanding goes, is apparent and not actual.
To better understand p3&4, one should understand that we live in a theory laden universe and our ideas about it are not yet, if ever, complete; nor are our ideas, creeds and so forth, which codify scripture. A better understanding of both, however, will shed light on the other and our ideas will become more complete.
AN INFORMED CHOICE
Dr Ross leaves room for revision in our understanding of both science and our theology, and never underplays the fact science is a self correcting discipline, not letting the science of Biblical hermeneutics off the same hook, he is emphatic that our interpretations need to be informed. He does, however, acknowledge that there are main and plain items which are not up for negotiation. We would not consider the belief in the incarnation as one that could be moved, such items are core to Christianity and without them we would be left with something other than Christianity. In Chapter 6, Ross suggests the reason why some issues are more hazy in the Bible, while others are crystal clear, is because there are some ideas which the Bible is actively seeking to convey and the exact age of the earth is not necessarily one of them. While all the Bible contains is truth, it does not contain all the truth in the world. (John 21:25). What we need to determine, in this case, may not be what the Bible is actively teaching, but what the Bible allows for. Is an Old Earth (4.567b years) compatible with the Biblical account?
Dr Ross dispels many bad arguments brought forth by young earth creationists (YEC’s) which I hope to see them abandon. The arguments used, all too often, in an attempt to sweep this discussion under the table by YEC’s hardly foster any meaningful discussion and only serve as an attempt to exalt the YEC interpretation over competing ideas.
These arguments, for example are:
1. There is some sort of conspiracy to cover up the truth about the age of the earth by a great majority of scientists.
In response to this, Dr Ross notes that there is too much of a tendency in scientific communities to foster this type of cooperation. If a scientist puts themselves in allegiance with what is popular, there is little room for growth in discovery and innovation. If there was a great deal of overwhelming yet clandestine evidence for a young creation, surely it would be a great opportunity to be known for one’s work if it were made widely known in a reputable journal. I also find this to be questioning the character of the many, without warrant, merely to uphold a particular view.
2. A belief in an old creation necessitates belief in evolution.
In response to this, while it is true that evolution requires an old creation, the belief that creation is old does not necessitate a belief in evolution. Dr Ross notes, in the chapter titled “Young-Earth Darwinism,” Ross argues that for evolution to take place, especially after each mass extinction period, which is agreed upon by even the secular community, much more time is required, especially given the fact that evolution is a trial and error process which has no end goal “in mind.” Evolution predicts that we should find billions of extant fossils of evolutions failed test subjects, which we do not. The YEC community can breathe easy, knowing evolution is not a corollary of Old Earth Creationism, (OEC).
3. Leading from 2, often the OEC community is charged with biblical compromise, in accommodating an older creation, but as we can see argued in this book “compromising” on the evolution issue is not always the case. Also, in evangelism, it is important to compromise with even secularists on matters of truth and find the points of contact that will allow them to be receptive to the gospel.
4. Were you there? Who should we trust, the fallible words of man or the inerrant word of God?
While this passionate concern is respectable, it fails to take into consideration that while we were not present at the creation moment, we are present day observers of it and can observe the universes expansion and measure its known size and come up with excellent estimates of its age. There are other inductive tools that Dr Ross discusses, such as carbon dating and an entire chapter is dedicated to this subject, which helps clear up some of the controversy about this method of dating.
One should also note that to be so agnostic about the nature of the reality we live in requires we be equally agnostic about our interpretation of the Bible, given that both involve interpreting a body of data, as previously mentioned.
5. This position is nothing but an attempt to reconcile modern science with the Bible.
This charge can be brought up by both YEC’s and atheists, alike. YEC’s who see modern science as incompatible with the Bible and atheists who see it the exact way, but disagree on which body of knowledge is true. In the chapter titled, “Wisdom of the Ages,” Dr Ross cites quotations by many sincere Christians who were not privy to modern science, such as Augustine and Isaac Newton, who both held that the days in Genesis are not necessarily literal solar days, but are subject to variable. Certainly we may take these to be “literal” days, but literal to one audience may not be the same to another audience.
WHAT OF AN “UNEDUCATED” AUDIENCE?
One needn’t even be fluent in the scientific debate to accept the OEC paradigm. Ross, in Chapter 6, underscores how emphatic the Bible is in teaching that there are constants of nature which God will never overturn (Jer 33:25). All one need know, even at the most simplistic level, is that there are fixed laws that govern nature and they, like the Bible, were put in place by the same God who cannot lie. (Hebrews 6:18; 1 John 1:15; John 10:35).
Ross mentions several verses in scripture which mention how the Psalmist reflects on God’s creation to know Him. (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:20). From here, using the nature of God as a given, one can proceed to appreciate the findings of scientists who come to these conclusions, studying the record of nature. Of course, further in this book, Dr Ross expands further and dives into the science behind this, for those interested in going beyond the theological issues.
ISN’T FAITH ESOTERIC AND PRIVATE?
What of faith? If we are to walk by faith and not by sight, (2 Corinthians 5:7) why do we need to test the Bible in light of extra-biblical ideas?
Again, this objection is answered in Chapter 6 and the appendix. Faith is rooted in evidence and is, in the Greek, defined as “a confident trust in a reliable source.” Faith is not a blind leap, but a step into the light and the Bible, itself, invites testing and gives examples under which its claims might be falsified, the resurrection being one of them. Paul mentions that if Christ has not been risen, our hope is in vain. Ross notes that in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, we are to test all things and hold fast to that which is good. Clearly this cannot be done without an objective frame of reference. Clearly the Bible is a document which invites testing and Ross even demonstrates how the very opening pages of the Bible satisfy the requirements of the scientific method. He points out how a frame of reference is established, and how the initial conditions, the context, sequence of events, and final conditions are all outlined in the Genesis account. Furthermore, like a good scientist, Ross invites us to take into consideration all creation accounts in scripture and not just the Genesis account. Job 38 and Psalm 104 are just examples of the others found in scripture. By taking these into account, we avoid dogmatic conclusions based on a few pet verses. By doing this we are shedding as much light as possible on a hazy subject.
THE NEED FOR HUMILITY AND TENTATIVENESS
By no means does Dr Ross intend to suggest that this creation model is exhaustive, but presents it as a competing paradigm against others, including naturalism. He suggests that the paradigm that closes the most gaps in our knowledge, without appealing to ad hoc explanations, should be given merit. He further invites YEC’s to present a competing creation model which would challenge the others. The RTB creation model is further outlined in “More than a Theory,” which discusses how design is a better explanation for the life sustaining conditions in our universe, as opposed to pure naturalism.
THE BIG QUESTION
The highly controversial nature of the word, “Yom,” is also briefly discussed in this book, although not extensively. I wish more time were devoted to this issue, although given the other issues addressed in this book, I think one may then reflect on the nature of this word and be more educated in deciding if it is a literal 24-hour day, or undefined periods, or epochs, of time. Although, this subject is addressed in chapter 4, in regard to how pre-scientific enlightenment scholars considered the possibility of this word being subject to variance. In Chapter 21, Ross does address some issues with restricting each day to a literal solar day, by discussing how much happened, such as when Adam was created. Ross notes too much happened for this to be restricted to a single day, such as Adam growing lonely as implied by God noting it is not good for man to be alone, sedating Adam, performing surgery on him and allowing him to recover. Furthermore, all at the same time, Adam was functioning as a taxonomist and was naming the animals in the garden and there is no evidence in scripture that Adam had superhuman abilities and his sinless nature would have compelled him to take greater care in being a caretaker in the garden.
In response to common YEC arguments, Ross devotes much time in answering his YEC peers, such as Jason Lisle. The objections that Ross addresses are, for example:
1. Lunar dust accumulates too quickly for an old creation.
2. Trails of human footprints beside or crossing over dinosaur prints prove that dinosaurs were contemporaneous with humans, not millions of years old.
There were other points which were addressed, mostly to do with geology, which I felt free not to wrestle with until a further reading, due to my personal limitations in these fields, but a more educated reader will find these points more valuable than I, at the time of my reading.
GOOD GOD, BAD WORLD?
Other issues addressed, at large, are the problems of evil, how the acceptance of an old creation puts death before the fall. Ross overcomes these objections by noting that death and decay are both design features of this universe. There is no evidence that there was no death even in the garden and the very existence of life implies death. Ross points out that we can anticipate a new order of things, where death and decay will not be part of, but that this present order of things is what God has set up to accomplish His purposes in the world.
WHY READ THIS!?
Who is this book geared for? Anyone with an appreciation for the relationship between science and faith will enjoy this, however it does presuppose that one is fairly acquainted with disciplines such as geology, astronomy and biology, although one needn’t have a degree in these fields so much as just a patient reader. This book may be read in part or in whole, depending on which part of the controversy one is inquiring about. Those who are personally dealing with this controversy, as a faith issue, or those ill equipped to answer those who are dealing with this issue, will find this to be one valuable resource.
AN OPEN AND SHUT CASE!?
While I read this book already convinced of an old creation model, I can certainly say it didn’t lead to any airtight conclusions, nor do I think Dr Ross expects it to. I think it does relieve those in the OEC camp of the charge, by those in the YEC camp, that we are compromisers to Biblical truth, or that we will invariably fall into believing in theistic evolution or some variant of it.
MY THOUGHTS, IF ANYONE CARES
As one who values falsification as a criteria for testing truth, even if the OEC model is wrong–to date–it is correct, as it is this camp that is proportioning its tentative model to the best available evidence. If the YEC model is correct, I hope they produce a testable model to present to the scientific community for evaluation, or one which can act as a competng paradigm. Claims that the universe could have been created fully formed, or with the appearance of age, as Ross notes, could not only do violence to the nature of the God who cannot lie, but are also insulated from criticism and are meaningless even if true, as we cannot evaluate them. We need a testable hypothesis which can be plugged into our models to give us a universe that looks like the one we live in. Shooting holes in one model does not give us another model by default. Quite often scientists acknowledge their model has reached its explanatory limit, but they stick with the old model in the absence of a good alternative. So far, all I have seen, as in the case with the objections to the OEC paradigm in the book, are criticisms of the other model without presenting a viable alternative.
What is important to keep in mind is that both camps agree that the universe was created a finite amount of time ago, unlike atheist models which suggest it finds explanation for itself within itself and it infinitely old. As long as it is a finite age, it had a trascendant cause beyond itself.
As an evidential apologist, I am very interested in evidence that is for, or against, Christianity. If the Bible doesn’t square with the world I live in, I want to know about it, if it does then I want the world to know about it. This book does an excellent job demonstrating that there is no compromise/tension in accepting the Bible as an error free document and that the findings of modern science can shed light on our interpretation.
More importantly, this book calls us into a more dispassionate discussion about this issue, rather than resorting to personal attacks. As Christians we are to value debate to the end of truth, but as Dr Walter Martin said, “Controversy for the sake of controversy is a sin, but controversy for the sake of truth is a divine command.” This is undoubtedly a divisive issue, but it needn’t be divisive to the point where we question the sincerity of other people’s faith.
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING
Christianity and the Nature of Science – Moreland, JP.
Faith vs. Fact – Coyne, Jerry. (I suggest secular books because many secularists often raise objections worth noting, which often serve as a cautionary against bad apologetics.)
7 days that Divide the World. – Lennox, John.