Leading Pentecostal magazine promotes Hugh Ross compromise and denigrates biblical creationists
29 May 2003
The current (June 2003) issue of the magazine Charisma featured a shocking cover story, about the leading ‘progressive creationist’ Hugh Ross. The Canadian-born Ross is best known for promotion of the big bang and billions of years, and adding these to the Bible—see our article at Q&A:Genesis—Why is it wrong to add billions of years to the Bible? He is the founder and president of Reasons to Believe (RTB). The author was Andy Butcher, ‘Charisma’s senior writer and news director.’
Charisma lauds Ross as supposedly the only evangelist who can reach scientists, and paints him as a martyr under fire from both evolutionists and young-earth creationists (YECs). The author interviewed AiG (USA) President Ken Ham for about an hour by phone, ostensibly for some sort of balance, but hardly anything was reported—and even then they didn’t get his name right! Rather, the purpose seemed to be to find an excuse to slam the YEC view and resort to cheap guilt-by-association ploys by grouping Mr Ham with people they know we disagree with.
Of course, Charisma didn’t let its readers know about the many things Ross really believes, as a consequence of his billions-of-years view, although Mr Ham informed them. And while painting Ross as the perfect gentleman who endures much unfair treatment from YECs, they were happy to publish some inflammatory comments of his own.
While Charisma is a magazine for charismatic Christians, not all of them agree with Ross. There is some good news in the article:
So thumbs up to the AG on this! But thumbs down to Pat Robertson (Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia) and Jack Hayford (The King’s Seminary, Van Nuys, California) who are listed as strong supporters of Ross’s compromise.
The difference between Hugh Ross and CMI is laid out in the following table. And the reader should also consult Ten major differences and similarities between Calendar-Day and Day-Age Creationists—According to Dr Hugh Ross.
|Hugh Ross||Creation Ministries International|
The earth and universe are billions of years old.
The earth and universe are about 6000 years old.
The days of creation were really vast ages.
The days of creation were ordinary days.
The sun and stars were created before the earth, and merely ‘appeared’ to a hypothetical observer on earth on the fourth ‘day.’
The sun and stars were created on Day 4, after the earth—which was created on Day 1.
The seventh day is still continuing, supported by the ‘fact’ of no speciation in the last 10,000 years.
The seventh day was also about 24 hours long. Some populations become reproductively isolated today, which by definition means that a new species is formed.
Animals were eating each other, dying from natural disasters, and suffering from many diseases, for millions of years before mankind existed.
Creation was originally ‘very good,’ while death, suffering and disease ultimately are the result of Adam’s sin that resulted in God’s curse upon His creation.
God created almost all species separately.
God created comparatively few ‘kinds,’ and many ‘species’ are the result of non-information-increasing diversification of the created gene-pools, especially after the Flood.
God created Adam about 6000 years ago. All truly human fossils (Neandertals, Homo erectus) were descended from him, and likely lived shortly after Babel.
The order in the fossils is a record of distinct ages with vastly different creatures existing, all the results of a separate creation by God.
Much of the fossil ‘order’ reflects the different stages of burial in a worldwide Flood and subsequent local catastrophes, as well as different ecosystems.
Noah’s Flood was restricted to the Mesopotamian river valley.
Noah’s Flood covered the entire globe.
God had to intervene supernaturally to produce the different racial characteristics, to help the people separate at Babel.
Adam and Eve had the genetic information to give rise to all the different ‘races’ (people groups) today, allowing for non-information-gaining mutations. The racial characteristics arose after small people groups became reproductively isolated after the Babel dispersion.
We have addressed these points a number of times on our website, so here I will mention only two.
Charisma says that in his lectures, Ross answers a wide range of questions, including the Flood. But they don’t explain to their readers that Ross does NOT believe in a global Flood, despite the scriptural evidence (see Noah’s Flood covered the whole Earth). This is because a global Flood would have laid down a vast thickness of fossil-bearing sedimentary rock in a year, which would nullify much geological ‘evidence’ for billions of years.
Instead he believes in a local flood in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). Yet he will often tell people that he believes in a ‘universal flood,’ but he actually means that it merely wiped out all humanity. This entails that humanity never spread beyond the Mesopotamian valley before the Flood. However, this is inconsistent with his own uncritical acceptance of the ‘dates’ of fossils—according to secular anthropology, fossils of anatomically modern humans, ‘dated’ before Ross’s date of the Flood, have been found outside Mesopotamia.
Ross’s desperation to prove a local Flood and his overconfidence led to a crass blunder in Hebrew. A few years ago, RTB stocked a tape by Ross on the Flood.1 This included commentary on Genesis 7:19, which reads:
Ross made this definitive pronouncement:
So Ross claimed six times that the word ‘high’ is not in the Hebrew of Genesis 7:19. Surely no one would make such a claim unless he was sure of his facts. However, he’s completely wrong. The standard Hebrew text, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, reads (right to left):
|which are||high (hagevohim)||all the mountains||and were covered|
Here, it’s crystal clear that the word hagevohim (just the masculine plural form of gavoah prefixed by the definite article ha) is most definitely in the text. So the translators of all Bibles were right to insert this word, so there is no need to mutilate them as Ross advised.
Ross since withdrew this tape after being confronted with this error, exposed by Dr Russell Humphreys and Ken Ham (see Mr Ham’s article). But I mention it because it was only one of many examples of where he makes confident-sounding pronouncements about topics of which he doesn’t know, and which probably impress less discerning individuals such as the Charisma writer, yet they turn out to be total bluff. Two other examples are found in Exposé of The Genesis Question and Hugh Ross lays down the gauntlet! Such are the perils in trying to deny that the text means what it says! These three examples of crass blunders on Hebrew should make readers of Charisma extremely skeptical of Ross’s appeals to Hebrew.
As usual, compromise views not only commit hermeneutical assault and battery, they raise more problems than they solve. One major problem is that the geography of Mesopotamia is a half-bowl open to the south. Since the Rossian Flood requires a wall of water 200–300 feet high (The Genesis Question (GQ), pp.159–160), what would hold it up for a year, and stop it flowing out to the Indian Ocean? And then it would have dragged the Ark in the opposite direction to Ararat.
Even at ordinary river drainage speeds of 5–8 km/h (3–5 mph), a flood would drain in well under a year. Furthermore, a 300-foot-high wall of water would have far more potential energy than ordinary rivers. Ross realizes the problem about covering Mt Ararat, so he argues that the ‘mountains of Ararat’ include the foothills. He has a map (GQ:170) showing a 600-foot contour line to indicate where the Ark could have landed (GQ:151). But he fails to explain how a 300-foot-high flood could have levitated the Ark another 300 feet! Since the water flow direction would be towards the south, the Ark would be carried this way till it landed on a beach of Arabia.
Some anti-creationists have pointed out these fallacies in Mesopotamian flood theories in general and Ross’s book GQ in particular. But there is nothing original in these criticisms. Over 40 years ago, Whitcomb and Morris in their classic book, The Genesis Flood, pointed out the fallacy of John Pye Smith’s Mesopotamian flood compromise on essentially the same grounds, e.g. ‘appealing to the supernatural power of God, as an invisible wall, to hold the Flood within the Near East.’2 They also point out that the first major popularizer of the ‘day-age’ theory, Hugh Miller (1802–1856), realized this problem. But Miller proposed the desperate solution that the Near East sank as fast as the waters arose, so that the Flood could cover Ararat and still be local. He proposed that the Near East sank 400 feet per day, so 16,000 feet in 40 days, and the ocean poured into the resulting basin, covering the mountains inside.3 Then somehow the water drained out of this basin again.
So, while Ross’s compromising Mesopotamian flood theory desperately tries to fit the Bible into modern secular geology, geology is actually one of the nails in its coffin.
Any biblical creationist would answer yes, and so would Ross. Yet a consistent application of his ‘dating’ would leave the possibility that the Aborigines were older than Adam. And this would mean that they are not human, since Ross and CMI agree that only Adam and his descendants are human. (Ross also agrees that the Flood wiped out humanity except for Noah’s family, so the Aborigines must be descendants of Noah.)
However, let’s analyze Ross’s ‘dates’ closely. On his website, Ross claimed in 1997:
Ross has thus provided a range. In chronological studies, there are two terms for the absolute upper and lower limits of a time range. The terminus a quo (Latin for ‘limit from which’) is the earliest limiting point, and the terminus ad quem (Latin for ‘limit to which’) is the final limiting point in time. These points are the constraints on the range.
Therefore any ostensibly ‘fixed’ date for the Aborigines must be a terminus ad quem for the dating of the Flood, i.e. any date of the Flood must be before this fixed date. And certainly the creation of Adam and Eve must in turn be before the Flood.
Ross uncritically accepts radiometric dating, but this leads to a grave problem for his anthropology. The Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) 14C method (which Ross accepts as reliable) ‘dates’ Aboriginals in Australia to 41,000 BP (Before Present).5 Less reliable (according to Ross) thermoluminescence methods date the Aboriginals to about 60,000 years BP .6
Since Ross trusts these dates, at least the AMS one, he couldn’t have the Aborigines before the entire range of Adam and Eve’s dates. This is because only descendants of Adam can be human, according to both RTB and CMI, yet the supposedly ‘fixed’ date of 41,000 years BP places them older than all of Ross’s possible dates for Adam. So by 2002, Ross had changed the middle sentence in the quote to:
Of course, there was no new Hebrew scholarship to justify this change. Rather, this change was solely brought about by so-called ‘science.’ As we have demonstrated, Ross allows ‘science’ to over-ride Scripture, and this was even tacitly admitted in the Charisma article below.
However, Ross fails to realize that this ‘adjustment’ doesn’t solve the problem. He provides a range for the creation of Adam of 10,000–60,000 BP . Note that a range means that Adam’s date can be anything from 10,000 to 60,000 years BP . But this still allows for the possibility that the Aborigines are non-human. If Ross believes that the Aborigines are 60,000 years old, this should have been the terminus ad quem of his date range, so it should be >60,000 years ago, but he has mistakenly used the Aboriginal date as the terminus a quo, which is the opposite of what it should be.
It’s even worse, because Ross dates the Flood to ‘between twenty thousand and thirty thousand years ago’ (GQ:177), and he regards this as anthropologically universal, wiping out all humanity. But Ross also refers to ‘Australian Aborigines, who date back to 25,000 B.C.’ (GQ: 108). Once again, because according to both RTB and CMI, all of today’s people groups are descended from Noah, so must be younger, there is the possibility that Aborigines aren’t human. And this is independent of the reliability of any dating methods—his own book has the incongruity because of his own estimated dates.
Note, we believe that Ross is NOT a racist, but are pointing out how his uncritical acceptance of long ages logically leads to a racist conclusion. Thankfully Ross is inconsistent here.
Indeed, this is the major problem with Ross. He is effectively elevating ‘science’ to the level of biblical authority. Sure, it sounds very nice to say, as Ross often does, that God’s revelation in Scripture must agree with His revelation in nature. But this overlooks a key difference between nature and the books of the Bible. I.e. what constitutes the data in both domains? Ross and CMI would agree that the propositions contained in the 66 canonical books of the Bible are the facts of special revelation, but what are the facts of nature?
The Bible is propositional revelation (i.e. reveals facts about things), so is subject to objective hermeneutical (interpretive) principles which enable the reader to understand the author’s intended meaning. Nature is not propositional revelation, so it does not speak for itself. In the study of nature, i.e. science, propositions must be formulated from the observations by interpreting them in a framework or paradigm. This framework depends largely on the axioms, or starting assumptions, of the scientist. It’s interesting that many philosophers of science understand this better than most old-earthers and evolutionists. For example, Thomas Kuhn’s highly influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,8 makes it very clear that in many fields the data is interpreted according to the ruling paradigm, and anomalies are explained away.
As it turns out, what Ross means by ‘nature’ is the uniformitarian interpretation of nature. However, the creation is cursed (Genesis 3:17–19, Romans 8:20–22) and man’s heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and the thinking of a godless man is ‘futile’ (Romans 1:21), while Scripture itself is ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:15–17). So a biblical Christian should not re-interpret the perfect, unfallen Word of God according to fallible theories of sinful humans about a world we know to be cursed (Genesis 3:17–19, Romans 8:20–22).
It’s also notable that many of the Scriptures Ross cites to support his high claims for ‘nature’ say no such thing. For example, one of his favorites is Psalm 19:1–4. However, the final seven verses of Psalm 19 delineate what the Law and the Prophets can do. The seventh verse alone states, ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.’ Notice that this is far more specific and powerful than any claim made for general revelation. That is, the very passage that Ross cites to justify his position underscores the supremacy of Scripture—the phrase ‘Law and the Prophets’ encompassed all of Scripture written up to the time of writing.
The truly important things about God that one must know can be found only in Scripture. Ross obviously knows these things from Scripture, and he attempts to imprint them onto general revelation (God’s revelation in nature). Scripture does not support this. Indeed, it appears contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture—if Ross were right, there would be no need for missionary activity, contrary to Romans 10:13 ff. To state it succinctly from Romans 1 and 10: general revelation is sufficient only to condemn people, not to save; for that, special revelation is necessary. In his zeal to make a strong case, Ross has grossly overstated this argument. At best, this is sloppy logic and exegesis, and his equation of general and special revelation is seriously flawed.
It’s also notable that general revelation does not mean what Ross thinks. Systematic theologians define this as revelation that is available to all people at all times and in all places, which is why it is called ‘general’! Therefore it cannot refer to modern science, because that was obviously not known by the ancients. Also, general revelation does not require scientific study, but it is so obvious that people are without excuse!
Many, including some cults, like to use Ecclesiastes to justify their teaching of annihilationism or soul sleep because of passages like ‘the dead know nothing’ (Eccl. 9:5). However, they never quote the next clause, ‘and they have no more reward’ which ‘proves’ more than they want!
But most evangelical commentaries point out the frequent phrase ‘under the sun.’ Thus they point out that the writer is deliberately writing from a humanistic viewpoint, where the only things that matter are ‘under the sun,’ not heavenly things. And the point of the book is to show that all things ‘under the sun’—human wisdom, material possessions, and relationships—are futile, ‘vanity of vanities,’ because everyone dies.
This book pointedly illustrates the misleading character of general revelation, ‘under the sun,’ without special revelation to interpret it correctly. From general revelation alone, one might well believe that the dead know nothing, and have no reason to believe that they will rise again. Under general revelation, one might assume that there is no ultimate difference between wisdom and foolishness, because both the wise and foolish perish (2:16). What is the benefit of working (3:9)? Is there no judgment for oppressors or relief for the oppressed (4:1)? Why be righteous at all, since some righteous people perish and wicked prosper (7:15)?
Ecclesiastes shows how general revelation in isolation can be misleading, and ends in despair. But the book ends by pointing out that special revelation makes sense of all this:
He does and he doesn’t. Yes, he challenges biological evolution in the sense of ‘transformism,’ or the change of one kind of organism to another. But Ross accepts cosmological and geological evolution, the evolutionary timescale, and the evolutionary order of events. And underlying all these, Ross accepts the underlying evolutionary assumption—that man can find the truth about earth history apart from the revelation by the One who was there.
There’s an obvious blunder here, since YECs believe there was no death of the nephesh chayyāh (נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה living souls or living creatures) before Adam’s sin. Nephesh is translated soul, so Ross presumably meant to say the soulish animals not the non-soulish ones!
But notice the attempt to cheaply psychologize our motives. Yet Charisma published this, while hypocritically painting YECs as Ross’ persecutors. The whole idea is preposterous. In my case, I have no pets, and I also enjoy a rare steak. Further, if anyone is sentimental about things, it’s Ross (but of course Charisma doesn’t mention this) where he claims (in his book Creation and Time, p. 63):
It’s hard to believe Ross is serious. Plants don’t have a brain to interpret tissue damage as pain.
To return to serious thinking, YECs indeed do teach that there was no death of the nephesh chayyāh before the Fall. Probably the best support for this comes from the original diets in Genesis 1:29–30:
Since the context of Genesis 1 is the creation of the whole universe, then the filling of the earth, this passage teaches that vegetarianism was a worldwide phenomenon. However, Ross has tried to restrict this condition to Eden,9 but Eden is not mentioned till the next chapter. Furthermore, after the Fall, Adam was expelled from Eden, yet just before that, this curse was pronounced upon him (Genesis 3:17–19):
Note that his diet even after he was expelled was still to eat ‘plants of the field’ and ‘bread.’ This changed only at the Flood, where God told Noah (Genesis 9:3):
Here, God contrasts the animals he is now permitting Noah to eat with the plants he was eating previously. Therefore the initial chapters teach a worldwide vegetarianism for humans from Adam up to the Flood. In fact, Ross himself agrees that Genesis 1:29 teaches that humans originally had a vegetarian diet, not ‘merely an indication that all food resources derive from plants’ (GQ:71).
Yet the very next verse, using the same grammar and identical context, teaches that animals were likewise vegetarian. So by the above logic, as well as Ross’s acceptance that humans were created vegetarian, he should have no doubt that the same is true of animals. But Ross denies this without realizing the contradiction, because he believes that fossils indicating carnivory pre-date Adam by millions of years. But using Scripture, we can determine that the carnivore fossils were formed after sin, but it does not tell us how long after the Fall carnivory began. Therefore we are free to use the best evidence available which is consistent with Scripture. Fossils of dinosaur bones with tooth marks and dinosaur coprolites (fossilized dung) with the ground-up bones of other dinosaurs are good evidence that carnivory was well established by Noah’s Flood.
Templeton was once a colleague of Billy Graham, and at least as famous an evangelist. But eventually he apostatized and left the ministry, and years later wrote Farewell to God, explaining why.10 Therefore, he never had genuine saving faith to begin with (1 John 2:19). His own writings indicate that it was an emotional experience rather than a true conversion to faith that Jesus died for his sins and rose from the dead:
But many of his reasons were questions that could have been easily answered by anyone familiar with elementary creationist rebuttals (see The slippery slide to unbelief). And even many of his non-creation-related objections were merely ‘arguments from outrage,’ chronological snobbery and dogmatic rejection of miracles (see this review). Alas, Billy Graham, who has never taken a strong stand on biblical creation, never even tried to address Templeton’s objections, and instead preferred the fideistic approach of blocking out difficulties and accepting the Bible by blind faith. This disgusted Templeton, who claimed ‘He committed intellectual suicide by closing his mind’ (see also Death of an apostate). Romans 1:18 ff. suggests that Templeton’s objections are ultimately pseudo-intellectual smokescreens for a willing rejection of God. But that did not absolve Graham of his responsibility to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15).
The crime journalist and popular-level Christian apologist Lee Strobel interviewed Templeton shortly before his death after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. In his book The Case for Faith,12 Strobel interviewed scholarly apologists about responses to the strongest objections to Christianity, i.e. doing what Graham failed to do. Strobel based these objections largely on Templeton’s book and interview notes. Strobel and some of his interviewees are old-earth creationists, but it’s notable how the question of animal suffering is addressed.
‘The grim and inescapable reality is that all life is predicated on death. Every carnivorous creature must kill and devour another creature. It has no option. How could a loving and omnipotent God create such horrors? … Surely it would not be beyond the competence of an omniscient deity to create an animal world that could be sustained and perpetuated without suffering and death.’13
[Reads from Genesis 1:29–30] …
This is significant, because Geisler is a hostile witness, yet his response is essentially identical to that of young-earth creationists! This shows how a leading apologist realizes that the only way to answer the objections of Templeton et al. is with the biblical teaching that death and suffering resulted from sin. However, he fails to realize that this totally contradicts his old-earth belief. Ross is more consistent—he wants to keep billions of years at all costs, so rejects teaching like Geisler’s above. However, Geisler wrote the following endorsement for Ross’s book Creation and Time (back cover):
However, as we often point out, the ‘young earth’ is not per se the test of orthodoxy. The issue is not so much the age of the earth, but the authority of Scripture. Rather, the ‘young earth’ is a deduction from other beliefs which are orthodox, including the sin-death causality accepted by Geisler himself, as shown above! Since Ross’s book explicitly contradicts the apologetic arguments Geisler explicitly stated, one must wonder how carefully Geisler read the book before endorsing it.
It also shows that many old-earth apologists, e.g. Geisler and Strobel, have not carefully thought through the issues and don’t realize the contradictions in their views. This should be remembered when Ross appeals to people like Geisler et al. in support. It’s notable that Ross is aware of Strobel’s book, since his RTB staffers discussed it in his audio series9 but of course they didn’t mention Geisler’s answer! Conversely, those who have thought through the issues and still desire to hang on to billions of years, such as Ross, must necessarily hold to unscriptural views on death as well as the age of the earth.
Ross justifies this claim on the grounds that YECs ‘believe only the Bible is trustworthy, not the physical realm.’ Regardless, he is comparing YECs to an outright heresy the early Church fought and beat. This is not the first time―Ross also made an inflammatory comparison of young-earth creationists with some heretics that the Apostle Paul anathematized in the book of Galatians (Creation and Time, p. 162):
Alas, while Charisma’s writer and other Ross supporters attack YECs for the slightest criticism of Ross, we don’t hear a peep out of them when Ross essentially calls YECs heretics.
The charge is absurd anyway:
This is blatant when Ross tries to place general revelation in nature on the same level as the special revelation of the Bible. Ross claims that we must not downplay the significance of general revelation, because knowledge from this source is increasing exponentially.16 But he gets this term wrong. In systematic theology, general revelation is defined as knowledge accessible to everyone at any time and in any place (see review of Ref. 16). If ‘knowledge’ is increasing rapidly, then it could not have been known to previous generations, so is not general revelation by definition. Certainly, as shown in the articles under Did early Church leaders and reformers believe the literal creation account given in Genesis?, many people in history had no thoughts of the earth being billions of years old, so this cannot be true general revelation. So, in effect, Ross is claiming that no one really understood the Bible before modern big bang cosmology came along.
‘Having shown the likelihood of our being here by accident is infinitesimally small, he goes on to observe that “the Creator cares for the human species to such a high degree that He did not consider it too expensive to create 100 billion trillion stars so we could have a nice place to live.”’
Then he adds: ‘If He did all that for me, He must care for me a great deal.’
This is very similar to what he said in an address that he gave at Dallas Theological Seminary in 1997:
Ross’s argument is totally dependent on big bang cosmology. This teaches that the universe began in a big ‘explosion’ which is really an expansion of space itself. Supposedly, only if the expansion was precisely tuned, could the earth form in the first place and be able to support life. And for the expansion to be tuned right, there must have been the right amount of matter. Hence, according to this reasoning, the number of stars was vitally important for the earth to be able to form. But there are many things wrong with this reasoning:
When all else fails, appeal to pragmatism, even if nonsensical. Of course, even if it were true, it would not justify contradicting the Bible. But it’s not.
Naturally our in-depth scientific creation conference held last weekend didn’t rate a mention in the Charisma article, despite almost 800 attendees. About 40 of whom had Ph.D.s in science, and many more had Masters degrees, not to mention other scientific qualifications. And every issue of Creation magazine has an interview with a YEC scientist who is an expert in his or her field. Of course, it would never do for Charisma to mention that Ross’s opponents are effective at reaching the scientifically trained.
CMI also has hundreds of letters on file from people who were led astray by compromise views such as progressive creation or theistic evolution but restored to faith by CMI’s defense of the authority of Scripture. See these testimonies by Sonia and ‘Joel Galvin.’
This is very grandiose, which is not unusual for Ross. Such an idea is preposterous, because the Jerusalem Council involved the Apostles (Acts 15:6), thus James’ decision in vv. 13 ff. had apostolic authority. No one today has this level of authority.
And a major reason for the need for such authority was that the New Testament was not yet written, so the Church needed to be guided by the Apostles. Now that the Canon of Scripture is closed, and the Apostles are no longer alive, the Church is to be guided by Scripture alone (2 Timothy 3:15–17).