Hugh Ross bluffs at church meeting
We recently received an email from a supporter, David R., who was willing to go on record, about Hugh Ross giving a talk at a church in South Carolina. David R. reported on a number of Ross’ claims, as well as how he tried to answer questions from biblical (‘young-earth’) creationists.
In case some readers are not aware, Ross proposes a unique interpretation of Scripture that seeks to harmonize many secular interpretations of the natural world. It’s known as ‘progressive creationism’. Among other things, he believes in a big bang and its ever-changing billions of years timeframes; that Adam and Eve (i.e. Homo sapiens), lived hundreds of thousands of years ago, and that soulless type hominids predated Adam and Eve. For an introduction, see Ten major differences and similarities between Calendar-Day and Day-Age Creationists—According to Dr Hugh Ross.
There was nothing terribly surprising. Ross has been presenting the same general arguments for decades now.
Naturally, Ross claimed that the big bang is fact. For a long time, he has claimed that he realized this at 15, and then admits that he later brought this assumed fact into Scripture. One of his testimonies includes:
I was a young man of 17. I came at the Bible fresh, without input, and tackled it on my own, and you know, immediately rejected the view that they were six, consecutive 24-hour days. I knew right away those days were not 24 hours.
What will happen when secular cosmogonists abandon the big bang because of all the fudge factors needed to make it work? Ross’ theology has been married to the big bang for over 50 years, and it will be widowed if the big bang fails. And then he will need to reinterpret his reinterpretation of the Creation days.
Scriptura sub scienta
His claims about the big bang were just a subset of his oft-repeated claim, “The facts of nature may be likened to a 67th book of the Bible.” Sure enough, it was in his church talk too.
This at the very least elevates these alleged facts to the same authority as the real 66 books of Scripture. Before Ross’ time, leading Hebrew scholar E.J. Young pointed out that in practice, it means that Scripture must give way to ‘science’, never the other way around.
The problem is, because of Adam’s sin, the creation is cursed (Genesis 3:17–19, Romans 8:20–22), man’s heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and the thinking of a godless man is ‘futile’ (Romans 1:21). But although Scripture was penned by fallen humans, these humans were moved by the Holy Spirit, so Scripture itself is ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:15–17). Therefore, Scripture is the only source of revelation not tainted by the Fall.
Systematic theologian Louis Berkhof pointed out:
Some are inclined to speak of God’s general revelation as a second source; but this is hardly correct in view of the fact that nature can come into consideration here only as interpreted in the light of Scripture.1
Indeed, the book of Ecclesiastes is a reductio ad absurdum of general-revelation–only. As shown in that link, this is because it shows the futility of trying to deduce things from the facts of nature while ignoring God’s special revelation.
And despite what some people claim, we don’t reject real science. We love real science! But it needs to be in a ministerial role, helping us to understand Scripture, not in the magisterial role where it overrides Scripture, as with Ross.
Ross claimed that “way up here” smart people like himself at MIT and Cal-Tech have come to Christ because he gets a seat at the table with them. Supposedly young-earthers who are “way down there” don’t even warrant being heard because of the intellectual shallowness of their young-earth beliefs.
First, this is a consequentialist argument: do this because supposedly good consequences result, instead of doing what is right. However, if the Bible really does teach six 24-hour days, it is not right to claim it teaches long creation days.
And where do we draw the line? Perhaps we could get an even more prominent seat at the table by conceding biological evolution as well? And how much more, if only we said that the Bible didn’t prohibit homosexual behaviour and abortion? There is no end to how palatable to the world we can make our ‘evangelism’, if only we would become more like the world!
Second, it’s not even true. We have reached many top scientists with an uncompromising stance on the Bible, including some in our list of creation scientists. And we know for a fact that many atheists, including Dawkins, scoff at apologists who don’t really believe their own book, whether progressive creationists like Ross or overt theistic evolutionists like BioLogos.
Indeed, such atheists can see that the compromising apologists are the ones moving towards their view of world history; the atheists aren’t moving. So if they can get concessions on something as easy as Genesis as real history, then why would they not hold out for even more concessions, such as on morality?
Of course, it is not so easy to pin down someone who controls the microphone, and can get away with bluff and evasion. One of my colleagues has witnessed this in person. This meeting was no exception.
I will show this by going through the audience question, David R.’s summary of Ross’ response, and my comment on that response. This is a good lesson: be honest even in a public meeting before a supportive crowd: even if you fool most of the immediate audience, you are still likely to be found out!
1. A while back, in both books and your website, you claimed that most church fathers and reformers taught long creation days, and rejected 24-hour creation days. Subsequently, it was documented that the majority who commented on the issue favoured 24-hour creation days, and an even greater majority thought that the earth was less than 6,000 at the time of writing—and now you claim that it doesn’t matter what they taught!
HR: Augustine was the greatest of all church fathers. His writings indicate he believed a day was a long period of time. The main thing we learn from the church fathers on the length of days and time of creation is that they disagreed with each other, yet they put a premium on respectful, civil, gracious, disagreement. Unfortunately my critics don’t show this same kindness to me.
JS: It’s defensible to think that Augustine was the greatest church father. It is totally indefensible to believe he taught long creation days. Rather, relying on a faulty translation, he taught that God created in an instant. So his mistake was in the opposite direction to Ross. And this shows that Augustine was a young-earth creationist—indeed, he specifically denounced “highly mendacious documents” that professed to prove an ancient earth, thus contradicting the biblical teaching that the world was under 6,000 years old at the time of his writing.
But this shows that Ross is willing to use arguments long after they have been shown to be wrong, and even after he has been corrected by his own supporters on this very issue. As we have documented, Ross’ own website includes an article by one of his supporters saying:
Based on my own research, no early church father taught any form of a day-age view or an earth older than 10,000 years [emphasis ours].
Then we see his martyr complex already noted in my review of his introductory chapter of A Matter of Days (a book Ross claimed I had ignored, although I even reviewed another chapter). He is not averse to comparing biblical creationists to flat-earthers (although our paper refuting this nonsense is right at the top of secular search rankings) and gnostic heretics. And how would we know how church fathers would have reacted to the day-age view, since as even his own site admits, none taught this?!
But Luther affirmed six 24-hours days in his Genesis commentary, and refuted opposing views, commenting specifically on 2:19–20:
We may note further that Moses here describes the work of the sixth day, of which he briefly spoke in 1:26–27. Now he enlarges on this report, devoting a whole chapter to man’s creation. We should therefore firmly hold that God created the world in six days (and maintain this) against the delusion of Augustine and Hilary that everything was made in a moment.2
2. In your testimony, you said you believed in the big bang, then deduced from that, before studying the Hebrew, that the days were long ages. How is this compatible with the authority and sufficiency of Scripture?
HR according to DR: He was asked to explain the Big Bang Theory. He did, saying he first believed in it at age 7. Then went through the 13.6 billion, 4.5 billion year old earth story. Talked about the great fine-tuning of the explosion—that all occurred at the same rate vs. a normal explosion which has different rates within it.
As per usual when asked, he evaded the point of the question, which was that his interpretation of Genesis was big-bang–driven not text-driven. We know that some apologists love to talk about the fine-tuning of the big bang, but fine-tuning arguments don’t require the big bang.
3. Neandertals buried their dead, had musical instruments, made high-tech glue and cosmetics, and bred with Homo sapiens. So how could they be non-humans?
HR: The study that shows Neandertals buried their dead has been debunked. A singular bone was discovered 20 feet from a flowerpot and it was wrongly assumed the two went together. The study which stated Neandertals played musical instruments has also been debunked. This came from the discovery of a femur with two holes in it. We now know the two holes were caused by a hyena bite with two of its teeth.
Neandertals may have bred with Homo sapiens, but it is on a lower scale than modern discoveries of bestiality…no evidence of this is compelling. Neandertals are almost exactly like apes. They only had two tools, a rock and a spear, just like apes. Their rock and spear were bigger than those of apes. They also used fire to protect selves, just like the apes. We see no technology, philosophy, theology or mathematics until it explodes on the earth when Homo sapiens arrived. Neandertal brains are about the same size as humans, but they have much smaller or non-existent frontal lobes.
Now we see a huge dose of bluff. Although Ross insists that we accept the uniformitarian consensus on age, he takes a unique position on the Neandertals. They are “exactly like apes”? Find any anthropologist who doesn’t assign them to the genus Homo, our genus (Homo neanderthalensis). Many even regard it as a subspecies of Homo sapiens (our species), i.e. Homo sapiens neandertalensis.
Since Neandertals could interbreed with modern-looking humans, they must by definition have been part of the human created kind. In fact, every living non-African human possesses a small portion of Neandertal DNA, precisely because Neandertals were post-Babel descendants of Adam and Noah. If Neandertals were different created kinds, this would have been impossible, despite Ross’ vile accusation of bestiality It’s just another example of his Old earth apologetics gone real bad. And apes don’t use fire; they are afraid of it!
And to further support their humanity, one article documented that they made superglue, tools, buried their dead, and made pigments;3 based on a paper documenting how Neandertals used that glue to haft points to wooden shafts to make spears.4
As for the flute (more precisely, a musical wind instrument), a 2018 paper refutes the hyena bite claim, and affirmed that it really was a good instrument:
Results of experimental testing of both hypotheses do not support a carnivore origin of the holes.… Recent musical experiments performed on a replica of the reconstructed musical instrument revealed its great musical capability. Together with some other findings from Divje babe I, the Mousterian musical instrument offers a unique insight into the Neanderthals’ symbolic behaviour and their cognitive abilities.5
And recent research on a Neandertal burial site in the Shanidar Cave in Iraqi Kurdistan added to the evidence for their full humanity. Emma Pomeroy, lead study author at the University of Cambridge's Department of Archaeology, was quoted as follows:
In recent years we have seen increasing evidence that Neanderthals were more sophisticated than previously thought, from cave markings to use of decorative shells and raptor talons. If Neanderthals were using Shanidar cave as a site of memory for the repeated ritual interment of their dead, it would suggest cultural complexity of a high order.6
4. Human (Homo sapiens) fossils have now been dated to 330,000 years old. How could we have human death before Adam sinned?
The dating of the bones in the study you cite is 150,000 years plus or minus 150,000 years. So the age of the bones is between now and 300,000 years ago. [Laughter from crowd]. They chose to use the 300,000 to get headlines, but it isn’t true. We know that Homo sapiens are between 50,000 and 150,000 years old,
In this answer, Ross just makes things up! Here is the actual paper from Nature:
In combination with an age of 315±34 thousand years (as determined by thermoluminescence dating) [ref.], this evidence makes Jebel Irhoud the oldest and richest African Middle Stone Age hominin site that documents early stages of the H. sapiens clade in which key features of modern morphology were established.7
Other journals had no illusions about the claimed age of these skeletons, and how they pushed back the origins of Homo sapiens even further in evolutionary time:
Researchers have redated a long-overlooked skull from a cave called Jebel Irhoud to a startling 300,000 years ago, and unearthed new fossils and stone tools. The result is the oldest well-dated evidence of Homo sapiens, pushing back the appearance of our kind by 100,000 years.8
The point of this question, and the huge problem for Ross and other long-age compromisers, is that the evolutionary ‘dating’ methods—which they accept—place human death long before any possible date of Adam. Even his own proposed age for Adam has been climbing as evolutionarily older Homo sapiens fossils were found.
Ross claimed in 1997:
In time, all these bipedal primates went extinct. Then, about 10 to 25 thousand years ago, God replaced them with Adam and Eve. From Adam and Eve came all the people that live on the earth today.9
Note that even such dates require stretching the chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 past breaking point.
But then he realized that before this time, the ostensibly reliable Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) 14C method ‘dates’ Aborigines in Australia to 41,000 BP (before present).10 So by 2002, Ross had changed the middle sentence in the quote to:
Then about 10 to 60 thousand years ago, God replaced them with Adam and Eve.
Of course, there was no new Hebrew scholarship to justify this change. Rather, this change was solely brought about by so-called ‘science’, showing once more how this overrides everything else.
And he couldn’t keep his story straight there either: Ross correctly teaches that the Aborigines are fully human, thus descendants of Adam via Noah. But this means that his date range should not have any date lower than the age of the Aborigines.
But then in 2003, some fossil Homo sapiens were ‘dated’ to 160,000 years old, as we noted, and pointed out that it was a problem for Rossism. We even said:
(One would certainly hope that they would not try to tell us that now Adam’s creation, and hence the Genesis genealogies, should be stretched by another 100,000 years to 160,000 years ago!)
Our hope was in vain. His website, at time of writing, says:
The consistency of these three independent lines of evidence instills some confidence that Adam and Eve lived somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 years ago.11
This just proved what we have pointed out for a long time: Ross’ ‘dates’ are not from Scripture but from ‘science’, and they must keep huffing and puffing to try to keep up.
Then these Homo sapiens fossils were redated to 195,000 years old. So now another page on Ross’ site allows:
However, the date could be stretched as far back as 230,000 years ago.12
So will we see yet another update given these new Homo sapiens fossils, placing Adam and Eve over 330,000 years ago?
David R. paraphrases HR: He also talked about the flood and creation week. Said it was local and that the Scriptures overwhelmingly confirm this.
The Scripture overwhelmingly confirms a local flood, despite the lack of local indicators and a huge number of universal indicators? One must wonder that if (arguendo) God had intended to teach a global flood, how could He have been more emphatic? One well-regarded commentary affirms about Genesis 7:19—
A measure of the waters is now made by comparison with the only available standard for such waters—the mountains. They are said to have been ‘covered’. Not merely a few but ‘all the high mountains under all the heavens.’ One of these expressions alone would almost necessitate the impression that the author intends to convey the idea of the absolute universality of the Flood, e. g., ‘all the high mountains.’ Yet since ‘all’ is known to be used in a relative sense, the writer removes all possible ambiguity by adding the phrase ‘under all the heavens.’ A double ‘all’ (kol) cannot allow for so relative a sense. It almost constitutes a Hebrew superlative. So we believe that the text disposes of the question of the universality of the Flood.
By way of objection to this interpretation those who believe in a limited flood, which extended perhaps as far as mankind may have penetrated at that time, urge the fact that kol is used in a relative sense, as is clearly the case in passages such as Gen. 41:57; Exod. 9:25; 10:15; Deut. 2:25; 1 Kings 10:24. However, we still insist that this fact could overthrow a single kol, never a double kol, as our verse has it.13David R. paraphrases HR: The problem with many Christians is that they read isolated passages about the creation and the flood. You have to read the whole Bible and also the Book of Nature to realize that the Bible itself debunks any notion of a young earth by using yom in 4 different ways, and Genesis 2, 3, Psalm 104 and Job 36,37, and Peter all make it clear that the earth is not young nor were days in Genesis 24 hour periods.
They make it clear now? Not even just ambiguous? How did so many church fathers, Thomas Aquinas, and the Reformers manage to miss it? Even his own website now concedes that there were no day-age creationists or other long-agers among the Church Fathers, even if Ross himself hasn’t got the message. Or else he just prefers to continue to massage the facts and use these massaged facts as an argument from authority, After all, he’s claiming the Church Fathers believed this. We know this is a not so subtle attempt to discredit biblical creationists because it’s part of his claim that young-earth creation is a recent invention. In reality, this is classic projection, but it’s his own Day-Age theory that’s a 19th-century innovation that was a reaction to uniformitarian geology.
And how do these passages say anything other than the fact that yom in the context of Genesis 1 really does mean an ordinary day?
The Book of Nature makes very clear that a global flood never happened. Numerous scientific discoveries show that the flood had to be local.
So where is his evidence for a local Noah’s flood (which he asserts was in Mesopotamia)? He normally claims that it left no trace, but then how could scoffers be held accountable for wilful ignorance of the event (2 Peter 3:3–6)? It’s rather strange, because his proposed flood would be more violent than the Lake Missoula flood, which carved the Grand Coulee, which is 80 km (50 miles) long, up to 9 km (6 miles) wide, and 275 m (900 ft) deep. And Mesopotamia is only a half bowl, so the postulated gigantic wall of water would flow out towards the south, and carry the Ark with it.
Ross has not changed much of what he says, even if his own website admits he was wrong and even with him saying that his wrong arguments didn’t matter anyway. His presentations match his books: playing the martyr, and is happy to bluff the unwary.
We take no delight in continuing to highlight the falsehoods that Ross continues to perpetuate. But when one claims to be an authority on God’s Word and science, and when that person gets both so badly wrong, it is only right to correct such false teaching, lest more be led astray. Please note, that this website contains many more such examples as above and can be readily accessed via the links below.
References and notes
- Berkhof, L., Introductory volume to Systematic Theology, p. 96. Return to text.
- Luther, M., Genesis, tr. Mueller, J.T., p. 60, 1958. Return to text.
- Randall, I., Neanderthals used a “prehistoric SUPERGLUE” to keep their rudimentary tools together more than 40,000 years ago while they crafted spears, scraped leather and butchered kills, dailymail.co.uk, 5 Jul 2019. Return to text.
- Degano, I. and 8 others, Hafting of Middle Paleolithic tools in Latium (central Italy): New data from Fossellone and Sant’Agostino caves, PLoS One, 20 Jun 2019 | doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0213473. Return to text.
- Turk, M. and 7 others, The Mousterian musical instrument from the Divje babe I cave (Slovenia): Arguments on the material evidence for Neanderthal musical behaviour, L’Anthropologie 122(4): 679–706, Sep–Oct 2018 | doi:10.1016/j.anthro.2018.10.001. Return to text.
- Strickland, A., Skeleton found in cave could reveal Neanderthal death rites, edition.cnn.com, 19 Feb 2020. Original paper: Pomeroy, E. and 9 others, New Neanderthal remains associated with the ‘flower burial’ at Shanidar Cave, Antiquity 94(373):11–26, Feb 2020. Return to text.
- Hublin, J.-J. and 10 others, New fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco and the pan-African origin of Homo sapiens, Nature 546: 289–292, 2017 | doi:10.1038/nature22336. Return to text.
- Gibbons, A., World’s oldest Homo sapiens fossils found in Morocco, Science, 7 June 2017; emphasis added | doi:10.1126/science.aan6934. Return to text.
- Ross, H., Genesis One, Dinosaurs and cavemen, Reasons to Believe, reasons.org/kidsspace/dinocave.shtml?main, accessed 20 May 1998. Return to text.
- Sue O’Connor, S., Carpenter’s Gap rockshelter 1: 40,000 years of Aboriginal occupation in the Napier Ranges, Kimberley, WA, Australian Archaeology 40, June 1995. Return to text.
- Age of Adam, reasons.org, accessed 13 Feb 2020. Return to text.
- Ross, H., When Did God Create Adam and Eve? reasons.org, 19 Oct 2016. Return to text.
- Leupold, H.C., Exposition of Genesis 1:301–302, 1942. Return to text.