Hugh Ross lays down the gauntlet!

Either CMI or Hugh Ross is seriously misleading the public on some testable claims

Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D.

21 Nov 2000

Introductory explanation from Creation Ministries International: We make these public comments with a heavy heart, and with the overriding emphasis that our intention is not personal attack. Our mandate is to defend the faith, and the authority of Scripture. We have long believed that (and explained why) one of the most dangerous attacks on biblical authority in evangelical circles today is ‘progressive creationism’. This widespread compromise with the plain words of Scripture is capable of immense harm, precisely because it is proclaimed as being done in the name of upholding Scripture.

‘Progressive creationism’, in accepting the secular time-scale for Earth history, seriously undermines the Gospel by putting death, disease and suffering in God’s very good creation (Genesis 1:31) before Adam and Eve sinned and brought about the curse of death and the corruption of the whole creation (Genesis 3:19; Romans 8:20–22). So it undermines the reason for and meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 5:12 ff.; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22). This is no trivial matter. See Some questions for theistic evolutionists (and progressive creationists)

We have previously critiqued the teachings of its most influential advocate, Dr Hugh Ross. On this occasion we zoom in on some major false statements about testable issues, not differences of opinion. We have chosen to do this, even though it will involve exposing personal failure, because:

The issue is so vital, as it involves the way we handle the very Word of God. We need to be like the Bereans commended by Paul in Acts 17:11, checking the Scriptures about all such matters.

Unfortunately, however, we have over the years observed instances of Christians, including prominent leaders who influence others, being misled by Ross. If it were just a matter of a mistaken opinion it would still be a problem, but it is particularly serious because of the frequent pattern of bluff/bluster, using authoritative-sounding statements on such things as the grammar of the original Hebrew, etc., which most Christians do not have the ability to check, or just do not bother to check.

When Ross recently used such tactics in front of large numbers of listeners (debate with Dr Kent Hovind, John Ankerberg Show, Oct. 2000), Ken Ham and I commented in a webcast (9 Nov. 2000) on a number of outright errors he made.

In response, rather than retract, Ross ‘came out fighting’ to a large radio audience (11 Nov.), once again using smooth-sounding authoritative bluster to make it seem in each case as if CMI had made the mistake. If we had, we would retract immediately. There is no shame in that. But now that Ross has ‘thrown down the gauntlet’ so openly, we feel it is not only appropriate, but vital to go into detail in exposing, not his errors for their own sake, but his tactics. Because many thousands of people are being led astray by smooth-sounding words of apparent reason and authority. We have seen the devastating results when people fall down the ‘slippery slide to unbelief’ when they start re-interpreting God’s infallible Word with man’s fallible opinions, e.g. the former evangelist who once excelled even Billy Graham, Charles Templeton.

People in public ministry, making public statements, need to be prepared to have false teaching rebuked in public (Galatians 2:11 ff.). This is especially legitimate when the false teaching is so emphatically repeated, and the charge of falsity laid at the door of those who exposed the error. Please read the following material prayerfully and carefully.

The leading ‘progressive creationist’ Hugh Ross has long opposed the plain teaching of Genesis, i.e. creation in six normal days about 6000 years ago, and a global flood. His whole approach is to interpret the infallible Word of God to fit in with the theories of fallible men who teach billions of years.

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.

Further, truth is certainly not decided by majority vote, despite Ross’s continual appeals, because the majority has often been wrong (cf. Romans 3:4, Matthew 7:13–14).

In the case of Dr Ross, there are even more reasons to be sceptical, because he has many times said things that are doubtful or just plain wrong. Unfortunately, many Christians are misled by the confident ‘smooth authority’ with which such demonstrably false claims are made. In a recent article,1 as well as in his debate with Kent Hovind on the John Ankerberg Show aired in October 2000, Ross demonstrated this common pattern in his ministry by making statements that were clearly wrong, not just a matter of interpretation. Ken Ham and I, on the webcast of 9 Nov 2000, pointed out a number of these errors.

Ross responded in a radio broadcast on 11 Nov, correctly realising, as the announcer said, that his ‘competence and credibility’ was on the line here. He clearly and unequivocally denied being in error, and clearly portrayed our commentary as false and misleading. He also offered seemingly persuasive reasons to trust his credibility. In other words, the issue is not some slip or two (anyone can make mistakes, ourselves included) but the issue has crystallized into one of basic trustworthiness and reliability: either we are misleading people wholesale, or Ross is.

Now, Ross is begging Ken Ham and other biblical creationists to ‘speak face to face’ with him, whereas previously we had allegedly been ‘talking past one another, rather than to one another’ (Ross’s Nov 11 broadcast). However, it’s hardly fair to say that we had been ‘talking past him’, when we have directly responded to his major books like Creation and Time (by stocking Mark Van Bebber and Paul Taylor’s point-by-point rebuttal in their book Creation and Time: A report on the Progressive Creationist book by Hugh Ross, above right) and The Genesis Question (see my Exposé of NavPress’s new Hugh Ross book: The Genesis Question). Conversely, Ross has ‘talked past’ us, because he has shown little interest in responding to what we actually say. For example, in The Genesis Question, Ross:

  • continued to repeat atheistic attacks on the Ark that were thoroughly refuted in Woodmorappe’s book Noah’s Ark: a Feasibility Study
  • copied the atheistic caricature that our position about variation and even speciation within a kind is super-rapid evolution, despite detailed explanations in books like Refuting Evolution
  • bore false witness by claiming that creationists believe that the Flood eroded mountains from about 20,000 feet to far less, then they rapidly rose again. The first time he made this claim, it could have been unintentional violation of the 9th Commandment, although it’s hard to imagine how he picked up the idea when no creationist of whom I’m aware has ever taught this. But The Genesis Question repeated the claim after Ken Ham had rebuked Ross for it, so in this case, the violation could only be intentional, that is, if Ross were really serious that he has tried to understand where we’re coming from.

This is a grave issue, not because of our personal reputations, but because it ultimately involves the integrity and authority of Scripture. If we are correct in our repeated assessment, people are being misled not only by a mistaken position (‘progressive creationism’), but also by unacceptable tactics used to justify that position.

Here I outline four clear errors Ross proclaimed during the Hovind debate or his later broadcast, and show why his attempted rebuttal to these errors is fallacious. It is also helpful to note his typical rhetorical techniques so people will beware of them in the future.

Parallax and quasars

To set the scene, in the debate with Hovind, Ross raised the old ‘distant starlight’ canard, and claimed that the distance to a quasar had been measured up to 6 billion light years (ly). Hovind queried whether Ross could be so sure that the distances should be proclaimed so dogmatically.

What’s important to note is that there is no way of getting around the fact that the distances to many heavenly bodies are much greater than 6000 ly. In fact, although there are some anomalies in using red shifts as an indicator of distance (see Galaxy-Quasar ‘Connection’ Defies Explanation), vast distances are indisputable, otherwise the huge number of stars in a tiny volume would fry us! So I advise creationists not to quibble too much about measurement uncertainties, and instead use another way of explaining how light could arrive from distant stars. Preferably, creationists should study this chapter (5) of The Creation Answers Book, How can we see distant stars in a young Universe?

It’s fair to point out that Hovind never said that the distances were not real, and agreed ‘they probably are’. And he correctly pointed out that a light year is a measurement of distance only—the distance light can travel through a vacuum in a year (9.5 x 1012 km)—not a measure of time. It requires a number of assumptions to claim that large distances mean a great age of the universe.

In this case, Hovind’s query resulted in Ross showing that he makes mistakes on simple matters even in his own professed field of expertise. Yet Ross regularly speaks ‘authoritatively’ on issues such as genetics, anthropology and Hebrew, in which, we would claim, he also makes massive misstatements of fact.

Ross claimed: ‘Well, because of the new paper published just in the June 1st issue of Astrophysical Journal, I’ve got the paper here with me.’2

This is a typical Ross tactic—argument from authority. But this presupposes two things:

  1. the paper is infallible
  2. Ross understands what the paper is teaching.

But there is no need to be intimidated by this. Not only is science limited when dealing with the past, so can never be a threat to the Bible, no matter what any ‘paper’ claims, but also Ross doesn’t understand the science of the paper anyway, as will be shown. Some extracts from the dialog follow:

Ross: ‘we now have trigonometric parallax distances as far out as 3C 279.’

Moderator (Ankerberg): What in the world does that mean?

Ross: That’s a quasar that’s six billion light years away.

Moderator: But how do you know it’s six billion?

Ross: Okay, how do you know? …

Hovind: but I think what we have here is a classic example of an exaggeration. They cannot tell a star six billion light years—

Ross: Not at all. No, you’re wrong on this, here are two papers that have been published. This one gives a trig parallax distance to NGC 4258, 23½ million …3

Hovind: Okay, and I taught trig, explain this to me. You could say that with trigonometry you can measure six billion light years.

Ross: Yes, you can.

Hovind: I just flat don’t believe you, I’m sorry.

Ross: Okay. It’s not just the diameter of the earth’s orbit that’s going [Interjections] The reason why we’re able to do this now and not five years ago is we now have telescopes with extremely high resolution … that can measure angles to better than a ten thousandth of an arc-second. This is what gets you out so far. We’re no longer limited to five hundred light years. We can measure all the globular clusters in our—the Hipparcos satellite did that—got us out to the globular clusters, but radioastronomy is getting us out to galaxies and quasars.

Later on, Ross referred to the technique as ‘high school trig’.

Interestingly, just before hearing this debate, I had read a paper submitted to the Journal of Creation by astronomer Dr Danny Faulkner, where he discusses Ross’s recent article4 and says: ‘Hugh Ross has demonstrated once again that he either did not carefully read the articles that he referenced or did not understand their content.’ In the article, Ross seemed to be making the blunder that parallax was used to determine the distance to 3C 279. But while strongly implied by Ross, it wasn’t stated directly. However, the above statements in the debate with Hovind show that Ross really did state it directly, so Dr Faulkner cannot possibly be accused of misrepresenting him.

Trigonometric parallax

Diagram of trigonometric parallax measurement to a heavenly body

This term (sometimes called triangulation) is always used to refer to what is explained on the diagram on the right. As the Earth orbits the Sun, the angle at which a star is observed changes slightly—this is called parallax. The parallax angle is defined in the diagram. An equivalent definition is half the angle the star subtends the entire diameter of the earth’s orbit, which can be worked out from observations half a year apart.

The distance to the star can be worked out from what Ross correctly calls ‘high school trig’. The tangent of the angle θ is defined by the Earth-Sun radius (150 million km or 1 astronomical unit (AU)) divided by the Sun-star distance. So the star’s distance (d) is worked out from the parallax angle θ by dividing 1 AU by tanθ —

(d = 150 × 10⁶ km/ tanθ).

In fact, the angles involved are tiny even for the closest stars, so the diagram could not be drawn to scale. For the tiny angle of 1 second of arc (symbol 1″ — defined by 1° = 60′ (minutes) = 3600″ ), the distance is called a parsec (from parallax second, symbol ps) = 30 × 10¹² km = 3.26 ly. The closest star (apart from the Sun) is Proxima Centauri, with a parallax of 0.76″ . Because there is a limit to how small an angle we can measure, this method is good only for stars up to about 600 ly. Also, because at tiny angles, the tangent of an angle is almost linearly proportional to the angle (or equal to the angle in radians), astronomers usually use the ‘small angle approximation’ d = 1/p where d is the distance in parsecs and p is the angle in arc seconds.

The point is, if Ross had actually performed the ‘high school trig’, he would have found that an angle of a ten thousandth of an arc-second (10⁻⁴″) couldn’t possibly measure any distances over 33,000 ly! This is almost 1/200,000th the distance to the quasar! To measure the distance to 3C 279, we would need the precision to measure an angle of 5.53 × 10⁻¹⁰″! Even the much closer NGC 4258 has a trigonometric parallax of 1.39 × 10⁻⁷″, which is too small to be detected. So Ross has clearly not understood what the paper5 claimed.

Dr Faulkner points out that the paper on 3C 2795 uses the phrase ‘direct distance measurements’, and Ross misunderstood it in his claim:

Ross: The only direct measurements researchers have had for stellar distances are those based on trigonometry (specifically, a method called ‘trigonometric parallaxes’).

However, Dr Faulkner explains:

DF: They meant that their distance did not depend upon the assumption of any standard candles, such as Cepheid variables or type Ia supernovae. The methods used to find the distances of this galaxy and quasar are very similar, and could be better called “geometric distances”, as did the article on NGC 4258.

The geometric method made use of transverse motion in either object. In the case of the quasar this was the motion of a jet, or blob, of material. In the case of the galaxy the transverse motion was that of rotation of a disk of material in the nucleus of the galaxy. In either case some modelling of the moving body was required, which allowed a relationship between transverse motion and distance. The basic principle is that for a given transverse speed, objects at greater distances will have lesser observed transverse motion. For example, an automobile that passes very close will appear to be moving at a great speed, while an automobile that passes at some considerable distance will be observed to hardly move at all. This sort of approach has been used to find the distances of expanding objects such as supernovae remnants. The distance of the Crab Nebula, a very famous supernova remnant, has been known for decades based upon observed transverse motion in knots of material in the nebula and Doppler motion in the line of sight. The age can be estimated as well. All that one must assume is that the remnant is expanding uniformly in all directions.

It is inconceivable that Ross could have mistaken these new distance measurements for trigonometric parallax had he actually read and understood the articles that he cited. The huge distances alone should have told him that trigonometric parallax was not possible for either of these objects. This is another example of how poorly Ross understands or mishandles information, even in a field in which he is supposed to be an expert. This should cause his supporters to question his conclusions not only in astronomy, but also in matters such as anthropology, speciation, Hebrew and theology where he clearly has no professional expertise.

There is no way that the method used in the paper is just ‘high school trig’—this could only apply to the diagram above—so it’s clear that Ross didn’t understand what was going on, or if he did at the time, he gave no indication.

After I pointed out this mathematical blunder in the webcast with Ken Ham on 9 Nov 2000, Ross responded on his 11 Nov. program. His comments and my responses follow:

Ross: Okay, well, neither of these gentlemen are astronomers.

Here we have another ‘argument from authority’ by Ross. Two points:

  1. Ross is not a Hebrew scholar, anthropologist or biologist, but frequently makes claims about Hebrew (see next section for a recent blunder), extinct hominids— although there is hardly another field that is as widely disputed, and speciation (he claims that the biblical kind is equivalent to today’s species, and there is no speciation occurring—see Q&A: Speciation for evidence to the contrary).
  2. He said it was just ‘high school trig’, of which I am more than capable. Ross can’t have it both ways—saying that simple mathematics will prove his point, and when I disprove it with this very maths, saying that I have to be an astronomer to question him!

Ross: They know I’m an astronomer and I have a good reputation in astronomy. The minimum they should have checked their claims with astronomers.

That’s exactly what we did—in fact, it was the astronomy Ph.D. and Professor (at a secular US university) Dr Danny Faulkner who brought this to our attention, and we had the correct information to hand when we presented the 9 Nov webcast.

Ross: They should have read the papers. I mean, I showed the papers on the Kent Hovind debate, the Ankerberg program debate. They should have at least looked up those papers and checked it out.

We did!

Ross: The papers, by the way, have been posted on our website for several months. … But my bottom line point is, before they come up with a charge that I’m incompetent with astronomy, they should at least read the papers and see what’s going on here.

Again, Dr Faulkner has read both Ross’s papers and the source papers that Ross misunderstood. Clearly, Ross likes to brandish papers as weapons, but without understanding them. Dr Faulkner points out that the paper on 3C 279 uses the phrase ‘direct distance measurements’, and Ross misunderstood it. And regardless of whether we had read the papers or not, we were objecting to Ross’s descriptions in his article, and even more in his debate with Hovind, that gave the wrong impression. Ross’s cheap attempts to score points against Hovind by dismissively saying that anyone knowing high school trig would agree with him serve only to reinforce this impression in the minds of anyone hearing the debate. It’s hard to imagine how anyone hearing this debate could think he meant anything but the procedure in that diagram. In fact, even on his 11 Nov broadcast, Ross still wrongly persists in calling it ‘trig parallax’:

Ross: Well, it really is a trig parallax type measurement, but their argument is if you’ve got a stationary point, then you can only go out so far with a trig parallax even with a resolution of a ten thousandth of an arch-second. But for example, this paper by Hernstein, et al., a geometric distance to the galaxy NGC 4258, it’s a geometric distance, which means they’re using a trig parallax type approach, but it is a (?) [means the tape is unclear] which is a point source that’s revolving around the center of this galaxy.

Later on in the Nov 11 broadcast, Ross showed that he did at last get the right idea of what the method really measured, but one must wonder why he didn’t explain it properly the first time. There are two possibilities:

  1. He was extremely sloppy in writing on this, and is attempting to correct this after he was ‘called’ on it.
  2. He totally botched it and after some criticism (perhaps from friends rather than critics) he found out that he was wrong and is attempting to fix the problem. Either way it does not look good.

Ross also tried a cheap shot on this 11 Nov broadcast, which actually rebounds on him:

Ross: I find it interesting, these gentlemen actually do concede that hey, the method is valid out to 30,000 light years … In another part of their show, and that’s enough to get past their chronology for the age of the universe.

As shown above, I wasn’t ‘conceding’ anything, but rather plugging the number into the formula to show that Ross couldn’t be right. And as I’ve said, CMI agrees that there are stars a lot further out still, but point out that many light years don’t necessarily mean many years—see again How can we see distant stars in a young Universe?

More importantly, Ross says ‘the method is valid’ in the context of both the quasar distance (which as shown is not trig parallax) and my calculation (which could only have been based on the triangulation diagram above). So it’s clear that he’s still confusing the two distinct methods, at least in the way he talks about them. One of our concerns is that often distinctions like this are blurred to Ross’s listeners in ways which are highly misleading, and it is hard to keep on being charitable by assuming that such blurring is accidental.

Hebrew verb blunder

Hugh Ross often gives the impression that he’s familiar with Hebrew, although (in a famous ‘experiment’ by Dr Russ Humphreys) he didn’t even know how to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in that language, and often makes elementary mistakes—all this is documented in my this section of my Exposé of The Genesis Question. But in his debate with Hovind, Ross claimed that he had the backing of many Hebrew scholars, and in his 11 Nov broadcast, Ross claimed: ‘we do have Hebrew scholars with Th.D.s and Ph.D.s. that volunteer for us and check all of our resources.’

This is yet another argument from authority. Who are these authorities, and what exactly do they say? But in any case, the Hebrew is against him. This can be shown by reading commentaries from before the time when ‘long age’ views became popular—e.g. see Q&A: Genesis under ‘Church Fathers and Reformers’. But when the uniformitarians like Hutton and Lyell claimed to have proved millions of years, some evangelical commentators felt the need to re-interpret Genesis to fit. On the other hand, liberals and neo-orthodox theologians like James Barr have always been far more open that Genesis really means what it says, because they deny biblical inspiration anyway. Leading theologian Douglas Kelly, in his book Creation and Change (right), cites a number of exegetes over the centuries that prove this point. Even the evangelical Hebrew scholars who deny six literal days admit that the text does seem to teach this, but they won’t believe it because it conflicts with ‘science’. And none of them argue in the bizarre way Ross does.

Also, we should be skeptical of his claim that he has all these Hebrew scholars who are helping him, because they didn’t tell Hugh Ross about the obvious blunders that have gone into print. For example, getting the singular and plural back to front in the Hebrew when discussing behemoth in The Genesis Question—see further elaboration below about how he refuses to concede even this with any grace. And in his debate with Hovind, he made a clear error:

Ross: In the sixteenth verse where it says so God made the sun, moon, and stars, it’s in the qal perfect form, it simply states the sun and stars were made at some unspecified time in the past.

Here, Ross once again tries to intimidate his opponent by sounding very learned in the Hebrew. And once again, it is pure bluff (and was no isolated slip of the tongue, because repeated the claim several times). But it’s a simple question of fact, not interpretation, that the verb is imperfect, not perfect, as claimed. For non-Hebrew experts, this can be found by checking such Bible software programs like the Logos Tense/Voice/Mood add-on module (TVM), or J.J. Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, vol. 1 (Baker, 1990).

The type of verb can be determined by the precise form of the word. A Hebrew lexicon will give the 3rd person masculine singular qal perfect form, asah, as its basic entry (or lemma). Apart from this, the perfect form is usually identified by a suffix, while the imperfect form is identified by a prefix. For example, the 3rd person masculine singular qal imperfect of asah is ya’aseh. When the waw-consecutive is attached, it becomes wayya’as. The phrase in Genesis 1:16 is wayya’as elohim—‘and then God made …’, a waw-consecutive qal imperfect (also known as a preterite).

So Ross’s argument collapses because he was totally wrong about the verb. Although it is waw-consecutive, the context makes it clear that it marks the beginning of an elaboration of the event just mentioned (‘And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky …”’ v. 14) rather than a subsequent and, therefore, different event. Also, this context means that it cannot be interpreted to say: ‘God had made the sun, moon and stars at an unspecified time in the past and the atmosphere just cleared so they appeared’, despite the claims of Ross and the ostensibly ‘neutral’ moderator Ankerberg.

In my webcast with Ken Ham on 9 Nov, I pointed out this obvious blunder of confusing perfect and imperfect verbs, and that it should make people skeptical of Ross’s Hebrew claims. Ross tried to respond on his 11 Nov broadcast, and here is the dialogue—as you will see, not only is there not a quick retraction of this error, but he attempts to bluff his way through:

Announcer (Krista Bontrager): And what about this charge about the qal-imperfect versus perfect, what’s, what’s that all about?

Ross: Well, I mean, we published this in Facts for Faith, it’s just the last issue so people can get a look at it and see what it has to say. By the way, it’s an article that I co-authored with John Ray, so his name goes on the paper as well. He’s the one who suggested I write it and I did write it and he gave a very thorough critique of it. He endorses what’s in there, so if they’re gonna be charging me with error, they’re gonna charge him with error as well.

Who is John Ray? He has not published in the leading evangelical theological journals like Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Westminster Theological Journal, Bibliotheca Sacra, The Master’s Seminary Journal or Trinity Journal. In any case, if what Ross says is true, i.e. John Ray agreed that Genesis 1:16: ‘God made the sun, moon, and stars’ is qal perfect,, then he also is incompetent in Hebrew grammar. Wayya’as is a waw-consecutive qal imperfect, regardless of what Ross or his so-called Hebrew experts say. So yes, we also charge John Ray with error, because that is exactly what it is.

Ross: And I think the problem is, they must have been mis-reading or confusing the point.

Why must we be mis-reading or confusing the point? Because we have shown that Ross is just plain wrong and therefore can’t be relied upon when dealing with the meaning of the original Hebrew? Ross offers no grammatical defense, just denial. No. Hugh Ross is mis-reading and confusing the point—or just plain lying!

Ross: It’s that seven verses in the Bible teach that the universe undergoes continual ongoing expansion, and I mentioned in the text, or John and I mentioned, that seven of the verses of the eleven verses in the Bible put it in the qal active participle form, (?) in the verses, you can go to your Bible and check it out. Three of them put it in, pardon me, four of them put it in the qal perfect form, and one in the qal-imperfect form. And we give a fairly decent theological discussion of these eleven instances.

This is just more pulling wool over people’s eyes. I wasn’t even talking about universe expansion. Rather, the only thing I could possibly have been referring to is the only place in Scripture he mentioned perfect and imperfect verbs on the Ankerberg show, and several times. That is, ‘In the sixteenth verse where it says so God made the sun, moon, and stars, it’s in the qal perfect form’. I made even made it perfectly clear in the broadcast which passage I was discussing. He refused to admit that he’s wrong, talked about a totally unrelated area, and once more appealed to authority.

Even worse, what Ross says about the above is also wrong about participles and ongoing expansion. This follows on from Ross’s claim in his debate with Hovind, that the Bible actually teaches the big bang and an expanding universe, so this deserves a section by itself …

Does the Bible teach the big bang?

Ross claimed in the Hovind debate:
Ross: … because what you see is eight times the Bible states that the universe was transcendently created, a transcendent beginning of matter, energy, space, and time, which is identical to the Big Bang concept of a singular beginning. And likewise in eleven different places in the Bible it tells us that the universe is continually experiencing ongoing expansion, you know, the stretching out of the heavens. It’s in the (?) participle form, this continual stretching out. 

First, even if these passages are teaching an expanding universe (which creationists don’t necessarily dispute), they say nothing about expanding from a singularity as required by the big bang (see some problems with the big bang in Q&A: Astronomy/astrophysics).

Second, Ross is correct to claim that the verb ‘stretched’ is a participle in the Hebrew in places like Isaiah 42:5 and 51:13 in the context of ‘stretched out the heavens’, but his statement is a good example of ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’ His knowledge doesn’t go beyond what can be gleaned from, say, Tense-Voice-Mood on Logos Bible Software. But readers should beware of thinking that such tools tell us all we need to know about Hebrew grammar. The fact that major Bible translations have ‘stretched’ should have alerted Ross to the fact that his deduction was faulty. Bible translators have studied more advanced Hebrew grammar, and they realize that Hebrew participles only refer to continuous action when they are used adverbially. In Isaiah 42:5 and the other passages, the participles are used as verbal adjectives (i.e. adjectivally, not adverbially)—they describe a verbal action of the noun ‘The LORD God’.

The participle functioning as an adjective expresses by itself neither time nor aspect, and thus can signify, according to context, he who stretched, will stretch, is stretching—either once, many times or continuously. In the context of the verses Ross cites, the participle doesn’t mean what Ross claims, so it is wrong to twist the text to support a currently popular secular theory that explicitly denies other parts of Scripture.

Behemoth bungling

On the radio broadcast with Ken Ham, I said:
I really must be skeptical of this claim of all these Hebrew scholars who are helping him, because these … Hebrew scholars couldn’t tell Hugh Ross the difference between a perfect and imperfect verb, and he gets singular and plural back to front in the Hebrew in discussing behemoth. … I would have thought a real Hebrew scholar would have been able to point out these really obvious blunders, and yet they’ve been allowed to go to print, and without any problem.

The qal perfect/imperfect was explained above, while the singular and plural confusion about behemoth was discussed in my Exposé of The Genesis Question:

Ross writes (p. 48 [of The Genesis Question]): ‘The Hebrew word for “behemoth” appears in its plural form, behema, …’ However, even beginners in Hebrew know that –a is often a feminine singular and –oth is a feminine plural. So Ross got it back-to-front: behema is the singular form, while behemoth is grammatically plural. It is a figure of speech known as an intensive plural or plural of majesty, where ‘the referent is a singular individual, which is, however, so thoroughly characterized by the qualities of the noun that a plural is used’, [6] ‘beast of beasts’. The context says that behemoth is the largest beast God made. And Job 40:17 says: ‘His tail sways like a cedar’ which certainly doesn’t fit Ross’s suggestion of a hippopotamus (unless it was a bonsai cedar, maybe).

I didn’t need to spell this out in the webcast, because listeners were referred to this Exposé. And Ross himself must have known about the article, because his assistant ‘Fuz’ (as he calls himself) Rana complained to Ken Ham about my article as a ‘waste of ministry resources’ simply because it criticised a Christian apologist’s scriptural and scientific teachings designed to support billions of years and all its corollaries.7 Note that Rana couldn’t document a single error in our Exposé, even when I challenged him to. Also, Rana was unable to explain why it’s terrible for young-Earth believers to criticise old-earthers, but it’s fine for them to ‘waste ministry resources’ doing everything they can to undermine belief in the biblical teaching of a young Earth and global Flood. For example, in Ross’s book Creation and Time (p. 162), he makes a particularly odious comparison of young-earth creationists with some heretics that the Apostle Paul anathematized in the book of Galatians:

‘Much as circumcision divided the first-century church, I see the creation date issue dividing the church of this century. As circumcision distorted the gospel and hampered evangelism, so, too, does young-earth creationism.

Lately Ross has been trying to give the impression that he has always tried to treat us with courtesy, but quotes like the above shed a different light. Also, on the Hovind debate, the following dialogue occurred, clinching the fact that Ross knew of the article in question:

Hovind: And have you read the long critique of what you just said on Answers in Genesis website [this is the Exposé referred to above] on this very topic you’re talking about?

Ross: Sure have.

Hovind: And what’s your response?

Ross: My response is, it doesn’t withstand the scrutiny of Hebrew scholarship.

Of course, this is yet another appeal to authority—much easier than finding a demonstrable Hebrew error! And this is coming from someone demonstrably ignorant of even simple Hebrew.

On his 11 Nov broadcast, Ross tries to get around his singular/plural blunder:

Ross: And as far as the behemoth (?) goes, yeah, we’re admitting that error. It got (?) up, I don’t know how it got by me or it got by our theologians. I think it got by us because I suspect it happened late in the editorial process, and hey, it’s not a critical error. You know, it’s in confusing of the plurals with the singulars. We’re gonna fix it up in the next edition, and the next edition’s due to come off the press—

Krista: When you say it’s not critical, it doesn’t change the meaning, is that what you’re saying?

Ross: It doesn’t change the argument that we’re trying to make one iota. If you look it up in a Bible, what you’ll notice is that you’ll see the plural form in the book of Job, and yet all the pronouns with respect to the creatures are in the singular. So even in the case of the English translations of the text, the translators, who are good Hebrew scholars, didn’t see this as a critical point. It’s a nit-pick point, but yeah, we’re gonna fix that nit-pick point.

Here, Ross tried to downplay this as a ‘nit-pick’. However, this supposed argument from the Hebrew was a major plank in his effort to argue against the possibility that behemoth, that Job had seen, could be referring to a type of dinosaur. (Ross believes that dinosaurs died out many millions of years before Adam and Eve sinned and brought death and suffering into God’s ‘very good’ creation—Genesis 1:31). He also claimed it was immaterial because Behemoth was referring to a singular animal. But as can be seen in my Exposé cited above, I never doubted that the pronouns referring to behemoth were singular. Ross had also claimed that behema was the plural form, when this is the singular, and there is no way of wriggling out of this. This clearly demonstrates the Hebrew incompetence of his and his alleged experts.


These erroneous claims by Ross should alert readers to the fact that Ross is often sloppy in his explanations or even outright mistaken. Worse, when ‘called’ on his mistakes, he will not graciously concede error but seeks to bluff his way through. In the one instance where his error was so undeniable that he had no choice but to concede, he did so grudgingly and coupled with an obvious attempt to ‘fudge’ the significance of the error, trying to turn it into an attack on his critics for alleged ‘nit-picking’. Readers should not be beguiled by his smooth talk, big words or appeals to authority, and instead should believe the clear teaching of Scripture.


I thank the following for their specialist advice: Dr Danny Faulkner (who teaches astronomy at a secular US university) and Andrew Kulikovsky (Hebrew), but responsibility if there are any errors is mine alone.


This article generated quite a bit of feedback, to which I’ve responded in Answering some Hugh Ross supporters.

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Published: 15 February 2006


  1. Ross, H., How far tells how old, Connections, 2(3):2, 2000. Return to text.
  2. Homan, D.C., and Wardle, J.F.C., Direct distance measurements to superluminal radio sources, Astrophysical Journal, 535:575–585, 2000. Return to text.
  3. Hernstein, J.R., et al., A geometric distance to the galaxy NGC4258 from orbital motions in a nuclear gas disk, Nature, 400:539–541, 1999. Return to text.
  4. Ross, Ref. 1. Return to text.
  5. Homan and Wardle, Ref. 2. Return to text.
  6. Waltke, B.K. and O’Connor, M., An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, IN, p. 122, 1990. Return to text.
  7. Fazale Rana, email 27 September 1999. Return to text.

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