Review: Creation as Science

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
26
Year: 
2006
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
35–37
Reviewer: 
Timothy H Heaton,
University of South Dakota
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Creation as Science: A Testable Model Approach to End the Creation-Evolution Wars
Author(s): 
Hugh Ross
Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress, 2006. 291 pages
Those familiar with Hugh Ross and his Reasons to Believe (RTB) ministry will find many familiar themes in Creation as Science. Ross is an old-earth creationist with a background in astronomy who believes that science and the Bible tell the same history. Ross seeks to prove that the universe has been fine-tuned for human civilization by the biblical God and could not have come about by chance. The point of this book is to challenge others, creationists and non-creationists alike, to compare their models of earth history with his, using scientific data as a test.

The "fine-tuning" of the universe is a theme that runs through all Ross's books, but in Creation as Science he takes the concept to even greater extremes: "The Bible says that God works continuously throughout cosmic history to ensure that everything in the universe maintains the just-right conditions for support of human life" (p 72). According to Ross, some of God's purposes in creating the universe were to:
Supply resources for the rapid development of civilization and technology and the achievement of global occupation.

Provide humanity with the best possible viewing conditions for discovering, through a careful examination of the cosmos, His existence and attributes.

Set up the optimal physical theater — including an optimal human life span — for conquering sin and the evil it produces. (p 68)
God's mechanisms for achieving his purposes, according to Ross's model, involve a puzzling blend of naturalistic and supernatural processes. For example, Ross believes that God initiated the Big Bang under a precise set of conditions so that, over 13 billion years later, a planet would form on which God could create humans and where they could survive. Ross never explains why God did not create the universe and the earth in the same sudden and miraculous way that he created humans. Here is an example from the fossil record:
… the Creator worked efficiently and effectively to prepare a home for humanity. A huge array of highly diverse, complex plants and animals living in optimized ecological relationships and densely packing the earth for more than a half billion years perfectly suits what humanity needs. These life systems loaded earth's crust with sufficient fossil fuels and other biodeposits to catapult the human race toward technologically advanced civilization. (p 140)
Here we see Ross's astounding double standard. When it comes to astronomy and geology, Ross believes in an old universe, so he seeks reasons why God needed so much time. But when it comes to biology, Ross invokes a miracle at every turn:
From a biblical perspective, one reason so many apparent transitions appear in the fossil record for whales and horses is that Creation had a particular time, place, and purpose for each one in the ecosystem. Because these kinds of species go extinct so rapidly, the fossil record shows frequent replacements, or "transitions," for them. It seems God frequently created new species to replace those that went extinct. … The biblical creation accounts describe God as continually involved and active in creating new species until he created human beings. (p 143–4)
The irony is this: the direct formation of fossil fuels would require far less creative effort than creating thousands of new species over millions of years. In a similar manner, Ross proposes that God compensated for changes in solar luminosity (apparently outside divine control) with a host of geological and biological miracles on earth and then concludes: "The number of just-right outcomes converging at the just-right times to compensate for the decreasing brightness of the youthful sun seriously strains naturalistic models" (p 132–3).

In astronomy, events follow natural laws, while in biology, every detail is due to a deliberate act by the Creator. If male nipples and human sex drive need special explanations, as Ross suggests (p 160, 170), and so does every individual species that ever lived, then why not the billions of galaxies and the many types of stars that played no role in earth's formation? Why would a powerful God choose to create every individual species by a special act but leave the formation of a solar system (a much simpler structure) to gravity and eons of time? While Ross proposes types, frequencies, and economy for God's miracles (p 70–2), his choice of when to invoke these miracles seems arbitrary. It is difficult to understand what proof and attributes Ross expects us to find for God in such a capricious universe.

Ross's double standard starts to make sense in light of the twofold purpose of Creation as Science. First Ross offers his own reconciliation between science and religion, which he calls the RTB creation model. "This book outlines a model that strives to uphold both scientific and biblical integrity as it attempts to reconcile the goals of the scientific community with the goals of the Christian community" (p 52). Second, Ross invites creationists and evolutionists to engage him in testing competing models to see which one is right. Ross proposes his test with confidence and appeals to humility on the part of the other players "in assigning credit where it is due" (p 202). So what is this game, and why does Ross think he can win?

As I see it, Ross consciously attempts to align himself with what he regards as the strongest positions of scientists and creationists. In particular:

1) Wherever Ross feels that scientists have thoroughly established a conclusion, he accepts that conclusion. Examples include the Big Bang model for the origin of the universe, radiometric dating, and the history of life on earth as documented in the fossil record. Then he uses this scientific evidence to criticize the young-earth creationists for their unscientific views, and he makes predictions for where future research will lead in these areas as a further test of his model. It should be noted, however, that Ross does not apply scientific conclusions uniformly. Due to his training in astronomy and the quantitative elegance of models in physics, he accepts historical conclusions in these areas more readily than in scientific disciplines such as biology and archaeology. For example, Ross does not regard morphologic and genetic similarities between species as proof of common ancestry, but as "shared designs" in progressive creation by God (p 80).

2) Where there are gaps in scientific knowledge, Ross invokes the biblical God. This aligns him with both the young-earth creationists and "intelligent design" advocates. Examples include the initiation of the Big Bang, the origin of life on earth, major gaps in the fossil record, and the peculiar intelligence of humans. Here Ross criticizes mainstream scientists for having weak explanations, whereas the powerful biblical God can fill these gaps with ease. He predicts that future research will continue to have trouble filling these gaps, and that this will be a confirmation of his model. Ross defends the "God-of-the-gaps" concept, saying "if the gap becomes wider and more problematic from a naturalistic stance as scientists learn more, then a supernatural explanation seems in order" (p 34–5).

3) Ross seeks out biblical verses that appear to support his view. For example, he argues that "thousands of years previous to any scientific speculation or research into big bang cosmology, the Bible predicted all of the fundamental attributes of a big bang universe" (p 75). Most of Ross's citations are brief phrases from books like Isaiah and Psalms where the context is either mysterious or constantly shifting. Ross's mental gymnastics become even more pronounced where the narratives of Genesis conflict with his views. He argues that the creation "days" of Genesis 1 are "six creation epochs" during which most fossils were formed and that God's "'day of rest' is ongoing in the context of this universe" (p 72), thus advocating the Day–Age theory. Ross accepts that the Flood of Noah killed all humans and their associated "soulish animals" outside the ark but not that the flood was global: "In fact, careful analysis of the relevant biblical texts shows that Noah's Flood was geographically limited" and "because of its relatively brief duration, would not have left any significant geological or archaeological evidence" (p 79, 224). These interpretations put Ross completely at odds with the young-earth creationists, but he never suggests that Bible scholarship should decide the issues.

4) Ross frequently cites evidence that the emergence of humans is so unlikely that it requires a God: "According to recent studies, for the universe to produce the kinds of galaxies, stars, planets, and chemical elements essential for physical life, the cosmic mass density must be fine-tuned to at least one part in 1060. The cosmic dark energy … must be fine-tuned to at least one part in 10120 [and] even if the universe contains as many planets as it does stars, the possibility for the existence of just one planet or moon with the required conditions for advanced life falls below 1 in 10282" (p 94, 97; footnotes indicate that these studies were conducted by Ross himself).

The book is filled with these sorts of statements. It appears from the footnotes (and from his other books) that Ross spends a lot of time scanning the scientific literature for any suggestion that conditions for life represent an unlikelihood and then accepts these claims as the final word on the subject. He enjoys reducing these probabilities to numbers and then multiplying them together to derive astronomical improbabilities for life appearing on its own — all to prove that the biblical God had to be involved. This line of reasoning is common to creationists, but Ross takes it to a whole new level.

Ross's attempt to find as many cases of "fine-tuning" as possible has led him into serious errors outside his specialty of astronomy. For example, in trying to explain the need for ice ages, he claims that "large, fast-moving glaciers predominant during ice ages contributed to the formation of many of earth's richest ore deposits" (p 173). Actually, glacial ice is exceptionally poor at sorting minerals by density and thus does not concentrate valuable minerals into ore deposits. Another of Ross's claims involves weather phenomena:
If earth's rotation rate slowed to 26 hours per day, no hurricanes or tornados would ever occur. … [Earlier in earth history] 21-hour days spawned enormously more destructive hurricanes and tornados. Placing humanity on earth when the rotation rate had slowed to 24 hours meant that the Creator timed the human era to correspond with the ideal hurricane and tornado era in geologic history — another piece of evidence that the timing of humanity's advent was planned rather than accidental. (p 171)
Earth's rotation is not the main driving force for these storms — solar radiation is. If solar luminosity increased during the history of terrestrial life, as Ross contends, then intensity of storms could have increased. Slowing of earth's rotation would tend to reduce wind speeds, but hurricanes and tornados would not cease if the rotation slowed to 26 hours per day. Since primitive trees and land animals survived during 21-hour days, then there is no reason to doubt that humans could have also. Many other examples of Ross's dubious science could be cited.

Ross devotes 25 pages at the end of the book to proposing, in tabular form, 89 "predictive tests" that should help settle the creationism/evolution debate: 22 for "simple sciences" (mostly astronomy), 52 for "complex sciences" (mostly biology), and 15 for "theology/philosophy". For each of the 89 "tests" he includes a prediction for the RTB Model as well as for three of its rivals: Naturalism, Young-Earth Creationism, and Theistic Evolution. Here is one typical example from each category:

Predictive Test 6 under Simple Sciences

RTB Model and Theistic Evolution:
Evidences [sic] for an actual beginning of space and time will grow stronger and more numerous. These evidences [sic] will continue to place the beginning of space and time at about 14 billion years ago.

Naturalism:
Evidences for an actual beginning of space and time will become weaker and less numerous.

Young-Earth:
New discoveries will prove that the beginning of space and time took place less than about 10 000 years ago.

Predictive Test 37 under Complex Sciences

RTB Model:
Continuing DNA analysis increasingly will establish that humans could not have naturally descended from previously existing hominins or primates.

Naturalism:
Continuing DNA analysis increasingly will establish that humans did naturally descend from previously existing hominins or primates.

Young-Earth:
Continuing DNA analysis increasingly will establish that Neanderthals, archaic Homo sapiens, and Homo erectus are fully human.

Theistic Evolution:
No majority position yet developed.

Predictive Test 9 under Theology/Philosophy

RTB Model and Young-Earth:
As philosophers continue to research the nature of birds and mammals, they will find increasing philosophical evidence that they possess many features that could not possibly be derived or inherited from lower animals.

Naturalism and Theistic Evolution:
As philosophers continue to research the nature of birds and mammals, they will discover increasing philosophical evidence that they possess no features that could not possibly be derived or inherited from lower animals.

I believe that the above predictions illustrate why Ross believes he can win using this strategy. In the realm of astronomy, he knows where the science is headed, and he has done his best to align his model with that science while distancing competing models from it. In the areas of biology, theology, and philosophy, he has made predictions that are so subjective that he can continue to filter the evidence selectively and cite the opinions of authorities that agree with him. He has already dismissed evidence for evolution in favor of numerous ad hoc miracles, so there is no reason to suspect that he will be objective with future discoveries.

While this strategy will undoubtedly strengthen Ross's own faith, it is unlikely to have any impact on those of other perspectives. Philosophical naturalists and theistic evolutionists will continue to find Ross's model biased, arbitrary, and only consistent with selective evidence. Young-earth creationists will continue to insist that Ross is out of harmony with the Bible, which is their primary authority. Even if some of Ross's "predictive tests" fall in his favor, this is unlikely to sway others because his model is internally inconsistent and deliberately constructed to accommodate the data he hopes will vindicate it.

Creation as Science does not live up to its title. While Ross proposes a scientific-style test to resolve a longstanding controversy, in reality it represents an entrenchment on the part of its author into an incoherent model with little hope for widespread appeal.

About the Author(s): 
Timothy H Heaton
Department of Earth Sciences
University of South Dakota
Vermillion SD 57069
theaton@usd.edu