Review: More than a Theory
Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Work under Review
Hugh Ross is the founder of the self-described "science-faith think tank" Reasons to Believe (RTB). The fundamental aim of the "scientists" at RTB is "to demonstrate how God’s verbal revelation [in the Christian Bible] proves accurate and wholly consistent with the latest [scientific] discoveries" (http://www.reasons.org). In the service of this fundamental aim, Ross and his RTB colleagues have produced a long list of books and pamphlets: for example, Rana and Ross 2004, 2005; Ross 1983, 1989, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006, 2008; Ross and others 2002. It is no secret that these previous books have received scathing reviews from both mainstream scientists (see RNCSE 2006 Sep/Oct; 26 : 35–7, 2006 Sep/Oct; 26 : 37–8, and 2007 May–Aug; 27 [3–4]: 45–8 for reviews of Ross 2006, Rana and Ross 2005, and Rana and Ross 2004, respectively) and young-earth creationists.
In his new book, Ross sets out to compare "the RTB model of creation/ evolution" with "the three most familiar Western models: naturalistic evolution, young-earth creationism, and theistic evolution" (p 234). Ross claims that, in 2006, RTB published "a set of simple science predictions" from these four "models", and that the assessment of these "predictions" against subsequently collected data yields the results reproduced in Table 1 (p 244).
Naturalism Young Earth Theistic EvolutionRTB Creation
Fulfilled 1 3 4 20
Partly Fulfilled 1 0 5 1
Not Yet Fulfilled 1 1 2 1
Partly Falsified 3 1 11 0
Falsified 16 17 0 0
Table 1. Predictions of four models, according to Hugh Ross.
Here are four of the "simple science predictions" that Ross attributes to "naturalistic evolution":
- New astronomical discoveries will increasingly disprove the current astronomical consensus that the physics of the Big Bang event must be exquisitely fine-tuned for life to be possible in the universe. (p 235–6)
- New astronomical discoveries will show how unremarkable earth’s location in the universe is for habitability and observation. ... Astronomers will soon discover other planetary systems in the Milky Way Galaxy where advanced-life-support planets could exist and where observers could view the universe as easily and thoroughly as astronomers do on earth. (p 236–7)
- Evidence for fine-tuned long-lasting plate tectonics will weaken as scientists learn more about plate-tectonic phenomena. ... Thin-atmosphered planets (or other bodies) with stable, long-lasting plate-tectonic phenomena will prove relatively common. ... These phenomena will prove less and less crucial to the needs of advanced life ... and their apparent fine-tuning will eventually be seen as vastly overrated. (p 238)
- As anthropological and genetic research advances, humanity will prove increasingly less distinct from the most recent hominid species. ... Evidence for interventionist miracles to explain humanity’s unique characteristics will steadily decline. (p 239)
This is all sublimely silly. Naturalism — the view that there is nothing but natural causation — does not involve a commitment to 1–4. Naturalistic astronomers do not predict, for example, that they will soon find lots of planets with thin atmospheres and stable, long-lasting plate-tectonic phenomena. Moreover, even if the astronomical evidence were to suggest strongly that, in the observable universe, the earth is unique in possessing a thin atmosphere and a stable, long-lasting plate-tectonic structure, that would be no difficulty for naturalism. Setting all other considerations aside, we need only note that we have but lower bounds on the size of the universe proper; we have no good current estimates of the size of the part of the universe that we are unable to observe. So, setting all other considerations aside, naturalists can suppose that the size of the part of the universe that we are unable to observe is sufficient to remove puzzlement at the existence of a planet with a thin atmosphere and a stable, long-lasting plate-tectonic structure.
Ross does say: "I’ve taken the liberty to deduce predictions from each of the four models while attempting to remain as neutral and objective as possible. Should any of these predictions be misstated, I have a genuine desire for correction. Where a range of positions is held within a particular camp, unless otherwise qualified, I’ve attempted to describe the position as held by its most publicly prominent advocates"(p 234). But this is surely just cant. Ross’s new book displays all of the failings that others identified years ago in his previous works — that is, his new book is also replete with errors of fact, errors of reasoning, misunderstandings of science, egregious interpretations of scripture, elementary misunderstandings of Hebrew, uses of scientific terms without consistent explanation or elaboration, unjustified reliance on religious rhetoric, and sundry other kinds of cheap tricks, distortions, and so on — and is no more worthy of a serious readership.
Here is one small example. Ross claims that Hawking and Penrose "proved, within the framework of classical general relativity, that if the universe contains mass and if the equations of general relativity reliably describe the universe’s dynamics, then its space and time dimensions must have had a beginning that coincides with the universe’s origin" (p 96–7). This simply is not so. Hawking and Penrose did prove some theorems that tell us that, under plausible assumptions, there are generic essential singularities in general relativistic space-times: that is, under plausible assumptions, if we suppose that general relativity is true, then we have good reason to suppose that there are singularities in space-time. However, Hawking and Penrose did not prove that, under plausible assumptions, there are generic essential initial singularities in general relativistic space-times: that is, they did not prove that, under plausible assumptions, if we suppose that general relativity is true, we have good reason to suppose that space-time has an initial singularity. If there are black holes, then there are singularities in space-time. The Hawking and Penrose results allow that there are general relativistic space-times that contain black holes but that have no initial singularities. So Hawking and Penrose certainly did not prove that "if the universe contains mass and if the equations of general relativity reliably describe the universe’s dynamics, then its space and time dimensions must have had a beginning that coincides with the universe’s origin".
Rana F, Ross H. 2004. Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.
Rana F, Ross H. 2005. Who was Adam? Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.
Ross H. 1983. Genesis One: A Scientific Perspective. Sierra Madre (CA): Wiseman Productions.
Ross H. 1989. The Fingerprint of God. Orange (CA): Promise Publishing.
Ross H. 1993. The Creator and the Cosmos. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.
Ross H. 1994. Creation and Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.
Ross H. 1996. Beyond the Cosmos. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.
Ross H. 1998. The Genesis Question. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.
Ross H. 2004. A Matter of Days. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.
Ross H. 2006. Creation as Science. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.
Ross H. 2008. Why the Universe is the Way it is. Grand Rapids (MI): Baker, 2008.
Ross H, Samples KR, Clark M. 2002. Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.
School of Philosophy and Bioethics
Monash University VIC 3800
Graham Oppy is Professor of Philosophy at Monash University. His latest book is Arguing about Gods (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).