CHOOSING YOUR EPISTEMOLOGICAL MASTER: What Hugh Ross’ Latest Attack on Young-Earth Creationism Reveals about Old-Earth Creationists

CHOOSING YOUR EPISTEMOLOGICAL MASTER: What Hugh Ross’ Latest Attack on Young-Earth Creationism Reveals about Old-Earth Creationists

© 2020, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24a)

In His sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the truth that one cannot truly serve two masters, that each one who tries to do so will eventually choose one as the true master and despise (scorn, treat with contempt)[1] the other.  While Jesus applied it to the choice of God or mammon (riches), it is a truth that applies generally, including in the matter of epistemology (how we gain knowledge).

Now, Christians believe that the Bible is entirely inspired by God (literally “God-breathed” – 2 Timothy 3:16) and is therefore without error of any sort – “The entirety of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160a) – and has been given to us in such a way that we can understand it (Habakkuk 2:2; 2 Corinthians 1:13).  As such, it is more certain and trustworthy than any other source of knowledge.[2]

There are, of course, other legitimate sources of knowledge, including eyewitness testimony, historical records, and the scientific method.  This latter is based on repeated observation, experimentation, and inductive logic, and is a very valuable tool for discovery.  But it is not infallible, and, like any other human endeavour, it is also subject to being misused for less-than-honest purposes.

But what happens if claims from scientists contradict what the Bible teaches?  Then we are in the situation of Matthew 6:24, where we are faced with two competing epistemological masters, and we cannot serve them both; we will end up being loyal to one and despising the other.  Now, one would think this an easy decision for every Christian: the Bible must be our epistemological master.  Yet, shockingly, very many professing Christians today choose the pronouncements of scientists over the plain meaning of the Bible.  This is especially the case in the matter of the origins of the world and the life in it.

Typical of this attitude is Dr. Hugh Ross, President and Founder of Reasons to Believe, an organization that rejects young-Earth creationism and promotes the idea that the Bible can be reconciled with the claim that the universe is some 13.6 billion years old and the Earth about 4.6 billion years old.  Let us consider one of his recent attempts.

On July 29, 2020, Ross posted his answer to the “Question of the Week: Why is young-earth creationism so much more prevalent in English speaking nations than in non-English speaking nations?” on his Facebook page.[3]  By way of introduction, he says,

From my own experience that observation certainly appears to be true. I have spoken and taught on science-faith topics now in over 40 different nations. It is in the English speaking nations where I encounter the greatest percentages of people who hold to a young-earth interpretation of both the book of Scripture and the book of nature.

Now, this is self-reporting claim by Ross and we must accept it, as it is about his personal experiences, but it does not speak to the actual percentages of the population of the nations around the world that accept the young-Earth teaching of Scripture.[4]  Ross does not tell us in which nations he has “spoken and taught,” though it is likely to be mostly “first-world” nations.  And it is certainly true that the relentless assault of the “three-headed monster” of Darwinism, historical criticism, and textual criticism has gone a long way towards destroying the authority of Scripture[5] (and with that acceptance of the young-Earth teaching of Scripture) in that part of the world, so it is not surprising that in most nations in which Ross has “spoken and taught,” he will not have encountered significant percentages of the population believing that the Earth is young.  However, this is neither here nor there when it comes to the truth of young-earth creationism; that is determined by proper exegesis of the Bible, not by majority vote.[6]

Ross goes on to say,

There are many reasons why I believe this is the case. Here, I will briefly describe four.

He makes four points, and they are telling, but not for the reason he thinks.  Let us consider them, in order.

The First Point

Ross’ first point is:

The English language is where there is the greatest disparity in vocabulary size relative to biblical Hebrew. In biblical Hebrew, if one does not count the names of people, cities, and towns, there are only about 3,000 words. English possesses a vocabularly [sic] size in the hundreds of thousands, millions if one counts biochemical terms and species names. English readers of the Bible, consequently, often fail to realize that nearly every biblical Hebrew noun has multiple distinct literal defintions [sic]. If Bible readers are unaware that the biblical Hebrew nouns for day, evening, and morning have multiple distinct literal definitions, they can mistakenly presume that the only possible literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is that the creation days are six consecutive 24-hour periods.

Hugh Ross does not know Hebrew,[7] and it shows, but that is not an excuse for his error here, as anyone who knows any language should realize.  The fact is that in every language, including English, nearly every noun “has multiple literal definitions,” regardless of the size of the vocabulary of that language.[8]

Now, we can distinguish between the meanings of “set” in these sentences although the word has four hundred and thirty meanings), based on context and other indicators:

  • “Quiet on the set!” shouted the director.

  • I turned on the television set to watch Tarzan.

  • Tors won the first set against Djokovic in their match at Wimbledon.

In the same way, we can distinguish which of its possible meanings the Hebrew word yōm takes in Genesis 1.  The industry-standard Hebrew lexicons (BDB[9], HALOT[10], and DCH[11]) list several different meanings (none of which refers to an extremely long period of time), but, as can be found from checking these sources, when yōm is in the singular and has no affix[12] and is not in construct with an absolute noun[13], it can only mean a 24-hour day or the daylight portion of a 24-hour day.  And throughout Genesis 1, yōm is in the singular and has no affix and is not in construct with an absolute noun, which means that the only legitimate exegesis of Genesis 1 is that God created the world in six 24-hour days.[14]

Other chronological data throughout the OT[15] establish the number of years between the creation of Adam and the start of the Babylonian captivity of Judah in 587 BC, and these set the maximum possible age of the Earth, as we’ve said, at 7,685 years.[16]  There is no legitimate exegesis that would allow us to insert millions, let alone billions, of years either before or after Adam.

Now, this may be very inconvenient for those who want to make the Bible accommodate the diktats of atheistic science, but there is no way around it.  Our only option is to believe the word of God or to disbelieve it.

The Second Point

Ross’ second point is:

I have observed that there is a much stronger emphasis in the education systems of non-English-speaking nations on mathematics and the physical sciences than there is in many English-speaking nations. Therefore, many English language speakers are not as aware of how strong is the scientific evidence against the universe and Earth being younger than 10,000 years old. Likewise, they are not as aware that there are no known PhD trained scientists who, independent of a particular interpretation of the Bible, have concluded that the universe and Earth are young.

So Ross thinks that people in English-speaking countries believe the Bible’s teaching on creation because they are too ignorant to know better.  On they contrary, the most obvious conclusion to be drawn from this fact is that students who are indoctrinated in secular schools that give the students one-sided old-Earth propaganda because their mandate is to make the students believe in evolution will end up believing it.  It is unfortunate that Ross does not realize that this is a bad thing, not a good thing.

Ross also might want to think about the fact that teaching young-earth creation in public schools is banned by the coercive power of the state.  Why must that be done, if the scientific evidence against is so powerful and conclusive?  Certainly this evidence should be able to send young-earth creationism packing, if it is really as Ross claims, and would not need the unconstitutional action of secular courts to give it the monopoly, would it.

Furthermore, regarding Ross’ claim of “how strong is the scientific evidence against the universe and Earth being younger than 10,000 years old,” we can say two things.  First, the PhD scientists who work for Answers In Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, and Creation Research Ministries (and other such organizations) have exposed quite clearly that the scientific evidence does not support an old Earth but a young Earth,[17] and those who are trained in science can see that what they say is correct.  There is, in fact, no scientific evidence simpliciteragainst the universe and Earth being younger than 10,000 years old”; such “evidence” obtains only if we combine the actual observational data with uniformitarian assumptions and unwarranted presuppositions.  In legal terms, this is known as witness-tampering.

Then, descending into the rebarbative, Ross claims that people in English-speaking countries “are not as aware that there are no known PhD trained scientists who, independent of a particular interpretation of the Bible, have concluded that the universe and Earth are young.”  Now, we would ask Ross which is the epistemological master: the word of God or the word of atheistic scientists?  Is a “PhD trained scientist” in a better position to know the how and when of creation than the Creator Himself?  That seems to be an exceedingly fatuous notion.

Furthermore, there is a reason that most PhD trained scientists reject the conclusion that the Earth is young,[18] and it has nothing to do with the actual evidence; however, more to the point, inasmuch as the Bible teaches young-Earth creation, what does it matter who and how many people refuse to believe it?

Let God be true, but every man a liar (Romans 3:4b).

Finally, let us point out to Ross his own intellectual inconsistency, which he may not even have noticed.  He says that

there are no known PhD trained scientists who, independent of a particular interpretation of the Bible, have concluded that the universe and Earth are young.

If that be true, so is this: “there are no known PhD trained scientists who, independent of a particular interpretation of the Bible, have concluded that supernatural miracles, such as people rising from the dead, are possible.”  Will Ross now abandon his belief in Jesus’ miracles and resurrection because of this fact?  Should we do so, Dr. Ross, if the views of non-Christian “PhD trained scientists” is the determining factor?  If not, why was this even mentioned?  And I wonder if Dr. Ross can explain the double standard here.

The Third Point

Ross’ third point is:

I have noticed that people for whom English is their first and primary language are much more distrustful of scientists and theologians. They also are much more likely to believe that there are conspiracies within the scientific and theological communities intent on deceiving the public. Therefore, they are much more prone to dismiss, without any personal investigation, scientific and biblical evidences against young-earth creationism.

It is difficult to understand the exact nature of Ross’ cavil here.  If he thinks we should be more trustful of scientists, we must ask (a) what does that mean, and (b) why.  Does he think that we should accept whatever they pronounce, and if what they pronounce disagrees with the Bible, well, too bad for the Bible?  Shall we remind Ross that not all that long ago, scientists were telling us that Blacks were less evolved and inferior to Whites[19]; should we have trusted them on this?

Does he really think that scientists are better and more intellectually honest than other people, that they do scrupulously honest work and go wherever the evidence leads, so that their pronouncements should be trusted implicitly?  He would have to be ludicrously quixotic to believe that.  Has he never heard of Climategate?[20]  Has he not followed what is going in such areas as supposed catastrophic anthropomorphic climate change and “gender” issues?  Is he truly so ignorant of the politicization of science that has been going on for a long time now?  There seem to be far more scientists in search of grant money than those in search of truth, and far too few who are willing to risk their careers to defend inconvenient facts.

It is exactly for this reason that Christians must not uncritically trust scientists, but must indeed perform “personal investigation” regarding young-Earth creationism, and it is a calumny by Ross to suggest that young-earth creationists do not do so.  On the contrary, that is exactly what we do.  We do not “dismiss … biblical evidences against young-earth creationism,” for there is no such evidence, and one cannot dismiss what does not exist.  The testimony of the Bible is uniform and clear about the fact that God created the world in six 24-hour days a maximum of 7,685 years ago.  Nor, as we have seen, is there any scientific evidence that speaks against young-Earth creationism sans uniformitarian and other unwarranted assumptions and indirect inferences being added to it.

It seems to us that the reality of the situation is not that young-Earth creationists are too distrustful of scientists but that old-Earth creationists are too trustful of the claims of atheistic science.  These include both Christian scientists, who were basted in atheistic science claims throughout their training and are generally not equipped to do proper Biblical exegesis), and theologians (who are untrained in science and so dare not challenge the claims of atheistic scientists).

Finally, we should point out that the overwhelming majority of PhD trained scientists, independent of a particular interpretation of the Bible, believe in the theory of organic evolution.  Ross does not, so we would ask him (a) why he thinks we should trust scientists on the age of the Earth but not on organic evolution, and (b) what the fact that the overwhelming majority of PhD trained scientists are, according to Ross, wrong about organic evolution should do to calls to trust them.

The Fourth Point

Ross’ fourth point is:

I have experienced in English-speaking nations a growing trend toward anti-intellectualism. Critical thinking often is dismissed as unspiritual, uncompassionate, and elitist. Likewise, the principle of testing all things and the scientific method. Relativism, critical theory, and post-modernism cause many in English-speaking nations to question truth claims.

It might interest Ross to learn that “relativism, critical theology, and post-modernism” are not unique to English-speaking nations; post-modernism was spawned in France and critical theory in Germany.  But that is not what is shocking here; what is shocking is Ross’ objection to questioning truth claims!  Can he possibly be serious?  Does he think that a truth claim should be accepted without question simply because it has been asserted?  That is the exact opposite of critical thinking!  One wonders if Ross is even thinking about what he is writing.

It gets worse.  It seems that, according to Ross. believing what the Bible says is “anti-intellectual” and dismisses “critical thinking,” while believing the claims of atheistic scientists instead is “intellectual” and results from “critical thinking.”  He is wrong:

Let no one deceive himself.  If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; and again, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” (1 Corinthians 3:18-20)

Choosing to believe the claims of atheist scientists over the plain meaning of the word of God is choosing the wisdom of the world, which is foolishness with God.  And critical thinking does not lead us to do that; it leads us to accept the truth of all of God’s word, including its teaching that God created the world in six 24-hour days a maximum of 7,685 years ago.

Conclusion

What the Bible teaches about the origin of the world is clear and utterly incompatible with any old-Earth creation claims.  The scientific evidence, properly assessed, agrees with what the Bible says, but those Christians who mistakenly believe the claims of atheistic scientists in this matter are still able to (and should) choose the Bible as their epistemological master and believe what it says.

Those who believe the claims of atheistic science and twist the testimony of the Bible in an attempt to make it fit these claims have chosen them as their epistemological master and as a result are despising the Bible and treating it with contempt, and in so doing are undermining the authority of the Bible and so causing harm to the cause of Christ.  It is vain to pretend otherwise.


Endnotes

[1] καταφρονέω (kataphroneō): “To look down on someone or something with contempt or aversion, with implication that one considers the object of little value, look down on, despise, scorn, treat with contempt” BDAG, p. 529

[2] See Tors, John. “The Inspiration of Scripture: An Explanation and a Response to Creation Ministries International’s Problematic View.” Posted at https://truthinmydays.com/the-inspiration-of-scripture-an-explanation-and-a-response-to-creation-ministries-internationals-problematic-view/.

[3] https://www.facebook.com/RTBHughRoss/posts/3145588525519230

[4] i.e. that the Earth is a maximum of 7,685 years old.  See Hardy, Chris and Robert Carter. “The biblical minimum and maximum age of the earth.” Journal of Creation 28:2 (2014), pp. 89-96

[5] Tors, John. “The Three-Headed Monster and the Evangelical Betrayal of the Bible: Exposing the Major Weapons Levied Against the Trustworthiness of the Bible.” Posted at https://truthinmydays.com/the-three-headed-monster-and-the-evangelical-betrayal-of-the-bible-exposing-the-major-weapons-levied-against-the-trustworthiness-of-the-bible/.

[6]To know whether belief in young-earth creationism is actually more prevalent in English-speaking countries, one must do studies in all of the nations in the world to determine the percentage of the population that believes in young-earth creationism and then a comparison of English-speaking nations to others to determine whether the percentages of those who “hold to a young-earth interpretation” is significantly greater in the former than in the latter.  As far as I know, this has not been done.

[7] See under “Ignorance of Hebrew” in Sarfati, Dr. Jonathan, “Exposé of The Genesis Question* Serious biblical and scientific errors deceive evangelicals,” Journal of Creation 13:2 (August 1999), pp. 22-30.  Available at https://creation.com/expose-of-the-genesis-question-by-hugh-ross#hebrew.  If Ross has learned Hebrew since then, it is not obvious.

[8] The English word “set,” for example, has over two hundred different definitions.

[9] Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon, 1907, pp. 399-401

[10] Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, and Johann J. Stamm. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Translated and edited under the supervision of Mervyn E. J. Richardson. 2 vols. Leiden: Brill, 2001., pp. 399-401

[11] Clines, David J. A., ed. The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2009, pp. 149-150

[12] Prepositions may be affixed to nouns.  Affixing the preposition “be-“ to yōm, for example, yields “bayōm,” which is literally “in the day” and can be translated as “in the day,” “at the time,” or “when.”

[13] Hebrew expresses the genitive case by the construct relationship between two nouns, wherein the first is in the construct state (i.e. its form – generally the spelling – can change) and the second is in the absolute state (i.e. its form cannot change); no preposition is used, as is used in English.  For example, “word of the LORD” is dabar YHWH, with “dabar” (word) in the construct state and YHWH in the absolute state.  There is no actual word for “of.”  See, for example, Ross, Allen P. Introducing Biblical Hebrew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001, pp. 99-105 for details.

[14] There are other indicators in the text that also show that yōm can only be taken as a 24-hour day or the daylight portion of a 24-hour day in Genesis 1.  See Tors, John. “Is a 4.6-Billion Year-Old Earth Compatible with Biblical Inerrancy? A Response to Norman Geisler.” Posted at https://truthinmydays.com/is-a-4-6-billion-year-old-earth-compatible-with-biblical-inerrancy-a-response-to-norman-geisler.

[15] Genesis 5, 6:7, 8:13, 11, 21:5, 25:26, 47:28; Exodus 12:40-41; 1 Kings 6:1, 1 and 2 Kings (passim).

[16] Hardy, Chris and Robert Carter, “The biblical minimum and maximum age of the earth,” Journal of Creation 28:2, 2014, pp. 89-96

[17] See, for example, Snelling, Dr. Andrew A., and Dr. David Menton, Dr. Danny R. Faulkner, and Dr. Georgia Purdom, “Evidence for a Young Earth and Creation.” Posted at https://answersingenesis.org/creation-vs-evolution/evidence-for-young-earth-creation/.

[18] See Humphreys, Russell: “Why most scientists believe the world is old.” Posted at https://creation.com/why-most-scientists-believe-the-world-is-old.  As Humphreys says, “Most scientists believe the earth is old because they believe most other scientists believe the earth is old!  They trust in what’s called ‘circular reasoning’, not data.”  And we can add to that the fact that they know their careers would be ended if they expressed belief that the Earth is young. (See Bergman, Dr. Jerry. Slaughter of the Dissidents: The Shocking Truth About Killing The Careers of Darwin Doubters. Vol. 1 Leafcutter Press, 2011.)  And see also Professor Richard Lewontin’s candid admission at https://creation.com/amazing-admission-lewontin-quote.

[19] See, for example, Bergman, Dr. Jerry. “Evolution and the Origins of the Biological Race Theory.” CEN Tech. J., 7:2 (1993), pp. 155–168.

[20] “The Climategate scandal proved that key data involving man-made climate change was manipulated. In 2009, the public discovered emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit exposing how scientists who have been enormously influential in promoting the concept of man-made climate change actually attempted to cook the books to obtain results that served their narrative that the planet was heating at a dangerous trend due to higher levels of carbon dioxide.

“One of these scientists included Dr. James Hansen, a former NASA climatologist who is known by some as the ‘father’ or ’grandfather’ of the climate change myth, as it was his ‘Model Zero’ that first introduced the concept of global warming. Hansen, Philip Jones, Michael Mann, et al. were all involved in trying ‘to lower past temperatures and to “adjust” recent temperatures upwards, in order to convey the impression of an accelerated warming,’ according to the leaked emails. The emails also revealed how this cabal of scientists would discuss various ways to stonewall the public from seeing the ‘background data on which their findings and temperature records were based,’ even going as far as deleting significant amounts of data. They would engage in efforts to smear ‘any scientific journal which dares to publish their critics’ work.’” Bandler, Aaron, “9 Things You Need To Know About The Climate Change Hoax.” Posted on October 7, 2016 at https://www.dailywire.com/news/9-things-you-need-know-about-climate-change-hoax-aaron-bandler.

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