Astrophysicist Searches for Answers – Dr. Hugh Ross’s Story

Oct 28, 2022

Side B Stories
Side B Stories
Astrophysicist Searches for Answers - Dr. Hugh Ross's Story
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Former atheist Dr. Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist, began an intensive search to discover the cause of the universe, and it led him to God.
Reasons to Believe – www.reasons.org
Resources by Hugh Ross:
  • Always Be Ready:  A Call to Adverturous Faith
  • Why the Universe is the Way it is
  • A Matter of Days:  Resolving a Creation Controversy
  • Improbable Planet:  How Earth Became Humanity’s Home
  • Creator and the Cosmos:  How the Latest Scientific Discoveries Reveal God
  • Who was Adam?  A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Humanity

Episode Transcript

Hello, and thanks for joining in. I’m Jana Harmon, and you’re listening to Side B Stories, where we see how skeptics flip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or skeptic, but who became a Christian against all odds. 

There are big questions about the universe we live in. How did it all begin? Why does the universe appear to be so fine tuned for life? How did humans come to be? The answers to these and other questions are but a few of many that not only help us understand the bigger picture of reality, they also help us to understand ourselves. But how do we answer these big questions? Our guest today, a truly brilliant astrophysicist and theologian, Dr. Hugh Ross, has spent his life carefully, meticulously studying two sources which have helped him find the answers, the book of nature, that is what we observe around us in the world, in the cosmos, and the book of scripture, the Bible. 

As an atheist, he was searching for the best explanation for what he observed in the cosmos. Were naturalistic theories sufficient to account for the origin and fine tuning of the universe of life? Or did he need to look beyond purely naturalistic causes to substantively ground what he was discovering? As an analytical scientist, he felt compelled to honestly, carefully search until his curiosity was satisfied. 

Today, we’re going to hear Dr. Ross tell his fascinating story of moving from atheism to becoming a strong proponent of the Christian worldview. We’ll also hear him discuss the seeming inescapable relationship of science and belief in a Creator God. He is a prolific author, thinker, and scholar. You may have heard of him or his ministry, Reasons to Believe. I hope you’ll come along and listen to his amazing story and catch a glimpse of his extraordinary intellect. 

Welcome to Side B Stories, Dr. Ross. It’s so great to have you with me today. 

Well, thank you for inviting me, Jana.

Wonderful. As we’re getting started, so the listeners know a bit of the—I will say the word gravitas, that you bring to the table. It’s such a pleasure and privilege to have you, because of your expertise in so many ways. Could you just enlighten our listening audience a little bit as to your academic background? 

Yeah. I have a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of British Columbia and a PhD in astronomy from the University of Toronto. And I was on the research staff of Caltech for five years thereafter. And while I was at Caltech, I got called to join the pastoral staff of a church a few miles away and have been serving on the pastoral staff of that church for the past four decades. And it was that church that helped me launch Reasons to Believe some 36 years ago. And we’re basically a group of scientists and theologians that are developing new reasons to believe in the God of the Bible.

Of course, that sets off curiosity in me in terms of how science and theology go together, but I’m sure we’re going to tease that out as we go. Let’s back up into your story as a child. Can you give us a sense of where you grew up? Let’s start there, with just where did you grow up? And tell me about the culture in terms of religious belief in the world around you. 

Yeah, well I was born in Montreal, Canada, and my father had a thriving hydraulics engineering business, even though he only had a 10th grade education. He had several dozen engineers working for him. But then his financial partner saw the money and basically bankrupted the company and went to Brazil. So my dad had to lay off all the employees when I was four years of age and basically took what little money he had left and moved us all to Vancouver, British Columbia. So I grew up in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Vancouver, but it was in Vancouver, attending a public school, that I really got interested in astronomy.

Your parents, did they have any faith in God? Did they have any belief that God existed at all in terms of just even your home life? 

Well, they believed in the morality of Christianity, and so they certainly taught me and my two sisters moral principles. But they both denied eternal life, and so they just said, “This idea of a Trinity is nonsense. There’s no such thing as eternal life.” So they weren’t Christians. There were no Christians I knew of in our neighborhood. I really didn’t get to have a spiritual conversation with a Christian until I arrived at Caltech to do my postdoctoral research.

And people often ask me, here in the United States, “How is that possible?” Well, it’s different in Canada. The Christians tend to isolate themselves in suburbs outside the big cities. So, for example, 60 miles away from downtown Vancouver, there’s a suburb that’s about 80% Christian. But where I was growing up, it was like 1%, and I had no contact with that 1%. So, yeah, I didn’t really know Christians during my growing up years, although I tell people I did see two Christians from thirty feet away when I was eleven years of age. And these were two businessmen that came into our public school and put two boxes on our teacher’s desk. They didn’t say a single word. They just put two boxes on our teacher’s desk and left. But in those boxes were Gideon Bibles. And we were all invited to take one home. And everybody in my class took one home. I took one home, but I didn’t pick it off my bookshelf until six years later.

Okay. All right, so it sounds like that the Christian ethos or whatever, it was somewhat visible in your home with regard to morality, but in terms of practical practice and encountering Christians, that was fairly absent. So now take us back to you said you were seven years old, and you were having a conversation with your parents about the stars. 

Well, Vancouver rains a lot, but I remember one night when the rain stopped and the clouds opened and you could see these stars, and I was struck by that and just said, “Hey, are those stars hot?” And that’s when my parents said, “Yeah, they are.” But they couldn’t tell me why. Now, the public school I attended, I was in grade two. At the beginning of grade two, the teacher took us on a field trip to the Vancouver Public Library, where they had 3 million volumes, huge library. And so I was fascinated by that library. And I remember that day going home with five books on physics and astronomy. That was the maximum you could check out.

But I read those books in one week and went back to the library. And that was back in the 1950s, when parents felt okay, because they just basically gave me the bus fare. And by myself, I made three transfers to get to the Vancouver Public Library, checked out five more books, and brought them home. Parents today would never allow their children to do that by themselves at that age, but that was common back then. So that’s how I spent my Saturdays, going to the public library and bringing home four or five books. And they were always on physics and astronomy. I wasn’t interested in fiction. Occasionally, I would look at some other science books, but I basically gravitated to the physics and astronomy. And literally every year growing up, I would focus on a subdiscipline of astronomy.

And it was at age 16, I said, “I’m going to study cosmology.”

Okay. 

Yeah.

Let me ask you a question before we go there. I’m sure someone’s listening, just a little befuddled at the idea of a 7, 8, 9, 10 year old reading five books at that level of physics and astronomy and all of those things. Is there something unique about you that allows you that level of intellect that we should know? 

Well, I’m on the autistic spectrum, and people with a high IQ that are on the autistic spectrum, they tend to behave like professors. They get focused on a subject, and they study that one subject to a great deal of depth. It might be dinosaurs. It might be fungi. For me, it was stars and galaxies and cosmology.

And in one year, I had read all the books on physics and astronomy in the children’s section of the Vancouver Public Library, and I talked to the librarian, and she gave me an adult pass. And later on, I was able to get a pass to the university library. So growing up, I was reading everything I could get my hands on, and it was easy for me to comprehend it because I was so motivated. And then I started to basically specialize. Every year it’s like, okay, this year I’m going to study stellar atmospheres, this year the interior stars, next year galaxies. I was at age 16, I said, I’m going to look at cosmology, looking at the different models for the origin and history of the universe.

Was there anyone able to converse with you in any kind of meaningful way on these scientific issues or issues of astronomy? Or was this something that you were completely pursuing independently? 

I was doing it independently until I had hit age 15. And what happened at 15 is that there was a benefactor who came into the city and said he wanted to pull out the 25 top science students in the city. And so I was invited to sit for an all-day exam. It took 9 hours to take the test, but I was one of the 25 that was selected to be part of this program. And that’s where I got to know the science professors at the University of British Columbia. I also got involved in the Astronomy Club in Vancouver, and at age 16, they made me the director of observations. So I was actually giving lectures on astronomy at the university to adult audiences starting at age 16. And I then got involved in research on new forming stars in the Orion Nebula. My dad worked with me to build a telescope, so I used that on the few nights where it wasn’t raining to study these T Tauri stars, and I wound up winning the British Columbia Science Fair for my research. And then when I went on to the university, as a sophomore, I won the journal prize for the best science article in the Physics Society Journal. So that’s kind of what it was like. But my fascination was there.

But I can remember when I was eleven years of age, my parents thinking that I was being obsessive about physics and astronomy. It seemed a mystery to me. Why are they worried about me? But they were, and so they wanted me to read outside of physics and astronomy. They tried to get me to read novels. I had no interest in novels. I only wanted nonfiction. And I did read a little bit of history. And so they wound up having me read this big, thick book of evolutionary biology at age eleven. I was the only one in the family that read it. But I said, “Mom, Dad, the numbers don’t add up. I see all this appearance of phyla, orders, and classes before humanity, but nothing after humanity. What’s going on?” They said, “Well, go talk to your science teachers.” They said, “Go talk to those science professors you know.” Nobody could give me an answer for why there was this discontinuity.

But what happened at age 16, as I looked at the steady-state model for the universe, the oscillating model, the big bang model, but recognized that the evidence, the observations, heavily favored big bang cosmology. And I recognize, if it’s big bang, the universe has a beginning. If there’s a beginning, there must be a cosmic beginner. And so I said, “I want to find that cosmic beginner, but no one could guide me.” I said, “Well, I think the best place to look will be in the philosophy textbooks of Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant,” so I remember going through the Critique of Pure Reason and saying, “There’s a lot of internal contradictions in this that are not making sense.” And Descartes didn’t really satisfy me, either. And I went to a public high school, where we had refugees from around the world.

And so that’s where people were telling me, “Hey, if you’re interested in this, look at Hinduism, look at Buddhism, because we have people from all different religious backgrounds.” So I went through the Hindu Vedas, the Buddhist commentaries, the Quran, the writings of the Zoroastrians, and finally, I picked up that Gideon Bible and began to go through it.

Now, what is it about those religious texts, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Baháʼí, all of these religions that you investigated, why did they not satisfy? You were seeking an explanation for the beginning of the universe. So why did they not satisfy that or comport with that beginning of the universe? 

Well, I first read a textbook on comparative religions, and I noticed that often the critiques of the world’s religions, they put their holy books in the worst possible interpretive light. And I said, “I’m not going to do that. I’m going to read these books in the best possible interpretive light, give them the benefit of the doubt, wherever that appears.” But what I discovered with the Hindu Vedas, for example, even when you put it in the best interpretive light, there are serious problems. I mean, the Vedas talk about how the universe has repeated beginnings every 4.32 billion years, and I knew that the number 4.32 was wrong. We have measurements that prove that it’s wrong. And this idea that the universe reincarnates. Most people know that Hinduism has this belief of the reincarnation of humans and animals, but it’s fundamentally based on the idea that the universe reincarnates. But I knew that the entropy of the universe was at least 100 million times too high for there to be any possible mechanism to reincarnate the universe. So I said, “Hey, this is not the pathway to the one that created the universe.

And I did the same thing with the Buddhist commentaries. I looked at the Quran. I looked at the Mormon writings. I looked at Baháʼí.

But that was all before I really looked at the Bible. But what struck me when I first picked up that Gideon Bible, going through the first page, Genesis 1, for six days God creates. On the seventh day he stops creating. And I noticed that, for the first six days, you have them closed out by, evening was, morning was, day two, three, four, et cetera. So I said, “It’s telling me each of these days has a start time and an end time.” But when I got to day seven, there’s no evening, morning phase, and that’s the day when God stops creating.

So I remember going through the rest of the Bible quickly and discovered Psalm 95 and Hebrews 4, which basically exhort us humans to enter into God’s day of rest. So I said, “The day of rest is ongoing, and that explains the fossil record enigma, why we see all these new phyla, classes, and orders appearing before humanity, but none whatsoever after humanity.”  The six days are referring to the eras before humans. The seventh day is the human era.

And so, ever since I was eleven, I was plagued by this enigma. And just looking at the first page of the Bible, I said, “This answers the fossil record enigma.” And also I spent 4 hours going through the Genesis 1 creation account, and again, part of it is that I was steeped in the scientific method. In the Canadian public education system, we were taught it in grade one, grade two, all the way through to grade twelve. But none of my public school teachers told me where the scientific method came from. When I began to go through that Gideon Bible, looking at the creation text, I said, “This is the scientific method. This is where it came from.” Because, when you look at Genesis 1, what it tells you is a frame of reference for the six days of creation. It’s God hovering over the surface of the waters, and it gives you the initial conditions as dark on the waters. The waters cover the whole surface. The Earth is empty of life and unfit for life. Well, those are steps one and two of the scientific method: Don’t interpret until you have first established the frame of reference. Don’t interpret until you have first established starting conditions. That’s right there in Genesis 1:2. And from that point of view you go through the six days of creation, and I realized everything here is correctly stated, and everything is in the correct chronological order when compared with established science.

And long before that I’d looked at the Enuma Elish of the Babylonians. I looked at the creation text in the Quran, in the Buddhist commentaries, in the Vedas, and it’s like they got almost nothing right. The best I found outside of the Bible was a creation text that got 2 out of 14, 2 right, 12 wrong. The Bible got everything right and put everything in the correct chronological order.

And so that began an 18-month study. Now, I knew my parents would be disturbed if they knew I was studying Christianity and the Bible to that degree. So I waited till midnight. Basically it was between midnight and about 1:00 or 1:30 in the morning where I’d have my bedroom door closed, and I’d be secretly studying the Bible and did that every night for an 18-month period. But after those 18 months, I recognized, “When I put the Bible in the best possible interpretive light, I cannot find a single error or contradiction.” And that persuaded me. This book is not just written by human beings. It must be inspired by the One that created the universe.

And so it was at age 19, I signed my name in the back of the Gideon Bible, committing my life to Jesus Christ. But to be frank, it wasn’t just me checking out the science. I also checked out the fulfilled prophecies in the Bible. And I think what really struck me when I first began through the Bible was the elegance and the beauty of its moral message. Because all the holy books have a moral message, but they pale in comparison to the elegance, the consistency, and the beauty of what you see in the Bible.

And one of the things I did during those 18 months is say, “I’m going to do everything I can to live up to this moral message. It’s so beautiful.” But the harder I tried, the more I realized I couldn’t do it.

And I need to give credit to the Gideons. They tell you exactly what you need to do once you become persuaded that what you’re reading is the inspired inerrant word of God. And they have a page there where they say… The primary message is, “We humans need God. We cannot live up to His moral standard, but God is willing to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. He’s willing to trade His moral perfection for our moral imperfection,” and I also appreciated what they were saying is that the Creator of the universe knows better than we do what’s best for us. So it only makes rational sense to make the Creator of the universe the boss of your life. And of course, they describe how the Creator of the universe came to Planet Earth as a human being, demonstrated a life of moral perfection, proved that He was God through the miracles He performed, and yet willingly sacrificed His life so that we can be delivered from the consequences of our sin. So I remember thinking to myself, “This is an offer that’s too good to turn down,” so I signed my name on the back of that Gideon Bible, committing my life to Jesus Christ.

Amazing. It’s interesting how your curiosity, your scientific curiosity is what drove you to the philosophies and the religions. But I don’t suppose that you were anticipating this kind of whole life change based upon what you were reading. You were seeking an explanation for the beginning of the universe, but you ended, not only with an answer to that question, but also as the Creator as Lord of your life. 

Right. I had been exposed to little snippets. I mean, even though my parents were not Christians, didn’t believe in the Christian message. I remember, growing up—my father, when I told him this, said he had no recollection, but I was about ten or eleven, and out came from his mouth, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but the ends thereof are the ways of death.” And he claims he had no idea where that came from. He had no idea it was in the Bible. But he said that once after a dinner conversation. And I got to think about that, you know? “What’s going to happen? This life here on Earth is short, and I’m pursuing this career in astrophysics. Is that really the best way I can spend my short time here on Earth?” So it got me thinking.

I also remember, when I was about eight or nine, my parents went to a department store in downtown Vancouver, and they couldn’t afford a babysitter, so they dragged me and my two sisters on the bus to do their shopping. And we got off the bus. There was a street preacher there with about a dozen people around them. I remember my parents saying, “We’ve got to get away from that nut,” and so they dragged us away as fast as possible. But I heard about 15 seconds of what he was saying, and it got me thinking, because in those 15 seconds, he talked about the fact that we cannot deliver ourselves from our own failings. So that’s all I heard, but it got me thinking. And that one Bible passage my dad quoted got me thinking.

So I imagine, as someone listening to this, they think that there’s no way that science can be reconciled with belief in a god. That for them seems rather an archaic or superstitious position. How would you respond to that? Obviously your entire work has been a response to that question. But if someone were to ask you that, how would you answer them? 

Well, it was recognizing that the universe had a beginning. And that was followed up by the spacetime theorems, which proved that the universe not only has a beginning, but the spacetime dimensions also have a beginning, which implies that the cause of the universe must be some entity beyond space, time, matter, and energy. So I recognized that in my late teens and said, “There’s got to be some kind of God. I need to find that God, that cosmic beginner.”

And in my studies of science, I realized the laws of physics are never violated. They’re consistent, they’re constant, throughout the entire universe, throughout the whole history of the universe. I can really trust what I’m seeing in the world and the universe around me. It’s a revelation of truth. And I also realized that, “Hey, we humans are personal. We’re capable of free will and expressing and receiving love. The Creator of the universe must have those characteristics as well.”

So when I heard about these different philosophers and people of different religions claiming that the creator of the universe had communicated to us, I said, “Well, that’s within reason,” but I also knew that all these different holy books contradicted one another. So I said, “Okay, I’m going to check them each out and see if any of them has any validity.” But it made sense to me that this personal, loving Creator Who’s provided for all of our needs would want to communicate.

So I began to go… and again, I put these books in the best possible interpretive light, and that was based on the belief it makes sense that this God would want to communicate. But the ministry of founded reasons to believe is founded on the two books principle, that God has revealed himself through two books, the book of nature and the book of scripture. And it comes from the same God for whom it’s impossible to lie or deceive. And so I was looking for a book that would concord with what I knew to be true in the book of nature. And it took me 18 months, studying an hour to an hour and a half at night, but I finally came to the conclusion, this is it.

I love that both the book of nature and book of Scripture is just such a succinct but clear picture of the comprehensive unity, really, of a God who is the God of all truth, God of the Bible, God of the universe. For those who aren’t familiar with the way that you interpret the creation accounts and how you’re able to marry those with what we find in current scientific study, I’m imagining that they would want some clarification because, obviously in the Christian worldview, there are different interpretations. 

Sure.

And could you explain some of that for us, please? 

Yes. Well, you heard earlier that I’m on the autistic spectrum, and everybody who’s on the spectrum is different from everybody else in the spectrum. As I talk to parents who have autistic children, I say, “You need to find their special, unique gift, and it’s going to be different for every child.” And what I’ve discovered is the gift that I seem to have is the capacity to integrate across multiple complex disciplines. And I approach the Bible the same way, integrate the 66 books of the Bible, and so when it comes to the creation text of the Bible, it’s like I hold off of my interpretation until I’ve examined all the creation texts in the Bible. And my principle is to interpret them both literally and consistently, because I remember going through these creation texts and realizing they’re written very differently than the creation texts you see in the Quran or the Hindu Vedas, namely that they are devoid of metaphorical language or allegorical language. And there’s a strict chronology that’s implied there. There’s a historicity. So that told me these texts are designed to be interpreted literally, but literally and consistently.

And so how I help Christians with these different creation interpretations is to say, “Let’s go through all the creation texts, realizing this comes from a God for whom it’s impossible to lie or deceive. So if your interpretation of Genesis 1 contradicts your interpretation of Hebrews or your interpretation of Romans, then you know you need to adjust your interpretation,  because God’s not going to contradict himself.”

So that’s kind of my guiding interpretive principle, and I apply that too to my science. So for example, when I’m engaging evolutionary biologists, I say, “When we look at the history of Earths’ life, we need to not only examine it in the context of paleontology, the fossil record, we also need to look at it in the context of genetics, and not just genetics and paleontology. We need to look at it in the context of solar astrophysics.” And whenever I do that with biologists, they say, “What on earth does the sun have to do with it?” I said, “Well, as an astronomer, I can tell you that the sun gets brighter and brighter as it fuses hydrogen to helium, and therefore, unless you have the Creator intervening and removing life from Planet Earth and replacing it with new life on a regular basis, throughout the history of life on Planet Earth, the surface of the Earth would become so hot that it would bring about the sterilization of all life on planet Earth.

But what, in fact, the Creator has done is, by removing life and replacing with new life that’s more efficient and pulling greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere as the sun gets brighter and brighter, we have God by creating just the right life on planet Earth at just the right time, pulling the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere down to perfectly compensate for the increasing brightness of the sun. And so I say, “Yes, you can look at the genetics and think there’s no God involved there, but only a mind that knows the future physics of the sun would know which life to remove from Planet Earth and which new life to replace it with.”

And then that also brings up the issue of integrating the biblical text, because they’ll say, “There’s nothing like that in Genesis.” I say, “Yes, I agree with you, but it’s in Psalm 104, the longest of the creation psalms in the Bible. And if you go to verses 29 and 30, it says it’s the property of all life to die off, but God recreates and renews the face of the Earth.” He’s constantly removing life from planet Earth and replacing with new life. And I say, “Look at the fossil record. What you can easily document is that it’s filled with mass extinction events, quickly followed by mass speciation events.” I say, “Notice King David said it first 3,000 years ago. Only now in the 21st century have we discovered that indeed the fossil record is typified by these mass extinction events, followed by mass speciation events. But it’s exactly what needs to be done to compensate for the increasing luminosity of the sun.”

So that’s kind of what I’ve dedicated my life to, integrating all these complex scientific disciplines and integrating them with the 66 books of the Bible to basically show people this is the pathway to truth, and this is the pathway to receiving truth, life, and love from the Creator of the universe.

I’ve heard you speak also in terms of the predictive value of scripture, and that that was in some ways convincing to you that there actually was a Creator or a mind outside of the universe itself. Could you speak to some of that? 

Well, you heard me say it took me about 18 months to get from Genesis to the end of the Book of Revelation, and that’s because I was checking out all the predictions I saw in the Bible. And there are two categories of predictions: The Bible predicts future scientific discoveries. It also predicts future events in the history of humanity. So I would read these in the Bible, go to the university library, and basically see whether or not these statements in the Bible really were correct. Really and accurately predicted future scientific discoveries and future historical events. And during that 18-month period, I had a notebook where I was actually collecting all the places where the Bible had correctly predicted, and I was committed. I said, “If I find one where I can clearly say the Bible got it wrong, that’s enough for me to say this is not the word of God.” By the end of 18 months, I couldn’t find a single place where the Bible got it provably incorrect. I’ll admit this: I found passages I didn’t understand. But the ones I did understand, everything was accurate and correct.

So I already shared how, going through Genesis 1, I realized all the creation events are correctly described in the correct chronological order, which was way beyond the science of Moses. Some of these things have only been verified in our lifetime. I also discovered that the Bible had accurately predicted the four fundamental features of big bang cosmology and again recognize no one even had a hint that the universe had these characteristics until the 20th century. And that was also captured by fulfilled human prophecy. You read the book of Daniel, and Daniel speaks how there will be four major world empires that will rise upon the face of the Earth. And he was a contemporary of the Babylonian empire, but he predicted the rise of the Greek Empire and the rise of the Roman Empire in great detail. And so I said, “Hey, this is an example where he got it right.”

And then the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. There’s over 100 that were fulfilled by the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and even prophecies about the modern nation, Israel. I remember going through the book of Ezekiel and saying, “I’ve got to check this stuff out.” I literally spent two days with a physics friend of mine. He was my lab partner. He was not a believer. I was not a believer. But we went through these microfiche of newspapers published in ’46 and ’47 and ’48 and realized we had just demonstrated that the Bible had precisely predicted the events that we now recognize as the rebirth of the nation of Israel. So that’s what brought me to faith in Christ, seeing that predictive power.

And that’s amazing. There are a lot of skeptics who push back against a biblical creation because they say that—I believe that they conflate all creation models because they don’t seem to tease out the fact that there are some who believe in a literal 24-hour day in Genesis and there are some who interpret the word day in a different way, but still allow for special creation of Adam and Eve, that the historicity of the text is not lost in that way. Could you tease that out a little bit, especially for even the Christian who might be confused or are hearing this for the first time or even for the skeptic? 

Sure. Well, I run into skeptical scientists and engineers very frequently, as you can imagine. And what I hear all the time is: “How can you possibly believe this Bible when, even on the first page it gets everything dead wrong?” And I said, “Well, from what point of view are you interpreting that text?” And what I hear is they say, “Well, God above is telling us a story of what He claims to have done here on planet Earth.” And I said, “Well, you have the right frame of reference for the universe, Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.” And a lot of them say, “Hey, the Bible got it is dead wrong there. We know the universe was first and the Earth later.” I said, “You are aware this was not written in English, right? It was written in Hebrew. And in Biblical Hebrew, there is no word for universe. They use an idiom for the universe instead, and the idiom is the heavens and the earth. It’s used 13 times in the Old Testament, always referring to the totality of physical reality.” So that helps them.

But I said, “Notice this: The frame of reference, the text changes it from the universe in Genesis 1:1 to the surface of the Earth in Genesis 1:2. And I agree with you, if the frame of reference is above the clouds of the Earth, then the text is teaching nothing but scientific nonsense. But if you put the frame of reference on the surface of the Earth, everything is a perfect fit with the established scientific record.” And for many of the skeptics I run into, that’s a mind blower for them. But I also try to remind them it was Galileo who said, “The biggest mistake you can make in Bible interpretation is to get the wrong frame of reference.” And here’s a perfect example right in the first page. Get the wrong frame of reference, it’s teaching nothing but scientific nonsense. But with the stated frame of reference, it’s a perfect fit. And as far as the days of creation go, again, I say the challenge… notice there’s 40 really good translations of the Bible in the English language. The reason for that? Biblical Hebrew has only 3,000 words in its vocabulary, if you don’t count the names of people and cities. English is the biggest vocabulary language. It’s more than 4 million words. So naturally we’re going to need multiple translations to try to communicate what’s in that original Hebrew.

And so I encourage people: “You got questions, don’t just look at one translation. One translation will not be adequate. You need to look at multiple translations.” But I said, “Look, even without any knowledge of Hebrew, when you look at Genesis 1, it’s clear that this word day must have at least three distinct literal definitions, because three are used in the text. On creation day one, it uses the word day for the daylight hours. On creation day four, it uses the word day for one rotation period of the Earth. But in Genesis 2:4, it uses that same word day to refer to the entirety of creation history. So that day is a long period of time.

And you heard me just say earlier, when you go through the seven days of creation, the first six days are bracketed by an evening and a morning, implying they have a start time and an end time. But there is no such statement for day seven. We’re still in the 7th day. And if we’re still in the 7th day, then these days of creation must be long periods of time. And I take the point, I do translate that God created in six literal days, recognizing there’s four distinct literal definitions of the Hebrew word yom that’s translated as day.

And to my scientist skeptical friends, I said, “I know you interpret science from a purely naturalistic perspective. And that makes sense if you’re doing your science in the human era, because the Bible says God has rested from His work of creation. So when you’re doing research in the human era, you’re only going to see naturalistic processes, but it’s an error to think that that applies all the way back to the beginning of the universe. Previous to the human era, naturalistic process is not adequate to explain what we see revealed in the record of nature. It’s a combination of naturalistic processes and divine miraculous intervention. And that explains why so few biologists are Christians, because most of them focus their research on the human era. It explains why so many astronomers are Christians, because their data comes from deep time. It takes time for the light of stars and galaxies to reach our telescopes. So most of what we do in astronomy is looking into the six days of creation. Most of what biologists are doing is looking at day seven.

And so it explains why there’s a theological and philosophical distinction for what you see in people in the social sciences, the life sciences, and the physical sciences. Social science, it’s 100% the human era. So no wonder that the number of believers in the social science is as low as it is. They’re focused on the wrong day.

That makes sense to me. You’re getting a context of the whole, not just the part. You’re not conflating the part to the whole. You’re seeing the big picture. And I love that. One other clarification, and that is sometimes I think that there’s a presumption, if you believe in an older ancient universe, in an older Earth, that somehow you don’t believe in the special creation of man, that you are an evolutionist. But that’s not necessarily the case. Again, for our listeners, to provide clarity, could you talk about that for just a moment? 

Yeah, I sure can. I mean, our position at Reasons to Believe is that we acknowledge that all of humanity is descended from one man and one woman that God specially created in a garden in the Persian Gulf region. I mean, Genesis 2 tells us. There are four known rivers, the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates, come close together in the Garden of Eden, and two of those rivers are flowing today, two are dry river beds, and that tells me that this must be an ice age event, because only during an ice age would all four rivers be flowing. And then where they come together is in the southeastern part of the Persian Gulf, which today is more than 200ft below sea level. But during the last ice age, it was above sea level. So I think Genesis 2 is implying that God created Adam and Eve sometime during the last ice age, which would be 15,000 to about 120,000 years ago.

Scientists have come up with a date for the origin of humanity based on genetics, but the date isn’t very accurate. It’s 150,000 years ago plus or minus 150,000 years. In a lot of popular literature, they’ll say scientific evidence proves that humans originated 300,000 years ago, but they’re simply taking you to the very far edge of the error bar. The truth is it’s between 0 and 300,000. Take your pick. Although radiometric carbon dating would tell us that humans have been here on Earth for at least the past 40,000 years. So somewhere between 40,000 and 300,000, but the Bible gives you a narrower time frame. It would be previous to about 120,000 years ago, but at a time when the Garden of Eden would have been above sea level.

And geneticists will say, “Well, if you look at the genetics, it seems to indicate that humans are descended, not from two people, but a population of several hundred, maybe even a few thousand.” I mean, Francis Collins wrote in his book 10,000 individuals, but that same genetic data also has large systematic errors which would permit the human species from being descended from a maximum of 10,000 individuals to a minimum of two. So two is certainly within the range of scientific credibility.

In fact, you were mentioning earlier, before we got started, about a debate I had with the president of BioLogos, Deborah Haarsma. And I was sharing with her, “Well, when I was growing up, they were saying the ancestral population was 1 million, and then when I got into my 20s, they said 100,000. Francis Collins says 10,000. A debate my colleague, Fazale Rana, had with Dennis Venema, they said somewhere between 800 and 1200.” And she says, “Well, we at BioLogos could go as low as 132.” And I said, “Well, Deborah, how about if we plot a graph to see where it’s been going? One million, 100,000, 10,000, 800, 132. If we extrapolate, it seems to be heading towards the biblical two.” So I’m just saying let’s wait and see, but my experience of my lifetime is, the more we study the book of nature, the more evidence we uncover for the supernatural handiwork of God.

And I personally model that. Every week I write a 1000- to 1500-word article on our reasons.org website. It’s called “Today’s New Reason to Believe.” So literally, just combing the scientific literature, I’m able to produce an article on a weekly basis showing the more we learn about nature, the stronger becomes the case for the God of the Bible. And I can tell you this, if I had time, I could write six articles every day. That’s how much is being published in the scientific literature. But I’m only one person, so I pick one of those discoveries and write one article a week.

Now, you have written several books. If this has really piqued someone’s interest and they’re wanting to take a look, I know you’ve written in several different areas, but could you highlight a few books that might be good for our listeners to know? 

Yeah. I just finished my 23rd book, but a lot of my books focus on this two-books model and how, the more we learn about nature, the more evidence we get for the inerrancy of the Bible and the Christian faith. My best selling book is The Creator in the Cosmos, now in it’s fourth edition. One book that laypeople like because it’s short and it’s easy to read, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is. And another one would be Improbable Planet. And just this month, we’re releasing a brand new book, Designed to the Core. So, yeah, I got lots of books on this subject. And you can get free chapters of my books at reasons.org/ross.

That’s wonderful! That’s great! So again, at the end of the day, at 19, you signed your name in this Gideon Bible. And it sounds like, from an intellectual point of view, as well as a spiritual point of view, it sounds like the world started to make sense in a comprehensive way, that all of the pieces came together, that you were able to put together the book of nature and the book of Scripture, and that it informs now perhaps everything that you do. 

Well, it was a turning point in my life, because I just finished my sophomore year at university. I was going into my junior year, but I saw my academic career catapult in the sense that, once I gave my life to Jesus Christ, suddenly my ability to comprehend what was in the Bible was much greater than it was before. And likewise, my grades began to catapult. I saw much greater success in my studies in science. Research became much more fun for me.

And something I’ve noticed, especially amongst my peers who are scientists and engineers: When they develop that strong emotional bond with their Creator, their ability to perform catapults.Their abilities to do things becomes greatly enhanced through that relationship. The same thing is true of us human beings, that our capacities and abilities become much greater once we have that bond with a higher being.

That’s extraordinary. It sounds like, again, your life and your work has been just prolific. And so many lives have been touched by your faithful dedication and obvious passion to discover more and more about the truth of the Creator, the truth of creation, and also your passion for Christ, and that Christ is known by all. 

As we’re turning the page here and thinking about the skeptics who are listening, what would you advise them, in terms of, perhaps they can look in a meaningful way. I think one of the things that impresses me about Reasons to Believe is that you put forth a Biblical creation model that is testable and predictive. And that might be surprising to someone who’s listening, that anything about Biblical or creation model could be testable and predictive.

Well, thank you for the opening, because what we’ve done at Reasons to Believe is go to secular university campuses, and we will briefly present an outline of our testable biblical creation model. And then we invite a panel of science professors who are not believers to critique our model, and then we open it up for Q&A with the students and the faculty. And every time we’ve done that, the critique we get is not about the data. It’s not about our interpretation. They tend to drift off into the philosophy of science. “Can we really apply this to this?” But the audience picks up on it right away. They had an opportunity to critique the model, and they didn’t provide any scientific critique of the model. It was only philosophy that they responded with. And so it’s opened a door for us. And what I’ve been doing recently with scientists is say, “Look. So I read my Bible. It says that God begins His works of redemption before He creates anything at all.” In my newest book, Designed to the Core, I basically demonstrate the fine tuning evidence for the God of the Bible is most spectacular in the context of what’s necessary for billions of human beings to be redeemed from their sin and evil.

So what I’ve been sharing with my colleagues who are not yet believers: “Look, I know you’re not a Christian. I know you don’t believe in God. But why don’t you try this experiment? Do your scientific research from a Biblical redemptive perspective and see if it doesn’t make you a more successful scientist. Put it to the test and see what happens.” So that’s kind of a new way I developed for sharing my faith with skeptical scientists and engineers. Just challenge them. “Try this and see what it does for you. If it makes you a more successful scientist, if you’re able to be more productive in your scientific discoveries, then maybe you need to pick up the Bible and look and study its message of what it means for you.”

That’s good advice. And for the Christians who are listening in, I know that there are probably many who have skeptics who push back, who are scientists, that they don’t think that religion has any part of their world. How could you advise Christians to meaningfully engage with those who are skeptical around them? 

Well, I’ve been a pastor for more than four decades in a church that’s sandwich between Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. And what I’ve discovered is the primary reason why people don’t share their faith with adults: They don’t feel that they’re prepared. And I see that in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be ready to share the reasons for the faith and hope you have in Jesus Christ with gentleness, respect, and a clear conscience.”

So my advice is: Step one, get prepared. And that’s what our mission at Reasons to Believe is all about. We write articles, we do books, we do video, all designed to prepare believers to be able to share their faith. A lot of our material is designed to persuade those that are highly educated, either in science or theology or philosophy, or all three. But I said, get those books. You can skim them, get an idea of what they’re all about, and then when you run into people that are skeptics, say, “I’ve got something I want to give to you,” but at least skim it so that you have an opportunity after they’ve read the book, to say, “Hey, how about we have lunch together and talk about what you found in that book?”

And if you get stuck, we’re here to back you up. And so I know one lady who was sharing with a scientist, gave him a couple of my books. He had a ton of questions. They wound up having lunch, and it was way over her head. But she says, “I think I can set up a Zoom meeting for you with the scientists of Reasons to Believe. And that was very productive.

I know one lady who hasn’t read any of my books, but she’s given away more than 250 of my books to people who are not yet believers. And she keeps sending me notes of how those books have brought people to faith in Christ.

That’s extraordinary! I think sometimes half of the work is just knowing what’s available, knowing the resources. I mean, not all of us can be astrophysicists, but we can be familiar with what’s available from those who are and can make connections, and it sounds extraordinary to me, too, that you would offer your expertise on a Zoom meeting, for example, or someone on your staff, to be able to talk through or walk through issues with people who are genuinely curious and asking those questions. 

Well, I think that’s crucial. It’s not just resources that people need. They need that human contact.

Yes. 

One example happened where there was a bunch of professors at a university in the United Kingdom. They were part of a book club, and there was only one Christian in the book club. But they said, “How about if we look at this book?” And they said, “Well, that’s quite different from what we normally look at,” but they gave it a go. But they invited me in after they had read the book. So I spent 2 hours just answering their questions. And, yeah, it was very fruitful in the sense that they all said, “We need to seriously consider this. This is serious stuff. It’s not fluff.”

It is. I think oftentimes the Christian story or narrative is just written off as a myth, just like everything else, that it’s not substantive. But as you’ve seen and you’ve shown through your extraordinary journey of investigation, through not only the religious texts, but also the scientific texts, [1:03:05] this is the worldview that substance resides. It is where things come together, where things make sense. It is a comprehensive worldview. It’s integrated. It’s explanatory. Like you say, it’s predictive. There’s so much there to be known. And I think that there are so many who would be surprised if they’re willing to take a look, like you have. 

I so appreciate even your example, as well as your story. Of course, you’re a genius. But I think what is one of the most pressing things, impressive things to me, is that you were willing to investigate until you found the answers that were satisfying to you, the answers that seemed to match with reality, with what you were seeing in the world, and in the textbooks, and what you’re observing in the cosmos, and that it made sense to you. And also, of course, that you love to share what you know. We’re all benefiting from the hard work and investigation and from your genius. So thank you so much. 

You’re very welcome. But I think one of the unique features of human beings compared to all other life: We’re compulsively curious, not just about where we’re going to get our daily food. We’re curious about those distant black holes and quasars and creatures that exist on the other side of the world. And it’s fun. And what I noticed in the Bible, it says we’re to study both the book of nature and the book of scripture. So what I share with people is do not leave it up to the theologians to study the book of scripture. It’s way too much fun. Everybody needs to be involved. And don’t leave it up to the scientists to study the book of nature. It’s way too much fun. You need to get involved and pull together both books. So God wants us to be engaged. Let’s have fun.

Yes. And of course, the more you know about His world, the more you know about Him, right? 

Right.

Thank you again, Dr. Ross, for coming on today. It’s been nothing but pure pleasure. 

Well, thank you.

Thanks for tuning into Side B Stories to hear Dr. Ross’s story. You can find out more about his books, writing and speaking through his website, reasons.org, which I’ll post in the episode notes. He’s also written a book with regard to his story of conversion, called Always Be Ready. You can access a complimentary chapter also on his website, reasons.org. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me through our website, sidebstories.com. I hope you enjoyed it and that you’ll follow, rate, review, and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we’ll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life. 

 

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