Open letters are usually letters of critique. The letter I am making public below, however, is a letter of thanks to the creation science ministry called Reasons to Believe, founded by Christian astronomer Hugh Ross. I wrote the letter in April 2015 some time after reading Ross’s book, A Matter of Days. I am publishing it here because I desired at some point to write about why thinking about the physical age of the world is important for Christians, and realized that this letter already contained a good introduction to my thoughts.
Dear Reasons to Believe:
My purpose is simply to thank Dr. Hugh Ross and your ministry for the work you do, and to tell you about the impact Dr. Ross’s book A Matter of Days has had on my perception of the physical world.
I am 32 years old, and, by God’s grace, have always been a Christian. But growing up, it was fairly assumed that being a Christian and taking the Bible seriously meant holding to a young earth creationist model of origins, which I did. Like many young people, I found science very interesting. That interest in scientific topics never faded (though I did not study science in college). In high school I read Henry Morris’s Scientific Creationism, which is a heady tome for someone that age. Though much of it was beyond me, I basically understood the arguments from biochemistry against abiogenesis, which were extremely compelling. As time went on, I began to understand other things, like the rudiments of information theory; irreducible complexity in the cell, in organs and higher organisms, and even in ecosystems; and the case these discoveries made for intelligent design. If the creationists I was reading had done anything well, it was exposing the flaws in evolutionism.
But of course, there was also the issue of the age of the cosmos. Understand, I not only enjoyed reading creation science, I actually attended San Diego Christian College (formerly Christian Heritage College), cofounded by Dr. Henry Morris himself. Henry Morris, John Morris, Duane Gish, and Ken Ham were household names for us. I had from time to time visited the Institute for Creation Research museum. I was familiar with the arguments for a young earth and a global flood, which at the time seemed sufficient. There was no real argument for a young universe, though we all expected this to be forthcoming as science advanced. Until then we just assumed it was young and that explanations for its apparent age would emerge. For a while, I was quite excited about Russell Humphrey’s and John Hartnett’s white hole model.
It is only over the past year or so that I began to doubt the idea of a planet less than 10,000 years old. But after reading a useful little title by Keith Mathison called A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture [currently free for Kindle], I began to realize in a clearer way what I would have affirmed verbally all along—namely, that natural revelation from God in the physical world around us is a source of true knowledge, when properly understood, and that it may be helpful on some occasions in clarifying the meaning of certain things revealed specially in the Bible.
At the same time, I was losing faith in “appearance of age” arguments. These seemed to suggest that even if many lines of carefully considered data all converged to indicate an age of the universe or the earth of billions of years, these lines of data either must be completely misunderstood or they may be authored by God, despite being practically illusory. Even many YEC scientists were rejecting the “light in transit” explanation of visible distant stars, because supernovas greater than 10,000 light years away would requires us to believe the exploded star never really existed and that the perceived explosion was simply a light show God had made. This obviously has unsettling philosophical ramifications about God’s way of communicating, and our belief that the world we live in is real, and not an illusion, as the Bible says (and contrary to some eastern and new age views), and that God has given us senses that accurately perceive this real world, as the Bible assumes. Appearance-of-age explanations for other phenomena, whether geological or astronomical, are likewise problematic.
I began to research interpretations of Genesis 1-2 from Gorman Gray, Meredith Kline, and Mark Futato. This lead me to consider for the first time that a young-earth interpretation may not be the only interpretation that respects the text or authorial intent.
Still, I did not yet know just how compelling the evidence for an old earth was, nor how thin arguments for a young earth were. Besides, in all my reading of science articles from YEC sources, I had heard of this “Hugh Ross” character many times, and knew he was up to no good! But, after opening up to the possibility of an old cosmos, I was interested, hungry even, for more information. I began perusing Reasons.org. Eventually, I wanted to find out what RTB had to say about all this in depth. Still being slightly suspicious, and on a budget, I didn’t want to pay full price for Dr. Ross’s opus, so I “donated” ten dollars to RTB and got the book as a “free gift.” Sorry!
I devoured the book. I sometimes comment that I read it in “a matter of days.” It helped me understand the large volume of evidence for an old earth and universe. This volume of evidence is a real problem for a YEC interpretation of the Bible. YEC proponents often (rightly) point out that facts don’t interpret themselves, and that there are facts and then there are interpretations of the facts. This is true. But likewise there is the text of Scripture, and there are interpretations of it. A true interpretation of the Bible will submit to the Bible’s literary forms, and will integrate the whole, and will not turn a text on its head—words do have understandable meaning, and interpretation has definite limits. So I am not saying the Bible can be “interpreted” to accommodate just anything. On the other hand, this must also be true of natural revelation, since God is its author. Interpreting facts of nature in such a constrained way so as to make them basically incomprehensible also does damage to the idea of God as a revealer of truth, or about the possibility of science at all. And the Bible encourages science (e.g., 1 Kings 4:33). The more we discover about the universe, the more material we have for which to praise a mighty and wise God. There is no need for me to repeat back to you all of your own reasons to accept an old age of the earth. Suffice it say I have been convinced that the earth is old.
I used to view all of secular science with a degree of suspicion. Granted, many of these sources begin with a presumption of atheism. Not that all the contributors are atheists. I simply mean that they will only allow for naturalistic causes of all things. But now I find reading from Nature, National Geographic, or the Smithsonian can be much more exciting, because there is no need to be constantly denying the old-cosmos timeline that is everywhere present. There will always be the need to read all sources with a discerning mind. But maybe these scientists do have much to teach, often unbeknownst to them perhaps, about the glories of the Creator. Maybe they have much to teach about the realities around us—things we can learn. (John Calvin thought so.)
After finishing A Matter of Days I read the Presbyterian Church in America report on the hexameron cited in Dr. Ross’s footnotes. I will also read the Westminster Seminary report. Being Reformed (Baptist) in my own understanding of Scripture, I have much respect for these sources and what they say about the acceptable ranges of interpretation for Genesis. Thank you for pointing them out.
But most importantly, thank you for pointing out the facts of God’s world. God’s people are to be a truth-seeking people. Truth is truth. Believing in a God of truth and revelation, and in an intelligible world created by a law-giver who gives us sensory perception and the laws of logic themselves, and who upholds the universe by fixed and uniform laws, we can pursue the clues of nature methodically to come to accurate conclusions. The irony is that it is the Christian alone who understands the basis in God for math, logic, uniformity of nature, and language. It is this pursuit of truth that concerns me most. It is this, I fear, that YEC proponents may be giving up in order to adhere to their tradition. Dr. Ross’s book was a real eye-opener for me, and I pray that RTB can continue to impact the world for Christ by pursuing truth in all spheres, both theological and scientific.