Interview with Hugh Ross of Reasons To Believe, Part 1

Hugh Ross / Reasons To Believe Collection (9 Vols.)Our Hugh Ross / Reasons To Believe Collection (9 Vols.) is nearing completion, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to talk to Dr. Ross about his area of expertise and the excellent resources in this collection.

The interview is lengthy, so we’ve divided it into two posts. The second post will appear tomorrow. If you have an interest in creation, science, and apologetics, I think you’ll find it a fascinating read.

Here are the first 9 questions that Dr. Ross answers below. Scroll down to start reading, or simply click on any of the questions to jump directly to his response. Enjoy!

  1. As an astronomer and a pastor of evangelism for more than 30 years, could you describe the importance of using science to help people come into a relationship with Jesus Christ?
  2. For our readers who might not be familiar with you or your work, could you give us a brief introduction?
  3. Can you tell us a little about your ministry, Reasons To Believe (RTB)?
  4. Can you share a little bit about your conversion to Christianity?
  5. You’re an astrophysicist. What exactly does that mean?
  6. What started your interest in creation science?
  7. Why is testing so important?
  8. How can the Christian worldview be tested for poor biblical interpretations?
  9. How can science be tested for poor interpretations?

Q1. As an astronomer and a pastor of evangelism for more than 30 years, could you describe the importance of using science to help people come into a relationship with Jesus Christ?

A. The heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects. When the record of nature appears to contradict the Bible, that conflict may prevent an individual from making a personal commitment to Christ. For Christians such perceived inconsistencies may stymie the motivation to share their faith.

A core doctrine of Christianity is that everything God reveals is true and, therefore, consistent. The Belgic Confession states that God gave us two books: the book of Scripture and the book of nature. Both are faithful and trustworthy. Thus, any conflict between science and theology must be due to either a misinterpretation of nature’s record, a misinterpretation of the Bible’s words, or both.

The Bible commands us to be diligent in integrating everything God reveals in its 66 books and in all scientific disciplines. Anomalies or apparent discrepancies should be welcomed as opportunities to dig deeper and broader in the quest to learn more of the truth God reveals.

Today, in some science disciplines, the knowledge base doubles in less than five years. Such new knowledge fascinates people. It also provides opportunities to put belief systems to the test. Whereas many non-Christians refuse to listen to historical evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead, they will listen to news about a recent scientific discovery. Thanks to the pace of science research, every weekday our Reasons To Believe (RTB) team is able to post a new reason to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior.

Q2. For our readers who might not be familiar with you or your work, could you give us a brief introduction?

A. I completed my undergraduate degree in physics at the University of British Columbia and have graduate degrees in astronomy from the University of Toronto. My postdoctoral studies were completed at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where I researched quasi-stellar objects, or “quasars,” some of the most distant and ancient objects in the universe.

Curious about the world’s religions and “holy books,” I found only one that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Scientific and historical reality-testing convinced me that the Bible is the Word of God.

Communicating that God’s revelation in Scripture and in nature do not, will not, and cannot contradict each other became my message and mission. My colleagues at Reasons To Believe and I keep tabs on the frontiers of research to share with scientists and nonscientists alike the thrilling news of what’s being discovered and how it connects with biblical theology. In the process, I’ve written many books including: The Fingerprint of God, The Creator and the Cosmos, Beyond the Cosmos, The Genesis Question, A Matter of Days, and Creation as Science.

Between writing books and articles, making webcasts and podcasts (see www.reasons.org), and being interviewed by outside media, I maintain an extensive travel schedule with the hope of challenging students and faculty, churches, and professional groups to consider what they believe and why. I try to present a persuasive case for Christianity without applying pressure. Treating people’s questions and comments with respect has opened many doors for me as a speaker and a talk-radio and television guest.

Q3. Can you tell us a little about your ministry, Reasons To Believe (RTB)?

A. It’s a science-faith think tank founded in 1986. RTB focuses on the relationship between the words of the Bible and the facts of nature. We present reasons in writing or in talks at universities, research labs, churches, and elsewhere for confidence in the findings of science and in the authority of Scripture. Our scientists and theologians demonstrate how God’s verbal revelation proves accurate and wholly consistent with the latest discoveries. Podcasts, webcasts, video clips, and articles, including Today’s New Reason to Believe, show how scientific advance supports the Christian faith. Each can be accessed at www.reasons.org. Event information is listed there as well. We also maintain a science-faith hotline (626-335-5282) that operates daily from 5 to 7 p.m.

Q4. Can you share a little bit about your conversion to Christianity?

A. I was born in Montreal and raised in Vancouver, Canada. My parents were morally upright but nonreligious. I didn’t know any Christians or serious followers of any religion while growing up.

Though my neighborhood was poor, its public schools were outstanding and its libraries well-equipped. By age seven I was reading physics books as fast as I could check them out. By eight I decided to make astronomy my career. In the next several years my study of the big bang convinced me that the universe had a beginning, and thus a Beginner. But, like the astronomers whose books I read, I imagined that the Beginner must be distant and noncommunicative.

My high school history studies disturbed me, for it became obvious that all people groups tend to take their religions very seriously. Knowing the European philosophers of the Enlightenment largely discounted religion, my initial response was to study their works. But I quickly discovered inconsistencies, contradictions, evasions, and circular reasoning.

The next step was to turn to the “holy” books themselves. If the Creator had spoken through any of these books (and I thought He probably had not) His authorship would be obvious: the communication would be perfectly true. I reasoned that if man invented a religion, it would reflect human error. But, if God communicated, His message would be error free and as consistent as the facts of nature. So, I used the facts of history and science to test each of the “holy” books.

Initially my task was easy. After only a few hours (in some cases less) of reading, I could find one or more statements clearly at odds with the historical and scientific facts. I also noted a writing style best described as esoteric and mysterious; it seemed inconsistent with the character of the Creator as implied by the facts of nature. My task was easy until I dusted off the Bible that the Gideons had given me as part of their distribution program in public schools.

The Bible was noticeably different. It was simple, direct, and specific. I was amazed at the quantity and detail of its historical and scientific (i.e., testable) accounts. The first page caught my attention. Not only did its author correctly describe the major events in the creation of life on Earth, but he placed those events in the scientifically correct order and properly identified the earth’s initial conditions.

For the next year and a half I spent about an hour a day searching the Bible for scientific and historical inaccuracies. Finally I had to admit it was error free and that this accuracy could only come from the Creator Himself. The Bible alone described God and His dealings with man from a perspective that demanded more than just the dimensions (length, width, height, and time) we humans experience. Further, I had proven to myself, on the basis of predicted history and science, that the Bible was more reliable than many of the physical laws. My only rational option was to trust the Bible’s authority to the same degree as I trusted the laws of physics.

By this time I clearly understood that Jesus Christ was the Creator of the universe, that He paid the price only a sinless person could pay for all of my offenses against God, and that eternal life would be mine if I received His pardon and gave Him His rightful place of authority over my life. I understood enough Scripture to know, however, that this commitment could not be kept secret. It had to be public, and that meant letting my peers, professors, and family know. I feared the contempt and ridicule that surely would come. So, for several months I hesitated.

During those months I experienced a strange sense of confusion. For the first time in my life, my grades dropped and I had difficulty solving problems. I was discovering the meaning of Romans 1:21, which says that when a man rejects what he knows and understands to be true about God, his thinking becomes futile and his mind darkened. The eventual consequences spelled out in the succeeding verses chilled me.

I knew what I had to do, but my pride seemed too great. One evening I prayed, asking God to take away my resistance and make me a Christian. I prayed this way for six hours with no apparent answer. Finally, I realized that Jesus Christ will not force Himself upon anyone, even if asked. It was up to me to humble myself and invite Him in. And this is what I did at 1:06 in the morning. I then signed my name to the “decision statement” at the back of my Gideon Bible, acknowledging Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Right away I sensed an assurance that God would never let me go, that I was His forever. My fears of ridicule from unbelievers subsided gradually, and day by day I began learning how to share my discoveries of spiritual truth with fellow students and faculty. However, a lack of fellowship with other Christians stunted my growth in Christlikeness.

Every once in awhile I’d visit a church only to discover a cult or a group who called themselves Christians but did not take the Bible seriously. On arriving at Caltech for postdoctoral studies, I finally met a serious believer, Dave Rogstad. Dave invited me to a seminar on applying biblical principles to daily living. There I sat with 16,000 committed Christians. I was overwhelmed to find that so many believers existed, and the things I was taught helped and humbled me.

Within weeks of that seminar I found myself not only attending home Bible studies but helping lead them. Dave challenged me to begin sharing my faith with nonscientists. I was surprised to observe that unlike scientists, who tend to struggle more with their wills than with their minds in coming to Christ, nonscientists tend to struggle more with their minds. If only they could see convincing evidence that God exists, that Jesus is God, and that the Bible is true, they would readily give their lives to Christ. What joy to know the truths that could help set them free!

I began spending more and more time sharing the evidence with others. Within a year I started serving full-time as the minister of evangelism for Sierra Madre Congregational Church. Ten years later, when breakthrough discoveries in the sciences virtually sealed the scientific case for the God of the Bible, a group of friends urged me to form Reasons To Believe. RTB communicates new scientific evidence for creation as widely as possible. It is my delight to report that for each year I have known Jesus as my Lord and Savior, my joy in Him and in sharing His truth with others grows greater. There is nothing in this world for which I would trade my relationship with Jesus Christ. [For an extended audio version, go to Hugh Ross' testimony (Real Audio, 50 minutes).]

Q5. You’re an astrophysicist. What exactly does that mean?

A. An astrophysicist studies the physics of the universe and all it contains: cosmic voids, galaxy clusters, galaxies, dark matter, dark energy, gas, dust, stars, planets, moons, asteroids, comets, cosmic rays, etc. Decades ago, astronomers exclusively focused on making observations of the universe and its components while astrophysicists made theoretical interpretations of the observations. Today, however, virtually all observational astronomers spend much of their time making theoretical interpretations and virtually all theoretical astrophysicists are involved to some degree in making observations. Thus, the terms “astronomer” and “astrophysicist” have become interchangeable. This interchangeability explains why even universities with large numbers of graduate students in a wide range of astronomical sciences offer either astronomy or astrophysics degrees, not both.

Q6. What started your interest in creation science?

A. My parents said I did science experiments even before I could talk (though that didn’t happen until I was five). By the time I was sixteen I recognized that astronomical observations favored the big bang model of the universe. A big bang implied a cosmic beginning and, hence, a cosmic Beginner. That realization prompted me to study different philosophical systems and religions to test whether their teachings matched the established record of nature. Thus, creation science played a crucial role in my becoming a Christian.

By the time I started postdoctoral research studies at the Caltech, I kept running into people who began peppering me with creation science and science-faith questions. The same thing happened at the church I attended near Caltech. My answers led to invitations to speak on the subject. And, my writing soon followed.

Q7. Why is testing so important?

A. Testing guards our minds and spirits from deception. The Bible warns us that legions of fallen angels and humans are determined to win converts to their rebellion against God. Rigorous, thorough, objective testing is a God-given tool that helps us discern truth from error. Testing is the chief means by which we can uncover more of the truth God wants us to discover and understand.

The Bible states that people perish for a lack of knowledge. But, not all knowledge is from God. The apostle John warns, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Q8. How can the Christian worldview be tested for poor biblical interpretations?

A. The Bible is not one book. It is 66. Many Christians pride themselves on taking the Bible literally, but fail to take it consistently. A weakness of the modern American church is its failure to appreciate and practice systematic theology. The best way to check out and fine-tune an interpretation of a topic addressed by a particular Bible passage is to examine all the verses throughout Scripture that pertain to that topic.

A correct interpretation must be consistent with all the passages. However, there may be more than one such interpretation. The range of possibly consistent interpretations must be continually reevaluated as one’s knowledge and understanding of the topic and the relevant Bible passages grows. These interpretations also must be evaluated in light of other related biblical topics and doctrines.

Another means for checking a particular interpretation are extrabiblical truths, for example, God’s second book, the book of nature. The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy wrote in 1981, “We affirm that since God is the author of all truth, all truths, biblical and extrabiblical, are consistent and cohere, and that the Bible speaks truth when it touches on matters pertaining to nature, history, or anything else. We further affirm that in some cases extrabiblical data have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches, and for prompting correction of faulty interpretations.”

Q9. How can science be tested for poor interpretations?

A. Science is the study of the entire record of nature. Through observations and experiments, scientists note that nature’s record is contradiction free. This unfailing consistency yields a reliable test for any scientific interpretation.

Correct scientific interpretations must explain in a consistent and fully integrated manner all the scientific data accumulated in all scientific disciplines. The best interpretation develops a model with the most extensive, detailed, and complete explanation of the phenomenon under consideration.

A theologian can always learn more about a biblical topic. So, too, a scientist can always learn more about a scientific phenomenon. The lack of total knowledge implies that every phenomenon under investigation will exhibit anomalies that don’t quite fit the available scientific explanations.

Anomalies provide another means for evaluating scientific interpretations. For poor interpretations anomalies will grow in number and significance as scientists learn more about the phenomenon under investigation. For good interpretations anomalies will shrink in number and degree of significance.

Gaps in knowledge and understanding yield yet another testing tool. If gaps grow bigger and more numerous as scientists learn more, the interpretation is likely incorrect. On the other hand, if the gaps shrink in magnitude and number, that’s a sign one’s interpretation lies on the pathway toward truth.

Finally, a good scientific interpretation will be consistent with what the Bible teaches. Scripture properly integrated, analyzed, and understood can correct faulty interpretations of nature’s record.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for part two.

In the meantime, don’t miss out on your chance to pre-order the Hugh Ross / Reasons To Believe Collection (9 Vols.) at a nicely discounted price.

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2 Responses to “Interview with Hugh Ross of Reasons To Believe, Part 1”

  1. Greg December 23, 2008 at 4:11 am #

    Thank you for this interview! It was very informative.
    Dr. Ross, I don’t know if you’re gonna read this, but I’d just like to thank you for your books. They were an important step in my understanding of scripture and the natural world. Because of these I have a more healthy view of modern science than I did in my younger years!
    Starting out as a six-day creationist, I was against most of the science of today for, as I thought, being un-biblical. I was introduced to the Day-Age view by Norman Geisler, in his book “Unshakable Foundations”, and was able to explore it further by your writing. Over time my view of science began to change as I started to see that it wasn’t as bad as six-day creationists were saying.
    The day-age interpretation proved to me, for some time, very useful in reconciling our physical origins with what the Bible says, until very recently. I will confess, while this view really helped me to move forward in my thinking for several years, it wasn’t were I ended up.
    Just about a year ago, I was exposed to the idea that we are looking at the creation account in Genesis primarily through a modern western viewpoint, and forgetting to take into account the Ancient Near Eastern understanding of it.
    I found that understanding Genesis as an ancient would changes the whole picture. It was pointed out to me that the questions that we are asking are the kinds of questions that modern science can answer, but also ones that were foreign to the ancients. They weren’t concerned with the physical origins of things like we are. They cared about functional origins, or how something came to function in relation to humans. Even their view of existence was different from ours. Something didn’t begin to exist until it had a useful function and a name. To us something exists when we can physically describe it. Not so to them. The physical origins of things were not a concern to them.
    By reading Genesis through ancient eyes, I wasn’t surprised to see it focus on a thing’s functional origins. I then began to see why we have such a hard time forcing Genesis to fit into our modern, scientific worldview. We’re trying to make it answer questions that it wasn’t written to answer!
    Two scholars helped me to understand this. Bruce Waltke, in his Old Testament Theology, and John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and author of “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament”. Two authors and books that I cannot recommend enough for understanding the ancient worldview of the Israelites.
    Walton presented a lecture recently at the Logos Lecture Series entitled “Genesis One as Ancient Cosmology”. It’s an incredibly informative lecture and very helpful in understanding the worldview and culture of a person living in the Ancient Near East. It can be listened to here: http://www.logos.com/media/lecture/walton.mp3 I’d recommend it for anyone with even a small interest in the science/creation debate.
    Dr. Ross, if you are reading this, once again thank you very much for your contributions to my understanding of science, and thank you also for the resources your books and website is providing to Christians everywhere.
    Greg

  2. Rob December 26, 2008 at 7:16 am #

    May God continue to bless you in this ministry. In today’s world, primarily in the university setting, this is sorely-needed research material on God’s creation.