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The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis

The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis

by Hugh Ross, Hugh Ross

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RECONCILING THE NEWEST SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE WITH GENESIS 1-11. "Everyone knows the Bible teaches scientific nonsense" is a commonly held misconception. When pushed for examples, many point to the early chapters of Genesis as proof-creation, the flood, 800-year life spans. And science has largely been silent on the subject-until now. Examining recent, leading-edge


RECONCILING THE NEWEST SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE WITH GENESIS 1-11. "Everyone knows the Bible teaches scientific nonsense" is a commonly held misconception. When pushed for examples, many point to the early chapters of Genesis as proof-creation, the flood, 800-year life spans. And science has largely been silent on the subject-until now. Examining recent, leading-edge scientific discoveries, Dr. Hugh Ross explores how these very chapters hold some of the strongest scientific evidence for the Bible's supernatural accuracy. Like never before, The Genesis Question integrates the accuracy of both science and the Bible-without compromise-giving skeptics and believers common ground and opportunity for dialog. According to recent surveys conducted by Reasons to Believe, the perceived improbability of Genesis 1-11 is what keeps 90 percent of people from believing in the accuracy of the Bible. Complete and up-to-date, The Genesis Question uses scientific data to provide readers with solid answers to their questions regarding scientific advances and the accuracy of Genesis. If you want to understand how the discoveries of science and the truth of the Bible relate, The Genesis Question offers a cutting-edge approach to integrate science and theology in such a way that neither is compromised. "Dr. Ross intriguingly challenges the long-standing divide between faith and reason and between the Bible and science by addressing the relevant, cutting-edge questions of our day. Expect to find your mind challenged, your faith encouraged, and your ability to witness strengthened by this book. "-Craig S. Keener, Th. D. , visiting professor of Bible, Eastern Seminary and author of The IVP BibleBackgroundCommentary"The importance of The Genesis Question lies in its painstaking attempt to take the details of Genesis and science seriously. Even if the reader does not agree with every one of Ross' conclusions, one must thank him for this solid effort at integration, and for giving us a number of ideas that seem to me to be true, reasonable and fruitful for spiritual nurture and evangelism. "-J. P. Moreland, Ph.D. , professor of philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University"The Genesis Question is a substantial step in the direction of a fully satisfactory harmony of the science and theology of origins. We are not there yet-many questions remain open-but this book is a major step forward. "-Samuel Connor, Ph.D. candidate in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology"I've always had a gnawing suspicion that there was more that needed to be said to provide a clearer fit between God's written Word and the world He created. By beginning with the biblical premise that God's Word is without error, Dr. Ross has added authentic interpretations and fresh insights-coupled with the most up-to-date data on the physical realm-to reconcile God's written revelation to the revelation of Himself in His creation. "-Mick Ukleja, Th. D. , senior pastor, Grace Church "In The Genesis Question, Dr. Hugh Ross gives general readers an excellent discussion of the biblical account and how a proper understanding of it is in agreement with modern scientific findings. He demonstrates an evangelical commitment to the truth of Scripture while also presenting the latest findings of science. I recommend this book to those whose understanding of science has stood in the way of Christian faith and to Christians who seek a scientifically solid and consistently biblical presentation of Genesis 1-11. "-Kyle Cudworth, Ph.D. , astronomer, Yerkes Observatory, University of Chicago "Dr. Ross presents a fresh approach to many of Genesis' most difficult problems. He consistently takes into account the abundance of related scientific evidence without compromising the inerrancy of Scripture. I highly recommend this volume as an important and valuable tool in the library of anyone who really wants to understand what the beginning of Genesis is all about and still maintain a reasonable faith. "-David H. Rogstad, Ph.D. , Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Ross (astronomy, Univ. of Toronto) provides a blueprint for those within the community of faith to understand how "the Bible anticipates scientific discovery." This book follows previous writings (Beyond the Cosmos, LJ 8/96) to demonstrate that "a literal reading of the Genesis Creation chapter integrates perfectly with the established scientific record." Ross reads the Creation account in the light of its purpose and the original Hebrew. For example, the Hebrew in the genealogies indicates ancestry, not necessarily a physical father and son, and cannot be used to compile chronologies. While Ross accepts Adam and Eve as individuals, he dates them to the time when religious relics or altars appeared, around 24,000 years ago. He insists that all tool-using, relatively large-brained hominids were preadamic and did not give rise to Adam. This book will not please those who reject divine intervention, but those looking for a way to reconcile the contradictions of science and the Bible should find an intriguing alternative to "creation science." Recommended.--Eugene O. Bowser, Univ. of Northern Colorado, Greeley
Moody Magazine
"For two centuries, secular scholars have dismissed Genesis 1-11 as a fable. Who could believe its six-day creation story, its stories of people who live 900 years or more, or its account of Noah's ark? In this clear, engaging volume, Ross walks his readers through Genesis 1-11, from the Creation to the dispersal of humanity at the Tower of Babel. He attempts to show how scientific advances of the past twenty years render these Genesis stories not only possible, but eminently reasonable." — Moody Magazine, March/April 1999

Product Details

Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date:
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6.41(w) x 9.31(h) x 1.22(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A Personal Journey

The Holy Bible, the best-selling book of all time worldwide, makes a compelling claim for itself: divine inspiration. Given the high respect this book has been accorded over many centuries, this claim would seem dangerous to ignore. Yet the Bible is ignored more and more in popular culture, which has moved on to more "sophisticated" conceptions of spirituality and revelation.

    The justification I hear more often than any other for leaving the Bible behind is that "everyone knows" it is antiquated and full of scientific nonsense, if not blatant contradictions. Amazingly, when I ask people to cite examples, many cannot bring to mind even one. Apparently, they base their opinion on hearsay and reflect a widespread misconception.

    Among those who do answer my question, one Bible portion draws more vigorous attack than all others combined: the first few chapters of Genesis. That attack opens a tremendous door of opportunity for me—and for every other believer who knows even a little about the scientific discoveries of the past few decades. Instead of offering an excuse for unbelief and rejection, these chapters offer some of the most persuasive proofs ever assembled for the supernatural authorship and authority of the Bible.

    The language of these chapters is amazingly clear and specific. The words repeatedly associate spiritual events with physical events, and physical events are, in a word, testable.

    I would say they literally beg to be tested. However, as if thatimplied invitation to test weren't enough, the apostle Paul exhorted his readers to "test everything," to see what holds water and what does not, and to keep only what does. In the case of Genesis 1-11, the content is largely scientific (as well as historical and spiritual, of course), and so some of the appropriate tests will come from the relevant disciplines of science.

Scientific Testing

Genesis 1-11 speaks of the history of the universe, Earth, life on Earth, and of humanity's origin and early development. With the help of many remarkable advances in astronomy, physics, geophysics, chemistry, paleontology, biochemistry, and anthropology, the words of the first eleven chapters can be subjected, point by point, to rigorous investigation. They can be verified or refuted with greater precision and to a greater depth than previous generations might have imagined possible.

    Of course, not all biblical miracles can be subjected to scientific testing. But those that cannot be tested are not automatically invalidated. Rather, if the Genesis 1-11 miracles can be validated, they indicate the reality and availability of the power and the love attested to by these nontestable miracles: the virgin's pregnancy, Lazarus's resurrection, and the water's transformation into wine, for example. While Mary, Lazarus, and the wine drunk at the wedding feast are not available for scientific analysis, the universe, Earth, Earth's fossils, and living creatures certainly are, and they can be subjected to the degree of scientific scrutiny needed to confirm or deny the creation, Flood, and post-Flood events reported in Genesis 1-2 and 6-11.

My Own Discovery

The scientific content of Genesis 1-11 holds special significance for me because it revolutionized my thinking and, thus, changed my life's direction. Until I reached my late teens, my singular passion was science, astronomy in particular. My life's purpose was to learn more about the universe; nothing beyond that really interested me. By the time I turned sixteen, I had studied enough cosmology to become convinced that of all the origins models ever proposed, the big-bang model best fit the observational data. Soon after my sixteenth birthday, the implications of that model began to dawn on me.

    Without consciously doing so, I took a huge philosophical and spiritual step—actually, a series of steps. I understood that the big bang meant an expanding, "exploding" universe. I agreed with Einstein that an exploding universe can be traced back to an explosion, a beginning. If the universe had a beginning, it must have a Beginner. The big-bang theory implied that a Creator exists. That much seemed clear, but the rest of the picture seemed less clear. Who was this Creator, or God? What was God like? Had God communicated to humanity through some means other than the creation itself?.

    Millions of people through the ages have lived and died by their "holy books." But if all the holy books came from the same source and said pretty much the same thing, as my teachers suggested, why did the followers of each book criticize, condemn, and even kill the followers of the others? I began to suspect that all religions were humanly crafted fronts for people's psychological desire to dominate others.

    In the physics of the universe I saw harmony and consistency, perfection, freedom from contradiction, a pervading beauty, and an elegance of design. If God had spoken to humanity through a book or books, I reasoned, God's communication would manifest the same qualities as did the cosmos He created. Science had convinced me that the God of the universe was neither capricious nor careless. People, on the other hand, even the most "objective" scientists I had met or read, were prone to at least some weaknesses and inconsistency and to making some errors, particularly the kind of "errors" arising from limited knowledge and understanding. And, when it came to predicting the future, human imperfection and imprecision seemed abundantly (and forgivably) obvious.

    On these premises I began—and ended—my investigation of the world's sacred writings. While I found words of interest and beauty and truth in each one, each reflected the limited (now known to be erroneous) scientific knowledge of its time and place—each one except one: the Bible. This particular book stood apart, and dramatically so.

    From the first page I could see distinctions. The quantity and detail of scientific content far exceeded what I found in the other books. To my surprise, the scientific method was as clearly evident in Genesis 1 as it is in modern research. Most impressive of all, the four initial conditions and the sequence of major creation events—not just one or two, but more than a dozen—all matched the established scientific record. As I pondered how this accuracy could have been achieved, even if the book were written much more recently than scholars estimated, I calculated the odds that the writer could have guessed the initial conditions and correctly sequenced the events (ignoring for the moment the questions about how the writer could have known what they were), and I discovered that the odds are utterly remote. Only one conclusion made sense to me, the conclusion that the Creator of the universe had something to do with the words of Genesis 1.

    When I turned the page, I discovered more of the same documentary-type communication. By the time I came to the Flood chapters, I realized I could not dismiss this book easily, at least not yet. I decided to spend an hour a day (or more), in addition to my homework time, studying the Bible until I reached the end or found a provable error.

    Eighteen months later I arrived in Revelation 22. During those months I had read every page and failed to discover anything I could honestly label an error or contradiction. Some parts I had trouble understanding, but that didn't bother me. I understood enough, just as I understood enough of physics and astronomy to trust what I was learning in my university courses. I was so astonished by the Bible's consistent and frequent prediction of future scientific discoveries that I decided to attempt a probability calculation. My scratch paper scribbles showed me the numbers, based on conservative estimates for a small sampling of biblical predictions: the Bible matched the best-established laws of physics in its degree of trustworthiness. I knew how implicitly I trusted the laws of physics for my survival. How could I not trust this book's message and the One who sent it with such supernatural precision through human messengers?

    With some delays and more than a little wrestling with personal pride, I did make a transfer of trust, inviting God, the Creator of the vast cosmos, to be my God, the Master of my destiny, through Jesus Christ, His Son.

Chapter Two

Reasons for Resistance

While scientific developments of the nineteenth century seemed to nearly smother faith in God, advances of the twentieth century breathed new vitality into that faith. Evidences of a cosmic beginning in the finite past (as in thirteen to seventeen billion years ago, a very recent beginning in comparison with the eternal universe of prior naturalistic science) accumulated, and the standard naturalistic origin-of-life model, which relied on a nearly infinitely old cosmos, lost its footing. Meanwhile, as researchers for the first time measured the far reaches of the solar system, the Milky Way, and the cosmos, they uncovered a growing list of "designed-for-life" indicators. They found a number of physical characteristics that had to be very narrowly defined for any kind of life to possibly exist. These discoveries spawned a new scientific proposition: the anthropic principle, the observation that all the physical features of the universe, including the characteristics of the solar system, are "just right" to suit the needs of life, specifically human life.

    Science historian Frederick Burnham commented that for scientists belief in God is more "respectable" today than at any time in the last hundred years. At the same time, however, our society has been called "post-Christian." Belief in the Bible as God's Word and in the deity of Jesus Christ seems less "respectable," certainly in academic circles.

Case Closed?

Reasons for resistance to Christianity abound. Intellectual barriers receive the most frequent mention. They are the most socially acceptable ones, though often they serve as a smoke screen to hide the deeper ones: pride, bitterness, lust, fear, and so on.

    As I speak to university audiences and to business and professional people across North America, and as I hear from survey teams taking the spiritual pulse of urban and suburban neighborhoods, I find that most of these intellectual barriers (or excuses for dismissing Christianity) come from misconceptions about Genesis 1-11. Time and again I hear this question, expressed or implied: "Why should I give serious attention to the message of a book that contradicts, right from the start, the established facts of science?"

    The supposed contradictions have been widely popularized by such well-known personalities as Isaac Asimov and Steve Allen. Asimov, author of today's best-selling commentary on the Bible, says Genesis 1 teaches that the sun, moon, and stars were created after light, after plants, and after the water cycle. He interprets Genesis 2 as more nonsense, placing the creation of plants and animals between the creation of man and the creation of woman. Thus, he justifies his labeling of Genesis 1 and 2 as "folktales." Steve Allen, in his popular critique of the Bible, ridicules the Flood account, saying that if Earth became "one giant ball of water," rain must have come down at the rate of thirteen feet per hour. He goes on to "show" that the Bible gives contradictory figures for the duration of the Flood. He concludes that "acceptance of it [the Genesis Flood] on its own terms is simply impossible." Given the widespread appeal of these celebrities and given people's ignorance of the Bible and of exegetical rules, an open-minded perspective may be hard to come by.

    This case-closed attitude has become increasingly widespread since the Age of Enlightenment (mid-eighteenth to late nineteenth centuries). During that era and since, science surged forward, challenging virtually every cherished notion in its path, including long-unquestioned biblical interpretations. Many theologians and Bible scholars reacted defensively. When faced with supposed external and internal inconsistencies, they simply backed away from the biblical texts—or from science—rather than launch a painstaking investigation of the scientific "facts" and of the biblical statements.

    In this century we see how wide and deep the split has grown: liberal Christians and nonChristians, who for the most part embrace scientific discovery, view Genesis 1-11 as a collection of legends, at best, or of unreliable, contradictory, even laughable tales, at worst. Within that part of the church which did not give up on the reliability and integrity of Genesis, two groups emerged. The first upheld the findings of modern science but viewed Genesis as devoid of scientific content and intent. The second declared that the "scientific unreliability" of Genesis is simply a mirage produced by unreliable, ever-changing science.

    German theologian Franz Delitzsch described the schism ninety-five years ago, and few would dispute the relevance of his words to this day:

All attempts to harmonize our biblical story of the creation of the world with the results of natural science have been useless and must always be so.

Fundamentalist Christians, adhering to what is termed creation science, loudly promote the scientific accuracy of the Bible, but they sift or reinterpret science through the tiny mesh of their ideological filter. Not much real science gets through. Whether they admit it openly (as I have heard many do) or not, most, if not all, of their leaders agree with Delitzsch: "secular" science and the book of Genesis clash irreconcilably.

    Entrenchment of this schism has been ensured by various complex sociocultural developments. My abbreviated list includes four: biblical illiteracy, the pressure to make "progress," too much Bible science, and the isolation of specialization.

Bible Illiteracy

Most Americans and other Westerners claim to have read all or part of the Bible. However, when asked to identify even four books of the Bible or four of Jesus' disciples or four of the Ten Commandments, fewer than half even attempt to respond and fewer than one in ten respond correctly. People seem reluctant to admit to anyone, even themselves, their ignorance of the Bible.

    Ironically, biblical illiteracy is most pronounced among the best educated, even among those who publicly comment on the Bible. More than once on university campuses in America and abroad, I have heard professors assert before scholarly audiences that the Bible teaches a flat Earth geocentrism (placing the Earth at the center of our solar system or the universe), male superiority, or the acceptability of genocide. These are but a few of the bizarre claims revealing what can only be a "hearsay" or eisegetical response to the text.

Pressure to Make "Progress"

Theology once held sway as the "mother of all the sciences," a title that would seem incongruous to most people alive today. While the natural sciences continue to explore new worlds both on and beyond our planet, no additions have been made to the Canon, the sixty-six books of the Bible, since the first century A.D.

    Yet in academic environments, theology faculty and graduate students typically face the same "publish or perish" pressure as do the faculty and researchers in fields where the database is doubling every few years. While it makes sense for scientists to be iconoclasts, to break new ground, making significant revisions or additions to old interpretations of the natural realm based on an abundance of new information, the same does not necessarily hold for other scholars, such as logicians, historians, theologians, and Bible scholars. Bible scholars must make a difficult choice: invest years working to increase the database by whatever amount may be possible through painstaking historical or linguistic research, or break new ground by proposing new perspectives, new interpretations.

    Theologians and Bible scholars may rightfully argue in a few cases that previous generations of scholars were misinformed or naive in their interpretations of Scripture. The more popular approach these days, however, is to argue that the Bible writers themselves were misinformed and naive.

Too Much Bible Science

That so many Christians today believe the Bible is largely devoid of scientific content is, at least in part, a reaction to the last two hundred years of dialogue between science and theology in which Christian theology appears to have been bested repeatedly by secular science. The Bible, unlike any other book, is intended to be read and understood by people living in eras spanning at least 3,500 years. This places some serious constraints on the quantity and kind of science it can contain.

    For the Bible to adopt the scientific paradigms or language of any age would compromise the ability of the text to speak to earlier or later generations. But, because the Bible does have the capacity to communicate to all generations of humanity, many Bible interpreters are tempted to read into the text far too much of the science of their time. For example, I have received more than ten unsolicited manuscripts from individuals who are convinced that Genesis 1, properly understood, gives a detailed exposition of the origin and structure of various families of fundamental particles even though no word in the text even hints of particles.

The Isolation of Specialization

The word university denotes an institution dedicated to uniting (as in integrating) knowledge from all disciplines of scholarship. How far we have strayed from that original purpose! Integration still receives more lip service than funding. The pressure to specialize that has propelled us far into new frontiers of knowledge also has left us at loose ends. The separation is great within the sciences, the arts, and the humanities, and even greater between one area and another.

    Perhaps no gap is wider than the one dividing scientists from theologians. The two groups seem to have little if any awareness that their studies actually overlap. Both groups seem to despise any suggestion that their work intersects. The United States National Academy of Sciences recently issued the following statement:

Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought whose presentation in the same context leads to misunderstanding of both scientific theory and religious belief.

For their part, most theologians (since the trial of Galileo) have preferred isolation, hiding behind such oft-repeated comments as this: The intention of the Bible is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.

    Many, perhaps most, scientists regard religion as "emotional nonsense." They react to attempts at integration as a "throwback to a prescientific model of reality." Michael Ruse, well-known zoologist and philosopher of science, emphatically asserts this view.

    Do you hear what I hear? This condescending, mocking attitude among some well respected scientists, and anticipated by nonscientists even when it does not exist, widens the chasm and ensures the isolation.

Nonintellectual Obstacles

As I mentioned earlier, intellectual questions about Genesis are understandable, even expected. If they are genuine, the person who raises them will show a willingness to listen and explore possible answers. However, not everyone who raises questions really wants a response. Some seem more interested in arguing. Some just walk away. Why?

    How a person interprets the first eleven chapters of Genesis may be determined by how that person responds to some other part of the Bible. For example, if a person has been badly hurt or mistreated by someone bearing the "Christian" or "biblical" label, objectivity probably has been lost. If a person objects to biblical teachings (rightly or wrongly interpreted) on moral issues, objectivity probably has been lost.

    Other fears come from misunderstanding the biblical definition of faith. The prevailing view exalts "blind" faith and rejects the principle that facts are the crucial foundation for meaningful faith. The misapplied mandate to "walk by faith, not by sight" frequently causes problems. Perhaps a deeper fear, more difficult to express, is that connecting faith to scientific facts subordinates the Bible to human endeavors or places Scripture at risk of contradiction by new discoveries that could overturn previously developed interpretations.

    Herein lies a paradox. People who seem most concerned with defending biblical inerrancy may be the most resistant to any information, not derived from the Bible, that might help illuminate its meaning. Logically, taking Scripture seriously means being passionately concerned about interpreting it correctly and thus welcoming any evidence that exposes erroneous understandings of the biblical text. Unfortunately, many zealous Bible students and teachers confuse their favorite interpretations of the Bible with the Bible itself.

Removing the Mistrust

Clearly, many hindrances stand in the way of any study or discussion of the scientific and spiritual content of Genesis 1-11. By identifying some of the obstacles at the outset, I hope to help readers acknowledge them and make the choice to suspend them, at least for as much time as it takes to read the chapters that follow. For in these chapters I present what I have found in the latest scientific research to eliminate obstacles altogether.

    Let's open the Book!

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