Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Review: More Than a Theory

Introduction
I am really excited to bring you this review. Dr. Hugh Ross and the Reasons to Believe (RTB) scholar team are the means that Christ used to keep this modernist thinker from completely giving up on the Christian faith about seven years ago. You can read about this more on my page Nature vs. Scripture. Reasons to Believe provides a scientific and Biblical model of the creation and history of the universe that is testable. They have produced many books and papers outlining details of different aspects of the model. They have not really produced a single resource that provides a quick overview of the model for those who might be curious and need an introduction.

That's where More Than a Theory comes in. This book was written as an introduction to the various aspects of the testable model. It frequently refers the reader to the other resources for more details. Throughout this review I will include links to their other books and articles on their website that I am familiar with that go into some more details. Dr. Ross also produced a series of podcasts that briefly go over the contents of each chapter. I will include a link to each episode at the end of each chapter's description. These episodes will give you a better description of the contents of the chapters plus what Dr. Ross specifically want the reader to focus on for each chapter.


Chapter 1: Is It Science?
Dr. Ross starts the book by discussing whether science can test the existence of God and the possibility that God created the universe. He compares personal faith with religion and personal assessment with science. He introduces the reader to the concept of a scientific model. He explains that scientists use the details provided by "models" to make predictions about how experiments (or other observations) will turn out. If the prediction is found to be accurate, the model is correct in that aspect; if not, then the model must be revised. He discusses more of how the scientific enterprise works, and why it can be relied upon to find truth about our universe. He also discusses the biblical and traditional evidence that allows Christians to rely on such a method. Here is a short video of Dr. Ross explaining this. (Chapter 1: Is It Science?)

Chapter 2: Multiple Choices
In Chapter 2 Dr. Ross introduces the reader to the most popular models that have been proposed by researchers to explain the existence and history of the universe. I really appreciate that he takes the time to distinguish among the different views and specifically point out how some of them are confused and equivocated with one another by proponents of other views. He also identifies where certain views agree. The views that he talks about are Evolution, Young-Earth Creation, Intelligent Design, Old-Earth Creation, Theistic Evolution, the Framework Hypothesis, Progressive Creation, and Concordism. (Chapter 2: Who are the major players and what are their models?)

Chapter 3: Different Strategies
In Chapter 3 Dr. Ross goes into the different strategies that are employed by the proponents of different views. He discusses their strengths and weaknesses. He talks about different political strategies and religious strategies. He also mentions the strategy of religious neutrality that is employed by some. Dr. Ross explains the issues that not having a scientific model create for scientists. He also talks about the "seperate magisteria" idea of biologist Stephen J. Gould (the idea that nature and religion do not have any connection to each other and have no reason to be compatible- incompatibility is not a problem). He ends the chapter showing how taking an integrated approach is best for establishing and maintaining credibility in the scientific community along with finding the actual truth of the matter. (Chapter 3: What are the different strategies?)

Chapter 4: An Objective Testing Method
Dr. Ross uses that last part as the springboard for Chapter 4. In this chapter Dr. Ross goes into more detail about the scientific method and its benefits. This chapter seems targeted for two types of people: those who do not recognize the value of the scientific method and those who do not think that Christians are allowed to recognize the value of the scientific method. He lays out the scientific method in steps, its Christian roots, and how it has been used in the past to rule out bad ideas (one example provided is the elimination of the idea that the sun revolved around the earth. He directly answers the charge by some "anti-scientific" people and groups that science cannot be trust "because it is constantly changing". This was one of my criticisms in my younger years, but it was removed when I understood the purpose of the process, and that the purpose was actually being accomplished. Dr. Ross ends the chapter by explaining an important fact that many fail to see when trying to present critiques of different models: scientists will hold onto a model (even though they are aware of its problems) unless another model that resolves the issues and more comprehensively explains the phenomena the competing models attempt to explain. (Chapter 4: What is the Scientific Method?)

Chapter 5: Resources and Standards for RTB's Model
Having said that, Dr. Ross launches into his own testable creation model. In Chapter 5 he lays out the resources used to develop the model and the standards to which the proponents of the model and the model itself strive to abide by. He starts by putting his high view of Scripture on the table- that the Bible is the foundation for his model. He lists all the creation passages in a table and explains that to maintain the doctrine of Biblical Inerrency, when interpretation of the passages is complete, they all must agree and not contradict in any way. Next he lists 109 facts of nature that any credible scientific model of creation and life's history must explain without contradiction. Since he lays out both biblical and natural data that must be explained without contradiction, that is what the model he proposes strives to do. Dr. Ross ends the chapter by explaining that any scientific model must not just explain data from one discipline of science; it must explain the data from ALL the disciplines, while maintaining consistency (my post on this issue). (Chapter 5: Building RTB’s Creation Model)

Chapter 6: The Biblical Structure of RTB's Creation Model
Since the RTB creation model relies heavily on Scripture as a primary source for what it must explain, Dr. Ross dedicates all of Chapter 6 and the beginnings of the next six chapters to the biblical data. In Chapter 6 Dr. Ross focuses on four key points found in Scripture: Dual Revelation, creation's purposes, creation's chronology, and the detectability of God through creation. He also discusses the biblical support for the constants of physics, "imperfect" designs in nature, and the progression of life from simple to complex, among other interesting phenomena we find in nature. He ends the chapter by outlining what science should find about the universe, earth, life, and humanity if the Bible (and RTB's Creaton model) is to be considered in the realm of possibility for explaining reality. (Chapter 6: Theological cornerstones of RTB’s model)

Chapter 7: Putting RTB's Model For The Cosmos To The Test
In Chapter 7, Dr. Ross testing his model against nature. He starts at the macro scale and moves to the micro scale. Chapter 7 focuses on the cosmos as a whole. He starts by stating nine predicted observations about the cosmos from Scripture. He also lists seven objective tests of the cosmos that can differentiate between a universe with a Creator and one without a Creator. He discusses the paradoxes plaguing contemporary physics and how they are resolved through Big Bang cosmology. He discusses the evidence of the "spreading out of the heavens", the constant laws of physics, and the design of the cosmos for humanity and how they simultaneously evidence for the reliability of Scripture and Big Bang cosmology. (Chapter 7: Cosmic Tests)

Chapter 8: Putting RTB's Model For Galaxies, Stars, and Planets To The Test
Chapter 8 continues with the tests. This time, Dr. Ross shifts focus to more specific bodies in the cosmos: galaxies, stars, and planets. There are many characteristics of each of these that are required for human life (or the functional equivalent) to originate and live. He begins his tests here by examining the characteristics of our Sun and if there is evidence that a solar "twin" will ever be discovered in the cosmos. He then looks at the gas giant planets and rocky planets, along with their specific characteristics that are necessary for advanced life to survive. Finally Dr. Ross examines our Milky Way galaxy and our Local Group of galaxies. (Chapter 8: Galactic and solar system tests)

Chapter 9: Putting RTB's Model For Life's Beginning and Extraterrestrial Homes To The Test
Chapter 9 moves to the origin of life, itself. He discusses the formation and special characteristics of our Moon, the required building-blocks of life, and the homo-chirality problem (the orientation of DNA and RNA proteins). He discusses the problems with the idea that life may have originated naturally else where in space and traveled to Earth (panspermia). He finishes the chapter by looking at the possibility of multiple origins of life. The content of this chapter is gone into much more detail in the books Origins of Life and Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men. (Chapter 9: Origin-of-life tests)

Chapter 10: Putting RTB's Creation Model For Life's History To The Test
Now that the origin of life has been investigated, the history of life is next. Chapter 10 tests RTB's creation model for its predictability regarding discoveries about life's history. Dr. Ross explains the initial conditions of planet earth, and how early life was responsible for transforming it into an environment for advanced life. He discusses the geophysical features of earth and its part in life's history. Dr. Ross spends some time on the history of the sun, and how its brightening was perfectly compensated for by early life forms, making earth's environment still able to support advanced life. The oxygenation period is examined, as well as the "big bangs" of biology: the Avalon Explosion and Cambrian Explosion. Dr. Ross then offers a critique of naturalistic theories based on reproduction rates vs extinction rates. He discusses episodes of biological convergence.
(Chapter 10: Life’s history and the faint Sun paradox)

Chapter 11: Putting RTB's Creation Model For Advanced Life To The Test
In Chapter 11 Dr. Ross discusses the "soulish" characteristics of bird and mammals. He points to the ability of these animals to form an emotional relationship with humans as evidence that they were designed for humanity's benefit. All these animals predate humanity. Dr. Ross concludes that those two things indicate that these animals were designed with a specific future purpose in mind, and only a theistic model can account for it. Dr. Ross also spends a little time talking about the size of animals, and the effect that has on their ability to evolve. He states that larger animals are not able to obtain enough beneficial mutations naturally to outrun their own extinction. He points to this as a very powerful test of evolution/creation models. (Chapter 11: Testing the soul)

Chapter 12: Putting RTB's Creation Model For Origin and History of Humanity To The Test
Chapter 12 focused on humanity. Dr. Ross starts by discussing the probabilities of evolution resulting in humanity calculated by evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala and astrophysicists Brandon Carter, John Barrow and Frank Tipler. He then talks about the evidence provided by human and hominid DNA for their distinct lineages. He then goes into the research that establishes the general location for the creation of humanity. Beyond all that, Dr. Ross discusses the apparent over-endowment of humans for simply surviving. He finishes the chapter referring back to previous chapters- reminding the reader of the narrow time window for life and brings it down further for humanity's existence. Dr. Ross uses all this as evidence that supports the RTB creation model and either falsifies or provides serious issues for competing models. (Chapter 12: Human origins tests)

Chapter 13: Putting RTB's Creation Model To The "Why" Question Test
Chapter 13 addresses many "why" questions that are offered as a critique of the RTB model by young-earth creationists and evolutionists (both naturalistic and theistic). Dr. Ross first examines the idea of death before The Fall (a young-earth critique). He then discusses the evolutionist claim that there is much DNA that does not code for proteins (which is interpreted as "junk" DNA). He then looks at the claim of bad designs in nature (another evolutionist critique). Next is the idea of natural evil (such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural phenomena). Dr. Ross ends the chapter by listing out eleven "why" questions that any creation/evolution model must answer. Dr. Ross goes into detail in how the RTB model addresses each question in his book Why The Universe Is The Way It Is.  (Chapter 13: Why are there “bad designs”?)

Chapter 14: Putting New Atheist Cosmic Models To The Test
In Chapter 14 Dr. Ross begins evaluating naturalistic models. He starts by quoting Richard Dawkins and explains that the new atheists recognize the fine tuning of the universe for human life. Dr. Ross explains the two ways that atheists attempt to explain the fine tuning: a self-organization law of physics (like another law of thermodynamics) and the multiverse. He then critiques a couple different versions of both theories. He even shows how the multiverse theory, even if a certain version it is found to be true, is not necessarily incompatible with God's existence or God creating the universe. (Chapter 14: What about the new atheists?)

Chapter 15: Putting RTB's Creation Model To The US Constitution Test
In Chapter 15 Dr. Ross shifts from testing the RTB model to examining the legal question of whether or not a creation model can or should be taught in schools. He discusses the four primary cases regarding creation/evolution issues in the public schools. He goes through each one and shows how each case was decided based on the scientific merits of the creation model rather than the religious point of view. He makes the point that the Supreme Court is open to allowing a form of creation to be taught in public schools as long as it has scientific merit. (Chapter 15: Can a creation model be taught in schools?)

Chapter 16: Using Predictions To Test Models
Chapter 16 moves into one of the key ways to test a scientific model: predictions. Dr. Ross explains the importance and potency of a model that makes predictions. He describes the kind of predictions that a model should make in order for the predictions to be useful- predictions can't be so general that they have no possibility of being wrong; they need to be distinct from predictions of other models, and they need to include as much detail as possible. Even though the book is full of predictions being made from the RTB model, this chapter looks at a few key predictions of the RTB model and compares them to the predictions made by models representing naturalistic evolution, theistic evolution, and young-earth creationism. Dr. Ross makes the note that RTB has put together a periodically updated list of many more predictions among the models available for free here.

Chapter 17: Scoring The Models
Chapter 17 is a short one that provides an evaluation of the success of the different models in light of their respective predictions. Dr. Ross uses the 90 predictions of the four different models that he published in his book Creation as Science in 2006. He uses three tables (one for predictions regarding the simple sciences, complex sciences, and social sciences). The tables include the success levels of the predictions (fulfilled, partially fulfilled, not fulfilled, partially falsified, and falsified), and add up the scores for each. According to the tables, RTB's model fared the best, having the most predictions fulfilled or partially fulfilled and the least falsified or partially falsified. On the complete opposite side was Naturalism- having the fewest predictions fulfilled or partially fulfilled and the most falsified or partially falsified. Young-Earth Creationionism and Theistic Evolution were, on average, "neck 'n' neck", but for different reasons, yet both falling on the side of falsified based on the success level their predictions. (Chapter 16 and 17: Model predictions and test scores)

Chapter 18: Extra Credit
In the final chapter Dr. Ross goes over a few more tests for a good scientific model. He identifies these additional tests as: censorship of alternate views, stultification of the scientific process, integration of multiple scientific disciplines, research passion generated in the scientists and general public, and destiny implications for humanity (closely related to passion). He then discusses what it takes for a scientific model to reach the level of being a "scientific theory". He then shows why the RTB creation model not only reaches the level of scientific theory, but exceeds it. Finally, he ends the book on a short discussion of how to formulate better and stronger models. (Chapter 18: Getting past phobias and on toward tests)

Reviewer's Thoughts
More Than A Theory was a delight to read. Even though I've been somewhat familiar with the RTB model for the last several years, it clarified some aspects and reminded me of others. Dr. Ross lays out a great plan for showing that the RTB Creation Model has scientific and theological validity. He executes the plan while keeping the reader (lay and academic) engaged. This book makes me want to go back to the previous books and read through them again (which I will do, and review them). I highly recommend More Than A Theory for anyone who is looking for one of the best and more thorough ways to reconcile science and Scripture. I also highly recommend this book for the skeptic who wants to engage the most challenging and comprehensive scientific challenge to naturalism. Finally, I recommend this book for the seeker. If you are not sure where you stand with regards to the big questions in life, this book will offer you an extremely powerful argument for the truth of Christianity.


If you wish to ask Dr. Ross a question, you may send an email to ask@reasons.org, and it may be answered on the podcast I Didn't Know That.

Check out the NEW Book Reviews Page for more.

Other books by Dr. Ross