Monday, July 13, 2015

Book Review: A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy

Book Review: "A Matter of Days: Resolving A Creation Controversy" by Christian astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe (


The debate surrounding the age of the universe has been a hot topic in the Christian Church for quite some time, and it seems that the tensions grow tighter every year. As someone who loves science and who's faith in Christ was solidified by the evidence from the sciences for the inerrancy of scripture, I find it quite discouraging that there is so much emotional hostility in the Church against the sciences and even scientists, themselves. Dr. Hugh Ross is an advocate for Christ and is a practicing scientist. His desire to see growth in the Kingdom has compelled him to write several books showing how many (not all) interpretations of the record of nature demonstrate evidence for the truth of Scripture. Unfortunately, his efforts have been met with a barrage of criticism from within the Church because he believes the evidence conclusively supports the fact that the universe is billions of years old and not merely thousands.

A Matter of Days (Second Edition) is one of Dr. Ross' books that addresses this topic in a humble and gentle manner. He brings the evidence of nature and the evidence of Scripture together to show that there is no real reason to fear the fact that the universe is billions of years old, and that such evidence actually provides spectacular evidence for the God of the Bible and the inerrancy of His revelation to us. The book is divided into twenty-three chapters and is 264 pages long (not counting the almost one hundred pages of notes). This review will provide a chapter-by-chapter summary and will conclude with my thoughts and specific recommendations.

Chapter 1: Flash Point

Dr. Ross begins by explaining his motivation behind writing this book. The internal debate within Christianity regarding the age of the earth and universe is often emotionally charged between the sides and this has effects on evangelism, whether it is by unbelievers' witness of the un-Christ-like conduct or that they see one side standing against the evidence and claiming that to be a Christian, one must reject science. Dr. Ross, as a scientist himself who came to Christ through a scientific investigation of the Bible's claims about creation, believes that this debate can be resolved in an amicable manner. Many Christians believe that the truth of scripture is in jeopardy if one accepts that the universe billions of years old, thus they defend a view that the universe is merely 6000 years old. Dr. Ross intends to show that in this book that there is no compromise of scriptural authority or accuracy in its historical records by accepting an ancient universe. Dr. Ross hopes that the case that he presents will help to move the Church closer to reconciliation on this issue so that it will no longer be a stumbling block for unbelievers to come to Christ. He also hopes that the case he provides will demonstrate to scientists that there is no need to deny the evidence of modern discoveries to come to Christ.

Chapter 2: The Gathering Storm

Dr. Ross sets the stage with a short history of the divide between science and faith. He hits on several key people and their contributions:

Archbishop James Ussher- the age of the universe derived from biblical genealogies (young)
Lord Kelvin (and several others)- the age of the universe based on geological data (ancient)
Jean Astruc- chronology of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 events which contradicted each other
Philip Gosse- proposal of "appearance of age"
Charles Darwin- proposed evolution to explain diversity of species

Dr. Ross concludes the chapter by explaining the reasons for polarization on both sides of the debate. For Christians, why was evolution unacceptable; and for scientists, what influenced their acceptance of Darwin's theory.

Chapter 3: The Clouds Burst

Picking up after Darwin, Dr. Ross continues the look at the history of the creation/evolution debate. He notes the formation of the World Christian Fundamentals Association, which seeing no other recourse to preserve scripture's authority, acted to enforce the young-earth view as an essential of salvation within the Church. The incorrect reporting of the testimony in the Scopes Monkey Trial further solidified the enforcement of this new essential of the faith. This resulted in the formation of a young-earth organization that eventually splintered into several organizations, which allowed the popularity of the young-earth view to explode among the general public. The scientific community used their own clout to respond with a force of evidence that falsifies young-earth views.

In an effort to undermine evidential arguments, young-earth advocates revived Philip Gosse's "appearance of age" idea. This led to the current distinction in the young-earth community between "observational" and "historical" science, which removes investigation of the past from the reach of anyone except those who accept the Bible. This is an epistemic position called "biblicism" which holds that the Bible is the only reliable source of truth, thus any "evidence" against what the Bible claims (a particular interpretation, really) may be rejected without further reason. This position causes disregard of scientists in the Christian community and disregard of Christians in the scientific community. Thus, neither side has shown much interest in reconciliation outside of complete surrender by the other. This lack of interest, for the Christian, stands in direct contradiction to the Great Commission. However, as stated in a previous chapter, Dr. Ross intends to change that and revive honest and amicable discussion between the two sides, thus reopening avenues for the Gospel among scientists.

Chapter 4: Wisdom of the Ages

Young-earth creationists often like to appeal to the Church Fathers' writings to show that their view has been taught by the Church since its infancy and that any old-earth view is merely the result of capitulation to "anti-Christian" science. While the Protestant Church has historically placed the authority of tradition (Church Fathers) below that of Scripture and general revelation (nature), tradition is important and should be considered. It is important to consider the early Church Fathers because they did not have modern geological evidence that indicated an ancient earth or Darwinism that requires orders of magnitude more time than merely 6000 years of earth history. So, if they concluded that the days of Genesis were long periods of time or did not commit to a length, then their conclusion cannot be attributed to "anti-Christian" science.

Dr. Ross cautions that it is important that the reader does not simply take the word of the young-earth proponents, but that one investigates what these Church Fathers actually wrote. Dr. Ross examines the writings of twelve Church Fathers and two first century Jewish scholars (just for good measure). Though these sources all wrote some on the days in Genesis none really touched on the age of the earth. In their short writings on the days in Genesis, only Augustine and, perhaps, Ambrose can be pinned down. Augustine took the days as allegorical (and definitely not 24 hours) while Ambrose supports a 24-hour day interpretation but then seems to take back his commitment in the same writing. Dr. Ross concludes that the lack of writing on the creation days (compared to other topics) implies that the Church Fathers did not consider this topic a large matter of importance regarding orthodoxy and their general lack of commitment to a specific interpretation for the length of the days of Genesis indicate that the interpretation is not as easy as young-earth proponents like to tout.

Chapter 5: The Creedal Climate

Another source of tradition is the Church creeds. These were often used by the Church prior to widespread education as means for which to communicate the essentials of the Christian faith. Dr. Ross explains that if the length of the creation days were of importance to Christian orthodoxy, then affirmations of specific lengths would be found in the Church creeds. He examines the text of the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed prior to the Reformation. Post-Reformation creeds investigated include the Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession, and the Westminster Confession. Of these only, the Westminster Confession even mentions the creation days, (the others mention the act of creation in general) but it does not assign a specific length to them. While there has been a debate on the position regarding the length that was believed by the framers of the Westminster confession, it is established that only 5 of the 151 Westminster divines explicitly supported the 24-hour view.

Moving beyond these Church creeds into more modern panels, the Presbyterian Church of America and Westminster Theological Seminary commissioned scholars to investigate the interpretive range allowed for the creation days in the context of biblical inerrancy. Both panels came to the conclusion that biblical inerrancy does not necessitate a 24-hour interpretation.

Chapter 6: Toward Better Interpretations

Given the heat of the debate over the age of the universe, it is important that an objective and less emotional way to determine which is correct be found. In this chapter, Dr. Ross proposes that such a dispassionate discourse can take place if some things are recognized among the parties. The Bible is the inerrant word of God and does not contradict itself. Scripture was written in languages different from English, so a translation is required, many nuances must be taken into account in this process. Further, no man is not infallible in his interpretation of scripture, so it is subject to being tested. Creation is also from God. It too cannot contradict itself (one of the primary foundations of the scientific enterprise), but man must also interpret it. Since creation and Scripture are from God, neither contradict one another. In man's effort to interpret the two, there cannot ever be contradictions in the interpretations.

It is important that interpretations of Scripture be tested. Dr. Ross lays out an eight-step process for testing interpretations and how they are to be altered if found lacking. He explains the scientific model, which allows for predictions to be made about what scientists will find in future discoveries. If these predictions fail, it is time to revise the model, but if it happens constantly on foundational predictions of the model, then the model must be abandoned. Models can be developed based on an interpretation of the creation passages in scripture. This is a way that interpretations can be evaluated for accuracy without emotion getting in the way. Dr. Ross concludes the chapter by listing twenty-one passages in scripture that speak of creation, that must all be interpreted consistently and that must all be used in developing testable models.

Chapter 7: Anchored in Scripture

Dr. Ross begins his defense of long creation days by noting that the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy requires that all of scripture be taken into account when interpreting, so Genesis 1-2 cannot be interpreted by themselves, all twenty-one of the creation passages must be considered and interpreted in a way that there is no contradiction among the interpretations. He lists eleven events in the big picture of scripture that most Christians agree upon that will agree upon that will also help guide in formulating the correct interpretation. He notes too that proper interpretation of the passages must take into consideration the words chosen (along with their definitions) in context.

Many young-earth proponents offer a range of arguments based on word usage that they believe excludes long creation days. These include the presence of "evening" and "morning" and ordinal numbers with the word "day." Dr. Ross explains the arguments then provides examples scriptural examples that undermine the claim that they necessarily demand a 24-hour day interpretation, which means that these arguments cannot be used to remove long creation days from the interpretive table. Dr. Ross then appeals to the sun, moon, earth creation order, the events of the sixth day, the lack of a close for the seventh day, and the fact that the author of Hebrews states that the seventh day is still continuing, as all supporting long creation days. As a side note, he explains that the fossil record demonstrates the active creation of life until humans appear on the scene, which an abrupt halt in creation appears. He interprets this as powerful evidence for the accuracy of scripture when it states that God's creative acts ended with the creation of humanity. Further, the fossil record shows no evidence of more animal creations, which indicates that God is still in his seventh-day rest from creation. The arguments offered against long creation days from the Genesis text does not demand a 24-hour interpretation and actually hints effectively at longer days.

Chapter 8: Guided by Theology

Moving beyond just the Genesis text, many arguments from other texts against long creation days have been put forth. Dr. Ross begins by explaining that if the creation days in Genesis are 24 hours long, then the record of nature (God's natural revelation of Himself) is deceiving humanity. He makes the case from scripture for nature being a reliable source of truth about God, thus it cannot present revelation that is contrary to God's spoken revelation. He also demonstrates from astrophysics that man is in the perfect window of time for observing the universe's knowledge that is revealed about its Creator (mentioned in several Psalms). It is common that Exodus 20:9 and 11 and Mark 19:4-8 are appealed to in order to put to rest any doubt that the creation days were 24 hours in length. Dr. Ross takes the time to explain the fallacies in this claim and offers an interpretation of both that remains consistent with a literal reading of Genesis 1 and remains consistent with what nature reveals about its age. Dr. Ross concludes the chapter by addressing the challenge that a high speed of creative acts (144 hours) indicates that God is more powerful (as opposed to the slow speed of 13.7 billion years) by appealing to 2 Peter 3:9.

Chapter 9: Good God, Cruel World

Dr. Ross' view does require that animals died prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve. Many young-earth advocates believe that this is incompatible with the all-loving God of the Bible. Dr. Ross examines several different aspects of this challenge including animal suffering, carnivorous activity, bloodshed, and decay- all before the Fall. He also addresses the interpretation of Romans 5:12 that young-earth advocates use to justify their denial of death, and even suffering, before the Fall. Dr. Ross also appeals to God's perfect purposes for this creation to establish that it is possible that God could have a morally good reason for allowing death and suffering before the Fall. He specifically appeals to the necessity of biodeposits for advanced human civilization, to the necessity of a fully formed nervous system in Adam and Eve, and to the conquest of evil, to show that such purposes do exist.

Chapter 10: Peace Through Paradise

Dr. Ross has observed that other theological debates tend to not be as heated as the creation/evolution debate, so he believes that appeals to another area of Christian doctrine may help: eschatology. He explains that it is common that young-earth creationists subscribe to a restored creation. Because this idea posits that this universe will be restored to Eden-like conditions, they use that interpretation to guide their understanding of the world's conditions prior to the fall of Adam and Eve. It requires that the universe exists infinitely into the future. Dr. Ross examines the scriptures that are commonly used to interpret this universe as being future-infinite. He concludes that those do not necessitate such an interpretation, not to mention that many passages do necessitate a definite end for this universe.

Dr. Ross also describes the physical problems with this interpretation. He explains that the law of gravity cannot accommodate the dimensions of the New Jerusalem, nor can electromagnetism allow for the lack of shadows. He explains that many of the other rewards and descriptions of other characteristics of the heavenly realm are impossible in the current universe. Since Jeremiah 33:25-26 establishes that the laws of physics have not changed since the creation, then even a restoration to Edenic conditions will not allow this universe to possibly be what John is describing in Revelation 21-22. Because John is describing a world that is not this universe, it is not valid to use descriptions of the final state to understand pre-fall conditions of this world.

Chapter 11: Young-Earth Darwinism

For as much as young-earth creationists decry naturalistic (and even theistic evolution), they are necessarily dependent upon it to make sense of the evidence. Two instances of hyper-evolution are required: one after the Fall of Adam and Eve (to turn herbivores into carnivores) and at the conclusion of Noah's flood (to explain the diversity of species with an extremely limit number of original pairs. Because of these requirements and the extremely brief amount of time they must have taken place, young-earth creationists believe that completely unguided natural processes are orders of magnitude more efficient than any naturalist would dream to propose. They fear an old earth because they believe that it gives nature ample time to create without any guidance, thus completely removing the need for God at all. Dr. Ross explains that the fear of a hyper-efficient evolution is not supported by the evidence and is completely unfounded. Thus not only can the fears be put to rest, but so can any model that depends on such hyper-efficiency of naturalistic processes.

Chapter 12: Faith, Morality, and Long Creation Days

Many young-earth creationist leaders are convinced that belief in an ancient universe necessarily results in a slippery slope into immorality. Dr. Ross explains that this is due to an incorrect connection between naturalism and an ancient universe. He explains that the two have no necessary connection, and he even points to several other church leaders who hold to an ancient universe yet have no room in their belief for immorality. Dr. Ross closes this short chapter with a call to lay down this irrational fear and rather recognize areas of agreement so that the Body of Christ may fulfill God's purposes for his Church more quickly.

Chapter 13: Big Bang: The Bible Said It First

Many Christians believe that big bang cosmology is necessarily contrary to a proper interpretation of scripture. However, Dr. Ross demonstrates that in their descriptions of God and nature, the authors of the Bible describe four fundamental features of big bang cosmology that could not have been known and were actually counter to popular contemporary cultural belief. These four features are the universe's transcendent beginning in the finite past, its continual expansion from that beginning, its being governed by constant laws of physics, and one of those laws being specifically the law of decay. Dr. Ross lists the different passages that describe each one and explains the Hebrew meanings of the chosen words that lead to these interpretations. He explains that the big bang is nothing new, even though it has been stood against by naturalists for centuries; however, evidence of its truth (beyond scripture) from the sciences has exploded since the 90s. He lists nineteen predictions, unique to the big bang theory, that have been confirmed independently multiple times. These are nineteen predictions that confirm its truth and falsifies competing models. He concludes the chapter by explaining that there is no need for the Christian to reject big bang cosmology, but rather enthusiastically embrace it because it provides confirmation of God's existence and the truth of the Bible as God's authoritative Word.

Chapter 14: Scientific Signs of Old Age

Many different methods exist for determining the age of the universe. Dr. Ross explains four of more easily understood methods: the expansion of the universe, cosmic background radiation, stellar burning, and cosmic abundances of radioactive elements. As he presents these evidences he explains which are direct measurements (without assumptions) and which are indirect. He explains how the indirect measurements are calibrated against direct measurements and the error bars for each of these measurements. He also makes analogies to common experiences to help the reader understand the concepts. He concludes that with the direct and indirect methods, the commonly held age of the universe of 13.79 billion years (± 0.06 billion years) is well established.

Chapter 15: Challenges to An Old Cosmos

Numerous scientific challenges have been offered against the idea that the universe is ancient. The one that seems to get the most attention is the starlight travel problem. If stars have only been around for 6,000-10,000 years and stars really are millions and billions of light years away, then there is not enough time for the light to travel to earth. Many attempts by young universe proponents have been attempted to resolve this problem over the years. Dr. Ross demonstrates how the eight most common attempts (and popular models) have failed repeated testing. He then addresses the "you weren't there" accusation against old universe proponents and explains how challenges to the idea of inflation are unfounded.

Chapter 16: The Reliability of Radiometric Dating

Radiometric dating is a common charge of young universe proponents. Dr. Ross takes this chapter to explain how the challenges and concerns are due to misunderstandings of how and when these methods are to be used. He walks the reader through several different radiometric dating methods and shows their limitations. He states that often ridicule of these methods come when the methods are used to date samples that are outside their range. With the understanding of the proper application of the methods, it is easy to see that samples are dated reliably much older than young universe proponents can allow in their view. This often leads to the conclusion that these rates must have been faster in the past (perhaps at the moment of the Fall or during Noah's flood). However, Dr. Ross explains that if the radiometric decay rates were as high as necessary to be consistent with a universe of only 10,000 years, the heat generated by the process would have evaporated earth's oceans and melted surface- it would have resulted in the extinction of life. Dr. Ross also addresses the conclusions of the RATE study, which claimed to show evidence of accelerated decay rates and use helium as evidence of the earth's youth. Dr. Ross also explains dating of the earth using ice cores and tree rings (and addresses common challenges) to show the consistency with radiometric dating methods.

Chapter 17: The Scientific Case For A Young Cosmos

In chapter 15 Dr. Ross addressed eleven different attempts by young universe proponents to shed doubt on the conclusions of scientists about the universe's ancient age. In this chapter, Dr. Ross critiques twelve common pieces of evidence that are often offered as exclusively supporting a young universe. He explains how the claims are often the result of over-simplified understandings of assumptions, supporting data, error bars, technology, systems, and processes. He shows how proper understandings actually demonstrate the universe to be ancient. Some of the supposed evidences for a young universe examined are continental erosion, earth's magnetic field, lunar dust, comets, and supernova remnants.

Chapter 18: Physical Reality Breaks Through The Fog

Despite the evidence that conclusively rules out a young universe, many Christians still insist that their interpretation of Genesis is correct and all others are false. Dr. Ross explains that many young universe proponents explain this away by insisting that nature is not a reliable witness to the past and that the Fall prevents man from being able to think reasonably. They tend to believe that only those scientists who accept that the universe is young can properly interpret nature and all other conclusions of scientists are useless. Dr. Ross shows that Scripture affirms the reliability of nature and the ability of man to reason properly (though not perfectly). He also demonstrates how powerful the conclusions of scientists are in not only supporting the Christian worldview but for eliminating other worldviews. If people wish to deny nature's ability to reveal truth, they must understand that it cannot be used as a tool at all to demonstrate the truth of the Christian worldview to unbelievers. Dr. Ross encourages Christians recognize the reliability of God's creative revelation to reveal truth and use it in our evangelistic efforts.

Chapter 19: Narrow Time Windows

One of the lines of evidence for the truth of Christianity that nature reveals is the existence of advanced life. Dr. Ross explains the narrow time windows that are necessary for life to exist. He takes the different physical requirements of life and demonstrates the minimum age and maximum age for the universe, galaxy, star, and planet. He notes that this time is very small compared to the age of the universe. All of these time windows are due to very specific conditions that must be met. All of these must come together at the right times in the right places. The fine-tuning of the conditions bears the signature of a Designer, and if they were to come together naturally (without any guidance), then the universe is orders-of-magnitude too young for such an event to be more probable than not. This is powerful evidence of God's work in creation, but it cannot be used by young-universe advocates because, in their philosophical system, nature's past is shrouded in mystery.

Chapter 20: The Significance of Man

One of the areas of agreement between young-universe proponents and day-age creationists is on the significance of man. Both agree (in contrast to most evolutionary views) that man did not descend from any lower life form but was created independently by God. God created the first human couple (Adam and Eve) who are the ancestors of the entire human race. Dr. Ross explains the unique attribute of humanity: the Image of God and he addresses the genealogies in scripture that many people claim do not allow for Adam and Eve's historical existence to be compatible with an ancient universe. He also refers the reader to his and Dr. Fazale Rana's book "Who Was Adam" (new edition coming in fall of 2015) for more detail on the human origins portion of their model.

Chapter 21: A Clear "Day" Interpretation

It is often claimed by young-universe proponents that their interpretation of scripture is the "simple and plain reading" of the Genesis text, so it must be the correct one. They also claim that no one would interpret it as talking about an ancient universe unless they were familiar with Darwinian theory. Dr. Ross explains that this simply is not the case. He tells the story of a young lady who read the Genesis passage and was convinced that it was referring to an ancient universe simply by understanding Adam's tasks on Day Six, that the seventh day continues today, and that "day" was used to refer to the entire creation duration. This young lady did not have a scientific education, so it was not part of her interpretive process. Dr. Ross used this example, not to argue for his interpretation, but to argue that it is not necessarily true that the young-universe interpretation is the "simple and plain" interpretation. Dr. Ross explains the interpretive challenges that arise from understanding the Genesis days as 24 hours and shows how his interpretation removes such challenges yet still maintains a literal and historical interpretation of the entire account.

Chapter 22: Councils Attempt to Bring Calm

Since the debate around the age of the universe has caused so much heat in the Church, councils have come together to attempt to bring some reconciliation. Dr. Ross explains that this method of dealing with debates within the Church has precedent in scripture. It is exemplified in the debate between Paul and the Jewish Christians who wished to require circumcision to enter the Kingdom. Dr. Ross describes one evangelical council, two theological panels, and one scientific panel that have all attempted to bring calm to this storm. The evangelical council and two theological councils concluded that an ancient universe does not go against scripture and is compatible with biblical inerrancy, a historical understanding of the Genesis accounts, and with Adam and Eve being historical persons. The scientific council addressed arguments presented for the universe's youth from the discipline of astronomy but concluded that they do not stand scrutiny. Even though these were all conducted in a respectful manner, their conclusions have not been accepted broadly and much heated opposition to an ancient universe by proponents (using arguments that were found by the council and panels to not be sound) of a young universe still exists.

Chapter 23: Tranquility Through Testing

Dr. Ross recognizes that councils and panels cannot always quell disputes. He also recognizes that many have much emotion invested in their particular point of view and this often clouds people's judgment. That is why he recommends that all participants in the creation/evolution/age-of-the-universe debate submit their models to testing against Scripture and against nature. As predictions of a model are falsified, the model either needs to be adjusted or abandoned. This is a more objective and dispassionate way to achieve reconciliation among the different views. Dr. Ross concludes the book by stating that the ultimate goal is not to divide the Church but to bring the Church together to complete their common task of the Great Commission.

Reviewer's Thoughts

A Matter of Days is a wonderful book that addresses issues surrounding science and faith, specifically the age of the universe. Dr. Ross' attitude throughout the book is not one of condemnation against those who disagree, but one of an authentic desire for reconciliation in an effort to provide more evidence for the inerrancy of the Bible and the ultimate truth of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. Throughout the book, many evidences for God's work in nature are put forth, but not necessarily in great detail. As a defender of the Christian worldview, I found this book to be quite valuable in addressing scientific misunderstandings about the Christian worldview (such as the idea that young-earth creationism is a necessary component of it) and in addressing fellow Christians who hold the wrong view and attempt to defend it to scientifically minded unbelievers. I really appreciated Dr. Ross' humble, yet confident and soundly reasoned, approach to this sensitive topic.

This particular book of Dr. Ross' is not the best of his works for defending God's existence via the sciences; however, it is an extremely valuable resource for any apologist who constantly encounters the need to correct misunderstandings of the Christian worldview with regards to the sciences. It is also a wonderful asset for the Christian who may be "on the fence" about the age-of-the-universe issue and is investigating out of curiosity or struggle with doubt. Regardless of the reason for getting this book, I believe that the reader will finish it with an understanding that Christians have nothing to fear from the sciences and only evidence upon evidence to gain in support of the truth and authority of God's Word.

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