Thursday, October 15, 2009

Creationist Hugh Ross's Creator and the Cosmos Chapter 2

This post is part 2 in my excessively careful evaluation of the claims of Hugh Ross in his book, The Creator and the Cosmos. In my discussion of the first chapter I noted that Ross makes basic philosophical mistakes about meaning and morality that led him to interpret the scientific evidence in conformity with these biases.

Chapter 2: My Skeptical Journey

In this chapter Ross recounts an undoubtedly fictionalized account of his quest for knowledge in the world's philosophy and religions. I say that this must be fictionalized because he claims to have read the holy books of other, unnamed religions before he looked into Christianity (and the Judeo-Christian tradition). Perhaps Ross is a space alien visiting from some distant planet, but no person from a modern Western nation would look into Christianity last.

What did Ross find in these philosophers?
"[C]ircular arguments, inconsistencies, contradictions and evasions" (p. 15).

What did Ross find in these other holy books? He found:
"[S]tatements clearly at odds with established history and science. I also noted a writing style perhaps best described as esoteric, mysterious, and vague. My great frustration was having to read so much in these books to find something stated specifically enough to be tested. The sophistry and incongruity with established facts seems opposite to the Creator's character as suggested to me by nature" (p. 15).

These are examples of Ross's own inconsistency in his evaluation of evidence. These would be, and may be, good criticisms of some philosophers and religions but they apply as much to the Bible as any of these other sources.

Nonetheless, when Ross stumbles across a Bible, he finds to his shock that it is perfectly accurate.

I discovered the same thing when I first encountered a Bible. It read:

For countless ages the hot nebula whirled aimlessly through space. At length it began to take shape, the central mass threw off planets, the planets cooled, boiling seas and burning mountains heaved and tossed, from masses of cloud hot sheets of rain deluged the barely solid crust. And now the first germ of life grew in the depths of the ocean, and developed rapidly in the fructifying warmth into vast forest trees, huge germ springing from the damp mould, sea monsters breeding, fighting, devouring, and passing away. And from the monsters, as the play unfolded itself, Man was born, with the power of thought, the knowledge of good and evil, and the cruel thirst for worship. And Man saw that all is passing in this mad, monstrous world, that all is struggling to snatch, at any cost, a few brief moments of life before Death's inexorable decree.

Sorry, that's Bertrand Russell's A Free Man's Worship. I looked at my library again.

In the beginning there was an explosion. Not an explosion like those familiar on earth, starting from a definite center and spreading out to engulf more and more of the circumambient air, but an explosion which occurred simultaneously everywhere, filling all space from the beginning with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle...
At about one-hundredth of a second...the temperature of the universe was about a hundred thousand million degrees centigrade. This is much hotter than even the center of the hottest star, so hot, in fact, that none of the components of ordinary matter, molecules, or atoms, or even the nuclei of atoms, could have held together. Instead, the matter rushing apart in this explosion consisted of various types of so-called elementary particles...
As the explosion continued the temperature dropped, reaching thirty thousand million degrees Centigrade after about one-tenth of a second; ten thousand million degrees after about one second; and three thousand million degrees after about fourteen seconds. This was cool enough so that electrons and positrons began to annihilate faster than they could be recreated out of the photons and neutrinos. The energy released in this annihilation of matter temporarily slowed the rate at which the universe cooled, but the temperature continued to drop, finally reaching one thousand million degrees at the end of the first three minutes. It was then cool enough for the protons and neutrons to begin to form into complex nuclei...
This matter continued to rush apart, becoming steadily cooler and less dense. Much later, after a few thousand years, it would become cool enough to form atoms of hydrogen and helium. The resulting gas would begin under the influence of gravitation to form clumps which would ultimately condense to form the galaxies and stars of the present universe.

Oh, wait. That's Steven Weinberg's The First Three Minutes. And it's not very theistic. I tried again.

In the beginning God created dates. And he saw that the date was Monday, July 4, 4004 BC. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And when there was Light, God saw the Date, that it was Monday, and he got down to work; for verily, he had a Big Job to do. And God made pottery shards and Silurian mollusks and pre-Cambrian limestone strata; and flints and Jurassic Mastodon tusks and Picanthropus erectus skulls and Cretacious placentals made he; and those cave paintings at Lasceaux. And that was that for the first Work Day. And God saw that he had made many wondrous things, but that he had not wherein to put it all. And God said, Let the heavens be divided from the earth and let us bury all of these Things which we have made in the earth; but not too deep.

Well, that's at least potentially consistent with the evidence, but, unfortunately for Ross, it's not the Bible but instead Not the Bible. So what does the Bible say and is it consistent with our scientific knowledge and the concept of God and God's creation that Ross wants? Here's the first book of Genesis.

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6 And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ 7So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

Ross asserts that the amazing things about this account is its order and coherence, and that it is the only religious account of God creating the universe from nothing. Clearly, creation from nothing is not in Genesis. Before God creates the universe "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters." Before the creation there was a formless, watery chaos (this concept of origins is actually borrowed from Babylonian mythology), and God created the universe from that chaos.

How about God saying, "Let there be light"? Isn't that God creating a big bang? Not likely, God doesn't say, "Let there be an explosion." But more important, this conception of light is a concept of light pervading the universe without the sun as the source of that light. It is not in any way comparable to an incredibly high temperature explosion. Moreover, it says that God calls the light day, but that makes a hash of the idea that God saying "Let there be light" is God creating the Big Bang since he wouldn't call the Big Bang "Day".

It's obvious that the rest of this story is not accurate, but just to emphasize the point: "And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’" Seriously, Ross thinks that there is a dome separating the land on earth from the waters around us, in the oceans, and the water above us held back by the dome? And that this claim is supported by scientific research? Maybe God only left the dome up for a while and took it down later when the water had drained away a bit. There's really no point in trying to refute Ross's claim since it so patently flies in the face of even the most basic scientific view of the world; one can only ridicule Ross's claim. Yet Ross concludes after his "skeptical" review of the Bible, "I had been unsuccessful in finding a single provable error or contradiction" (p. 16). I must suppose he did not read past the first paragraph (and even there it's not so much that there are no errors but that they are not easily provable).

One last piece of evidence cited by Ross is his calculation of the "probability of the chance fulfillment of thirteen Bible predictions about specific people and their specific actions" (p. 16). Ross does not even summarize his method or predictions but only refers to another work. This appears to be more an attempt to sell another book than to do serious scholarship. At any rate, since he says nothing about the predictions, we can say only a couple of things about how people interpret them. First, if you select the predictions you want to test and ignore others, then you can select the accurate ones and thereby make the Bible appear to be a reliable source.

Second, I have serious doubts about the accuracy of whatever his specific predictions are. The error that is most likely to occur is what psychologists call "subjective validation". One takes certain events that have happened and then interprets the prediction in a way that makes the prediction accurate. The technique called cold reading, when a psychic does it, relies on the same error. For example, John Edward might say, "I'm getting an 'M' name. . ." and the people in his audience fill that vague prediction in with a specific name, "Yes, my father was named Michael." It is this way that people make Nostradamus' basically meaningless verses into prescience. So whatever predictions Ross chose, it's most likely that he filled in a vague prediction with some event that could be understood to fit it.

Third, some of the "predictions" in the Bible are not even predictions but written after the events under the pretense that they had been written at an earlier time. It's easy to make predictions about things that have already happened. If I asserted that this post was written in 2000 and predicted a devastating terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, then that would seem like eerie accuracy but for the fact that my prediction came after the fact. Here's a source that explains this for the so-called predictions in the book of Daniel. There's no way to know what Ross has in mind as evidence, but we certainly should not take his word for these implausible claims.

In sum, the second chapter of Ross's book is supposed to explain how he was led to his fundamental commitment to Christianity. Alas, his confidence in this evidence is absurdly misguided, and his attempts to bolster it with the supposed accuracy of predictions which he does explain cannot be considered evidence.

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