Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, Chapter 10

In this chapter Ross goes completely off the rails into unintentional humor. As poor a philosopher as Ross is, he is even worse as a Bible scholar. In this chapter he argues that the Bible, rather than any other religion, fits the scientific evidence because it describes a transcendent God existing outside our normal time dimension who is personal without having any ordinary physical characteristics and is a holy trinity--3 beings in 1 being. In supporting this point he selectively quotes some passages of the Bible that might be interpreted as God not being physical. It's important for his purpose that the passages be quoted very selectively because at least huge amounts of the Bible describe God in essentially the same way any other primitive religion would describe its gods. I'll give a brief selection of those later, but now we have to marvel at Ross stretching his interpretation of the Bible to make it appear as though the Bible fits his own (probably incoherent) concept of God existing outside time and space.

Here are his quotations from the Bible followed by my comments:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

Ross asserts that this supports his view because he claims the term for creation means creating something brand new or creating from nothing. He does not explain how he knows this is the correct understanding of creation in this case. Perhaps he simply is fluent in ancient Hebrew. But we don't really need help in translation since, as noted in an earlier post, the second verse is this: "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." Then God said, "Let there be light." God created the heavens and the earth from a watery chaos, not from nothing. It is possible, however, one might consider the universe to be brand new. On Ross's interpretation this cannot describe God creating the universe first and then creating the earth from that original chaos because the universe was not a watery chaos before God created the earth. In any event, the first verse introduces what God is doing and the later verses explain how God does it.

By faith we understand that the universe was made at God's command, so that what is seen was not made of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

Here's Hebrews 11:1-3 in the New International Edition: The heading is "Faith"
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

It's completely unclear that this means that God created the universe from nothing. Since the passage is about faith in things we cannot see, its point is that God's creating the universe is something we cannot see but must have faith in. Whether God did this from nothing or did this from things we simply do not or cannot observe, the passage does not say. Here's the next quotation:

This grace was given in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. (2 Timothy 1:9)

There are two or three quotations along these lines. The quotation is just asserting that God has a plan for us; it's clearly not a literal claim about the nature or method of God's creation. So, it's easily possible that this is just a metaphorical way of saying that God has always had that plan for us. So, let's cut to the real evidence. Is God portrayed in the Bible as a being existing outside time and space?

Let's look at Genesis:
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2: 7)

And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (2: 8-9)

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (2: 15-17)

Adam and Eve, after eating of that fruit:
And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? (3: 8-9)

This is clearly an anthropomorphic conception of God, not a God who exists outside time and space. He speaks, walks, breathes, and makes mistakes. I only had to look in the first book of Genesis to find this, so it's obviously not hard to find evidence disconfirming Ross's claim. Just for additional evidence, I thought about other places where God is described in the Bible so I looked in Exodus where God talks to Moses.

And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God (Exodus 3: 3-8)

Here God talks from a burning bush, and Moses looks away so as not to see God's face. Clearly, if God has a face, he exists in space and time, and cannot be the transcendental figure that Ross thinks the Bible describes him as. I'm not going to bother looking for more passages; it only took a few moments to find this stuff. On the contrary, one has to search assiduously and interpret generously in order to find anything in the Bible that doesn't involve a God existing in space and time, in which God is not anthropomorphized.

It's possible that the New Testament has a more abstract concept of God, but I'm not sure if that's true given that Jesus is supposed to be the only begotten son of God. If God can have sex with Mary, he must exist in space and time.

It's clear that Ross's interpretation of the Bible is an act of pure desperation that stretches the meaning of a few ambiguous or unclear passages into a conception of God that conforms to what he takes to be the scientific evidence for God's existence while, at the same time, ignoring the vast majority of the Biblical passages involving God in which God exists in space and time rather than transcending them.

There's not much more to this chapter. Ross describes several arguments by scientists, but it is in reality a parade of strawmen. I'll only mention two examples. He says Victor Stenger's position is that self-organizing principle account for development of the universe. Then criticizes Stenger on the grounds that "Not one single example of significant self-generation or self-organization can be found in the entire realm of nature. In fact nature shows just the opposite. Without causation nothing happens and without organization by an intelligent being, systems tend toward lower and lower levels of complexity" (p. 78).

There are actually two claims being made. The first is that the Big Bang generates itself. I do not know how Stenger understands this claim because Ross does not even bother explaining it. Ross does attempt to refute the second claim. The second claim is that systems in nature self-organize; and Ross is just wrong about the existence of self-organization. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is evolution, but self-organizing systems--systems in which order arises because of energy external to the system enters it--are common in nature. I won't bore you with a list.

The second response to his Big Bang proves God argument is Adolf Grunbaum's. Grunbaum claims that Ross's view of a time before time. This, Ross quotes Grunbaum, "presupposes some completely fictitious super-time for which no evidence at all has been given" (p. 76). Ross thinks this is erroneous since Grunbaum does not understand time. Ross then refers back to his claim that God caused effects before our time dimension existed. How reasserting his claim about a second kind of time without the explanation or proof of its existence that Grunbaum demands is supposed to accomplish anything I don't know. Then, to my amusement, he claims that the atheist responses are feeble. Pot, meet kettle, as they say.

In sum, Ross expends considerable effort finding passages that might be interpreted as revealing a God who exists outside our time and space dimensions while ignoring virtually every other passage in the Bible since they do not fit his conception. Finally, he attempts to respond to arguments against his view but completely fails to give convincing counterarguments.

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