Monday, November 30, 2009

Hugh Ross's Creator and the Cosmos, Concluding Remarks

As with most creationist literature, Ross's book consists primarily of a false dilemma. He presents problems with naturalist accounts of S (for any subject S) and concludes that God must be responsible for it. Yet he never supports his theory of divine creation with evidence. And he is quite coy about what his view even is. For example, he asserts that God created everything--anything that involves greater complexity than its not existing, presumably--since without God's creation the universe can only increase in entropy. No greater complexity can arise without God's intervention, and God has ceased to intervene after the first six periods of time indicated in Genesis (as Ross says on p. 103).

Ross, then, gets only one benefit from his supposed embrace of scientific evidence: he doesn't believe in a 6-10,000 year old universe. That's a big benefit since it's blatantly obvious for lots of independent reasons that the universe is much older than that. Still, he's got to deny the evidence for evolution just as irrationally as any other creationist. That means he's still in an evidential hole that he needs to dig himself out of. And he's still got the problem that, for example, the two Biblical creation stories are inconsistent with each other and with the evidence. (For example, the Seven Day Creation story has birds created before land animals--including reptiles--which we know, from the fossil record, did not happen.)

So Ross thinks the universe is approximately 14 billion years old, that the earth has been here for approximately 4.5 billion years and that life has existed on earth for approximately 3.5 billion of those years. And, I think, he believes the fossil record can be taken to indicate a temporal sequence of organisms. I would guess, then that this creation period from 14 billion years ago until approximately 60,000 years ago when the first homo sapiens appeared. All the evidence of a sequence of gradually developing species would then indicate only God's slow experiments with them as he alters them over time. It's not clear why God would need to spend so much time making so many creatures that are so similar to each other but most of which are now extinct. On the other hand, perhaps they could evolve during that time with God's help but they cannot evolve now. If that's the case, then it's fairly cruel of God to stop allowing evolution.

I'm not sure what's supposed to happen in that 14 billion years (less our last 60,000 years). Was there a kind of stasis in which God added his creations to the universe? If so, how could time have passed at all? Or did God add his creations at certain specified points (the various "days") and let the laws of nature govern his creations between those specific times until the next point when he would intervene again? If that were the case, one would expect new life forms to appear in the fossil record only at a few definable times, but they appear constantly throughout the fossil record. Or, most plausibly, did everything happen the way it does now except that God is somehow creating things at the same time? Were the laws of nature that now obtain also in effect and God violated them with lots of individual creations (that were not documented individually, of course)? Perhaps, but then God appears to be a tinkerer whose actions exactly mimic the development of the universe if he hadn't been there at all. So, I have no idea even when this creation is supposed to have occurred and how that could possibly fit the fossil evidence (even leaving aside the biomolecular clock evidence).

So, Ross tries to patch up one obvious problem with Young Earth Creationism, but he leaves lots of other problems in place and creates other problems for himself. However, because creationists are always free from actually providing testable claims that could be confirmed or disconfirmed by evidence, he never bothers to confront any such issues and focuses only on his own oversimplified and distorted views of his opposition's views.

In sum, Ross's book adds only a thin veneer of pseudo-sophistication to the disreputable work of the Young Earth Creationists. Nothing he has said really resolves the problems with their views. The only marginally compelling argument he presents is the cosmological argument, and that he bizarrely takes to indicate exactly the sort of God described in the Bible. He includes a smattering of other arguments, poorly explained and poorly supported, as though throwing as much at the wall in the hope that something will stick. And he considers some alternatives and counterarguments, but he does so so poorly that one could not have any idea what these other views are based solely on his explanation, and then he rejects these strawmen without seriously engaging any reasonable view or position. For variety, sometimes he seizes on totally irrelevant information (such as Hume's lack of an adequate alternative explanation for the appearance of design, or comments from Stephen Hawking's ex-wife) as though that constitutes a refutation of another's argument. Hence, The Creator and the Cosmos is only a slightly more sophisticated version of the same creationist nonsense that is as scientifically misguided as it is theologically simplistic.

At the end of this process of reviewing Ross's book, I must ask myself why I did it. I didn't really learn anything new, and, while I tried to remain open-minded about it, I don't think anything changed my mind. I can only hope that anyone who had questions about Ross, or thought there might be some substance to Ross's view has more reason for his/her own final evaluation, and, it is devoutly to be hoped, rejection, of his views.

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