Progressive Creationism

“They will not refrain from guffaws when they are informed that but little more than five thousand years have passed since the creation of the universe. . . Must we pass over in silence the creation of the universe? No! God’s truth is so powerful, both in this respect and in every other, that it has nothing to fear from the evilspeaking of wicked men.”

John Calvin


An Overview of the Teachings of Dr. Hugh Ross and Progressive Creationism

The need for this report

A brief summary of Dr. Ross’ views

Implications to the future of the Church

Some problems with Progressive Creationism

I. The importance of an original paradise

II. Did the Fall bring only spiritual death and can death occur before the Fall?

III. Noah’s Flood

IV. General Revelation and The Word of God

V. Long Ages

VI. The Nature of Man

VII. How Progressive Creationism reflects on Christ

The tactics used by Ross to persuade readers to his view

Conclusion

Application

Endnotes

Subpages:

A Comparison of Dr. Ross’s Views on the Flood

A Comparison of Some of Ross’s Views On Several Aspects of Creation

Sources For This Report


  • The need for this report

    Would you attend a lecture or read a book by a man who makes repeated errors in Hebrew, biology, and other areas and who teaches the following:

    • Physical death existed before Adam’s Fall,
    • The order and events of creation are different than in Genesis chapter one,
    • The Flood was not global,
    • Bipedal hominids existed before Man and were “spiritless”,
    • The “facts of nature” are equal to the Word of God,
    • We are now living in the seventh day of creation,
    • That God exists in eleven dimensions of time and space,
    • And more?[i]

    Dr. Hugh Ross, astrophysicist and founder of Reasons to Believe ministries, teaches all of the things in the above list. Although he speaks with authority on many topics, he apparently is not trained in biology, Hebrew, hermeneutics, or theology. Researchers have found him to be wrong in every one of these areas, including his own field of astrophysics.[ii] I believe most Christians are unaware of the problems in his teachings. He is the most well known spokesman for Progressive Creationism[iii].

    A brief summary of Dr. Ross’ views

    Dr. Ross says his views are based on a literal interpretation of the Bible. He opposes both atheistic evolutionism and a recent creation, but he accepts the interpretations of popular science. His ideas are evolutionary, although Christians who accept this kind of teaching prefer to call it Progressive Creationism. He teaches that the Big Bang, billions of years ago, was followed by millions of years of death among the animals. He teaches that hominids[iv] existed before Man. He says that the “facts of nature” and the Bible are one and the same. He says physical death existed from the beginning and was not the result of the sin of Adam and Eve. He does not believe in a global flood.

    Dr. Ross attempts to fit the Bible into contemporary scientific theories. The Bible cannot be squeezed into that mold. He even claims that God operates within space and time in eleven dimensions. Normally William Lane Craig supports Ross, but he wrote in a review article in J. Evang. Theol. Soc.,

    “… I have been mystified by evangelicals’ apparently uncritical acquiescence to some of the positions advocated in this book . . . I find his attempt to construe God as existing in hyperdimensions of time and space and to interpret Christian doctrines in that light to be both philosophically and theologically unacceptable.”

    Ross believes a six day Creation and a global Flood are impossible so he completely pushes the obvious text aside and manipulates Scripture until he gets what he wants. If he misinterprets very clearly written Scripture, such as Genesis 6 – 9, then what can we think of his comments on Genesis 1 and 2?

    The Bible is clear in its message. Josh McDowell explains,

    “The message of the Bible is clear for those who will read it and seek to find out its meaning. The problem comes when people bring their preconceived notions to the Bible and attempt to make the Word fit their ideas. This is not the fault of the Bible, but of the persons who force the Bible to say what they want it to say.”

    Implications to the future of the Church

    So, if Christians accept Progressive Creationism, should this concern you?

    Mark Van Bebber and Paul Taylor have written a book critiquing Dr. Ross. They state on page 9 of Creation and Time:

    “We believe that Dr. Ross is saved, and that his expressed desire to live for Christ is genuine. His desire to evangelize is laudable. It is also good to publicize scientific evidences supporting the existence and power of our Creator. . . What distresses us is his continuing use of various erroneous teaching about the Bible. We believe these teachings are leading people down a wrong and dangerous path – a trail trod by many in the past that has repeatedly led ultimately to even more serious theological problems and loss of faith in God’s Word . . . Dr. Ross has been confronted on these issues by various Christian brothers in person, including ourselves, by phone and by letter, but to little or no avail.”

    As Mark Van Bebber and Paul Taylor also explain,

    “History has repeatedly shown that Christian colleges and seminaries that accept the millions-of-years-of-death-before-Adam scenario have moved closer and closer to full liberalism over the years, unless strong counteraction is taken. Not only are people losing faith in the Bible’s accuracy, but the truth of the gospel message is being lost!”

    Fred Wilson of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR, Dr. Henry Morris’ ministry) documents the following events to prove this point. [v]

    Many American and other seminaries started their fall with a compromise with evolution. At Princeton, Charles Hodge opposed evolution, but accepted the long ages expected for evolution to occur. Alexander Hodge also took that position, then Warfield wrote that evolution “could supply a theory of the method of divine providence…”

    Augustus H. Strong, who wrote Systematic Theology, wrote that man receives his body and possibly his spirit from an apelike ancestor. His son proofread the text and later abandoned Christianity to become a militant atheist. The Strong’s friends included John D. Rockefeller, Chauncey Depew, and Andrew Carnegie. Each used ruthless business tactics “arguing that they were only acting according to evolutionary principles which were God’s methods in nature.”

    Mr. Wilson then explains how evolution has destroyed Christianity in Western Europe. I found his quote from Newman Watts’ book, Britain Without God, particularly interesting:

    “Two things impressed me. One was the tremendous amount of this [anti-religious] literature available, and the other was the fact that every attack on the Christian faith made today has as its basis, the doctrine of evolution.”

    I have repeatedly read of people losing faith that can be traced to evolution. Huston Smith in Christian Century claims it is the greatest cause of loss of faith. Mr. Wilson quotes a letter received at ICR:

    “A good friend of mine, formerly accepting the six-day literal creation, after reading Hugh Ross’s book, . . .Fingerprint of God, and some secular books, is now considering evolution and even doubting God. He also said that Christian men he admired endorsed the book.”

    Some problems with Progressive Creationism

    I. The importance of an original paradise

    God promises “to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets.” (Acts 3:21) God will restore the world to the paradise He created. Animals will be plant-eaters again (Isaiah 11: 6-7, 9) as they were created to be in Genesis 1:30. If we believe Dr. Ross’s interpretation, then God is restoring our world to . . . death, mutations, violence, and survival of the fittest when He actually said in the beginning everything was “very good”. God would not lie to us. Earth began as a paradise.

    II. Did the Fall bring only spiritual death and can death occur before the Fall[vi]?

    Genesis 2:17 and 3:19 and also I Corinthians 15:20 – 23 very clearly state that death entered God’s perfect world through Adam’s sin, not before Adam. Adam’s sin was the cause of death and decay. However, Dr. Ross believes Adam came after millions of years of death of animals. This is in reverse order of the Scriptures. Animal death came because of Man.

    God told Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken, for you are dust, and to dust you shall return“(Genesis 3:19). God then guarded the tree of life with an angel to prevent Adam and Eve from eating its fruit and avoiding physical death. This verse also shows Man did not come from a hominid. Progressive Creationists believe God specially created Adam after hominids, not from them.

    Dr. Ross says “when Adam sinned, he instantly ‘died’ . . . spiritually.” In Creation and Time, he also claims “the penalty for sin is spiritual death . . . Thus the atonement had to be made by a spiritual Being.” The humanity of Jesus is emphasized in Hebrews 2 clearly showing He shared in physical humanity, also experiencing physical death as a result of sin, resulting in our reconciliation.

    The context of I Corinthians 15 clearly involves physical death while Ross claims it is only referring to spiritual death. Paul describes the futility of hope in Christ if He did not physically rise from the dead. Paul showed that through Adam, the body had been corrupted and was now subject to death. Through Christ’s bodily resurrection, physical death was defeated. What significance does Christ’s substitutionary death have if death has always existed?

    Mark Van Bebber and Paul Taylor, in their critique of Dr. Ross’ book, Creation and Time, explain the error in Ross’s view:

    “Dr. Ross’s wrong view of death’s origin is not new. The same belief can be traced back to the monk Pelagius around 400 AD. As the scholar Millard Erickson explains, ‘The Pelagian view . . . is that man was created mortal. Just as everything about us dies sooner or later, so it is and has always been with man. The principle of death and decay is a part of the whole creation . . . The biblical references to death as a consequence of sin are understood as references to spiritual death, separation from God, rather than physical death.’ . . . Pelagius was rightly denounced by the early church for his views.”

    III. Noah’s Flood

    Hugh Ross teaches that Noah’s flood was local[vii] because Dr. Ross favors secular geologists’ explanations of a geologic column laid down over billions of years. Also, if Dr. Ross accepted a global flood then he would have to agree the earth is young, losing many of the “facts” he uses to show the earth is ancient.

    Genesis 6 – 9 obviously describe a global flood. In other passages God promises He will not allow a global flood again and has made it impossible. That is, He “went the extra mile” in keeping His promise by physically changing the earth to make it impossible. Psalm 104: 6 – 9 describes the Flood and how God caused rapid geological changes to prevent another global deluge:

    “Thou didst cover [the earth] with the deep as with a garment; the waters were standing above the mountains. At Thy rebuke they fled, at the sound of Thy thunder they hurried away. The mountains rose; the valleys sank down to the place which Thou established for them. Thou didst set a boundary that they may not pass over; that they may not return to cover the earth.”

    The high mountains and deep ocean trenches of today make a global flood appear impossible. The impossibility we see now proves God’s faithfulness, not disproves a global Flood, as Ross believes.

    In a short article from the Institute of Creation Research, Dr. Henry Morris explains,

    “God promised that never ‘shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth’ (Genesis 9:11), and He has kept His word for over four thousand years, if the Flood indeed was global. Those Christians who say it was a local flood, however, are in effect accusing God of lying, for there are many devastating local floods every year.”

    IV. General Revelation and The Word of God

    Dr. Ross believes the “facts of nature” are equal to the Word of God. He lists 23 verses in The Fingerprint of God to support his idea that the “facts of nature” are the 67th book of the Bible, but all 23 verses actually say nature is a limited revelation. Dr Ross explains,

    “The facts of nature may be likened to a sixty-seventh book of the Bible. Some readers might fear I am implying that God’s revelation through nature is somehow on an equal footing with His revelation through the words of the Bible. Let me simply state that truth, . . . is information that is perfectly free of contradiction and error. Just as it is absurd to speak of some entity as more perfect than another, so also one revelation of God’s truth cannot be held as inferior or superior to another [they are simply] different, just like the content of Ezra is distinct from that of Romans.”

    A phrase that Progressive Creationists use to defend this kind of thinking is, “all truth is God’s truth”. Theologian Charles Ryrie, clarifies the issue in his book, Basic Theology:

    “God Himself is the Source of our knowledge of Him. To be sure, all truth is God’s truth. But that cliché should be more carefully stated and used than it generally is. Only true truth comes from God, for since sin entered the stream of history man has created that which he calls truth but which is not. Furthermore, he has perverted, blunted, diluted, and corrupted that which was originally true truth that did come from God. For us today the only infallible canon for determining true truth is the written Word of God. Nature, though it does reveal some things about God, is limited and can be misread by mankind. The human mind, though often brilliant in what it can achieve, suffers limitations and darkening.”

    A casual reader of Ross’ materials may not notice that Ross really means science when referring to the “facts of Nature.” He is seriously in error to claim fallen Man’s imperfect, changeable understanding of Nature, also cursed and imperfect, is equal with God’s written Word! The Bible has repeatedly proven itself accurate over and over again, while scientific theories are biased, revised, misinterpreted, and discarded.

    Ross also goes on to claim: “the plan of salvation as stated in the Bible can be seen through observation[viii] of the universe around us. Thus, all human beings have a chance to discover it.” However, Acts 17:23 and Ephesians 3:9 indicate that general revelation is not sufficient to discover the saving power of the Gospel. In fact, in Romans 1:20, nature’s revelation of the nature and power of God seems to condemn the sinner as guilty.

    V. Long Ages

    Many people have written about the meaning of “yom” (day). I favor the 24-hour definition because:

    God defines a “day” as 24 hours in Genesis 1:5 and 14,

    “yom” always means a literal day when ordinal numbers are used with “evening and morning”,

    “yom” is used, not “yamim”, qedem”, “olam”, etc.[ix]

    God wrote with his finger on stone in Exodus 20:11 that he made everything in six days, and then established the Sabbath to remember the Creator,

    The many passages with the phrase, “from the beginning,” etc. only make sense with a 24-hour day. Looking at just one will show the problem. In Mark 10:6, Jesus says, “But at the beginning of creation ‘God made them male and female.’” This does not add up if the creation of Man came billions of years after the beginning.

    As an astrophysicist, Dr. Ross believes the universe must be billions of years old. He writes in Creation and Time, “The meaning of the word day, of course, is the focal point of the creation time-scale controversy . . . Does it, or does it not, represent a contradiction between Scripture and science?” So, to him, a literal day conflicts with science, and, therefore, he concludes “day” must mean a long period of time. Is science right and the Bible wrong?

    Dr. Ross goes into long explanations for Hebrew words to explain why he believes “day” means long ages. He also believes various creation events of Genesis 1 and 2 took place on different days than stated in Scripture or on more than one day[x]. Even T. H. Huxley, a contemporary and supporter of Darwin’s work, understood the importance of taking the creation account literally:

    “If we listen to many expositors of no mean authority, we must believe that what seems so clearly defined in Genesis. . . as if great pains had been taken that there should be no possibility of mistake. . . is not the meaning of the text at all. . . A person who is not a Hebrew scholar can only stand aside and admire the marvelous flexibility of a language which admits of such diverse interpretations.”

    In Revelation we learn that the sky will roll up and the stars will fall. This will not take billions of years for God to accomplish. Also, if God created everything in just one week, He can easily re-create everything quickly in the future. It took Him less than one day to make Adam and Eve and it will only take him “the twinkling of an eye” to give us our new bodies.

    VI. The Nature of Man

    Dr. Ross defends evolution as the process God used until the creation of Man. He also calls humans “spirit beings” in order to distinguish them from “hominids.” He says, “Although some of these creatures looked completely human (e.g., Cro-Magnon, Neanderthal), . . . used tools . . .buried their dead and painted on cave walls, . . . they had no spirits” and were really animals. However, Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal have been proven to be human. The fossil record has never supported the theory of the evolution of Man nor of anything else. Neither do the Scriptures!

    VII. How Progressive Creationism reflects on Christ[xi]

    Most people have probably not realized that combining long ages of evolutionary trial-and-error with Genesis destroys a true concept of God. Since Christ is omnipotent, He could have created the world in one blinding instant. God also tells us He will make the new heavens and the new earth in a short time. Why would our Creator have used a slow process with repeated extinctions? Progressive Creationism misrepresents God, implying He is careless, wasteful, and indifferent.

    Carl Sagan in his book, Contact, understood what mixing evolution with a creator really means:

    “If God is omnipotent and omniscient, why didn’t he start the universe out in the first place so it would come out the way he wants? Why is he constantly repairing and complaining? No, there’s one thing the Bible makes clear: The biblical God is a sloppy manufacturer. He’s not good at design, he’s not good at execution. He’d be out of business if there was any competition.”

    I am guessing that Dr. Ross has not thought about this. In Creation and Time he writes, “Could it be that God’s purposes are somehow fulfilled through our experiencing the ‘random, wasteful, inefficiencies’ of the natural realm He created?”

    Dr. Ross also asks why “would [God] wait so many billions of years to make life … The answer is that, given the laws … of physics God chose to create, it takes about twelve billion years just to fuse enough heavy elements in … several generations of giant stars to make life chemistry possible.”

    God demonstrated repeatedly in the Bible that he does not need time to create something. Just a few examples are: the loaves and fishes, water into wine, the Nile into blood, unfailing oil, the restoring of the ear of the servant, and the budding of Aaron’s rod.

    The tactics used by Ross to persuade readers to his view

    Dr. Ross’s most common methods for persuasion are “appeals to authority” (even without supporting evidence). For example, the only rebuttal he might give is to state the person with an opposing view is “not an authority”. This implies he, or his organization, is the expert and is, therefore, “right.” He sounds authoritative, so apparently few people check him or his sources.

    Dr. Ross’ opinions of Christians who hold a literal view of Genesis are not Christ honoring. In his books and articles he discusses “the problem” of young-earth creationists. He calls them vehement, vitriolic, fearful, judgmental and more. He says their evidence is absurd, erroneous and embarrassing. He falsely accuses young-earth creationists of being suspicious of modern science and of having no evidence to back up their claims. He states,

    “If you have tried these [scientific evidences for a young earth] on your science-trained colleagues, you have no doubt discovered (perhaps with painful embarrassment) that ALL [emphasis mine] these ‘evidences’ are based on misunderstanding and error.”

    In his own words, Dr. Ross reveals his attitude toward the Scriptures and toward Christians he is trying to persuade to his view:

    “I felt that the best arguments for a seventeen or eighteen-billion-year-old universe would come from astronomy . . . And I was naïve to think, ‘Well, of course the Bible addresses this issue, but the scientific data is so much more specific, and is really beyond any real question that that’s the way to go.’ And so I would try to talk to audiences of Christians and giving the most powerful evidence, namely, the scientific evidence. But what I‘ve discovered is that when you’re dealing with . . . [Christians], . . .this scientific evidence that you’re sharing with them is like water off the back of a duck – it doesn’t penetrate. So I’ve taken a different approach, in going into churches, or addressing audiences of Christians, I begin with the biblical evidence. It’s not as definitive, it’s not as strong, but it’s definitive enough, and it’s strong enough. . . Because they consider themselves to be fundamentalists, they’re almost obligated to listen to my appeal from Scripture.”

    After a debate in October 2000, Dr. Ross apparently feels that his character and credibility are under attack. Ken Ham’s organization, Answers in Genesis, denies any intention of personal attack. They simply want to defend the Scriptures, exposing Dr. Ross’s errors and his tactics. After documenting numerous errors by Dr. Ross, Dr. Jonathan Sarfati warns,

    “These erroneous claims by Ross should alert readers to the fact that Ross is often sloppy in his explanations or even outright mistaken. Worse, when ‘called’ on his mistake, he will not graciously concede error but seeks to bluff his way through. In the one instance where his error was so undeniable that he had no choice but to concede, he did so grudgingly and coupled with an obvious attempt to ‘fudge’ the significance of the error, trying to turn it into an attack on his critics for alleged ‘nit-picking’. Readers should not be beguiled by his smooth talk, big words or appeals to authority, and instead should believe the clear teaching of Scripture.”

    Conclusion

    Dr. Stephen Hawking believes the ability to understand origins is only for the scientific elite. He does hope that some day anyone will understand and not just the intelligentsia. I sense this same attitude in Dr. Ross. In his writings, Dr. Ross encourages scientists and professors to have a ministry in the churches in order to remove Biblically supported young-earth teachings, implying that believing in a six-day creation is a serious problem. He is more concerned about the “damage” of young-earth creationists than of the damage of evolutionists on campuses! He wrote, “If every Christian professor were equipped and willing to discuss such issues, the damage caused on many campuses by the misconstrued ‘Christian’ view of creation could begin to undergo repair.”

    Van Bebber and Taylor expressed personal concern for Dr. Ross and hoped he would come to different conclusions and that God would bless his ministry. They conclude with a prayer that Progressive Creationists will come to realize that recent creation is not a trivial, but a foundational, belief.

    “Christians must not fall into the trap of dismissing such an important theme as merely a matter of one’s conscience or a side-issue to be avoided in polite company. It is hoped this report will challenge readers to investigate the Bible for themselves, using sound hermeneutic processes. As Christians, we must be willing to place our faith in the sure words of Scripture, over and above all other claims of truth. We may not have all the scientific explanations for natural phenomena, but good research is currently being accomplished. While questions remain, we take our stand for God’s Word, which we find to be explicitly clear on this issue.”

    Hebrews 11:3 and 6 indicate that God is pleased when we believe His account of Creation by faith.

    “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 . . .And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”

    We must trust Him and stand firm upon the foundation of His written revelation of the Creation.

    Because animals could not have died until after Adam’s sin and most fossils are found in flood deposits, it makes more sense to believe the fossil record is evidence of the Flood and not of long ages of death before Adam. The Creator doesn’t require long ages and He doesn’t need to experiment, discarding numerous species along the way. Why draw out the process of creation before ever reaching the goal, the creation of Man?

    Application

    In Dr. Henry Morris’ book, The Long War Against God, he clearly shows that evolutionary thought is Satan’s plan of attack since the Garden of Eden. Can we be so blind after thousands of years of history to not see this attack right in the Church? Is Progressive Creationism chipping away at Christianity’s foundation? If doubt is cast on Genesis, how can anyone trust the rest of the Bible?

    I would be deeply grieved if we do not recognize what accepting Progressive Creationism could do to the Church over time. Many people have been taught that evolutionary teaching is compatible with Christianity. It might seem harmless right now, but I hope I have included enough to cause you to think whether we should look further into this. I trust God will show us all.

    A casual reading of Dr. Ross’s materials may not cause any alarms to go off, but if a reader, or viewer of his TV program, will think about what he is saying, he will realize how dangerous his teachings are. I hope I have conveyed accurately the implications of his doctrine. I will trust God to speak to you, too, about this even though I can only suggest a fraction of what this means.

    As Paul warns us in Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”

    Endnotes

    [i] I thought one of Dr. Ross’s TV shows was insightful to see his views on judgment. He said non-Christians are under the restraint of the Holy Spirit until they are in Hell where they get what they want, freedom from God’s restraint. In Hell they are free to express all their sin. So God keeps them in torment in order to restrain them in Hell. (I thought that was an inconsistency to say they are still under restraint.) He then explained that God will treat them proportionally – Stalin will need more restraint. He concluded, “God is committed to make the lake of fire as pleasant a place as possible based on people’s choices.”

    [ii] Please read “The dubious apologetics of Hugh Ross” by Dr. Danny Faulkner, astronomer, for detailed evidence of Dr. Ross’s errors at http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/4149.asp.

    [iii] Theistic Evolution simply claims God used evolution to create. Progressive Creationism claims that God used the evolutionary process at various stages to replace, abandon or improve species. Other claims will be evident throughout this report.

    [iv] By definition, “bipedal primate mammals” which Ross says were spiritless.

    [v] I tried unsuccessfully several times to get more documentation from ICR to prove that accepting long ages has led Christian ministries downhill toward liberal theology.

    [vi] See also the short section on the Nature of Man.

    [vii] Please turn to the comparison chart of Dr. Ross’ views on the Flood as contrasted with the Biblical account for more important details. I have not included any proofs that the Flood was global because the Scriptures are clear on this.

    [viii] Another example of Ross’ misinterpretation of Scripture is his explanation that Colossians 1:23 states that salvation ‘has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven’ and therefore the heavens have revealed all we need to know for salvation. Paul is actually explaining the extent of the gospel, not the method of revelation of the gospel.

    [ix] http://answersingenesis.org/docs/220.asp “What Did God Intend Us to Understand from the Words He Used?” Russell M. Grigg

    [x] For more documentation on the mixed-up events of Dr. Ross’s creation “days” see “The Dubious Apologetics of Hugh Ross” by Dr. Danny Faulkner, astronomer, at http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/4149.asp

    [xi] For further development on how the doctrine of Progressive Creationism reflects on the nature of God, please see two excellent articles, and “The god of an old earth,” http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/4126.asp and “Is Jesus Christ the Creator God?” http://answersingenesis.org/docs/3804.asp.

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