Reasons To Believe... An astrophysicist's perspective
Dr Hugh Ross is an amazing guy, says a staff of Impact Magazine after meeting Dr Ross. “Knowledgeable, humble and gentle. We need more scientists like him.” An astrophysicist, he was a postdoctoral research fellow for five years at Caltech, studying quasars and galaxies. He spoke with Impact.
What led to the genesis of your faith?
I was born, educated and raised in a non-Christian home in Canada. My parents stressed education and morality rather than Christian faith. It was astronomy that persuaded me that there had to be a ‘beginning’ in the universe. So, I began the search for that beginning when I was 17. I started with the writings of Immanuel Kant and Rene Descartes but found that they had a wrong concept of space and time. That was when I began to look at the different religions of the world and discovered that these religions were saying things about the universe that did not fit my scientific frame of reference. Then I picked up the Bible and was immediately impressed. The Bible talks about history, geography and science. And it was the only book I have picked up that encourages objective testing.
Having read the Bible, I know that becoming a Christian meant I had to commit to sharing my faith. As an undergrad at the University of British Columbia, I was aware that that commitment would result in pushbacks from my fellow students and professors. So it was with some fear and trepidation that I signed my name at the back of a Gideon Bible and gave my life to Christ.
I began to look for opportunities to share my faith. And was surprised that my fear was really without grounds. As mentioned in 1 Peter 3 and 4, Scripture promised that when we share our faith, God’s Holy Spirit will be with us and assist us. The first time I shared my faith was with my physics lab partner. After finishing a bunch of assignments, while we were sitting down, he said, “Hugh, I know that you want to talk about something. But first I got to tell you this: I need to talk to someone about God. Do you know of anyone on this campus who knows anything about God?” That taught me a lesson — when we share our faith, we are never alone.
Were you fearful that God was changing the direction of your life?
I was not afraid because I felt pursuing a career in astrophysics is where you can discover all the powerful scientific evidence for God. So I felt that my mission in serving God was to become an astrophysicist and be involved in showing how the universe was supernaturally designed.
My life took a turn in Caltech. A fellow Christian astronomer in Caltech challenged me to start sharing my faith with non-scientists. “Walk off Caltech campus and you will run into some non-scientists,” he said.
I took his advice and walked out of the campus and began to engage strangers on the streets. I discovered that non-scientists don’t even know there is evidence in science about the God of the Bible. They are eager to hear. I discovered that I was getting a lot more fulfilment sharing scientific evidence regarding the Christian faith and leading people to Christ than I was with discovering quasars at the edge of the universe. Don’t get me wrong. It is a real thrill to discover a quasar no one else has seen before and to learn about it. But what I realised is, everything in the universe is temporal. One day, God will replace the universe with a new creation. When I share my faith and someone becomes a Christian, that is for eternity, it’s more significant.
I discovered that I was getting a lot more fulfilment sharing scientific evidence regarding the Christian faith and leading people to Christ than I was with discovering quasars at the edge of the universe. Don’t get me wrong. It is a real thrill to discover a quasar no one else has seen before and to learn about it. But what I realised is, everything in the universe is temporal. One day, God will replace the universe with a new creation.
The church I was attending was between Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They saw what I was doing and they asked me to join them as a staff. I am still one of their ministerial staff till this day and my role there is to train people on how to use science to bring people to faith in Christ. That was why I started Reasons to Believe. I realised that this is a mission for the world and not just for the people in Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. So, we are taking this message worldwide; using the book of nature as a tool to bring the people to the book of Scripture.
How would you answer free-thinkers about faith in God from the book of nature?
The vast majority of the people I engage with, whether free-thinkers, sceptics, or people who call themselves atheists or agnostics, think that science disproves the Christian faith and the Bible. God gave us two books — the book of nature and Scripture. Science actually proves the Christian faith, and proves the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible. The scientific testing method comes from the Bible. So, use the scientific method to interpret the Bible. Don’t just look at one text, but look at all the 66 books and not just Genesis 1 to make conclusions about God’s creation.
One asked me, “If you Christians have all those evidences, why aren’t you communicating it?” I know that many within the church are afraid of science and so they avoid it. But Science is a powerful tool given by God. Atheists think that they own science because Christians are just not very active in using the book of nature. So, they think that science is on their side. I have a lot of fulfillment engaging and helping them see the opposite of what they believe in.
Obviously, the Bible is not a science textbook. Or a history book or geography book. But when it does, it is accurate. Every pastor and theologian I know recognises that the Bible is filled with creation text. But guess what! Creation text is science. So the Bible is loaded with science, and we need to study and use it. Step one for someone coming to faith in Jesus Christ is to be persuaded that there is a God who created the universe. You see that in Hebrews 11:6, “... whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” So step one is establishing that God exists.
For thousands of years, the Bible stood alone as the only book, teaching that the universe has a spacetime beginning; and that it continues to expand from spacetime beginning under the laws of physics that don’t change. I was also impressed that this was found in not just one book, but in many different books of the Bible. It was what convinced me that the Bible is inspired by the one who actually created the universe.
In what way can we help the layman find the connections between the Bible texts and scientific evidence?
The first page in the Bible talks about creation history. You have got those ‘days’ of creation. God was describing what He was doing. Genesis is not the only place where creation account was mentioned; a good half of the book of Job also talks about what God did in creation. We see that also in Proverbs, Psalms, Isaiah, and Romans in the New Testament. Each of these creation texts links the dots to the redemption text. This tells me that creation theology plays a critical role on how we can be redeemed from being a sinner and come into a relationship with the creator of the universe.
My scientist-friend told me that it is interesting how the Bible always connects creation with redemption. Doesn’t that imply that maybe everything God creates is designed to make redemption possible? Maybe that is the way that we can make more scientific discoveries than we do right now. Even with my non-Christian scientist friends, I challenged them to take this biblical redemptive perspective as it will help them to be better scientists because this is a tool that we can use to make scientific discoveries.
Can you briefly explain what fine-tuning means and how it proves the existence of God?
‘Fine-tuning’ or ‘Fine-tuning design’ refers to something that is designed for a specific purpose. Scientists look at fine-tuning and say, “If we make this particular feature a little bit bigger or smaller in value, does it destroy the possibility of life?” The bottomline is, there are hundreds of different features of the universe, galaxies and planets that are far superior to anything we humans can invent and design systems. This reveals that whoever is behind all this fine-tuning is a lot smarter than we are; a lot more powerful and a lot more intelligent and knowledgeable than we are. It is always evidence for design.
So fine-tuning is a very powerful tool that God has given us in the book of nature, to help us discover who He is and what His plans and purposes for the universe and for us. A good example is the book of Job. Job was able to discern the attributes of God just by looking at what he saw in nature. Of course today we can do it too, and to a far more sophisticated degree.
Given man’s fallen nature and possible bad science, how can we avoid misinterpreting the books of Nature and Scripture?
This is something we really emphasize in Reasons to Believe. We integrate everything in the Bible and everything we see in the book of nature. It is a tool given to us to avoid faulty interpretations. So if I see something in nature that contradicts what I see in Scripture, I know that either I have an incomplete knowledge, that I need to get more information from the book of Scripture or from the book of Nature, or I have made a misinterpretation. Because if this is from God, it has to be coherent. So if I see incoherence, I need to resolve it by looking at all the data that God has given to us and carefully integrating it.
The scientific method actually comes from reformation theology, in the creation account in the Bible. You can see it illustrated in the first page of the bible.
First step — don’t interpret till you establish the frame of reference or point of view.
Step two — don’t interpret until you establish the starting conditions.
Before you get into the six days of creation, Genesis 1:1 and 2 give you the frame of reference and four starting conditions. If you make a mistake at that level, you will misinterpret what God is revealing in the six days of creation.
Step three — look at what is revealed and know what happens — know when, where, what order and don’t try to interpret yet. Just know what happened.
Step four — look at final conditions and see how different it is from the starting conditions.
Step five — make an initial interpretation; you call it a hypothesis because it is the starting interpretation.
Step six — put your hypothesis to the test by looking at other texts. For example, Genesis 1 is not the only place in the Bible that teaches about the creation events — Job 37-39, Psalm 104, Proverbs 8 and several texts in the Bible also talk about creation. So you really want to look at all those texts before you draw an interpretation on what God is revealing in Genesis 1.
The book that comes from truly a human source, you can exhaust everything it has got to say by reading it a few times. But no matter how many times you have read through the Bible, it always reveals more than the first dozen times or 300 times you have read it. The book of Nature is the same, it is inexhaustible — there is always more to learn. And the more we learn from the book of Nature, the more it gives proofs to the Bible, and vice versa.
I repeat the process over and over again. My interpretation and conclusion continue being refined because there’s more and more to learn. This is a never-ending process. The Bible, unlike other books in the library, is a book that you can’t exhaust — there is always more to learn. The book that comes from truly a human source, you can exhaust everything it has got to say by reading it a few times. But no matter how many times you have read through the Bible, it always reveals more than the first dozen times or 300 times you have read it. The book of Nature is the same, it is inexhaustible — there is always more to learn. And the more we learn from the book of Nature, the more it gives proofs to the Bible, and vice versa.
What do you do when you come across a passage in the Bible that doesn’t fit established scientific findings?
If I see a Bible text that doesn’t seem to go well with what science is saying, that becomes a good research opportunity. I want to look at more scientific research papers or research that I can do on my own that may help to explore that problem. And likewise, I am going to do the same with the Bible. If this text doesn’t go square with science, I want to look into other Bible texts that may also address the same subject. And I might discover that I may have misinterpreted the Bible or misinterpreted nature or both. Or it may mean that I don’t know enough about the book of Nature or Scripture. And I always assume ignorance, before I look for misinterpretation. Maybe it is just something that I don’t know. So you are digging deeper into the scientific research and the Bible. And if that doesn’t work, I will look for misinterpretations.
If this text doesn’t go square with science, I want to look into other Bible texts that may also address the same subject. And I might discover that I may have misinterpreted the Bible or misinterpreted nature or both. Or it may mean that I don’t know enough about the book of Nature or Scripture. And I always assume ignorance, before I look for misinterpretation.
So, I am confident that when I put the work into it, what looks like a contradiction will get resolved. I am confident because that is the way it has worked for thousands of years. And it is such that the more we learn about nature, the more evidence we get from what the Bible teaches and the other way around too. That really builds my faith on a daily basis. There will always be anomalies. There are always gaps — it is what happens at the gap that matters. Let’s see what happens when we do research on those gaps. Would the gaps get bigger or would they become smaller? If a gap gets bigger, quite likely you have got a wrong interpretation. But if it becomes smaller or narrower, that means you are on the pathway to truth. So we should welcome gaps and welcome anomalies because that is the way we determine whether we are on the pathway of truth or whether we need to make major adjustments in what we think is true.