Hugh Ross’s “testable” Scientific Creationism?

A reader sent me some email asking if I knew anything about this book by Hugh Ross, Creation As Science: A Testable Model Approach to End the Creation/Evolution Wars(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll).

No, I don’t.

That is a very interesting and ambitious title, though, so I went digging on Ross’s website, Reasons to Believe. You’d think that with such a promising statement, and the proposal that they actually have a scientific, testable model for creationism, that their model would be prominently featured somewhere. If you dig deep enough, you will find it, and you will be deeply disappointed. Here’s the summary: God did it, and he did it just like he described in the book of Genesis. “Testing” seems to mean collecting anecdotal bits of data and fitting them to his claims. His “predictions” resemble biblical predictions, in that they are vague or silly interpretations made after the fact to fit his prior assumptions. Here, for example, is his list of what he calls successful predictions of his model.

  1. transcendent creation event
  2. cosmic fine-tuning
  3. fine-tuning of the earth’s, solar system’s, and Milky Way Galaxy’s
  4. rapidity of life’s origin
  5. lack of inorganic kerogen
  6. extreme biomolecular complexity
  7. Cambrian explosion
  8. missing horizontal branches in the fossil record
  9. placement and frequency of "transitional forms" in the fossil record
  10. fossil record reversal
  11. frequency and extent of mass extinctions
  12. recovery from mass extinctions
  13. duration of time windows for different species
  14. frequency, extent, and repetition of symbiosis
  15. frequency, extent, and repetition of altruism
  16. recent origin of humanity
  17. huge biodeposits
  18. Genesis’ perfect fit with the fossil record
  19. molecular clock rates

These are all either sublimely silly, trivial, vaguely stated, or perfectly compatible with actual evolutionary biology.

I don’t see how cosmic fine tuning is evidence for the intervention of a deity. We’re here speculating about it; I can’t quite imagine one of us godless naturalistic types noting that the fact that the universe doesn’t allow for our existence to be evidence against Ross’s biblical prattlings. And actually, wouldn’t it be far more persuasive if physical laws did not allow atoms to hold together, that our existence was in defiance of observable phenomena, and we required some kind of supernatural force to hold our structure together?

I like the recitation of quantitative parameters without saying what the parameters actually are, or how they are incompatible with other theories. I can do that, too. It is a prediction of Flying Spaghetti Monster theory that speciation and extinction will have these things called “rates”!

What more can one say about the claim of “Genesis’ perfect fit with the fossil record”? Right. Which creation story in Genesis? Is a story that fruit trees appeared before cows (and before the sun!) and that birds appeared before mammals actually at all close to what we see in the fossil record? I suspect that Ross has remarkable loose standards of accuracy.

I tried further to find anything that makes sense. There is a page that tries to compare his Biblical theory to the Naturalistic theory, poorly. Here are the main points.

Some Predictions Made by the Naturalistic (Evolutionary) Origin-of-life

  1. Chemical evidence for the prebiotic soup will be found in the geological
  2. Placid chemical and physical conditions existed on the early earth for long
    periods of time.
  3. Chemical pathways leading to the formation of biomolecules will be found.
  4. Chemical pathways that produce biomolecules would have been capable of
    operating under the conditions of the early earth.
  5. Life emerged gradually over a long period of time.
  6. Life originated only once.
  7. Life in its minimal form is simple.

Some Predictions Made by the Biblical Origin-of-life Scenario

  1. Life appeared early in Earth’s history.
  2. Life appeared under harsh conditions.
  3. Life miraculously persisted under harsh conditions.
  4. Life arose quickly.
  5. Life in its minimal form is complex.

You know, it’s a fairly basic skill in setting up tests of a scientific proposal to describe possible alternative results, so that one can readily see how the experiments or observations will discriminate. These don’t correspond at all, and they are again such a mish-mash of vague, non-quantitative claims and straw men that it’s useless.

What is simple, what is complex? What is early, what is quickly? On the naturalistic side, I would say that 1) evidence of biochemical metabolism does exist in the geological record (PAHs, for instance), 2) “placidity” is not a claim of abiogenesis researchers, 3) pathways are being found, even if the research is incomplete, 4) these pathways are being studied under early earth-like conditions (uh, does Ross even realize that there are a lot of different possible early conditions? A planet is a big place), 5) I think the idea that the only life on earth for almost 4 billion years was single-celled and that only in the last half-billion has a smudge of multicellularity emerged is an argument for a kind of unbiblical gradualness, 6) it is not a necessary condition that life arose only once, and 7) simple relative to what?

Ross’s claims aren’t testable. They don’t even make much sense. I don’t think I need to waste any money or time on his ridiculous book. Has anybody out there seen the whole thing? Does it have anything beyond the blithering, fuzzy nonsense he’s put on the web behind it?


  1. Corkscrew says

    Is it just me or has that guy not quite understood the concept of a prediction being something that we don’t already know to be true?

  2. Ken Goulter says

    I’m getting tired of these ongoing arguments based on the first couple of chapters of Genesis.

    I’ve just read Finkelsein and Silbermans’ “The Bible Unearthed”. It provides an easy read of the archeological evidence contradictory to the text of the Bible up to about 700BCE. That is; no exodus, no invasion of Canaan, mis-representation of the status of various monarchs etc etc in a story writen to fulfill various theological/political desires of later writers. If the “Bible” is literally true then why can’t even events after the Creation be reconciled with archeological data?

    Of course the web is full of Biblical discovery rubbish. For example, try searching for evidence for the Tower of Babel and be enlightened by its discovery in all parts of the middle east. Towers small and large all attributed with being ‘the’ tower. Then try finding physical evidence for the Kingdoms of David and Solomon.

    No, these folk have pitched their battle on the first couple of chapters of Genesis and seem to ignore the fact that there is very little evidence to support much of the Old Testiment.

  3. rubberband says

    Does anyone know where this remarkable statement comes from?–Crude mathematical models indicate that a species capable of significant evolutionary advance rather than doomed to eventual extinction, must have a population of one quadrillion individuals, a generation time of three months, and a body size of one centimeter. These conclusions are confirmed by field observations.
    What does “significant” evolutionary advance mean, and does ‘eventual’ extinction mean ‘in the neighborhood of ten-million years?’

  4. Ken Goulter says

    Sorry, of course, this is a site that concentrates on the evolutionary and biological basis of the argument but I reckon if we throw all the evidence into the mix then the only outcome can be the debasing of the Bible as a document to be taken literally.

  5. G. Shelley says

    It does seem as though he has looked at the evidence, and after finding some he chooses not to ignore, has claimed that the biblical creation model fits it.
    Why for example, does the BC model predict:

    Life in its minimal form is complex.


  6. says

    -Crude mathematical models indicate…

    I suppose one can come up with a mathematical model to indicate just about anything, but that doesn’t make the model correct.

  7. Phobos says

    “…or perfectly compatible with actual evolutionary biology.”
    Watch for the quote mines!

  8. Chris says

    I particularly like 2, 3, and 16. Apparently he doesn’t get the concept of a point of view: we see a universe in which we can exist, and we are currently seeing it at a time shortly (by some standards) after our origin.

    “Fine tuning” is an argument from ignorance anyway. We don’t know what the result of different physical laws would be because we can’t create a universe with different physical laws and test it. We can guess, but have no guarantee that our guesses are correct. The universe in which we exist is one that is consistent with our existence, but we can’t really say what alternative universes would be consistent with the existence of some other beings that would also speculate about how the universe was fine tuned to *their* presence. Why, if physical constants were just a bit different, living in the surface layers of stars would be impossible!

    There’s quite a difference between “Earth-like life” and “life in some form, which might be quite different from anything we can presently imagine”. Even if the former is only possible in a few universes, there’s no reason to insist on it other than that we already have it. Any other form of life in another universe would appear just as unlikely after it has happened. (Cue the usual arguments about the staggeringly unlikely bridge hand I was dealt last week, etc.)

    And of course given any event, there is some set of points in time from which that event will appear recent. How anyone could think it’s remarkable that humans are present shortly after the origin of humans baffles me.

  9. says

    I once got myself invited to one of this guy’s small-group presentations. It was a talk given to a well-educated though (non-expert) crowd.

    Ross got only softball questions until I challenged him on his claims. After I spoke up, people had the courage to challenge him on other points. Lesson learned: if you find yourself in a venue that seems very sympathetic to the creationist, it’s worth making some firm yet calm criticisms. You may find that the pro-speaker polarity flips pretty quickly.

    But this was the big surprise: Ross claimed that should certain of his “predictions” be falsified, those falsifications would be “caustic” to his faith. That is, he was unwilling to retreat to deism. I sensed that the audience was rather uncomfortable with this. They didn’t want to tie their faith to the big ol’ boat anchor of science.

    Not that any of his predictions weren’t already confirmed, of course. He cited as potentially faith-caustic the discovery that modern humans had been around significantly longer than 100,000 years, or that the universe was much older than 13 billion years. What a risk taker!

    Oh, one other thing. He claimed that because life formed so quickly on Earth, scientists thought life must have come from elsewhere. He portrayed space probes going to Mars and Titan as last ditch attempts by astrobiologists to find where life on Earth might have come from. It gave me great pleasure to explain to the audience that this was a total misrepresentation of the scientific consensus.

  10. Brian says

    Earlier this summer I read some of Ross’ book The Genesis Question, but I couldn’t get past the middle of it. He tries so hard to reconcile a “literal” Genesis with science that it just ends up being silly and not based in reality. For example, he explains that the sun and other celestial bodies were created before earth, but the light didn’t reach the surface of the earth until Day 3, and he says that the perspective of Genesis is of one standing on the planet rather than above it. As you can imagine, I had to struggle to even get as far as I did without suffering permanent brain damage.

    The funniest thing of all, however, is that Answers in Genesis came out with a book to refute Ross’ claims called Refuting Compromise by Sarfati. Refuting Compromise is twice as long as The Genesis Question and is even more mind-numbing. They explain their purpose in the book is to “gently refute” and correct Ross’ errant ways because they believe that those who teach theistic evolution are more dangerous than atheists. I didn’t get very far into Refuting Compromise either, but judging from what I read and the ever-present, horrible AiG cartoons, it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before.

    Speaking of bad AiG cartoons, the other day I saw one of the funniest, yet most disturbing AiG cartoons in Ken Ham’s book The Lie. On page 106 there’s a cartoon of a bulldozer with Creation Ministry written on it plowing down a stand of trees with Evolution written on them. I didn’t know wether to laugh or cry.

  11. says

    6. extreme biomolecular complexity

    I love this one. What’s his basis for comparison?

    Or by “complexity” does he mean, “I have difficulty understanding it by glancing at it”?

  12. TheBlackCat says

    “They explain their purpose in the book is to “gently refute” and correct Ross’ errant ways because they believe that those who teach theistic evolution are more dangerous than atheists.”

    The scariest thing to any extremist isn’t an opposing extremist. It is a moderate on their own side. And they will work quickly and tirelessly to crush any moderate that may threaten their cause by finding some middle ground with the opposition. They operate by polarizing the debate, so compromise is deadly to them.

  13. says

    Chris (re: fine tuning): Quite – our knowledge is consistent with the “fundamental parameters” being, in fact, fixed.

    Narc: Mario Bunge says somewhere that simplicity isn’t simple; similarly, complexity is an incredibly difficult topic to discuss and yet all these guys run roughshod over all of it …

  14. says

    So, does this guy mention placoderms in his book, or is trying to find two living creationists in this forsaken world of ours before I die a Sisyphan task?

  15. Loren Petrich says

    It seems like Ed over at IIDB is a Hugh Ross admirer — he’s made the same sort of claim about the Sun’s light not reaching the Earth’s surface until the era that corresponds to Day 4 of Genesis 1.

    I’ve had lengthy arguments with Ed in interminable “Ed threads”, the surviving one of which is called “The Universe is uncaused, eternal and infinite….” — which is what those threads often seem like.

    However, Ed does seem to differ with Hugh Ross in what a “created kind” or baramin is. Hugh Ross seems to believe that every species is a baramin, while Ed agrees with many YEC’s that baramins often include several species, though he is vague about how one recognizes the boundary of a baramin. I’ve asked him several times, but he has never responded.

    Ed has also argued that Homo erectus and Homo sapiens are one species, something I’ve repeatedly tried to rebut, to no avail.

    Interestingly, Hugh Ross has charged that many creationists are “hyperevolutionists” on the ground of all the evolution inside of baramins that they accept.

  16. Brian says

    Re: Loren’s comments on baramin

    I’ve actually had some conversation with one of the former presidents of the Creation Research Society on the topic of baramin, and he’s given me a few papers on the issue. What I find interesting is that the species they always pick out as examples for “baraminology” are examples like turtles and snakes, whose evolutionary pasts are still heavily disputed or difficult to piece together. I’ve never seen an alternative lineage for whales, even though creationists love to rag on Pakicetus and the other species leading to whales.

    What most disturbed me was a “baramin” diagram for people in one creationist book, A Case for Creation, which had showed “Black”, “White”, and “Yellow” kinds of people originating from one lineage, with neanderthals branching off somewhere to the side, descended from humans. This diagram shows up not too long after evolutionary scientists are accussed of racism. Oops.

    Overall I think the idea of baraminology appeals to many creationists but there’s nothing to support it, so it’s easier to attack evolutionary lineages than to come up with an alternative idea. Whenever I ask where Archaeopteryx, Pakicetus, Tiktaalik, etc. should be placed in a baramin lineage I never get an answer or even alternate hypothesis, so I think even creationists know that the idea of “baramin” is a very weak argument.

  17. Thomas Reynolds says

    I have read this book. Knowing my scientific curiosity, my father hands me a shiny new creationist book every time we get together. In this case, with “Creation as Science,” he had brought several copies as we were meeting with my “crazy YEC uncle” and they had decided to battle with other people’s ideas.

    Now I know this is drivel, but if you whip out a red pen, you can produce some pretty cool “art” on books like this. Exclaimations of WTF!, circles, arrows and plenty of annotations pointing to I keep them on my shelf so I can enjoy my own sense of superiority. I’m probably a litte harsh, but you’ve got to realize I’ve been getting these “gifts” for a long time now.

    On to the book… its pretty sparse with actually evidence (even anecdotal) and theory until the middle. As PZ mentioned, its mostly just stating actual facts from geology and biology and then saying “we should expect this in our model.” Thankfully, the appendix of the book contains a list of all “testable” claims. I went through and only found a handful which could actually be proven true or false. They claim that if God made the universe, then we will find that all “missing links leading up to humans” are distinct species.

    Now for the crazy, the strangest part of the book in my opinion was the offhand references to “soulful” species. In Ross’ mind, existence is divided into three parts. Body, soul and spirit. Rats have a body. Cute puppies (or any cute mammal) and some birds have a body and a soul. Human’s alone have all three.

    Basically, he sees a kind of communication between humans and their domesticated pals. As if big eyes and the illusion of certain emotions required a seperate plane of existence to communicate on.

    This book is a rebuttal to YEC and Theological Evolutionists, but it is phrased as a struggle against naturalism. His goal is to use a catchphrase like “science” to convert from “very crazy” to “mostly crazy.”

  18. lytefoot says

    Did anyone chase the link and read Mr. Ross’s article “Search for Planets Draws a Blank”? Mr. Ross somehow fails to comment on the fact that the reason we tend to find gas giants, and planets circling large, bright (and therefore young) stars, is that such planets are more *visible*. Finding an earthlike planet circling a sunlike star at 1 AU, from several hundred light-years’ distance, would be like… I can’t even think of a decent analogy. Shooting a fly with a paintball springs to mind. He also fails to mention that the study he cites most likely indicates that globular clusters are unfriendly to planet formation… bah.

    For lo, he is filled with that which maketh plants grow.

  19. says

    Interesting timing with this post, because I just pulled my “Kooks” folder out to get at some materials and notes I have of Hugh Ross & “Fuz” Rana’s Davis visit 1.5 years ago. Why am I pulling these things out today? Because today someone is giving me the very book you’re talking about.

    I’m not sure why exactly, but he has an interest in talking to me and wants to hand me Hugh Ross’s book to keep, to review if I want to. According to him, “it’s the best on science and Christianity/creationism that I’ve been able to find anywhere, and it’s VERY up-to-date”

    Oh? Hugh Ross, when he came to my campus, with a PhD in Astronomy, uttered: “This universe has the optimum physics for combating evil.” Show me Ross, or at least, when you’re done re-interpreting Genesis, explain to me your patho-genesis.

    I’m curious, though, what does everyone think of part of their approach? For example, they have declared that if the Universe is more than 13.7 B.Y. old, or that if humans or their culture appeared more than 100,000 years ago, that these developments would be “caustic” to their “model”? (Let’s ignore the fact that the bible doesn’t say anything about 13.7 B.Y. or any other scientific discovery, and the fact that they don’t have a “model”, they have vague speculations and metaphors.) Fundamentalists such as AiG hate RTB’s approach, because it allows for the slightest possibility that they might have to reject their cherished beliefs.

    Ross & Rana, however, I doubt that they would abandon their beliefs. Why else would the predictions be so vague? and then for those predictions that are specific, such as, that we all descended from 8 people on an ark (5 effective genomes) they are unwilling to demonstrate with a single genetic study? (Indeed, genetic studies point to the smallest bottleneck being ~1,000 individuals) Moreover, when Rana was asked at the end of a presentation, “How do we prove you wrong, how do we falsify your belief?” His answer was, and I quote from my notes: “I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about that.”

    At the same time, the ID crowd dislikes RTB because they argue against the vague “the designer could be anybody *cough*God*cough*” approach of the IDers, they boldly state that ID has no model (like theirs is much different) and actually celebrated the KvD decision.

    Although their denial of evolution, and misrepresentation of genetics and basic biology, and quote mining are inexcusable they also tell fundamentalists to get with the times and accept an old universe. What do you folks think of this mix of behaviors?

  20. says

    lytefoot: I’m right with you on that one. We are discovering large planets with tight orbits around their stars because these are the easiest to detect. Like dragging a large-holed net through the sea and concluding that there are only large fish in the sea, Ross’s no-Earth-like-planet claims are simply indefensible.

    But moreover, planet-finding research teeams are competing to see who can discover the most planets. So they are only going to consider the easiest solar systems to study – those with hot jupiters. Ross doesn’t have a clue.

  21. says

    I like the dinosaur theory guy’s quote– “during this next hour, I’m going to go through some scientific experiments and theories, both my own and the latest scientific theories… and show you’re they’re inaccurate.”


  22. David Godfrey says

    Define “Harsh Environment”. For a large number of archaeans absence of oxygen and a temperature of 100 degrees C are optimal.

    Similarly any (hypothetical) life that arose on Pluto would consider Earth as totally unsuitable for life and probably wouldn’t bother looking here.

  23. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Teleologic finetuning arguments, physical (precisely adjusted parameters to fit observations) or biological (tight parameter range to give life), are not impressive at a time when finetuning is actively explored by suitable probabilities in cosmology ( see for example , for those interested) and theoretical physics (string landscape).

    Successes are explanations for the cosmological constant ( ), spacetime dimension ( ) and dark matter density ( ). Whether or not more constructive theories arrive, these results will remain unless the assumptions are falsified. That is far better results than any creationists have ever made, since as noted they haven’t really made any at all.

    Furthermore, when probabilities are too hard to calculate, for example for biological parameter ranges, one can use bayesian inference. Ikeda-Jefferys shows that the existence of finetuning increases the probability that our universe is naturalistic ( ), which has really defeated ideas such as Ross’s.

    “simplicity isn’t simple”
    Exactly. What Behe calls irreducible complexity is really a local search for simplicity. (The simplest system containing studied parts that can’t be reduced further without loss of specific function.) Creationists doesn’t understand that because Dembski doesn’t understand how to define complexity and information and consistently gets it totally backwards.

    (Rather he seems to go to long lengths to avoid defining it correctly, because it would defeat his purposes. But he bungles it so completely it is probably a total ineptness to model real systems.)

    Not surpringly then that simplicity turns out to be an illdefined concept. It is generally difficult to tell which is the simplest construction, program or algorithm that have a certain function ( ).

  24. Torbjörn Larsson says

    “finetuning increases the probability that our universe is naturalistic” – finetuning increases the belief that our universe is naturalistic

  25. says

    This week is Earth Science Week–visit here and see what sort of Biblical Creationist activities are suggested for furthering one’s understanding of the Earth. See how often Hugh Ross and his fellow clowns are cited.

  26. Michael Geissler says

    So, according to Ross, if there’s no life outside Earth, then what the hell is the rest of the universe – all those trillions of galaxies – FOR?

    Fine tuned, my arse.

  27. Chris says

    In fact, if you define a baramin as the group of all lifeforms that evolved from one common ancestor (and excluding from the definition any specific requirement for how that ancestor came to be), so that by definition evolution can only occur within a baramin, it’s a (mostly) well-defined and potentially useful concept.

    It just so happens that there is exactly one baramin of extant lifeforms on Earth. This conclusion – though clearly visible from evidence – tends to make creationists uncomfortable. So they put up all sorts of flimsy fake boundaries trying to divide the one baramin we’ve got into dozens, or hundreds, or thousands.

  28. Scott Hatfield says

    As someone who regularly attends RTB chapter meetings, let me make a few informed observations about Hugh Ross’s ministry:

    1) First of all, it is not aimed (as is AIG or ICR) at the lowest common denominator, but attempts to ‘witness’ to people with scientific and technical training. As a Christian, I don’t find this objectionable in principle as long as it doesn’t personally compromise anyone’s ability to do science. I do my part to make sure that this latter viewpoint is repeatedly considered in our chapter, and in general I think RTB chapter members are surprisingly receptive to this approach. RTB doesn’t sponsor the sort of fanatical worldview routinely adopted by YEC, and (in my chapter at least) there is a diversity of views.

    As you might imagine, their more nuanced and moderate perspective, primarily aimed at a niche market, does not enjoy (nor is likely to ever enjoy) the popular appeal of the YEC position.

    2) Second, based upon my observations, RTB’s chief strategy where origins is concerned is not a negative reading of evolutionary accounts(though there is some of that), but rather to apply ad hoc reasoning from astronomical data to buttress their reading of the Genesis text. If RTB were content to apply these sort of arguments in a sort of mild version that only asserts the consonance of their views with Genesis, their claims would be no more controversial/risible than those associated with some leading contemporary astrophysicists (Davies, Barrow and Tipler come to mind). Unfortunately, RTB also applies the same ad hoc style of reasoning not just to the universe as a whole, but to a myriad of things from the origin of our solar system to the supposed absence of a ‘prebiotic’ soup. Arguments that might be at least worth considering for a singular universe unravel when asked to account for a phenomenal pluralism of great size.

    3) Finally, while I have not yet reviewed this latest book (I am skeptical), it does claim to offer a testable model that makes many predictions of things that *should* be found, if the so-called ‘Biblical creation’ model is correct. If, in fact, these do constitute falsifiable claims, then this book should be taken seriously for the purpose of doing science on these claims (rather than validating its assumptions a priori).

    Ross (perhaps naively) believes not only that his model will be validated, but that by proposing falsifiable predictions, he has a strategy that can end much of the rancor between the evolution and creation camps. It would be nice if that were true, but so much of that depends upon a level of good will that doesn’t really exist, and for good reason. Even if elements of the scientific community actually give his model a fair shake and attempt to falsify it, it seems likely that the YEC wing of American fundamentalism will do everything they can do to ratchet up controversy. In this he is perhaps a creationist to be most pitied, in that he appears to sincerely be seeking for some light, but is surrounded by those who only want heat….SH

  29. James Patterson says

    1. Don’t you just hate folks renewing ancient threads?

    2. Especially when they don’t agree with your point of view?

    3. Try reading the book before you bash it.

  30. Washington Zoo says