When I first heard that Dr. Jonathan Sarfati was preparing a book that would expose the fraudulent pseudo-apologetics advanced by Dr. Hugh Ross, I was overcome with eager anticipation. For a long time, the only meaningful reviews of Dr. Ross were brief and surface level, and primarily published in specialized journals or posted on websites designed to address the creation/evolution debate. Mark Van Bebber and Paul S. Taylor specifically critiqued Dr. Ross’s book, Creation and Time, in a book they co-authored entitled Creation and Time: A Report on the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross. Overall, it was a worthy study (and remains a worth study) as a point-by-point rebuttal to some of Dr. Ross’s arguments, but their examination could have gone into more depth; they deal more with his theological and exegetical blunders, rather than his errant use of scientific research. Dr. Ross is an individual in need of a serious rebuke and the Christian Church needs a well-documented rebuttal to the nonsensical theology and muddled science he passes off as scholarship in defense of progressive creationism.
For those who are uninitiated with Dr. Hugh Ross, he is the founder of the apologetic ministry called Reasons to Believe that is designed to answer the questions posed by skeptical inquirers and offer support to the Bible. He hosts a weekly radio program under the same name, during which he answers questions pertaining to the Bible and science, and his ministry publishes a monthly news letter called Facts and Faith that contains similar apologetic material. He also has written several lay level books that argue in favor of science and the Bible being compatible. His biggest notoriety, however, comes from being the leading, popular proponent of progressive creationism. Progressive creationism is the belief that the days of Genesis chapter 1 are not to be read as Moses originally intended them to be understood by his readers as normal, 24-hour days, but they are really to be seen as code words for God’s creative events that take place between long, million year spans of time. This viewpoint is also called the day-age theory of creation, and it is the preferred description by Dr. Ross of his beliefs.
Though Dr. Ross claims to be a creationist, in the sense that he believes in God’s supernatural, creative work and rejects the evolutionary idea that life forms evolve into higher life forms over millions of years, practically speaking, it is difficult to distinguish his apologetics from those of the garden variety evolutionary atheist. This is because he utilizes many of their evolutionary arguments by reading them into the narrative of Genesis 1 in an attempt to reconcile the Bible with the “accepted” scientific theory of our day. Dr. Ross accepts without question the big-bang cosmology of evolutionary astronomy and believes the theory is supported by the biblical text. Because he uncritically assumes the big-bang theory is true, he in turn believes the universe and earth are billions of years old, rather than just 6,000 years old as a straightforward reading of the biblical chronologies would imply. Moreover, he believes that soulless, hominid men existed thousands of years before God created Adam and Eve on the 6th day, and that the fossil record is the product of millions, upon millions of years of life forms dying, and not the result of one catastrophic, global flood as the Bible records in Genesis 7-8.
Dr. Ross holds a doctorate as a trained astronomer, and this grants him respectability in the Christian community. He often employs an apologetic tactic of arguing from alleged authorities, so during the course of his radio program, for example, one can hear him cite confidently from various scientific journal articles or research papers that, in his opinion, lend credibility to his day-age creationism. He will also use these same materials as a billy club to bash over the heads of those Christians who stand opposed to his beliefs, citing them as proof that his opponents are unscientific to believe in “young earth” creationism. He maintains such an air of cocky arrogance with his presentations that it severely intimidates many Christians, and because he articulates his case with an apparent expertise, the common layman is unprepared to challenge him. The regular folks who attend Church usually have a high school level science education and if they attended college at any length, maybe a year or two of general science classes, but they do not have the sophistication to counter Dr. Ross and his perverted hermeneutics he uses to interpret the Genesis record. I have personally listened to him on his radio program, as well as when he is a guest on other Christian programs, and his polemics for day-age creationism seems to be unassailable.
In addition to rallying scientific authorities to his cause, several well known, conservative Bible scholars and theologians (men who really ought to know better) support Dr. Ross and his interpretation of Genesis. Individuals like Norman Geisler, the late Gleason Archer, William Lane Craig, Meredith Kline, John Ankerberg, J.P. Moreland, Bruce Waltke, along with a host of others, all join in behind Dr. Ross insisting that a genuine reading of the Hebrew language in Genesis 1 can be taken to mean creative events by God that happen between million year ages, rather than a description of God creating the universe and the earth in six, ordinary days. Thus, these theologues provide academic plausibility to Dr. Ross’s ministry and his whirling spin on the book of Genesis.
With trained scientists and theologians behind him, Dr. Ross and his apologetics for progressive creationism appears to be a sheer, impenetrable wall of defense. However, Dr. Jonathan Sarfati has authored a book entitled Refuting Compromise, in which he not only scaled this wall, but he has dismantled it block by block with thorough exegesis of the biblical text and a comprehensive review of all the relevant scientific data Ross uses to fortify his castle and launch his salvos against biblical creationism.
The so-called academic
apologetics set forth by Dr. Ross needed someone of equal caliber to refute
them, and Dr. Sarfati is more than a well-qualified individual to offer such a
challenge. He is an Aussie born New
Zealander who began studying chemistry, physics, geology and mathematics at a
young age. He later obtained a PhD in
physical chemistry from
His refutation is extremely gracious and respectful, yet at the same time he demonstrates with documented clarity that Dr. Ross frequently overextends his competence both theologically, as well as scientific. In the area of biblical theology, for example, and the technicalities surrounding the original languages of scripture, Dr. Ross will on occasion make confident, dogmatic assertions about a biblical passage that reveals to anyone who can utilize a decent Bible software program that he is routinely sucking his ideas out of his thumb. This is seen by how he has the bad habit of hunting down the most obscure definition for a biblical word in a technical, language dictionary and twisting it beyond the known, grammatical boundaries to have it fit his particular interpretation of a passage. This type of sophistry is easily identifiable by any bright minded Christian, and Dr. Sarfati shows how Dr. Ross regularly uses this tactic in his apologetic methodology. Sometimes it is so extreme that his translations of various words are weirdly unusual, to the point that the translation is unique to him alone, and no reputable English translation of scripture can be found to agree with him.
Any believer with a working knowledge of scripture can see where Dr. Ross routinely fails in his theology; however, most Christians stumble in their attempt to counter his scientific arguments. That is due in part to a perceived lack of knowledge in the scientific fields often appealed to by Dr. Ross. Honestly, who has actually sat down and studied the dynamics of cosmic string theory and its application to a big-bang cosmology and multiple dimensions? Thankfully, Dr. Sarfati has, and the interaction with the science Dr. Ross uses for support of his beliefs is where this book really shines. Dr. Sarfati has done extensive research in all of the significant scientific fields such as astronomy, geology, and anthropology, and he not only shows how Dr. Ross misrepresents the scientific data in his lectures and books, but also on many occasions draws erroneous conclusions from the data based upon speculative theories. Because he sounds so authoritative in his presentation, no one bothers to investigate the information he is utilizing. Moreover, Dr. Ross, whether intentional or not, fails to acknowledge the heavy reliance his apologetics have upon the viewpoints of materialistic atheists hostile to theism in general and Christianity specifically. Even though Dr. Ross will argue that his Christian perspective is the only legitimate way to use the information, he often glosses over the fact that his material is drawn from a source violently at odds with God and the Bible. If someone were to actually check the sources Dr. Ross uses as his authority, the person would note that many times these atheistic authors are writing for the express purposes of refuting creationism. Here is one major area where Dr. Sarfati does an important job of taking Ross to task for his dubious apologetics.
I also appreciate how Dr. Sarfati organizes his book. He approaches his review by providing an introductory chapter with a brief overview of the debate at hand and why a rebuttal to Dr. Ross and progressive creation is necessary. Dr. Sarfati writes:
“We have long believed that (and explained why) one of the most dangerous attacks on biblical authority in evangelical circles today is not evolution but “progressive creationism,” and we aim to prove this conclusively in this book. This widespread compromise with the plain words of Scripture is capable of immense harm, precisely because it is proclaimed as being done in the name of upholding Scripture. The issue is so vital, as it involves the way we handle the very Word of God.”
This is an excellent summary explaining the nature of the debate, because the crux of the disagreement is between two opposing views of the Bible. Should Christians, on the one hand, trust that Genesis 1-11 is a straightforward and accurate record of how God created the world and directed the course of humanity for the first 2,000 years of Earth’s history? Can God’s people confidently believe that the Bible alone, with out imposing a foreign hermeneutic upon the text, like the apparent evidence of science, is sufficient as the starting point to govern their thinking about our world and Earth’s historic past? Or, on the other hand, must our understanding of scripture be submitted to the current consensus of atheistic scientists and what they think their interpretation of the scientific evidence is telling us? When all of the scholarly rhetoric is boiled off, Hugh Ross and his progressive creationism is not just an optional interpretation of the Bible that falls into the realm of orthodoxy, as if there exists alternative ways to understand Genesis. No, the heart of disagreement with Dr. Ross and his ilk comes down to the trustworthiness of scripture itself. The Bible must shape our thinking about science; science does not shape our thinking about the Bible. The position of Dr. Ross is one that compromises the truth of scripture; hence the title of this book.
Dr. Sarfati then moves into providing a brief outline of how he will proceed with his critique by highlighting the 12 major chapters he covers in his book:
1) The Authority of Scripture
2) The Days of Creation
3) The Interpretation of Genesis 1-11 Throughout Church History
4) The Order of the Creation Week
5) The Big Bang and Astronomy
6) The Origin of Death and Suffering
7) The Created Kinds
8) The Global Flood and Noah’s
9) The History of Mankind
10) Examining “Biblical” Old Age Arguments
11) The Philosophy behind the “Dating” Methods
12) Examining Alleged Scientific Evidence for an Old Earth
Every chapter contains significant high points worth
mentioning, but it is impossible to mention them all. The reader is exhorted to
purchase the book and read it in its entirety; however, I do wish to highlight
three chapters that stood out to me.
They are, The Authority of Scripture, The Interpretation of Genesis 1-11
Throughout Church History, and The Global Flood and Noah’s
The Authority of Scripture
The chapter opens by defining the historic Christian doctrine of sola scriptura. The 16th century, Reformed believers officially summarized the doctrine from the Bible as the teaching that scripture “is inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient to guide in matters of doctrine and morality for Christians.” Furthermore, Christians have historically affirmed another doctrine called the perspicuity of scripture, which means “God intended ordinary people (with the help of the Holy Spirit – 1Cor. 2:14) to use sound hermeneutical principles to understand the gospel message of Scripture without needing an elite group to interpret it.” Specifically, the doctrine is stating that Christians do not need a foreign hermeneutic, like the secular long age interpretations of science, to give understanding to the Bible.
Dr. Sarfati demonstrates that even though Dr. Ross says he affirms sola scriptura, believing the Holy Scriptures are his final authority, and claims to adhere to the perspicuity of scripture by firmly insisting that an “ordinary and literal” reading of Genesis will yield the understanding that the days of creation equate millions of years, practically speaking, his interpretative hermeneutic is derived from secular scientific consensus being overlaid upon the scriptures to re-interpret them to fit his progressive creationist conclusions. In essence, Dr. Ross does not completely affirm the Bible as his final authority in all areas of his thinking, particularly how we are to view science. He argues that the scriptures should be a final authority only in the Christian’s “faith and practice.” In other words, as it pertains to Christian doctrine and morality, the Bible is sufficient as our guide and final authority. The Bible, however, is not designed to be a scientific book, nor did the authors of scripture intend the Bible to even address such matters. Moreover, Dr. Ross asserts that science is objective truth, and because all truth is God’s truth, it cannot contradict itself.
After reviewing the historic Christian doctrines of scripture, Dr. Sarfati moves to exploring why Dr. Ross’s approach to the Bible is erroneous. His hermeneutics contain three major, foundational flaws. First, Dr. Ross believes nature is a 67th book of the Bible. He places what he believes is scientific truth on the same level as God’s special revelation. His argument is that all truth, be it the special revelation of the Bible, or the scientific truth of nature, is true because it is God’s truth. Thus, in Ross’s mind, nature and science is propositional truth. Dr. Sarfati, however, points out the key problem with this assumption,
“Nature is not propositional revelation, so it is not subject to objective hermeneutical principles. Rather, in the study of nature (that is, science), propositions must be formulated from the observations by interpreting them in a framework or paradigm. This framework depends largely on the axioms, or starting assumptions, of the scientist.”
Dr. Ross blindly assumes that all science is objective and scientists, whether atheistic or Christian, will all come to the same conclusions because they are all interpreting the science in the same way. This may be true as it pertains to what is termed “operational” science, the science that deals primarily with observable, repeatable processes in the present, but when it comes to “origins” science, the science that involves making educated guesses and theories about our far away past, that is an entirely different matter. Dr. Ross would have us believe that the two are interchangeable and “origins” science is as objective as “operational” science. The fact of the matter is clear, however, that when it comes to dealing with “origins” science, a person’s bias is heavily involved with theorizing about the historic past. The secular scientific community has an anti-God bias when those scientists make their supposed observations and draw their conclusions. They are already predisposed to reject a creator and a written record of how He created. Thus, any scientific theory they use has this predisposition driving the person’s interpretative processes. Dr. Ross is woefully naïve to ignore this reality, and this in turn downplays biblical testimony of the impact of sin upon man’s reasoning abilities. Whereas the Bible tells us that men make excuses not to believe in God (Rom 1:18ff) and that would include his interpretation of “science,” Dr. Ross implies that in the fields of science, those reasoning abilities act according to God’s truth. But scripture, and an investigation into scientific consensus of our day, reveal that is just not the case. Ross is just wrong about this.
The second foundational flaw in Dr. Ross’s hermeneutics is his uncritical and dogmatic acceptance of the big-bang theory of cosmology. His belief in the big-bang theory as factual science is the one keystone that supports his entire eisegesis of Genesis. But even that theory is fraught with many problems. As Dr. Sarfati points out in this chapter on the authority of scripture, as well as an entire chapter devoted to the subject of the big-bang and astronomy (chapter 5, pg. 147-193), big-bang theory operates on several non-scientific, presuppositional philosophies, including uniformitarianism, naturalism, and an unbounded universe with no center. Through the course of his discussion, Dr. Sarfati exposes the many problems with the theory, and shows that there is much debate among astronomers as to the implications of the theory. In spite of these difficulties, Dr. Ross still utilizes the theory in his hermeneutics when interpreting the Genesis creation week. Yet, Dr. Ross is being disingenuous when he appeals to the big-bang because he leaves his readers in the dark as to the problems inherent to the theory. He writes as if big-bang cosmology is uniformly accepted among all astronomers with out question.
Then a third major flaw with the hermeneutics of Dr. Ross is his failure to distinguish between what is called a magisterial and a ministerial use of reason when he approaches scripture. The magisterial use of reason is inherently problematic. Dr. Sarfati explains,
“The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over Scripture like a magistrate and judges it. Such ‘reasoning’ is bound to be flawed, because it starts with axioms invented by fallible humans and not revealed by the infallible God.”
Contrasted with the magisterial use of reason is the ministerial use of reason, that has our reasoning submitting to scripture. That doesn’t mean that Christians are to exercise a blind faith, with “checking our minds at the door,” as it were, but it implies that we subject our minds to God’s Holy Word. Dr. Sarfati expands further on the distinctions between these two uses of reason,
“The ministerial use elaborates on the clear teachings of the Bible, and may help us decide on equally plausible alternatives consistent with the language. Note that this approach to Scripture does not deny the authority of Scripture, but recognizes that while Scripture is “true truth” it is not exhaustive truth. In contrast, the magisterial use overrules the clear teaching of the Bible to come up with a meaning inconsistent with sound hermeneutics.”
Dr. Ross is guilty of mistakenly emphasizing a magisterial use of reason when interpreting the Bible. The consensus of the secular scientific community shapes his hermeneutical grid of biblical interpretation, rather than a scriptural grid shaping his scientific interpretation.
The Interpretation of Genesis 1-11 Throughout Church History
second chapter that stood out to me as I read through Dr. Sarfati’s book is his
discussion on how Genesis has been interpreted by the historic Christian
Church, and his study reveals an area of deceit on the part of Dr. Ross. In his attempt to locate some credibility for
his progressive creationism, Dr. Ross selectively quotes various theologians
from the halls of Church History, and claims their interpretation of Genesis
supports his. He asserts that a 24-hour, consecutive days interpretation of
Genesis 1 is a novel invention by fundamentalist Christians, and this
hermeneutical approach was never accepted by the
The first reaction some would have is to ask, why does it matter what commentators throughout history have taught about Genesis? Dr. Sarfati explains the importance in his opening comments for this chapter,
1. Generally: If long-age interpretations had always been popular, then a case could be made for assuming that the Bible hints at this. But, if they were absent until long ages became popular in “science,” it is more likely that such interpretations were motivated by trying to reconcile the Bible with “science.”
2. Specifically for Ross: he often claims that interpreters throughout history have allowed for long creation days. …It’s important to address evidence that he uses to overcome the charge that he’s motivated by “science” and not the biblical text.
His analysis of Dr. Ross’s teaching about the historical interpretation of Genesis reveals serious problems, because the claim that Christians never interpreted the days of the creation week as 24-hour days is patently dishonest. The chapter exposes a credibility gap on the part of Dr. Ross between what he teaches and his reliability as a Christian apologist.
First, Dr. Ross selectively cites from a handful of ancient commentators, and even a cursory glance at his sources will reveal that he misrepresented what they stated. Rarely does he provide the actual, full quotation from the alleged supporter of the long-age view of the creation days. Second, Dr. Ross keeps his readers uniformed as to the truth of what some ancient commentators really taught. For example, he points to a few men like Origin, Clement, and Augustine as theologians who did not take the days of Genesis in a literal, 24-hour manner. However, what Dr. Ross fails to mention in his haste to muster defenders of his long age beliefs is that these men came from an Alexandrian school of theology that allegorized nearly everything in scripture. The hermeneutical grid they utilized stood opposed to any literal approach to the Bible to begin with. This is one little caveat to consider when calling upon an author as a supporter for your beliefs.
In addition, Dr. Ross is careless with his use of these individuals, because they did not fully support a belief in long ages as he articulates “long ages.” Augustine, for instance, believed the 6 days of creation were instantaneous with all of the days happening in a moment. He never viewed the days of creation as creative events taking place between long, million year spans of time. Moreover, contrary to what Dr. Ross has taught about these commentators advocating a long age view of Genesis apart from any secular influence impacting a person’s understanding of the Bible, Augustine did write against the evolutionary thinking of his day. In an extended citation quoted by Dr. Sarfati, Augustine specifically rejected the Greek philosophical idea that man was created “infinite ages ago,” and maintained that scripture records man’s creation no more than 6,000 years ago.
These examples alone are enough to show that Dr. Ross is not wholly trustworthy in the research he offers in support of his beliefs. Either he is misinformed himself because he has not bothered to actually discover what ancient Church theologians have taught, or he intentionally distorts the facts to hide the exact truth from his readers. The former can be remedied; the latter is disturbing. Dr. Sarfati’s review of the facts show that at least half of the known ancient theologians believed Genesis meant to convey that God created the world in 6 consecutive, 24-hour days. The other half did not comment at all about the issue, or made statements that are difficult do ascertain what they believed about Genesis. Only a small group allegorized the days of the creation narrative, and those men came from a school of thought that allegorized all of scripture.
The Global Flood and Noah’s
One of the more unusual convictions held by Dr. Ross is his insistence that the flood of Noah as recorded in Genesis 7-8 was a localized flood that occurred in Mesopotamia some 20,000 years ago. This belief not only departs from the plain reading of scripture that teaches about a global, catastrophic flood destroying the entire earth, creating the present geological structures we witness in our day, as well as forming the myriads of fossil grave yards found around the planet, but it also stands against the opinion of practically every orthodox biblical commentator who has written on Genesis 7-8 and the extent of Noah’s flood. In some ways it is ironic that Dr. Ross would erroneously manipulate the writings of ancient Church authorities to make his case for the “days” of creation to mean creative events between long periods of time, yet ignore the overwhelming writings of these same authorities that defend a global flood.
reason why Dr. Ross re-interprets the account of Noah to teach a local flood,
rather than a global flood, is due to his acceptance of the secular
interpretation of the fossil record being an account of life forms living and
dying over millions of years. A global
flood, as the Bible plainly teaches, is the most obvious mechanism that
produced the sedimentary layers of rock containing the millions of fossils
found by paleontologists. Dr. Ross’s old
earth model would be ruined if the global flood were true. A localized flood that destroys all of
humanity that still lived only in the
Dr. Sarfati provides a helpful critique of this local flood proposal. He first presents the overwhelming textual evidence from the Bible that clearly teaches the flood was global and further presents compelling geological evidence that affirms a global flood. Additionally, there is an extensive section refuting many of the pseudo-scientific arguments Dr. Ross and other Progressive Creationists raise against a global flood.
The one portion of the chapter that is a tremendous revelation, however, is the historical survey detailing the development of the accepted secular interpretation of old-earth geology, and the dependence biological evolution has upon it. In fact, many believers are simply unaware of how much these two fields are wedded in philosophy. On the one hand, secular geologists, presupposing uniformitarianism and a slow, gradually evolving earth, teach that the geological strata represent earth’s history being laid down over millions of years. Yet, on the other hand, evolutionary biologists, standing upon the theories of secular geologists, interpret the fossil life forms found in the strata as being examples of the sequence of how life evolved on earth. This proposes an inconsistency with Dr. Ross’s position. Dr. Sarfati writes,
“While claiming to reject the transformation of one life form into another (evolutionary biology), Ross clearly accepts the evolutionary interpretation that the fossil sequence represents a succession of life forms appearing over millions of years. Then he attempts to weave the events of Genesis 1 around it. In doing so, Ross ends up, ironically, performing the very thing which he condemns…Ross unquestionably believes in a slowly evolving earth, a sequential appearance of life forms on earth over long periods of time, and sequential disappearance (extinction) of the same…In this respect, Ross’s position is no different from that of the standard evolutionists. And when it comes to origin-of-life theories, only the rather vague “God-was-behind-it” concept otherwise separates his view from that of the standard atheistic evolutionist”
Because he believes the secular geologists are correct in their interpretations of the geological evidence, Dr. Ross accepts without question their model for the classic geological column that pictures lower base life forms on the bottom and a gradual ascent toward higher base life forms at the top. Unwittingly, he falls into the same bed with Darwinian evolutionists, because their theories of biological evolution depend upon the reality of the supposed interpretation of the geological evolutionists. The two beliefs go hand in hand, but Ross wishes to use the one in support of a local flood, yet reject the other due to his theistic beliefs. It is these types of inconsistencies that just rack Hugh Ross’s apologetics for progressive creationism.
Space does not permit me to hit on every chapter in Dr. Sarfati’s book, but each one is packed with excellent information to counter progressive creationist arguments. Refuting Compromise is a book that should be read by all believers desiring to engage the compromise of biblical authority that Hugh Ross and his progressive creationism presents. The book is not only well written, but argued with precision. I should note that there are sections that may be daunting for a handful of readers unfamiliar with scientific jargon due to the technicality of the subject matter. That should not be discouraging, because Dr. Sarfati does a superb job of relegating those portions to separate discussions within the chapter. They only add supplemental information to the main point of the subject being addressed in the chapter and are not necessary to the overall argument, so they can be skipped if someone wishes to not wade through the material.
As the Church enters into these early years of the 21st century, I believe there are three major issues that fundamental Bible believers must prepare to confront in our post modernist world. First is the nature of the gospel as it relates to the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace. How we understand God’s sovereign plan of salvation is pertinent to how we evangelize the world at large. Second is the stemming of the rising tide of Islam. Islam is the one major world religion that presents a formable challenge to Christianity, and believers must ready themselves to meet it head on. Then third is the shoring up our foundation in God’s Holy Word, and we must begin with our understanding of Genesis. The scriptures are our authority; God’s revealed Word to us, His people, that provides our doctrine for us to function as the Body of Christ. God has made it to be understood with a plain reading of the text. When we compromise our authority by overlaying it with a foreign hermeneutic designed to reinterpret the foundational book of the Bible, we initiate the process that reverberates throughout the remainder of scripture. I believe Hugh Ross, as sincere as he claims to be, is overlaying the simple message of the Bible with false teaching that is hazardous to the whole of God’s Word. Dr. Sarfati has provided a fine remedy against such compromise and the Lord willing, it should serve the Church for sometime.
I can recall a humorous
moment when listening to one of the Reasons to Believe radio
broadcasts. A gentleman from
 Refuting Compromise, p. 35
 ibid, p. 37
ibid, p. 41 (emphasis in original)
ibid, p. 49
ibid, p. 50
ibid, p. 108
ibid, p. 107
ibid, p. 119
ibid, p. 249
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