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The happy warrior

Vocation | Hugh Ross, founder of Reasons to Believe, was called to science as a child

Issue: "Biblical callings," Dec. 4, 2010

When Hugh Ross took his first physics class at the University of British Columbia, the professor gave students a stern warning: If you have a girlfriend, you will fail this course. If you have a job, you will fail. If you have a hobby, you will fail. Ross, now 65, made sure he had none of the above: His sight was set on science from the time at age 7 he asked his parents, "Are stars hot?"-and then went to the library to find out.

Later, a potential distraction entered: Kathy, the woman he married. Ross jokes that "I married my wife without any absolute proof that she exists." Examining the scientific evidence, though, he went ahead with the wedding on the high probability that she did exist, and after 33 years of marriage feels he has more evidence.

Kathy Ross, with her M.A. in English, also proved to be a helpmeet rather than a distraction: Next year is the 25th anniversary of Reasons to Believe, the science ministry Hugh Ross founded and heads; his wife is senior vice president, overseeing communications and other areas, and sometimes staying at their home and office in southern California while Hugh hits the road to speak about both science and biblical interpretation at conferences like a recent one put on by the Hill Country Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

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At the conference, Calvin College professor Deborah Haarsma argued that those who wrote the Bible had a different view of chronology than we have today, and we should not read into Genesis knowledge that the original authors couldn't have had and the original audience wouldn't have understood. But Ross smilingly insisted that "God has inspired the Bible to communicate to all generations."

Another theistic evolutionist, Regent College professor Ross Hastings, discussed the identity of Adam while stressing the "big difference between literal and literalistic." Ross replied by citing the Hebrew verbs used in Genesis 2 that show "God is creating supernaturally a single man and a single woman from whom we're all descended."

And so it went during five panel discussions in which Ross participated, and when he answered questions from conference attendees. Is the universe so vast that humans lack significance? Ross: Given the cosmic mass density and expansion time ready to make a planet like Earth, it couldn't be any smaller. Why is Earth on the periphery? Ross: If we were in the center, light from all the stars surrounding us would keep us from seeing distant reaches and learning how the heavens declare the glory of God.

The hits kept on coming. Wouldn't it be sweeter if humans lived longer? Ross: It's long enough for us to see our sin pattern and turn to God, short enough to keep those who hate God and pursue evil from making life even harder. Why aren't our brains bigger? Ross: If our cranial size were bigger, we'd cook ourselves to death; that's why fevers are problems. Forty percent of a dog's brain supports its nose, so we lost a lot of survival advantage by having a brain that could do calculus and spend hours in prayer.

And more: Why do we have so many physical constraints? Ross: God limits the spread of evil and encourages people to develop skills and virtue. What's the purpose of gas giant planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune? Ross: They work together to keep Earth from life-exterminating collisions. Are some of Ross' Old Earth creationist theories not fully established? Ross: Discontinuities are research opportunities.

Ross' sense of calling and cosmic optimism make him a modern version of the "happy warrior" praised by poet William Wordsworth in 1806: "the generous Spirit, who, when brought/ Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought/ Upon the plan that pleased his boyish thought:/ Whose high endeavours are an inward light/ That makes the path before him always bright:/ Who, with a natural instinct to discern/ What knowledge can perform, is diligent to learn."

Ross went from childhood library explorations to a special program for teenaged budding scientists and on to college, graduate school at the University of Toronto, and postdoctoral work at CalTech. Theology, though, was not a straight line. He did not know any Christians when he was growing up, and as a teenager explored the works of a variety of philosophers, only to discover "inconsistencies, contradictions, evasions, and circular reasoning." He explored Eastern holy books and found their writing style "esoteric and mysterious."

Then he encountered the Bible: "It was simple, direct, and specific. I was amazed at the quantity of historical and scientific-testable-material it included. The first page of the Bible caught my attention. Not only did its author correctly describe the major events in the creation of life on Earth, but he placed those events in the scientifically correct order and properly identified the Earth's initial conditions."

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