JOURNAL OF THE EVANGELICAL PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
Volume 21:1 – Summer, 1998
Philosophia Christi Homepage
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Panel Discussion on Hugh Ross’ Contribution in Philosophy and Theology of Science
Overture to a Dialog on Hugh Ross – page 1
Douglas K. Matthews, chairman
Hugh Ross’ Extra-Dimensional Deity – page 17
William L. Craig
Response to the Panel – page 49
Observations on the Discussion – page 59
The Light Of God And The Lights Of Creation In The Theology Of Karl Barth – page 63
Ted M. Dorman
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THE EVANGELICAL PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
We are pleased to bring you this first volume for 1998 (Volume 21:1). Please submit articles in the areas of apologetics, philosophy of religion, philosophy, philosophical theology, world views, philosophical and theological prolegomena, and ethics. All articles are refereed (blind reviews). Philosophia Christi is indexed by The Philosopher’s Index and Religious & Theological Abstracts .
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Editor (submission of articles and book reviews):
Craig J. Hazen
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Presidents of the Society
Michael Bauman, David Beck, Frank Beckwith, L. Russell Bush, David Clark, Stephen Clinton, Winfried Corduan, William Craig, John Jefferson Davis, Millard Erickson, John Feinberg, Paul Feinberg, Norman Geisler, Douglas Geivett, Gary Habermas, William Johnson, Gordon Lewis, William Luck, Terry Miethe, Stanley Obbits, Stephen Spencer, Donald Williams.
Douglas K. Matthews
Guest Editor for this Roundtable
Toccoa Falls College
Hugh Ross’s universe is a symphony of sights, sounds and electromagnetic waves that clearly declare the existence and glory of the Composer. Have recent scientific discoveries documented by Ross turned up the volume such that even the spiritually deaf and obstinate in a postmodern age must face the music? Have the dysteleological and phenomenological objections of Hume and Kant become feeble under the weight of the new data? Has the Composer recently added a new movement to His unfinished symphony and amazing Self-disclosure which includes an extra-dimensional tune? Will the evangelical response to these potentially revelatory scientific advances resemble a symphony or a cacophony? The immense popularity and recent works of astronomer Hugh Ross have forced evangelical scholarship to address these issues.
Hugh Ross engaged in a lively panel discussion before an overflow crowd at the 1997 Evangelical Philosophical Association (EPS) national meeting. This panel was convened to assess the strength of Ross’s apologetic and the value of his extra-dimensional insights concerning the nature of God. The panel included Millard Erickson, J. P. Moreland, and Thomas Oden. William Lane Craig devoted his EPS presidential address to Ross’s “extra-dimensional deity.” The interest created by this topic and many requests for conference papers led to this present publication.
The focus of this dialog is on astronomer Hugh Ross. His impact upon scientific evangelism and influence in the evangelical community now rival that of the young-earth creationists. He hosts a television show, has appeared on the major networks, and is a frequent guest on James Dobson’s Focus on the Family program. Ross has written a lead article for Christianity Today . His books have received brief commendations from world-class scholars, including Walter Kaiser, J. P. Moreland, and astronomer Allan Sandage.
Now that Ross has expanded his apologetic to include the extra-dimensionality of God, the time is long overdue for evangelical theologians and philosophers to have a direct and formal dialog with Ross concerning his methodology, the strength of his apologetic, and his theological proposals. The inflation of Ross’s apologetic can be found in his work Beyond the Cosmos , a 1996 Gold Medallion Nominee which received the “Book of the Year” honor in the theology and reference category from the nationwide Logos Bookstore Association. In this work Ross contends that insights and new discoveries from extra-dimensional astrophysics may help to resolve traditional theological puzzles such as the Trinity, omnipresence, and the free will debate.
Will this apologetic inflation create a new universe of extra-dimensional analogies and evidences, or will the end result be a big unorthodox crunch? Here are four key issues that might serve as a springboard for discussion: 1) the question of integration; 2) the strength of the evidence; 3) the postmodern or ultramodern challenge; and 4) the question of orthodoxy.
1. The Question of Integration
Does Ross serve as an evangelical model for the integration of science and theology? What, if any, is the role of philosophy relative to Ross’s integrative project? Has Ross followed the crowd to the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang bandwagon, or is his apologetic founded upon a stable scientific paradigm that should endure the test of time? Is Ross making the same potential mistake as the young-earth Scientific Creationists, although to a lesser degree, by trying to pump too much science out of the Bible? Young-earther Henry Morris, for example, seems to find a scientific principle or theory in countless biblical chapters: biblical hydrology, thermodynamics, chemistry, geophysics, ethnology, biology and biblical meteorology.  Is Ross speaking too loudly about theology, just like theologians and philosophers who speak too loudly about science? Langdon Gilkey complains that this alleged hermeneutical confusion is the consequence of a failure to make a distinction between the biblical focus, ultimate origins, and the proper focus of science, proximate origins.  Gilkey is to be commended for applying this same hermeneutical criticism to evolutionary naturalism, yet is Gilkey overlooking the possibility of the immense scientific implications of an inspired written revelation from the Creator?
Is there an integrative alternative to the “no science/too much science” dichotomy that can be comprehended by evangelical pastors and laity? Is Ross moving evangelicals in the right direction or repeating the errors of the past? Young-earth creationists have mounted a rather vicious attack on Ross’s approach. They complain that Ross’s view of the authority of science has led him to jettison orthodoxy and believe in the death of animals before sin, the existence of man-like animals before Adam and Eve, an ancient universe, and a flood that was not truly global in scope. The creationist assault is shallow at most points and may reflect mere “turf wars” due to Ross’s increasing popularity. Yet has Ross given too much authority to science? Can evangelical philosophers provide constructive criticisms of Ross’s apologetic without creating additional “turf wars”?
2. The Strength of the Evidence
What is the apologetic strength of the evidence marshalled by Ross? World-class scientists have made some startling statements concerning the converging evidence for the Big-bang creation event: “It’s the discovery of the century, if not of not of all time.” “The significance of this cannot be overstated. They have found the Holy Grail of cosmology.” “What we have found is evidence for the birth of the universe. . . . It’s like looking at God.”  Nobel Prize winning scientist Arno Penzias explains what the scientists have revealed: “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ´supernatural’) plan.”  Stephen Hawking and George Ellis describe Einstein’s universe as follows: “Amazing fine tuning occurs in the laws that make this [complex universe] possible. Realization of the complexity of what is accomplished makes it very difficult not to use the word ´miraculous’. . . . ” Perhaps Robert Jastrow said it best. The scientific pilgrimage of the modernist has ended in a nightmare. The modernist “has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” 
Is Ross correct when he claims that the evidence for a cosmic symphony has increased in recent decades by a factor of a “billion trillion?” Cartoonists have been described as popular philosophers or cultural barometers who are sensitive to the shifting winds of social and intellectual change. In recent years a cartoonist somewhere suggested that we have reached the point where the skeptic who denies God’s existence is as foolish as the flea, who while riding on the back of a dog comments: “y’know . . . sometimes I question if there really is a dog.” Is the cosmic Einsteinian symphony playing the anthropic principle so loudly that, according to another cartoonist, it is “difficult being an agnostic these days” in a universe that seems to shout “Repent Oliver!” 
3. The Postmodern or Ultramodern Challenge
Exactly what is the relevance of such evidence and a rationalistic epistemology in a postmodern or ultramodern age suspicious of science and truth? Do both Ross and his young-earth critics share in a modernistic commonsense epistemology, leftover from the age of Bacon and Charles Hodge, where facts speak for themselves? Is noetic depravity ignored? Have Ross and other evangelicals like him finally mastered modernistic Christian evidences just as the arrogant wall of modernism is tumbling down? Perhaps Douglas Frank has created the classic illustration of the problem while reminiscing about the rationalistic approach of the post-1930s new evangelicalism. I have slightly modified his story:
Among the progenitors of the new evangelicalism there were not only preachers [like Billy Graham] but also scholars [like Carl F. H. Henry] . . . . [These scholars] saw no reason to cower before the strictures of logic [or scientism] or the prejudices of the modern mind. They strode confidently into the intellectual arena, convinced that Christians belonged there as much as anyone else. They were right about this and I thank them for their courage.
They believed they knew the answer , that their words captured objective truth in a rational form persuasive to any truly inquiring mind. They called this answer a Christian world-view; it reflected the mind of God. They knew they were right about life’s most important questions.
When I put myself in their place, I feel their exhilaration. They had seen their fathers peer self-consciously out of the grimy windows of a shabby fundamentalist boardinghouse while, across the street, the smart set of culture and academia basked in the splendor of the Enlightenment hotel. Enough of that, they said, as they strode across the boulevard and through the glittering doors, pushed their way to the front desk, demanded their room keys. How could they know that the place was already going up in flames, longtime inhabitants dropping from smoke inhalation or scurrying with Nietzsche out the back? 
Evangelicals will need to decide if Frank has capitulated to postmodernism or if both Ross and the creationists have capitulated to modernism. The decision will chart the future of evangelical apologetics.
4. The Question of Orthodoxy
A final question is whether the extra-dimensional deity described by Ross’s rationalistic apologetic is consistent with or helpful to orthodox Trinitarian theology. Ross is a Calvinist on most issues, but it would be rather perfunctory to reduce this important discussion to a debate between Calvinism and Wesleyan-Arminianism. The real issue here is the question of orthodoxy.
As I read through Beyond the Cosmos I experienced both cautionary notes concerning the proposals and analogies, as well as confidence and elation that many long-standing theological problems might be resolved via extra-dimensionality. Is the concept of extra-dimensionality intelligible and helpful when applied to the nature or operations of God? Is Ross simply proffering problematics and possible analogies or has he launched a new extra-dimensional theology of God? Is Ross cognizant of the gravity of the issues and implications, or does he view Beyond the Cosmos as simply a heuristic?
Ross is not alone, however, in experimenting with extra-dimensional theology. Theologian Richard McBrien of Notre Dame contends that “Now we can think of heaven as an alternate state, perhaps as another dimension.” Jeffery Sheler, writing last year in U.S. News and World Report, contends that Einsteinian “science has provided a new language and a new set of symbols for believers to more easily imagine God and [an] eternity” where “one day is as a thousand years.” 
Two perils are conspicuous relative to this timely discussion. First, the worthy apologetic task may be undermined by a too hasty acceptance and appropriation of cutting edge scientific data. Confused or heterodox theology may result, especially among the laity. The “First Church of Christ of the Big Bang” may become the First Church of heretical extra-dimensional idols. The courageous attempt to resolve or significantly advance the discussion on just one long-standing theological problem (e.g., the Trinity or freedom and determinism) via extra-dimensionality is worthy (at least) of an entire volume the size of Beyond the Cosmos. Yet in one volume Ross introduces extra-dimensional astrophysics and then proceeds to tackle numerous theological problems that have vexed the greatest theological minds in the history of the church. The scope of Beyond the Cosmos suggests that Ross is either a theological Einstein or less than cautious, since he did not state that the volume was a mere heuristic.
The second peril is that the possible weaknesses in Ross’s approach may precipitate an unfortunate overreaction and broad rejection of Ross’s contribution to apologetic and theological inquiry. Legitimate concerns about Ross’s methodology and extra-dimensional theology may cause the evangelical community to fail to use data and analogies uncovered by revolutionary scientific advances. For example, the inadequacy of applying extra-dimensional concepts to one theological problem or a host of problems does not necessarily entail the inadequacy and irrelevancy of extra-dimensionality for all theological problems. For centuries theologians have utilized various scientific analogies, recognizing the limitations, risks, and pedagogical advantages of such analogies. Ross’s critics should at least consider the constructive task of possibly utilizing these new insights and analogies from astrophysics, if indeed “the heavens declare the glory of God.” It will be a tragedy if the late-twentieth century cosmological revolution is never properly appropriated by evangelicalism due to a careless and unsympathetic critique of Ross’s possible excesses.
This dialog intentionally includes a mildly Calvinistic scientist, a mildly Calvinistic theologian, a classical theologian with Wesleyan connections, and two philosophers–one with an especially strong background in science. The resolution of these potentially dissonant notes will likely require multiple dimensions. If, in multiple dimensions, a basketball can be turned inside out without cutting the surface, then perhaps our participants can pass through an intellectual cosmic wormhole and find the integrative metanarrative in the extra-dimensional evangelical Inn. Then again, Nietzsche’s requiem might be that American evangelicals are all stuck in a condemned Modernist hotel that is ablaze, torched by too much scientific rationality, and that perhaps we should all run for the exits and reconvene amidst the discordant sounds of the American Academy of Religion meeting in San Francisco. However, could it be that Nietzsche lost his better judgment and there is still hope for the rational integration of science and theology? Might Ross’s billion-trillion increase in the volume of the cosmic symphony silence the assumptions of naturalism and reinter Nietzsche finally and forever? Whatever the prospects may be, the present discussion should serve to advance the dialog and help chart evangelicalism’s future relative to faith and reason, science and Scripture, general revelation and natural theology.
Reasons To Believe
Revelation is information, not persuasion, however persuasive that information may be. Some information about God, His character, and His redemptive plan is necessary for a person to establish a saving relationship with Him, to be sure, but the information is not what saves. The spiritual transaction does. God’s Spirit enables the individual to recognize the personal, eternal implications of the information God reveals; the individual responds by humbly submitting to God’s authority; God’s Spirit connects the individual to the body of Christ and seals the connection.
God alone knows what information, including what quantity of information, each individual requires. Amy Carmichael writes of a young Indian woman who surrendered her life to Christ after hearing just fragments of two Scripture verses. I know an astronomer who spent 35 years studying all the books of the Bible before he surrendered to Christ. With no written revelation available to him, Job (with the aid of God’s Spirit) discerned his need of a Redeemer, found assurance of God’s provision of a Redeemer, and preached his faith with conviction to skeptics. By contrast, I have met brilliant scientists, convinced through their own research that the Cause of the universe matches the biblical revelation of a personal, living, all-wise, all-powerful being, who nevertheless refuse to acknowledge that God exists and has authority over their lives.
I. Different Avenues of Revelation
God’s revelation to man has traditionally been categorized as special and general, though some would add testimonial. The special revelation is information about God and His plan for humanity communicated by His Spirit to prophets and apostles and recorded for us in the 66 books of the Bible. Testimonial revelation is evidence of the truth and power of the Gospel that comes from observing the transformed lives of those who surrender to Christ. The general revelation is information about God and His plan for humanity that comes from considering the creation, or nature, the tangible expression of His divine nature and character. The universality of conscience, God’s law written upon the hearts of all humans, is one aspect of the general revelation. The characteristics of the cosmos, from the largest scale to the smallest, reveal volumes of information about God. John’s gospel declares that whoever “lives by the truth,” not hiding or defending personal evil, “comes into the light” (3:21). In other words, whoever embraces truth with a humble heart receives more truth, specifically spiritual truth that can lead to salvation.
II. Commitment to Integrate
The scientific revolution has propelled us toward increasing specialization. This narrowing of focus carries certain consequences. Knowledge advances in one sense, but retreats in another as it becomes more and more isolated from other knowledge. Most scientists study one narrow aspect of nature with only some or little or no knowledge of other aspects. Worse yet, they study nature with only some or little or no knowledge of the biblical statements about it. Most theologians, likewise, specialize in one aspect of theology or Scripture with only some or little or no knowledge of others. Worse yet, they study theology with only some or little or no knowledge of science. The results have been disastrous. Most scientists now view theology as “emotional nonsense expressing nothing but our fear of death.” 1 Theologians disregard the importance of nature “to retain some intellectual territory forever protected from the advance of science.” 2 Scientists are becoming, in effect, high priests of a deified Universe, while “theologians are slowly becoming effective atheists.” 3
Psalms 19 and 50 explicitly identify the antidote: God’s Word is written in the cosmos as well as in the pages of Scripture, and His Word is consistent. The Bible is inspired by God, and the universe is created by God. God’s Word written in nature tells us that God is not capricious. Truth is discoverable. God’s Word written in the Bible tells us that God does not lie. He is truth. He wants to be known. Yet, it is almost universally presumed today, even by most evangelicals, that science and theology cannot be—and should not be—reconciled. We seem to have forgotten that science is merely man’s attempt to interpret the facts of nature while biblical theology is merely man’s attempt to interpret the words of Scripture. The “irreconcilable” differences stem from faulty interpretations. The value, then, of integrating science and theology is that integration provides us with our best opportunity for testing truth and ferreting out faulty interpretations from science and theology.
In some academic circles, especially in astronomy and physics, I have seen a reluctant concession that science and theology may overlap to a slight degree. Theologians concede about the same miniscule overlap. I see an enormous overlap. Both science and theology give major attention to cause-and-effect relationships. It would be difficult to think of a significant scientific conclusion that does not have theological ramifications and just as difficult to identify a theological conclusion that has no scientific import. Furthermore, both western science and Christian theology are driven by the same hermeneutical principle—the testing of conclusions by a methodology (derived from the Bible) called the scientific method. The perceived gap between science and theology can surely be bridged if we have but the humility to test our interpretations and face our misinterpretations.
III. News from Nature
The primary database of theology, the Bible, has remained roughly the same for the last nineteen hundred years, though the secondary database, e.g. manuscript evidence, archeological research, and theological scholarship, has grown substantially. Since the close of World War II, the database for science has increased exponentially. In some disciplines, including cosmology and particle physics, the database is doubling every few years. Not surprisingly, the voluminous new information about the cosmos yields a long list of theologically significant facts. My attempt to document these facts, which represent new evidences for God’s existence, power, character, and capacities, appears in two of my recent books, The Creator and the Cosmos and Beyond the Cosmos . What follows is merely a sketchy overview of information recent research has uncovered.
Hulse and Taylor’s 1994 Nobel prize winning work confirmed general relativity to better than a trillionth-of-a-percent precision. This confirmation relates to the work of Hawking and Penrose, whose space-time theorem rested on two conditions: 1) that the universe contains mass (no question about this one), and 2) that general relativity is a reliable theory. Their space-time theorem shows that the Cause of the universe must exist beyond all the matter and energy of the universe and beyond the space-time dimensions along which the universe is distributed. From general relativity and more recent physics research we learn that the universe began with ten space-time dimensions. Almost immediately, at 10 -43 seconds after the creation event, the ten split into six static dimensions (dimensions that can never unfurl) and four expanding dimensions, the ones we experience. These discoveries contradict virtually all religious and cultural teachings about creation—except the biblical doctrine of creation. As the atheist astronomer Geoffrey Burbidge complained, his peers in physics and astronomy are rushing off to “join the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang.” He saw the connection.
At the same time as theoretical physicists and radio astronomers were discovering that the Creator must be transcendent, astrophysicists began to observe and document the “anthropic principle,” the preponderance of evidence suggesting that the universe was designed precisely for the sake of the human race. In measuring the universe, they found more than two dozen characteristics that must be fined-tuned for any conceivable kind of physical life to exist at any time in the universe’s history. In some cases the degree of fine-tuning required exceeds by trillions of trillions of times (and more) the epitome of human engineering capability, not to mention human power and intellect. For example, the mass density of the cosmos must be precisely fixed for physical life to exist. This fact means that the Creator built a hundred billion trillion stars and carefully guided their development for 16 billion years so that at this brief moment in the history of the cosmos we humans can exist and enjoy a beautiful, life-filled habitat. The expanse of space (and all the matter it contains) is not “wasted” on one life site; it is essential for one life site. These findings imply that the Creator is personal, not just a force. The Creator exhibits not only power, but planning and purpose fixed on the needs of the human race, i.e., the Creator expresses love. If the Creator is powerful, wise, and loving, then, indeed, we are face-to-face with the God of the Bible. Astronomers and physicists have not proved in an absolute sense that the Creator is Jesus Christ, but they have demonstrated the enormous probability that He is. The probability numbers are large enough to eliminate other possibilities from realistic contention.
Astronomers and geophysicists have found even more impressive evidence for purposeful design in the characteristics of the Milky Way galaxy and the solar system. To date, they have identified 66 distinct features that must be fine-tuned for physical life to exist. The probability that any given planet will manifest all 66 characteristics is less than 1 chance in 10 83. Even if the universe contains as many as 10 22 planets, the probability of finding even one planet capable of life support remains enormous, 1 chance in 10 61. These numbers imply that the Creator did not merely pick the best planet He could find and place life there, but rather, He must have specially crafted the earth, sun, moon, Jupiter, Saturn, the Milky Way, and the Virgo supercluster so that humanity could have a home today. As for life elsewhere in the cosmos, its existence is highly unlikely, to say the least.
The discovery of new design evidences for the universe and solar system continues at a rapid pace. Nearly every month, researchers add one or more characteristic to the list. For the skeptic who still doubts the Creator’s existence and involvement, we can respond by saying, “If you are not convinced yet, wait one month.”
Moving from the simple sciences, where everything is governed by differential equations, to the complex sciences, where we cannot even catalog the database, we find even more impressive evidence for design, providing we recognize the boundary conditions. In the past year, geochemists have traced life on Earth back to 3.86 billion years ago, almost to the beginning of the planet. Such an early appearance of life implies that life originated in a window of time much briefer than five million years. The minimum time required for a random, naturalistic origin—if the notion of cause is completely ignored—approaches infinity. God is the more reasonable explanation for the existence of physical life.
The fossil record powerfully supports special creation. The eras before the advent of humanity bear witness to intense speciation; since humanity, we see none. Referring to real-time biology, Paul and Anne Ehrlich write that “the production of a new animal species in nature has yet to be documented.” 4 Recent research shows that life in abundance recovered from the Cretaceous-Tertiary catastrophe (circa 65 million years ago) in only 5,000 years. Millions of species radically distinct from previously existing ones suddenly appeared on the planet. The Cambrian explosion tells the same story. While naturalistic explanations are crumbling, the Bible has a simple response: for six days God created; i.e., through six creation epochs, God introduced new species and supernaturally replaced the species that the changing conditions on earth destroyed. On the seventh day, the era from the creation of Adam and Eve until the final conquest of evil, He ceases from creating new species, in keeping with His redemptive plan.
The discovery of genetic clocks means that the date of human origin can now be tested. The latest mitochondrial DNA studies roughly date the most recent common ancestor of all women to sometime less than 150,000 years ago. Y-chromosome research yields a more precise date of 37,000 to 49,000 years ago for the common ancestor of men. Comparative studies consistently give earlier dates for mitochondrial DNA than for Y-chromosome DNA. Such a difference has baffled researchers, and yet the Bible predicts it. According to the Genesis flood account, the most recent common ancestor for males is Noah whereas for women, that common ancestor is Eve.
These DNA dates correlate increasingly well with the biblical date for God’s creation of humans. Anthropological findings fit even more precisely. Research places the most recent expression of sophisticated (i.e., humanly produced) art at about 30,000 years ago. The creation date for Adam and Eve suggested by biblical genealogies (given the probability of gaps) ranges from about 10,000 to 60,000 years ago. All these dates are too recent to support any kind of gradualist descent-of-man-from-primates hypothesis. Human beings must have been specially created. Even the timing of other Genesis events, such as “the dividing of the world in the days of Peleg,” can now be confirmed through research data.
IV. A Rising Tide
Today the entire spectrum of nature’s record—mathematics, astronomy, physics, geology, chemistry, paleontology, biochemistry, botany, zoology, anthropology, etc.—provides us with overwhelming evidence for the existence and identity of the Creator, the biblically revealed God. The heavens and the earth still proclaim, indeed, they shout louder than ever, His glory. From the least educated to the most, each individual has been given ample reasons to trust His revelation, including those parts that speak of “things unseen,” both physical and spiritual. The tide of evidence is steadily rising. No one can stop it. But we still have the choice whether to sandbag our hearts or to let the flood in, where it can change us and pour out through us to others.
1 Frank J. Tipler. The Physics of Immortality . New York: Doubleday, 1994, 5.
2 Frank J. Tipler, 7.
3 Frank J. Tipler, 10.
4 Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich. Extinctions. New York: Ballantine, 1981, 23.
William L. Craig
Hugh Ross is evangelicalism’s most important scientific apologist. An astronomer by training, Dr. Ross is the founder and president of Reasons to Believe, an organization devoted both to evangelism within the broader context of scientific apologetics and to the task of healing the cultural rift among Christians between science and religion. He has vigorously defended scientifically the cosmological and teleological arguments for a Creator and Designer of the universe and has championed progressive creationism over against naturalistic accounts of biological evolution on the one hand and so-called “young earth” creationism on the other. Though a tireless promoter of Reasons to Believe, one measure of Dr. Ross’s humility is his unsolicited promotion of the materials of other authors, including this reviewer, in the organization’s catalogue. It has been my privilege to share the platform with Dr. Ross in a number of university and church outreaches, and I enthusiastically support his work.
I offer these accolades lest this review of Ross’s most recent book Beyond the Cosmos strike some as excessively critical. But I am convinced that Ross’s attempts to invest the (possible) extra-dimensionality of the universe with profound theological significance is misguided and that a corrective is in order. In his book Ross advises that “careful scholarship, meticulously reviewed, offers a vital safeguard” against heresy (p. 58). I wholeheartedly concur, and I have been mystified by evangelicals’ apparently uncritical acquiescence to some of the positions advocated by Ross in this book. For I believe that the errors in Beyond the Cosmos are many and that some of them, at least, are serious.
Ross’s basic tenet in Beyond the Cosmos is that certain physicists’ suggestion that in addition to the four familiar spatio-temporal dimensions there exist six (compacted) spatial dimensions carries with it enormous theological freight, shedding dramatic new light on doctrines of the Trinity, the incarnation, predestination, perseverance, the problem of evil, and so forth. Such extra-dimensional theories, in Ross’s view, suggest that God also exists extra-dimensionally, which affords Him access to our four-dimensional realm in ways unanticipated by human beings.
Now in one sense it is a commonplace of traditional theology that God exists extra-dimensionally in that He transcends both time and space, and theology had neither to await nor to thank modem science for that insight. A charitable reading of Beyond the Cosmos might be that Ross simply means to affirm God’s transcendence–His timelessness and spacelessness–, inspired by the analogy of spatial dimensions beyond the three we experience. In his final chapter, he says, “Extra dimensions are simply new terms to describe truths that have been known for as long as God has been known by any human” (p. 207). In several places Ross adds qualifying expressions which might be interpreted to indicate that God’s extra-dimensionality is metaphorical. For example, he speaks of “the existence of extra dimensions or the functional equivalent of extra dimensions “(p. 20, my emphasis). He explains, “… the cause (Causer) of the universe operates in a dimension of time or its equivalent (that is, maintains some attribute, capacity, super-dimensionality, or supra-dimensionality that permits the equivalent of cause and effect operations) completely independent of ours” (p. 23). This is the clearest statement of what it is for something to be the functional equivalent of an extra dimension, and it suggests that divine extra-dimensionality need not be taken literally, but may simply be a metaphor for God’s ability to act immanently in creation while transcending it or for His timelessness and spacelessness (supra-dimensionality). If this charitable interpretation is correct, talk of the modem discovery of God’s extra-dimension-ality may be written down to a combination of theological naivete and scientific over-exube-rance, and the only corrective in order is that Ross needs to explain the metaphorical nature of his language clearly in his lectures to popular audiences, in which the crucial qualifications are typically neither made nor explained. Otherwise he does his audience a serious disservice when he asserts that traditional Christian doctrines are logically inconsistent unless formulated in more than four dimensions–a terribly misleading way of affirming that Christian doctrines entail the transcendence of God.
Unfortunately, I fear that the above interpretation may be too charitable, that Ross does, in fact, conceive of God as literally existing in extra spatio-temporal dimensions. Ross could not be more explicit in his rejection of divine timelessness:
My choice of the word timeful to describe God’s time-related capacities deliberately contradicts a notion that much of the church has held and taught for many centuries, the notion of a ‘timeless’ eternity as the realm where God lives and where we will live someday also (p. 65).2
Singling out Augustine and Aquinas as proponents of this doctrine, Ross exclaims, “… rare indeed is the student or professor who dares to challenge the doctrine of God’s dwelling in a timeless eternity” (p. 66), as Ross evidently means to do. In his view, God “must possess at least one more time dimension (or some attribute, capacity, super-dimension or supra-dimension that encompasses all the properties of time…. The Creator’s capacities include at least two, perhaps more, time dimensions” (pp. 23-24). God is thus a temporal being which exists in at least one additional dimension of time to the one we experience. Less explicit, but strongly implied is the view that God also exists spatially. Ross frequently speaks of God’s “operating” in ten dimensions of space, which a defender of divine spacelessness might reasonably construe to mean that God, though transcending space, produces effects in space. But this is evidently not Ross’s meaning. For he thinks of God accessing our four-dimensional realm from higher dimensions, just as a three-dimensional being can access a two-dimensional realm from the third dimension (pp. 74-79, 89-95). Thus, he says that God “exists and operates in several spatial dimensions beyond our three” (p. 24); “God.., lives and operates in the equivalent of at least eleven dimensions of space and time” (p. 33); “… His space or other dimensions give Him a complete view of us, inside and out” (p. 132); by contrast, “… we lack God’s extra-dimensional perspective to look directly upon ‘the thoughts and intents of the heart”‘ (p. 158). It is difficult to avoid the interpretation that God literally exists in higher spatial dimensions which afford Him access to our three-dimensional space.
Consider then Ross’s account of divine eternity and its relationship to time. While I agree that God ought to be thought of as temporal since the moment of creation, Ross’s account of God’s temporality strikes me as multiply flawed and inadequately motivated. To deal with the second point first, Ross rejects divine timelessness because such a doctrine would imply that God “exists where causes and effects do not happen, and this idea contradicts biblical teachings” (p. 66). In what has to be the most whopping understatement in the whole book, Ross muses, “To be fair, Augustine and Aquinas probably did not see the connection between time and cause and effect to the degree that people in contemporary society do” (p. 66)! That no doubt has something to do with the fact that Augustine and Aquinas were not positivistic reductionists, as twentieth century physicists and philosophers of space and time have tended to be. Ross himself subscribes to some sort of causal theory of time: “Time is defined by the operation of cause-and-effect phenomena” (p. 66). He gives no justification for this controversial view.3 Indeed, I think that such a definition is obviously incorrect. We can imagine a world in which occasionalism is true: God recreates the world anew at each successive instant so that there are no cause-effect relations between phenomena in the world. Such a world seems obviously possible; in fact some Christians (like Malebranche) believed occasionalism is true. So causation is not a necessary condition of time. Neither is it obviously a sufficient condition. On Ross’s conception of time, why could God not timelessly cause the whole space-time manifold with all the events in it to exist? Ross gives no answer. Moreover, even if God is temporal subsequent to His creation of the world, what about God existing sans the world? Could He not be timeless in such a state?
As for the first point, Ross’s account of God’s temporality is problematic.4 His answer to the problem of God and the beginning of time is to postulate a second time dimension, a sort of hypertime, in which God exists and created the world. Now we need to be very clear as to what a hyper-time would be. It would be a succession of hypermoments at each of which our entire time dimension exists.
At successive moments of hyper-time T, our entire time series t exists
But Dr. Ross misconstrues the nature of hyper-time, representing God’s time on his diagram by a line parallel, rather than perpendicular, to our time dimension (p. 62).
An Uncreated God in Two Time Dimensions
What this implies is that God’s temporal dimension is really the same as ours, only that He pre-exists for infinite time prior to the creation of the universe. It is, in effect, a Newtonian view of God and time. Now I certainly agree that God could have existed in absolute time prior to the inception of physical time at the Big Bang. But the proper distinction to be drawn here is not between two dimensions of time (since they are not perpendicular, but linear), but between metaphysical time and our empirical measures thereof. God can be temporal without anything spatial or physical existing if we are talking about metaphysical time. But postulating an infinite metaphysical time prior to the creation of the world fails to win any of the advantages Ross perceives, for it raises new, difficult questions of its own: How could God traverse an actually infinite number of equal, non-zero, past temporal intervals to arrive at the moment of creation? What reason could God have for delaying for infinite time His creation of the world?
Even postulating a hyper-tirne fails to avoid such questions, for we may ask the same questions all over again about whether hypertime has a beginning or not. In two places Ross suggests that the two dimensions of time may have the geometry of the surface of a hemisphere.
God’s Operations in a Sphere of Time
In such a representation our time is the latitudinal line and God’s time is the longitudinal lines. (A curious feature of this model is that it is our time which is the hyper-time in which God’s time is embedded, not vice versa. For there is one line of our time, but many timelines for God. Since these are timelines which endure through moments of our hypertime, they cannot also represent lines of divine causal influence, as Ross suggests. Moreover, it is incorrect to situate God only at the pole, for this would treat His time as the embedding hyper-time; in fact He would exist at all points along His longitudinal time lines.) This conception avoids both the infinitude of our past as well as a beginning of our time only at the expense of making time circular, a conception contradictory to the JudaeoChristian conception of the linearity of time. In any case, the postulation of a hyper-time of any sort appears to preclude the reality of tense and temporal becoming, since at each hyper-instant our whole time line exists. Time is, in effect, “spatialized,” and the distinction between past, present, and future becomes a subjective illusion of human consciousness. This is a high price to pay for so problematic and extravagant a hypothesis, which is not implied by any of the extra-dimensional theories surveyed by Ross.
In one place Dr. Ross suggests that the postulation of a hypertime helps to answer a third-grader’s question about how God can listen to a billion prayers at once. Not only does Ross seem to get his answer backwards (he, in effect, turns our time into a hypertime above time instead of saying God has infinitely many hyper-instants at which to listen to each prayer in succession), but his answer dreadfully depreciates divine omniscience. Rather than cast God anthropomorphically as a cognitively limited, hyper-dimensional telephone operator, Ross should have explained to his third-grade friend that just as a super-computer can do millions of operations at once, God is infinitely more intelligent than a super-computer and so His lines can never get jammed!
Issues concerning divine eternity are difficult and perhaps not too close to the heart of orthodoxy. When it comes to divine spatiality, however, the problems become more serious. The unwelcome implication of Ross’s view is that God is a spatial entity; more than that, He is (at least) a three-dirnensionally existing entity as we are. This conclusion follows from the fact that if an entity exists in any dimension of a multidimensional space-time manifold, then it exists in all of them. Consider a point existing in a three-dimensional manifold. The point exists in all three dimensions of the manifold: it has height, length, and depth coordinates which specify its location. One of Ross’s most fundamental and surprising errors is his apparent assumption that God can exist only in higher dimensional realms without also existing in our space-time dimensions. He asserts, “Each of the four space-time dimensions of the physical universe is independent of the others” (p. 15). This sentence is jarring because the central insight behind Minkowski’s notion of space-time is that space and time are not independent of each other but together comprise a single four-dimensional geometry called “space-time.” Admittedly Ross has an idiosyncratic definition of independence: “This independence means that each dimension always must be exactly perpendicular … to all the other dimensions …” (p. 15). But even on this peculiar understanding of what it means to be independent, Ross’s own diagram illustrates that an entity which exists in one dimension of a manifold exists in all of them.
Dependent versus Independent Dimensions
Object E, though not intersecting the axis C, is nevertheless clearly located in the dimension represented by C, for it has a location with respect to C, namely, the point where B and C intersect. Thus, E exists in both the B and C dimensions. This entails that God exists somewhere in our universe. But that occasions very troubling questions. Is He located at some point in distant space where we could reach Him via space travel? Is God spatially extended? Is He spread out everywhere like the invisible ether of nineteenth century physics? It is not enough merely to answer “No,” to these questions; Ross owes us some account of how the biblical God can be a spatio-temporal entity, as his view entails.
Ross thinks that by positing God’s existence in higher spatial dimensions, he can make sense of God’s invisibility and proximity.5 He claims that “God is hidden from us in the sense that we cannot make contact with Him through our five senses” (p. 72). But this is a clearly deficient conception of God’s spirituality and incorporeality, for it leaves open the view that God is a spatial object which is simply undetectable by our senses. As for God’s proximity to us, Ross seems to interpret biblical passages like “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted,” in terms of literal contiguity, when the sense of nearness at issue here is clearly relational, having to do with intimacy, not contiguity! In any case, any advantages in terms of God’s proximity to us thought to accrue from divine extradimensionality can also be had via divine spacelessness, without the added problem of threatening to make God a spatial entity.
Now, Ross thinks that postulating divine extra-dimensionality serves to shed new light on traditional theological problems. Take, for example, the doctrine of the Trinity. Ross claims that the doctrine of the Trinity preserved in the Christian creeds is a paradox–that is, an “apparent contradiction” (p. 89, cf. p. 53). But Ross believes that extra-dimensionality can help to resolve seemingly contradictory statements. He considers the following conjunction of two statements: “Triangles cannot be circles, and triangles can be circles.” Ross does not seem to appreciate the fact that not only are these statements contradictories, but the second conjunct alone is broadly logically impossible. Ross asserts that in three dimensions the second conjunct is true because a triangle can be rotated about an axis to form a cone, which may be analyzed as a stack of circles. But surely the correct response to this thought experiment is that a triangle is not a cone (not to mention that a cone is not a circle)! Moreover, even if we admitted the second conjunct were true, that would do nothing to resolve the original problem, for then the first conjunct would be false. When Ross says, “. . . the truth of both statements … can be recognized” (p. 56), what he leaves us with is not a resolution, but an antimony.
Ross asserts that “The charge that ‘Trinitarians’ accept a mathematical absurdity would seem appropriate … if the biblical God were confined to the same dimensional realm as humans” (p. 82). This amounts to saying that a denial of God’s extradimensionality is a sufficient condition of the doctrine of the Trinity’s being a logical absurdity. I take this to be an enormously serious allegation, for it implies that Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and other champions of Trinitarian doctrine, who did not believe in God’s extra-dimensionality as Ross understands it, were all advocating a logical incoherence and that anyone accepting the doctrine of the Trinity was believing a logical contradiction. In fact, however, Ross never shows how the traditional formulations of the Trinity are even apparently contradictory. There is not even the appearance of contradiction in affirming that “There is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three eternal and coequal Persons” (p. 88, citing Ryne). If there were a contradiction, positing God’s existence in extra spatial dimensions would not solve it. At best, then, Ross appeals to extra-dimensionality only to illustrate how three can be one. But as an illustration of the Trinity, Ross’ scenario of a three-dimensional hand intersecting a two-dimensional surface seems no more adequate than the well-known, deficient illustrations he criticizes. When flatlanders see the finger of the hand intersecting their plane in different ways. “They might never discern that the six-plus manifestations were all governed by one entity and one source of operation” (p. 93). But this amounts to an illustration of modalism, not the Trinity. Later Ross imagines the flatlanders seeing the several intersections of the hand’s fingers with their plane, commenting, “The twoness, threeness, or moreness of our hand (or one aspect of that plurality) they could imagine, but not the oneness” (p. 95). But the fingers are merely parts of the one hand, and Ross himself earlier quoted from the Augsburg Confession that “… the term ‘person’ is used, as the ancient Fathers employed it in this connection, to signify not a part or a quality in another but that which subsists of itself.” The hand-flatland illustration thus only succeeds in illustrating modalism or one thing’s having three parts. It certainly does not make the Trinity more intelligible.
Ross also believes that God’s extra-dimensionality serves to illumine Christology. Unfortunately, although Ross clearly affirms that Jesus is both God and man, it may be justifiably doubted whether he affirms the Chalcedonian fonnula of two natures united in one person. For example, he does not describe the incarnation as the second person of the Trinity’s taking on a human nature in addition to his divine nature, but as God’s literally turning Himself into a human being:
… the second person of the triune God, the Creator of all angels and of the entire universe, actually became a man…. God supernaturally entered the womb of a virgin (Mary). How He interacted with or modified Mary’s egg is not made clear in Scripture, but He became a flesh and blood embryo (p. 104).
This remarkable statement suggests that Ross stands in the Alexandrian tradition of one-nature Christology. Such a conception seems to require God’s relinquishing some of His divine attributes in becoming a man, and this is just what Ross affirms:
In coming to Earth as an embryo in the virgin’s womb, Christ ’emptied’ Himself, leaving behind the extra-dimensional realm and capacities He shared with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. When He had completed the work He set out to do, the work of redemption, He returned to the place and the powers He had left behind (p. 49).
This passage constitutes an endorsement of kenotic theology, which interprets Christ’s self-emptying as the divestiture of certain divine attributes. Now this sort of non-Chalcedonian, kenotic Christology seems to me a very serious aberration. As the Antiochean theologians realized, if Christ had only a single “theanthropic” nature, then he was in fact neither God nor man, but a sort of hybrid of the two. Kenotic theology faces the severe difficulty of how it is that God can give up His attributes, since any being lacking such attributes as omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, aseity, and so forth, by definition is not God. As is typical chez kenotic theologians, Ross would preserve Christ’s deity by means of the continuity of his moral attributes: “Jesus’ divine identity as God, His character, wisdom, purity, and motives, remained perfectly intact, but He voluntarily relinquished the independent use of His divine attributes and His extra-dimensional capacities” (pp. 103104). Consistency requires us to say, then, that attributes such as omniscience, omnipresence, and so forth, are not in fact essential to God’s nature, that in some possible worlds God is weak, ignorant, spatially confined, and so forth. This seems to me an extraordinarily high price to pay for any supposed benefits thought to accrue from the kenotic approach.
Ross’s non-Chalcedonian Christology leads to a bizarre view of the atonement. Traditionally Jesus is understood to have died in his human nature, but his divine nature is, of course, incapable of perishing. But if Christ has only a single nature, then his death is literally the death of God. Thus, in a section entitled “God Both Dead and Alive” Ross seems to affirm precisely what the title states.
Some skeptics and atheists have argued that if Jesus were God, He could not have died; and if He died, He could not have been God. They recognize, of course, the contradiction in saying that Jesus is both really dead and really alive…. The simultaneity of Jesus’ death and immortality would only be a contradiction, however, if the time, place, and context of His death were identical to the time, place and dimensional context of His being alive…. Because of Christ’s identity as God and His access to all the dimensions or superdimensions God encompasses, He could experience suffering and death in all the human-occupied dimensions and then transition into any of His other dimensions or realms once the atonement price had been paid (pp. 108-109).
Here Ross does seem to affirm that God was both dead and alive, but that that contradiction is avoided by extra-dimensionality. But this escape does not seem to work. For Ross had clearly affirmed that in the incarnation God the Son had left the extra-dimensional realms and capacities he shared with the Father and the Spirit. Thus, if he died in our human realm, God died. How he could then transition back to extra-dimensional realms once he had died seems inexplicable. In any case the logical problem here is not just God’s being both dead and alive, but God’s being dead, period. By definition, God cannot perish. But without a two natures Christology, we are forced to affirm the absurdity that God died.
Extra-dimensionality leads Ross into even more bizarre speculations about the atonement in answer to the question of how one man’s death could pay for all people’s sins. Instead of answering that question in terms of the dignity of Christ’s person, he hypothesizes that perpendicular to our time dimension is another dimension composed of billions of separate time lines on each of which Christ suffers death and subsequent isolation from God for infinite time (p. 112):
Paying the Atonement Price in Multiple Dimensions of Time
I find this speculation profoundly unacceptable. It requires, in effect, billions of Christs, thus destroying Christ’s personal identity. For it is a distinct person who dies on the cross in each of these time lines. Moreover, each of these “Christs” suffers separation from God endlessly with no hope of resurrection and victory at the end. That Christ rises in our temporal dimension is the exception to the rule; the other Christs remain separated from God forever, which makes a mockery of Jesus’s triumph over death.
Ross also makes a curious suggestion concerning Jesus’s resurrection appearances: in disappearing from view, Jesus “rotated” each of his three spatial dimensions into a fourth, fifth, and sixth spatial dimension respectively (pp. 46-47). Jesus’s resurrection body thus literally came apart and became three one-dimensional lines–not a very robust conception of a body!
Ross also thinks that extra-dimensionality will help to resolve the conflict between divine sovereignty and human freedom, but a reading of the relevant chapters makes clear that most of what he says has little to do with extra-dimensionality, focusing instead on the relative strength of God’s influence on us as we draw near to or retreat from Him. When he finally gets down to reconciling sovereignty and freedom, what he winds up with is, in effect, if he is to avoid determinism by our circumstances, a middle knowledge account of providence (pp. 153-154). But such an account owes nothing to extra-dimensionality.
With respect to doctrine of salvation, Ross’s diagrams on pp. 161, 162 seem to betray the Reformation doctrine of sola fide, for they show a non-Christian gradually increasing in “Christlikeness” until he irrevocably crosses the “salvation threshold.” Even if we interpret this increase to be the result of God’s prevenient work, it is still surely false that salvation is achieved by a non-Christian’s growing more Christlike until he crosses the line of no return and is saved.
In the remainder of his book, Ross treats such issues as perseverance, the problem of evil, and hell; but his insights on these questions do not involve essential reference to extra-dimensionality.
In short, while appreciative of Ross’s work in other areas, I find his attempt to construe God as existing in hyper-dimensions of time and space and to interpret Christian doctrines in that light to be both philosophically and theologically unacceptable. I am sure that Ross did not realize some of the implications of the positions he took in Beyond the Cosmos. He needs now either to explain why his views do not have such implications or else to modify his views so as to avoid them.
1 In personal conversation Dr. Ross has told me that he felt that the crucial qualifications were made in the book and that our differences were “just semantic.” But even after our conversation it is still unclear to me how literally he takes God’s extra-dimensionality. He clearly believes that there are six additional spatial dimensions, and he seems to think that God actually inhabits these. He insisted in conversation that God is not confined to ten dimensions but can exist in as many dimensions as one can imagine. But my critique is not aimed at God’s being confined to extra dimensions, but is rather lodged against the claim that God literally exists in spatio-temporal dimensions, and Ross’s response only reinforces one’s suspicion that Ross believes God literally to exist in such dimensions. Similarly, his insistence to me that God’s extra-dimensionality is merely a possible solution to the problems he addresses, rather than the actual fact of the matter, shows that he is taking extra-dimensionality literally, for divine transcendence could not be so characterized. Perhaps the problem here is that Ross does not appreciate that the classical doctrine of omnipresence entails God’s transcending space altogether, while being cognizant of and causally effective at every point in space. In any case, I am absolutely confident that lay audiences who hear him do not understand him to be speaking metaphorically, so if that is his intention, he needs to affirm clearly that God does not literally exist and operate in extra dimensions of space and time.
2 It should be noted that the classical doctrine of divine timelessness holds that it is impossible for any creature, even angels, to share in God’s timeless eternity.
3 In personal conversation, Dr. Ross told me that he is merely adopting the common scientific understanding of time in order to communicate effectively with the type of person he is trying to reach. Such people think that God’s timelessness implies that God is causally inactive. Ross’ response is apparently intended to show such persons that God is not timeless in that sense. This strikes me as very odd apologetic strategy: rather than correct the person’s misunderstandings, one instead formulates a view of God’s eternity which is compatible with the person’s misconceptions but which we know to be literally false. Thus our unbelieving friend is led to become a Christian at the expense of his accepting beliefs which we know to be wrong, i.e., believing literally what we understand to be merely metaphorical, viz., that God exists in some sort of hypertime.
4 Notice here that whether literal or metaphorical, Ross’s account of God’s relationship to time is confused and theologically unacceptable.
5 Again, notice that in what follows Ross’s account is problematic theologically, whether we construe it literally or metaphorically. He just has an incorrect understanding of divine proximity, the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, etc.
J. P. Moreland
Talbot Theological Seminary
It is an honor to have this opportunity to reflect on the natural theology of my friend and valued colleague, Hugh Ross. For some time now, I have admired his courage in evangelism and thanked God for the way his writings have brought comfort to believers and challenge to unbelievers. In my opinion, Ross is at his very best when he is marshaling scientific evidences for a Creator/Designer and criticizing evolutionary theory. However, when it comes to his approach to employing science in order to clarify and solve classic theological desiderata, I believe that Ross’s views reflect a serious misunderstanding about the nature of integration, more specifically, about the limitations of science and the relationship between science and philosophy as a handmaid to theology.
In his seventeenth-century work of art entitled The Triumph of the Eucharist , Peter Paul Rubens attempted to capture a widely held view of faith and reason. In his painting, Rubens depicted religion as a person seated in a triumphal chair on a cart pulled by two angels. Walking behind the cart are different figures. Among those figures are a young man and an old man representing, respectively, science and philosophy. This painting conveys the notion of an integrated world view where faith and reason are in harmony, theology is the queen of the sciences, the discipline of philosophy is the wise, old, long-standing friend of theology, and science is a young, less-wise participant in the integrative dialog. It seems to me that on Ross’s view, science is pulling the cart, theology is along for the ride, and philosophy is trying to hitch a ride along the road. More specifically, my thesis is that Ross’s views of certain philosophical/ theological notions are confused, unjustified, and flawed in a number of ways and that these problematic features of his natural theology are a function of two things: 1) an inadequate grasp of the limits of science to tell us what is real even within its proper domain of investigation and 2) a failure to grasp the proper role of philosophy vis a vis science as the handmaid of theology.
Before I examine Ross’s views, let me place my critique in the context of a current debate about philosophical methodology among philosophers. Philosophical naturalist David Papineau has correctly stated this debate and expressed the naturalist resolution to it as follows:
…the task of the philosophers is to bring coherence and order to the total set of assumptions we use [in science] to explain the natural world. The question at issue is whether all philosophical theorizing is of this kind. Naturalists will say that it is. Those with a more traditional attitude to philosophy will disagree. These traditionalists will allow, of course, that some philosophical problems, problems in applied philosophy, as it were, will fit the above account. But they will insist that when we turn to ‘first philosophy’, to the investigation of such fundamental categories as thought and knowledge, then philosophy must proceed independently of science. Naturalists will respond that there is no reason to place first philosophy outside of science. 1
Contrast Papineau’s view of philosophical method with the one offered by George Bealer:
I wish to recommend two theses.  The autonomy of philosophy . Among the central questions of philosophy that can be answered by one standard theoretical means or another, most can in principle be answered by philosophical investigation and argument without relying substantively on the sciences.  The authority of philosophy . Insofar as science and philosophy purport to answer the same central philosophical questions, in most cases the support that science could in principle provide for those answers is not as strong as that which philosophy could in principle provide for its answers. So, should there be conflicts, the authority of philosophy in most cases can be greater in principle. 2
Applied to integration, the philosophical naturalist approach is an expression of scientism such that science is the leading authority for telling us what is real, at least in certain domains, philosophy has an extremely limited role in integration, specifically that of helping to analyze the concepts employed in our best scientific theories, and science, without the aid of philosophy, is the handmaid of theology. By contrast, the traditional approach claims that philosophy is autonomous from and more authoritative than science in areas of direct interaction, that philosophy is the primary tool for getting at what is real in areas relevant to theology, and that the limited role of science in integration requires philosophical evaluation and clarification before it can be appropriated. If we place these alternatives at the ends of a continuum, Ross’s views fall much closer to the naturalist end of the line, in spirit and sometimes in letter, than to the traditional end. As we will now see, the result is an inadequate theology and a confused ontology.
First, let us look at Ross’s notion of a dimension in his claim about extra-dimensionality. 3 Due to space limitations, I will focus my remarks on extra-dimensionality, gesture at a handful of other problems, and draw two lessons from our investigation. So far as I can tell, Ross never defines or gives material content to his concept of a dimension. About all Ross tell us is that a dimension is a form of independent directionality which I take to mean that it is a sort of ordered continuum that is at 90 degrees from other elements of directionality (pp. 15-16). Elsewhere, he tells us that the notion of a dimension is a mathematical construction, something described by mathematics (pp. 18-19). In my view, the scientific notion of an extra dimension of space or time is a mere mathematical devise, a formal definition with no material content that can intelligibly be ascribed to reality. My suspicions about this are confirmed when Ross repeatedly tells us that certain phenomena require extra dimensions or functional equivalents of extra dimensions (pp. 20, 23, 31, 51). Whenever A can be substituted with a functional equivalent B, then A is not being characterized by its intrinsic features in a material definition; rather, A is being captured by way of a formal definition.
Now if I am right about this, then I, for one, do not think that extra dimensions are even intelligible, much less real. The problem here is not one of picturing such an extra dimension as Ross supposes (p. 18), though in my view, picturing is a legitimate test of intelligibility when it comes to those properties like extension whose material definitions are ostensively defined by way of sense perception. Rather, the problem is that the only intelligible notion of a spatial (or temporal) dimension we have is the notion of extended magnitude which can be measured in a specific direction and it is virtually self evident that there are only three spatial dimensions possible. It is up to Ross to show how there could be such a thing as n dimensions of space that doesn’t reduce such an assertion to a mathematical, formal set of definitions and calculations. When he tells us that there are millions of dimensions of space (p. 19), one’s suspicions of intelligibility seem confirmed.
Moreover, it is hard to see how to take related claims as literal descriptions of the world, such as that there could be an infinitely small volume (pp. 21, 22), that mass and space are literally interchangeable (p. 28), that triangles can be identical to circles (p. 58), that a one dimensional line (a string) could literally have clockwise vibrations in ten dimensions of space and counterclockwise vibrations in twenty six space dimensions (p. 27), or that a being existing in three time dimensions could simultaneously cause past, present, and future effects in one time dimension. Regarding this last claim, Ross shows no indication that he is familiar with the transitivity of simultaneity, and if he is, he should at least interact with problems this generates for the logical coherence of such a claim.
Third, a number of Ross’s statements appear to use spatial or temporal terms either in an equivocal or univocal way. If the former is the case, then these claims are, again, unintelligible as stated. If the latter is the case, his employment of them results in incoherence unless material content can be given to the relevant terms. I have in mind cases where he claims that a three dimensional object can be “spatially rotated” into other spatial dimensions (pp. 45-46) and that God exists “spatially beyond” the three space dimensions (p. 18) and “temporally beyond” our time (pp. 23, 42). If “beyond” here is given a non-spatial a-temporal ontological sense, then they are intrinsically intelligible, but I have no idea what to make of them in the sense indicated, nor, I suspect, does Ross.
Further, there are clear cases where Ross makes claims, e.g., about the nature of space, time, and causality that I think are false, but in any case, that clearly require philosophical argument to justify, since their resolution is simply outside the competence of empirical science taken alone, e.g., that a B series view of time is correct (pp. 24, 57, 62-63, 150-53), that ontological space (and not merely measurements of space) is relative and not absolute (p. 35), and that time is defined by causality (p. 66) or that “by definition time is that dimension in which cause and effect phenomena take place. No time, no cause and effect.” 4 I add to this list the breath-taking claim that various Biblical doctrines make sense only if extra dimensions or their functional equivalents exist (p. 51).
It simply will not do to argue for extra dimensionality on the grounds 1) that there is an analogy between moving from two to three space dimensions and from three to many and 2) that postulation of extra dimensionality is predictively successful and solves scientific problems (pp. 19, 24). The analogical argument is question-begging and also a bad analogy since the movement from two to three space dimensions suffers from no conceptual difficulties as does the “movement” into many such dimensions.
Regarding predictability and scientific explanation, it often happens in the history of science that a conceptually intelligible scientific model was predictively and explanatorily successful for a long time but turned out to be false. For example, Jean Fresnel (1788-1827) predicted that if a beam of light were directed upon a disk, there would be a circle of light in the center of the shadow of that disk on a nearby wall. 5 Fresnel’s predictions were based on a detailed theory of the optical aether and turned out to be correct, but optical aether theory has now been abandoned in spite of the fact that Maxwell claimed that aether theory in general was among the most confirmed scientific notions in the history of science! It also happens that a mathematical model, strictly unintelligible if taken in realist terms, saves the phenomena. I have in mind here Stephen Hawkins appropriation of imaginary time. 6 If they would acquire a working knowledge of the history and philosophy of science, along with a modest familiarity with metaphysics, contemporary scientists would have more intellectual tools with which to work in interpreting their empirically adequate theories.
Numerous other philosophical confusions abound in Ross’s natural theology: there is no definition of the freedom necessary for responsibility and no distinction drawn between libertarian and compatibilist views, freedom of responsibility is conflated with freedom of personal integrity with the result that Ross addresses the latter and erroneously thinks that he thereby addresses the former (pp. 141-150), that possession of a brain or nerve center is a necessary condition for a being to know something (pp. 74-75), that the terms “essence” and “person” are inadequate for explicating the Trinity (89-90), and so on.
In pointing these out, I do not mean to be pedantic or mean-spirited. As I have already said, I consider Hugh Ross a friend and I greatly value his writings about the cosmological and design arguments. But when we write on theological themes, the stakes are too high for us to allow one another to be spokespersons for the evangelical community without pointing out egregious substantive and methodological errors.
In sum, there are two lessons we all can learn from these remarks. First, if we are going to write something integrative, we should avail ourselves of the expertise of brothers and sisters in other fields before we go to press, especially if we are writing outside our fields. This is especially true for scientists for a simple reason: The culture deeds too much intellectual authority to science with the result that scientists often feel adequate to make statements beyond their area of competence or even about issues properly within their domain but which, nevertheless, are within the domain of philosophy or theology as well, because they tend to feel omni-competent. I am not claiming that Ross has this attitude, but at the same time, it would be naive to suppose that evangelical scientists who write about general themes do not suffer from these conditions.
Second, philosophy is the single most important discipline for 1) evaluating science itself, 2) addressing the essence of entities like space, time, causality, or the nature of perception and knowledge about which science, while making some sort of contribution, nevertheless, largely deals operationally and with an eye on saving the phenomena, and 3) being the medium through which other disciplines are integrated with theology. Given this fact and the staggering rise of orthodox Christianity in the discipline of philosophy, it is time for evangelicals to increase their intensity in seeking aid from Christian philosophers in the integrative task. In short, Bealer’s thesis of the autonomy and authority of philosophy is not only true but of critical importance for the science/theology dialog. For as Nelson Goodman said somewhere, scientists do the business, but philosophers keep the books.
1 David Papineau, Philosophical Naturalism (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1993), p. 3.
2 George Bealer, “On the Possibility of Philosophical Knowledge,” in Philosophical Perspectives 10: Metaphysics, 1996, ed. by James E. Tomberlin (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996), p. 1.
3 Cf. Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1996); The Creator and the Cosmos (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1993), pp. 16, 69-74, 82, 90, 147-151. References in the text are to pages in Beyond the Cosmos .
4 Ross, Creator and the Cosmos , p. 70. Cf. pp. 69, 90.
5 Cf. J. P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), pp. 155-156.
6 For more on this, see William Lane Craig, “In Defense of Rational Theism,” in Does God Exist? by J. P. Moreland, Kai Nielsen (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1993), pp. 147-148.
Thomas C. Oden
Hugh Ross has given us new reasons to believe that the faithful in our time are being given extraordinary gifts not fully received in previous times to behold and celebrate the heavens declaring the glory of God and the firmament showing his handiwork.
I wish first to offer a critique of a few picky points, then focus on the anthropic principle as a very promising motif.
A. It is regrettable that Ross in his brief essay defines special revelation as “information about God and His plan for humanity communicated by His Spirit to prophets and apostles and recorded for us in the 66 books of the Bible.” Similarly general revelation is defined as “information about God and His plan for humanity then comes from considering the creation, or nature, the tangible expression of His divine nature and character.” But in both cases revelation is primarily viewed as propositionally transmissible material knowledge, information.
My question: Is not God’s revelation first event, and only then knowledge? Does not revelation occur in history, and not first of all in ideation? Is not revelation the history of God’s acts in time and space, and not merely as information. Information is data, facts, measurements, statistics, knowledge? While revelation yields information, it is not constituted by information as such but by God’s disclosure of himself through historical events.
B. Ross argues that if there are irreconcilable differences between science and theology, they stem from what he calls “faulty interpretations”, not from the will, not from idolatry, not
from sin, but from “faulty interpretations.” This reminds me of Kierkegaard’s quarrel with Hegel, who thought that any obstacle to reason could be overcome by logic, by rational reflection through the antithesis toward a rational synthesis. Rather, says SK in Practice in Christianity , reason can only stand in awe of the mystery of God’s incarnate coming, revelation. If so, Christianity begins as a scandal and offense to reason. What God does in coming as a babe is a scandal to reason. To treat it as a matter of inadequate interpretation is to deflect the offense. What God does in the resurrection is folly to reason. To treat it as a matter of miscalculation is to miss the deeper offense to human reasoning of God’s humiliation in Jesus Christ.
This is not, however, an irreconcilable difference, and I applaud Ross for attempting the reconciliation, but it is more than a faulty interpretation.
C. Is it not an exaggeration to say that evangelicals have “almost universally presumed” that “science and theology cannot be—and should not be—reconciled”? Assuming that Thomas Torrance and Bruce Demerest and Alister McGrath and Alvin Plantinga are evangelicals, as I would suppose, then should not this be qualified? While evangelical investigations of current science have been laggard, they have not been altogether vacuous.
D. Is it the best evangelical use of language to say that the Spirit connects the individual to the body of Christ? “Connect” is an instrumental term. To connect is to attach, combine, join, affix two entities into one. It is not an organic metaphor such as vine and branches, but essentially a mechanical metaphor. The Spirit does not merely connect me with the body of Christ but draws me personally into the body of Christ, as branch to vine (John 12:32).
II. THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE
Ross’s paper stimulates further reflection especially on the question: Did God provide the magnificent work of creation for humanity alone or primarily? I want to take one tiny part of Ross’s larger contribution and speak more extensively of its theological implications. I wish to grant Ross his empirical arguments for the time being, and examine what some of their theological consequences might be.
Let us suppose that an almost inconceivable number of characteristics need to be “fine-tuned for any conceivable kind of physical life to exist at any time in the universe’s history.” If “the mass density of the cosmos must be precisely fixed for physical life to exist”; and if the “degree of fine-tuning required exceeds by trillions of trillions of times (and more) the epitome of human engineering capability”: then it seems plausible to conclude that “the Creator built a hundred billion trillion stars and carefully guided their development for 16 billion years so that at this brief moment of the history of the cosmos we humans can exist and enjoy a beautiful, life-filled habitat. The expanse of space (and all the matter it contains) is not ‘wasted’ on one life site; it is essential for one life site. These findings imply that the Creator is a person, not just a force.” While physicists are less prone to examine the consequences of such a statement, theologians are rigorously called to such an examination.
If “The probability numbers are large enough to eliminate other possibilities from realistic contention,” and if there it has been established that there are no less than “66 distinct features that must be fine-tuned for physical life to exist” in the Milky Way, and if “the probability that any given planet will manifest all 66 characteristics is less than 1 chance in 10 to the 83rd power,” and that “Even if the universe contains as many as 10 to the 22nd power planets, the probability of finding even one planet capable of life support remains enormous, 1 chance in 10 to the 62nd power,” then theologians have a major task ahead of them to assimilate and assess what this means for creation, Christian anthropology, ethics, aesthetics, and the order of salvation.
Insofar as scientific evidences and probability theory are drawing us to conclude that “the universe was designed precisely for the sake of the human race,” then to that extent we are being invited to reclaim scriptures long neglected which point to the human story as the center of God’s intent in creation.
A basic classic locus of theology is anthropos as recipient of revelation. Humanity is God’s constant concern throughout scripture: the creation of humanity, the fall of humanity, the redemption of humanity, and the final glorification of humanity. The Christian study of scientific evidences cannot neglect God’s own prevailing interest in this history of salvation: the redemption of humanity. In Genesis, the creation of human beings is the decisive and crowning act of divine creation, in which human creatures are provided with a capacity for communion with God exceeding all other embodied creatures. It is not an exaggeration to say that revelation is for human salvation, insofar as that salvation tends toward the glory of God.
If God is to become revealed to any creature, that creature must have some grace-bestowed capacity to receive revelation. Why would God bother to speak to a stone or a galaxy of stones to which God has not given the capacity to hear and understand? Humanity is, far more profoundly than trees or animals, uniquely the recipient of revelation.
Creation is given, according to scripture, to glorify God through free, companionate rational beings, who when freedom falls into sin, are redeemed by merciful divine grace. Creation is in order to redemption. The fall breaks the order of creation. Redemption redeems what is fallen in creation.
Yet it remains a fixed habit of older science to say that man is an accident waiting to happen, even if it takes billions of years. The naturalistically reductive way of looking at humanity says that humanity is not the purpose of creation but merely an incidental spinoff, an accident, with no purposeful teleology.
For Jews and Christians, God gives the world for humanity. What is the level of evidence scientifically and the range of probabilities mathematically that this is the case? However debatable may be the scientific inquiries that hinge on probability calculus, there can be little doubt about the clarity of scripture in this regard: It is unique to humanity that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Of no other embodied creature is this said. And to this one form of creaturely existence a special place is given: “God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'” Then God gave seed bearing plants to human creatures, that “they will be yours for food…And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” The goodness of the non-human creation is compared with the exceptional goodness of human creation which is called to stewardship and dominion over creation.
This anthropic principle may be the most stunning and promising idea in this phase of research and dialogue on science and theology.
A. RELEVANCE FOR AESTHETICS
If the levels of probability are such that there is very little likelihood of life anywhere else, within these specific parameters that life requires, there are vast consequences for reflection on beauty, goodness and truth.
There are first aesthetic consequences: It is astonishing that all this is a gift of God not just to animals and rocks, but especially to and for those rational creatures most capable of beholding the beauty of God’s holiness in creation: humanity and angelic creation.
“The world itself, by its well-ordered changes and movements, and by the fair appearance of all visible things,” wrote Augustine in the City of God , “bears a testimony of its own, both that is has been created, and also that it could not have been created except by God, whose greatness and beauty are unutterable and invisible” (CG XI.4, NPNF 1 2:207). “The Deity is in very substance Beautiful,” wrote Gregory of Nyssa in On the Soul and the Resurrection , “and to the Deity the soul will in its state of singleminded purity have affinity.” Hence “the soul copies the life that is above” (NPNF 2 5:449). Although this recognition is expected fully and finally in the resurrected life in the celestial city, it may be anticipatively experienced in the present by sanctifying grace, wherein “enjoyment takes the place of desire, and the power to enjoy renders [inordinate] desire useless and out of date.” In the resurrection the soul will “know herself accurately, what her actual nature is, and should behold the Original Beauty reflected in the mirror” (ibid).
If the world is indeed created for humanity, that infuses each time and space of creation with potential aesthetic attractiveness and delight shining through even the history of sin. Hence the faithful delight to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Ps. 27:4).
B. RELEVANCE FOR ETHICS
Second, this anthropic premise long known in Jewish Christian scripture, and now being potentially grasped as a scientific premise, has immense moral consequences . The whole universe would become, if this premise is indeed true, an arena for the nurturing of virtue, a theater for engendering the good life, and the redeemed life when fallen.
Here is the if/if/then syllogism: a) If God creates all the cosmos specifically for humanity, b) and if a central feature of human awareness is moral awareness, c) then to stand in the presence of the Giver is to become aware of the grace of repentance. In this way the anthropic premise reverberates in every moral choice. In this way created life corresponds to and refracts the goodness of God, even through the veil of sin.
If God gives creation for humanity, then some sufficient reason must be posited. That reason is to bestow glory on humanity by God’s own becoming human when humanity is fallen, and to redeem what is fallen in creation. In this way the anthropic principle constitutes a plausible motive for doing good, as God is good.
To realize that the whole expanse of creation is ordered for the eliciting of virtue is to correlate a scientific finding with moral purpose. The cosmos does not have simply a zero purpose.
Hence there is a magnificent moral consequence of the anthropic principle, if it is indeed true scientifically. I need to do more study in physics and probability theory to assess that, but I have the simple intuition that this is right, and it surely corresponds with classic Christian exegesis on scripture passages on creation and the moral life.
Just as relative moral necessity cannot be required of the will except by that which is relatively good, so absolute moral necessity cannot be caused by any good less than the insurmountable good. A sense of absolute obligation can only come from One to whom absolute moral authority is fittingly and legitimately ascribed. It is to this transcendent ground of obligation that conscience witnesses. For conscience does not pretend to make the laws that it dictates (Clement of Alex. Christ the Educator , III.1, FC 23:199; Calvin Inst. 3.19.15).
No other creatures excepting angels can behold the goodness of God. Even angels, lacking bodies and sense perception, cannot behold the creation in the same way and with the same sensory immediateness that humans can. Humanity is honored by God above the angels because of the incarnation. God did not become embodied as an angel to save humanity because angelic being is not embodied.
The anthropic tendency is seen in the arguments about the low probability of life on other planets. Its all for humanity.
C. RELEVANCE FOR THE TRUTH QUESTION
There is third level of potential relevance for the anthropic principle: the truth question. If it should be a true and demonstrable fact based on scientific evidence that God has created the full extent of the cosmos for the benefit and redemption of man, for the moral formation of man, for communion with man, if so, then that which is most true about the world is the truth of God’s incarnate coming and will to become man, a particular man. The truth is God’s own coming as a man, in the One who said, I am the truth.
The power of the argument from design is best grasped by trying to take its opposite hypothesis seriously, that there is no cause of order. For then one would be forced to attribute order to chance, which in the long run would still leave the order unexplained. To say that order occurred by chance means either that we are unable to ascertain what the cause is while nonetheless affirming that some cause must exist, or that there is no cause and events occur without any reasonable or possible explanation. Both of these ways of viewing chance fail to account for the primary evidence—order in the world, an order which required human consciousness to be understood, which implies a revelation that requires a recipient to be received—which demands some sufficient explanation.
Hence the Psalmist sings: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet; all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the sea” (Ps. 8:3-8).
Response to Tom Oden
by Hugh Ross
Tom Oden offers helpful criticisms and enhancements of my paper. His “disagreements” highlight explanations and caveats I would have included had I not been limited to 2,000 words. Some additional clarifications may serve our shared purpose of encouraging Christian scholars to draw upon the increasingly rich resources of general revelation in efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. Oden makes four main points and calls for application. My replies to each are as follows:
A. I use a more comprehensive definition of information. My definition includes historical events. For me general revelation includes both human and natural history in addition to the current manifestations of humanity and nature. Because light from heavenly bodies takes time to reach human observers, the heavens declare the past history of God’s glory. This direct observation of the past implies that human beings can join the angels as witnesses to creation (Job 38:4-7). I would include divine and angelic visitation (e.g. Genesis 18:) and new creation visions (e.g. 2 Corinthians 12: and Revelation) with the special revelation recorded in the 66 books of the Bible.
B. I omitted discussion of what causes distortions of divine revelation. Both my study and experience lead me to agree that sin and idolatry cause more misinterpretation of general and special revelation than does lack of information or of reasoning power.
C. Oden’s qualification stands. I am concerned, however, that the efforts of a few have done little to dispel the myth, especially in secular society.
D. I agree wholeheartedly without reservation.
Application: Oden responds, here, as I had hoped many would, to my invitation at the close of Beyond the Cosmos ; specifically, I challenged theologians and philosophers to take the baton of these new discoveries about the cosmos and go forward to new depths and heights in understanding God and His Word. I pray that Oden’s efforts will set a set a course for others.
Let me add that Oden’s link between the anthropic principle, aesthetics, and ethics is strengthened–in fact, made possible–by the location of our solar system. For the vast majority of star systems, the view of the heavens is blocked. Because our solar system resides between spiral arms in a medium-large, middle-aged spiral galaxy in one of the most sparsely populated galaxy groupings in the universe, we humans have a uniquely transparent window through which to view the rest of the cosmos.
Oden clearly grasps the significance of the universe’s designed-for-human-life characteristics. I’d like to add that in the first four months of 1998, the list of “distinct features [yet discovered] that must be fine-tuned for any kind of physical life to exist” has grown from 66 to 75 for the solar system and from 29 to 34 for the universe. The probability that natural rather than divine causes shaped a planet anywhere in the cosmos capable of supporting life has dropped form 1 chance in 10 62 to 1 chance in 10 77–though it might as well be zero until anyone demonstrates that mindless, random processes can “cause” a sufficient reversal of entropy as to freeze someone to death on a hot day.
Response to J. P. Moreland
by Hugh Ross
For reasons I do not know, J. P. Moreland ignored my paper entirely and instead critiqued my book Beyond the Cosmos . Moreland’s opening remarks reflect a misinterpretation of my enthusiasm for the powerful new scientific evidences supporting the Christian faith. From my perspective, a measure of the strength of these new evidences is that science-trained skeptics in my audiences no longer attack my science; rather, they grope for philosophical “loopholes” in my conclusions from the data. This response represents a triumph for the Christian faith and a strategic opportunity for Christian philosophers. As I state at the close of Beyond the Cosmos , my role as a scientist is primarily to pass the baton of breakthrough discoveries about the nature of the universe to philosophers and theologians. My concern, however, is that they will hesitate to pick it up, or worse yet, will refuse to acknowledge that the baton even exists.
This is no time for chauvinism. To debate the superiority of philosophy over science seems as inappropriate as debating the superiority of Romans over Hebrews. One part of God’s revelation is as true and valuable as every other part. The scientific breakthroughs I describe belong to theologians and philosophers as much as to anyone else. And everyone has reason to rejoice in the accumulation of information about the creation, hence, about the Creator.
I wrote Beyond the Cosmos for lay people. Therefore, I do not present a formal mathematical definition of dimensions in chapter two. I allude to one at the end of the book, stating that physical laws behave differently in different dimensional realms. For example, gravity obeys an inverse law in two space dimensions, an inverse square law in three space dimensions, an inverse cube law in four space dimensions, etc. Physicists have established that inverse eighth laws operated in the early history of the cosmos, indicating that ten independent dimensions (nine space and one time) must have existed. A less formal definition, presented on pages 100-102, describes dimensions as different orders of infinity. A single dimension permits a single order of infinity (¥); two dimensions, a double order infinity (¥¥); three dimensions, a triple order infinity (¥¥¥), etc. I agree with Moreland that many readers probably do not recognize these statements as definitions of dimensions and that chapter two should refer specifically to these more formal definitions. I will endeavor to make that change in the forthcoming second edition.
In Beyond the Cosmos I give four independent experimental proofs that ten-dimensional origins theory is correct. Since then, two more have been added (see Facts & Faith , v. 11, n. 3, pp. 5-6). I agree that isolated predictive capability must never be taken as proof that a theory is true, but I also assert that pervasive predictability should never be ignored.
Again, for reasons I do not understand, Moreland expresses doubt about relativity and, thus, about its implications. No scientific theory leaves less room for doubt than relativity. The preponderance of evidence is astounding. General relativity has passed every test devised: twelve separate tests ranging from the interior of the atom to the most distant galaxies, from the most tenuous gas clouds to the densest black holes. As I mentioned in my paper, experiments confirm the reliability of general relativity to better than a trillionth of a percent precision. In the words of physicist Roger Penrose, general relativity now ranks as the most rigorously tested and proven theory known to science.
This theory has nothing to do with moral relativism or desconstructionist attacks on objective reality. It asserts that matter, energy, space, and time are relative in the sense that matter can be converted to energy (or energy to matter) and space curvature into energy and matter. The former is confirmed by hydrogen bomb explosions, the latter by the geometry of the observed warping of space in the vicinity of black holes.
Shortly after the creation event, matter and energy arose out of the collapse of space curvature. However, because of the extreme entropy of the cosmos, matter and energy cannot convert back into space curvature. This fact eliminates the possibility of a rebounding or “reincarnating” universe. It supports the Christian doctrine of creation, and it argues against the creation doctrines of both new age and traditional Eastern religions. (See The Creator and the Cosmos for amplification.)
I must disagree with Moreland that movement in more than three space dimensions “suffers from conceptual difficulties.” Though such movement cannot be humanly visualized, it can be conceptualized. For example, an undergraduate math major has the tools to demonstrate that a 3-D basketball can be turned inside out, with no cuts or holes in its surface, in four independent dimensions of space. A video demonstrating this concept has been available for several decades. More to the point, Caltech physicist John Schwartz proved more than ten years ago that the symmetries demanded by both gravity and quantum mechanics cannot fit into only four space-time dimensions. In a sense, he proved the need for a divine miracle.
I agree with Moreland that since we humans are confined within the time dimension of the universe, we cannot produce an absolute definition of time. In Beyond the Cosmos I simply employ the time definition that permits all the findings of the sciences to be treated consistently, a definition familiar to laypeople, engineers, and scientists—my target audiences. As I point out in the book, this “physical” time is not the same as Augustinian time—and herein, I believe, arises unnecessary acrimony between philosophers and scientists or between them and laypeople. An absolute definition of time, however, is nonessential. A consistent definition is adequate. For example, astrophysicists have established that at a minimum, the Creator has the capacity to create a time dimension and to operate in the equivalent of two independent time dimensions, given the physical definition of time . While this finding affirms that God has the power to pay attention to six billion people simultaneously, it does not necessarily imply that God uses two time dimensions as physicists have defined them to listen to all of our prayers. God clearly has other options.
Concerning consciousness, I made clear my belief that the human mind and spirit can operate independently of the brain. As I state in Beyond the Cosmos , human minds and spirits will survive the annihilation of the entire physical universe. In fact, Moreland appeared as a guest on my television show for the very purpose of buttressing my argument that human consciousness arises from a source beyond the physical universe. Moreland took my two-dimensional computer screen people illustration too concretely.
Concerning the Trinity, I make the point that even in eleven plus dimensions we humans cannot fully describe or comprehend It. God’s personhood, personality, and essence obviously surpass what we humans typically understand by the meanings of those terms. As I state, this does not mean that there is anything wrong with the credal statements on the Trinity. It merely implies that they are based on incomplete (i.e., imperfect) understanding.
Finally, Moreland appears to have misunderstood my purpose in tackling explanations of biblical paradoxes such as divine predestination and human free choice, eternal security, evil and suffering, and heaven and hell. My concern is for the millions of secularists who reject the Christian faith thinking that these doctrines represent contradictions. Secularists (among others) see them as contradictions because they limit God to the same space-time manifold to which we living humans are confined. If we Christians invoke even the lower limit of God’s powers and capacities as demonstrated by astrophysics, we can show that these doctrines are not contradictory. I neither need nor attempt to present “the correct” solutions. My stated goal is merely to demonstrate that solutions are possible. My purpose is to set the stage for those inclined to continue the task.
Response to William Lane Craig
by Hugh Ross
Bill Craig and I are allies in ministry. We have worked together at outreach events. We have consulted each other on outreach projects. Reasons To Believe offers several of Craig’s works, and we have plans to continue working together.
Bill and I do have our differences, however; differences that I view as healthy and may help readers understand his critique of my book. Craig shuns the label of Calvinist. I do not, though I accept the paradoxical truth of free will. Craig usually ministers through debates. I avoid debates, preferring forums instead. Craig’s approach involves exposing faulty arguments and defective lines of reasoning against God. My approach emphasizes newly discovered evidences for God’s existence and for the reliability of the Bible.
Initially, I ignored Craig’s critique of my book, Beyond the Cosmos . Those who know me and have read the book carefully know that I do not hold the heretical or aberrant views Craig claims my book implies. In fact, I clearly state my “orthodox” views, rejecting those heresies and aberrations, in the book. What moves me now to comment on Craig’s critique is his public acknowledgment, in my presence, that his critique represents, in essence, a “straw man” attack. Craig sees Beyond the Cosmos as a book that could give readers the wrong idea about me and my theology. Craig seems especially alarmed that my readers might accept as true or complete the definition of time I borrow from my fellow physicists. He is convinced that this definition is incorrect and could lead people into theological error. He seems ill at ease, too, with the space-time implications of general relativity and string theory.
Concerning time’s definition, Craig says that since I “subscribe to some sort of causal theory of time,” my “definition [of time] is obviously incorrect.” Craig’s comment begs the question. Astronomy, in fact, confirms that all living humans are confined to a single dimension of time which can be neither reversed nor halted. Therefore, while God has the external perspective to define our time dimension absolutely and correctly, we humans do not. Thus, no human can boast a correct and complete definition of time. The reader may note that while Craig declares my definition incorrect, he makes no offer of a correct definition.
I refer to time as defined by the operation of cause-and-effect phenomena for a practical reason: the secularists to whom I write view time this way. Physical scientists have found this view of time the most useful for building consistent scientific interpretations. In employing this definition of time I merely attempt to speak the language of my intended audience. To make my points, I do not need a “complete and perfect” definition of time. I simply need a consistent definition, and I must use that definition consistently. For example, I can report that physics research has established the Creator’s capacity to operate in the equivalent of two independent dimensions of time, given the familiar definition of time, and yet such a claim does not imply that physics conclusion can cover all possible definitions of time. I would not anticipate any problem, however, accommodating whatever time definition Craig might choose. An equation could simply translate his definition into mine, and another could convert mine into his.
Concerning the book’s rigor, I agree with Craig that Beyond the Cosmos could have been written with considerably more rigor and more detailed precision. However, my aim was to make the book accessible to a wide audience. My review team of eight theologians, philosophers, and scientists worked with me at length to find a balance between academic rigor and comprehensibility.
I concur with Craig that the extra-dimensional discoveries of astrophysics do not reveal the “nature” of God. Perhaps Craig forgot what I told him and stated in print before the book was released: I strenuously objected to the publisher’s use of that word in the book’s subtitle. I wanted the word “capacities” in its place (for want of a better word), but I chose not to kill the entire project over one word. The purpose of my book is not to exploit ten space-time dimensions to define the nature of God. I repudiated throughout the book the notion that the God who transcendently created ten space-time dimensions could be limited to a ten-dimensional box. Rather, my purpose is to demonstrate that God has the capacity to create (or annihilate) space-time dimensions at will and to show that the ten space-time dimensions He used in creating our universe adequately establish that none of the doctrines of the Christian faith is internally or externally contradictory.
My experience in sharing my faith with scholars and laypeople convinces me that merely demonstrating how the seemingly contradictory doctrines of Scripture can be resolved opens a door through which they can begin to explore Christianity and the reality of the Gospel. Surveys teams in communities near my home found that a sizable proportion of unbelievers (approximately one in six) consider “contradictory doctrines” as tangible barriers to faith in Christ. I wrote Beyond the Cosmos to help that 15+ percent.
Unlike Craig, I assume my readers will recognize my diagrams, illustrations, and analogies as aids to understanding, not as expositions of the nature of God. Craig worries, for example, that readers will conclude from my spherical schematic of time (Figures 6.2 and 13.8, pages 57 and 151) that I promote the notion of “circular time,” belief that the universe and humanity exist in a closed circle of time. I saw no such danger, since the diagram portrays the time dimension of our universe as an open line segment. The period from the beginning of the universe (the beginning of our time dimension) to the end of the universe (the end of our time dimension) is pictured as a small arc along the equator of a possible sphere of time. In composing the diagram I assumed, of course, that the reader already would be aware of material presented in chapter 3. In that chapter I discuss the space-time theorem of general relativity, a theorem that proves our time dimension cannot be a circle. As the text accompanying the diagram points out, the diagram is merely a schematic—not an attempt to picture our time or God’s time as it really is—to demonstrate how God could foreknow and simultaneously cause events at different epochs in our time dimension. God’s “timefulness” obviously supersedes what astrophysicists have determined, but even our limited knowledge provides at least a few dozen different solutions to the paradox of divine foreknowledge and human free will. The point of the diagram was to answer the skeptic who insists that foreknowledge contradicts free will.
Craig repeatedly claims that readers will think I confine God to some kind of space-time manifold, either the north pole of a sphere of time, the surface of a sphere of time, some hyperspace geography, etc. I would say that God can certainly operate at all of these space-time positions. He can even do so simultaneously. As the Psalmist declares, He pervades all of space and time. But, none of this implies that God is restricted to any space-time continuum. Again, as I stated repeatedly in Beyond the Cosmos , astrophysics merely proves that God has the power to create space-time dimensions at will. Thus, God is free both to exploit and to operate independently of any space-time geometry we can imagine.
Most of Craig’s criticisms seem based on the assumption that my readers always will take my comments concretely rather than literally. I give them more credit. Not one of the several hundred (including dozens of theologians) who have sent me their comments on Beyond the Cosmos has ever raised concern that the book denies or distorts any of the orthodox Christian doctrines, such as the doctrine of the incarnation.
Craig responds to my statement on page 49 that “in coming to Earth as an embryo in the virgin’s womb, Christ ’emptied’ Himself. . .” as an endorsement of kenotic theology. Craig, however, overlooks four caveats in the immediate context. First, the quotation marks around emptied are mine. They tip off the reader that I do not intend the reader to interpret emptied as Jesus’ becoming “God-minus.” Second, I consistently capitalize all the pronouns that refer to Jesus. In the English language such capitalization is deemed appropriate only with reference to deity. Third, in the line previous to the quotation, I refer to Philippians 2:5-12. Various translations use such phrases as “stripped himself” (Amplified, Phillips), “made himself nothing” (NIV, NEB), “made himself of no reputation” (KJV, NKJV), “he gave it all up” (TEV), and “he gave up everything” (CEV). Obviously, Jesus in some way chose to forego His prerogatives of deity or only to exercise such prerogatives intermittently in His earthly body. Fourth, in the line immediately following the quotation, I refer the reader to my chapter on the incarnation (chapter 10), in which I amplify what I mean by His “emptying.” There, on pages 103-105, the reader finds subsections titled, “Who Exactly Is the Incarnate Christ?” and “Both God and Man.” I leave no doubt that I uphold the full deity of Jesus during His incarnation. In fact, I note examples from the gospels where Jesus on the one hand limits the expression of His divine capacities while on the other exercises His divine powers. In the pages that follow I explain the theological purposes behind Jesus’ self-limitation, a self-limitation over which He maintains complete control.
I accept Craig’s critique of how frequently I force the reader to flip forward or backward in my book for fuller explanations. In my attempt to avoid a pedantic tone and repetition, I perhaps went overboard. The book could certainly benefit from a few immediate, brief explanatory notes. I’ll try to work them into the second edition.
Millard J. Erickson
[Done without access to W. Craig’s paper]
I appreciate the opportunity of hearing and commenting on these papers. I have found each of them both interesting and helpful. I believe we have here what is referred to legally as a jurisdictional dispute. It occurs when two political entities disagree as to who has responsibility and authority over a given area, or when two labor unions disagree as to who has the right to perform a given type of work. In this case, the issue is apologetics. Which discipline, theology, philosophy, or natural science, has the right to argue for the truth of the Christian faith? As a commentator on this discussion, I feel like Solomon (1 Kings 3:16-28) who was called upon to decide to which of the two claimed mothers the child actually belonged. Similar wisdom seems to be required here, as well.
Those of us who sometimes work in one of the areas of disciplinary overlap must exercise caution when we move into doing the work of one of these others. For what seem to us to be rather profound or obvious conclusions in an area that is, strictly speaking, not our expertise, may not seem so to the specialist in that field. Frequently it has been the theologian who has done (pseudo)science. The problem may, however, lie in the opposite direction, as was the case a few years ago when a scientist who edited a symposium by several scientists on the Bible and science chose to write the chapter on the Bible himself. I am reminded of the two gentlemen, one an astronomer and the other a pastor, who found themselves seated next to one another on a flight. The astronomer was delighted: “We have many things in common, he said. We are both interested in heavenly matters. Then he added, have spent a lot of time studying religion, and I have summarized all of religion in one succinct dictum: Love your neighbor as yourself. To this the pastor responded, I have studied some astronomy myself, and have boiled down all of its truth into one brief statement as well. It is: Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are.”
My second observation is that the presentations do not all seem to be responding to one another. In part, this is true because we have three different Rosses involved here, as it were. There is the Ross of the written paper, which each of us had in hand prior to this conference. We might call this, R1. There is, however, also the Ross of the verbal presentation which we heard at the panel session. This we might term R2. Finally, we have the Ross of his other writings, most notably Beyond the Cosmos , in which he discusses the interesting concept of extradimensionality. This is R3. It appears to me that Dr. Oden has responded to R1. Dr. Moreland has chosen to focus especially upon Ross’ treatment of extradimensionality, thus responding to R3.
I have some specific observations about the comments of the two respondents. Dr. Oden has given special treatment to the practical dimensions of Dr. Ross’ views. Since theology ultimately must be practical, this contribution is of considerable value to us. It appears to me that there is no real substantive disagreement between his position and that of Ross, but also relatively little real engaging of the apologetic issues, in the sense in which Ross is doing apologetics. Dr. Moreland, by engaging the idea of extradimensionality, has raised the issue of its intelligibility, something with which I am sure all of us struggle. It would be helpful if he elaborated somewhat upon the criteria he is using in making his judgment, to assure us that the ghost of positivism does not haunt the discussion.
I would like to come back to the first point that I raised, regarding the jurisdictional dispute. Each of the disciplines here can learn from each of the others. I recently completed a study of the attributes of God, in which I found the work of philosophers of religion and philosophical theologians particularly helpful. And when we discussed the paradox of the stone in class, I found the insight of a science Ph.D. in the class helpful. He pointed out that if God could create an infinitely large stone, he could certainly lift it, because an infinitely large stone would be the only physical object in the universe, and thus would be weightless. As a theologian I greatly appreciate the raw material of the type of work Dr. Ross has done. Since God has provided us a general revelation, the work of the scientist should be of help to the theologian.
Each of the three, scientist, theologian, and philosopher, needs each of the others. When one writes in the area of one of the other specialities, it would be wise to submit one’s work to review by someone from one of those specialties. This will help prevent elementary mistakes. In doing apologetics of this type, however, we need more than simply review by one another. A genuinely team effort is needed. This is not only to prevent conflict, but also to prevent gaps. For the obverse of more than one entity or discipline claiming jurisdiction is none doing so, with the resulting lack of attention. Recently I called a sewer system contractor to repair the pump system which lifts sewage from the lower level of my cabin to the level of the septic system. He was able to replace the float switch which controlled the pump. The plug on the electrical supply line coming from the house had become shorted and burned, and I asked him to replace that as well. He replied that he was not allowed to. Apparently the only electrical work he was permitted to do was ten feet below ground. He explained that he had formerly done that type of work, but an electrician had reported him to the labor council for doing so. When the next homeowner asked him to do such a job, the plumber referred him to the electrician who had reported him, whom the customer then called. The electrician, however, refused to take the job, since it was too small to be worth his while. I replaced the plug myself! It would be regretable if some issue important to Christians were neglected because each scholar was afraid to venture outside his or her area of competence.
I learned long ago, however, that “what is everyone’s business is no one’s business.” I would suggest, therefore, that such cooperative endeavor not be left simply to chance or to ad hoc activity. Perhaps what we need is some such entity as “The Center for the Study of the Interface of Philosophy, Science, and Theology.” This would be a sort of think tank, where practicing evangelical philosophers, scientists, and theologians would sit down together and wrestle with some of the problems of common interest to them. They would talk with, rather than to or at, one another. In part, this was an aim of the Institute for Advanced Christian Studies years ago. Leadership and funding will both be needed, but the issues are important. Perhaps this panel can be the start of just such an endeavor.
Subjects: Constants of Physics, Einstein / Relativity, Extra/Trans Dimensions, General Apologetics , Laws of Physics