Debate: Jason Lisle & Hugh Ross: Young Earth vs. Old Earth Creationism

Here’s a debate between two astrophysicists who have squared off a number of times in the past. Dr. Hugh Ross is an old earth creationist, while Dr. Jason Lisle is a young earth creationist. Both believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, but their interpretations are vastly different, thus, they arrive at dramatically different conclusions.

I found this debate worthwhile because both participants were respectful, prepared, thorough, and resolved some issues for me. They did go into some technical detail, but for the most part kept it simple.

One reason I was interested in this debate is because I’m an advocate of Dr. Lisle’s Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC). This model resolves the starlight and time issue many scientists object to.

Here’s a brief summary of the debate.

The physics of the ASC depend upon our reference frame. According to Einstein and his book on relativity, the speed of light is a humanly stipulated convention. Therefore, we’re free to choose the one-way speed of light. By using a synchrony convention from earth’s reference, we can get starlight here instantly; we don’t have to assume it takes a long period of time for starlight to reach earth.

Lisle explains, from light’s point of view, “every trip is instantaneous”- and “it takes no time at all to get from any distant galaxy to the earth.” Most of us, however, were taught that when we look into space, we’re looking into the past and see what stars looked like millions or billions of years ago. But according to the physics, it’s impossible to test the one-way speed of light, so we’re free to choose it. Aside from Einstein, this has been substantiated by experts such as Sarkar and Stachel, Winnie, Salmon and Jammer.

Dr. Ross objected, stating that the ASC is testable, and has been refuted by distant supernova observations. But Dr. Lisle says he dealt with that objection on his website, explaining that the ASC is angle-dependent, and his findings with the supernova are consistent with the ASC. The one-way speed of light, according to peer-reviewed literature, can’t be measured objectively without first begging the question.

Not surprisingly, Ross challenged Lisle to another debate before an audience of experts in the field of astronomy, and I was pleased that Lisle stated he would debate online in a written format after Ross had published his rebuttal in a peer reviewed article. I would enjoy that immensely.

Each went on to discuss hermeneutics- how they go about interpreting the Biblical text. Lisle explained that he adheres to the perspicuity of the Bible- meaning that the Bible is generally clear as to what it intends to communicate. He takes a grammatical, historical approach to hermeneutics, and considers the Bible to be a historical book.

Ross claims to adhere to Biblical inerrancy. Interestingly, even though he believes the universe is 13.79 billion years old, he doesn’t believe in evolution, yet considers Genesis historical and chronological. 

Ross and Lisle go into a sparring match on the meaning of the word “day” in association with the Hebrew word ‘yom’ and the correct way to interpret its meaning in Genesis. Lisle believes God created the earth and universe in six ordinary, 24-hour days, while Ross believes the text should be taken literally, and contends a long period of time for each day is a literal translation of the word “day”. According to Lisle, the Hebrew word “yom” is very tightly constrained in Genesis, and God is using the term as a light portion of a day, hence, a 24-hour day. But Ross says Hebrew has a small vocabulary size, so there are multiple literal definitions for the word “yom”.

They discussed worldviews, and how we take that worldview to the Bible and use it to interpret the text. Lisle argues for reading the Bible exegetically rather than eisegetically. In other words, the meaning of the text can be understood through context and understanding proper grammar. Lisle argues that Ross is using his old earth beliefs to arrive at the conclusion that the days in Genesis are a long period of time, even though the writer intended to convey an ordinary, 24-hour day.

Lisle refers to himself as a presuppositionalist. He presupposes that God and his word as revealed in the original Biblical manuscripts are the ultimate source of truth, and the foundation for all knowledge, understanding, logic and reasoning. He uses this approach when looking at the world and claims that the Bible is the foundation by which he has confidence in science and the scientific method. Science is not the standard by which he knows the Bible is true; when he looks at the evidence, he says we should interpret the evidence in light of God’s clear revelation in Scripture. Therefore, he argues that science has a ministerial role in interpretation rather than a magisterial role: if the Bible is silent on certain matters, then we can use science to make a guess, as long as that guess isn’t elevated to the level of Scripture. He states that it’s not acceptable to use science or man’s understanding of the evidence to override the clear teaching of Scripture.

Ross agreed we should never let science trump the Bible, but he believes God has revealed himself through two books- the book of Scripture and the book of Nature. He points out that the Bible commands us to put everything to the test (1 Thessalonians 5:21), therefore, God wants our faith to be built on testable evidence. Ross describes himself as an evidentialist, but sees value in presuppostionalism and calls it a great tool to show us what is not true. But he says evidentialism is a great tool for establishing what is true. And for proper apologetics, we need to use both tools- as well as other apologetic tools- so that people can hear the gospel multiple different ways. Ross claims we can trust the record of nature because God said we can. Nature isn’t going to deceive us because it’s impossible for God to lie.

Lisle took issue with the ‘book of Nature’ idea. While he agrees that God has revealed himself through nature, he points out that the statements made by scientists about nature are fallible, and are not on the same level as Scripture. Any scientific statement that is contrary to Scripture should be rejected. It’s the Bible that gives us the lens through which we can correctly interpret the data in nature.

Ross and Lisle discussed the age of the universe, radiometric dating, carbon 14, deep sea ice cores, magnetism, uniformitarianism, Biblical genealogies, Adam and Eve, and Noah’s flood, and other topics. Lisle believes the flood was a global event, while Ross argues it was regional.

Overall, I was pleased with the detail and substance of the debate and think both candidates did a fine job making their point. In the end, it boiled down to interpretation.

I’ve been critical of Ross and his positions, but I found him to be genuine, sincere and forthright. I still take issue with his approach to apologetics and unique interpretation of Scripture, but I have a better idea where he’s coming from. I still favor Lisle and his anisotropic synchrony convention. And I do hope a debate among experts in their field comes to fruition.

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