Can a Scientist Believe in God? While studying astronomy at the University of British Columbia, Hugh Ross asked himself that question. For two years he tested the Bible’s scientific statements with modern scientific discoveries and principles. The results were amazing, and convinced the young astrophysicist that science and faith are not contradictions. Since then, Hugh Ross has given hundreds of lectures and seminars worldwide.
Dr. Ross is president of Reasons to Believe, an institute that researches new cosmological discoveries and shows how modern astronomy points to God. Addressing a college crowd in California, Dr. Ross presents his life story of how he, as a scientist, can believe in God. Here is Dr. Hugh Ross:
It is indeed a privilege to share with you my spiritual quest. Now, I was born and raised in Canada, and the spiritual environment in Canada is different than what it is here, as you will soon discover. And really my spiritual quest begins with the story of my father.
He was born and raised in Calvary, Alberta. He was a fine student, in fact in the tenth grade he was the province’s top math student. But he dropped out of high school. His father had died of war wounds in the first world war –and there was financial stress– so he dropped out in the tenth grade. In fact he worked as a cowboy for a couple of years, on the plains of Alberta. But after he got up a little bit of money he left the province for Montreal, Quebec, where he taught himself engineering and founded a hydraulics engineering business, which did very well during the war as you can understand, and even after the war the company continued to grow.
But at the height of the success of the company, my father’s financial partner ran off with all of the financial resources of the corporation. And my father had the very unpleasant task of laying off all of his employees, and it was hardest laying off all of the engineers he had grown to love. And, with the few hundred dollars he had left, he pulled up stakes and left the province of Quebec with three very small children (I was only four years old at the time).
We went to the other side of Canada to Vancouver, British Columbia, to start life over. And since we had so little money left over –literally none– we were forced to settle in the poorest part of Vancouver. I didn’t know it was the slums, but I later found out that it was. But it wasn’t your typical slum. It was a place where refugees from all over the world were settling and starting over. And so our family fit right in. We were starting over too. And my father looks back on it on this day and he can see that it was a blessing in disguise. Here he had a lot of money in Montreal, but we were faced with an education system that was far from the best. And we moved out to Vancouver, where we had no money, but probably the best education system in the country, at least at that time.
The best from my perspective because it was an environment where the parents were very eager that their children get a quality education –and they insisted on it. I can remember, even as a small child, parent-teacher meetings in which these parents really leaned on the teachers and said, “Look, this is what we had. We lost it all, but this is what we want for our children.”
As a result, I went to a school where in the second grade, the teachers, in their own spare time, introduced all of us children to the best libraries in the city. They taught us how to get there by bus, they got us library cards, and then left us to our own resources.
There is another special blessing about growing up in Vancouver: it rains. It rains a lot. And you can’t go outside and play like you can here in southern California, at least not very often. Summer is the few days when the sun comes out. As a result, spending all day Saturday in the library was one of the few options we had. And we did that. I remember every Saturday we’d get up real early and a whole bus load of us would head off to one of the libraries.
Now, some say that scientists are born. I think I was kind of in that category. I remember asking my mother when I was seven years old,
“Mom, are the stars hot?”
She said, “Yes,”
I said, “Why are they hot?”
She said, “Go to the library.”
So I went to the library and found out why the stars are hot. And I was so fascinated with what I read that, at the age of eight, I made a decision that I was going to become an astrophysicist. And I immediately read all the physics and astronomy books in the children’s section of the library, and they gave me an adult pass.
Now, I was not unusual. There were many of my fellow pupils who were doing the same thing. Eight, nine, ten years old settling on an advanced science type career, and then pursuing that with all diligence from that point onward. Now, I remember sharing this with my father when I was eight I came home from the library and I said,
“Dad, when I grow up I want to be an astrophysicist.”
He said, “Son, do you realize how little money astronomers make?”
I said, “Yes, last year they averaged $6,050.” (That was a few years ago).
He said, “Well, if you know that, you have my blessing.”
And he was true to his word.
My father and I had an intimate relationship. He really supported me in my studies and my research, and got me involved in some amateur astronomy studying. He would build telescopes for me. In fact, my mother and my sisters even helped me make the observations on a certain class of variable stars I was studying. So I really had the support of my family.
School was a little different. They were worried that I was over-specialized. And not just me, but these other children (I had a friend who decided that he was going to be a mycologist). And the schoolteacher said, “You know, you pupils are really getting too over-specialized at too early an age, and we want to broaden your education.”
Now I thought that meant I was going to learn something about chemistry and biology and geology –that’s what I thought “broadening my education” was all about. They had a different idea –art and music– and that went over like a lead balloon. To this day I do not have a lot of skills in those areas. But they settled on the social sciences, and so I wound up getting a lot of extra-curricular projects in the social sciences.
And that really was the start of my spiritual quest. Because unlike many of you, I was raised in an environment where I didn’t know any Christians –not in my family, not at the school– in fact the first Christian that I had as a friend was when I was 27 years old. So it was really different. But I had the blessing of being raised in a moral environment. If you go back a few generations in my family there were people who believed the Bible. So there was that heritage. And both my mother and father really stressed moral education.
I remember my dad when I was six years old giving me a course on how to handle money. And in particular his emphasis was that money is not the answer to life’s problems. And by his own example, he really taught that. He took a relatively low-paying job and stayed out of business. And so by his own example and the way he lived and what he taught, I learned a lot about handling money.
And my mother (same year –six years old) she was saying, “Son, you need to know how to pick out a wife.” And I thought this was a little young, and protested a bit, saying, “I’m not quite ready for that.” She said, “Yes, when you’re 18 you’re not going to listen.” And so she taught me, starting at six years old, and kept that up for a number of years. And I praise God for her –I didn’t get married until I was 32, thanks mainly to her instruction and training. And God used her to protect me in those dangerous college years, so I had that as a blessing.
And I had as a blessing that extra-curricular studying in the social sciences. And it really didn’t bear fruit until I was 17 years old in my last year of high school. In one of these studies I was looking at the 30 Year War, and I couldn’t fathom why Protestants and Catholics would shed that much blood and waste that many resources over what were trivial doctrinal issues –at least from my perspective. I couldn’t fathom it at all. I posed a lot of very tough questions to my teacher, and he ducked them in his usual way and said, “Go to the library, here are some books you can read on comparative religions.”
So I did that, and quickly discovered that all the major religions in the world are based on holy books, so-called scriptures or writings that are from God to man. I was a skeptic. I mean, I had a belief in God to some extent, I mean, even at that time in the sixties the astronomers had already discovered that the universe begins with some kind of “Big Bang”. And that means that there’s a beginning and a beginner. But like the astronomers of that time, I agreed with them that the Beginner, that the Creator, is distant and impersonal, and that we human beings were too trivial for His consideration and thought. So, I was convinced that all these holy books were frauds –simply products of man’s imaginations about the Creator. In my youthful pride I set out to prove that, and the yardstick that I used were facts of history and the facts of nature.
So I went after these holy books and began to compare them with the established facts of nature and history. Now, my big problem was to find facts for statements, about nature and history in these books. That would take me a while. Because what I had discovered was that these books are written in an esoteric poetry by and large. Very difficult reading, kind of reminded me of reading James Joyce –four hidden levels of meaning, and you have to get all of them to figure out what the author is trying to say. And that disturbed me to some extent, because I felt, you know, that’s not the Creator that I see in science and nature. Things are simple, elegant, and beautiful as we look at the scientific record, and they’re consistent.
So I was disturbed to some extent by this, but after some searching, things began to make sense. Like in going through the Hindu Vedas I discovered that those scriptures speak about human-type civilizations on the back side of the moon. Now this was just before NASA had actually sent men there to actually check it out. But even before NASA went there to look we knew that it was an absurd hypothesis that there were cities and civilizations on the back side of the moon. No atmosphere there. But I can’t blame the Hindus of 3,000 years ago –they had no way of knowing. Neither did they have any way of knowing that the surface of the sun is hot, because that’s another place they said where there were human civilizations and cities and so forth –on the surface of the sun. Now, of course, we know that it’s a little uncomfortably warm for that kind of development.
And after picking up a couple of dozen such absurdities, scientific and historic, I was able to throw the Hindu Vedas to the side and say, “That’s a human product”. I felt secure in doing that because my experience with science is that the scientific record is totally consistent and free of contradictions. God created the natural world; therefore we see this consistency and this freedom of contradiction so I felt that if this same God was communicating to us through a written message then it must be likewise just as consistent and just as free of contradictions, and just as simple and elegant. And I didn’t find that in Hindu Vedas, so I put that aside.
Then I went through the Buddhist writings and the Qur’an, and through the different religions of the world, Baha’i, etc., seeing what they had to say. And in each case, after several hours of study, I was able to collect enough scientific misstatements and historical misstatements to convince me that this is of human origin, not of divine. I mean, even our best textbooks have human errors in them, so the searching for human errors I felt was a good way to sift out the divine from the human.
Now, I did have one contact with Christians when I was growing up. I never talked to them, but they came into our school –they were the Gideons. I remember the closing day of my sixth grade. They came in and gave each one of us one of these little New Testaments with Psalms and Proverbs. So I took it home. It stayed on the shelf for five years. After I had been through these major religions and was looking at some of the more minor religions, I took this book off the shelf.