One recent evening, Miguel Endara was on call at the Reasons to Believe apologetics hot line in Sierra Madre, California. A slim, young software engineer at Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Miguel is working on a master’s degree in apologetics at nearby Simon Greenleaf University. But the quiet and thoughtful Miguel does not live only in the world of tomes and theses; tonight he is engaged in something grittier: foxhole apologetics.

Apologetics, according to Webster, is “that branch of theology devoted to the defense of a religious faith.” Because of the vision of astronomer and hot-line founder Hugh Ross, that definition is taking on new meaning: Miguel sits in a characterless, suburban, hole-in-the-wall office, a small pile of reference books near to hand, and waits for the phone to ring.

This is no help line for those who face a surprise pregnancy or who struggle with addictions. Most people who dial its number (818/355–6058) are not undergoing a crisis at all, but are looking for help in sharing the faith with skeptics.

On his first call of the night, Miguel listened most of the time. “Yes, that sounds like a good approach,” he said softly several times during the half-hour conversation. The caller, a regular, was a teacher trying to share his faith. This time he was asking how to relate to a Buddhist student. Nobody was bleeding or thinking of suicide. To Endara and other volunteers, however, the call had no less than life-and-death implications.

Volunteers have to be ready for anything:

Were there dinosaurs on the ark?

The Mormons claim that their revelation squares with the findings of science. How can one respond?

Why did God create the universe?

Where did UFOs come from?

The volunteers who staff the apologetics hot line are not rocket scientists; one is a house painter, another a fax machine salesman. All, however, are intensely committed to evangelism; they see apologetics as an essential support to spreading the good news. They grow excited as they talk of helping other Christians to witness. As one of them put it, “It’s not Reasons to Understand, but Reasons to Believe.”

Belief And The Big Bang

The apologetics hot line started in the summer of 1990 because Hugh Ross was getting too many calls at home. People think they can ask Hugh Ross anything, and, to an astonishing degree, they are right.

Ross is an astronomer with impeccable scientific credentials. He looks like a scientist (neat oxford shirt and tie, saddle shoes, balding head with a monk’s fringe of hair, eyes set deep in folds), and he sounds like a scientist (calm as a well, with a voice like an FM radio announcer). He certainly has the vocabulary of a scientist as he speaks matter-of-factly—as though everyone uses these terms at breakfast—of the “entropy level of the universe,” or of the “fine-structure constant.” Nevertheless, he commits most of his time to people who do not know much science.

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After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Caltech, Ross had to choose between continuing his scientific research in Europe or joining the staff of his church, Sierra Madre Congregational, as the minister of evangelism. He chose the latter because he found “far more fun and fulfillment leading people to Christ than discovering quasars.” Because of his scientific background, people often asked him questions aimed at reconciling Christianity and science. These reached a climax in 1985 when Ross gave a series of lectures on developments in the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.

At the time, Ross’s senior pastor liked to categorize a person’s ministry strengths in terms of impact on close friends, acquaintances, and strangers. When the two discussed this, Ross estimated he had been instrumental in about 300 strangers coming to the Lord in the previous year, largely through the scientific apologetic he was using. “I know you think this is normal,” the pastor told Ross, “but it’s not common.”

In 1986, Ross launched Reasons to Believe, an organization that was and, for the most part, still is Hugh Ross. He spends much of his time as an itinerant speaker, addressing audiences who often have only half a clue to what he is talking about. (“I overlooked a question on antimatter,” he said politely and apologetically to a man during a recent question-and-answer session in Santa Rosa, California. “Let me deal with that and then get to your question.”)

“A Christian professor at Caltech urged me not to spend my time talking only to scientists,” he says. “Laypeople often struggle with the mind, not the will. For a very large number of Americans, apologetics is the only way you are going to get them.”

Fairly often, Ross finds, a simple explanation of science’s relation to the Bible’s account of Creation can lay to rest unbelievers’ objections, and they become Christians quite easily. By contrast, Ross is convinced that “every scientist knows there is a God. He struggles with his pride.”

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Unlike many conservative Christians, Ross has no difficulty accepting the scientific contention that the universe is billions of years old. He does not, however, believe in a universe fashioned by random chance; his lectures emphasize scientific reasons for believing that the universe was fashioned by a loving, personal God—the God of the Bible.

To a casual listener, the questions he fields after his lectures have bewildering variety—everything from Hebrew exegesis to plate tectonics. But Ross says it is very unusual to get a new question. “There are about 200 that come up again and again. Once you have developed good answers to those 200 questions, you’re okay. I share that with the hot-line volunteers. Actually, 90 percent of the questions fall into just nine subjects.”

Science As The “Glory Of God”

Ross says that research done by the Navigators organization some years ago showed that 40 percent of Americans were essentially immune to traditional evangelism because of a mindset of scientific rationalism. These are the very people Ross appeals to. Hot-line volunteer Frank Britton, a 25-year-old house painter with a B.S. in chemistry from Cal State, Fullerton, underlines this: “Most people need six months to process Hugh Ross’s material. But when they do, they find incredible opportunities for evangelism.”

Reasons to Believe volunteers find some of their most frustrating encounters with other Christians: those arguing for an Earth only a few-thousand years old. But Ross and his volunteers insist they are more fundamental in their faith than those who hold to a young Earth, because his group “insists on consistency throughout all the books of the Bible, including the sixty-seventh book—the book of Creation.”

And, says Michael Nicholson, another volunteer and a former Mormon missionary, “It’s really nice to be able to quote from [world-famous physicist] Stephen Hawking.” Much of the literature that Reasons to Believe volunteers use is from non-Christian scientists. In astrophysical and cosmological circles, the idea that the universe was formed by design has been growing steadily more acceptable.

The volunteers say they find inspiration in studying science as “the glory of God.” “It deepens your appreciation and love for the Lord,” Frank Britton says. “If he shows so much concern for the smallest detail of creation, he can certainly care for me.”

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