Ron Choong PhD

My Story

I was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a third generation ethnically  Chinese Christian. Our family worshipped at Wesley Methodist Church, KL  and in my teenage years, joined the SEA Park Baptist Church in PJ. Although I was hardly an ace student, I found books to be a wonderful  retreat from the incessant tedium of rote-memory learning that was  practiced in the 1960s. I stumbled along through high school and always  just about managed to make it to the next grade by the skin of my teeth. From Sunday school, I was taught that God is the creator of  everything – I took this first article of the Apostles’ Creed seriously.  It was my bedrock and lens through which I saw the world. Nuclear physics and astronomy fascinated me when I read about  particle physics research by Enrico Fermi and the scale of the universe  that Sir James Jeans described. Both the very small and the very large  seemed unreal to my mind and yet, there they are – all created by God.  My subsequent interest in genetics and cloning led me to reflect on the  origin of life from inorganic matter and the factor that made inanimate  molecules come alive. Despite my deep and wide-ranging interests in the  natural sciences, the practical implications of a legal career was the  financially safer option.   

Education & Ministry

Following high school at the Jesuit La Salle PJ, I read  the natural  sciences, law and the humanities in London. I practiced international  law at chambers in London. In 1984, Rev Dr John Stott of All Souls Langham Place  invited me to consider a ‘ministry of the mind’, a special mission to  engage international scholars studying in the West. It took me 6 years  to think about it. In 1990, I came to New York and served as the City  Director of International Students, Inc. In 1993, All Souls Langham Place commissioned me as their Special  Envoy to the USA. “Uncle John” became my first financial supporter.   Three years later, I knew I needed to understand the Bible in their  original languages of Hebrew and Greek, so off to seminary I went,  juggling ministry in New York and theological studies at Princeton and  Yale. I ended up studying history, world religions, as well as the  philosophies of theology and science. From 1984 to 2009, I earned the BA, LLB Hons. (London), STM (Yale),  Mdiv, ThM, & PhD (Princeton) degrees and my  interdisciplinary doctoral dissertation in science and theology – Neuroscience, Nolition and Kenotic Moral Cognition –  was awarded magna cum laude. It surprised me as it did practically  anyone who knew me as a kid who did not enjoy going to school. My  current research interests include the emergence of intelligent  cognition and the implications of consciousness and memory for the moral  demands of the imago Dei.   

Apologetic Challenges

John Stott suggested two important challenges for the 21st century  apologist : (1) The advances of modern science, and (2)  Non-Christian religions. This inspired me to make this two-pronged foci of investigations the hallmark of my ministry. In 2003, I founded the Academy for Christian Thought  to conduct interdisciplinary research and teach the history and  theology of Christian beliefs in the contexts of science and  other religions. To  this end I selected paleoanthropology (human  origins) and cognitive neuroscience (brain/mind function) as the test  cases for a new doctrine of creation in my doctoral work. This involves a  study of dementia, autism and compromises to brain function for the  execution of moral judgments and volitional beliefs. The transparency of such projects (biblical archaeology, the  evolution of doctrines, human origins, the origin of life, genetics,  astronomy, particle physics, etc), led to sharp skepticism about my  orthodoxy by fellow Christian ministers who felt that denominational  obedience to historical creeds and confessions are strictly binding and  beyond scrutiny. My quest for the unencumbered truth from multiple  disciplines of inquiry led me to the difficult decision to resign my PCA  ordination in 2015. I am now liberated to continue my interdisciplinary  theological studies, independent of denominational constraints.   

Research projects: 

(1) tracing the evolution of religious doctrines of Buddhism,  Christianity and Islam along the Old Silk Road between Venice and X’ian  via Central Asia (2) exploring the implications of cognitive  neuroscience and human origins for the Christian doctrine of creation.   

Writing projects: 

(1) A Biblical Guide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art – Vol. 2, The Egyptian Gallery (2) Origin of the Bible (3) Homo Spiritualis – the Mind of the Imago Dei   

Archaeological field expeditions: 

(1) An archaeological survey of Indonesia to trace the discoveries of Homo erectus (Java Man and Solo Man) and Homo floresiensis (The Hobbits) as well as the latest insights into the Orangutans of Borneo, considered the closest living primates to humans, (2) A sociological and historical trace of inter-religious doctrines  along the Silk Road in northern India, Iran, eastern Turkey, Armenia,  Georgia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, (3) A historical and philosophical study of Buddhism during the  medieval periods of the Khmer kingdoms of modern Myanmar and Kampuchea  with specific focus on Bagan, Mandalay and Angkor.   

The Old Silk Road:

The Old Silk Road (s) form a network of trade routes between Europe  and Asia that date back to Roman times. The 13th century journeys of  Venetian/Croatian Marco Polo took 24 years and those of the 14th century  Moroccan pilgrim/explorer Ibn Battuta lasted 29 years (75,000 miles). A  third explorer was the 15th century Chinese Muslim eunuch of  Persian-Mongolian heritage, Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho or Ma He) of the  Ming Dynasty.    But hundreds of years before any of the three were born, Soleiman Siraf of Persia (modern Iran), pioneered  the Maritime Silk Road in the year 775. He navigated a sea route from  Siraf in Persia to China via the Indian Ocean, the Malabar Coast,  Malacca and Siam, the first westerner who found his way to China by sea  and became the inspiration for Sinbad the Sailor. 

8th century: Soleiman the Merchant (Persia)
13th century: Marco Polo (Venice/Croatia)
14th century: Ibn Battuta (Tangiers, Morocco)
15th century: Zheng He (Yunnan, China) & Vasco da Gama (Portugal)
16th century: Sebastian Elcano (Basque) who succeeded Ferdinand Magellan and Francis Drake (England)
17th century: James Cook (England) 

Along with goods, traders also shared stories and accounts of what  they saw, believed and expected. The most important ideas that traversed  the deserts and kingdoms were the religious convictions of the people.  The birth of religions from spiritual consciousness evolved in tandem  with the development of economic trade and social prestige as  intermarriage of communities also meant the syncretization of religions.  New ones were invented as old ones were revised or discarded  altogether. 

The concept of God, so endemic to the human brain function, was  beyond the cognitive capacity of humans to capture in word and art, so  succeeding generations re-described their gods as best they knew how  using the geohistorically-contextualized vocabulary and sciences of  their day. Indeed, from our experience with Christian scholarship and  liturgical aids from the past, it is a certainty that all our current  biblical commentaries and even Bible translations will undergo revisions  in the future, as we learn more about the God we worship.