Saturday, May 30, 2009

Question: Appearance of Age

Question from Laura:
In response to your star age comment at the beginning [of your last post], do you suppose God could, if He wanted to, create "old" stars, just as he created Adam as an adult? I'm not saying he did, but it's possible when the world was created, it was created quickly but would appear older because we would think it would take such and such a time for this tree to grow this tall, when in fact God created the tree that looks 200 years old in an instant? Anyway, you probably have addressed this in your writing and I haven't seen it yet.
This is a question that comes up pretty frequently, so I thought it might be good to try and briefly address it.

Laura, what you have described here is commonly referred to as the "appearance of age" argument. Basically, this is an appeal that is made by young-earth creationists to try and account for the sizable body of data for an ancient universe. On the surface, this seems like a good idea. But when we drill down a bit, I think this argument is highly problematic for several reasons.

1. The first point that must be made is that the critical question is not what could God have done. The question is, what did He actually do? God is all-powerful. He can do whatever He wants as long as it doesn't violate His nature. So, Laura, I think we need to reframe your question with that in mind. What does the record of nature tell us about what God did?

2. No where does the Bible even hint that we need to have the Bible in order to understand and correctly interpret the general facts about the natural world. I believe this would include issues related to the age of the universe. (The Bible does say that we need to see creation through the eyes of faith to acknowledge the SOURCE of creation as being Jesus Christ, but that's not the same thing as interpreting the facts of nature itself.) If anything, it's quite the opposite. The Bible assumes that unbelievers experience the world the same way as believers and that our sense perceptions are generally reliable. (I'm not including here visual tricks or optical illusions. But even in those cases, it's easy to determine the reality of the situation upon further investigation and testing.) In fact, there are some examples where people's sense perceptions get messed up, but it's a direct result of God's intervention (e.g. Judges 7:22).

3. The Bible says (and it is generally agreed upon by Christians from virtually all traditions) that God has revealed information about Himself through nature and that this information can be understood by unbelievers. The technical term for this is General Revelation (see Psalm 19:1-3 and Rom. 1:18-20). The purpose of this revelation is to hold humanity accountable for their sins. In some sense, they know there is a Creator, but they deny Him and worship false gods instead and invent their own moral code. Here is one of my main problems with the appearance of age idea: If the universe isn't able to be reliably measured, then how can unbelievers possibly be held accountable for their unbelief?

4. The Bible says that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). Instead, Satan is the one who lies and deceives. If God cannot lie then how could His creation which is supposed to be revealing information about Himself be giving false information? To me, this would clearly violate God's character and be more consistent with Satan's character.

This is a brief summary of my theological problems with the appearance of age idea. I can't speak too authoritatively about the scientific problems, but I can assure you that if you spent about 20 minutes with an astronomer and ask him to explain to you about light travel, you'll quickly catch on to just a few of the problems involved.

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