Could God make an earth that only looked old?
In one sense, of course He could. God, being omnipotent, can do anything. The question is, would He? To be more specific, would He create a universe that appeared billions of years old using our current dating methods, but was really less than 10,000 years old?
Many Christians have said “No”, and this is probably the most common theological objection to young-earth creationism (as opposed to scientific objections, or hermeneutical objections that claim that YEC reads the Biblical text incorrectly). Is this objection fatal to the claim of a young earth appearing old?
There are two reasons we might think God wouldn’t create a universe with apparent age. The first is that it could be considered deceitful for Him to do so, and therefore against God’s moral character. The second is that no good purpose would be served by doing so. In this post I’ll discuss the first objection, and we’ll consider the second in a sequel soon.
This first objection is best set up as follows:
1. Divine deceit is impossible. [Assumed]
2. If God made the world with merely apparent age, then God behaved deceitfully. [Key premise]
3. Therefore, God could not have made the world with merely apparent age. [Follows from 1 and 2]
The controversial premise is 2. The philosophically tricky thing about it is figuring out what would count as divine deceit. If God knows that we will believe false things, is that enough? No. For one thing, we’d need to believe these false things because we used our faculties well; if we are negligent and get things wrong, then presumably God isn’t responsible. But could God make us such that we came to false conclusions by using our sensing and reasoning faculties correctly? Would that count as deception?
My first instinct is to think that there must be some kind of deceit involved in God creating an apparently old earth. But when I think about it further, I have difficulty telling exactly where the problem is supposed to be. After all, Newtonian mechanics enjoyed a great deal of evidential support and was believed by the brightest minds for generations, yet clearly God is not guilty of deceit for making the world appear Newtonian. But it is plausible to think that the scientists who believed Newton’s theory were using their intellectual faculties correctly. Therefore, rationally believing something false on the basis of God-given scientific evidence doesn’t imply divine deceit. This doesn’t show that premise 2 is false, but it undercuts the most prominent reason I know of for holding it.
Maybe there is some more specific reason that making an apparently old earth would count as divine deceit—it would be helpful to consider the specific reasons scientists believe the earth is old—but without that, YEC doesn’t seem to be decisively refuted by the mere fact that it entails that our best science is incorrect. Grace and peace.
Tags: age of the world, apparent age