Last time we looked at the idea that the world might appear very old but be quite young. This idea is widely cited by young-earth creationists (YECs) when dealing with scientific evidence for an old earth; but it is almost as widely criticized by their opponents. So how plausible is the idea of merely apparent age?
God doesn’t do things without reason.
I have already discussed the accusation that creating a world with merely apparent age involves divine deceit. Now let’s take a look at the second objection to merely apparent age: that God would lack good reason to make the world like that.
God doesn’t do things without reason. The reason for some kinds of apparent age might just be that the world would be either uninhabitable or very strange without it (e.g. 6-day old trees in the Garden would presumably have rings, and couldn’t feed Adam if they appeared the way trees do after only a week of life). Most of the apparent age discovered by scientists, though, such as dating through radioactive decay, isn’t like that.
I can think of three possible reasons God might make a world with merely apparent age. The first is one I have heard occasionally from YECs: that God wants to test or increase our faith by calling us to trust his Word over the testimony of science. This line of reasoning is hardly compelling. It seems implausible that God would create vast lines of misleading evidence to test our faith. And it would be surprising indeed if the Scriptural texts were designed to correct 21st century scientific inquiry. I know of no other area of theology where it has been suggested that the Bible was designed to do that kind of thing.
The second possible reason is aesthetic: perhaps the world is more beautiful if it looks like it gradually came into its present form through the same general laws by which God governs the world now, even if in fact this gradual development did not occur. Scientists and artists would be better equipped to address this question, but this line also seems to me to be pretty weak. If there is some beauty to God’s work through natural laws, then why not just make the world old to begin with?
Finally, perhaps God wanted to show us his power and mystery by surprising us, using the Bible to show us that the world isn’t the way that it seems. This seems vulnerable to objections similar to those facing the first reason. In addition, it isn’t clear that God’s power and mystery are better revealed through this kind of cosmic bait-and-switch than it would be through straightforward scientific reflection on “deep time.”
None of these possible reasons sounds very compelling. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have a good reason to make the world with merely apparent age. Consider the presence of pain and evil in the universe, especially animal pain. We don’t know with any confidence why it is that God allows this, but we trust that he has a good reason without knowing what that reason is. Similarly, there could be some good reason for merely apparent age: even if none of our ideas about God’s reason are convincing, human inability to think of a good reason is no reason doubt omniscience’s reasonableness.
All this means that the apparent age thesis, though perhaps not as strong as it might be, can’t be refuted by merely philosophical considerations. Other Christians who disagree with YEC should include careful exegesis in their arguments; objections to merely apparent age are not in themselves decisive. Grace and peace.