Monday, October 7, 2013

The Age of the Universe and God as Deceiver

          I don’t wade into the Old Earth Creation (OEC) vs. Young Earth Creation (YEC) debate, mostly because I am not heavily involved in science nor am I involved in scientific apologetics. This post is not intended to reverse this trend. However, from time to time I notice arguments on the side of the YEC and the OEC that should be addressed, because they are either fallacious or not as powerful as the proponent thinks they are.

            The argument in question goes as follows. If YEC is true, then the universe is far younger than it appears (i.e., than the evidence from science would indicate). If this is true, then God is a deceiver (alternatively, it violates God’s omnibenevolence), since he makes something appear to be the case when it is not (alternatively, God’s omnibenevolence would not allow him to make it the case that we are deceived when using our rational faculties in science appropriately). God is not a deceiver (alternatively, God is omnibenevolent). Therefore, YEC is false.

            I think we have a clear counterexample to this primary suggestion. Consider the biblical account of Adam.[1] Suppose you, having no knowledge of the biblical record, are sent back in time to the point of the creation of Adam (whenever that may have been). You wander through the garden (which, unbeknownst to you, is actually the Garden of Eden) and find a man. “Hello,” you say. “Hello,” he replies. “My name’s Adam.”[2] By the looks of it, you figure the man to be 25 to 30 years of age. Being quite a forward fellow, you ask him, “So…how old are you?” (You never were good at “the social skills”!) Adam replies, “Oh, God made me about three days ago.”

            Who should think that therefore God is a deceiver, to let you believe, using your rational faculties appropriately, that Adam was far older than he actually was?! Surely no one would think that (nor should they). In the end, OEC may triumph over YEC, but it will be due to other arguments and considerations, not this one.

[1] Clearly what I am about to suggest only functions as a counterexample for those who believe in a literal Adam (whether OEC or YEC). But I happen to think that constitutes the vast majority of evangelical Christianity, and so the vast majority of OEC proponents as well.

[2] This is just a thought experiment; we’re simply pretending he can understand you and vice versa.


  1. Randy
    Having studied some science apologetics, and some YEC vs OEC issues, I have never heard this argument offered in favor of OEC. What I have heard is YEC advocates suggesting God created starlight in transit, which would accept a constant speed of light but account for light propagating from stars millions of light-years away reaching earth in only a few thousand years. A common response to this is that it would imply deception on God's part since this light carries "memories" of past events such as supernovae. As far as using Adam's apparent age as a counter example, while at first glance Adam would appear to us to be 25-30 but if he were examined using modern technology, one would find evidence of his actual age.
    I agree that disconnects between appearance and actual ages do not necessarily entail divine deception, but let us be careful to avoid straw men.

    1. Thanks Daniel! I contend, however, this isn't a strawman at all: you gave a specified example of the exact form of the argument (albeit, perhaps not a deductive form, so that the claim in question is actually weaker, meaning something like it counts against God). But in any case, the counterexample is meant to show that someone may be justified or warranted in holding some belief, indirectly influenced by God, that is actually incorrect. I think that holds through. Now of course, when given new evidence that contradicts the thesis, he must give up his old belief, but that is when he is no longer justified. My article doesn't attempt to deal with the justification or warrant behind the YEC thesis, just with the general principle that God would be a deceiver. To be sure, I don't claim the argument runs in favor of OEC, as if YEC is false, it's no guarantee that OEC is true. On William Lane Craig's recent podcast, a similar suggestion to the above argument in the article was made (although, to be fair, it was a passing remark). I wouldn't have claimed to notice the argument had I not, in fact, noticed the argument!

      I am growing concerned that OEC vs. YEC is becoming a "test of orthodoxy" for both sides, though that's just a feeling as of yet. On the YEC side, they make it a test of theological or biblical orthodoxy. On the OEC side, it's becoming intellectual orthodoxy (I mean these is attitudinal, not merely descriptive, ways). I can enjoy people of all stripes in this area. :)

  2. Randy
    Just to be clear, I did not mean to imply that you had set up a straw man, only that if one were to claim (which I did not think you were doing) that the OEC view is that any appearance of age would mean divine deception would be a straw man.
    I also agree that too often the discussion generates more heat than light. While I don't doubt your experience of the ugly side of OEC, personally I have seen more on the YEC side (which proves nothing,) as many cannot seem to recognize the difference between one's interpretation of a text and one's view of inerrancy.

    1. I have to agree with you. And I would definitely admit the YEC side does a lot more of the ugly stuff. I consider myself agnostic on the issue, as I haven't done the relevant scientific nor biblical hermeneutic research. I default to YEC, but that is literally only because I was raised that way. :)


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