The month of January for me has been mostly consumed with my teaching the course "Intersections of Theology and Science" here at Calvin Theological Seminary. Hence my thoughts have been trafficking all month in the always fascinating, but sometimes complex, territory of where Bible-believing people bump up against the findings of science. Inevitably in a course such as the one I have just completed questions come up on the size and age of the universe. And in evangelical circles that topic leads to another inevitability: those who prop up the so-called "Appearance of Age" argument.
Most readers of The Twelve know this already but briefly: "Appearance of Age" is the line of thought that says God created the universe in motion and as looking already old from the moment everything sprang, fully formed, into being. Thus, astronomers like my friend Deb Haarsma would tell you that the light from a distant star that falls onto your eyeball some winter night took 2 million years to get here because the star emitting that light is so far away from us, it takes every beam of light 2 million years to traverse the distance to earth. Light travels really, really fast (something like 186,000 miles per second) but space is really vast and so it can take millions upon millions of years for some light to get here. But those who opt for the Appearance of Age argument say that the light in question hit Adam's eyeballs on the very first night. And mountains, though they look like they got pushed up through tectonic plate shifts and glaciers and such across many millennia of time, were created "old" right from the start. Everything was made in motion, already in process, already looking old (even ancient) even though they had been in existence for mere minutes after God first made them.
Of course, the only reason anyone came up with this line of thought was because they believed the Bible specifically and directly and incontrovertibly teaches a young earth and universe (on the order of thousands of years old and not millions or billions). To my mind that is itself a dubious exegetical and hermeneutical conclusion but let's let that ride. What about the very idea that God could have made things to look old even though--in terms of the sheer clock time they have actually been in existence--they really are not? Can we conceive of God's doing it that way?
Perfectly lovely Christians whom I respect believe the answer to that is yes. I disagree and here are (in very brief strokes) several reasons why.
1) Arguing this way pits God's Word against God's world. True, if you use your God-given talents to the best of your ability as a scientist, you will credibly conclude the earth is 4 billion years old (based on the age of rocks and sediments, etc) and that a certain star really is 2 million light years distant from earth. A scientist--even a Christian scientist--who does the science 100% correctly would come to these conclusions. There is nothing we can learn or observe with the very talents of investigation and reason that God gave us to tell us anything other than that the universe is ancient. But, it turns out, all of that is even so mistaken. God wants you to choose: embrace his Word and you'll reject the world, including how God created humanity to investigate that world. That just doesn't feel right to me.
2) A far more compelling factor for my rejecting the Appearance of Age argument is the fact that when we examine layers of rocks or observe what comes to us on beams of light from distant stars, quasars, and galaxies, we are not observing something static. We are reading a story. We are viewing history. We are seeing things that happened a long time ago and the order in which those events took place. It's a story. And, if Appearance of Age is true, it is all fiction. It never happened. And that, too, feels like a funny thing for God to concoct.
Saying the universe was created in motion is sort of like this: imagine you are like me, a guy who will turn 48 years of age in March of 2012. As a 48-year-old person, I have almost five decades of memories. I can remember my brother being born when I was four years old. I can remember my mother walking me to kindergarten, my family moving to a new area when I was half-way through second grade, graduating from high school, traveling to Europe for the first time, meeting my wife, and the births of my two children. This memory stream, this history of my life that appears to me in my mind, is clear and vivid and undeniable. There is nothing inside of me or in the ways I retrieve these images to tell me they are anything other than iron-clad truth. This is what has happened to me along the way. This is my story. I’ve even got pictures and videos of all those times. I have other people who were there then, too, and who confirm my memories by sharing their own.
So how would I feel if someone—based on some piece of insight they thought they had allegedly received from the Bible or some other source—told me that in reality Scott Hoezee (and everything else for that matter) had been created in motion starting at my 45th year of life in 2009? Yes, everything about me—every DNA test available, every bone scan or memory scan or any other way by which the medical establishment could determine a person’s chronological age—all of it could confirm my 48 years but . . . my actual life would be but 3 years. So what about all those memories that stream to me from 42 years ago when I started kindergarten or from 20 years ago when my first child was born? What about the pictures, the videos, the others who remember it all, too? Well, they look and sound true but strictly speaking are not. None of those things happened (not in the way the last two years’ worth of stuff happened anyway). Installing those memories (of things that never truly took place) were necessary to make Scott’s appearance of age appear authentic but all of them (all 45 years’ worth of stuff) popped into existence at the same moment Scott did a scant two years ago. The events of the last two years are as real as they appear to me. The stuff from the previous 45 years . . . not so much.
If someone told me that it was God who did this all, I would conclude that God is cruel. That sense of cruelty would only be reinforced in case it were also true that within the human sphere of things, there would be absolutely no way I could know about the falsity of all those memories because in the proper exercise of my mental faculties and in the proper use of medical technologies by which my age could be verified, there would be no earthly reason to doubt the veracity of those memories or of the full 48 years they represent.
I would feel deceived. And I just can't believe God is in the deception business, or in the business of setting up elaborate tests for his people. It doesn't wash for me but if you have another opinion, please leave a comment! I'd love to hear from you!
(Note: Parts of this appeared in a Blog a year ago on the BioLogos website as well).