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No. 45: Creation With the Appearance of Age

OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 45
Copyright (c) 1999 Biblical Horizons
April, 1999

Suppose that the theistic evolutionists are right, and that the Big Bang Hypothesis is correct. In that case, God originally created a Primeval Atom, which then exploded and congealed to form the present universe. Now, if you had arrived on the scene one quintillionth of a second after God created the Primeval Atom, just before it burst, could you tell how old it was? You might well say that it was infinitely old. You see, the Primeval Atom would have had the "appearance of age," even though it had just been created.

Well, it might have an "appearance of age." It all depends on what you expect when you look at it. Do you assume when you look at a piece of quartz that it has been around for a long time? Yes. Do you assume when you look at a wide-screen television set in an electronics specialty shop that it has been around for a long time? No. Why? Because you know in advance that such a device has only recently begun to be marketed.

So then, whether you think something has an appearance of age has to do with your assumptions, your presuppositions. When the servants at the wedding feast of Cana served the wine that Jesus created from water, they assumed that it had been made from harvested grapes. Surely the dregs in the bottom of the jars "proved" that this wine had been made from grapes, for there was the grape residue, plain for everyone to see. But they were wrong.

If we could go back to the moment of creation, with our present background knowledge and assumptions, we would think that the newly-created universe was old. There would be things about it that would make it look old to us. But the only reason this would be true for us it that when we look at the same kinds of things today (solitary atoms, for instance), we know that they are in fact old. The object itself cannot tell us its age.

Once we understand this, the creation of the world and of the garden of Eden with an appearance of age ceases to be problematic. If we accept what the Bible says about cosmic chronology, the entire universe was made by God around 4000 bc. Many things were made whole instantly by God, such as grown plants, grown animals, and grown human beings. Conservative Christians are used to thinking about God’s creating fully-grown living things. We call this the doctrine of mature creation. Since we’ve gotten used to that idea, it does not seem strange to us.

There are, however, some other aspects of a mature creation that conservative Christians usually don’t think about. And the reason these questions tend to be avoided is that, in spite of ourselves, we continue to think like modern people. If someone says that God planted dinosaur bones in the earth when He created it, we think that is ridiculous or extreme. A fully grown Adam, yes; but dinosaur bones? Surely not!

It’s not quite that easy, however, and the pur-pose of this essay is to force our noses into some things we’d rather not have to think about. Only when we think about uncomfortable things can we grow and mature in our thinking. So, if you don’t want to have to think such uncomfortable thoughts, you’d better stop reading now.

Did Adam have a navel? Well, if he was a full and complete man, we should assume that he did; yet his tied-off umbilical cord would have been a mystery to him until the birth of Cain. Examining Cain’s navel, Adam would have to have reasoned that God gave him his own navel at his creation so that he looked like a grown man, having an appearance of age, but that in fact his own navel was not an evidence that he had had a human mother.

Similarly: Did the trees made on the third day, and the ones planted in the Garden, have rings? Well, if they were true trees, they did. Yet those rings were simply put there by God. Those particular rings did not indicate any previous development on the part of the trees, any more than the grape molecules in Jesus’ wine indicated any previous development. Or if they did indicate sta-ges of development, those stages happened very rapidly, over only a few minutes or hours.

So far so good, but what about dead stuff? Did the soil have decaying organic matter in it? Well, if it was real soil, the kind that plants can grow in, it must have had. Yet the decaying matter in that original soil was simply put there by God. Soil is a living thing, and it lives through decaying matter. When Adam dug into the ground, he found pieces of dead vegetation.

This brings us to the question of "fossils" and "fossil fuels," like oil and coal. Mature creationists have no problem believing that God created birds and fish and animals and plants as living things, but we often quail at the thought that God also created "dead" birds and fish and animals and plants in the ground. But as we have just seen, there is every reason to believe that God created decaying organic matter in the soil. If this point is granted, and I don’t see how it can be gainsaid, then in principle there is no problem with God’s having put fossils in the ground as well. Such fossils are, in principle, no more deceptive on God’s part than anything else created with the appearance of age.

Am I saying that I think God put fossil bones of dinosaurs in the ground when He made the living dinosaurs on the fifth day and sixth days? No, I am not. But I am saying that in principle there is no reason to reject such a notion out of hand.

Now, there are those who argue that the vast oil, coal, and limestone deposits in the ground cannot all have come from animals, plants, and shellfish that lived before the great flood. If this is true — and I don’t know enough about it to have an opinion — it is not problematic. It just means that God invested the ground with these things when He made it, as resources for humanity to use later on, the same way He placed gold and iron in the ground.

When I took astronomy in college (long ago), we were taught that heavy elements (beyond hydrogen and helium), such as gold and iron, could only be generated by a supernova, an exploding star. Exploding stars had produced all the elements from lithium to uranium. I don’t know if this is still the position of physicists, but if it is, then when God made the ground out of these heavy elements, the ground itself had an appearance of age. Thus, the gold and iron in the ground is no different in principle from oil, coal, and limestone in the ground.

There is no reason for Christians to deny that all such things have an appearance of age. As with everything else God created, the ground and its features are designed as ways for us to learn. If Jesus does not end history for another million years, and humanity winds up living among the stars, then we shall have opportunities to watch these implied processes at work. Adam watched little plants grow up to become trees, and then he understood what the rings in the original trees meant. He watched Cain grow up to become a fully grown man, and then he understood what his own creation as a fully grown man meant. Humanity may eventually watch supernovae produce heavy elements, animals decay to form oil, and shellfish compress to become limestone, and similarly learn what the original creation implied. It is only that the span of time is longer for these kinds of things to develop.

Thus, we learn that what God did instantaneously in the beginning, He continues to do gradually and developmentally in the course of history, with human beings as His co-workers. God’s Spirit, the eternally active Motion of God, acted with Divine velocity during creation week. Then the Spirit entered human beings, and now He works in the creation at the tempo of human life; not just at the tempo of individual human lives, but also at the tempo of the whole course of human history until the Final Day. The creation of the world with a full "appearance of age" takes nothing away from science; rather, it provides the foundation for science. Science is studying ongoing processes that unfold what God initially did in six days.

In conclusion, I am not saying that God planted coal, oil, shellfish limestone, or animal bones in the ground. I don’t know, and am inclined to think these things (especially the bones) were all produced by the great flood. But if He did, we can see that it is not problematic for our faith, and we can also see a reason why He did.

(I am indebted the Revs. Mark Horne and Jeffrey Meyers for some of the arguments presented in this essay. I claim the credit for all infelicities, however.)