Young Earth Creationists often counter the multiple, independent evidences for the ancient age of the Earth (here meaning billions of years old) by appealing to the notion of “appearance of age.” Effectively, what this argues is that because God is creating by fiat, the universe may look old and even show evidences of being quite ancient, when in fact it is a recent creation. Among the evidences mustered in support of this is the notion of the creation of Adam and Eve. The first humans, it is asserted, were created as fully grown individuals and so they would appear to us to be adults, despite being created just that day.
One example of this in practice can be found in a statement from Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds:
God would have no real motive to ‘actualize’ most of cosmic history… ‘Apparent’ history in the mind of God could not be any different than ‘actual’ history… He would gain a fully functioning universe, but without the ‘waste of time’ needed to actualize the less interesting parts. (Nelson and Reynolds, 52-53, cited below)
Another significant aspect of most Young Earth Creationists’ (hereafter YECs) argument is the notion of “Flood Geology,” which argues:
…substantial amounts of water can have the same geological effect in a short period of time (even laying down rock layers) that hypothesized millions of years of slow water flow would have. (here – see also the many additional Young Earth resources on the flood at this link from Answers in Genesis)
Essentially, the argument is that there is positive evidence for a young earth when we look at the evidence rightly–through the lens of a catastrophic, global flood.
A Dilemma for Young Earth Creationists
The problem for YECs is that these two commonly held positions are in tension. Kenneth Keathley and Mark Rooker note this tension:
[A] consistent application of the mature creation argument will conclude thatthere are no evidences of a young earth. The universe has been coherently, uniformly created with the appearance of age. (Keathley and Rooker, 223, cited below, emphasis theirs)
These authors go on to note how one of the first proponents of the appearance of age argument, Philip Henry Gosse, would have considered the efforts of groups like the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis “unrealistic at best and detrimental at worst…” (223) because they are embarking on a program of trying to find what is not there. Gosse affirmed a young earth in spite of the evidence because he consistently clung to the notion of the appearance of age:
[T]he acceptance of the principles presented in this volume [that of the appearance of age and affirmation of a young earth]… would not, in the least degree, affect the study of scientific geology… [The evidences for an old earth] would be facts still… [but] the duration was projected in the mind of God, and not really existent. (Gosse, Omphalos, 369, cited below [quoted in Keathley and Rooker and independently checked by me])
The force of what Gosse is saying should not be missed, for he remained consistent in his application of the notion of appearance of age. If the young earth creationist is going to say that the evidences for an apparently ancient earth are explained by divine fiat creation–they were simply made that way because they had to be made fully formed and ready for habitation–then it is a misguided attempt to go back and try to find evidence for a young earth as well.
Consider this in more depth for a moment: if the explanation from geology for the age of the earth from rock strata and independently confirmed with radiometric dating is that these things merely appear old because God created them as such, would it not be strange to turn around and say all these strata were layered down in the last 6000 years by a catastrophic global flood? Which is it? Do the strata merely “appear” to be old when in fact they were created recently, or were they formed through a global flood? YECs can’t have it both ways.
A False Dichotomy?
It may be countered that the YEC could instead hold that some things are due to appearance of age, while others explicitly demonstrate a young earth. That is, something like the rock strata are alleged to point to a recent, catastrophic, global flood, while the light from stars that are millions of light years away can be explained by appearance of age. There are, however, two problems with this counter-argument.
First, it is effectively question begging. If this counter-argument is maintained, then any evidence which cannot allegedly be explained by recent effects can be relegated to appearance of age, for any reason. Thus, if coral reefs can be independently shown by multiple methods to be quite ancient, they can simply be explained away by “appearance of age,” but if we are only looking at something like an ice core, it is alleged that differing temperatures led to different and multiple layers of ice, thus pointing to a young earth. At this point, it is effectively impossible to falsify any portion of the young earth position, for if one were able to demonstrate that an aspect that purports to show evidence for a young earth in fact is evidence for an old earth, the YEC can simply counter that it merely “appears” to be old.
Second, it is intrinsically inconsistent. The YEC who wishes to use both appearance of age and alleged positive evidence for a young earth has an inconsistent method. They must come up with some reasonable method for sorting out the two from each other and maintaining them–often at odds with each other. After all, the one who wants to hold both of these positions must believe on one hand that much evidence demonstrates the universe is billions of old (but only appears to be so, in actuality), while also arguing that the universe has many evidences for being quite recent. God’s creation is thus turned into a chimera–showing an ancient face on one hand, while being a baby in comparison on the other.
Young Earth Creationists cannot have it both ways. They must decide which of the methods of argumentation they want to use to try to maintain a recent creation. Does the universe appear to be old, when it is in fact quite young? Or has all the evidence been misinterpreted and does it all demonstrate a young earth? These two positions cannot be maintained together without significant tension.
Do Young Earth Creationists Advocate Appearance of Age?– A demonstration that the appearance of age position is very much alive among YECs today.
What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.
Eclectic Theist– Follow my “other interests” blog for discussion of sci fi, fantasy, movies, sports, food, and much, much more.
Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds, “Young Earth Creationism” in Three Views on Creation and Evolution edited by J.P. Moreland & John Mark Reynolds (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999).
Kenneth Keathley and Mark Rooker, 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2014).
Philip Henry Gosse, Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot (now public domain and available here).
“The Flood” – Answers in Genesis – https://answersingenesis.org/the-flood/ (accessed 12/20/15).
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