God doesn't make New Trees with Old Tree Rings

(George Brooks) #1

I commend the excellently written post by @Jonathan_Burke’s in touching on the sometimes non-intuitive nature of God’s creation. We are all so quick to say that God can and will create a brand new tree, equipped with hundreds of years of tree rings at its core.

But can God do such a thing? One supposes God has the wherewithal to do anything like that. But to do it would require all sorts of other inclinations and motivations that God just may not have. What if the Great Divine of the Cosmos has zero interest in creating something new that Looks Young !??

Why should God do such a thing? Why wouldn’t God just go ahead and configure all the causes he requires to create all the things he requires … without any strange tricks or deceptions? Why should God make the extraordinarily odd things that seem to be old … but have existed for only a moment?

Why would he make coal, that is full of animal and plant life, that never lived, but only looks like it lived, for humans to dig up and burn for cooking and heating? Why wouldn’t god, instead, slowly make his plans to create the coal that humans will one day need… with truth and virtue … not with fakes and fictions?

But don’t read my awkward attempts to discuss this issue, read Jonathan’s brilliant post below!

Continuing the discussion from Some disturbing challenges :confused::

(George Brooks) #2

Click on the link to see the full-sized posting by @Jonathan_Burke !

(Phil) #3

Joshua has a related article on his blog http://peacefulscience.org/100-year-old-tree/

Enjoyed reading Jonathan’s article. Thanks for bringing it up. I’ve been out in the garden this afternoon, and am reminded of the joy of planting and watching the garden grow, sometimes as hoped, sometimes not. I wonder if that is how God sees us, and sees creation. After all, the Bible says he planted the garden in Eden, so I would think he enjoyed the process.

(Hugh Farey) #4

Are we? I thought the whole point of Biologos was that we are quick to say that God can but won’t create a brand new tree.

(Jon Garvey) #5

Inasmuch as “instant trees” might relate to Young Earth Creationism, I don’t disagree, being an old earth evolutionist. But the matter here is one of reason, not bolstering our favourite position.

A problem arises (as I wrote in response to Joshua’s 100-year old tree challenge) that the reasoning “Why would God do it that way?” is not a scientific argument (because it involves both teleology and supernatural causation). So it must be a philosophical, or theological argument, or perhaps just one based on an illegitimate projection from “I would not do it that way.”

If it’s philosophical, it needs a watertight argument from logic, and I’m not sure there is one that couldn’t be overturned. If theological, it needs a theological justification, because good theology can’t simply be based on “I like to think that God would/wouldn’t…” After all, God does all kinds of things we don’t expect - that’s one argument used against design arguments: “Why should we suppose that God would design in the same way humans would?” By the same token, why should we suppose that God would make things the way that makes sense to evolutionists?

As I said, I have no reason to suppose that God has ever made instant trees that look old. However, I do read in all four gospels that he multiplied two fishes into sufficient to feed 5000 people, and repeated a similar feat for 4000 later on. Now, like trees, you can age fish by counting the rings on their scales - what would you expect to find had you sorted through the baskets of fish skin left over after the miracle? Fish without the usual rings (in which case, they weren’t real fish), or evidence of God’s “cheating” by making instant fish look several years old?

(Jon) #6

I don’t know how many times this old chestnut needs to be debunked.

(Jon Garvey) #7

Do chestnuts have rings too, then? If you would oblige me by debunking again, I might get an idea of what you’re taking about.

(George Brooks) #8


Well, that’s actually my point! When I saw “we are all so quick”… I’m actually implying the YEC’s… as well of many less zealous type of Christian…

The belief in miracles can be so profound, that a believer might think God can create a square triangle. Or cold heat. The idea of making an Earth full of “God-made coal” is really just a minor extension of the same way of thinking …

(George Brooks) #9


My point is not that God can’t make dozens of fish from two… but that he would do so by speeding up the natural process. Or by giving someone an unusually abundant catch.

The idea that God would normally enter into the business of creation by avoiding normal processes of creation seems to go against the very nature of God’s nature!

(Jon Garvey) #10


Again, it’s hard to avoid making assumptions about what God ought to do do (but more reasonable to deduce what he did, in fact, do, given the evidence). On what basis does one make those claims about God’s nature?

Do we, for example, know what “the normal processes of creation” are? Are they “big bangs”, and if so how many happen say, each year? Only if we assume that the generation we see now is a process of “creation” - when for much of church history the two have been carefully distinguished. Personally I believe in creation continua, but that draws a sharp distinction between creation as a divine act, and associated changes observed in nature.

So, since Pasteur finally debunked spontaneous generation, it’s been axiomatic that “life comes only from life” - that’s “the normal process of creation” if I take your meaning. But that leaves naturalism having to propose a non-normal process of creation for the first abiogenesis that’s presumed to have occurred.

One can postulate all kinds of scientific theories of abiogenesis, but they’re neither normal in the sense that they’re what happens now, or even in the sense that they happen from time to time. Universal common descent assumes that it only happened once, but life being completely distinct from non-life, we can’t presently explain the discontinuity, or even exclude the first cell having rings!

(Jon) #11

The idea that Christ’s miracles are analogous to YEC arguments for the legitimacy of God creating objects with a fake past.

(Jon Garvey) #12

Formally they are identical, so the applicability depends on what argument is being made. If it’s an argument about God’s character and deception, then the analogy stands: the miracle makes adult fish without a past, or mature wine without maturing time. He may, because his pruposes are his own.

One then needs to argue for why that might not be the case in other circumstances, rather than assume it.

(Christy Hemphill) #13

Are they really though? The multiplication of the fish was clearly presented in revelation as a sign and a wonder. Where in revelation are we clued in to look at a mountain or a tree and see it as a sign and a wonder?


Especially since this miracle points to the Eucharist, when Christ feeds his church.

(Jon Garvey) #15


I’d disagree because I think you’re drawing too strict an analogy between miracle and creation. There is a legitimate comparison, in that an act of creation ex nihilo, like a miracle, is a work of sovereign power beyond the usual pattern of events, but that need not make them save the same purpose.

One might compare another work of sovereign power - the regeneration of the sinful heart - with the miracle. Loosely people refer to such as “miraculous”, but its actually an act of new creation, and the result is a “new creature”, not a sign or wonder. But neither does it occur by regular means.

My point is simply that if it’s counted illegitimate (on another thread) to pretend to know how God would create “against the odds” if you’re an IDist, then one should be just as cautious about pretending to know what God would exclude from his creative “repertoire.”

We need to remember that until the 19th century, nearly every Christian believed God created Eden more or less instantly, and found no theological problem with it. I don’t know if any of them asked how many rings the trees of the garden had (maybe even the question of whether Adam had an umbilicus is apocryphal). But if they did ask, they might conclude that it would have been made with the normal number of rings so that Adam didn’t have to re-learn everything when things began to propagate. That, it seems to me, is no worse an argument than the one that God would be deceiving mankind by the appearance of age.

(George Brooks) #16


When discussing I.D. principles with an I.D. person, I usually have to adopt a stance of the old fashioned God-fearing Christian. It’s not my personal view of the Cosmos, but I find it sufficiently consistent that I think it helps trace a credible “arc” of God’s work when it comes to the Creation of Life from non-life.

Part of this view is an acceptance that there are almost inevitably events in the creation of Life that only God could do “miraculously”.

I am coming to the conclusion that this is not my personal view of things. Once I got grips on the “double slit, single photon” experiment, I have a hard time thinking that there is anything in the Cosmos that cannot happen naturally.

But there are a lot of other views out there, and I think it is incumbent upon me to accept the credibility of “the miraculous” when discussing matters with an I.D. supporter. I just remind myself of what I used to believe, and discuss it accordingly.

(Jon) #17

No they aren’t identical. Consider this.

“God deliberately creating a forest with a fake past, including fake old dirt, fake old trees with fake tree rings, fake undergrowth, fake roots, and fake animals, and giving no indication whatsoever that He had created the forest with a fake past, is identical to Jesus instantaneously creating loaves and fishes from existing loaves and fishes, in the presence of numerous witnesses who saw him create them instantaneously, with no attempt to even suggest that they had a fake past, no trail of fake evidence attempting to give the wrong impression, and the whole event recorded in a book which states explicitly that the loaves and fishes were created instantaneously and do not have a history at all”.

The same applies to the wine Jesus created at Cana. The wine was not accompanied by any evidence of having been produced through a very long process. On the contrary, it was seen to be water one second, and it was wine the next second. It did not leave behind vineyards stripped of grapes, a winepress covered in grape juice, or empty fermentation jars still smelling of fermented grape juice. It did not leave any misleading evidence whatsoever. Additionally, it was recorded in a book which tells us explicitly that the wine was created instantaneously. There is no attempt to mislead here.

The question “Why would God do that?” is entirely legitimate because it challenges the claimant to produce an explanation which is consistent with what we know about God’s character. Does God really lie? Does He really entertain Himself by attempting to fool humans with elaborate fake dioramas? The “fake history” people say “Yes He does”.

(George Brooks) #18

One might ask why did people say God did “amazing things” which were of a class of miraculous presentations that ancient “fakirs” were also known for doing?

“Spitting into dirt to heal eyes”…
“Making water disappear and wine appear”…
“Having an abundance of food appear”…

These are a category of “amazing” that were known to be performed by utter fakes as well.

If I were God, these would not be my first choice of “A” category best tricks…

(Jon Garvey) #19

Well, now we’re out of the “100 year old tree” category and into “The whole world was created last Tuesday” scenario.

Marking the ground with the reminder that I agree the appearances of age are usually those of age, the frequent use of “fake” in your description prejudges God’s motivations, and we are not God, as I think George’s reply re-emphasises.

Were I convinced, as I suppose Archbishop Ussher and the scientific intellectuals who praised the precision of his chronology were, that the evidence showed that God did create the world over one week in 4004, then I’d be likely to avoid asking the “why” question and follow Eli in saying “He is the Lord - he will do what seems right to him.” But if not, there would be many explanations possible consistent with the revealed character of God, because hardly anybody in Ussher’s world doubted that he did it that way.

What we have nowadays is an alternative, evolutionary old earth, scenario which makes more sense to us (if we’re not YECs). It’s therefore easy to say it must make more sense to God too - but, though we may talk about God’s character, we don’t know all the facts, or even God, that well.

If it’s OK to put weight on our assessment of what God ought to do in the case of trees, then it must also be OK to treat Jesus’s spitting on eyes as fiction because, we judge, it pictures Jesus as falsely imitating a fakir. We may claim knowledge of God’s ways in all areas, and that results in pretty well any spin we like.

For example, God would not fool us by making things look designed when they are not. Or the opposite (not uncommon) God would not things look undirected if they were designed. A loving God would not create carnivores, parasites, or colliding asteroids; God would not judge people because I know he’s all-forgiving; God would not knowingly let his Son die because I know he’s a loving Father; God would not do miracles because that would break his own laws; God would not allow the Babylonians to destroy his own Temple and tarnish his own Name… and any of these can be overturned in a moment when God says (as he says in revealed Scripture), “My ways are not your ways.”

My own particular version of that kind of argument, were I to lean on it more than I do, is that the whole character of God in the Bible is one of involvement with his world, guiding human decisions, governing history, caring for his people, preserving sparrows, sending or withdrawing his spirit from the wild creatutres, riding on the wings of the storm and so on. The Gospel increases that involvement by revealing the Son in whose image we are made, and who died for us, as the One by whom, through whom and for whom everything in the world was made and is sustained. On that reasoning, the idea that he would run the world via autonomous laws of nature set in stone at the Big Bang would be a non-starter.

But though that is entirely consistent with his revealed character (and more), it is not specifically revealed in Scripture, so perhaps those who say, like Leibniz, that it’s more praiseworthy for him to let the world run on its own, have a better understanding of God’s character. Whoever makes the better assessment of the inner life of God wins the argument… until God answers out of the whirlwind!

To summarise, I think that using our assessment of God’s character as evidence about empirical facts has a lousy track record, if a long pedigree.

(George Brooks) #20


I have to confess, your posting is a very well worded expression of anxiety of the limits of human comprehension of the Divine. Truly. And here and there, your words would pierce through the fog of mortal thought and I would say “ouch”.

But there is a category of miracle that you haven’t thought to include. And it is an easy omission… because we are trained by some ancient literatures to not really focus on this kind of amazing development - - and that is “Prophetic Revelations of the Natural”.

In the tradition of Pesharim, which was so near and dear to the hearts of the early Christian community, we find a text in which we see a prophecy of a virgin birth of a saviour. This verse was originally written about a more conventional mortal, about 700 years prior to the birth of Jesus. But in a Pesharim, a text has a double meaning, a double validity. The text is not only about a centuries earlier event … it is interpreted as also a true prophecy about Jesus.

I’ve never been a big fan of these double-interpretations… to me they are “miraculous statements on the cheap”. Find something that can be bent to an event in the life of Jesus and - - voila - - another miraculous prediction.

But there is a more theoretically sound “Prophetic Revelation of the Natural” which we could have received, if a book written 2 eons ago was really up to snuff for literal interpretation:

  1. What if Moses, in his purported composition of Genesis, had described the birth of a sun, the birth of a solar system, a birth of a galaxy and a birth of the Universe?

  2. What if the Bible, instead of dwelling on “falling stars” crashing to Earth (and somehow not destroying the entire world) correctly made the distinction between meteors, comets and stars?

  3. What if a prophet spoke of unlocking the “hidden fire” within a lump of coal (nuclear energy) and spoke of using it to power giant ships, whole cities, and all the civilizations of the Earth?

  4. What if a Biblical scribe wrote about the Earth stopping in its regular swing around the Sun, instead of speaking figuratively of the Sun stopping mid-sky?

  5. What if germ theory had been introduced to humanity 2000 years ago, with provable results in the reduction of disease and the correct treatment of infectious diseases? Isolation and quarantine isn’t necessarily a bad approach, but it could have been a grand slam to anticipate the words of Lister and Pasteur - - 2000 years before these men changed the world.

I haven’t made a study of what Prophecies of the realm of the Natural World could have made a tremendous difference in the unfolding of human culture and human benefit. But the miracle of true knowledge of how the Universe worked would go an awfully long way to prove the miraculous . . . instead of taking ambiguous statements and bending them to fit the modern revelations that are common to our human knowledge today.