Things are not as they seem

Continuing the discussion from It is possible for the earth to appear old to science without it actually being old and without God being deceitful?:

God’s creation doesn’t “tell” us anything. It does not vocalize the age of the earth. It just is. So we should talk about what “science tells us,” or perhaps what other “studies of nature” tell us. Creation itself says nothing.

As Christians, we believe that our understanding of creation is fallen. We do not always clearly see the world. This should be obvious. Most of us are blind to our own mistakes and shortsightedness. We are not fundamentally logical or rational beings.

@Mike_Gantt’s analogy is helpful. Is the auto manufacturer deceptive for making a mirror labeled with “objects are closer than they appear”? Of course not, especially because their is a purpose in this distortion. One can not fault him if we came to a different conclusion by ignoring the written words.

Science, I remind you, ignores the written words. Its conclusions can be valid and correct (e.g. it looks like that car is far away through the mirror). However, things in this world are not always what they look like. I’m entirely opposed to Christians overruling science with theological concerns in the limited discourse of science. They have no right.

At the same time, the rule of science is to ignore the words. These words are also a type of evidence. They have to be taken into account when moving from “the earth looks like it is ancient” to “the earth is ancient.” Remember, as Christians, we have good reason to wonder if things are what they seem. Over and over again, we find that our view of the world is shaped by our fallen nature.

Of course, I personally affirm “the earth looks like it is ancient because it is ancient.” I came to this through both science and theology, not just science. Insisting that YECs that acknowledge the evidence for an earth are making “God deceitful” shuts down the more important question. In this case, are things as they seem or not? When we take into account the written words, how does that adjust our view?

@T_aquaticus have you read “Till We Have Faces” yet? This might help make sense of this. The synopsis on wikipedia is reasonable, Till We Have Faces - Wikipedia. But I reccomend reading the book:

It written by CS Lewis, but it is not a Christian book. It retells a Greek myth through the eyes of a pagan queen. It asks the question, “are the gods good or are they evil?” Things are not always what they seem. If it is that God exists, we should remember who judges who.

I entirely understand this is common argument made in the faith science conversation. So this is not specifically calling @Christy out.

My objection to this is emphatic and well considered. In theology, we do not think that the world is always as it seems. We are often misled in our understanding of it. Science in particular is limited. It only gives a partial view of the world.

I like how CS Lewis puts this in Is Theology Poetry?

When I accept Theology I may find difficulties, at this point or that, in harmonising it with some particular truths which are imbedded in the mythical cosmology derived from science. But I can get in, or allow for, science as a whole. Granted that Reason is prior to matter and that the light of the primal Reason illuminates finite minds, I can understand how men should come, by observation and inference, to know a lot about the universe they live in.

If, on the other hand, I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole, then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit in science. If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees. And this is to me the final test.

This is how I distinguish dreaming and waking. When I am awake I can, in some degree, account for and study my dream. The dragon that pursued me last night can be fitted into my waking world. I know that there are such things as dreams; I know that I had eaten an indigestible dinner; I know that a man of my reading might be expected to dream of dragons. But while in the nightmare I could not have fitted in my waking experience.

The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world; the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific points of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the subChristian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself.

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

It does not follow to call God “deceitful” because science cannot make complete sense of the world. One might as well call God deceitful for not giving a scientific way of proving genocide is wrong. Or call Him deceitful for being good while allowing suffering in the world. As Christian’s, we believe important things in this world are beyond our scientific reach.

Our world is not always what it seems.

Curious the thoughts of others…

@Jon_Garvey @Hans.Halvorson @TedDavis @jstump @Kathryn_Applegate @Christy @Mike_Gantt @AntoineSuarez @DennisVenema


It doesn’t seem to me that anyone is doing so. We can use reason to make many reliable assessments. In this case–assessing the age of the earth–multiple paths of reasoned judgement all point to the same conclusion. If science is wrong in this situation, it amounts to massive failures in multiple paths of reasoned inquiry. That would require more of an explanation than you seem to offer above.

In a question analogous to that originally raised by t_aquaticus, if we couldn’t trust our reason to that degree, how much could we trust it at all? I think nature does “tell us something” in that sense, and by extension, God.


Thanks. It wasn’t my argument. I was just noting that it was not inappropriate under the forum guidelines, which seemed to be what @GJDS was suggesting.

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I was just wondering, what would be the sign that God put up to warn us not to believe science when it comes to the age of the earth? Does it specify a range of dates that are good?


I’m not really comfortable with that assertion, given the repeated idea in Scripture that creation testifies to God’s glory, power, love, and authority. Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1:20 jump immediately to mind, but this is a repeated theme.

This is true, but I wonder how relevant it is when we are talking about things like doing math. If we are talking about understanding the dynamics of human relationships, the hows and whys of ethics and morality and responsibility, or who bears most guilt for a given societal injustice, I think it is very appropriate to talk about how our perspectives are limited and broken and incomplete. But I think it is less relevant when we are assessing calculations. Is there no point where we can assert that something approaching objective knowledge of true facts is possible in some areas?

Yes, things are not always as they seem, and a certain amount of inverting of “reality” is consistently part of the gospel message. (The weak are strong, the poor are rich, honor is found in shame, the first are last, etc.) But isn’t this inversion always about human structures and systems and institutions and values? It’s not like Jesus ever proclaimed that in the kingdom, 2+2=5.

Who is doing that? It seems to me, the argument goes: If we know from Scripture that the earth is 6,000-ish years old, and we know from Scripture God intentionally created the world to look the way it looks, and we know from Scripture that God is truth, and if we know from science that the earth looks like it is 4.5 billion years old, then one (or more) of those things we “know” is not true. That is not about science failing to make complete sense of the world, it is about the claimed revelation of nature and the claimed revelation of Scripture about creation and God’s character failing to unify into a coherent picture.


Of course there are questions raised whenever we we assert something in creation looks different than it is. The right way to phrase a question is as a question. Just like this…

On the other hand, making a reducto ad absurdum of another person’s point of view, as they are figuring it out, is not helpful. I hear people’s concerns, but these interpretations of another person’s point of view are not set in stone. Questions do much more to clarify. As in…

If you think God made a universe that looks old to us, but isn’t…

  1. Do you have any reasons He would do it this way? Is there any purpose in the appearance of age that He might have?
  2. How are you certain that your interpretation of what He said is correct? Why would the specific age of the earth is important?
  3. If the age of the earth is really important, why did He not leave more evidence in nature itself for it?
  4. Many people would consider this type of creator deceitful, so how do you respond to that criticism?
  5. How do you decide when you trust science and and when you don’t?

There are a wide range of answers to these questions. Some of them are reasonable. Most people have not thought through these things. Give them a chance to think instead of feeding them a strawman answer.

As you all know, I am a theistic evolutionist. I affirm an ancient earth and that life descends from common ancestors. So I am not defending my point of view in this thread. Rather, I am arguing for a principled respect of honest YECs. For me, this is part of what it means to seek peace. It is also how I turn from idolatry. The most important thing here is not that we all come to the “right” answer, but that we are honest and live as family across these divides.

From that point of view, it is worth asking the questions to all the non-YECs reading along.

What are the reasons and purposes God might have in including so many YECs in the Church right now? Yes, we think they are wrong. I get that, and I honestly think so too. Still, many are honest and thoughtful, earnestly following Jesus the best they know how. Our genuine pursuit of Him does not bring us all to the same point of view.

What is God’s purpose for those that obediently follow Him as YECs?

Without a grounded answer here, we will struggle to dignify them. This is not primarily a scientific, hermeneutic, or theological question. It is ecclesial. It is a question “of the Church.”

It does require more than I have offered here. But take my question seriously. I think the answer we offer here will begin to clarify the answer to your objection here.

In our scientific world, what might God’s purpose be for those that obediently follow Him as YECs?

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That only begs the question of what would count as being deceptive. If God created the Earth with fossils already in the ground, would that be deceptive? If God created strings of nucleotides and swirls of body oil at a crime scene that just happened to exactly match the DNA and fingerprints of an innocent suspect, would that be deceptive? Or can God do whatever God wants to do, and just by being the actions of God they can not be deceptive, by definition?

At some point, it seems like a bit of a cop out. It’s like a art forger expressing dismay that his random swirls of paint on a canvas just accidently matched a van Gogh, and then was sold as a real van Gogh painting. Surely, he wasn’t being deceptive, right? It was all just a misunderstanding. Or the counterfeiter who expresses dismay that the little pictures he made of Ben Franklin are being used as real money.

If YEC’s are correct and God did create the Earth with evidence for a history that never happened, I don’t see how it can be understood as anything other than a purposeful deception.

Then ask them how they understand it as something other than purposeful deceit. That would be a good question.

I have asked similar questions in the past, and there seems to be a tacit agreement that it would be deceitful for God to embed the creation with a false history. It is at this point that YEC’s often change tack and try to explain the evidence in terms of physical laws that changed in the past (e.g. radioactive decay) or how a global flood could produce the evidence we see. They seem to abandon the idea of age being part of the initial creation and look for solutions that would create an appearance of age after the creation week.

I think that if God created the universe not only with the appearance of age but also complete with false memories (e.g., exploding supernovae that never existed) the he was deceitful. Adam created full-grown and even (for some reason) having a belly button one thing. Adam having memories of his tenth birthday is something entirely different. (Apologies if this point was made many times or even once before; I’m brand new to the forum.)

@heddle & @Swamidass & @Christy

There is a way out of this mess, you know … I believe Christy discussed it long ago.

The Bible was inspired by God and his presence in our world… but the Bible was put down on paper by humans.

I found a blog article by Dennis Venema that might be of help. In the article he talks about the pattern of mutations in humans and other primates and how it evidences common ancestry and evolution. He also states:

“The idea that God placed these mutations (and thousands of other examples) into these species in a pattern matching what common ancestry would produce - when in fact common ancestry is false - is something that I find theologically problematic.”

Dr. Venema does not state outright that changing genomes to match the pattern produced by common ancestry would make God deceitful, but he seems to be tipping towards that end of the spectrum.

Regardless of how you say it, this implication that God made creation to be different than what it appears, is emotionally charged, and explains the sometimes strongly negative reaction EC position holders have toward YEC adherents, as it borders on blaspheming God. I really do not think the YEC community realizes that depth of feeling, as their concern is focused on their own concern that the integrity of the Bible is being challenged.
Both positions need to step into the others shoes and try to understand where they are coming from, and look for common ground, though that is easier said than done, especially if your whole worldview depends on your position being right.


I think the common ground is the ground we are talking about. One should not adopt a model for the age of the Earth that requires God to put fake evidence into the creation. Instead of challenging the Bible, one should challenge the model that a person is putting forth and be clear that their model is not the Bible itself. We should also be clear that criticism of their model is not a criticism of the person.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God put age into the rocks, as measured by modern methodologies, during the creation of the Earth. That is a YEC model. Once you point out that those rocks also contain fossils, and that their model requires God to create rocks with fossils already in them, the problems with their model should (hopefully) be obvious.

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That is not the claim. The claim is rather, God made the creation for purposes and in ways we do not fully know, but we understand it from our limited point of a view.

Now one could argue that God intended to put false evidence of common ancestry in our genomes, when this is not the way He created us. That is a claim one could make, and I agree it is “theologically problematic.” Though, if people are going to make that claim (but they don’t), let’s at least hear why they think this makes theological sense before we put words in their mouth.

HOWEVER, one does not have to infer God’s intention to place false evidence of in our genomes.

Another possibility is that God creates in a particular way, for His own reasons, that we do not fully understand. And this way of creating happens to produce evidence in our genomes that looks like what we expect from common descent. In this view, our inference of evolution is a product of (1) science does not considering God’s way of creating (but how could we?, (2) God did not including disproving common descent in His design goals for life, and (3) the way he chose to create “happens” to produce data with which we are confused. In this option, God is not deceitful. We are just confused.

This is almost a perfect description of the RTB model, where God creates life in a progression by modifying early forms of life. This model is almost crafted for the purpose of producing genetic data consistent with evolution by common descent. The only difference is that most of them (Ross and Rana) might dispute #2. However, if they didn’t, this seems like a coherent option. The bigger question then is why exactly they are convinced that Scripture says evolution is not possible.

Now I would agree with @DennisVenema that this is ad hoc and perhaps poorly motivated. But that is not my point here. I’m just saying there are valid ways of resolving this tension that do not infer divine deceit.

Which is why would not make the argument. I do not know of people arguing that “God is being deceitful.” Rather they are usually arguing that “science can get things wrong without God being deceitful.” I detect strawmen…

How could we not agree with them?

Well said.

But as I said, science can be wrong without inferring that God “placed fake evidence.”

I do not think we understand the depth of their concern.

Without a good account of the limits of science (which is what they are really asking for) it is hard to make sense of our faith. Put another way, Jesus in the Resurrection calls into question unbracketed trust in science. This is important because any argument made for evolution needs to be held up to the Resurrection as an interpretive lense.

If our arguments are not delimited in a manner consistent with confessing the Resurrection, we will be overstating the claims of science in a way that no Christian can or should. @TedDavis might add to this with a history lesson, but this is a key guiding point for Christian thought that has been neglected by TE’s in history. This neglect is to their detriment and to the detriment of the Church at large.

@Swamidass and @jpm

Gosh … what a long post, and I’m not even sure it accomplishes what you wanted it to accomplish, Dr. SJ!

The claims as I see them are as follows:

The YEC Claim:
“Since I cannot possibly adopt a figurative interpretation of the Six Days of Creation, that means Geologists are forcing me to see God as a Deceiver.”

Evolutionist Counter-Claim
“If you would simply adopt a figurative interpretation of the Creation, you would be able to accept Old Earth evidence, and God would not seem to be deceptive.”

The YEC Falls on His Sword:
“I cannot possibly accept the idea that the Bible could be so figurative. So I must completely reject the preponderance of Geological evidence in favor of Old Earth and I must have the confidence that this evidence will some day be interpreted correctly so that there is no worry about God being a deceiver.”

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My statement was clear - the bible doe not give a numerical age for the earth, so it is inappropriate to argue that God may or may not be deceitful.

Perhaps a story could make this clear. Let us argue that someone reports a crime to the police, and they claim to have seen Christy break into a house through a window 7 feet above ground, and they identify Christy because they say she is 7foot 10 inches tall. The police apprehend Christy, measure her height, and lo and behold, she is not 7 feet 10 inches tall.

In a decent society, a judge would conclude Christy was innocent, the witness was deceitful and was obstructing the law.

If instead a crime was committed and people argued it must have been done by someone more then7 feet tall, that is speculation and argument, and no-one is trying to deceive anyone else, nor making any accusation. The police may show these people that they do not have a suspect of that height, and may point out humans are not of such a height.

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I see two equally valid scenarios:

(1) The description in Genesis is a literal, historical, accurate account of creation, which took place over six days by direct divine action. It’s just that the way God created, for reasons that we do not understand, happens to make it look like the world is old and evolution is true. God is not deceptive – we’re just confused about how to do science.

(2) The description in Genesis is a literal, historical, accurate account of creation, which took place over billions of years through evolution. It’s just that the Genesis account was written in a an unknown language that, for reasons we do not understand, happens to look like an account in Hebrew of a six day creation by direct divine action. God is not deceptive – we’re just confused about how to do translation.

Is either of these scenarios logically preferable? If so, why?

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I do not hear most YEC apologists actually acknowledging the earth looks old. When they do, they don’t address the specific issues that cause EC people to claim it has a deceptive history if it is not really old.

I think Al Mohler is typical of the treatment the appearance of age gets:

[quote] Why does the universe look so old? First, the most natural understanding from Scripture on the age of the universe is this: The universe looks old because the Creator made it whole.

When He made Adam, Adam was not a fetus; Adam was a man. He had the appearance of a man, which by our understanding would have required time for Adam to get old. But not by the sovereign creative power of God. He put Adam in the garden. The garden was not merely seeds; it was a fertile, fecund, mature garden. The Genesis account clearly claims that God creates and makes things whole.

Secondly, the universe looks old because it bears testimony to the effects of sin, and thus the judgment of God seen through the catastrophe of the Flood and catastrophes innumerable thereafter. The world looks old because, as Paul says in Romans 8, it is groaning. It gives empirical evidence of the reality of sin. And even as this cosmos is the theater of God’s glory, it is more precisely the theater of God’s glory for the drama of redemption that takes place here on this planet in telling the story of the love of God. Is this compatible with the claim that the universe is 13.5 billion years old?

In our effort to be most faithful to the Scriptures and most accountable to the grand narrative of the Gospel, an understanding of creation in terms of 24-hour calendar days and a young earth entails far fewer complications, far fewer theological problems, and actually is the most straightforward and uncomplicated reading of the text as we come to understand God telling us how the universe came to be and why it matters.The universe is telling the story of the glory of God, the Ancient of Days. [/quote]

Personally, I still think an embedded false history is hard to explain away, especially if all you’ve got is an appeal to some vague concept of “mature creation” and “God’s judgment.” I think you would do better to keep insisting like AIG, that everything, rightly understood, is really evidence of a true, young history. They acknowledge the fact that admitting that the universe looks old is theologically problematic.

Welcome to the forum! I agree that false memories are problematic. So do many YECs. That is why they insist there must be another explanation and that the calculations that prove the earth is old are just based on faulty assumptions or methodology.