Did God Create the Earth to Appear Old?

In my conversations with Young Earth Creationists (YECs), I’ve heard several responses along the lines of “well, it may look old, but God just made it that way.” Some of these are best paraphrased as:

  • “Light from distant galaxies was created already in motion to us”
  • “Dinosaur bones are God’s way of testing our faith”
  • “The Grand Canyon was created all at once during the flood.”

They all actually boil down to the idea that the Earth (or universe) only appear to be old but actually aren’t. My typical response is to quote 1 Corinthians 14:33, “God is not the author of confusion.” If it appears old but isn’t, doesn’t that make God a liar?

Of course, the typical rebuttal is that “we’ve just misinterpreted the evidence.” This is the favorite tactic of organizations like Answers in Genesis. The one thing they never seem to explain is why our observations are reliable only as long as they don’t conflict with the bible. Why is it that geology is accurate, unless it disproves our preconceptions? It’s because there’s a fundamental difference between science and this sort of religion. Science derives its answers from the evidence, while YECs start with their conclusion and work backwards.

That choice of words is no accident. Backwards is the only way to describe an approach that can make no predictions, provide no testable hypothesis, put forward only unfalsifiable claims, and defies all attempts at confirmation. It is literally the reverse of any method that we can use to determine truth value in any other area.

It seems as though we’re left with a conflict:
1) Science is only reliable when it agrees with our presuppositions.
2) The bible is not literally true.

The problems with the first answer should be obvious. Science works even when it gives us answers we don’t like (such as a cancer diagnosis). There’s no reason to assume that our biases have any influence on the result of testable, repeatable, demonstrable processes–or even that they could. This is more of an issue of assuming the answer before you ask the question and denying any evidence to the contrary. In fact, this is explicitly what creation “scientists” must do to work for Answers in Genesis.

As for the second option, this is the route that the vast majority of Christians take, whether implicitly or explicitly. Very few Christians are likely to own slaves, stone adulterers, refrain from wearing poly-cotton blends, or prevent women from speaking in church (although you can certainly find examples of Christians who actually do each of these). Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of Christians accept evolution (more than 60% in the US according to Pew Research) and it has been officially recognized as compatible with Catholicism since 1950.

YECs are the minority of Christians but in some US states these vocal minorities are powerful enough to sway local politics. Many southern states still try to put creation on equal footing with evolution in classrooms. Perhaps because they know it is easier to convince children to accept authority over evidence than it would be an adult who has never been taught that the bible must be taken literally.

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