Apparent Age

Young-Earth Theories

proposing a Mature Creation

with a false Appearance of Old Age

are worthy of serious consideration, but they
raise important theological questions because
some observed features of the universe would
not be necessary for immediate functionality,
so why would God create these features?

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

A Summary
      Theories about "apparent age" should be taken seriously, because IF everything was created recently in a 144-hour period, THEN some appearance of age would be necessary to produce immediate functionality.  But we can distinguish between essential apparent age (produced by everything that would be necessary for immediate functionality in a young universe) and nonessential apparent age (produced by anything that would not be necessary).  When we carefully examine the universe, we see many historical details that would not be necessary for immediate functioning, and that (if they're due to apparent age) never really occurred;  we should ask ourselves whether God would use nonessential historical details in his creation, and whether he might have decided to create an old universe with only true "actual history" instead of a young universe that also includes false "apparent history."
      Theories proposing Apparent Age are worthy of careful, respectful consideration.  But when all things are considered, I think a theory of Actual Age — proposing that God created an old universe from the beginning so what we see is the actual history of what really happened — is preferable;  an old universe with true actual history avoids misleading us with false apparent history, is scientifically supported, theologically satisfactory, matches our common sense intuitions about the reality of our experiences, and provides a solid foundation for science and for living by faith.

Part 1: An Overview
      Usually, theories proposing a young earth also propose a young universe in which everything is less than ten thousand years old.  But light is reaching us from distant stars, so far away that it would take billions of years for the light (after being emitted from a star) to reach us.  How can this occur if the universe is less than ten thousand years old?
      Most proponents of a young universe claim that God created the universe as a mature creation with appearance of age that makes some features (or all features) appear to be extremely old even though the actual age is young.  According to this theory of apparent age, God provided a suitable environment for the first humans by creating a universe that would be immediately functional, with mature humans (not helpless embryos or infants) and complete ecosystems, with everything that would be necessary for life.
      I agree that IF the universe was created recently, with mature humans in a functional environment at the end of a 144-hour creation period, THEN some appearance of age would be necessary.  And I think this would be possible:

      Instantaneous Mature Creation

      If God was not interested in the pre-human history of nature, He could decide to skip it, just as we "fast forward" through the boring parts of a long videotape.  How?  A central principle of theism is the belief that God continually "generates the universe and keeps it going" through sustaining power.  With a single divine thought-command, God could use His sustaining power to instantly create the smoothly functioning universe we now observe.  If this happened, what we would see at the beginning of history is analogous to a movie that begins in the middle of an action scene, without showing everything leading up to the action.

      We can distinguish between essential apparent age (produced by everything that would be necessary for immediate functionality in a young universe) and nonessential apparent age (produced by anything that would not be essential).  Different theories propose an apparent history with differing amounts of nonessential details, with an appearance of age that is minimal, total, or partial.
      Minimal Apparent Age:  In this theory, an appearance of old age is limited to features that would be necessary for immediate functionality.  { But essential features would include starlight that was created "in transit to us" instead of being released from a shining star.  Why?  Because this is God's universe, so he gets to decide what is and isn't essential for the initial functionality he wanted, and he declared (in Genesis 1:14-19) that he wanted faraway stars to be immediately visible, to help "serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years." }
      Total Apparent Age:  According to this theory, God first designed the universe and "ran a model of the universe he wanted" in a thought-experiment that was totally complete and accurate, and then he created a universe with an apparent history that was complete, with accurate data (including nonessential apparent age) about "what would have happened since the beginning" even though it never happened.  If the current theories accepted by almost all scientists are correct, God created a universe that looks exactly the same as if it had been created with a Big Bang billions of years ago.
      Partial Apparent Age:  In an in-between view, some advocates of young-earth creationism propose some nonessential apparent age but not a total apparent history.  In a common view, for example, God created an apparent history that did not include fossils — since these would imply that animals had died before humans had sinned — but did include other nonessential details about "what would have happened" in an older universe.

      Scientific Testing

      With total apparent age that produced a total apparent history, the appearance of age would be totally complete and perfectly accurate.  Therefore it would be impossible, using scientific observation and logic, to distinguish between a universe that actually is billions of years old and a universe created 6000 years ago, or 5 minutes ago, that just appears to be old.  In a young universe with "perfect antiquing" all features would have a false appearance of old age, despite their recent creation.  In this situation our only reliable source of knowledge about the actual age would be revelation from God, which (according to young-earth proponents) has been provided in Genesis 1.  With total apparent age, a young-universe creationist is free to accept (or reject) old-universe scientific conclusions, to follow the evidence wherever it leads.   { Most young-earth creationists, but not all, are also young-universe creationists. }
      With minimal apparent age, some observed features — such as basic light from faraway stars — can be "explained away" by appeals to the pseudo-history of apparent history.  But other features, such as detailed light from a supernova star, require explanation.  Minimal Apparent Age is thus more scientifically difficult for proponents of a young universe, who must challenge almost all of the old-universe conclusions that occur in many areas of historical science. 
      The foundation of scientific method is a "reality check" in which theory-based deductions (usually called predictions) are compared with observations.  This method cannot be used to test a young-universe theory that is defended by the perfect antiquing in Total Apparent Age.  But we can test a combination of apparent history (with a false observed age for everything created during the first 144 hours) and actual history (with a true observed age for all features produced after the initial 144-hour creation period).  Most young-earth creationists propose a flood geology in which a global flood, described in Genesis 7-8, produced most of the earth's fossil record.  According to almost all geologists, the theory-based deductions of flood geology do not agree with observations.  This is a scientific reason to reject young-earth theories that combine apparent age with flood geology.

      Questions about Theology

      Observations may also provide a theological reason to question theories of Apparent Age (AA) proposing that apparent history includes both essential-AA and nonessential-AA.  I agree that IF everything in the universe was created recently in a 144-hour period, then some appearances of age (the essential-AA) would be necessary to produce immediate functionality.  But when we observe our universe, some appearances of age don't seem necessary, and this nonessential-AA raises a serious theological question about the details of a false history:  If the universe is young, would an honest God create it with detailed historical evidence indicating the occurrence of events that never really occurred?
      For example, when scientists observe starlight with characteristics changing in a way which corresponds to the sequence of events during a supernova explosion, should they conclude that this supernova-event really did occur, or that it is part of an apparent history (created by God) about events that never really happened?
      In a recent mature creation, an object that is functional at the instant of its creation must show some essential apparent age.  But if the object actually had no developmental history — since it just popped into existence instantly — should we expect it to have a detailed nonessential apparent age corresponding to a developmental history that never happened?   { This question, which is relevant when we ask "why do we see the detailed sequence of light from a supernova explosion?", seems to bother Ken Ham more than Henry Morris, as explained in Part 2}   Or should we think — when we see detailed historical evidence about the history of an object — that this history really did occur, and the object really did have the developmental history we observe?
      If the universe is young, are details about supernovas essential or nonessential?  In a 144-hour creation it would be necessary, for practical reasons, to create some things (humans, ecosystems, our sun,...) in mature form so they would be immediately functional.  And immediately creating "basic starlight" would be necessary if God wanted early humans to experience the beauty of a star-filled night sky.  But there seems to be no practical reason for creating "detailed starlight" showing us the intricate details of a supernova, since these details wouldn't have any practical function for Adam and Eve in Eden.  But in our modern world, do these details have a practical scientific function?

      Pseudo-Historical Details that provide Scientific Insight
      Is there a rational reason to consider pseudo-historical details, such as supernovas that never occurred, to be essential-AA rather than nonessential-AA?  Maybe the practical function of creating nature with an elaborate apparent history, with many pseudo-historical details, is to provide accurate data about the characteristics of nature and its cause-effect relationships.  Eventually in human history this data, when analyzed by scientific methods, would let us construct reliable theories about nature, which can serve as a foundation for making rational decisions about our stewardship of nature.
      In this proposal, there are two levels of functionality:  Apparent Age that is useful could be either essential-AA that is necessary for an immediately functional universe, or detailed-AA with the complex historical details that are necessary for an eventually effective operations science, to allow the partial functioning of modern science.  Although anything that contributes to achieving the goals of God might be considered essential, there is a major difference in the level of necessity when we're comparing essential-AA (allowing the immediate functioning of a universe) with detailed-AA (allowing the eventual functioning of operations science) so I'm considering detailed-AA to be one type of nonessential-AA, and perhaps the only type.

      Pseudo-History and Historical Science
      In the definitions above, why do I refer to a "partial functioning" of modern science?  Because even though detailed-AA would allow an effective operation science (in which the goal is to construct theories about the ongoing operation of nature) it could have a confusing effect on historical science (with the goal of constructing theories about the history of nature).  For example, when scientists observe the detailed sequence of events indicating a supernova explosion, are they wrong to conclude — based on the reliable theories they have constructed from the data provided by God — that the explosion really occurred?  Or should scientists try to figure out which data shows "what really happened" and which data shows "what would have happened" but didn't really happen?  This could be very confusing.
      The situation is simple for a proponent of Total Apparent Age, because all features of the universe would have the same apparent age.  Therefore, all scientists can just do their work as usual, and those believing Total AA can decide that an event did happen if it seems to have occurred in the past 6000 years (*), but it did not happen if its apparent age is more than 6000 years.   {* Or instead of 6000 years, they might decide that the creation occurred at 10000 years, 50000 years, or... }
      But with apparent age that is partial or minimal, the situation is more complex because some features, but not others, have apparent age.  In these views, reliable scientific conclusions about actual history are impossible because it is difficult to know which evidence is a result of actual history, and which is due to apparent history.  Due to differing views of apparent age, young-earth creationists sometimes disagree about whether a particular conclusion of conventional science should be accepted or challenged.  As you'll see in Part 2, for example, Henry Morris seemed to accept the scientific validity of some old-universe conclusions based on from radiometric dating and supernova observing, and then he "explained it away" by citing apparent age, and he also (in an attempt to "cover all the bases"?) argued against the credibility of radiometric dating techniques;  but Ken Ham scientifically challenges both conclusions, even though he doesn't think historical science can be reliable so he asks, "Were you there? Did you see it?"

      Miracles and Apparent Age

      If we define a miracle as an event involving a gap in the natural cause-effect chain of history, then a miracle produces apparent age as part of a "surprise" in the sequence of natural cause-effect relationships.  For example, the first miracle of Jesus, recorded in John 2:1-11, was turning water into wine at a wedding.  The wine was recently created and thus was young, but guests would have concluded it was old, with an apparent history of grapes fermenting into wine, which requires time.  Yes, creating wine with its essential characteristics (color, flavor,...) produces essential apparent age, but this is not the same as creating wine with nonessential characteristics (like a "seal of authenticity" declaring the wine to be from a highly esteemed winery) that would be unnecessarily misleading.  It is the nonessential characteristics of apparent history, such as detailed starlight which was never produced by a nonexistent pseudo-supernova, that lead to theological questions about nonessential apparent age.

      Appropriate Humility about Divine Honesty
      Is nonessential-AA consistent with Paul's declaration (in Romans 1:20) that "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse"?  If what is "clearly seen" in "what has been made" is an old universe, and we see this because God used nonessential-AA in creating a false history leading to a false conclusion, is this a reason to ask whether the "divine nature" includes honesty, and whether God can be trusted?  Should we therefore assume that God would not use nonessential-AA in creation?
      Or should we just say "so what?" because an apparent history makes no difference in everyday life?  The Bible doesn't seem to clearly teach anything specific about the process of creation, but it clearly declares (in Romans 1, Job 37-41, Psalms 19 & 104, Revelation 4:11,...) the glory of God and his creation.  And maybe one reason for nonessential-AA would be to "provide accurate data about the characteristics of nature and its cause-effect relationships... to help us make rational decisions about our stewardship of nature."
      In an earlier version of this page, I said "if God is maximally honest, then He will create an old universe without a false appearance of age," but now I think more humility is appropriate because I "spoke of things I did not understand" (Job 42:3) and I don't really know what could and could not be involved in a "maximally honest" creation.  Instead, I'll say that "IF God wants to avoid misleading us with false history, then He will create a universe that is old, so it can actually be the age it appears to be," with IF rather than BECAUSE, since "to avoid misleading us with false [pre-creation] history" might not be a high priority for God, and the history of pre-creation doesn't matter much if God is faithful in his promises and avoids misleading us in ways that are truly important.

      My Evaluations (a brief summary)
      Here are three central claims about apparent age that seem justified: God can create a universe "from nothing" that starts in the middle of history instead of the beginning of history;  IF the universe is young, then essential-AA would be needed to make the universe immediately functional;  detailed nonessential-AA would be useful for operations science, even though Partial-AA and Minimal-AA (but not Total-AA) would be confusing for historical science.
      A theory of Minimal-AA seems theologically satisfactory;  and despite serious questions raised by the nonessential-AA in Total-AA or Partial-AA, I don't see any clear reason to think these young-earth views are theologically unsatisfactory.   { As explained in the appendix, I think old-earth views can be theologically satisfactory:  a "framework" interpretation of Genesis is preferable;  and if our theology is based only on the Bible, there is no reason to deny animal death before human sin.
      There is an abundance of scientific evidence strongly indicating that the earth and universe are billions of years old.  Of the young-universe theories, Total-AA can be the most scientifically adequate because its proponents are free to logically evaluate the evidence and decide whether or not to accept old-universe conclusions;  Minimal-AA seems least adequate because it must challenge all old-universe conclusions of conventional science in a wide variety of fields.
      I think "apparent age" theories are worthy of careful, respectful consideration.  But when all things are considered, I think an "actual age" theory — proposing that God created an old universe from the beginning so what we see is the actual history (with no apparent history) of what really happened — is preferable;  it is scientifically supported, theologically satisfactory, matches our common sense intuitions about the reality of our experiences, and provides a solid foundation for science and for living by faith.


      Summary-and-Analysis of Part 1 — This has been moved into a separate page that opens in a new window so you can see both pages at the same time, and compare their descriptions of the same topics:  Three Theories   Theological Possibilities   Scientific Adequacy   Theological Adequacy

      Apparent Age (Part 2) examines a wide range of ideas about apparent history — total, partial, and minimal — illustrated by three theories, one from 1857 (Phillip Gosse) and two from prominent modern young-earth creationists (Henry Morris and Ken Ham).  These creationists all agree that the universe was created recently, but they disagree about an important question:  Did the recent creation have an apparent history that was complete, with apparent age that was both essential and nonessential?  We'll look at various aspects of history, including starlight, Adam, uranium, and fossils.
      A variety of young-earth theories are possible and do occur, with differing answers to these questions:  Is conventional astronomical science satisfactory, because we are seeing the pseudo-history of "what would have happened" if there had been a Big Bang Beginning in an old universe, even though the universe actually is young?  Is the starlight from a supernova real or is it nonessential detailed-AA from a pseudo-historical event that never really happened?  We can ask the same question — is it real history or apparent history — about evidence for radiometric dating, and for fossils in their geological context.  All of this, and more, is explored in Apparent Age: Part 2.

If you like this page, you may also like the following related pages.

Apparent Age (Part 2) by Craig Rusbult,
with views from Gosse, Morris, and Ham

APPEARANCE OF AGE is a links-page
with views from a variety of authors

FAQ for Creation, Evolution, and Design
( Apparent Age is examined in Part 4C )

Homepage for Origins Questions

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