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When Appearances Are Deceiving

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February 3, 2011 Tags: Earth, Universe & Time

Today's entry was written by Rev. Scott Hoezee. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

When Appearances Are Deceiving

“That just doesn’t sound right.”

At one time or another, we have all had this reaction to something someone said to us. Usually what we indicate by saying this is that we sense intuitively that something is amiss in what was just communicated to us but we cannot at the moment lay our finger on just what that “something” is.

Ever since I was a kid, that was my gut reaction to those well-meaning people in my church and school who told me that despite what many in the sciences were saying, the earth and the entire universe were actually of relatively recent manufacture (say, on the order of 10,000 years of age or so). Yes, there are rocks on the earth that test out to be millions of years old but you must understand: all of those things popped into existence in one fell swoop already bearing the marks of a certain age. God created the universe in motion with the appearance of age. It looks old but it isn’t. Already on his first night in Eden, Adam was able to see stars that we can now measure to be so far away that their light would take millions of years to get here. But because God created things already in motion, that light hit Adam’s eyeballs immediately even though the universe was a scant six days old.

That never sounded right to me, but one could conceive of it. Doing such a thing would hardly be beyond an almighty God’s abilities. God could snap his fingers and create any state of being he wanted. Still, something about the whole “appearance of age” scheme nettled. After all, what God could do cannot trump what a loving and true God would do.

My “Ah-Ha” moment that confirmed my intuition that something was wrong here came a few years ago when my colleague, Deborah Haarsma, gave a guest lecture in a theology and science course I was teaching. At one point Deb said to the class that we must remember that the light that streams to us from stars and galaxies and nebulae is not just generic light—these streams of light tell a story. They represent cosmic history. All of that light is the collective memory of the cosmos. It tells us about when stars were born. It tells us about when stars matured. It tells us about when stars died (and the stages they went through en route to their deaths). Light tells a story. It tells the story of the universe.

As a preacher, I have spent years training myself to think analogically. Those of us who preach for a living (and those of us who teach for a living) know that one of our main tasks is to take complicated doctrines, theories, or concepts and try to make them plainer and easier to understand by way of analogy. We are constantly saying, “Think of this idea this way . . . “ or “I know this portion of theology sounds difficult to grasp but what if you realize that it is actually a little like this . . .”

Deb’s helpful comment that beams of light tell the universe’s story finally helped me come up with the analogy that made me hit on the “something” that was wrong with this whole scheme. Ever since then, here is what I have told people in order to convey to them what I believe is wrong with the appearance of age argument.

Saying the universe was created in motion is sort of like this: imagine you are like me, a guy who will turn 47 years of age in March of 2011. As a 47-year-old person, I have almost five decades of memories. I can remember my brother being born when I was four years old. I can remember my mother walking me to kindergarten, my family moving to a new area when I was half-way through second grade, graduating from high school, traveling to Europe for the first time, meeting my wife, and the births of my two children. This memory stream, this history of my life that appears to me in my mind, is clear and vivid and undeniable. There is nothing inside of me or in the ways I retrieve these images to tell me they are anything other than iron-clad truth. This is what has happened to me along the way. This is my story. I’ve even got pictures and videos of all those times. I have other people who were there then, too, and who confirm my memories by sharing their own.

So how would I feel if someone—based on some piece of insight they thought they had allegedly received from the Bible or some other source—told me that in reality Scott Hoezee (and everything else for that matter) had been created in motion starting at my 45th year of life in 2009? Yes, everything about me—every DNA test available, every bone scan or memory scan or any other way by which the medical establishment could determine a person’s chronological age—all of it could confirm my 47 years but . . . my actual life would be but 2 years. So what about all those memories that stream to me from 42 years ago when I started kindergarten or from 19 years ago when my first child was born? What about the pictures, the videos, the others who remember it all, too? Well, they look and sound true but strictly speaking are not. None of those things happened (not in the way the last two years’ worth of stuff happened anyway). Installing those memories (of things that never truly took place) were necessary to make Scott’s appearance of age appear authentic but all of them (all 45 years’ worth of stuff) popped into existence at the same moment Scott did a scant two years ago. The events of the last two years are as real as they appear to me. The stuff from the previous 45 years . . . not so much.

If someone told me that it was God who did this all, I would conclude that God is cruel. That sense of cruelty would only be reinforced in case it were also true that within the human sphere of things, there would be absolutely no way I could know about the falsity of all those memories because in the proper exercise of my mental faculties and in the proper use of medical technologies by which my age could be verified, there would be no earthly reason to doubt the veracity of those memories or of the full 47 years they represent.

I would feel deceived.

The history of the universe—when stars were born, when they died, and other events that come to us in the streams of light that beam toward our planet every day—may seem far less personal than the birth of my first child or my remembering when Mom took me to kindergarten. But if all that cosmic information and history are not true—and if there is no way within the normal exercise of our human abilities to measure things to know any better—then why would God build up a story of the universe’s past life in case none of it (save for the last 10,000 years) ever actually took place but was made only to look as though it took place?

I would not like God to do that to me and the story of my life as I apprehend it. But I don’t like this concept any better when it applies to life beyond myself, either. That just doesn’t sound right.

And it isn’t.


Rev. Scott E. Hoezee is an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church in North America and has served two congregations. He was the pastor of Second Christian Reformed Church in Fremont, Michigan, from 1990-1993. Then from 1993-2005 he was the Minister of Preaching and Administration at Calvin CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the spring of 2005 Scott accepted the Seminary’s offer to become the first Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching. He has also been a member of the Pastor-Theologian Program sponsored by the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey, where he was pastor-in-residence in the fall of 2000. He is a past co-editor of “Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought”. With Deborah Haarsma he is a past co-director of “The Ministry Theorem” project at Calvin College and Seminary (2009-2011). He is the author of several books, including “Remember Creation” (Eerdmans, 1998), “Proclaim the Wonder: Preaching Science on Sunday” (Baker, 2005), and most recently of “Actuality: Preaching Real Life Stories for Sermons That Matter (Abingdon, 2014). Along with Deborah Haarsma he co-edited the volume “Delight in Creation: Scientists Share Their Work with the Church” (2012).


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joe francis - #50483

February 8th 2011

Pastor Scott,

I appreciate your writing and your work.  As a YEC, I must admit that we don’t have all the answers regarding the stories in the stars.  Wish we did.  I do know that some YECs with scientific credentials are working on this problem.  My concern involves assigning motives to God and letting that drive our theology.  For YECs the death of God’s creatures is untenable and we are tempted to think this because we don’t think God is a murderer.  However, if that is my focus, is that good theology?  Should not the focus be on what scriptural actually says and implies about this event….i.e. that sin brought death into the world.  Even so, is it a natural tendency for believers to assign motives to God?  For instance, God did order the slaughter of his enemies.  For believers is our first thought that God is a murder?  Or is it, God is just and I don’t fully understand this justice.  When I was taught about Adam and Eve, I don’t ever recall thinking that God was a deceiver because He made an adult Adam and Eve.  So what I am trying to say is that I think your argument is swayed by your presuppositions that the earth is old.


joe francis - #50484

February 8th 2011

If it is young I don’t think or see God as deceptive….I do see a tough problem to solve and I must consider the fact that I might never understand it fully because does not scripture tell us that we will not understand all God’s ways? But that should not be a show stopper either in regards to doing science.  Because perhaps we are also missing the larger more important point here, as implied in Roman’s 1.  What we can know for sure, is that the vastness of the universe displays the power of God, and that makes me want to study this creation even more..


Ronnie - #50601

February 9th 2011

YECs don’t treat Genesis as a science textbook, it is a book of history. Science is used to study this history in the same way an evolutionist, or an old earth creationist uses science to support and/or defend their view of history.

Simply put, do we put our faith in God and let Him guide our understanding of science? Or do we let science guide our understanding of God?


Nicholas - #50624

February 9th 2011

Joe Francis and Ronnie,

As a Young Earth Creationist myself, ... are you actually addressing the problems and concerns addressed in this article? For instance:

The suggestion that death and suffering occurred before the original creation, opposite how Genesis 1 & 2 present it, is a major problem we have, on the biblical and theological side of the issue (apart from our arguments on the scientific side against biological evolution), but that was not the real problem posed in this article. This article confronts one of the biggest problems that must be answered by us, ... and I’m glad to say that, if you look at the references I gave above, many plausible answers have been put forth. The appearances of the heavens are not deceiving, while the earth is (gasp!) still young.

Peace


Mike - #50636

February 9th 2011

Nicholas,

If your references put forth such “plausible answers,” why are they so unconvincing to people who actually understand the science?

See Astronomers Assess the Age of the Universe


Mithaokhta - #50656

February 9th 2011

Neither the stars nor the earth record anything resembling history.  In fact, persons record histories and persons engage in the astronomical, archeological, anthropological and sociological enterprises which yield what one usually refers to as history.  Human beings do research.  The earth does not form theories or historical thesis and the stars do not publish material for review by other stars.  There cannot be histories without comparison between historical theories; this does not occur except in human discourse.  This is what philosophers call the anthropocentric predicament, and it confronts all theologians and metaphysicians who present analogical arguments like the one above.

To unduly reify the stars such as to describe them as things which can record histories is to confound the issue with frivolous superstition about the relationships between known things.


Nicholas - #50666

February 9th 2011

“why are they so unconvincing”

I guess you’ll have to make your own mind up Mike. Although we are incredibly outnumbered, we have qualified scientists involved in this matter, particularly the two I referenced ... they clearly “actually understand the science.” Russell Humphreys cv: http://creation.com/d-russell-humphreys-cv John ,Hartnett: http://creation.com/dr-john-hartnett-cv.

“Astronomers Assess the Age of the Universe” - Maybe you missed it when I said that a key to our model is that there can no longer be a single “age of the cosmos” if the cosmological principle is not true? As far as the panel’s statement (per your ref), I’m not so interested in the statement of a stacked panel (from what I know, every one of them was already a BB adherent), unless they had new information to bear (they didn’t).

Lastly, I presume you are with Reasons to Believe (per your ref). Mainstream science gives them no credit either bec they invoke special creation events for life. So maybe you can answer your own question: “[why is RtB] so unconvincing to people who actually understand the science”.

Peace


GodsOwnDNA - #50846

February 11th 2011

You say, “What obliges Him to inform us everytime He does something in the natural world that involves the suspension of His own laws? “.

Let me turn that question back at you. What obliges God to inform us everytime he does something in the natural world that does not involve the suspension of His laws? To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, the God who turned water into wine at Cana is worthy of worship, as is the God who turns the water into wine everyday when fermentation occurs.


nedbrek - #50856

February 11th 2011

GodsOwnDNA, I’m not sure I understand your question.  Creation through evolution is not at all the same as young age creation…


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