Creationism and the Appearance of Age

By Scott Pfahler

With the development of modern science, creationists have found themselves looking for rebuttals to the claim of a 4.5 billion year-old earth. Creationists need to account for why there appears to be a geologic and fossil record of containing billions years of history if the earth and universe are actually only a few thousand years old. Most of the arguments made by creationists try to discount various dating methods used by scientists. One interesting theological argument, however, is unconcerned with dating methods. This argument simply explains that the appearance of an old earth is merely a manifestation of God's divine will. In other words, God created the earth a few thousand years ago, but created it in such a way that it appeared much older. This appearance of age theory has been used by many creationists and creates some interesting controversies among them.

Creationists use the theory of appearance of age to explain different observable phenomena in nature that are often used by scientists to support the idea of an old earth. Its usefulness to creationists is that, in their minds, it deals with all challenges to a young earth model of creation simultaneously. For example, scientists claim that the different rock strata indicate millions or billions of years of deposition and erosion. Also, there are fossil zones in the layers of rock that suggest millions of years of successive origination and extinction of species. To a creationist this can all be explained by simply stating that God created the earth a few thousand years ago with the geological and fossil record fully intact. Another issue that the appearance of age theory addresses is how the light from stars in galaxies millions of light years away can be visible if the universe is only a few thousand years old. Assuming that God created the universe with an appearance of age, then He could presumably have created it in such a way that the light from distant stars had already reached earth or was in transit.

The Garden of Eden poses other problems with the young earth model that appearance of age supposedly explains. If God created plants and animals within the same six day period as He created Adam and Eve, then He must have created the plants and animals in a fully grown state so that they could serve as a food source. In other words, according to the appearance of age theory, God must have created plants that had every appearance of having fully germinated, when in fact they had not. Also, in order to support plant and animal life the soil must be full of nutrients that normally take many years to form. Therefore God must have created the Garden of Eden with an apparent but nonexistent history in order for it to support plant and animal life.

Finally, one of the most compelling arguments for an old earth is radiometric dating. Yet, instead of being baffled by rocks showing evidence of billions of years of radioactive decay, some creationists claim that this is just another instance of creation being given the appearance of significant age. According to this theory, God could have created radioactive elements and their daughter products in ratios such that they gave the appearance that they had been decaying for an extremely long time when in fact they had not had time to decay at all. The result of all this to a creationist is that every piece of scientific evidence supporting an old earth can be explained away by saying that God simply created it to appear old. In this way, the appearance of age argument can be very useful for creationists.

Several leading creationists have published books supporting a young earth which to some degree use the appearance of age argument. The history of using this argument in support of a young earth dates back at least as far as the middle of the nineteenth century to Philip Henry Gosse. Gosse used appearance of age to respond to scientists touting the geologic and fossil record. He also published a book titled Omphalos (the Greek word for navel) after his curious theory that Adam had a navel despite never having a mother or therefore an umbilical cord. Gosse used this theory to explain how God made creation with evidence of a false history (Numbers, 1992:141). Gosse's theories regarding the appearance of age have been quite controversial, not only among scientists but also among creationists. Many creationists believe that Gosse took the appearance of age too far and have either rejected his theory or modified it to better suit their needs.

One such creationist who has modified Gosse's theories on appearance of age is John C. Whitcomb. In 1961 he and fellow creationist Henry M. Morris published the book The Genesis Flood. In this book they claimed that since God created the earth in six literal days, it was necessary for Him to create it with "an appearance of being 'old' when it was still new" (Whitcomb and Morris 1961:233). They then emphasized the theological importance of this "grown creation." Whitcomb (1972) published a more recent book discussing appearance of age titled The Early Earth. In it, he argues that belief in creation with an appearance of age is a necessary part of Christian theology for various reasons, including the miracles of Jesus. With the miracle of feeding the multitudes it should take time to grow the grain for the bread and for the fish to mature and be caught. When Jesus turned water into wine, there is an assumed time needed for the grapes to mature, be harvested, and reach fermentation. When Jesus cured blindness or healed Lazarus, the people being healed were given the appearance that they had lived lives free of their ailments, when in fact they had not. Whitcomb cites these stories in the New Testament as examples in addition to the creation story in Genesis of an apparent but counterfactual history in the Bible. Whitcomb takes issue with Gosse, however, because he believes that God did not create an appearance of age where it was not absolutely necessary, such as with Adam's navel (Whitcomb 1972:41-43).

Creationist Kurt P. Wise echoes Whitcomb's sentiments about Christ's miracles being further evidence of appearance of age in his book Faith, Form and Time. Wise furthermore argues that "if God's purpose in creating something is fulfilled by creating it with an appearance of age.then He will do it" (Wise 2002:58-60).

Despite the fact that the appearance of age is strictly a philosophical and theological argument, the RATE team (which has generally been focused on attempting to use scientific methodologies to back up the young earth model) has also weighed in on the issue. For example, in reference to certain rocks containing Polonium halos that appear to have a long geological history, the RATE team concludeed that according to Genesis it is theologically possible for these rocks to have been created with an appearance of age (Snelling 2000:440-441).

The appearance of age is certainly not without its controversy or opponents. Perhaps the most common objection to the appearance of age is the argument that it makes God a deceiver. This argument is made by old earth creationist Hugh Ross in his book A Matter of Days. Ross believes that God does not deceive mankind and that creating with an appearance of age would violate God's fundamental nature (Ross 2004:86). In other words, Ross asks proponents of appearance of age why God would do something that would lead humans to believe something that is false. Both Wise and Whitcomb address the issue of deception. They both make it clear that God is capable of creating the earth with the appearance of age, and if He wanted to do so, He would. Wise states that God is not a deceiver and that creating the earth with the appearance of age is not deception because if it was, then all of the miracles of Christ described above would also have been deceptions. Additionally, Wise claims, God gives humankind the truth about creation in the Bible, and it is up to them to have faith in His word. Wise concedes, however, that God "provides sufficient ambiguity in the creation for humans to conclude erroneously a history that never actually occurred.if they so choose" (Wise 2002:60). Whitcomb responds to claims of appearance of age being deceptive as being "an affirmation of atheism." He goes on to say:

If God actually created anything at all, even the simplest atoms, those atoms or other creations would necessarily have an appearance of some age. There could be no genuine creation of any kind, without an initial appearance of age inherent in it (Whitcomb and Morris 1961: 238).

And so, according to proponents of this theory, not only is it not deceptive for God to create with an appearance of age, but it is absolutely necessary for Him to do so.

One important aspect of the appearance of age theory, perhaps the reason for its popularity, is that it is impossible to disprove. Under this model an old earth and a young earth are indistinguishable. Appearance of age is a purely theological claim, so scientists have no way to test it or evaluate it. A problem, however, is that this theory does not actually explain much about creation, and if true, it makes attempts to learn more about the world around us futile. Appearance of age seems to a be philosophically and theologically risky argument. The question still remains why God would want to create the earth in such a way as to mislead humans into incorrectly concluding that the earth must have formed several billion years ago. It becomes very difficult to reconcile Wise's claim that "God is not a deceiver" with his concession that He created "sufficient ambiguity" to lead researchers down the wrong path. Even assuming the earth was created in six literal days and needed have at least some appearance of age, there are some things which have an appearance of age for seemingly no good reason. Examples include a large geologic and fossil record, the appearance of billions of years of radioactive decay in rocks, and the erosion of high mountains to expose the metamorphic rocks of their cores. These natural phenomena which point to an old earth have been explained by the appearance of age, but unlike full grown plants in the Garden of Eden or light from distant stars reaching earth, they are not necessary to support life. In other words, God certainly could have created earth without a large fossil record, or without an apparent history of millions of years of radioactive decay, and life in the Garden of Eden would not have been affected. If creating these phenomena with an appearance of age is not necessary for life on earth, then why did God create them that way?

Creationists argue that if God wishes to create things with an appearance of age, then He will do so. Explaining potential problems with creationism by simply saying "God created it that way" seems to be too much of an "easy way out" for creationists. It appears to be a way to bypass science altogether, avoiding all of the mess of reconciling the Bible with what can be observed. It does not incite any further curiosity to understand our surroundings, because they can all be understood by literal interpretations of the Bible. Of course this is a debasement of science. For this reason, appearance of age seems a weak philosophical argument in that it does not allow us to explain why things are they way they are, but only that they are that way. There has even been considerable reluctance on the part of creationists to embrace appearance of age, perhaps for these reasons. The fact that creationists such as those on the RATE team exist indicates that not all creationists have complete confidence in appearance of age. If so, there would be no reason to use scientific approaches such as accelerated radioactive decay to justify a young earth. If all creationists agreed on appearance of age, then there would be no reason for a RATE team because everything could simply be explained as a part of God's will. Appearance of age does still prove useful for creationists when they are unable to find any other way to question a particular scientific finding. On the surface appearance of age seems like a simple way for creationists to ignore scientific evidence of an old earth with perfect immunity.

  1. Numbers, Ronald L. 1992. The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. U of California Press, 458 p.
  2. Ross, Hugh. 2004. A Matter of Days. NavPress, 303 p.
  3. Snelling, A.A. 2000. "Radiohalos." Appears in Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth ed. By Vardiman, Snelling and Chaffin. Institute for Creation Research, 675 p.
  4. Whitcomb, John C., and Morris, Henry M. 1961. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications. P&R publishing, 518 p.
  5. Whitcomb, John C. 1972. The Early Earth. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Book House, 174 p.
  6. Wise, Kurt P. 2002. Faith Form and Time. Nashville: B&H Press, 287 p.