I recently joined a Facebook group that explores evidences for creationism. The group is composed of members with many different views on creationism, but the two most vocal are Young Earth Creationism (YEC) and Old Earth Creationism (OEC).
The debates that take place are often acrimonious and based upon simplistic understandings of science and theology. In one such thread there was a discussion of God’s creative acts which, to put it simply, states that because God does miracles that are instant (healing the deaf, blind, and lame), then the creation of the universe was also instant or did not take a long period of time, as in millions or billions of years. Advocates of this view associate the miracles in the Old and New Testaments with God’s creative acts in Genesis 1, to make the case that God didn’t create over millions or billions of years. The creation of the universe is therefore deemed a miracle because it happened quickly. It could not be a miracle if it took millions of years. YEC advocates generally agree that creation has the appearance of age, but is actually young—in the 6,000 to 10,000 year range. OEC advocates say that the universe is ancient and looks old for no other reason than it really is old.
I’d like to challenge the YEC understanding, I hope in a thoughtful way. I am not a scientist, so I cannot comment on this scientifically beyond a few general statements. But as an armchair theologian I’d like to give this a shot.
Appearance of Age vs. Actual Age
I agree with OEC advocates who say the earth appears old because it is old. In all of my reading on this topic I’ve never yet come across any scientific data that has empirically discovered evidence for the subatomic particles of which all things are made, being young. There doesn’t seem to be any repeatable test that reveals the subatomic being young. However, I think the idea of appearance of age is a subjective determination. We look at something and determine it is old based upon how it looks to us. Appearance of age is not an objective determination. You can look at a tree and say it looks old or young, but how do you know unless you know its history or test its structure? The Grand Canyon looks old. The YEC advocate would say it is young. But unless you do testing on its minerals and history your view is subjective.
Consider: how old is the water in your glass? Does water look young or old? How about coffee in your cup? How old does it look? How about a handful of dirt? Does it appear young or old? Of course the only way to determine its age is to test its molecules to discover the answer. The Bible does not directly tell us how old these things are, whether water or dirt or rocks or stars and planets. You won’t find a scripture that gives the age of these things, you are therefore free to determine their age through appropriate scientific testing. In fact, every scientific test we have ever conceived tells us the earth is ancient in the extreme.
Is Creation A Miracle?
The simplistic approach by some in the YEC camp is to classify all God does as miraculous. He is God, he is powerful, everything he does is therefore miraculous. I think, however, that this description is simplistic. If Jesus were to drink a glass of water would his drinking be miraculous? Certainly not, that would be silly. Not everything that God does is miraculous. Of course, this all depends upon what your definition of miraculous really is. So, let’s turn to some weighty theologians and ask the question, “What is a miracle?”
“Events that are totally out of the ordinary and that cannot be adequately explained on the basis of natural occurrences, such as those associated with the ministry of Jesus Christ. They are seen as evidence of the presence and power of God in the world or as demonstrating authority on the part of one of his servants” (Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser). “An event in the external world brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God, operating without the use of means capable of being discerned by the senses, and designed to authenticate the divine commission of a religious teacher and the truth of his message (John 2:18; Matt. 12:38). It is an occurrence at once above nature and above man. It shows the intervention of a power that is not limited by the laws either of matter or of mind, a power interrupting the fixed laws which govern their movements, a supernatural power” (Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers).
“An event which may seem contrary to nature and which signifies an act in which God reveals himself to man” (Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1468). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House).
Notice that what these definitions of miracle entail: man’s perspective on the power acts of God. We refer to something as miraculous because it defies nature or runs contrary to the natural order in terms of God’s acts. Strictly speaking, the creation events of Genesis 1 do not fall under this category. If miracles are God guided events which supersede the natural, then God’s creative act cannot be classified as a miracle because the creative acts define what is natural in the first place. During the creative act of Genesis 1:1 God was not working contrary to nature because there was no nature to work contrary to. He was in the process of establishing nature. Thus, the creative acts was something that was other. The creative act was beyond what we would consider to be miraculous. It is above the miraculous. What God does as creator is normal for him. He sets the boundaries for nature and only when he exceeds those boundaries does the miraculous actually occur.
Tying It Together
So, what does appearance of age have to do with the miraculous? Some YEC advocates claim that nature has an appearance of age, but is actually young, and that is part of the miracle working power of God. But this view fails to recognize that by placing God in this position, everything he does becomes miraculous. And if everything is miraculous, then nothing is miraculous. The reality is that whether God created in a matter of eons or days does not take away from the fact that God is powerful and does amazing things. How is a God who patiently creates over millions of years less powerful than a God who heals a blind man instantly? God was not obligated to create in the long or short term. The YEC advocate takes the position that since God’s miracles in the Bible were always instantaneous, therefore, his creative acts must have also been instantaneous, or done in a short period of time, like a 24-hour day. But this does not naturally follow. God’s miracles did not always happen instantly. Parting the Red Sea took all night (Exodus 14:21). The destruction of Sodom didn’t likely happen instantly. It likely happened over a period of hours (Genesis 19). The sun going back ten steps on the dial of Ahaz certainly happened over a period of time (Isaiah 38). It didn’t just suddenly appear 10 steps back. Consider even Jesus himself. Murdered at 33 years of age, raised to live forever without dying. How old does Jesus look now—33, 150, 2000? It’s very likely he looks young (let’s say less than 100), but in actuality he is extremely old. He is, of course, the Ancient of Days.
Thus, we see from these examples that God was not obligated to create or do anything slowly or quickly. And we cannot deduce the time he took to create based on his miraculous acts that violate the rules of that creation. Tying the two together is a non sequitur.