The Appearance of Age: It's Morning in
Ken Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University, Providence, R.I.
The following is an extract from Professor Miller's book Finding Darwin's God. The book is available at Amazon.Com.
Although the creationist opponents of evolution continue to produce books and articles that make the case for a young earth, one senses that their hearts are not really in it. A careful search of creationist literature can even find passages that seem to proclaim surrender. Consider this admission from Genesis Flood:
There are many cases now known where the age estimate has been checked by two or more different methods, independently. It would seem improbable that the elements concerned would each have been altered in such a way as to continue to give equal ages; therefore such agreement between independent measurements would seem to be strong evidence that alteration has not occurred and that the indicated age is therefore valid.
Geologist G. Brent Dalrymple, author of The Age of the Earth, testified against the young-earth theories of the creationists at the well-publicized Arkansas creation science trial in 1981, and his thorough demolition of their arguments is a matter of public record. As Dalrymple put it most succinctly, "The creationists' 'scientific' arguments for a young earth are absurd."
Case closed. Let us not declare victory on this point prematurely, however, because the creationists have one more trick up their sleeves. Just when they seem about to be overwhelmed by the scientific data on the age of the earth, Whitcomb and Morris, the authors of The Genesis Flood, spin 180 degrees in a flash of illogic, and say that a 4.5-billion-year-old earth was just what they expected:
We reply, however, that the Biblical outline of earth history, with the geologic framework provided thereby, would lead us to postulate exactly this state of the radioactivity evidence. We would expect radiogenic minerals to indicate very large ages and we would expect different elements in the same mineral, or different minerals in the same formation to agree with each other.
Hundreds of years to lay the foundation for modern geology, the discovery of radioactivity, and the development of technology for radiometric dating, and these folks say that they knew what the answer would be all along? Something funny is going on here. Something that illustrates exactly what such people think of science and our ability to understand the natural world around us.
To appreciate what they are doing, we have to journey back 10,000 years or so to the morning of their supposed creation day. In their view, the universe was fully formed at the instant it was willed into being. Eden was a large and mature garden. Its landscaping did not look like the newest house in the subdivision, with a half-grown lawn and tiny saplings fresh from the divine nursery. Rather, its trees and shrubs and animals were fully grown from the instant of creation. They had, in the words of creationists, an "appearance of age."
The appearance of age, by their logic, must have applied to everything, including the geology of the planet and even the cosmos:
Both parent and daughter elements in each radioactive chain were created at the beginning, probably in "equilibrium" amounts. The amount of originally created radiogenic end-product in each chain is uncertain; it is likely, however, that homologous amounts were created in all such minerals so that all such elements would, when created, give an "appearance" of the same degree of maturity or of age.
The key statement in this passage is that all elements would "give an 'appearance' of the same degree of maturity or of age." In other words, if you're going to create radioisotopes and all of their potential decay products fully formed on creation morning, you have to decide what proportions of all of those decay products will be present in the minerals of your universe. And, lest you, the Creator, be thought of as confused and disorganized, all those minerals should all be set to the same radiometric clock. Whitcomb and Morris say this explicitly:
It is more satisfying teleologically, and therefore more reasonable, to infer that all these primeval clocks, since they were "wound up" at the same time, were also set to "read" the same time.
Now things get really dicey. Those lions and tigers and bears in the Garden of Eden might have just been adults of any age, but the grim precision of radioactive decay requires that a specific age was programmed into the materials of the planet--and so it was, according to the creationists. The Creator didn't just make things look old. He made things took as though they were a specific age. In the case of the earth and its solar system neighbors, this means that He intentionally fashioned their materials to look as if they were 4.5 billion years old when in fact they were brand-new.
With the great advances in astronomy of recent years, we routinely analyze stars and galaxies as far as 8 or 9 billion light-years from the earth. As astronomers emphasize, collecting the light from such great distances means looking into the past. When we image a galaxy several billion light-years distant, we are not looking at that galaxy as it is right now; we are looking at how it appeared billions of years ago.
How do the young-earth creationists handle this problem? Once again, they invoke the ingenuity of the Creator:
It [the universe] must have had an "appearance of age" at the moment of creation. The photons of light energy were created at the same instant as the stars from which they were apparently derived, so that an observer on earth would have been able to see the most distant stars within his vision at that instant of creation.
Quite a picture, isn't it? Adam looking into the night sky on the first day of his existence, contemplating the beauty of thousands of stars, despite the fact that the nearest star other than the sun is more than four light-years away. The Creator, clearly, didn't want him to have to wait four years to enjoy that first nighttime star, so he made all of the intervening photons at once.
This may sound reasonable, but consider the implications. In the 10,000 years since creation, the actual starlight that has had enough time to reach us comes from only a tiny proportion of our neighbors. This means that every event witnessed at a distance by the Hubble space telescope and other astronomical instruments, including the explosive disintegrations of stars and the gravitational effects of black holes, is fictitious. None of these things really happened - they were all constructed, artificially, in the trillions of photons assembled by the Creator to give His cosmos an appearance of age.
There is no way around this problem. One can reconcile a recent creation with the size of the known universe in only two ways: one, by fooling with the fundamental constants of nature; or two, by requiring that every astronomical object and event more distant than 10,000 light-years is fictitious. Some creationists have opted for the first alternative, taking on the most fundamental constant in the universe, the speed of light. They claim that it was much faster in the past, and that accounts for the light from distant galaxies that is now reaching us from billions of light-years away. The lack of evidence does not seem to bother them, but it certainly will trouble physicists. As a number of my colleagues have written, an assault upon the scientific integrity of one field of science (biology) quickly becomes an assault upon all of science - in this case, taking down astronomy and physics to fashion a case against evolution.
To my way of thinking, the second alternative is the dangerous one. After all, an argument for the inconsistency of the speed of light can be refuted by the simple observation that its speed truly is constant, and that's that. The second alternative requires that the Creator of the universe intentionally fashioned a bogus astronomical history extending as far into space as our instruments can probe. And that's not all.
He also set those radiometric clocks to an apparent date for the creation of the solar system of 4.5 billion years, a 40 million percent exaggeration of its actual age, according to creationists. To me, this sounds like a deception most cruel. Their Creator deliberately rigged a universe with a consistent - but fictitious - age in order to fool its inhabitants.
Clearly the creationists recognize this problem, and have already tried to escape from this predicament through the trapdoor of faith:
Whatever this "setting" was, we may call it the "apparent age" of the earth, but the "true age" of the earth can only be known by means of divine revelation.
I do not dispute the fact that many people find what they believe to be divine revelation preferable to scientific knowledge. Our modern-day creationists are certainly not the first people in history to make that choice, although ironically they may be the first to invoke the name of science itself, as in "scientific creationism," even as they reject science. This lack of honesty is most revealing.
What saddens me is the view of the Creator that their intellectual contortions force them to hold. In order to defend God against the challenge they see from evolution, they have had to make Him into a schemer, a trickster, even a charlatan. Their version of God is one who intentionally plants misleading clues beneath our feet and in the heavens themselves. Their version of God is one who has filled the universe with so much bogus evidence that the tools of science can give us nothing more than a phony version of reality. In other words, their God has negated science by rigging the universe with fiction and deception. To embrace that God, we must reject science and worship deception itself.
On a scientific basis, the claims of the creationists are especially easy to refute. Most scientists, quite rightly, have ignored the religious claims of the creationists, but those claims are worth noting if only to emphasize the insidious danger they present to both science and religion. One can, of course, imagine a Creator who could have produced all of the illusions that the creationists claim to find in nature. In order to do so, we must simultaneously conclude that science can tell us nothing about nature, and that the Creator to whom many of us pray is inherently deceitful. Such so-called creation science, thoroughly analyzed, corrupts both science and religion, and it deserves a place in the intellectual wastebasket.