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Apparent age is the source of much of the debate surrounding creation and evolution. Uniformitarians believe that life, the Earth, and the universe are much older than the Biblical chronology accepted by young Earth creationists. Indeed, some evidence appears, at first glance using pre-conceived assumptions, to support the age of the universe claimed by uniformitarians. The classic example is distant starlight. Creationists have proposed a number of explanations for this appearance of great age.
Before trying to explain apparent age, it is appropriate to consider ways of determining age. There are several ways to do this.
Historical starting point
The best way to determine the age of something is to determine when it first came into existence. Imagine finding when a person was born to determine how old they are. This can be done by asking someone who was present at their birth (e.g. their mother) or by seeing some documentation provided by someone present when they were born, such as a birth certificate, for example. You could also ask the person himself or someone else who knows them, although in this case their knowledge is not first-hand.
The same principle applies for other things such as a pet dog, a plant in someone's garden, or a house. In each case you can (in theory) ask someone that saw the dog born, the seed planted, or the house built.
We guess the ages of persons through observation of many individuals and recognizing differences or similarities as various stages of maturity are reached; such as when they gain their adult teeth, when they develop facial hair, etc. We can use this information to determine the approximate age of someone for whom we don't know their actual age from historical documentation or first-hand knowledge. Police forensics experts and archaeologists use this method to determine the age of a corpse for example.
But recognizing maturity cannot be used to determine the age of something for which we have no benchmark or starting point. The Earth is an example— we have no observations of Earth-like planets at various stages of maturity with which to compare our planet to determine its age.
Over time everything deteriorates, or runs down (except where it is concurrently being renewed) and as with maturity we can sometimes use this to determine an approximate age. With humans for example, wrinkles, slow movement, white hair and other signs of deterioration give an indication of age. Similarly we have seen plenty of old, run-down houses, so we can recognize a house as being old by comparing it with known old houses.
Some things run down, deteriorate, or degenerate at reasonably fixed rates. By measuring this rate and assuming that we know the initial conditions, we can calculate how long the process of running down has been going on. This is the basis for radiometric dating methods.
In 1857 Philip Gosse published Omphalos, which proposed that God had made things look older than they actually were, and even planted fake fossils as a test of faith. The Omphalos Hypothesis, as it has become known, is a claim that God has made it look like things that never actually happened did happen (e.g. animals becoming buried and fossilised).
Gosse' theory is about the most extreme version of the idea that God created an appearance of age. Other creationists since have favoured more limited versions of the idea.
Problems with Omphalos
Critics charge that by giving a false appearance of age, God is being deceitful. However, this is an invalid charge when the Word of God explicitly gives us genealogies that when followed give us the age of the earth and humanity. If a museum manufactures an old-looking artifact for display but tells you that it is a recent reproduction, is the museum being deceitful?
The following sections are considered candidates for the appearance of age.
Adam was created with an appearance of age
Clearly, Adam—along with much of the rest of creation—was created with maturity, not deterioration. In fact the references to His creation being "good" and "very good" indicate that there were no imperfections, and deterioration is an accumulation of imperfections. And in order to create a viable system, the creation had to be mature. If Adam was created as a just-fertilised egg, for example, how would he survive without the womb? The apparent age that God created with was maturity, not deterioration, and there is no deceit, particularly as He told us that he created this way.
The Earth "looks" old
However, as we don't have observations of what old and young earths look like, how would we know what an old Earth should look like in order to make that judgement?
What is done by most scientists today to determine the age of the earth is to determine how old fossils and rocks are using the application of an assumption or presupposition established within their evolutionary and essentially atheistic, naturalistic worldview. It is assumed the earth is 4.6 billion years old and through that established belief, all other evidence conforms.
While evolutionists rely on assumptions and data within an evolutionary framework, essentially relying on mans word, creationists are readily acceptable to God's word that clearly details the creation and age of the earth.
Starlight was created with the light in transit
This is essentially the same as measuring deterioration, which is really measuring a process. If God told us that the stars are young, He cannot be charged with deceit just because we think they look old.
However, there is another aspect to this one. The starlight is not simply a plain beam of light, but images of a history, such as stars exploding (super novae). It does seem unlikely that God would manufacture histories of events that never happened.
Radiometric dating indicates the Earth is old
Radiometric dating methods is a subject in itself, but suffice to say that the assumptions behind it (initial conditions, no loss or gain of material, and constancy of rates) make the methods somewhat less than conclusive. Furthermore, original creationist research has been done by RATE that implies the assumed constancy rate was not the same in the past, posing a severe challenge to that assumption.
What appears to us to be the age of something may in many cases simply be our misconception or false expectations. In any case, charging God with causing us to believe they are old when he has told us they are not is illogical.
- An Old Age for the Earth is the Heart of Evolutionby Jonathan F. Henry, Ph.D.
- Isochron dating
- Concordia dating
- Fission-track dating
- Radiometric dating problems
- Concordance of dates
- Carbon-14 dating
- Accelerated decay