Older Than Dirt Redux


Scott Ferguson, in his excellent comment on the original “Older than Dirt” raised a question that was resurrected by a friend of mine, Brad Hansen. I was hoping to find time to go back and address what Scott said when I HAD time. Then Brad sent me some pages from Hugh Ross’s books, “Creation in Time” and it forced my hand. In that book, Ross addresses the “False Age Theory” first penned by Philip Gosse, a British biologist and preacher. Ross raises some objections to the view that might be worth walking through.

Brad and I have bounced the creation theories around for a couple of years now – and he always adds interesting things to consider. Makes for good discussion.

From “Reasons.org” –

“Philip Gosse (a YEC) specifically wrote that the Earth was created with an “appearance of age”

“Many mention this but fail to give the story proper context and background. In 1844 a pamphlet entitled Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, espousing an evolutionary viewpoint, was published. In response Philip Gosse, a minister in the Fundamentalist group called the Plymouth Brethren, wrote Omphalos, published in 1857. In it Gosse made the first written argument that creation only looks old. In it, Gosse even argued that Adam and Eve had navels because that is what one would expect in God-created creatures — Omphalos is indeed Greek for navel.

“Gosse expected Omphalos to be attacked by scientists. What he did not expect was the denunciation by the religious community. Asked to write a review of Omphalos, his friend Charles Kinglsey, [their misspelling] a minister and author of Westward Ho! refused and wrote the following letter to Gosse.

“You have given the ‘vestiges of creation theory’ [the pamphlet discussed above] the best shove forward which it has ever had. I have a special dislike for that book; but, honestly, I felt my heart melting towards it as I read Omphalos. Shall I tell you the truth? It is best. Your book is the first that ever made me doubt the doctrine of absolute creation, and I fear it will make hundreds do so. Your book tends to prove this – that if we accept the fact of absolute creation, God becomes God-the-Sometime-Deceiver. I do not mean merely in the case of fossils which pretend to be the bones of dead animals; but in …your newly created Adam’s navel, you make God tell a lie. It is not my reason, but my conscience which revolts here … I cannot …believe that God has written on the rocks one enormous and superfluous lie for all mankind. To this painful dilemma you have brought me, and will, I fear, bring hundreds. It will not make me throw away my Bible. I trust and hope. I know in whom I have believed, and can trust Him to bring my faith safe through this puzzle, as He has through others; but for the young I do fear. I would not for a thousand pounds put your book into my children’s hands.”

So ends the excerpt from the article.

This idea that if God created the earth with the appearance of age (in fact, I would say with actual age – since time itself is a creation and under God’s sovereign control) He is somehow being deceptive or dishonest, is bogus. Kingsley up above, says that in Gosse’s book (if not the theory itself) “God becomes God-the-Sometime-Deceiver. ” I think, Lane Coffee & Darrick Dean (who wrote the article cited above on Ross’s site) and Kingsley err in a few very critical places.

First, If God created the world in a fully mature state in order to REVEAL things about Himself, He cannot be charged with deception, lying or anything of the sort. Did Christ lie when He used parables to communicate truth? Of course not. The use of another medium to display concepts and truths not readily available – or even simply to clarify and reinforce what is available cannot be construed as falsehood. The charge here is specious. He wasn’t hiding anything, by His own declaration He was revealing it.

Second, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Ps. 19:1). Creation is supposed to be revealing information about GOD, the Creator, NOT about the Creation proper. The Psalm DOES NOT say, “the heavens declare the glory of the heavens.” Words on a type written page are not placed there to reveal things about ink, type faces and paper manufacturing. You may be able to ascertain something of those things I imagine, but that is to overlook the fact that they are not the subject of the investigation – the information being communicated is. Here, the medium is perfectly suited to relate the truth about the Creator, without getting in the way of the communication. But when men insist upon focusing upon the medium, they lose the message entirely. This is a grave error. The problem here isn’t that the medium doesn’t do the right work, or that the Author used the wrong medium, it is that the observers are more fascinated with canvass than the message the Painter was creating. Parsing the verbs in the Greek New Testament is not the same as listening to the message.

Old Earthers (in my humble opinion) can’t tell the Creator for the trees. Study bark all you want to get information about trees, and all you’ll end up with is a brain full of bark facts. Study it to find out about God, and maybe you’ll get somewhere.

Third, man cannot know anything absolutely except God reveals it. This, God does in propositional truth. Hence, His written Word. A fallen man can look at creation and postulate “a” god, but little more. The saving God of the Bible cannot be savingly known that way. Creation was never given for that purpose. There is enough in creation to make a man know he doesn’t know God, but not enough to come to know Him. That requires special revelation – with propositional truth. However – the saved man DOES draw from creation more about the God who made it than any mere deist could ever hope for. Now remember, man was not made in the lost state. He was upright and righteous and in communion with God. Given the propositional truth he would get from God, he could now apply that to creation accurately. Adam did not suffer from the disconnect the fallen mind does today. Without the Fall, man can look at the universe as school about his God without confusing the school with the God. We do not. We make that mistake all the time. Unsaved men will naturally confuse the two. Christians shouldn’t.

Fourth, do not forget that God CAN and DOES hide truth at times – judicially. Christ Himself cites Isa. 6 in response to why He taught the people in parables: Matt. 13:10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “’You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

So what if God, in His eternal justice uses the “parables” of creation to explicate His glory to some, while using it to mete out justice upon others by darkening their understanding? There is nothing amiss here. He can do so justly, righteously and very capably. “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:11-12). Will Ross, Coffee, Dean & Kingsley charge God with wrong doing here?

You see, they overstate their case to defend their position. Something I’ve been know to do myself from time to time – no condemnation being passed out here – just disagreement.

All in all, the effort to dismiss the “appearance of age” theory on the basis of deception just doesn’t hold water. Creation is not the purpose of creation. God is. Look for Him in it, you’ll see how He is represented. Look for creation information, and you’ll lose Him in the process. The heavens declare the glory of GOD, not the glory of the material universe. Coffee & Dean wrote their article to explicate a theo-scientific position – but I suppose you can learn something about internet publication by examining the mechanisms and technologies with which they communicated the article. You can read John 3:16 and get the message, or you can focus on fonts, paper production, punctuation, book distribution, binding techniques, legibility studies and ink formulations. But I think you’re better off getting the message.

10 thoughts on “Older Than Dirt Redux

  1. Hi Reid,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response to those pages. I think the most compelling argument, for me at least, in Ross’s criticism of the appearance-of-age theory can be found in the following quotation from “Creation and Time,”: “Taken to its logical conclusion, the appearance-of-age hypothesis would imply that we cannot establish the actuality of our own or others’ past existence. We could have been created just a few hours ago with the Creator implanting scars, memory, progeny, photographs, material possessions, liver spots, hardening of the arteries to make us appear and feel older than we really are. Also, if God built into the universe natural testimony of events which never took place, how can we claim the Bible is free of written testimony of events which never took place?” The scenario described above would make a great Twilight Zone episode, but what it points to in light of this discussion is that young earth creationism is untenable because, for one thing, taken to its logical end, one must deny physical reality in order to believe it. Ironically, it’s very similar to evolutionism in that regard. I always find it slightly amusing that young earth creationists and macro-evolutionists are very similar creatures, each beginning with a rather preposterous conclusion and then attempting to twist the facts in order to make them conform to their respective error.

    I think, though, the danger to the church from young earth creationism can be found in the following quotation from “Creation and Time,”: “Ironically, while young-earth creationists often and sometimes loudly demand equal accesss in the secular arena, such as public schools, they are often quick to deny it to others in the Christian arena. They don’t seem to recognize their actions as an expression of elitism…The fear that incites this denial of reality and this retreat to elitism must be addressed. It’s a fear that runs deeper and wider than the specific case of creation time scales. Underlying all the so-called links between old-earth views and godlessness is the fear that science research may someday uncover some fact about the universe, earth, or life that clearly contradicts the Bible’s message. Nature may tell us something-if not long ages for the cosmos and life, something else-that inescapably disagrees with what God has said in His Word. Then where will the Christian’s faith be?
    “As long as this possibility exists in believers’ minds, it will hamper their experiencing the freedom and fearlessness God makes available to us by His Spirit. ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind’ (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV). A sound mind accepts reality, physical and spiritual, not to mention emotional.”

    Now, Reid, I have never observed this fear in you, but I can definitely say that I have witnessed young earth creationists propagating this fear among large congregations.

    Regarding the delusions God sends, I believe they are mainly limited to matters of spiritual perception. We may end up disagreeing on this one for a long time. Thanks for the discussion!

  2. Thanks for the comments Brad. I had intended to address the following from Ross in my original blog, but it was getting too long. This gives me a chance to go back and do that. Before I do, let me second your concern over the fear driven issue which seems to arise not only among YEC’s, but often among homeschoolers as a group. Making fear based decisions about spiritual matters (excepting for the fear of God) is a perennial problem. I am saddened to see so much of that as a part of the Christian dialogue with culture period. It shows up in this discussion and in many others and it permits people to make decisions not based upon Biblical principles, but on gut fears. As a result, we become easy targets for manipulation based upoon the newest, scariest fear. Believe me, the Enemy of our souls knows how to exploit that one big time. And if there is anything that gets Christians off the main issues, and side tracked so as to have little or no impact on the culture – it is when we are a fear driven group. Point well taken and seconded with a hearty amen! As Barry Farber used to say “have your secretary type it up and I’ll sign it.”

    On to Ross’s quote again: “Taken to its logical conclusion, the appearance-of-age hypothesis would imply that we cannot establish the actuality of our own or others’ past existence. We could have been created just a few hours ago with the Creator implanting scars, memory, progeny, photographs, material possessions, liver spots, hardening of the arteries to make us appear and feel older than we really are. Also, if God built into the universe natural testimony of events which never took place, how can we claim the Bible is free of written testimony of events which never took place?”

    His fatal reasoning error here is twofold. 1. He forgets that God TELLS us the purpose of the representation – to “declare the glory of God.” and 2. That God gives us propositional truth in His Word by which we know the reality of history because He has revealed it as such. There is no danger that we were created a few minutes ago with implanted memories BECAUSE GOD SAYS IT ISN’T SO. You see Ross is at his heart an empiricist. Empiricism makes for bad philosophy. I am a Scripturalist. Truth can ONLY be truly known based upon Biblical revelation. I can only “know” for certain what God has SAID. I can make some reasonable judgements extrapolating upon that revelation – but that is not as certain as the revelation itself. And lastly I can guess. Now science examining the universe apart from God’s propositional truth can at best arrive at some guesses. But science cannot “know” unless it believes what God reveals. And once again, the universe is not designed to reveal itself – but Him. Ross’s fear is an unfounded one. Why? Because God tells us differently in his Word, and His Word is truth. His fear is based upon a lack of it.

  3. I’m not sure Ross would embrace the empiricist label. I know that he believes that the same God who authored Scripture also created the universe and that if each is rightly interpreted, they will agree. I suppose it is true that possessing the Holy Spirit is required for the correct understanding of Scripture and that the physical universe being interpreted by man’s intellect alone is an inferior vantage point. Nonetheless, I am convinced that many Spirit-filled believers are incorrect about certain truths regarding the creation that some scientists know the true facts about. And then there are Christians who know both Sciptural truth and accurate “empirical” truth. The fact is that all the latest scientific discoveries are revealing the transcendent Creator and atheistic and agnostic scientists are running for cover and seeking loopholes. Appearance-of-age theory seems, to me, like an unnecessary loophole sought out from the Christian side. God reveals himself in creation just as accurately as He does in Scripture. I think if you read “Creation and Time,” you would be amazed at its contents. As I wrote, of the three or four Ross books I have read, “Creation and Time” is my favorite. It is probably outdated by now, but if you ever want to borrow it, let me know.

  4. Sounds like a great read – sometime I will absolutely have to do it. A couple of comments though.

    You wrote: “Nonetheless, I am convinced that many Spirit-filled believers are incorrect about certain truths regarding the creation that some scientists know the true facts about.” Couldn’t agree more. No question that being a Christian doesn’t shield you from being stupid. I how I wish it did!

    Also, I’m not saying the appearance-of-age theory HAS to be the answer, but what I am saying is that one does not have to sacrifice either logic, science or a literal reading of the Scripture to arrive at an answer. There may be a better resolution yet. Who knows?

    At the same time, I read an neat article in Scientific American a while back, in the column where they compare scientific statments from 50 years ago, 100 years ago, etc. And the scientific proof that a man could not possibly survive moving faster than 50 miles an hour was once universally held as uncontrovertible. I’m not as ready to jump on the “science has discovered” bandwagon, especially when there is a philosphical axe to grind. Many Christians may be working with skewed science, but enough scientists are liars and unwilling to accept ANY evidence for anything supernatural, that I’m not ready to say their “discoveries” are quite that solid. Time will tell – eh?

  5. Reid, I am very impressed with your gracious replies and also your wisdom. I was particularly struck by your observation that, since God has promised to send a “strong delusion” on those who have not received the love of the truth then it is entirely consistent for Him to make some of the geology of this planet appear old. I have been thinking this very thing for the last two years and have written an article about the wider issue (see below) but I have not come across any other material on the subject until I found your site.

    The piece in question is here:

    …and I’d be extremely eager to hear your thoughts on it – and to know if you have come across anyone else who has made this point.

    Many thanks in anticipation!

  6. Great article Dusty – I will link it openly on the blog sometime soon. Also, I will have to obtain a copy of your work on the Alpha Course. Looks to be excellent.


  7. Many thanks for your encouragement. DV, I will give you a shout when I’ve finished the remaining article about godly deception. As I say, I’d be very interested if you or any of your blog visitors know of anyone else who has made this general point.

    As I see it, the bottom line on OEC is this: The Earth and its rocks only look old WHEN WE APPROACH THEM WITH CERTAIN PRESUPPOSITIONS. These assumptions/presuppositions are wrong, but if someone is determined to hang on to them rather than believe God’s Word then the Lord is hardly likely to suffer such a fool gladly.

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