He tricked us!
August 7, 2012 § 12 Comments
I’m a relative newcomer to the Old Earth/Young Earth creationism debate but from listening to a few debates and reading some of the standard arguments for both sides I’ve been appalled at the shoddy argumentation. I’m no scientist so I don’t feel qualified to touch upon the scientific evidence but in terms of exegetical and philosophical rigor it seems both sides are lacking. One argument that particularly irks me is the argument put forth by many advocates of OEC that if YEC is true then God is deceptive. They seem to have something like this in mind.
(1) God would not deceive human beings.
(2) If YEC is true then the world has the appearance of age but is actually quite young; this is deceptive.
(3) Therefore YEC is not true because it entails that God has deceived human beings.
Although valid, this argument is far from sound. Without going into an apologetic for God’s actions, I simply note that premise (1) is actually explicitly contradicted in Scripture. (Ez 14:9; 2 Th 2:11) This would be enough to derail the argument but (2) is problematic as well.
The assumption behind premise (2) seems to be that by creating the earth with the appearance of age God has done something wrong. He’s done something immoral. Why? Because it means that through the scientific method we would be unable to uncover the truth about the age of the earth and God ought to provide evidence for the correct age of the earth so that we can discover it by scientific inquiry or at least he shouldn’t have constructed the earth in such a way that it leads us away from the truth. If he has made the earth with the appearance of age shouldn’t he let us know?
I don’t see why. Can’t God have secrets? Must he explain everything that he does in minute detail in order to avoid the charge of deception? Most theists will want to say that we don’t understand why God allows certain instances of evil but that we should trust him nonetheless. But isn’t that deceptive of God? Doesn’t it seem as if certain instances of evil are gratuitous? Shouldn’t God fill us in on his reasons? Most theists will say no. He doesn’t have to. He could have reasons for withholding his reasons until a future time or possibly never tell us. He’s within his rights to do so. It’s not as if he’s obligated to explain himself to his creatures. He’s not in the dock. But doesn’t this same line of reasoning work equally well for YEC? I think so. He’s under no obligations to inform us of anything – he’s God for crying out loud!
But for the sake of argument, suppose God took this charge of deception seriously and when he had finished creating Adam and Eve he was concerned to let them in on the fact that the earth he had created for them was just a few days old. (Why he felt that he needed to explain himself is anyone’s guess.) They received special revelation to inform their inquiry into the nature of the earth. But we know what happens next. They fall. Death enters the world. People are corrupted. The human race is alienated from God. The relationship between God and man was damaged and we lost the privilege of being informed about a great many things including ex hypothesi the age of the earth. We would have been in a position to know the truth had we not sinned thus alienating ourselves from the one who knew the truth. But that’s our problem. Not God’s.
However, God is gracious and has continued to reveal himself to his creation and – on the assumption that we follow the vast majority of YEC advocates in saying that God has explicitly told us that the earth is young – has even provided us with inspired writings that contain the truth about such matters as the age of the earth to inform our inquiries. So, if most advocates of YEC are correct then God, in fact, has told us that the earth is young. Just take a look in the Bible and presto! Now you know! Just because God chose to let us in on the secret through another means than the scientific method doesn’t mean he’s deceived us. It’s not God’s fault if you would rather proceed as if he hasn’t addressed the topic.
Another way of addressing the argument is to turn the tables on the OEC advocate foolish enough to employ it. After all, until very recently the scientific evidence for the beginning of time and space simply didn’t exist. Vast ages of human history could have legitimately believed on the evidence available to them that the earth was eternal. Why doesn’t our advocate of OEC think that God deceived them? He might appeal to the philosophical arguments in favour of a beginning in time but this is a dead end. For starters, most people don’t have the intellectual ability to even follow the arguments in favour of a beginning in time so they would be quite within their rights – if only tentatively – to believe that the earth is eternal. Even some of the greatest minds that have wrestled with these arguments have come to different conclusions. Thomas Aquinas was no slouch and yet he believed that it could not be demonstrated by reason that the world is not eternal – it had to be taken on faith. But suppose our OEC advocate says that they should have realized that they weren’t in a position to know and simply withheld belief? Well, why isn’t this response open to young-earthers? It appears then that either both the wise and the simple have been deceived by God no matter which position you advocate or the argument can be avoided by both advocates of OEC and YEC with a simple appeal to some humility regarding our confidence in science’s ability to speak on such matters.
Anyway you slice it the argument is bad. So please stop using it!