James McGrath links to a post by David H. Bailey Supernovas and “God the Great Deceiver” theology. In this post Bailey explores some of the apparent implications of the Young Earth Creationist position, that the universe was created only about 6,000 years ago – or in some variants up to 20,000 years ago. Bailey notes that astronomers regularly observe events, supernova explosions, from at least 200,000 light years away in other galaxies, and so, according to orthodox science, which took place at least 200,000 years ago.
The creationist Henry Morris, as quoted by Bailey, explained this apparent discrepancy as follows:
[T]he light rays … must have been created carrying information descriptive of historical physical events (such as super novae) which never actually occurred, because we would now be observing light rays which were created in transit and never were radiated from the stars which they seem to image.
In other words, God created the universe with an appearance of age. Francis Schaeffer tried to rationalise this version of events:
There is a possibility that God created a ‘grown-up’ universe. For example, Adam, the first night he existed, might have seen the light of the furthest stars without waiting for long light years to pass before they could be seen.
To this possibility, we must quickly add one note. This does not mean that God is capricious. And surely it does not imply, and I would totally reject, the concept Bishop Samuel Wilberforce suggested at Oxford in Darwin’s time: that God created fossils in the earth in order to fool fools. This is totally out of character with the God of the Bible.
However, just because it was stated so horribly in the days of Darwin is no reason not to suggest that God may have in some sense and in some areas created a grown-up universe. One could ask, for example, whether the trees when they were created had rings.
Well, Schaeffer has a point, but why would God create starlight as evidence of past events which never actually occurred, unless it was something like “in order to fool fools”? The Psalmist wrote “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1 NIV), but is what they declare in fact deception by God? As Bailey puts it,
to anyone outside the world of hard-core creationists, this type of “God the Great Deceiver” theology, namely the notion that God deliberately constructed a phony universe to mislead diligent seekers of truth in the 21st century, is not only absurd but downright blasphemous. It is utterly at odds with the notion of a rational, comprehensible God that has been the mainstay of Judeo-Christian theology for several millennia. Indeed, such a being would be utterly unworthy of our reverence or obedience.
In fact even young earth creationists have realised the force of this argument and tried to find ways around it. A reader of this blog regularly refers me to articles from Creation Ministries International. So I went to their site for material about this issue, and found an interesting 2003 article A new cosmology: solution to the starlight travel time problem by John G. Hartnett. Hartnett, a believer in a creation about 6,000 years ago, looks at five possible solutions to the problem. Only one of these is that God created the light from events that did not actually happen, and he clearly rejects this:
I don’t believe God commits fraud. Creating a beam of light from source to observer so that the observer appears to see current information must also mean there is a whole stream of information in the beam that is false.
The problem is that three of his other solutions, that the speed of light was enormously faster in the past or that clocks on earth and elsewhere in the universe run at vastly different speeds, seem totally implausible to someone like me who has studied physics to a high level. And the remaining solution is to concede that the universe is ancient and only the earth was recently created.
Hartnett’s own preference is for a solution in which for the first few “days” of creation clocks on earth, and maybe in the whole solar system, ran ten trillion times slower than clocks elsewhere in the universe. Thus each “day” of creation, as measured on earth where there were in fact no observers other than God, corresponds to ten trillion astronomical days. This sounds to me very like an attempt to present “day-age” type old earth creationism in young earth creationist language.
So, it seems that at least some young earth creationists agree with Bailey that God is not the Great Deceiver. But they have yet to come up with even slightly convincing explanations of how the light from distant supernovas could have reached us in 6,000 years of real time.