God is not the Great Deceiver

A supernova remnant in the constellation OphiuchusJames 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.

0 thoughts on “God is not the Great Deceiver

  1. As a believer in a young earth (though I don’t know how old that is), my answer is probably a bit too simple but my question is who knows how far these novas are from us? I understand that we measure them based on calculations and based on observance from telescopes but in the end, none of us have been to the novas and turned around to see just how far we were from them. So our observance and measurements are based on human calculations that are prone to not always be correct. We are making assumptions about how far these novas are and no one really knows.

  2. That’s a good question, Seeking Disciple. But don’t confuse novas and supernovas – they are very different phenomena.

    Astronomers have various ways of estimating the distances of stars and galaxies. One of them involves these very supernovas. I don’t know the details. But it is quite simple to determine rough distances. The distance of nearby stars can be measured by parallax, i.e. how their positions against other stars changes as the earth moves around its orbit. From this we can estimate the typical absolute brightness of stars. We can compare this with the absolute brightness of stars observed in other galaxies, at least the nearer ones, and thus estimate their distances. And we can tell from this the approximate distance of some of the supernovas we observe.

    By these methods we can be very sure that these supernovas are more than 6,000 light years away.

  3. Peter, thanks. It’s my understanding that if the speed of light has changed, it’s still a constant anyway. I hope soon to read Schroeder’s, “God According to God.” Chosen at random.

    About the only meme some of them will not really consider is whether God created the natural order to look like a product old of cosmology with evolution following – as tests for the faithful. Such a test would mean that our use of reason is blasphemous. I’ll take the dilettante award for trying. And trust mercy will triumph over judgment.

    FYI, I’ve posted two short side-bar notes on, 1) Francis August Schaeffer and, 2) “What Happens in Inspiration,” at Biologos, here:


    My commentary on what happens in inspiration is a bit whimsical. It’s meant more as my way to try to cut my own ignorance in half. I owe a hat tip for learning of Rabbi Anson Laytner, in “Arguing with God: A Jewish Tradition,” to a certain Jewish scholar where I studied. I won’t link the scholar. Why ruin his good name :)?

    Thanks again for your good work on this stuff.


  4. Dr. D. Russell Humphreys, a physicist, presents a view where the original universe, before light was created (and therefore the electromagnetic spectrum and therefore, also, time) was a ball of water 50 million lightyears across. As God created light (and therefore time, and therefore the first day), and then proceeded to move through the days of creation, the constituent parts of the universe moved through an event horizon (relative to earth). Thus, according to Einstein’s Relativistic equations, there was time dilation. The first parts to go through the event horizon at that time would appear, when viewed today, extremely old.

    His book, “Starlight and Time, Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe” presents this view in a somewhat readable way. However, there are still equations as he interacts within the relevant Relativistic framework. Also, at the time of writing the book, he worked at the Sandia National Laboratory doing research in nuclear physics, geophysics, pulsed power, theoretical atomic and nuclear physics.

  5. Jim, I think I would agree that it is meaningless for a constant to change. As it changed the relationship between our standard metre and our standard second would change to match so no change could be measurable.

    Mike, Hartnett looked at Humphreys’ model and found some serious problems with it. I haven’t looked at them enough to know if they are fatal to his theory. Perhaps I should look more carefully.

  6. I should have read the article. So much to do, so little time. In any case, Hartnett does mention that his model is similar to Humphreys’. And, to my understanding (or, better, the lack thereof), it sounds quite similar.

    I wonder what Humphreys would say about the red shift versus blue shift issue? I would think he would have interacted with it.

  7. Yes, Mike, I’m sure there has been further interaction since 2003. But I don’t have time to look into it.

    I can’t help wondering if some of these models are in effect identical to the standard cosmological model but with different coordinates including one for time artificially stretched a few trillion times to make one day in that system equivalent to billions of years in regular coordinates. I’m sure it would be possible to set up such a coordinate system. I’m even more sure that that is not what the author of Genesis intended!

  8. The author of Genesis intended to convey 6 literal days, as evidenced by the Hebrew used; whether you except 6 literal days or not is another issue, but that was the intent of the author.
    As to the time/distance/light subject; much research has been done since 2003 and better models have been presented and the research continues.
    As to apparent age being considered in some way deceptive, what about Adam & Eve? They were not created as new born infants and as such did not experience childhood.
    Did trees before the fall have rings? No idea, and not particularly relevant as we will never know in this life.

    As to fossils, as mentioned by Wilberforce, he should have realised that the fossils were laid down by the Flood. Attempts to describe that as ‘local’ are fallacious to say the least.

  9. Glenn, thank you for your comment.

    I understand your viewpoint about the days in Genesis 1, but you need to accept that others have different viewpoints and there is no easy way to decide between them.

    The tree ring question is important because there are trees out there with more than 6,000 rings. At least I think there are, and there are certainly ice cores out there with more than 6,000 annual layers, in fact the record is close to a million. Issues like this need to be addressed in detail. I don’t know if they have been by any current creationist approaches.

    I think any properly trained geologist would tell you that it is quite impossible that all fossils were laid down in a flood lasting no more than a year. Are you aware of the amount of fossil bearing rock out there? I am writing from Italy in a house with a view of the Alps. Within sight there are thousands of metres thickness of largely fossil bearing hard rock, with deep valleys carved through them. It is quite impossible that all that was formed in one year, quite apart from how it was then raised up into mountains. I think most creationists now realise that and instead offer solutions that these rocks go back to the beginning of creation.

  10. Pingback: Book review: “Unlocking the Mysteries of Creation” | The Skilled Workman

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