Light dims increasingly the farther away we are when it’s observed. This is visible in many common-sense ways—a flashlight’s beam is far brighter when the flashlight is held two inches away from a wall than it is held twenty feet from a wall. This is what science calls the “inverse square law”: The name of this law of physics conveys that the intensity of light “equals the inverse of the square of the distance from the source.”[i] To put this in understandable terms, imagine two people staring at the same light source, but one person is twice as far away from the source as the other. The one who is farther away will see only one-fourth the brightness (or exposure) of the light, while the person standing closer will interpret the light as being far brighter, even though the intensity of the light source, itself, doesn’t change from its point of origin.
This law applies in and throughout the universe. The farther away a star is from Earth, the dimmer it shines, and the redder its color of light appears to be to us. (As Earth rotates, these measurements become variable, since the distance is variable with a moving object like our planet.) However, because some stars (like the sun) are enormous and others are much smaller, calculating a star’s emission of light and distance relies on more than just how bright the light coming from appears to us.
Let me explain: First, a “light year” is the distance light is capable of traveling in one year. Light travels at 671 million miles per hour, 186,000 miles per second. The distance of a light year is that speed multiplied by the number of hours per year. In short, one light year represents a source of light (like a star) travelling 5,878,625,370,000 miles over a year.
Second, “redshift”—the deeper reddening of color emitting from a star or space cluster—occurs when light wavelengths stretch long distances from space. Blue light wavelengths are shortest, while red light wavelengths are longest, so the farther away a star is, the more we receive “red color information” from its starlight. Through many of our telescopes (the Hubble telescope is famous for this finding), we can measure the redness of a star, the frequency of “twinkling” that may be occurring (through what is called a “variable star”), and the star’s emission of light to calculate how far away that star is. (This is also in part how we can build 3D model of the universe even though, from our location, all the stars appear to the naked eye to be about the same flat distance away, despite brightness.)
Third, Earth shows through the laws of nature and physics that it’s moving at a speed relevant to the objects around it in space, and that relationship is stable and irrevocable. In other words, in order for Earth to have been inhabitable in the past as well it is in the present, it has to be exactly where it is, moving just like it is, and at the precise distance it is from surrounding space objects (like the sun, which would burn us if it was closer or freeze us if it was farther away, etc.). Readers don’t necessarily have to believe in the Big Bang to see the relationship Earth has with other space matter, but what we discover when we look at all this information together is this: Earth, though not inhabitable in the beginning (according to science), could not be a home to the humans, animals, and plants that it is now unless it originated—at least in some primordial form—from mutually shared governing laws of motion and gravity with other planets and stars in our solar system that developed at or around the same early time line. We also see that with the measurement of light: Earth is—right here in this very spot—receiving light information from stars that had to travel many light years to reach Earth’s surface. There are billions of space objects out there in the vast universe, and as we very well know, we can’t see them all from Earth. Those we can see have been sending us their light information for at least as long as their light-year distance away allows: closer objects would not have to be there as long for their light to reach us as those farther away, and so on.
If Earth and the universe were only six thousand years old, we would only be able to see the light from space objects six thousand light years away. In another thousand years from now, we could begin to see the light from stars seven thousand light years away. Or, putting it from the Old Earthers’ lingo: If light reaches our planet from a star a billion light years away, that light has been traveling to Earth for at least a billion years in order for it to be seen from here.
Simply put: Since a) we know how fast light moves from a star to be visible from Earth; b) we have calculated many stars to be millions or billions of light years away from Earth, and c) we can see this light from Earth’s surface…then Earth must have been around for millions or billions of years to be able to receive those traveling light waves.
Young Earthers typically explain that the stars are far closer than astronomers admit, but if that were the case, again: The governing laws of gravity and motion (along with several other natural laws) that Earth mutually shares with surrounding space objects would result in regularly occurring catastrophe when the gravitational pull of large-mass stars pulled others into them, causing epic collision and radiation explosions reaching Earth and obliterating us all…and that’s only one of hundreds of reasons why this argument cannot stand.
A couple of other arguments arise from the Young Earthers (like the idea that the speed of light slowed way down at some point), though they, too, are dismantled. Each one of their hypotheses, when left to play out to the ultimate end of our currently known natural laws, either results in the obliteration of Earth or the lack of its formation in the past.
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Stylistic/Contextual and Frequency Seriation
This category of age assignment and relative dating falls into the modern age and is thus quite different from what we’ve looked at up to this point (though, of all dating methods, this one relates the most to the next chapter). Archeology and anthropology have produced a vast number of relics of our past, many of which point by style or design to a certain culture or area.
For example, the technology in place to produce a VCR (video cassette recorder) was first mastered in 1956. Prior to that year, no one owned a VCR because, obviously, they weren’t invented yet. Today, owning a VCR is increasingly rare, as they have already been largely rendered obsolete via the development of DVD and Blu-ray players, which are now possibly being ushered into obsolescence by digital streaming platforms (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime), and so on.
If archeologists a thousand years from now were to enter a city in an abandoned area of California and see many homes with VCRs still connected to television sets, seriation would show those homes belonged to folks who likely lived there between 1956 and the early 2000s, since most VCR manufacturers discontinued making the devices between 2000–2015. Other household items—kitchen appliances or utensils dating to specific years of US patents, movie posters from films released in certain years, pharmaceuticals only prescribed within limited time windows before they were recalled by the Food and Drug Administration, products made from rubber or plastic compounds tied to a specific period of manufacturing, calculators, computers, etc.—would all contribute to the researchers’ ability to hone in on dates of thriving activity within that culture.
When we apply that same logic backwards in time, we can easily see how this dating method works. A clay pot formed in the same style from materials with the same chemical composition as those produced in ancient China is likely not an artifact that originated from Egypt.
Though seriation doesn’t directly date artifacts in the range of millions or billions of years, as do the other methods we’ve looked at, it is frequently used to describe the culture and living circumstances of people groups scientists believed were alive more than six thousand to ten thousand years ago (like the Stone Age). Seriation would not need to be the primary dating method to determine how long ago a culture thrived or survived, but it can assist in reverse: After deciphering how long ago the ancients occupied a certain region, we can bring in seriation to show us what they were like at that time and, in a roundabout way, support what deductions we make regarding the dating of surrounding cultures.
The “Tricky God Theory”
We’ve looked at several arguments from Young Earthers who believe any dating methods indicating Earth to be more than six thousand to ten thousand years old are wrong. We also looked at some of the logic behind the more popular claims of scientific inaccuracy and why the Young Earthers may be incorrect (or only partially informed) in those assessments. But one thing we haven’t looked at yet is how—despite all their responsibly collected data and articulately fashioned refutations—one of their most frequently shared conclusions about the age of Earth may produce a theological incompatibility with the character and nature of God as He describes Himself in His very own Word.
As addressed in the first chapter of this book (in the section titled “Cosmological Views”), Young Earthers are used to being bombarded with the question, “If Earth is young, then why is there so much constant and mounting evidence that it’s old?” One popular answer is that God created Earth with “the appearance of age.” Tom Horn and a dear theologian friend of Defender Publishing and SkyWatch Television, Gary Stearman, has recoined this the “Tricky God Theory,” as it represents a glaring problem that your average interpretational loophole can’t completely satisfy: God, in creating a young planet that looks old, had to have intentionally decided to trick humanity.
Let’s get the quick rebuttals out of the way: Yes, God is powerful enough to have snapped a finger, blinked a planet into existence, and given it the appearance of a mature age even when it was five seconds old. Yes, such a decision would be His strict prerogative as the Almighty, and yes, technically, God could choose to do whatever He wants. Yes, we should accept His decisions and not beat angry fists at the sky when we disagree with something He does, because He is infinitely wiser than the collective wisdom of all humanity since the dawn of time, and He only wants the best for us.
And, for as many “yeses” as there are in this equation, there are even more “maybes”:
Maybe the universe is billions of years old, but, six thousand years ago, God brought Earth into existence and made it bend to the same motion and gravity laws as the rest of the universe. Maybe He layered its soil and rock to make it merely appear as if there are strata dating to billions of years ago. Maybe the polarity and geomagnetism really do shift approximately every thirty years and He simply spares us from the global apocalypse such events would ignite. Maybe all the data from the Hubble telescope teams and their redshift calculations have missed a major element that would otherwise allow the speed of light and the position of Earth to be more compatible with a young planet.
But if so, why? And…how, when the Holy Bible is so clear that our God is not a God of deception? (Remember that, although Adam and Eve were created with the appearance of age, as well as having immediate intelligence and moral responsibility, God told us that in His Word, so there is no hiding anything from us on that one.) Scores of verses throughout Scripture make it immensely clear that a deception from God is not possible (see especially Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). The Bible only stands as the supreme authority if we can accept the whole document (all sixty-six books) together, right? Naturally, this leads to another crucial question: Is He, or is He not, willing for some to perish into a dark eternity separated from His presence because they bought into His own “appearance of age” deception, saw that this was “what the Bible says” (or so the Church interprets), and believed the rest of the biblical record to be untrustworthy? The Word says God is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9), yet the only way a soul can come to Him is through the testimony of His Word. If the Bible says Earth is young, but God, Himself, has chosen to make it look old, then doesn’t that mean the Bible cannot be trusted and God has deceived us—strata, coral reefs, river sediments, geomagnetism, redshift, fossils, and all?
Donna, how can you dare even insinuate that God is a deceiver?!
I wouldn’t dare, and that is precisely my point. Though there are Young Earthers who have given other reasons for the “appearance of age” conundrum, no matter what the response, it always comes back to the sound question: Why did God allow so much evidence of advanced age if it simply isn’t true? Either all these scientists are wrong, or God is a trickster.
But Donna, you’re assuming science to be true. The Bible doesn’t bow to human observation. If there’s a conflict between science and the Bible, the Bible wins!
I agree—100 percent and in every application, always, throughout the universe, and into perpetuity. There will never be an exception to this in my own mind. Yet, recall what I wrote in the introduction to this book:
Of utmost importance…is an accurate treatment of the term “true science.” By this, I refer not to what conclusions within the scientific world have arisen through exclusively human origin—as the Bible bows to no manmade investigation, discovery, laboratory result, mathematic calculation, or observation of any kind—but to genuine reality as God has ordained it.…
If God personally created the world, and He did—and if God personally guided the writers of Scripture to faithfully pen His self-revelation to all of mankind, and He did—then weaving these two threads together and seeking to find one accord between them is nothing short of a genuine act of worship.
It has never been my goal to show that human-conducted sciences are truer than the Word of God, but in seeking to praise our Master Scientist for the beautiful universe He has designed, I simply find that the evidence for an old planet stacks higher than it does for a young one, and the Bible absolutely allows for that interpretation. I see so many passionate Young Earthers who have given years of their lives defending our Lord and the faith, while most are seemingly unaware of the theological problem presented with the “appearance of age” (“Tricky God”) theory.
A Young Earther might ask why I haven’t spent more time elaborating on the geological implications of a worldwide Flood in Noah’s time that may have formed many (or all) of these rock and river layers far more rapidly than scientists have reported. My response would be that it’s simply not believable for every area of the world that features these gradations, once we take into account: 1) how the layers are known to form over time in relation to sunshine beating down upon them, the visual testimony of four distinct seasons, and other evidence that could not have occurred during the rain-only Flood account; 2) what fossils exist between the layers, and how they originate from different species in the animal kingdom from one layer to another (such as fossils of fish being found on a certain level, those of reptiles on another, then back to marine animals on another, land animals on yet another, and so on, which is not what a rapid “mixing” of flood damage to the planet would show); 3) the various ages they consistently appear to be—oldest on the bottom and youngest on the top—which could not have come from an overnight, global catastrophe that killed all animals living at the same time at once; 4) the fact that the layers have shown all over the world to overlap in bizarre patterns, some of which are diagonal and involve a “sea, land, sea, land” pattern with evidence of wind erosion on the land levels (showing there could not have been water on the surface of that area for a lengthy time before it became water again, explained by tectonic shifting of major land mass over millions of years); 5) the fact that, even if all else could be explained away by Noah’s Flood, it still wouldn’t account for the gradual growth layering of underwater ocean reefs dated millions of years old and apparently undisturbed by a deluge six thousand years ago; and so on.
But note the key words here: The Flood of Noah’s day is simply not plausible as the cause for every spot on the globe that features such layering. This does not mean there is no evidence of the Flood, or that the Flood did not create some of the Young-Earth evidence we find that took place after the re-creation event.
UP NEXT: We’re Not Dismissing the Flood
[i] “Inverse Square Law,” Energy Education, last accessed March 14, 2023, https://energyeducation.ca/encyclopedia/Inverse_square_law.