Thursday, February 09, 2012

Why Does the Universe Look So Old?

In human terms, of course, the universe is old.  It's thousands of years old, much older than any living human, and maybe two orders of magnitude older than a typical retiree.  It's old.  It is not, however, as old as people who adopt the presupposition of naturalism think it is.

These days they are telling us that the universe is between 13-14 Billion years old.  Even the Earth itself is between 4-5 Billion years old, they tell us.  Perhaps, on the presupposition of naturalism, that's the "right" approximate age.

That presupposition of naturalism, however, is wrong.  The Earth only appears to be as old as naturalism would suggest it is.

But why then does the Earth look so "old."  Is God lying to us by dressing the world in old clothes to deceive us about its true age?

First, God can hardly be accused of deceiving us about the world's age, when he gives us such detailed information in Genesis and Exodus that allows us to generate an approximate age of the universe.

Second, what would a "young" universe look like?  On naturalism, a 6000 year old universe would be one that is totally inhospitable to life - the same for a 6000 year old Earth.  So, one obvious answer for the reason that the Earth and Universe don't look "young" is that the Earth and Universe are here to support life.

Third, as David Gadbois has noted (see here) any conceivable universe that has the laws of conversation of mass and energy would look older than it is, because the existence of matter and/or energy would imply the indefinite past existence of matter and energy.

Fourth, this "apparent age" is subjective.  Sure, I know that "scientists" use various objective measures and perform calculations, but the notion of appearance is itself inherently subjective.  We see this subjectivity in the "increasing age of the universe" phenomenon.  Nineteenth century scientists evidently estimated the age of the world in the tens of millions to hundreds of millions of years range.  By contrast, the age of the earth is now estimated to be the billions of years, range - with no real guarantee that new theories won't bring new revisions.

In short, given propositional divine revelation, any appearance of age of the universe is hardly problematic.  Moreover, since naturalism cannot account for fully formed worlds springing into being in a moment, it is unsurprising that the universe "appears" older than it is.  When the universe had just been formed, every possible naturalistic judgment of the earth's age would necessarily suggest it was older than it actually is.  That is especially the case for an habitable world, given that both new universes and new earths (as described by the scientific theories du jour) would be completely inhospitable to human life.



Mike Erich said...

Also the processes assumed by naturalistic thinking implies the universe developed slowly over time. Therefore there must be long periods of time for these processes to take place. The underlying presumption requires the conclusion. But if God can intervene and produce a fully "developed" earth the assumption is invalid.

Dan said...

I completely agree with the point that, were God to instantaneously create a "mature," life-hospitable universe, there would be no way of knowing, from a naturalistic point of view, that the universe is as young as it in fact would be; and I think that a naturalist would be very inclined to assume that it is older than it in fact would be. But what would such a person be expected to assume? That it is between 13-14 billion years old? No. From a philosophical or non-empirical point of view that's a completely arbitrary number to pick; and there's nothing about the presupposition of naturalism as such that would give this as the "right" approximate age. If we are going to explain their perspective in terms of naturalistic presuppositions, the more natural thing to think is that they would assume that the universe is eternal, having always been here (as many people in fact believed for centuries). Granting your point that, "since naturalism cannot account for fully formed worlds springing into being in a moment, it is unsurprising that the universe 'appears' older than it is," we don't yet have any explanation for why naturalists think it has the specific approximate age they think it does. So I don't think you can explain away the prevailing scientific view (roughly, big bang cosmology) in terms of naturalistic presuppositions.

turretinfan said...

"But what would such a person be expected to assume?"

If God told them "I just created it," they wouldn't be expected to assume anything.

Dan said...

David (in the link) speaks of "nearly" any conceivable universe, not any; and if he meant any without qualification, he is wrong. Suppose that an observer does not witness a static universe, but rather an expanding one (one growing larger in every direction). Depending on the observed rate of expansion, there will be some interval of time such that the universe will not appear to have existed for longer than that interval (because, once one extrapolates into the past beyond that interval, the universe will have since appeared to have imploded out of existence). Conservation laws may not lead one to expect a finite age of the universe, but these are not the only relevant conceivable laws governing a universe. Further, big bang cosmology (BBC) denies the "indefinite past existence" of matter and/or energy. Whether one takes this to suggest that BBC denies appearances, or instead to suggest that the universe does not appear to have contained matter/energy indefinitely into the past, the fact that a universe created ex nihilo would not necessarily appear to be young does not explain away the popularity of BBC. According to it, the universe does not merely appear to be older than you think it is; it appears to be older than you think it is by a relatively specific, determinate amount. And I don't see how this fact can be accounted for by invoking naturalistic presuppositions on the part of the relevant scientists (though it is surely true that many if not most of them have such presuppositions). In fact, naturalistic inclinations have led some scientists to resist BBC, because on BBC the universe appears to have been created ex nihilo.

John Sellman said...

Naturalism presupposes a universe without a beginning, eternal and unchanging. I cite the Steady State theory as evidence that this is so. The scientific description (today) of the universe does not appear to be derived primarily from this naturalistic presupposition. Is it really impossible to discover the age of the universe using observation and experimentation? Is it only something that divine revelation can tell us? If so, why? (As an aside, no one has demonstrated to me from scripture that the age of the earth is 6k years old.)

Eric said...

... "increasing age of the universe" phenomenon... I can attest to this. When I started my science degree in college I was taught that the earth was 3.8 billion year old. By the time I finished my Geology degree the earth was 4.5 billion years old! Granted, I wasn't the sharpest bulb in the deck, but it really didn't take me that long to finish my degree! ;-)

Michael Snow said...

"First, God can hardly be accused of deceiving us about the world's age, when he gives us such detailed information in Genesis and Exodus that allows us to generate an approximate age of the universe."

Only if you fall back into eisegesis. The Bible gives us no information from which we can calculate even an "approximate age." Unless you take the liberal version of Gen. 1:1 that this is a conditional rather than a n absolute statement [as in all the ancient translation as Aalders shows], we are told of the creation of the universe in verse 1. We are told in verse two the condition of earth and in verse 3 God begins to put earth in order for the creation of man. As to how much time elapsed between verse 1 and 3 we have no information.

turretinfan said...

Actually, we do have information. See Exodus 20.

mr ashley haworth-roberts said...

"What would a "young" universe look like? On naturalism, a 6000 year old universe would be one that is totally inhospitable to life - the same for a 6000 year old Earth. So, one obvious answer for the reason that the Earth and Universe don't look "young" is that the Earth and Universe are here to support life".

This piece of comment, side-stepping the actual question, is probably correct as far as it goes. However, YECs believe in unverifiable and unscientific 'supernaturalism'. But all we have to look at is reality. Reality which IS hospitable to life but which YECs insist cannot be other than 6,000 years old.

Instead of trying to suggest what a 6,000 universe would look like (and being forced to admit that that is NOT how the universe looks) TurretinFan merely seeks to claim that naturalism - which shows us the true age of the universe - 'has' to be wrong. Because the real age IS 6,000 years BUT there is life too.

Of course, on 'naturalism' ie REALITY (whether or not the universe was designed and 'created' by a God) NONE of the compelling evidence for an ancient Earth and an even older universe would be there if the true age was just 6,000 years. Unless God is in the business of creating something young with the undoubted but misleading 'appearance' of great age - presumably because of the existence of the information revealing great age, and more importantly refuting young age, that he knew would be gained by humanity through 'naturalism' ie science. And then forcing us to choose between that reality and 'infallible' scripture.

It's probably true that life would not be there either if the true age of the universe was 6,000 years - the one aspect of the question that the blogger addresses but only as a means to suggesting that naturalism is wrong - and we would not be around to SEE a 6,000 year old universe (barring the divine supernatural intervention that the blogger believes in). However, a 6,000 year old universe would still be THERE - and science can no doubt suggest aspects of today's universe that would NOT be present in that universe (other than earthly life).

turretinfan said...

Mr. A. H-R. You seemed to have missed the central problem. The claim is not that God created the world through natural causation, but supernaturally. -TurretinFan

mr ashley haworth-roberts said...


I've only just seen your comment of 5 minutes' ago.

Please let me know if my new post does not address your comment about belief in 'supernatural creation'.

Such would I think be an unfalsifiable notion ie not strictly scientific.


turretinfan said...

Yes. Supernatural Creation is not a naturalistic explanation. That's the point.

mr ashley haworth-roberts said...

My point was that supernatural creation is an assumption. It's also unverifiable I think.

It also ignores any evidence pointing to naturalism (even naturalism caused by God).

Grateful that my comments are appearing here, by the way.

turretinfan said...

It's unverifiable via methodological naturalism, yes. But it is verifiable by revelation. God has told us how he made the world (namely by speaking it into existence). That's how we know. We could never know how God supernaturally did anything via methodological naturalism, because methodological naturalism is limited in the sources of explanation that it can provided to natural causes.

mr ashley haworth-roberts said...

How do you verify revelation.

Only subjectively I would suggest.

turretinfan said...

I'm not sure what you mean by verifying revelation. Obviously, the prophets themselves were verified through working miracles and the like. Moreover, the Holy Spirit who inspired Scripture persuades us of its authenticity. There are other sorts of verifications as well, such as fulfilled prophecies.

But what I meant is that YEC, as a position, is verified by revelation. How else could we know the supernatural, except through revelation?

I'm not completely sure how you are distinguishing between "subjectively" and otherwise. Miracles and the Holy Spirit are objective external realities. But, of course, they must make an inward impression in order to persuade (but that's true of every kind of evidence).

mr ashley haworth-roberts said...

I was referring to committed Christians (I used to be one though NOT a YEC nor, at the time, scientifically aware) who give their 'testimonies' and claim that biblical revelation is the verified truth.

By the way, do mainstream YECs eg at AiG and CMI state that what is described in Genesis 1 was a supernatural series of events overriding science ie somewhat similar to miracles of Jesus? I'm not sure. They seem to claim Genesis is 'true science' (by which they mean revelation plus eg fossils 'pointing' to Noah's Flood only). By science they really mean 'knowledge' - rather than what a typical dictionary might say.

turretinfan said...

I think all YECs think that creation included a series of supernatural events (over the course of six days) that resulted in the creation of the world. Some YECs would suggest that the Great Flood was also a supernatural event, while others might take it to be a natural event. These days, I think most "mainstream" YEC would say that fossil record is mostly to entirely a record of the Great Flood, but we would certainly not demand that this is necessarily the case. There are other options, such as that the earth was created with fossils in place (to what end? I'm not sure - hence I disfavor that answer).

mr ashley haworth-roberts said...

Thanks. It's quite hard to square a 'tsunami-like Flood' with the "fossil record is mostly to entirely a record of the Great Flood" (an order in which creatures perished).

turretinfan said...

I think most of the difficulty arises from a belief that the fossil record reflects large epochs of time as opposed to representing a single large cataclysm.

mr ashley haworth-roberts said...

Sorry, don't understand your point. And there's NO logical difficulty if you explain the sorted fossil record as deposited over large epochs of time.

My point was that YECs argue as below (from the Answers in Genesis website on 24.3.12):
"Much of the geologic column is a timeline of the year of the global
Flood and records the order in which plants and animals were buried. It
is reasonable to assume plants and animals in the pre-Flood world
dominated habitats most suitable for them. The geologic column can give
us some clues about that pre-Flood world. Amidst the upheavals
associated with the weeks during which floodwaters surged upward and
buried billions of living things, those things in habitats first to be
overwhelmed would generally occupy lower positions in the geologic
column. Thus the fact that dinosaurs appear in the Jurassic and
Cretaceous layers of rock with a number of other animals does not mean
that those animals evolved at the same time but rather that they likely
lived in habitats overwhelmed at about the same time. Creatures
fossilized higher up in the rock layers were likely either able to
temporarily flee rising waters or occupied habitats overwhelmed later,
perhaps due to higher elevations farther inland. The association of
mostly gymnosperm plants with dinosaur fossils suggests dinosaurs
shared their most common habitats with more gymnosperms than flowering
plants. Floral environments were likely overwhelmed later, as
angiosperm fossils appear higher".

I asked them how on earth this could happen if the Flood was a series of tsunami waves like those seen in Japan or Indonesia (the Bible account appears to suggests some violence, with waters from above and below).How could 'clever' humans outrun such waves, so as always to be fossilised high in the geologic column?

Of course AiG NEITHER acknowledged NOR answered my query (rather ironic don't you think).