Others have argued – and this is perhaps the most persuasive argument possible – that God created the light already in transit. In response, it is first important to note that the argument is not that God could not create the light already in transit. That is not in question. What is in question is the implications for general revelation and knowledge in general if God causes things to appear a certain way when they are not (or were not) actually so. This argument tells us that, though the speed of light is basically constant, it was created in transit to earth...My basic argument is that if one wants to deny that the stars which are millions of light years away existed as we see them, then they are not epistemologically justified in believing in the existence of the sun.Well now, as some of you who follow Bring the Books regularly know, I am a newly minted Young Earther myself. How - it must be asked, do I respond to my own views with regard to the issue of Starlight and its implications for epistemology?
What is most apparent to me, with regard to my starlight argument, is that it proves too much. If, in fact, it destroys knowledge and science (for God to cause something to happen which is contrary to the observable natural order) then we are left with a Bultmanian task of de-mytholization or else a gross unwillingness to follow our principles where they lead.
Until recently, I did not have a very well thought-through philosophy of the relationship between miracles and epistemology. But in Alvin Plantinga's newest book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, he discusses precisely this issue.
Miracles are often thought to be problematic, in that God, if he were to perform a miracle, would be involved in "breaking," going contrary to, abrogating, suspending, a natural law. But given this conception of law, if God were to perform a miracle, it wouldn't at all involve contravening a natural law. That is because, obviously, any occasion on which God performs a miracle is an occasion when the universe is not causally closed; and the law says nothing about what happens when the universe is not causally closed. Indeed, on this conception it isn't even possible that God breaks a law of nature. For to break a law, he would have to act specially in the world; yet any time at which he acted specially in the world would be a time at which the universe is not causally closed; hence no law applies to the circumstances in question and hence no law gets broken.Here is where Plantinga's thoughts help us regain our footing in dealing with the supposed negative epistemological ramifications for a model of creation which involves God's violating the natural order. The original creation of the universe was not done while nature was a closed system. As a matter of fact, the creation itself was an open event which was already contrary to the natural laws as we commonly think of them. It follows that the starlight which we see, if it was created 10,000 years ago (give or take) originated in an open system and not within a closed system. Science is not able to credibly rule on whether the universe is an open or a closed system since that would be a metaphysical claim which is outside of its purview.
Loc. 1259-65, Kindle Edition
If Plantinga is right, and it is technically not possible for God to break the laws of nature then we must dispense with this whole idea that an act of special creation ought to reflect the fingerprint of something created within an open system (i.e. not everything in the universe should not necessarily be expected to look less than 10,000 years old). It may not be possible for us to tell the difference between God's common work and what we often know as the miraculous. Another way of looking at it is, we ought not to reduce God's work to "within nature" and "against nature." Just because starlight was created rather recently does not mean that it is incumbent upon God to let the light take the billion-odd years that are supposed to have been taken for it to reach earth. Nor does it render science or knowledge impossible. Although we deduce from the speed of light and the distance of the stars that it has taken billions of years for this light to reach us, this is only a valid deduction if we understand all of the circumstances related to the creation of stars and light. The circumstances of the Creation, however, are far more mysterious than we would often like to admit. As has been argued to me by many young-earthers, it is no more contrary to the laws of nature for God to create light "in transit" than for God to create in the first place.
If the old-earth defender wants to dig his heels in here, he must be able to account for the fact that God's existence (given an orthdox understanding of God) means that nature is not a closed system. How does an old-earther argue for an old universe based on the speed of light without painting himself into a Bultmanian view of nature which requires natural consistency from beginning to end, ala the closed system model? I'm not sure. Perhaps someone will offer me an answer in the comments.