Thursday, December 22, 2011

Summoning Plantinga's Help in Responding to My Own Starlight Argument

Some time back, I posted an argument against the young earth view of creation. In that post, I stated that if young earth creationism is true, then we can see stars which are millions of light years away which never existed until most of the light years necessary for the light to reach earth would have already transpired. At its most basic level, my argument asserted that the Young Earth model of creationism yielded a God whose world is not epistemologically discernible. If, I argued, God has caused the stars in the sky to have the appearance of having existed at a time when they did not, then foundations for knowledge are undercut. The very first act in the universe appears to have had intertwined with it, a deception.
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.

Loc. 1259-65, Kindle Edition
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.

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.


  1. Adam, glad to hear you're a young-earther now. It's not a salvation issue, but one's view of creation often does reflect a person's concept of the relationship between science and Scripture. For me, I had to choose between a view which was faithful to Scripture but was at odds with mainstream scientific thought, and a view which was the other way around. When I saw ithe issue in that light, the choice was easy.

  2. I've recently (last three years or so) moved from theistic evolution, to open to ID, to recent human (as differentiated from biological categories) to becoming more and more open to the possibility of YEC being you are not alone in your progression that seems to move against the typical shift...I'm glad to hear that I'm not alone in it either!

  3. I am not sure if you have actually answered the Deception argument. From my reading of your post, you have provided an argument for the epistemic justification of starlight appearing old but not being such, however I do not see how that would effect the argument that starlight would still be an act of deception in general revelation. Having an argument for a belief's epistemic validity does not answer per se against those arguments against such a belief.

  4. You're right, Daniel. I haven't worked through that part of the problem yet. I started to write something and ended up composing an entirely anti-scientific argument that in some measure defeated my point that Christianity can be pro-miracle and pro-science.

  5. I am not convinced that the deception argument stands up to inspection. It only is valid if the rate of the passage of time is constant throughout all time and space. That is a huge assumption.

    At any rate, if we are convinced that Scripture teaches a young universe, then all scientific or evidential arguments to the contrary must be viewed as subservient to Biblical teaching. We may not understand how Jesus could change water into wine in an instant. We may be able to prove scientifically that this is impossible. But still the Bible teaches us that He did indeed perform that miracle. I view the Biblical teaching about creation in that way.

  6. I don't think we need to be shy about the fact that we view Scripture as offering a clearer interpretation of nature than vice versa. It seems that as you suggest, John, there is nothing deceptive about the starlight problem if scientists don't understand every variable. It is fair to say that they do not, and so in the end, we must believe that we are seeing things as they are, and as they were, but that perhaps at some time around the creation event the laws of physics did not operate as uniformly as they do today. I have always been somewhat put off by this line of thinking, but it is necessary, I think, if we are to acknowledge the continued validity of scientific study.

  7. Could the second commenter please let us know who you are? It is our normal policy to not have anonymous comments here at Bring the Books. Thanks.

  8. Hi Adam,

    Arguments against 'deception' by those who hold to a Mature Earth YEC position are hard to find. I am interested in reading them.

    Here is a interesting discussion (in the comments) amongst Christians. One an OEC, several Mature Creation YEC's (one name that you'll recognize) and at least one AIG type YEC. I don't know that this goes far enough to answer your question though. But, I'm going to purchase Poythress' book because I'm very interested in reading the argument.

    There are confessionally orthodox men who defend an AIG type of YEC. Douglas Kelly does in CREATION AND CHANGE. In chapters 7 (The Age of the World and the Speed of Light) & 8 (The Age of the World and Physical Chronometers) Kelly does a good job of defending the science while backing it up in the notes. In chapter 7 he specifically deals with decay of the rate of the speed of light, and also, the movement of time and the effect of gravity on that.

    Also, DID GOD CREATE IN 6 DAYS?, edited by Joey Pipa and David Hall is an excellent read.

    These are men who can stand up to the 'Poisoning the Well' charge of Fundamentalist.

    &, please forgive me for asking an OT question here. Does the Kindle have the ability to copy text to a note pad and then later upload this to a PC?

    James Caldwell

  9. John,
    I appreciate your expression of commitment to the text. If I was convinced that Scripture taught a young creation I too would reject any interpretation of evidence to the contrary. However, since I am not convinced that Scripture teaches a young creation, or any age for that matter, and my limited understanding of science seems to suggest that such inquiries are continually changing and endlessly speculative, it seems to me that God has yet deemed it necessary to reveal to us, either through special or general revelation, the age of creation. However, from your reading of the text, I believe your attitude to be sound.

  10. Daniel, fair enough. So it seems you would agree that the real issue for Christians in this discussion is, "Does the Bible limit us to the young-earth view?" Not, "Is the scientific evidence for an old earth incontrovertible?"

  11. My 2nd from last paragraph should read: "These are men who can stand up to the 'Poisoning the Well' charge of being Fundamentalist's or those who hold to 'Fundamentalism'

  12. James,

    What you can do when you are reading on the Kindle is highlight the text using the arrows and then finish the highlight by pressing the enter key. Later, if you plug your Kindle into your PC or Mac you can look in the "documents" folder and look for the file called "My Clippings.txt". That file will have any and every line of text you have highlighted in any of your books, and you can copy and paste out of there.

  13. Thanks Adam,

    I'm considering buying a Kindle but I wouldn't buy one unless it had that capability

    Thanks again for answering that question

    & have a blessed year


  14. Josh,
    I'm the second comment above (but not any of the unknown comments that follow). I posted from my regular Google account, so have no idea why it's hiding my identity.

  15. It did it again, but isn't doing this on other sites. My name is Kyle Essary.


Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!