Supernovas and “God the Great Deceiver” theology

Introduction

A central tenet of creationism is that the earth (or even the entire universe) was created over a very short period of time, either six literal days or at most 6000 years, and that this creation was completed about 4000 BCE (see Creationism).

Needless to say, this worldview is in utter disagreement with the findings of modern science, which pegs the age of the earth at 4.56 billion years, and the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years. Creationist Henry Morris, for one, acknowledged the evidence for an extremely old earth and universe, but explained this discrepancy by saying that God created the world with an “appearance of age,” even including light rays coming from distant stars and galaxies [Boardman1973, pg. 26; see also Morris2000, pg. 203]:

[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.

Implications of the “apparent age” for astronomy

According to this “apparent age” theory, each and every one of the photons of light that our eyes (and powerful telescopes) can detect from objects more than 6000 light-years away must have been placed in space about 4000 BCE in transit on a trajectory headed for earth, with red shifts and other characteristics indistinguishable from what 21st century scientists would later calculate to be typical of light produced by natural processes in distant stars many millions of light-years away. Now consider what this means when we view distant galaxies, which number in the billions. All galaxies outside the Milky Way have been measured to be many thousands (and in some cases millions or billions) of light-years distant from the earth. Since there are over 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe (some studies suggest up to 500 billion), the photon flux from distant galaxies to the earth’s surface is some 1023 (one hundred million quadrillion) photons per second, even when one takes into account the fact that most galaxies are more than 100 times more distant than nearby galaxies. The total flux of light from distant galaxies heading to some point in the disk of the Milky Way (instead of counting just those arriving at the earth’s surface) is roughly 1050 (one hundred thousand quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion) photons per second.

Supernovas

It is not just the huge number of photons, but also the many events seen in the sky that must be accounted for. Consider supernovas, for example. Supernovas are extremely luminous stellar explosions, which may briefly outshine an entire galaxy before slowly fading from view over several weeks or months. One supernova in the Milky Way galaxy was studied by Johannes Kepler in 1604 CE, and its remnant (20,000 light-years from earth) can be seen even today in the constellation Ophiuchus:


image #1

However, almost all supernovas have occurred far outside the Milky Way, and thus are at least 200,000 light-years distant, so that when we see them occur we are seeing the record of an event that happened at least 200,000 years ago. Type Ia supernovas are of particular interest to astronomers, since they can be used as “standard candles” to measure distances to deep space. For example, more than 2500 Type Ia supernovas have been observed by astronomers associated with the Nearby Supernova Factory at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California [Preuss2009]. More are being found in the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF), operated by a collaboration between California Institute of Technogy, the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and several other institutions (see PTF website).

In August 2011 astronomers associated with the PTF project discovered the closest (and brightest) Type Ia supernova explosion that had been seen for many years. Since it was located in the Pinwheel Galaxy mentioned above, which is about 21 million light-years away, it occurred 21 million years ago [Vu2011]. Others are far more distant. In 2009, two supernovae were found that are 11 billion light-years away, so that they occurred 11 billion years ago, not long after the big bang itself, which has been dated to 13.7 billion years ago [Minard2009].

But for those who have embraced Henry Morris-style creationism, none of these supernova explosions really happened, since they occurred thousands, millions or even billions of years before the presumed creation of the universe 6000 years ago. In other words, according to the young-earth creationist worldview, all of these “supernova explosions” are nothing more than suggestive patterns of incoming photons constructed in-flight by an inscrutable Creator in roughly 4000 BCE.

Commentary on “God the Great Deceiver” theology

Needless to say, there are severe philosophical and theological difficulties with the notion that God deliberately constructed a phony earth and universe to mislead diligent seekers of truth in the 21st century. Indeed, to most observers outside the realm of hard-core creationists, such a notion 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.

Biologist Kenneth Miller (a Roman Catholic) excoriates this idea in these terms [Miller1999, pg. 80]:

What saddens me is the view of the Creator that their intellectual contortions force them to hold. In order to defend God against the challenge they see from evolution, they have to make him into a schemer, a trickster, even a charlatan. Their version of God is one who intentionally plants misleading clues beneath our feet and in the heavens themselves. Their version of God is one who has filled the universe with so much bogus evidence that the tools of science can give us nothing more than a phony version of reality. In other words, their God has negated science by rigging the universe with fiction and deception. To embrace that God, we must reject science and worship deception itself.

Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (an evangelical Christian), adds the following [Collins2006, pg. 177]:

The image of God as a cosmic trickster seems to be the ultimate admission of defeat for the Creationist perspective. Would God as the great deceiver be an entity one would want to worship? Is this consistent with everything else we know about God from the Bible, from the Moral Law, and from every other source — namely, that he is loving, logical and consistent?

It is also worth pointing out that “God the Great Deceiver” theology goes against what the Bible itself says. Speaking about the creation, Rom. 1:20 states that God’s qualities, in particular his eternal power and divine nature, are “clearly observed in what he has made.” Psalms 19:1, that memorable verse which says “The heavens declare the glory of God,” expresses the same idea. The “apparent age” theory would have us believe the opposite. It is ironic that those who place so much emphasis on adhering to a literal, inerrant interpretation of scripture would ignore what the Bible plainly says on this essential point.

For full details and additional discussion, see Deceiver.

References

  1. [Boardman1973] William W. Boardman, Robert F. Koontz and Henry M. Morris, Science and Creation, Creation-Science Research Center, San Diego, CA, 1973.
  2. [Collins2006] Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Free Press, New York, 2006.
  3. [Miller1999] Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, Cliff Street Books, New York, 1999.
  4. [Minard2009] Anne Minard, “Most Distant Supernovae Found,” National Geographic News, 8 Jul 2009, available at Online article.
  5. [Morris2000] Henry M. Morris, Scientific Creationism, Creation-Life Publishers, El Cajon, CA, 1985, reprinted 2000.
  6. [Preuss2009] Paul Preuss, “The Evolving Search for the Nature of Dark Energy: Part 1, Supernovae as Standard Candles,” Berkeley Lab News Center, 27 Oct 2009, available at Online article.
  7. [Vu2011] Linda Vu, “Berkeley Scientists Discover an ‘Instant Cosmic Classic’ Supernova,” Berkeley Lab News Center, 25 Aug 2011, available at Online article.

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