Is God a Great Deceiver? Implications of creationist geology and astronomy

A central tenet of creationism is that the earth (and, in fact, 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, has acknowledged the evidence for an extremely old earth and universe, but has explained this discrepancy by saying that God created the world with an “appearance of age,” perhaps as a test of our faith. In other words, Morris and some other creationists hypothesize that God created a completely functioning universe about 4000 BCE, complete with numerous characteristics of a much older system. It appears old only because God had to create the world with some specific apparent age, and a 4.56 billion year apparent age was chosen for reasons that we perhaps cannot fathom [Whitcomb1988, pg. 233-238; Morris2000, pg. 203]. A similar philosophy was recently endorsed by R. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who “accept[s] without hesitation the fact that the world indeed looks old,” but explains that the “appearance of the cosmos” is due to the “nature of God’s judgment” [Mohler2011].

It is worth pondering for a moment what this worldview really entails, both scientifically and theologically. Consider, for a moment, a piece of granite one sees while hiking in the mountains (or installed as a countertop in a proud homeowner’s kitchen). Each one of the specks of colored material in this granite (as well as each grain of the granite itself) must have been individually constructed with numerous long-lived radioactive isotopes whose relative concentrations are typical of multi-million-year-old material. Otherwise, by this point in time human researchers, using highly advanced equipment that can analyze even microscopic specks of rock, would obtain strangely discordant radiometric date measurements for many specimens of granite rock found in field studies (see Ages and Reliability). The same must be true of rocks throughout the world, even those at depths of thousands of feet below the surface, because these are within reach of petroleum drilling rigs and deep-earth mining operations. What’s more, similar alterations must also have been made to all the rocks near the surface of the Moon and Mars, since spacecraft (and, in the case of the Moon, humans in earth-based labs) have measured the isotopic concentrations and other characteristics of these rocks as well.

It is even more telling to contemplate the magnificent display of stars on a clear night in the mountains. According to this same creationist “apparent age” theory, each and every one of the photons of light that our eyes (and powerful telescopes) can detect were 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 millions of light-years distant from the earth. For example, galaxy NGC5457, also known as M101 or the Pinwheel Galaxy, is between 25 million and 27 million light-years from earth. Thus the light that a telescope sees was generated by stars in this galaxy at least 25 million years ago. Related techniques fix the distance to a quasar known as 3C253 at 2.5 billion light-years from earth (100 times more distant than NGC5457), so that its light was generated 2.5 billion years ago.

But if the creationist view of astronomy is correct, then neither galaxy NGC5457 nor quasar 3C253 existed these many years ago, since the universe was created in toto only about 6000 years ago. Thus the light we see today from NGC5457 was not generated by a real galaxy, and the light we see from 3C253 was not generated by a real quasar. Instead, according to what Henry Morris and others have hypothesized, a few thousand years ago God constructed countless quadrillions of photons in space, each heading directly to specific spots on earth, so that in the 21st century our eyes and telescopes would “see” a galaxy and a quasar. Each of these in-transit photons must have been constructed with a red-shifted frequency typical of what modern scientists calculate would expect to see if these photons were generated by natural processes in these astronomical objects. Similar streams of photons must have been constructed in transit from all of the other billions of galaxies that astronomers can now see in large telescopes.

What’s more, since it seems inevitable that mankind will eventually embark on voyages to distant stars (and our robot spacecraft already have!), then similar multitudes of photons in transit must have been constructed appearing to come from every distant galaxy and quasar on one hand, to targets throughout the Milky Way where we or our robot spacecraft might travel. This means quadrillions times quadrillions of photons must have been constructed throughout the cosmos, or else eventually the human race would discover the fraud.

Needless to say, there are severe difficulties with such a worldview. To begin with, the creationists’ “apparent age” theory is completely non-falsifiable, and thus is utterly unscientific, since this hypothesized creation 6000 years ago could just as well be asserted to have occurred on Thursday two weeks ago, complete with our bodies and memories intact, and we would not be able to perform any experiment to prove otherwise. More importantly, to anyone outside the world of hard-core creationists, this type of “God the Great Deceiver” theology, namely the notion that God deliberately constructed a phony universe to mislead diligent seekers of truth in the 21st century, 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?

For additional details and references, see Deceiver.


  1. [Collins2006] Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Free Press, New York, 2006.
  2. [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.
  3. [Mohler2011] R. Albert Mohler, “Why the Creation-Evolution Debate is So Important,” Christian Post, 10 Jan 2011, available at Online article.
  4. [Morris2000] Henry M. Morris, Scientific Creationism, Creation-Life Publishers, El Cajon, CA, 1985, reprinted 2000.
  5. [Whitcomb1998] John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Philadelphia, 1961, reprinted 1998.

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