Correspondence: Virtual History
July 11--14, 2008
Dear Dr. Aardsma,
We are starting VBS next week and our VBS theme is "Dino-Detectives" (from Regular Baptist Press) which has sparked some interesting conversations among the church leadership about the age of the earth, etc.
Our pastor is an old-school creationist. He just can't believe how much the Bible is being questioned these days, and he's never had a problem believing the earth is 6,000 years old. He had a newer member of the church tell him recently that he disagrees with him on the age of the earth, although he would never cause division over it. He believes in the gap theory. I don't think our pastor has had many church members like this over the years and it causes him to re-think some things.
He is also thinking about this right now as he is trying to prepare a sermon for Sunday to go along with the VBS theme. I gave him some of your articles about virtual history, which he read. He came back with the question, "How does this belief differ from the teaching of the creation having the Appearance of Age?"
I think virtual history is very interesting and it makes a lot of sense to me. However, I do not know how to answer many questions about it. Would you mind answering that question so I could pass it on to our pastor? Or maybe you have an article that addresses this issue. Thanks for your help.
I think that, to one thinking consistently in a virtual history framework, the phrase "creation with appearance of age" seems at best a redundancy, at worst a heresy, and in the middle (just to cover all the ground) an absurdity. So there are, obviously, some differences. I haven't had to articulate these differences to many people to the present time, so it is still not easy to explain what I can "see". In addition, it gets harder to think in the Creation with Appearance of Age paradigm the longer you think in the Virtual History paradigm --- kind of like trying to make yourself play the piano wrong after years of training to play right. So consider the following comments to be a rough draft.
The two ideas share some similarity, but differ at a basic level both philosophically and theologically. Creation with Appearance of Age gives the impression that God arbitrarily painted a facade of age over the creation --- that He could have chosen to leave everything looking its "real" created age (i.e., roughly 7000 years, by my best Bible chronology reckoning) if He had wanted to, but He chose instead to make things look much older. This immediately raises theological objections: "But why would God do such a thing? Isn't it fundamentally dishonest to make something look like it isn't? Isn't God being deceitful?" (This is where the "heresy" mentioned above comes from.)
The virtual history view never encounters this problem. It says that the people who are saying "creation with appearance of age" don't understand properly what the word/idea "creation" means. The virtual history view goes to the analogy of human creations to try to show what "creation" means. It takes the creation of a story by a human author as (probably its best) analogy. It observes that in all such stories one always has a virtual history present---grown characters wearing sewn garments and living in already built houses... right from page one of the story. What is implied from page one of the story is a cause-and-effect virtual history to the story, stretching back into the indefinite past. This virtual history in no way contradicts the actual date (in the story characters' time) of creation of the story. (That "date" we would fix at page one of the book, since that is when, in the story frame of reference, the story world comes into existence.) We find by such analogies that an "appearance of age" is inherent in what "creation" means. (This is where the "redundancy" mentioned above comes from.)
But this "appearance of age" is not an add-on and is not arbitrary. Try to imagine writing a story which does not have an "appearance of age". After you have completed that exercise, try to imagine writing a fiction story which has a false "appearance of age". I find that it is intrinsically impossible to create such stories. I.e., you cannot have a "creation with an appearance of age" if you mean by that anything other than a creation with its inherent virtual history. To ask for a creation with a false appearance of age (which includes the case of a creation having no appearance of age), is to ask for the impossible/ridiculous. (This is where the "absurdity" mentioned above comes from.)
We are living in a "story" God created. God is both author and reader of this story (e.g., "For in Him we both live and move and have our being." Acts 17:28.) (Note how this works. A story-world has no existence in the book; its existence is in the mind of the author and readers.) Page one opens about 7000 years ago our time, (the only time frame we have access to). This "story" has a virtual history stretching back billions of years. We find this to be the case by computing the time it would take light to travel from remote galaxies we see in the sky, or by computing the time it would take radioactive elements, such as uranium dug from the earth in natural ores, to decay as much as they have. These great ages in no way negate the fact that page one opens 7000 years ago. Nor does our virtual history, with all its dinosaurs etc. negate the fact that we are created. All stories have virtual histories and no story yet has ever created itself---all have had an author/creator. And the fact that our (fallen) virtual history shows eons of death and savagery and futility merely says "amen" to what Romans teaches, that the whole creation has been subjected to futility by God as a consequence of the entrance of sin, in hopes of its eventual redemption (Romans 8:20). [And, if I may stray from the point a bit, the "story" is still being written/read, and God allows us to take a real part in its unfolding by our prayers and actions---so the Bible shows.]
This raises one more major point of difference, the handling of the Fall. Briefly, Creation with Appearance of Age runs into a theological snag with things like fossils of fish with other smaller fish in their stomachs: "Do you mean that God chose to paint, of all things, a facade of SUFFERING and DEATH onto the creation when He gave it this arbitrary appearance of age at the time of creation?" The virtual history paradigm recognizes simply that all creation type miracles entail a virtual history, so the Fall, with its creation type miracles (by which the nature of the creation was changed --- "subjected to futility") carried with it its own (fallen) virtual history, which is the virtual history we now see. We do not see the original utopian pre-Fall creation with its (presumably utopian) virtual history.
Hope this helps,
Dear Dr. Aardsma,
Thanks for taking time to answer this. ... Your answer has helped me as I have read it about 10 times trying to figure it all out in my mind. =) It seems silly to me that some creationists will assign "appearance of age" to some things like starlight (I guess what other choice do they have? You can't deny we can see light from those stars!) and trees in the garden of Eden, etc, but will insist that dinosaur bones could not have been in place from the moment of creation, because God would have "tricked us".
And, if the moments-old creation of living things did NOT have a virtual history, what exactly would the creation have consisted of? A whole bunch of NOTHING is the only thing I can think of! =) Every living thing has a history (whether virtual or real) that, like you said, stretches back into the indefinite past. I can see that by thinking about the tree outside my window. Just wanted to share my humble thoughts. =)
February 13, 2007
Dear Dr. Aardsma,
Your website is looking very good. It is also very easy to use. I spent some time reading some things on it last night, after having to endure an Answers in Genesis speaker all day yesterday in church. I tried to endure with as much grace as possible. =)
Most of the topics were about dinosaurs, Cain's wife, false ape-men, the flood, and the biblical creation account. However, in the very first session, in only 45 minutes, he "proved" "evolution" to be false and the Bible true! Not to mention, it only took about 5 minutes to scratch radiocarbon dating off the list. No problem. It's laughable really. Ha Ha Ha. The overall impression left is that "evolutionists" are just pretty dumb. And creationists are smart. Aren't we glad we are part of the "smart" group? All those people who don't believe the Bible are just too prideful and just WON'T believe anything else. Man, if it were that simple, Christianity ought to be spreading like wildfire!
Anyhow, like I said, I tried to exercise as much grace as possible. Maybe some of it was helpful to some people. ... I just have to comfort myself with the knowledge that God knows and sees all and one day all truth and error will be made plain.
I did get my nerve up to ask 3 questions in the Q&A session, based on some things he had said earlier in the day. First I asked -- are there any Biblical references to a 700 year ice age following the flood? (He had said earlier we should always start with Scripture. I just wondered where the starting point was for the ice age.) He said he was not aware of any biblical references to the ice age.
Second, I asked -- is it possible that God created some fossils/dinosaur skeletons, etc, in place as an interesting part of His creation? He seemed to feel that every fossil was once a true living thing. Otherwise he said God would have tricked us.
Thirdly -- Why do you think all the animal life is so completely different in the Australian part of the world? If they all came off the ark at Ararat shouldn't they be living in that region still today? (Earlier in the day he had said that kangaroos once lived in the middle east, since Noah took 2 of every kind of animal on the ark.) He said he did not have a good answer for that question, except to say that the animals must have migrated to the climates best suited to them.
Here's some things that I'm curious to find out your thoughts on:
-Do you believe there was ever an ice age? (I searched this on your site but nothing came up.)
-Why do you think the science textbooks are so set on teaching biological evolution when it is so obviously impossible? And there is no evidence for it? (I did see an article you have on molecules to man evolution so I will read that.)
-How do you think things like the Grand Canyon came to be? Did God create it like that?
Anyhow, I thought you would be interested in all this, although it's nothing new I'm sure. Usually I'm just happily oblivious to such things.
I'm also going to get your articles on virtual history.
Yes, I believe there was an "ice-age". Actually, there were several ice-ages. They were all in virtual history. The last one ended about 10,000 years ago. So it doesn't enter into real history, since Creation happened just over 7,000 years ago. Since my work is designed to defend the historical truth of the Bible against charges that what it reports as history is in fact fiction, I have not had much cause to talk about the ice-ages so far. (In my understanding of virtual history and the past, one can just accept what the scientists specializing in these fields are telling everyone is their best understanding/reconstruction of these past events. These reconstructions do not attack the historical integrity of the Bible in any way once one understands the concept of virtual history.)
Actually, I think there is enormous evidence of biological evolution (meaning extensive changes to flaura and fauna)---again, in virtual history. Note that the Bible does not say that biological evolution CAN NOT happen; it says that biological evolution DID NOT happen. That is, the Bible clearly teaches that we got here by CREATION, not by EVOLUTION. "In the beginning God CREATED the heavens and the earth", not "In the beginning God EVOLVED the heavens and the earth." But none of this excludes the possibility of biological evolution in virtual history. In fact, the teaching in Romans 8:20, that the creation was subjected to futility at the time of the Fall, meshes rather well with evolution being the thing seen in the virtual history data, for the hallmark of evolution is not purpose, but random chance and meaninglessness.
The Grand Canyon should also be understood just as the standard scientists describe its formation. It too is a virtual history phenomenon.
Virtual history is not a hard idea. Just think about what it means to actually CREATE something. Creating a story is a helpful analogy. Take "The Hobbit" as an example of a created entity. Now step into the book with Bilbo on page one and begin to examine the world around you. Everything you see and examine around you has already, on page one, an extensive built-in virtual history. Bilbo is in his 50's as I recall. So he has a virtual history. His house has been dug back into the hill, implying someone did some digging. If you examine the tunnels you can no doubt find tool marks left by the workmen. His front door is made of wood, implying trees grown, sawn into planks, planed, and fastened together by craftsmen, all before the story begins. And on and on it goes...Bilbo's clothing with all those stitches, and the soil in his yard and garden with humus from long-dead leaves, ...
We are living in a CREATION. The creation we are living in is a story of God's making. It opens on page one 5176+/-26 B.C. (by my best reckoning so far). The story moves from Creation to Fall to Flood to Exodus to Birth of Christ to Crucifixion to Redemption to ultimate Restoration of all things. This story is our reality, but it is not ultimate reality. (God is ultimate reality---He transcends the story just as any author transcends their created story.) And like any story, it has, necessarily, a virtual history built in from page one onward.
The big take-home point is that evidence of virtual history---of even millions or billions of years of this or that process operating in the past---does not and cannot falsify the fact of creation in a created entity. So we can let the virtual history data about the Grand Canyon or the ice ages or whatever else speak for itself and say whatever it seems to say. We do not have to resort to foolishness (e.g., denying the validity of tree-ring calibrated radiocarbon dates) to try to wipe out every trace of any natural process prior to the biblical date of Creation. We understand virtual history to be part and parcel of any created thing, so evidences of such processes do not threaten our faith or falsify the Bible's claim that we got here by supernatural creation just over 7000 years ago.