Apparent Age is a fringe thought. From the view of the typical secularist it is one of the craziest uncles in a crazy family of religious ideas. When the evidence of an old universe first put pressure on the literal reading of Genesis, some sincere creationist argued that Adam must have had a belly button, that he must have appeared 30 years old right down to his inny oomphalos a minute after he was made. So then, goes the argument, the universe might appear 13.5 billion years old, but it is really 6,000 years old, but with a belly button, put there by God’s finger to fool us.
Is it surprising that this Oomphalos idea has been ridiculed? It’s been characterized as arguing that God builds trickery into His creation. And Christians weren’t pepared to defend that systematically, so we took to ridiculing our own uncle. Even though we believe that God made the world by His word, we wouldn’t be associated with such an unsophisticated notion as that “apparent age” nonsense. But it won’t do. Us supernaturalists need to think this thing through and admit that any belief in miracles is also a belief in apparent age. There is no such thing as a miracle that does not alter the apparent age of the object of the miracle.
We need to embrace our inner kook. We need to move our crazy uncle from the closet under the stairs out onto the front porch and paint OURS on his forehead. Not because he is useful, but because if you believe in miracles at all you are an Oomphalist. You can’t conceive of an act of special creation which doesn’t involve apparent age. It has nothing to do with trickery, and everything to do with the character of things as reified time. Time is what things are. To make a thing, or alter a thing, is to manipulate time, or nothing at all.
I don’t know if Adam had a bully button — I don’t know why he would — but if you think he existed you must picture him with human parts of some kind..say..hair? Hair, then. And if you could pluck one hair from his numbered head and analyze it scientifically, how old would it appear? Can you even conceptualize a hair that appears 10 seconds old? Isn’t a hair, by definition, a thing that has grown over time? Isn’t the age of the thing intrinsic to the thing? I mean, everything is a product of a certain process, and it is not also something else alongside that. The essence is in the elapsed time, not, again, somehow alongside it. Take another miracle story: Jesus turns water into wine. Look at the wine five minutes after it was created and tell me how old it is. The physical process of fermentation is the very definition of wine. I’m sure there are chemical measurements that can quantify the amount of fermentation and elapsed time. That wine looked like old grape juice or it didn’t look like anything at all. Jesus wasn’t trying to trick anyone; He was just making real wine.
The most accurate imagining of creation in literature must be the creation scene from The Chronicles of Narnia. Read it again: trees don’t just materialize out of thin air (materializing from air is a modern, jejune innovation), they grow, but quickly. After all, isn’t the meaning of “tree” a certain product of light, air, water, and dirt? If God would try to make a tree that was not a product of light, air, water and light it would not actually be a tree. How many rings could you have measured on the trees of Eden, the morning they were made? To think you are obligated to imagine an Eden tree without rings is an insult to God’s work. Whether they grew in a nano-second or a minute or in a fashion such that sequence itself is not applicable, I don’t know, but let’s not imagine them without rings, nor imagine Eve without glorious shining tresses. God saw His work, and thought it good.
The age of the wine at Cana is not apparent; it’s actual. There’s no meaning of the word “age” outside some physical metric. When the metric equals five, the age is five. That’s all the word means.
So it isn’t that the age is an appearance or a trick: the Cana wine really is 5 years old a scant 5 minutes after it was made. It is actually, literally, chemically 5 years old. If you manage to recover from the docetism that has been baked into your neurons by our post-enlightenment sun, you would be unable to imagine a thing apart from its accumulated physical metrics.
But this is not an argument to offer to skeptics or scientists, because it can’t be used in their work. If the universe appears 13.5 billion years old on a scientist’s instrument, it is actually that old. We can believe that God made it 6,000 years ago if we want, but it is not accurate to say it is now 6,000 years old. It is not.