Apparent Age: Craters on Mars

Tree Rings
Tree rings suggesting a history of tree growth

This is the first in what will be a series of posts on the “apparent age” or “appearance of age” theory as an explanation for some of the features of the earth and cosmos.

There is a long tradition of those that have espoused various forms of apparent age including probably the most famous proponent from the 1800s Phillip Gosse.   Even today there is an element of apparent age involved in all creation positions but apparent age is rarely defined. Among creation scientists it is used a sort of “get of our jail free” card which is played when the most difficult questions arise (ancient light etc.).   There is a more sophisticated version today that equates apparent age with the concept of common design.   Common design if often evoked by some modern creationists to explain the similarities between organisms (the most obvious being between primates and humans).  The common design is related to apparent age in the sense of “apparent history”  even though there is no “real” history.   More often apparent age is evoked for stellar evolution and the geological history of the earth.   In fact apparent age was by far the most common view of man up through the 19th century.

An example of modern apparent age, in the last couple of days the Opportunity Rover which has been slowing driving around Mars for 6 years now finally arrived at the rim of a 14 kilometer wide crater.  On the edge of that crater there is very clearly an embedded younger crater
This large crater (the mountains in the distance are the opposite wall of the crater in the picture in this link)  is just one of many craters that the rover has visited that obviously look like they formed at different points in history (Here are two others that seem to be of very different ages:  .
(BTW, if you were wondering this very small and very “young” looking crater compared to the others I would guess would probably be estimated to be more than 100,000 years old).  The large crater it is visiting now has a crater inside the crater that has a crater inside of that crater attesting to a series of separate events separated by what is likely a significant amount of time since the erosion patterns are very different for each crater.    Had these details been visible to those in the past, an apparent age argument was the most obvious argument in the past to explain these features.  In fact, it is quite common today for he lay Christian when asked to say that God simply made Mars to look like this.  Thus the ability to “read” the craters as representing a historical series of events is just a byproduct of creation with apparent age just as a fully formed human would appear to have come from a baby or the Grand Canyon formed from the action of river erosion.     However, some modern creationists have resorted to suggesting a Biblical Flood occurred on Mars or that there was some period of fantastic cosmic bombardment in the last 10,000 years but I think most Christians would find it beyond reason to posit all these features to post-creation events.   These craters are either very old (real age) or they were created with apparent age.   What makes this particular example pertinent to thinking about the age of the earth is that the same argumentation for features on the earth being young when they look old won’t work for Mars and the moon.

I have pointed out many times in the past that modern creation is not the same as historical creationism.   In the past, the Nile River valley or Mt Ararat were almost universally viewed as parts of God’s original creation and thus any apparent history they might contain (river erosion or volcanic material in these cases) was the result of apparent age.  I think everyone can agree that it isn’t possible to create a mountain without it appearing to have been formed by some past series of events (uplift, volcanic activity etc…).   Today, modern creationists would have us believe that these features really do have real histories and some have even gone as far as trying to make the craters on the moon and Mars the result of real events in time and space after the creation week  If this is the case and God created something in the space of 6 days, where then is the dividing line between apparent age and real age?  This is a critical part of the creation debate that is rarely acknowledged or talked about but is very important in understanding the differences between some of the views even among modern creationists.  When John Ray came to the realization that shells were remnants of formerly living things but he could not find any valid reason to support a global flood as accounting for the fossils he was seeing he was left with this same exact question of real and apparent age.   Finding no relief from it he was left to eventually begin to doubt his own significant realization that fossils represented past real organisms.

6 thoughts on “Apparent Age: Craters on Mars

  1. This may seem weird but does anyone know the name of the photographer who took the tree ring photo for this article? I really would like to use the photo and want to get permission. I can’t make out the signature. Also, cool article!


      1. Wow, thanks for the quick response! I appreciate it. Based on your experience with using images for the blog, would you say it’s safe to use it without penalty? Nobody contacted you when you used it, I assume. believe it or not, I want to use it for a concert poster. Just wanna play by the rules. Thanks again for your help.


        1. From my reading it isn’t a problem for me. There is no profit in the blog and it I’m using them for education purposes and usually I am using reduced versions of the images. So that is covered by by fair use. If you use a image for a commercial purposes the rules change but I’m not expert in that area.


  2. You use the term ‘apparent age’ quite frequently here. I would like to suggest that the term ‘assumed age’ is more appropriate for this context. I say this because to you the similarities between humans and primates reflect apparent age, however you have had to make a number of assumptions (for example, that evolution happened) to reach that conclusion. Similarly with the craters – it’s ‘apparent’ to you that they reflect a great deal of time. However you’re assuming constant erosion and cratering rates. Even with distant starlight, you assume that time, space and the speed of light are constant. Isn’t time affected by gravity? Even knowing just that, it becomes apparent that we are indeed assuming because it high-lights the fact that in this great beautiful universe, we actually ‘know’ very little and assume an awful lot.


  3. I think that the common views of the creation/evolution controversy are abject failures, even your attempts to make theology and earth history work on this website (they are few and far between) are feeble. At the end of the day Gosse’s views or something like it are the only game in town for the person who wants to believe in scriptural revelation, and modern science. It seems to me the claims that God is a deceiver are misplaced (as Gosse showed noting that God did give special revelation, and that the earth doesn’t tell us anything as clearly as scripture does), and that the idea of “creation” automatically implies some form of virtual history. It doesn’t really matter when God decides to create in the natural cycle of things in his “eternal moment”, there will always be a question of what came before. In the same way that Bilbo’s house was dug by someone in the stories “virtual history” which isn’t recounted, and all of those “virtual” beings were necessary to make the story sensible, we have in our world something similar. For whatever reason God has perfectly good reasons to give us this virtual history, and the deposit of special revelation that tells us the true story of our creation. I’m not a Christian because of science. I am a Christian because of the evidence of Christ’s resurrection, and philosophy. If Christ rose, then his teachings must be true. Even if we cannot make the best sense of things. I think we have a good enough evidential base to believe in Christ.

    It seems to defuse the issue. Theologically and metaphysically it is non-falsifiable, but I don’t see that as a liability. No metaphysical views can be subject to being verified or falsified. Go ahead and do your instrumental work as a scientist, discover things that make our lives better, and construct earth’s history as it appears to you; but its most certainly false in the sense of answering big T truth questions.


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