Distant starlight: It’s been called the best argument against biblical creation and a young universe. Why is that? Because Big Bang Theorists, secularists and anyone who believes in an ancient universe believe they have an iron clad case against a young universe with regard to distant starlight. The argument goes like this.
We can see stars hundreds of thousands, millions even billions of light years away. Take the Andromeda galaxy – 2.5 million light years away. A supernova was observed in that galaxy. That implies the light took 2.5 million years to get to earth. But if the earth (and indeed the entire universe) is only 6,000 years old. How can we see Andromeda or the supernova? Using standard understandings and formulas, there hasn’t been enough time for the light to get here from Andromeda. Yet we can see it. On the face of it that suggests that the earth is at least 2.5 million years old – much older than the 6,000 years that Biblical creationists claim for the universe. And the problem only gets worse for more distant stars. This is indeed an acknowledged problem.
Before we go on to look at some suggested solutions, let’s make sure we clearly understand the problem by defining a key term: light year. A light year is the distance light travels in one year. It’s a measure of distance, not time. Scientists use this notation to avoid dealing with the extremely large numbers that would be necessary if distance units of miles or kilometers were used instead. A light year, being a huge distance (5.88 trillion miles) helps keep the numbers manageable. It’s use is a convention used for convenience. Keep that concept (of convention) in mind – we’ll come back to it.
So that’s the problem. But it’s not an unsolvable problem. Following are some of the solutions offered by creation scientists to allow distant starlight to be seen in a young universe. You’ll note there are a few. Can we identify the best candidate? I think so. So in Part 1 of this article, we’ll look at popular suggested solutions. In Part 2, we’ll use Occam’s razor to see if we can come up with the best solution.
Popular Suggested Solutions
Before we can evaluate the solutions we must first know and understand what they are. Following are the most popular solutions suggested. Some of them are complex and technical. In the interest of clarity and brevity I will endeavor to present the salient points of the individual solutions from a high level view with only enough detail to make the theory clear enough to gauge viability.
Sources of Solutions:
For a moving object, the amount of distance covered in a given amount of time is described by the equation:
Distance=(velocity) times (amount of time travelling at the velocity)
D is the distance traveled – in this case from the stars to earth
v= velocity – in this case of light, commonly denoted as c, and
t= time elapsed – in this case amount of time the light has been traveling
No physicist I’m aware of – secular, creation or otherwise disputes the distances involved. They all agree the distances – as measured by the techniques available to scientists today – are real and accurate. And as noted above they are huge – truly astronomical. Thus no solution suggests a significantly smaller universe that allows starlight to easily arrive on the fourth day. No, rather distances are apparently the one constant in this problem that all agree on – the distances as measured are real. Thus solutions tend to come from one of the variables on the other side the equation: variations of velocity and time – though there are exceptions.
1) A Variation in the starting point of light (Light created in transit)
This is based on the idea that the creation had to be functionally mature for Adam and Eve. They needed fruit on their first day, not months later after a harvest. To achieve this functional maturity Henry Morris proposed that God created the light in transit. Thus since it did not have to traverse the entire distance from the stars to earth, it was able to arrive on the fourth day.
2) A (natural) variation in the speed of light (CDK)
This theory suggests that the speed of light c was much greater in the past, allowing for the light to arrive in the needed time frame (the 4th day).
This has been suggested by physicists supporting both biblical (Barry Setterfield) and secular (Joah Magueijo) theories, though they support it for different reasons. (Setterfield to resolve the creation distant light problem, Magueijo to resolve the Big Bang’s horizon problem.) This theory often goes by the word play of CDK (c=speed of light; DK – sounds like decay thus “speed of light decaying or slowing”).
3) A (supernatural) variation in the speed of light (Dasha)
Answers In Genesis staff astronomer and physicist Danny Faulkner puts forth an elegantly simply proposal. The Bible depicts things growing supernaturally fast during creation week as God prepares the earth for the crowning glory of his creation: humans. (The Creation Today/Sevenfold Films documentary Genesis Paradise Lost does a good job of depicting this.)Just as the trees and plants must have grown supernaturally fast on day 3, Faulkner suggests the light must have arrived in a supernaturally fast manner on day 4. He offers no explanation for how God does it, but he calls the theory the “Dasha” theory based on how the Hebrew verb דשא “Dasha” (“bring forth” (KJV) or “produce” (NIV) is applied to its cognant noun “Deshe” (vegetation) in Gen 1.11. And also probably for the same reason the word play on the Tower of “Babel” became popular. (Dasha sounds like “dash”=fast; babel sounds like “babble”=confusion.)
4) Variations in the flow of time – (how fast clocks tick) (Time Dilation)
These solutions are based on Einstein’s theories of Relativity. Einstein predicted, and scientists have subsequently confirmed, that for an observer in one frame of reference, time can move differently from an observer in another frame of reference based on gravity, acceleration or velocity. Two creation scientists have applied these principles in different situations, but the concept and the result is the same: due to relativistic time differences, clocks in the universe run multiple millions of time faster than clocks on earth. Key to these solutions is the shape of the universe and the distribution of matter in it. Whereas the Big bang requires a homogeneous (evenly distributed) and isotropic (the same in all directions) initial condition, Hartnett and Humphreys describe a universe that is isotropic, but spherically symmetric – not homogeneous. This allows time dilation as predicted by Einstein to work in Humphreys’ and Hartnett’s models. The effect of the time dilation is to allow billions of years to pass in the universe where the stars are, while only 24 hours pass on earth.
4a) Time Dilation: Russell Humphreys’ Timeless Gravity Well
Some call this a “white hole cosmology” but I prefer the gravity well moniker because that concept is more familiar due to pictures like this from NASA, and the fact that a gravity well is on the cover of his DVD – a deep well with the stars added at the bottom – a feature that is part of his theory. Humphreys pays close attention to the details of the creation account, taking into account key clues such as the “deep” (Gen 1.2) and the “expanse” (Gen 1.6) Due to the extreme mass of the deep, prior to the creation of the stars on day four, the earth sits just above a critical point where more mass would push it into a timeless zone. A timeless zone sounds feasible on the face of it since we know extreme masses like black holes can cause time to stop as secular physicists also acknowledge. To visualize what happens, picture a ring hanging by a string held at both ends just above a body of water. The ring represents the earth, the string the flexible fabric of space, the water – the bottom of a gravity well – the point at where time stops. Before God creates the stars on day 4, due to the mass of the deep the earth sits just above the timeless zone represented by the water in the well. With the addition of the mass of the stars added to the string, the earth dips into the water – that is to say into the timeless zone. At that point time stops on earth (yes you read correctly – time stops on earth) – but continues in the universe. Then God stretches the heavens (as declared in places like Is 40.22 and 42.5). Just as stretching a string with a ring on it would make the ring rise, the stretching of space simultaneously pulls earth out of the timeless zone and causes time dilation in the heavens – allowing billions of years to pass in the realm of stars while one, 24 hour day passes on earth.
4b) Time Dilation: John Hartnett’s Carmelian physics identified Massive Expansion Event
Hartnett bases his theory on an addition to Einstein’s physics made by Moshe Carmeli. Carmeli provided a solution to the problem of the arms of distant Galaxies rotating too fast (for Newtonian physics) – a problem currently solved by the addition of theoretical dark matter. He solved it not by adding unseen matter, but by adding an additional degree of freedom through which our universe can move. Thus instead of 4 dimensions, there are 5 in Carmelian physics. So where Einstein speaks of the 4 dimensions of space and time as “space-time”, Carmeli speaks of the 5 dimensions of space, time and velocity as “space-velocity”. And as noted above, earth sits in the center of a spherically symmetric isotropic universe. A special place with regard to time and relativity. In order for the universe to currently be moving fast enough to make up the difference between the observed speed of the galaxy arms and the predicted Newtonian speeds, Hartnett concluded,
“At some point in the past, the universe was rapidly expanded. By rapidly expanded I mean accelerated. The fabric of space was rapidly expanded. Now I can’t tell you when that happened but when I read the bible it seems like day 4 of the creation week seems like the perfect opportunity for this time happen.”
This expansion would have been accompanied by time dilation in the universe – brought about by the expansion (or acceleration) of the fabric of space. As in Humphrey’s model the clocks on earth ticked much slower (trillions of time slower) than clocks in space.
5) A Variation in how we view the narrative and the one way speed of light
Astrophysicist Jason Lisle takes a unique approach to the problem. His solution has two unique components: 1) The descriptions in the Bible of what happened during the creation week are based on the perspective of what a person would see from earth. It does not account for what’s happening in the heavens (the universe). 2) The speed of light is not the same in all directions. It is thus “anisotropic” (directionally dependent). Specifically the speed of light when coming towards an observer (on earth in this case) is infinite. Away from observers it has the value of 1/2 the speed of light. Given these two conditions, the light from distance stars would arrive literally in no time – since light would be moving at an infinitely fast velocity. Thus when God says “‘…let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so.” (Gen 1.15) – the light was instantly visible once God created the stars. He calls this approach the anisotropic or alternate synchrony convention (ASC). (Here is the convention I told you to be mindful of above. That this is a convention will be an important factor in its evaluation.) This is opposed to the Einstein synchrony convention (ESC) which is typically used. This ASC convention is one Einstein indicated was valid; as do physicists today though it is rarely used.
6) Star movement combined with a variation in the speed of light
Well known creationist Kent Hovind is not a physicist or scientist, but his teachings on creation have been seen (and critiqued) by many. So it seems they would fit the criteria of “popular” solutions. Hovind’s approach is to question what we think we know. (Are the distances to the stars really that far, is the speed of light really constant?) He winds up by saying the distances are probably real, but we don’t know that the speed of light is constant. Thus he posits that the speed of light may have been faster in the past (like Setterfield), but his main thrust is on the location of the stars upon initial creation. As does Humphreys, he points to God stretching the heavens (Is 42.5), and says the real question is “…not how did the light get from the star to here, but how did the star get from here to there. That’s the question we need to be asking.” Thus the solution appears to be a combination of a faster value for the speed of light (CDK) combined with stars that started nearby (so light didn’t have as far to go) and then the fabric of space was stretched to get the stars where they are now – allowing the stars to leave a trace of light during the stretching.
Next up: Evaluation
This is admittedly a simplified version of all theories involved, but I trust there’s enough there to evaluate strengths and weaknesses. Enough to allow us to use the current understanding of physics combined with Occam’s razor to choose the one that most closely approximates what actually happened. We’ll do that critique and select the best candidate in Part 2 of this article.
1. Jason Lisle refers to it in his discussion as does John Hartnett
Lisle – “Distant Starlight Part I”, YouTube, 3/3/2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0D6guJ6RQ8
Hartnett – “Starlight, Time and the New Physics“, CMI DVD, 2009
2. In his discussion of the matter Kent Hovind questions scientists ability to measure distance that involve billions of light years. But he winds up stating the “stars probably are billions of light years away, we just can’t measure them.” He’s not a scientist but I mention it because his (a combination of two solutions given by physicists) is one of the solutions presented.
Kent Hovind, “How can we see stars billions of light years away?” YouTube, published 1/18/2011, talk given c. 2005, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXsq1C6Rkus
3. Note the English words in these word plays brings to mind meaning for English speakers that is not present in the original Hebrew. The Hebrew word Dasha (vegetation) – does not sound like “fast”, but as noted Dasha – sounds like Dash to an English speaker. The Hebrew word “Babel” (Babylon) does not sound like “babble” (as one would experience if the languages were multiplied leading to confusion) – but it does to an English speaker.
4. In his discussion of the matter Dr. Hartnett indicates clocks on earth “click about a trillion times slower than they do in the rest of the cosmos.”
John Hartnett, “Starlight Time and the New Physics” CMI DVD, 2009
5. Regarding time stopping in high masses: Physicist Michio Kaku on black holes: “…the laws of physics as we know them seem to break down at the instance of a black hole. Time stops…”
How The Universe Works episode “Blackholes”, Discovery Channel Documentary, 2010
“…gravitational time dilation is copresent with the existence of an accelerated reference frame. An exception is the center of a concentric distribution of matter, where there is no accelerated reference frame, yet clocks are still supposed to tick slowly. ”
Wikipedia, Gravitational Time Dilation, accessed 5/21/19, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravitational_time_dilation
7. John Hartnett, Starlight Time and the New Physics, CMI DVD, 2009
8. Kent Hovind, from his Creation Seminar, published on YouTube as “How do we see stars billions of light years away?” pub by. Truth in Genesis 1/18/2011 (seminar given c. 2005), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXsq1C6Rkus
All images used by permission
Milkyway from the ISS – Image Credit: NASA