Distant starlight – how stars millions or billions of light years away can be visible in a 6,000 year old creation – is perhaps the most difficult question that young earth creationists must deal with. All other questions seem like child’s play in comparison. To address the issue I did a two part series on distant starlight called Distant Starlight: Under Occam’s Razor: Part 1 Contenders, and Part 2 – Critique and Cuts. In part 1, I looked at the various theories, and in part 2, I evaluated the theories and selected the one which I consider likely to be the correct answer, given what we currently know.
My evaluation consisted of: 1. eliminating those that appear impossible based on scientific critiques. And 2: using Occam’s razor, (the simplest answer that doesn’t introduce unnecessary complicating factors is likely the correct answer) to narrow down any remaining theories. It was a lengthy evaluation process that I won’t repeat here. (If you’d like a short cut to my view of the best current theory, see here.) One of the theories I eliminated (judging it to be unlikely) is the light created in transit scenario. I recently received the following two questions on that theory:
1. Could you explain to me how God creating light on its way to earth, the supernova event itself didn’t really happen? And how is God being deceptive?
2. Would you agree that “light in transit” implies distance cannot be used as a measure of time in the cosmos?”
Let me quickly summarize the problem and this particular answer. The problem: according to Einstein (and accepted by all scientists – except perhaps those supporting the CDK distant starlight theory) is that there is one constant in the universe: that’s the speed of light. It never changes, and nothing can exceed it. It’s the universal (literally as in the entire universe) speed limit. The speed of light is 186,282 miles per second. That means in a year light can travel just under 6 trillion miles (5.879 x 1012 to be exact). That distance is known as one light year. Notice a light year is a measure of distance, not time. But since the measurement involves a constant over time – the speed of light, you can easily calculate back to time. Thus something 100 light years away is 100 * 5.879 x 1012 miles away, and it took light 100 years to traverse the distance.
God made the universe extremely huge. So huge we have a hard time describing the distances. That’s why a light year is used. Physicist John Hartnett, a creationist, says we have no reason to doubt the distances, he believes them to be accurate. Astrophysicist Jason Lisle, also a creationist, likewise says “There’s good science that confirms these galaxies really are very far away.” So the answer will not be found in assuming the distances are only apparent. No, the distances are real. Which leaves us with millions, even billions of stars and galaxies that are millions and billions of light years away. Which means light, traveling at the unchanging speed of light, would take (it is assumed) millions or billions of years to traverse the distance. How then can such stars be seen in a 6,000 year old universe?
The light in transit theory essentially says we can see the light because it did not travel the entire distance. The theory assumes God created a beam of light already on its way to earth to arrive in the needed time frame – which for the first stars would be day four of creation week. (Gen 1.14-19) In the previous article I referenced supernova SN1987a -first seen in 1987. It is about 170,000 light years away. So presumably, it is impossible to see in a 6,000 year old universe. The light in transit theory posits that a light beam with an image of the supernova was inserted in the path, in the correct time frame to be seen in AD 1987. I’ll let Dr. Hartnett explain the problem with this scenario:
Could God have created the “appearance” of an explosion in the light beams that he created in transit from the LMC (Large Magellanic Cloud)? God can do anything He wants to do, but the great thing about the God of the Bible is that He gives us reason as well as revelation – He is not deceptive or capricious. …
However, no one has advanced any reasons to explain why God might have created the “appearance of explosions” in light beams that have no basis in the real history of the stars they represent. Because it involves the creation of a ‘phony history,’ it lays God open to the charge of deception in a manner unlike the creation of Adam as a mature adult.”
1: Why does the Light In Transit Theory indicate the event never happened?
I have created an animation that attempts to illustrate this. To make clear the need to insert events that never really happened, instead of illustrating with a supernova, I illustrated with the construction of a Boeing 747.
The illustration attempts to show the jet at three different stages, during construction, near completion, and complete and landing. The two scenarios are depicted: What you would expect if there is no supernatural intervention – and the events are allowed to progress as they normally would; and the other scenario – where God just inserts an image of the jet landing in a beam of light close enough to earth to see within its 6,000 year history.
Please note the following important points the video attempts to illustrate:
Regarding the first scenario – Light created at the origin:
1. The events depicted in those images really happened. They are images of real space-time events.
2. The events happened at a distance that would take light 12,000 years for light to traverse, traveling at its constant speed of 186,282 miles a second.
3. According to a current understanding of physics – the light should not be visible in a 6,000 year old universe.
Regarding the second scenario – Light created in transit
4. The light arrives in time, but the event depicted – a 747 landing did NOT happen. According to this theory, the image was created in light already on its way to earth. The image is embedded in the streaming light. Question: What is the purpose in this? Why create an image of something that never happened – that people will take to mean actually did happen?
5. If it is argued the event actually happened, then you defy the laws of physics in one of the following ways:
a. If the light with the needed image is created in transit beginning at the 6,000 year mark, the light is split into two images: the first image (originating at the insertion point) does not carry the image over the entire time frame. It’s a created image inserted in a beam of light that does not traverse the entire distance (so it can arrive in time) and thus is not visible “behind” where the image was inserted. The second image (originating from the actual event) does travel the entire distance to earth. But this results in the strange occurrence of an invisible event for all objects in the range of 12,000 – 6,000 years (objects behind the inserted image), where the light from the actual event (now presumably shining and moving at the regular speed of light) has not yet reached those objects. But starting at the point where the image was inserted, the image is now visible. Presumably this would result in the image first appearing on earth, then disappearing for thousands of years until the natural image not supernaturally inserted “catches up” to finally reach the observer on earth, at which point it would re-appear. That’s a very strange situation, and I don’t think we have evidence of anything like that happening.
b. If it is argued the light originates at the source, then it is not in inserted transit. The only way for the image (which contains information) to arrive in time would be to change the speed of light – make the image travel much faster to traverse the entire distance and arrive in the needed time frame. But that option is out – both because the speed of light is constant; and if you want to change it, then for reasons described in my previous article you have many other problems. Besides, speeding up light is essentially the CDK (c-decay) theory which was ruled out, and we’re supposed to be discussing the light in transit theory, not a theory about changing the speed of light.
Thus there is no way for the light in transit scenario to truthfully reflect either a real event, or an event injected into the light arriving at earth. Indeed it suggests the question why would God inject the image of something that never happened into the light stream in the first place?
Would you agree that “light in transit” implies that distance cannot be used as a measure of time in the cosmos?
Let me start by clarifying the question. Distance is not used as a measure of time – directly. But since light travels at a constant speed, the distance traveled by light in X amount of time is constant. (X is typically 1 year.) That means, like in a math word problem, given a speed and an amount of time, you can solve for distance. The basic equation is this:
D = V x T
(Distance equals the velocity multiplied by the time (spent at that velocity))
For an example of this type of problem: If you travel in your car at 60 mph (=Velocity) for 1 hour (=Time), how far have you gone? 60 miles of course.
Using basic algebra, given any two of the above, you can solve for the third.
So instead of solving for Distance, you can solve for Time:
T = D / V
(Time equals Distance divided by the velocity)
For an example of this type of problem: If you’ve traveled 60 miles (=Distance) at a constant speed of 60 miles per hour(=Velocity), how long have you been traveling? 1 hour of course.
Notice if the velocity is constant, then time and distance are directly equated, with only a simple division needed by a constant factor.
So the question implies people are doing the second problem: Taking the known distance to the stars and dividing by the known speed of light – which is constant – to arrive at the amount of time that has elapsed. Generally speaking, that’s a valid calculation. And thus the reason there is a Distant Starlight problem, because when you do the calculation, it implies an age of the universe measured in billions of years, not 6,000 years as we creationists claim.
As to the question above: does the “light in transit” theory invalidate using distance to measure time? Well, it does not invalidate the math. The math is solid. A better question is, can the math be used to indicate the age of the earth – which would mean the earth is billions of years old instead of 6,000 years? Here I say no, there’s something going on that we don’t understand yet. But for the reasons stated above, I don’t think that “something” is “light in transit.” We have lots of evidence that the universe is young, starting with God’s word, and including lots of physical evidence. (See some of it here.) The world of science is full of things we don’t know – and that’s okay. Likewise, in God’s creation – we don’t know how God did everything. And that’s okay too. I believe God intends for us to enjoy searching out how he did various things.
“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”
So is the “light in transit” theory a good solution to the Distant Starlight problem? For the reasons stated above, no. Does the “light in transit” theory invalidate the basic equation used to find the age of the earth/universe? No for two reasons: 1. The basic math is correct. 2. The light in transit theory does not provide a solution to the problem, so it cannot invalidate otherwise well known math and science principles.
I do, however, support a young earth and universe. But I don’t use the “light in transit” theory to do so. There is plenty of evidence to support a young earth (again, some of it here). But it appears clear that we still have some “searching out of the matter” to arrive at the correct solution. So far I’m standing by the conclusion I reached in the previous series.
1. John Hartnett, Starlight, Time and the New Physics, Creation Ministries International DVD, 2009
2. Jason Lisle, ref. from Origins: Distant Starlight in a Young Universe, Cornerstone Television Network, Pub Jun 8, 2017 – Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkoTubA52SQ, timemark: ~3.35
3. Alex Williams, John Hartnett, Dismantling The Big Bang, God’s Universe Rediscovered, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2005, pp. 170-171
Video: Light In Transit Illustration – Duane Caldwell © 2020