Young earth creationists are a subset of evangelical Christians who believe that the earth is about 6000 years old based on a particular interpretation of Genesis. A part of that belief is that the universe is also that age, and this document discusses the light travel time from distant astronomical objects. I show through scientific, theological and epistemological arguments that a 6000 year old universe is in complete error with the objective evidence, and undermines both Christianity and science education.
Light travels at the velocity of 300,000 kilometers per second or 186,000 miles per second. Although this is very fast by everyday standards, it is glacially slow when considering the vast distances in the universe. The Achilles Heal of young earth creationism is a satisfactory explanation of why we can see light from distant stars, galaxies and quasars if the universe is only about 6000 years old. Denying the great age of the earth and the universe in spite of the overwhelming evidence, is exactly the same as both the Catholic and early Protestant churches denying heliocentricism. In both cases a misapplication of the dogma Sola Scriptura and Hebrews 11:1 is used. At least Martin Luther and the Pope had the excuses that modern science was only just starting, and the evidence for heliocentricism was not overwhelming at the time. Young earth creationists do not have such excuses today, and in fact a belief that the whole universe is only about 6000 years old, or 10,000 years old at the most, is largely a modern post-war revival in the USA strongly influenced by some writings of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Young earth creationists claim that the earth is only about 6000 years old, and most of them also claim that the universe is the same age, or perhaps four days younger. The issue being considered here is the light travel time and other evidence for the great age of the universe, rather than specifically the age of the earth, which follows from other arguments. For the record, the age of the earth and the universe are about 4.5 and 13.7 billion years respectively. These figures are so enormously different from the “biblical” age of 6000 years that any uncertainties either by scientists or creationists are irrelevant to the argument. Some creationists will even stretch the timescale out to 20,000 years, but this still falls so short of the scientific figures as not to alter the argument.
Most young earth creationists use arguments typically found in Answers in Genesis (http://www.answersingenesis.org
) that the Bible is God’s infallible word, Who was there at creation, against man’s materialistic speculations who was not there. The Bible is thus absolutely true, and anything that contradicts it, regardless of the evidence, is wrong by definition. By implication it is thus a sin to question the Bible and use your own understanding. These are of course very similar to the arguments used by the church against Copernicus and Galileo.
In reality creationists misunderstand the Bible, whose eternal truths deals with meaning and purpose and not science, other than it was written within the context of the very limited science of the day, nor do they understand the operation of modern science, whose task is neither to prove nor disprove the Bible, but to understand the physical evidence. It is not the business of science to pass teleological opinions, though some scientists do, such as the atheistic evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, but when they do, they are stepping outside science into philosophy.
Creationists give the impression that the argument about the age of the universe is Christianity, which is absolutely true by definition, against supposedly atheistic science, which is absolutely false by definition. They also misrepresent Christianity by implying that they are the only true and “good” Christians. However, when they make a claim about the age of the universe, that is a scientifically testable claim. Many scientists are Christians or Jews, and agree with the creationists that God created the universe. The issue is not who created the universe or why, but when and how.
We can summarize as follows ten arguments made by creationists to explain the distant starlight problem:
1) Astronomers are completely wrong about the distances, and all apparently distant objects are within a bubble of 6000 light years or less centered on the solar system.
2) The distances are real, but light takes short cuts through space according to an article by Moon and Spencer published in 1953.
3) The velocity of light was much higher in the past, by factors of millions or more, and slowed down to the present value.
4) A variation of (3) is that somehow between leaving the distant star and arriving at the earth, the starlight speeded up, perhaps to an infinite velocity, then slowed down again on reaching the earth.
5) The distances are real and the light has traveled at a constant velocity, but the earth was at or close to the center of a white hole, which caused such an enormous distortion of space-time, that billions of years in the external universe elapsed during the creation week on the earth.
6) God created the light in transit from distant stars to give the universe the appearance of age.
7) All astronomers, except for a handful of creationist astronomers, are somehow deceived by Satan, or their brains are so completely polluted by sin that they cannot see the “truth”.
8) A variation of (7) but all astronomers are engaged in a world wide conspiracy to cover up the “truth”.
9) Astronomers are making some sort of assumptions, which are often a combination of several of the above arguments.
10) Epistemological nihilism – because we do not know everything about the universe, and we probably never well, what we do know is completely useless, so we know nothing at all.
What I find in dealing with creationists is that they make one or several of these claims, imply that I am not a proper Christian, if one at all, because I do not agree with them, then express disinterest when I bring up one or more counter arguments. Either they are interested or they are not. They cannot express interest, then become disinterest when confronted with refuting evidence. The above ten arguments are now discussed in detail.
Distances in the universe are truly enormous. Our Milky Way is about 100,000 light years in diameter, and we lie about 27,000 light years from the center. The nearest large external galaxy is M31 in Andromeda about 2.5 million light years away, yet it is right on our doorstep, as we can see galaxies and quasars (exceptionally luminous nuclei of galaxies) out to billions of light years away.
Currently we can only use direct trigonometric parallax out to a few thousand light years, but the technology is constantly improving. Although various indirect methods have to be used for larger distances, when several independent methods broadly agree, we can sure that we have approximately the correct distance. However, the determined distances to even the nearest galaxies are so enormous compared to the “biblical” 6000 light years, that even big errors of a factor of two, or even ten, do not alter the argument. Most creationists in fact agree that the distances are real, so this argument does not usually crop up.
In 1953 Moon and Spencer1 published an article claiming that the geometry of space was so warped that light from all distant astronomical objects reached the earth in about 15 years. This paper was speculative at the time, but has totally been refuted since then. There is absolutely no evidence that space is so curved that light somehow takes short cuts, and other predictions by the theory are totally contradicted by the evidence.
In the 1980s Barry Setterfield of http://www.setterfield.org
came up with the idea that at the time of creation about 6000 years ago, the velocity of light was infinite or at least millions of times faster than it is now, then slowed down and conveniently stabilized at the current value at about the same time it could accurately be measured in the 1960s and 70s. His argument was that if the velocity of light was much higher in the past, it could get to us from distant objects millions or billions of light years away in less than 6000 years. Here a light year refers to the time it takes light to travel if it is traveling at the modern velocity.
There are a number of serious problems with this argument, the three most important are:
When we look at a distant star we see it as it was when the light left it, regardless of how long the light took to reach us. A number of stars and other objects behave as very accurate clocks, due to pulsation, rotation or orbital revolution. If the velocity of light was much higher in the past, then we would consistently find that such “clocks” would appear to be ticking much slower at greater distances than in our neighborhood, as one would get a slow motion effect. This is not the case, unless you go to distances of billions of light years, where is this is observed, but due to the expansion of the universe. In fact as the light with time left the “clocks” would be slowing down, we would consistently see such clocks speeding up. This is not observed.
The above argument uses only classical physics, but the velocity of light is not just some value that is independent of other physics, it affects practically all of physics. Einstein’s famous E=mc2 formula states that the energy released in a nuclear reaction is proportional to the mass being converted to energy times the square of the velocity of light. No exceptions to this formula have been found, and it is so well established to be considered as absolutely true. If the velocity of light changed by even a tiny amount, the energy released in nuclear reactions would change by the square of that. Stars rely on nuclear reactions to generate energy and there is no evidence that the velocity of light has changed here.
The velocity of light is also involved in quantum physics, which has also been established to a very high level of confidence. If the velocity of light were to change, the spectral lines emitted or absorbed by atoms and molecules in the atmospheres of stars would change in a way that would be easy to calculate. This is not observed. Indeed, the lines of the hydrogen atom can be calculated from first principles, and depend on a few constants, including the velocity of light.
As stated earlier, this is really a variation of the previous item. Creationists wave their arms and say that perhaps light left the star in question as normal, speeded up enormously due to some unknown and unobserved process, then slowed down on reaching the earth. The obvious question is why does this only happen with light going to the earth, and not to other destinations in the universe? When we look at distant galaxies we also see nearby stars that happen to be in generally the same line of sight, and often superimposed on the background galaxy. If the light from the distant galaxy somehow speeded up on the way here, how is it that stars in the same direction appear to be shining normally based on the arguments in (3).
This is Russell Humphreys’ argument from his book Starlight and Time2. In it he proposes a relativistic white hole cosmology currently favored by creationists, which also claims that the Milky Way is near the center of the universe and has an edge. He claims that the universe was created about 6000 years ago as a ball of water a few light years in diameter with the earth at or near the center. This turned into a white hole (the reverse of a black hole), and whilst processes in the rest of the universe took billions of years to unfold, because the earth is close to the event horizon, time stood nearly still here whilst the creation week took place. Indeed, because of strong gravitational forces this could be possible if there were such a thing as a white hole, some other serious errors were not present, and there was some evidence.
There are a number of serious problems with it as follows:
Whereas black holes are well established, there is no evidence whatsoever of white holes, moreover they contradict the second law of thermodynamics, which creationists love to quote.
I challenged in person and in public Russell Humphreys at a creationist conference in 2004, pointing out that if there was a huge gravitational field centered on the Solar System 6000 years ago that was strong enough to cause the effects he claims, the effects of this field would still be visible today in the motion of the stars around the center of our galaxy. We can measure the motions of nearby stars around the center of our galaxy, many moving in nearly circular orbits like our sun, and they are influenced by the general gravitational field of our galaxy, but there is zero evidence of any strong gravitational field 6000 years ago from the white hole in the vicinity of the earth. He was unable to answer my criticisms. This does not in itself mean that he is wrong and I am right, but it does mean he is unable to back up his theory in the light of empirical evidence.
Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe Ministries has looked at the theory and found many serious errors in Humphreys’ work, as documented in http://www.reasons.org/resources/apo...avelling.shtml
. When the errors in relativity are corrected, the standard Big Bang model of the universe is in fact obtained.
However, in spite of these arguments, errors are still propagated in the creationist movement. See for example the extract from van Bebber and Taylor: New scientific theories exist which explain the size of the universe in agreement with the biblical timescale3. “One example is the young-earth relativistic cosmology formulated by physicist Dr. Russell Humphreys based on Einstein’s general theory of relativity. We are told that this alternative to the ‘Big Bang’ has been well-received by scientists trained in relativity.” The text in red is manifestly false.
The claim that God created the universe with an appearance of age with light already in transit to the earth from distant stars cannot technically be proved or disproved, so it is not scientific. However, it has some serious theological problems. Although God being omnipotent could conjure up a giant hoax to fool us all, including creating light from stars that appear to have exploded, but in fact never existed, and superimposed the signature of the absorption due to gas and dust on the starlight in the space between the distant stars and us to make it look as if the light really passed through the intervening space, when in fact the beams were created 6000 light years away. This is a god of deception, and contradicts Romans 1:20. If God is a god of truth, then the creation should reflect this in some way. Why would God lie?
In a number of cases we can see light from very distant quasars and galaxies affected by gravitational bending after passing an intervening galaxy, exactly as predicted by general relativity. This proves beyond all reasonable doubt that the light really passed the intervening galaxy, and the laws of physics, including the velocity of light, have not changed.
In agreement with this we have this extract from Jonathan Safarti: “What about Distant Starlight? Fallacious Distant Starlight Solution: ‘Light Created in Transit’ After presenting an alternative cosmology that provides a plausible solution to the ‘distant starlight’ problem, it is worth showing why another idea is unsound. Some older creationist works propose that God may have created the light in transit, and Ross harps on at this as if it is still mainstream creationist thinking (for example C&T:96-97). But AiG long ago pointed out the problems with this idea. It would entail that we would be seeing light from heavenly bodies that don’t really exist; and even light that seems to indicate precise sequences of events predicable by the laws of physics, but which never actually happened. This, in effect, suggests that God is a deceiver.”4 The text in red indicates emphasis.
However, Duane Gish writes this: “How, then, could the stars serve as signs and seasons on the earth if these stars were created on the fourth day of creation and man created on the sixth day? Would man have to wait many millions of years before he could see the stars? When God created the stars, He also could easily have created the stream of light between the stars and the earth.”5 The text in red contradicts the text from Jonathan Safarti. Even though creationists claim they have the truth, they contradict each other as well as science.
The idea that somehow Satan is deceiving all astronomers, is similar to the argument in the 19th century when dinosaur fossils were first being dug up, namely that either Satan is deceiving all paleontologists by having planted the fossils, or God is somehow testing faith. Like the previous argument, this is a theological not a scientific argument, so cannot technically be proved or disproved.
However, the idea that all astronomers of many faiths, including Christians, and no faiths, are all deceived, except for a few creation astronomers who interpret the Bible in a particular way is totally preposterous. People have claimed that to me in person. Not only is that a personal insult, they have provided not a shred of evidence, except quoting the Bible.
Another popular idea which is equally preposterous, is that all astronomers around the world are engaged in some massive conspiracy to cover up the “truth” that the universe is only 6000 years old. No motivation is ever given as to why astronomers of different faiths, or none at all, living in different countries and cultures would conspire together, and again there is no evidence.
Unable to use a satisfactory argument, many creationists make vague claims that astronomers are making some sort of assumptions about what they observe. When pinned down to state what these assumptions are, they are unable to give any, other than vaguely stating parts of one or more of the arguments above. When challenged to provide their own alternative explanation, they either give none, or they say the Bible says so, or God did it, or they do not need to because they know the truth.
A final cop-out many creationists give when all other arguments fail is epistemological nihilism. Namely, because we do not know everything about the universe, what knowledge we do have is completely useless, and perhaps in 100 years in the future what we know now may be completely wrong. Indeed much of our knowledge may need major revisions in a 100 years, but that cannot be used as an argument against what we know now. Moreover, some areas of knowledge are so well established, such as the velocity of light, that they are unlikely to change.
It is true that we are seriously lacking in some areas of knowledge. Amongst the biggest unsolved problems are the nature of dark matter in the universe, and the nature of the mysterious vacuum energy causing the universe to expand at an accelerating rate. It is likely that these will eventually be solved, but they do not affect our knowledge of the velocity of light in any way that affects the arguments here. If epistemological nihilism were practiced in everyday life, most people would not drive a car, as most people do not know the details of the chemical reactions taking place in the car’s cylinders. But such details are not necessary to know in order to drive to a store and buy the groceries.
Not only can we see light from very distant galaxies, right at the limits of our observations with the Hubble Space Telescope, we are looking so far back in time that we can see galaxies that were forming when the universe was very young, and look quite different from galaxies we see nearby. There is no doubt that the light really has traveled enormous distances over larges expanses of time.