Young earth creationists are a subset of evangelical Christians who believe that theearth is about 6000 years old based on a particular interpretation of Genesis. A partof that belief is that the universe is also that age, and this document discusses thelight travel time from distant astronomical objects. I show through scientific,theological and epistemological arguments that a 6000 year old universe is in completeerror with the objective evidence, and undermines both Christianity and scienceeducation.
Light travels at the velocity of 300,000 kilometers per second or 186,000 miles persecond. Although this is very fast by everyday standards, it is glacially slow whenconsidering the vast distances in the universe. The Achilles Heal of young earthcreationism 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 ageof the earth and the universe in spite of the overwhelming evidence, is exactly the sameas both the Catholic and early Protestant churches denying heliocentricism. In both casesa misapplication of the dogma Sola Scriptura and Hebrews 11:1is used. At leastMartin 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 earthcreationists do not have such excuses today, and in fact a belief that the whole universeis only about 6000 years old, or 10,000 years old at the most, is largely a modernpost-war revival in the USA strongly influenced by some writings of the Seventh DayAdventist Church in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Young earth creationists claim that the earth is only about 6000 years old, and most ofthem also claim that the universe is the same age, or perhaps four days younger. Theissue being considered here is the light travel time and other evidence for the great ageof the universe, rather than specifically the age of the earth, which follows from otherarguments. For the record, the age of the earth and the universe are about 4.5 and 13.7billion years respectively. These figures are so enormously different from the “biblical”age of 6000 years that any uncertainties either by scientists or creationists areirrelevant to the argument. Some creationists will even stretch the timescale out to20,000 years, but this still falls so short of the scientific figures as not to alter theargument.
Most young earth creationists use arguments typically found in Answers in Genesis(http://www.answersingenesis.org) that theBible is God’s infallible word, Who was there at creation, against man’s materialisticspeculations who was not there. The Bible is thus absolutely true, and anything thatcontradicts it, regardless of the evidence, is wrong by definition. By implication it isthus a sin to question the Bible and use your own understanding. These are of course verysimilar to the arguments used by the church against Copernicus and Galileo.
In reality creationists misunderstand the Bible, whose eternal truths deals with meaningand purpose and not science, other than it was written within the context of the verylimited science of the day, nor do they understand the operation of modern science, whosetask 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 whenthey do, they are stepping outside science into philosophy.
Creationists give the impression that the argument about the age of the universe isChristianity, which is absolutely true by definition, against supposedly atheistic science,which is absolutely false by definition. They also misrepresent Christianity by implyingthat they are the only true and “good” Christians. However, when they make a claim aboutthe age of the universe, that is a scientifically testable claim. Many scientists areChristians or Jews, and agree with the creationists that God created the universe. Theissue 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 distantstarlight problem:
What I find in dealing with creationists is that they make one or several of theseclaims, imply that I am not a proper Christian, if one at all, because I do not agreewith 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 becomedisinterest when confronted with refuting evidence. The above ten arguments are nowdiscussed in detail.
Distances in the universe are truly enormous. Our Milky Way is about 100,000 lightyears in diameter, and we lie about 27,000 light years from the center. The nearestlarge external galaxy is M31 in Andromeda about 2.5 million light years away, yet it isright on our doorstep, as we can see galaxies and quasars (exceptionally luminousnuclei of galaxies) out to billions of light years away.
Currently we can only use direct trigonometric parallax out to a few thousand lightyears, but the technology is constantly improving. Although various indirect methodshave to be used for larger distances, when several independent methods broadly agree,we can sure that we have approximately the correct distance. However, the determineddistances to even the nearest galaxies are so enormous compared to the “biblical” 6000light years, that even big errors of a factor of two, or even ten, do not alter theargument. Most creationists in fact agree that the distances are real, so this argumentdoes not usually crop up.
In the 1980s Barry Setterfield of http://www.setterfield.org came up with the idea that at the time of creation about6000 years ago, the velocity of light was infinite or at least millions of times fasterthan it is now, then slowed down and conveniently stabilized at the current value atabout the same time it could accurately be measured in the 1960s and 70s. His argumentwas that if the velocity of light was much higher in the past, it could get to us fromdistant objects millions or billions of light years away in less than 6000 years. Herea light year refers to the time it takes light to travel if it is traveling at themodern velocity.
There are a number of serious problems with this argument, the three most importantare:
This is Russell Humphreys’ argument from his book Starlight andTime2. In it he proposes a relativistic white hole cosmology currentlyfavored by creationists, which also claims that the Milky Way is near the center of theuniverse and has an edge. He claims that the universe was created about 6000 years agoas 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 therest of the universe took billions of years to unfold, because the earth is close to theevent 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 thingas 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:
However, in spite of these arguments, errors are still propagated in the creationistmovement. See for example the extract from van Bebber and Taylor: New scientifictheories exist which explain the size of the universe in agreement with the biblicaltimescale3. “One example is the young-earth relativistic cosmologyformulated by physicist Dr. Russell Humphreys based on Einstein’s general theory ofrelativity. We are told that this alternative to the ‘Big Bang’ has beenwell-received by scientists trained in relativity.” The text in red ismanifestly false.
The claim that God created the universe with an appearance of age with lightalready in transit to the earth from distant stars cannot technically be proved ordisproved, so it is not scientific. However, it has some serious theologicalproblems. Although God being omnipotent could conjure up a giant hoax to fool usall, including creating light from stars that appear to have exploded, but in factnever existed, and superimposed the signature of the absorption due to gas and duston the starlight in the space between the distant stars and us to make it look as ifthe light really passed through the intervening space, when in fact the beams werecreated 6000 light years away. This is a god of deception, and contradicts Romans1:20. 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 galaxiesaffected by gravitational bending after passing an intervening galaxy, exactly aspredicted by general relativity. This proves beyond all reasonable doubt that thelight really passed the intervening galaxy, and the laws of physics, includingthe velocity of light, have not changed.
In agreement with this we have this extract from Jonathan Safarti: “What aboutDistant 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 intransit, and Ross harps on at this as if it is still mainstream creationistthinking (for example C&T:96-97). But AiG long ago pointed out the problems withthis idea. It would entail that we would be seeing light from heavenly bodies thatdon’t really exist; and even light that seems to indicate precise sequences ofevents 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 indicatesemphasis.
However, Duane Gish writes this: “How, then, could the stars serve as signs andseasons on the earth if these stars were created on the fourth day of creation andman created on the sixth day? Would man have to wait many millions of years beforehe could see the stars? When God created the stars, He also could easily havecreated the stream of light between the stars and the earth.”5The text in red contradicts the text from Jonathan Safarti. Even though creationistsclaim they have the truth, they contradict each other as well as science.
The idea that somehow Satan is deceiving all astronomers, is similar to theargument in the 19th century when dinosaur fossils were first being dug up, namelythat either Satan is deceiving all paleontologists by having planted the fossils,or God is somehow testing faith. Like the previous argument, this is a theologicalnot a scientific argument, so cannot technically be proved or disproved.
However, the idea that all astronomers of many faiths, including Christians, andno faiths, are all deceived, except for a few creation astronomers who interpretthe Bible in a particular way is totally preposterous. People have claimed that tome in person. Not only is that a personal insult, they have provided not a shredof evidence, except quoting the Bible.
A final cop-out many creationists give when all other arguments fail isepistemological nihilism. Namely, because we do not know everything about theuniverse, what knowledge we do have is completely useless, and perhaps in 100years in the future what we know now may be completely wrong. Indeed much ofour knowledge may need major revisions in a 100 years, but that cannot be usedas an argument against what we know now. Moreover, some areas of knowledge areso well established, such as the velocity of light, that they are unlikely tochange.
It is true that we are seriously lacking in some areas of knowledge. Amongstthe biggest unsolved problems are the nature of dark matter in the universe, andthe nature of the mysterious vacuum energy causing the universe to expand atan accelerating rate. It is likely that these will eventually be solved, butthey do not affect our knowledge of the velocity of light in any way thataffects the arguments here. If epistemological nihilism were practiced ineveryday life, most people would not drive a car, as most people do not knowthe 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 buythe groceries.
Not only can we see light from very distant galaxies, right at the limitsof our observations with the Hubble Space Telescope, we are looking so farback in time that we can see galaxies that were forming when the universe wasvery young, and look quite different from galaxies we see nearby. There is nodoubt that the light really has traveled enormous distances over larges expansesof time.
For various reasons some stars explode at the end of their lives, known as supernovaexplosions, when they can be as bright as a whole galaxy containing several hundredbillion stars. Fortunately our sun is unlikely to do that. Every year many explosionsare seen in distant galaxies, more rarely in nearer galaxies, and even more rarely inour own Milky Way. The last such explosion was seen in the Milky Way was in 1604.
To expand on point (6) above, if a supernova went off more than 6000 light years away,as all of them in other galaxies do, why would God create light beams from an explodingstar that in fact never existed? In 1987 a star was seen to explode in the LargeMagellanic Cloud, which is a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, and is very close bycosmic standards. Nevertheless, it was still about 169,000 light years away. This puts itwell outside the “biblical” distance of 6000 light years, but so close by cosmic standardsthat arguments about the Big Bang and the expansion of the universe are irrelevant.
The beauty with SN 1987A, as it is called, is that before the explosion the star wasidentified, and the distance to the star was determined by several independent methods thatall broadly agreed to observational uncertainty. Moreover, after the explosion we couldsee the light echo being reflected off the surrounding dust and gas, and from the expansionof the light echo, the distance to the star could be determined directly by geometrycompletely independent of the other methods, and yielded a figure in broad agreement withthe other measurements.
The picture on the right was made by taking one picture after the star had faded afterthe explosion, and subtracting from it another picture taken before the explosion. Thetwo rings are caused by light reflected off two sheets of interstellar dust at differentdistances, and are seen to expand with time.
Not only that, but we could see the decay of radioactive isotopes produced in theexplosion, whose decay rates matched exactly those seen in the lab. This refutes bydirect observation claims that some creationists make that decay rates were much higher inthe past to make the isotopic abundances of a 6000 year old earth look as if the earth were4.5 billion years old. Not only do the creationists have no evidence that the decay rateswere much higher in the past, they apparently have no theory to explain this, other thaninvoking miracles, but these are miracles of deception. According to Humphreys: “IfGod weakened the strong nuclear force (greatly speeding up alpha decay), the nucleuswould increase in size and restructure itself. The lower the decay constant (that is,the higher the half-life), the more the decay rate would be accelerated.”6 Thetext in red is my emphasis. If you are going to throw miracles into any scientificargument, you explain anything and everything you like, thus you explain nothing.
Neutrinos are ghostlike particles related to electrons, but carry no electric charge,have a very small mass, and travel at almost the speed of light, but they are verydifficult to detect. Theory predicted that the kind of explosion seen with SN 1987Ashould produce a large number of neutrinos, and indeed for the first time ever suchparticles were detected from a supernova. Not only do creationists have to explain howlight traveled 169,000 light years in a 6000 year old universe, they also have to explainhow neutrinos also crossed the same expanse of space in about the same time.
Christianity is about a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christwho died for our sins. It is a biblical worldview where one conducts oneself in anappropriate Christian manner with Christ and with other people according to the guidancein the Bible. It is where life and existence have meaning and purpose. For a scientist,a biblical worldview is exactly just that, as it is for everybody. For a scientist abiblical worldview does not mean running to the Bible every time an observation orexperiment is conducted, or a theory is put together, to see if it agrees with a particularinterpretation of the Bible. Modern science cannot be held hostage to a particularreligious belief. This is one reason why science in the Islamic world withered away justas it was taking off in Europe, as it was forced to conform to specific interpretations ofthe Koran. Western science has its roots in a combination of Christianity and Greekphilosophy. Quite rightly, many Christians, including creationists, state that westernscience was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, with the idea being that God created auniverse which man could understand through rational inquiry with the brains He gave us,yet now creationists want to undermine this.
Science should be taught in science classes in education, based on the best scienceavailable consistent with the grade being taught, not religion, nor any other beliefs, evenif they are in the majority. Teaching science, or any other subject, is not a democraticprocess based on what the students believe or would like. Teaching a 6000 year olduniverse for a “balanced” view to placate some people who believe it, is no more valid thanteaching a flat earth. Indeed, if a “balanced” view is taught, then presumably a“balanced” view for Navajo or Hopi creationism should also be included when students fromthose tribes are present in the class. However, at the beginning of a course in, say,astronomy, it may be useful to mention what some people believe, and point out thedifferences between science and pseudo-science, where creationism is one of manypseudo-sciences.
In addition to creationism undermining science education, it undermines Christianity byputting it into the ghetto of deliberate ignorance and anti-knowledge. People who arescience educated but are not Christians, will be put off Christianity by the claims made bycreationists, and will find such arguments a good excuse to reject Christianity altogether.They will associate Christianity with naïvité and ignorance. Leading Christianscomplain that Christianity has a diminishing influence in society today, but evenunwittingly, many creationists are contributing exactly to that. Young earth creationismsells God short and denigrates the reason and intelligence God gave humans, which sets usapart from the animals. Young earth creationism puts God in a box, where our understandingof the universe is limited to what the ancient Hebrews knew, rather than letting theevidence speak to us through science of the 21st century.
Christianity and science are two totally different fields of epistemology. Christianitydeals with meaning and purpose, who created the universe and why, whereas science dealsonly with the physical universe, and how and when creation was effected, and makes noassumptions about the supernatural. The scientific method excludes the supernatural asan explanation for any phenomena simply because science only deals with the physicaluniverse.
Christians have no business telling teachers or scientists what science they shouldteach or what research they should conduct, except when moral issues such as human cloningare involved. Likewise teachers and scientists have no business telling Christians whatthey should believe personally. However, it is the duty of a Christian, including aChristian who is a scientist, to point out the errors other Christians propagate in theirapologetics when witnessing.
Amongst the worse sources of errors are those due to John Morris and his father Henry Morrisof the Institute for Creation Research (http://www.icr.org).For example we have from John Morris: “With the exception of an occasional explosivedestruction of a star, these points of light are not seen to change or move with respectto one another. Their present state is not questioned. Their past may be theorized,but there will be more than one legitimate view of their unobserved history.”7The text in red is contradicted by the discovery in 1638 of the first non-exploding variablestar, and in 1718 by the discovery that stars move with respect to each other. One wonderswhere John Morris has been for the last 300 years or so! The same can be said for his fatherHenry Morris: "As long as people have been observing the stars, no one has ever seen a starevolve from anything. The stars have always looked exactly as they do now, except forthe occasional nova or supernova, which are stars disintegrating - not evolving. Yet thesemodern miracle workers [astrophysicists] have developed an extremely complex scheme ofnuclear and cosmic evolution comprehensive only to specialists but imposed on theintimidated public as "scientific fact"."8 A lot of science today is highlyspecialized and requires many years of training. Does a doctor impose his knowledge onan intimidated patient who does not have a medical degree?
Finally, there is overwhelming observational evidence, in addition to the light traveltime, that the Big Bang took place about 13.7 billion years ago. It is highly ironic thatcreationists are on the same side of the fence as many atheists in denying the Big Bang, butfor different reasons. In science the ultimate arbiter of the physical truth is theempirical evidence, not what people believe, not what people say, nor what is written in anybook, holy or otherwise.
1) Parry Moon and Domina Eberle Spencer, J. Optical Society of America, v.33, pp.635-641(1953).
2) D.Russell Humphreys, Starlight and Time – Solving the Puzzle ofDistant Starlight in a Young Universe, Master Books (2003), ISBN: 0-89051-202-7.
3) Mark Van Bebber and Paul S. Taylor: Creation and Time – A Reporton the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross, page 40, Eden Communications, 2ndEdition (1996), ISBN: 1-87777-02-9.
4) Jonathan Safarti: Refuting Compromise – A Biblical and ScientificRefutation of Progressive Creationism (Billions of Years), As Popularized by Astronomer HughRoss, page 189, Master Books, Inc., P.O. Box 726, Green Forest, AR 72639 (2004),ISBN: 0-89051-411-9.
5) Duane T. Gish: The Amazing Story of Creation from Science and theBible, page 13, ICR Publications (1990), ISBN: 0-89051-120-9.
6) Page 382 of Refuting Compromise, see (4) above.
7) John Morris: Is the Big Bang Biblical?, page 136,ICR publications (2003), ISBN: 0-98051-391-0.
8) Henry Morris: The Long War Against God, page 30, Master Books2000), ISBN: 0-89051-291-4.
Just after posting the above material, on July 21, 2005 Answers in Genesis posted an articleon their web site by Edmond W. Holroyd. Below is an extract from the article, with text put inred for emphasis. Here and elsewhere in the article the appearance of age argument is used, asis addressed in point (6) above. Presumably God also arranged that the beam of neutrinos fromthe explosion was created in transit along with the light, then made sure that it arrived atthe earth at about the same time as the light.
"Over a decade ago, there was a supernova in the Magellanic Clouds, small satellite galaxiesto our own at an apparent distance of about 150,000 light years. Did that star actuallyexplode that many years ago? Or did God, only a few thousand years ago, make a self-consistentfield of electromagnetic waves (including light) that has only recently given us the appearanceof an exploding star? Here is another example in which there is an appearance of age.Scientifically it appears that the star was that old when it exploded, just as Adam looked asif he were many years old on the seventh day. To be biblical, we have to be in awe of our God,who can orchestrate the entire heavens in such great detail!"
354 - 386 AD – St.Augustine of Hippo:
"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the otherelements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relativepositions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and theseasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holdsto as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerousthing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture,talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassingsituation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside thehousehold of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of thosefor whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected asunlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves knowwell and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going tobelieve those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life,and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts whichthey themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless andincompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethrenwhen they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by thosewho are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterlyfoolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof andeven recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although_they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they makeassertion_. [1 Timothy 1.7]”
De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim.