Distant starlight is seen as one of the biggest difficulties to trusting God’s Word about a young universe and earth. When adding up genealogies back to creation week, there are about 4,000 years from Christ to Adam.1 With six normal-length days in creation week, there is no room for the idea of billions of years (Exodus 20:11)!
In The New Answers Book 1, astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle tackled the subject of distant starlight by looking at the various assumptions behind the issue.2 This complementary chapter discusses the various models that have been proposed for distant starlight by creationists in an effort to show how this alleged problem can be overcome.
But we would like to give some background to make sure that readers understand the issues at stake.
Why Is Distant Starlight a Problem in the First Place?
Usually, the way this issue is couched to Bible-believing Christian is this: “So how do you get starlight billions of light years away to earth in only about 6,000 years?”
Most Christians are at a loss as to how to answer this question. Some try to say that the distances are not that accurate. But we would disagree. The distances really are that far.3 That should give you an inkling of the mind of God!
There are ways to measure the distances such as parallax and the Hubble relation. We will not belabor these points, as they are already discussed in chapter 18 in this volume.
But the issue is even more difficult than many may think. We are not just trying to get light billions of light years away to earth in only 6,000 years, but we are trying to get light to earth in only two days. Why? The stars were created on day 4, and Adam was created on day 6. Starlight needs to arrive for Adam to be able to use the stars to mark the passage of time, which is one of the purposes of stars listed in Genesis 1:14.
The Secularists Have the Same Sort of Problem
The opposition rarely realizes that they have a starlight problem, too. In the big-bang model, there is the “Horizon Problem,” a variant of the light-travel-time problem.4 This is based on the exchange of starlight/electromagnetic radiation to make the universe a constant temperature.
In the supposed big bang, the light could not have been exchanged and the universe was expected to have many variations of temperature, but this was not the case when measured. Such problems cause many to struggle with the bigbang model, and rightly so.
- Early in the alleged big bang, points A and B start out with different temperatures.
- Today, points A and B have the same temperature, yet there has not been enough time for them to exchange light.
How did secularists try to solve it? In laymen’s terms, they appealed to “inflation of the universe” in bigbang models as an ad hoc explanation. In other words, very quickly after the big bang, the fabric of space in the universe supposedly expanded very quickly (faster than the speed of light), then instantly slowed to the rate we see today. But what caused all that?
They suggest that some field existed that caused inflation. There is no direct evidence of inflation; that is, there is no independent evidence. Inflation was invented to solve the horizon problem and another problem (the flatness problem, but that will not be addressed in this chapter).
Researchers recognize there are problems with inflation and the big bang. Some physicists and astronomers have been “jumping ship” from the big-bang model in recent times, and this movement has continually gained steam since an open letter with respected signatories was published in the magazine New Scientist in 2004.5 However, the majority of old universe believers still adhere to the big bang.
The hope of many who opposed the big bang was to revise the big bang and inflation to avoid the many problems. More recently, New Scientist ran an article called “Bang Goes the Theory.”6 The article quotes two leading cosmologists, Drs. Paul Steinhardt and Max Tegmark:
We thought that inflation predicted a smooth, flat universe. . . . Instead, it predicts every possibility an infinite number of times. We’re back to square one.7
Inflation has destroyed itself. It logically self-destructed.8
To boil it down, some researchers recognize there are problems with inflation and the big bang, and they are questioning aspects of these ideas, such as:
- the big bang and its type
- nothing to something
- what started and stopped inflation
- the starlight problem and recognizing how bad it is
Inflation and the big bang have their problems, and honest scientists fully admit this.
Potential Models to Solve the Problem
Interestingly, biblical creationists have known about the distant starlight problem for a while and have been working on solutions. The popular ideas include:
- Light in transit (or mature creation)
- Speed of light decay (cdk9)
- Relativistic models
- Alternate Synchrony Conventions
- Dasha Solution
Let’s take a look at each of these in brief.
Light in Transit
Light in transit: This is the idea that God created the universe mature, or fully functioning. The functions of the stars (Genesis 1: 14–17; Psalm 19:1–2) required that Adam see them right away, so God created starlight in transit when He created the stars. Many reject this particular model today.
The reason many do not accept the light in transit idea is that starlight contains a tremendous amount of detailed information about stars. For instance, stars have been known to blow up into supernovas like SN 1987a. Had this merely been starlight in transit, then what we saw would not have represented a star or a supernova, but instead merely light arriving at our eye to appear as a star and then a supernova. In other words, the star that was observed before the supernova could not have come from the actual star. If the light in transit idea is correct, then the light was encoded on the way to earth to make it look like an actual star. In that case, the supernova itself did not really happen but amounted to an illusion, sort of like a movie.
Many have suggested that if this were the case, then most stars are not stars. The implication is that God would be deceptively leading us to believe they were stars, when in fact they are illusions of stars. The idea of light in transit was widely popular among creationists for some time, but now many reject this idea because it seems far too deceptive.
Speed of Light Decay (cdk)
Speed of light decay (spearheaded by Barry Setterfield): This is the idea that the speed of light was much faster in the past and has been slowing down primarily in a uniform fashion (but possibly in steps) to what we observe today.
Most creationists reject this idea now, but we encourage researchers to keep working on it. In the end though, it appears to have problems with other constants in the universe that are tied to it. If the speed of light were to change, then these constants would change, too. Those constants govern the structure of matter so that matter would drastically change as the speed of light changed.
Evidence for a reduced speed of light decay is also lacking, and in centuries past, the accuracy of such measuring devices has been limited. Furthermore, as people really researched the speed of light over the past three centuries, it really was not changing as previously thought, but has remained largely the same.10
In recent times, secularists such as John Moffat, Andreas Albrecht, and Joao Magueijo have appealed to the speed of light decay (VSL or Variable Speed of Light) as a possible solution to the secular starlight problem.11 Perhaps as secular scientists do further research, they will see that there are some problems with this model. Either way, creation scientists are “light years” ahead of them in the research (pun intended).
White Hole Cosmology12
Dr. Russell Humphreys has a model dubbed the “White Hole” cosmology. A white hole is like a black hole, except that matter flies outward from a white hole whereas matter falls into a black hole. Near the boundary of a black hole or a white hole, space and time are distorted. According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, this distortion can be described as stretching the fabric of space, and time progresses at different rates depending upon where you are.
So this theory plays off general relativity to solve the distant starlight problem with gravitational time dilation. From an overview perspective, Dr. Humphreys challenges the commonly held assumption that the universe has no boundary. Running a bounded cosmos through general relativity results in a model that is not at all like the big bang and consistent with biblical creation.
Essentially, in the White Hole cosmology, all the matter in the universe flew out of this “white hole.” This would have occurred during creation week, and the white hole would have vanished some time during that week. As matter left the white hole, gravitational time dilation occurred. The earth was near the center of the white hole, so time on earth passed much more slowly than time near the boundary of the white hole.
Though there are still problems with this issue, such as blue shifts and red shifts not matching what they should be,13 this model also holds some promise, and so we encourage further work on this model.
Hartnett Model (Carmelian Physics)14
A method solution utilizing Carmelian physics (named for Moshe Carmeli) was proposed by physicist Dr. John Hartnett. In a different approach to Humphrey’s White Hole cosmology where the bounded universe was in four dimensions, this has assumed five dimensions (utilizing Carmeli’s approach) and was still bounded.
Like the Humphreys model, the Hartnett model also relies on time dilation — a massive amount on earth. He postulates that most of this occurred on day 4 of creation week resulting from space expansion as God was creating galaxies. So time was running at different rates with six days passing on earth but more time passing elsewhere. Much of this dilation of time would have occurred during creation week, as opposed to Humphrey’s model where it occurred all along at a more steady rate. Hartnett has produced some interesting results. Both the Humphreys and the Hartnett models are still being developed.
Alternate Synchrony Conventions
This model derives from passages like Genesis 1:17 that states that the stars were to “give light on the earth.” For a God who created all things, having distant stars give light on earth is no problem. Astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle (also writing under the pen name of Robert Newton) led the research on this model.
From the concept of light being given from stars to light the earth, Dr. Lisle derived the Lisle-Einstein Synchrony Convention, otherwise known as the Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC), which is based on an alternative convention that is position-based physics as opposed to velocity-based physics. Einstein left open both options but did most of his work on velocity-based, and so have most physicists since him.
Einstein pointed out that time is not constant in the universe, so our simple equation [Distance = Speed x Time] is not so simple anymore. But this starlight model is based on something quite “simple.” Dr. Jason Lisle built on this position-based physics and the one direction speed of light (which cannot be known), and it solves distant starlight.
In laymen’s terms, think of it like this: You leave on a jet from New York at 1 p.m. and you land in L.A. at 1 p.m. But you might say, “The flight took about five hours on the jet.” Here is the difference: according to Einstein, when you approach the speed of light, time goes to zero. So if you rode on top of a light beam from a star that was billions of light years away from earth, it took no time for you to get here. So that five-hour flight was a “no hour” flight for light. It was an instantaneous trip.
Based on this convention-based model, light left distant stars and arrived on earth in no time. This fulfills God’s statement that these lights were to give light on the earth in Genesis 1:14. Of course, the physics is more complicated than this, but this analogy should give you an idea of how this model might work. However, it does not appear that we could perform an experiment to see if the ASC solution is true.
We would leave open miraculous options (as this was creation week). One particular form is by co-author Dr. Danny Faulkner (astronomer) dubbed the Dasha Solution.16 Dasha is the Hebrew word for “sprout” as found in Genesis 1:11. Many processes during creation week were done at rates uncommon today.
While some things were created ex nihilo (out of nothing) during creation week (Genesis 1:1), many things during that week probably were made of material created earlier in the week. For instance, the day 3 account tells us something about how God made plants (Genesis 1:11–12). The words used there suggest that the plants shot up out of the ground very quickly, sort of like a time-lapse movie. That is, there may have been normal growth accomplished abnormally quickly. The result was that plants bore fruit that the animals required for food two to three days later. The plants had to mature rapidly to fulfill their function.
God made stars on day 4, but to fulfill their functions the stars had to be visible by day 6 when Adam was on the scene. As the normal process of plant development may have been sped up on day 3, the normal travel of starlight may have been sped up on day 4. If so, this rapid thrusting of light toward earth could be likened to the stretching of the heavens already mentioned.
Some people may want to equate this stretching of starlight with some physical mechanism such as cdk or relativistic time effects, but this would not explain the abnormally fast development of plants on day 3. This also overlooks the fact that much about the creation week was miraculous, hence untestable today. If one were to attempt to explain the light-travel-time problem in terms of a physical mechanism, one might as well look for a physical mechanism for the virgin birth or Resurrection.
When all is said and done, this alleged problem of distant starlight does not seem as problematic for the biblical creationist. Researchers have several options that can solve this problem, so it is not a problem for a young universe. Furthermore, we want to encourage researchers currently working on these projects.
But from a big-picture standpoint, no one outside of God completely understands all the aspects of light (or time for that matter). It acts as a particle and in other instances acts as a wave, but we simply cannot test both at the same time. This dual behavior is still an underlying mystery in science that is simply accepted in practice. The more light is studied, the more questions we have, rather than answers.
Such things are similar in the theological world with the deity of Christ (fully man and fully God). Even the Trinity is a unique yet accepted mystery (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; one God but three persons). And in science, there is the “triple point” of water, where at one temperature and pressure, water is solid, liquid, and gas at the same time.
Light is truly unique in its makeup and properties, and with further study perhaps we can be “enlightened” to understand this issue in more detail. Regarding the distant starlight issue, there are plenty of models that have some promising elements to solve this alleged problem, and we would leave open future models that have not been developed yet (and we would also leave open the miraculous).
But as we consider the light-travel-time problem, we frequently overlook the immensity of the creation itself. The sudden appearance of space, time, matter, and energy is a remarkable and truly miraculous event. This is something that we humans cannot comprehend at all. Compared to creation, the light-travel-time problem is not very big at all.