Starlight, Time, and the Bible

Is there some other way to explain how stars over 10 billion light years away got to a planet that is less than 10,000 years old?

Many scientific explanations have been proposed by creation scientists to explain distant starlight.  Before addressing your question, however, it would be helpful to explain the term "light-year."  A light-year is a measure of distance, not time; that is, it is the distance traveled by light in one year.  For example, the most distant galaxy observed by astronomers is thought to be 14.5 billion light-years away.  This means that it would take light 14.5 billion years to travel from that galaxy to the earth.  Therefore, as you point out, there seems to be an apparent problem accepting any date of starlight above 10,000 light-years.

However, there are both biblically and scientifically sound solutions to the problem of having a young earth and a very big universe.  But first, it is important to point out some common mistakes Christians make in explaining this apparent predicament.  Perhaps some might reason that the logical answer is to deny the vast distances assigned to the stars.  This is unnecessary and unreasonable by any margin of error.  Our own Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light-years in diameter.  More fundamentally it must be remembered that astronomy is a soft science; many theories and bold statements of the past have been abandoned due to new evidence and observations.  Much is known about our universe but an infinite amount more is not known, and is impossible for us to ever comprehend.  Thus, as Christians we must be careful not to blindly stand by a model but instead must defend our explanations with science and Scripture. 

Perhaps the best such model to explain distant starlight that has withstood much peer review in recent years is the one proposed by physicist Dr. Russell Humphreys.  Dr. Humphreys' new cosmology explained in his book, Starlight and Time, appears to explain many of the apparent conflicts with the Bible's authoritative teaching of a recent creation and distant starlight. The technical details of his model can be found in his book and summarizing the scientific premise of his model is difficult in a column like this and does not do the model justice.  However, following is an attempt to summarize the basic concept.

Humphreys starts with the biblical assumption of a "bounded universe."  He proposes that the straightforward teaching of the Bible indicates that the universe has a boundary.  Many cosmologists like Stephen Hawkings and George Ellis disagree with this concept but they admit that their models also start with ideological presuppositions: "…we are not able to make cosmological models without some admixture of ideology."  Humphreys' model then considers Einstein’s relativity theories which have been telling the world for decades that time is not a constant.  Time = Distance (divided by) Speed.  If the speed of light is unchanged then time is the only part of the equation left untouched.   Experiments suggest that speed and gravity can distort time in relativity theory.  Gravity can affect time.  Humphreys writes, "For example, an atomic clock at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, ticks five microseconds per year slower than an identical clock at the National Bureau of Standards in Boulder, Colorado…"   (This is due to the differences in their relation to the gravitational field.)  Thus, if the universe were expanding away from a gravitational center then time would be distorted.  The Bible indicates that God did just that.  Fifteen times in the Old Testament it indicates that God "stretched" or "spread out" the heavens.  For example, see Isaiah 42:5, 45:12 and Jeremiah 10:12.

In addition, Humphreys considers other concepts proposed by general relativity such as black holes, white holes (this is a black hole running in reverse) and event horizons to explain the apparent old age of starlight while at the same time maintaining that the creation of the universe occurred in six ordinary days.  He concludes, "What this new cosmology shows is that gravitational time distortion in the early universe would have meant that while a few days were passing on earth, billions of years would have been available for light to travel to earth.  It still means that God made the heavens and the earth (i.e. the whole universe) in six ordinary days, only a few thousand years ago…the light has ample time in the extra-terrestrial reference frame to travel the required distances."

One must remember in this discussion that time is a created feature, like matter and space, and that God is outside of time.  Humphries points out, "It is interesting that the equations of general relativity have long indicated that time itself had a beginning."

Many are tempted to abandon the authority of the Bible when faced with questions like starlight.  Humphreys, and many other creation scientists have shown that science can be used to confirm over and over again the clear teachings of the Bible.

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©Tom Carpenter
Originally published in the Rockdale/Newton Citizen