By Mike Hore
First Published 14 May 2013
Whenever some issue is raised that might give strong evidence that the universe is old, the YEC community seem to follow a fairly predictable defence strategy.
Plan A. Talk about presuppositions and try to undermine and hopefully discredit the evidence. Historical science versus operational science etc—that sort of thing. We’re told to always ask the question “Were you there?”
Plan B. If that eventually fails, and the evidence really is very very strong, they move to plan B. They actually concede the evidence, but bring in some new speculative theory to salvage the situation. Or maybe a whole bunch of theories (see below).
Plan C. Eventually it becomes clear that the speculative theories throw up more problems than they solve. Then they move to the final defensive position—plan C. God sorted it out somehow. We don’t know how, but it doesn’t matter—we know the universe must be young because the Bible says so. So there.
Alright, let’s look at the distant starlight problem. If you look at the main YEC websites, you’ll get the impression that this problem is solved. It’s not. We’re in the thick of theories under Plan B. If you point out a problem with one theory, you’ll just be directed to a different one. There are a lot, and they keep changing. If you’re interested, for starters, have a look at Does Distant Starlight Prove the Universe Is Old? - Answers in Genesis.
This 2007 article by astrophysicist Jason Lisle gives a good summary of the issues, so there’s no need for me to try to explain the science in any detail. But briefly, the problem is that everybody (even YECs) accept that the most distant objects we can see with our telescopes are around 13 billion light years away. Yet we can see them. But if the photons coming from them really originated 13 billion years ago, we have an old universe. Astronomer John Hartnett gives a good rundown of the current YEC theories on this: A new cosmology: solution to the starlight travel time problem. In summary, the early theories about the speed of light changing have now been dropped. Likewise a sort of progressive creation where God started 13.7 billion light years away, 13.7 billion years (minus 6000) ago, and created galaxies such that all their initial light all arrived here on day 4 of Creation Week. (Yes, I’m serious!) This theory has, sensibly, been dropped too. What we now have is massive time dilation. There are a few different theories here, but they are all based on the General Relativity result that clocks can in effect run at different speeds in different locations, depending on acceleration and/or the local gravitational field. The articles I referred to give the theoretical background to this, and indeed it is sound. For example, under John Hartnett’s theory, if God did rapidly “stretch out” the universe from an initial compact form, then there would be huge time dilation, so that billions of years could pass in the remote universe in only one or a few Earth days. The articles give a number of Bible references which speak of God “stretching out” the heavens, and while this looks very like a poetic description of how the sky appears, it could also be what actually happened.
Now there’s no need to go into the details of the science here, and anyway these details keep changing. What I want to do is step back a bit so we can better see what’s going on. Firstly (and even if you forget everything else remember this), the current YEC theories actually concede that billions of years have passed in the remote universe! Just let that sink in.
What could happen next? Well, and this is just speculation, but take the Big Bang. YECs have bombarded us for years with articles and DVDs and even a whole book about how the Big Bang couldn’t be right. The main underlying motivation for this is surely that according to mainstream science, the Big Bang happened 13.7 billion years ago. But now YECs have conceded that some billions of years really did pass (by its clocks) in the remote universe. Maybe the Big Bang can make a comeback? Rapid expansion of the universe really isn’t all that different from “stretching out”… well, YECs haven’t conceded this point yet, but watch this space.
Now another aspect of this group of theories is that the amount of time dilation must vary according to distance, somehow, since all this was happening in just one day by earth time. If the “stretching” and the resulting time dilation reduces evenly as we get closer to the earth, we still have a problem since stars and galaxies fairly close to us, astronomically speaking, still appear to be very old. For example (and this is just one of many), our galaxy has a “halo” of stars around it, and these stars are almost entirely hydrogen and helium, with only very small amounts of heavier elements—much less than for most of the stars in our galaxy. The common explanation for this is that the stars are almost as old as the universe, so when they were formed there had been very few supernovae to generate heavier elements. Don’t worry if that doesn’t make much sense—the point is that these stars have very clear characteristics of being very old, and if God had simply created them that way, much more recently, it could well be argued that He was deceiving us.
So, under John Hartnett’s theory, the “stretching” must have been very considerable, and continued right in to quite close to us. John speculates that the limit of this might have been just outside the Solar System (but he stresses that this is just a tentative suggestion). This made me wonder, if there was massive “stretching” of space going on right inside our galaxy, wouldn’t it disrupt the structure of our galaxy in a way that would be very obvious to observers? Yet our galaxy is a very average spiral galaxy without any weird disruption. I actually had an opportunity to ask John about this, and he replied that he could trust God to sort things out so our galaxy wouldn’t have been disrupted. Well all right, God could certainly have done this, but maybe this is starting to sound like Plan C?
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