By Mike Hore
First Published 21 September 2014
Spiral galaxies are very common in our universe. I recommend the Wikipedia article for a good introduction. They have the shape of a disk full of stars and dust, with a central bulge. This galaxy, M101 or NGC 5457, is a beautiful example of the pinwheel appearance of a spiral galaxy, and indeed this particular galaxy is called the “pinwheel galaxy”.
The “spiral arms” are clearly visible. The central parts of the galaxy rotate faster than the outer parts, where the galaxy’s self-gravitation is weaker, and also the distance around the galaxy is greater farther out. This causes the spiral arms to wind up. Our own Milky Way galaxy is a spiral galaxy of a type called a “barred spiral”.
Now YECs claim that the appearance of spiral arms is inconsistent with a 13.7 billion year age for the universe. During this time the galaxies would have rotated so many times, that the spiral arms would be wound so tight that they would be completely blurred out, so we shouldn’t see any spiral arms at all. We do, so the age must be wrong. That’s what they say.
This is yet another example of how the YEC view is anti-science. Instead of doing further investigation of what spiral arms are and how they form and evolve, they just close the books and say “God did it”.
But even this simplistic view has problems. Clearly there has been a significant rotation of this galaxy (and other spirals) since the visible spiral arms formed, and before the light left them, that we see them by. Maybe several hundred million years of rotation, to cause the obvious winding up of the spiral arms. This needs to be accounted for in a 13.7 billion year timeframe, and I’ll come to this shortly. But for now, notice that while this time is much shorter than 13.7 billion years, it is way longer than the 6000 years that YECs have available on their timescale, quite apart from the time it took for the light to come from the galaxy to us.
Recent YEC thinking has tried to take account of this. They have rightly stopped insulting God by suggesting he would deceive us by creating the universe with an appearance of age. We now have the theories of John Hartnett and Russell Humphries (separate theories), in which massive expansion of the universe on Day 4 of Creation Week, Earth time, causes colossal time dilation, so that billions of years elapse in the remote universe, all on Day 4 (Earth time). You can read about their theories here:
You will be able to see from Russell Humphries’ article that he has to allow around 300 million years of spiral arm development to occur in remote spiral galaxies, to the point where the light leaves them by which we see them now. This requires God to create these galaxies in an exact sequence, presumably with “arms” that aren’t spiral yet, but that wind up to the right amount over the 300 million years. If this is all sounding a bit ridiculous, you’re right. In this scenario, if God isn’t deceiving us outright, he’s at least making things very confusing for us. Also both Hartnett’s and Humphries’ theories need parameters to be tweaked to exact amounts so our visible universe appears as it does. There’s no explanation of these parameters, especially why the massive expansion of the universe started when it did, stopped when it did, or expanded to the degree it did. God just did it. (YECs allege that mainstream cosmologists have exactly the same problem with the Big Bang and inflation, but that’s another subject. Also mainstream astronomers are at least looking for answers, and will hopefully find them eventually. They do real science.)
All right then, why aren’t galactic spiral arms all wound up out of existence? Recall that YECs allege that this is a major problem for an old universe.
First we need to consider what spiral arms actually are. They are not necessarily areas with more stars. Rather, they are areas where the stars are younger, bluer, and hotter, and so much brighter. Such stars burn all their fuel quickly, and don’t last long, comparatively. You can see in the picture of M101 above that the spiral arms are bluish, whereas the central area of the galaxy appears yellow. This is typical. Look for any pictures of spiral galaxies, and you will see the same pattern. So spiral arms are actually areas of comparatively recent star formation, and these stars have ages in the area of millions of years, rather than billions. By comparison, the central areas of galaxies have been there for billions of years, and the big hot stars have long since burned out, so what are left are smaller, cooler and thus redder. (This age difference of stars, well understood for decades, and in beautiful agreement with nuclear physics theory, is completely ignored by YECs. It deserves another article.)
The Wikipedia article above gives a good account of two theories for this recent star formation in spiral galaxies. Both have to do with increased gas density in certain parts of the galactic disk causing star formation by gravitational collapse of these denser gas regions. Under one theory, density waves in the gas move through the galactic disk, and under the other theory, star formation itself causes increased gas density in the surrounding region, especially via supernovae explosions. These two theories aren’t mutually exclusive, and both these processes may well be occurring. Dark matter, whatever it is, would have a role to play as well. Computer simulation is only now reaching the performance required to get a realistic handle on these very complex processes.
YECs pour scorn on these theories. For example, in the article
Galaxies - Unexplained Spirals, Danny Faulkner writes:
“Creationists long have argued that spiral arms should not exist in a very old universe, and so the persistence of spiral arms suggests that the universe is very young. However, because most evolutionary astronomers begin with an assumption that the universe is billions of years old, they are convinced that some mechanism must continue to uphold spiral arms. If they really had a satisfactory answer, they wouldn’t continually search for a new solution. Their failures show that creationists’ arguments should not be so easily dismissed.”
From what I have written, you can hopefully see the misrepresentation here. Mainstrean (“evolutionary”) astronomers are hardly floundering around in a desperate attempt to salvage an old universe. Far from being an embarassment to those of us who accept long ages, galactic spiral arms represent a fascinating and rich field of study, in which real progress is being made and new insights gained. This is real science, and good science. This is yet another “phantom problem” raised by YECs, who would have us stop doing science, and turn our backs on this whole field of study.
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