In the comments on one of my previous posts, I’ve been going back and forth with Vaughn Ohlman, a long-time reader of this blog. We’re at a bit of an impasse. He sees my position as giving in to an atheistic assumption of both naturalism (that nature is all there is) and uniformism (that the universe is now as it always has been). I in turn keep asking him exactly what assumptions are needed to establish that a) the speed of light is and always has been a constant, and b) that we are seeing light from objects much farther away than 6000 light-years.
Let me reiterate my position:
- In terms of the plain sense of Scripture, what the original human author intended, I’m pretty much in the camp of the Framework Interpretation. I believe that Genesis 1 was written to attack pagan ideas of creation while also providing a framework in which the people of the Creator could emulate their God using a seven-day work week as a model.
- However, I also subscribe to the idea that a given passage may have many interpretations, including those that would not become apparent until more information is given (Eph. 3:9; 1Pt. 1:12; 2Pt. 1:20-21; cf. Dan. 12:4, 9). I have found that when we simply interpret the exact words of the creation narrative, they fit remarkably well with what we now know of the earth’s development from science, provided that one can set aside young-earth preconceptions.
The funny thing is that until now, I’ve not really dealt with the scientific evidence for an old Creation. I’ve argued almost completely from the Scriptures. But now it’s time to start looking at the record of nature and establish why this discussion is vitally important. Simply put: The universe manifests an incredible age in ways that are indisputable–so much so that the young-earth creationist has to inadvertently accuse God of purposefully making the universe deceptive in order to hold his position.
There are a lot of ways to illustrate this, so I’m going to focus on the one that we all know from high school: The speed of light, while incredibly fast, is finite. Therefore, the existence of objects much farther away than 6000 light years (the distance light can travel in 6000 years) disproves young-earth creationism.
Or perhaps I should say, disproves young-universe creationism. One could accept the finite speed of light and still posit an earth far younger than the rest of the universe. In fact, I more or less took this stance when I was younger. There are other processes that indicate that the earth is far older than 6000 years, but they’re a bit more difficult to explain. So let’s focus on the universe for now.
Astronomers routinely see the light from supernovae–the collapse of stars far larger than our own sun–in other galaxies. In fact, there are certain supernovae that follow extremely precise timetables and brightness levels, which allow us to test Special Relativity, and in turn have provided useful markers for determining distances at the intergalactic level. We know for a fact that these other galaxies are much farther away than 6000 light years–if they weren’t, we’d be able to see them easily with the naked eye.
Now some young-earth creationists claim that just like God created Adam fully grown, he also created the light in motion so that Adam could see the stars all together. But let’s think about that for a second. If the stars were completely static, they might have a point. But they aren’t. We see them detonating all the time. If the light was created in motion, then what exactly is exploding when we see a supernova? The star that created that explosion of photons never existed. The seeming explosion is just a light show, having no basis in a real, physical object. Any event that we see happening outside of that 6000 light year radius is nothing but an illusion.
Heck, why are stars detonating at all? Every star in the universe should be at the very beginning of its lifespan and have plenty of hydrogen for millions or billions of years to come.
God would have to go out of his way to make the universe lie to us in order for us to see supernovae in distant galaxies.
That’s not the God of the Bible. It’s the “god” of the Matrix movies, maybe: A far inferior being who creates the illusion of a universe to keep its inhabitants trapped, but who hasn’t the ability to make a real, physical universe. A demiurge, to use the Gnostic term. But not the Eternal One of Israel.
“Ah, but God created the stars for signs and for seasons, so of course he had to make them visible to Adam.” Okay, fine–but why would he need to create light from distant galaxies then? Almost every stellar object we can see with the naked eye is within a very tiny part of our own galaxy. The fact that there’s so much more attests to the Creator’s glory (Psa. 19:1), just as its universal laws declare his righteousness (Psa. 97:6), so that Creation fully exhibits “his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20). However, the universe only fulfills that role if indeed it is real, and truly as incredibly large (and therefore incredibly old) as it appears to be. A universe in which light was created in transit in such a way that we can’t even detect it is illusory, and fails to declare God’s glory, righteousness, eternal power, or divine nature.
Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
The alternative to this is to suppose that the speed of light has been slowing down since the moment of creation. This sounds appealing on the surface of it, reconciling a scientific perspective with a young universe. The problem is that it simply doesn’t work. See, the speed of light is not simply an arbitrary limit. It’s actually the speed of cause-and-effect itself. Here is an excellent video explaining it:
This is the real meaning of E=MC^2. The energy contained in a given volume of mass is equal to the square of the speed of light–or rather, the speed of causality (C), the absolute maximum speed that any interaction between two particles can have. Every single interaction of matter is affected by this equation.
This means that if the speed of light were just twice as fast in Adam’s time as it were today, the energy output of the sun would be four times as great–and Adam would have been incinerated. But you need the speed of light to be millions or even billions of times faster in the past to get the light from the most distant galaxies to us in 6000 years. Let’s say that we could get away with light being a million times faster in the past to get the light here in time. (That’s way too slow, but just for illustration.) At the time of Creation, the sun–and every star–would be burning 1,000,000,000,000 times hotter than they are today.
How exactly does the earth have solid rock under those conditions, let alone liquid water? And how in the world do we not see the stars burning a trillion times hotter in the distant past? There’s no way such a spectacle would be hidden from our telescopes–or even our naked eyes.
Actually, it’s worse than that: There’s no way stable stars could form. They would all be instantly blasted apart by the power of their trillion-times-stronger fusion reactions. The earth itself would be destroyed by the trillion-fold increase in its own radioactive materials.
To escape from that problem, some YEC’s have tried to argue that Einstein was wrong. Their own everyday experience proves otherwise. Every single time you use the GPS on your smartphone, you prove Special Relativity to be correct. Every watt of power that comes from a nuclear power plant proves Einstein right.
As you see, I’m not assuming naturalism or uniformism for this. I’m just assuming that God hasn’t deliberately engineered the universe to lie to us.
There are other evidences we could point to, of course, but that’s sufficient to make the point. But perhaps the universe is old, but the earth itself is young. We’ll explore the age of the earth in the next post.