Letter to the Editor

 

Distant Stars and Apparent Age

 

From: PSCF 46 (June 1994): 147

I was recently glancing through John C. Whitcomb's book, The Early Earth (Baker Book House Company, 1986) when I came upon the following sentence on page 60. In it, the author explained why we can see the recently created Andromeda galaxy, even though, at two million lights years distance, its light has not had time to reach us: "... its light rays were created by God already reaching the earth..." Now this thought is not at all new; it is a well-known assumption used to explain the fact that we can see the light from extremely distant astronomical objects even though not enough time has elapsed since their creation (roughly 10,000 years ago) for the light to have reached us. Though I had long understood this hypothesis, only now did its profound implications become apparent to me: I realized that, in observing distant astronomical objects, we are looking at structures that never really existed and seeing events that never really occurred.

An example will make this clear. In February 1987, astronomers in the Southern Hemisphere detected a supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Named 1987 A, this Type II supernova was 160,000 light years distant and had as its progenitor star the blue supergiant Sanduleak. The evolution of this supernova has been intensively studied. In the context Dr. Whitcomb provides, what strikes me as both particularly fascinating and important is that there never in fact was a supernova! What God obviously created some 10,000 year ago was either a black hole or a neutron star. (We will know with certainty when the "dust" clears.) The light from that initially created object will not reach us for another 150,000 years. It is clear that there never was a blue supergiant star named Sanduleak; it never exploded. The shells of expanding gas, the decaying isotopes and the reflections from distant nebula have no real physical existence. Every event of that explosion, along with everything else we see in the distant universe including colliding galaxies, quasars, distant Cephid variables and even our own galactic center are merely part of a grand faux universe, a masterwork of trompe l'oeil from the creative mind of God, wholly imagined, yet wonderfully imaginative.

We have missed these implications inherent within the idea that "light is created in flight" because we have unthinkingly assumed that distant astronomical objects are merely faint points of palely colored, constant light. It is only when we realize that these "points" are neither points, nor pale, nor constant, that we begin to grasp the broader significance of the position.

A similar theory had been proposed in the past. In an attempt to reconcile a recent creation with what some scientists thought to be an appearance of great age of the earth, it was suggested last century that God had created a very young earth with the appearance of very great age. This proposal was rejected nearly universally by Christian scientists merely on the grounds that it was aesthetically unappealing. Besides, recent creationists maintained that the secular scientists had misread the geologic record; the earth not only is in fact young but, when properly understood, appears young, as well.

This belief that the earth appears geologically young is nevertheless a point upon which intelligent people may disagree. It is not altogether unreasonable to attribute the appearance of great age to at least some aspects of earth's geology. Since Dr. Whitcomb's position requires the overwhelming majority of the universe to have been created with the appearance of phenomenal (and supremely detailed) age, those who believe the earth appears young would not be compromising either their intellectual integrity or their beliefs by reconsidering their "young earth" interpretation of the geologic data.

Robert Schier
110 Ardith Drive, Orinda, CA 94563