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The Distant Starlight Problem
 

for Young-Universe Creationists

Why is distant starlight a problem for young-universe theories?
If the universe has existed for less than 10 thousand years, how can we see light from distant stars, from stars so far away that light coming from them would take billions of years to reach us?  Everyone agrees that this is a problem for young-universe theories, so we'll move on to potential solutions.

Five Possible Explanations (if the universe is young)
The science is simple;  the equation we use to find the travel time for a car trip, distance/speed = time, can also be used to find the travel time for a starlight journey.  If the universe is young, three scientific explanations are to claim that one of the three equation-terms is wrong:
A. Are scientific estimates of distance (from star to earth) wrong?
B. In the past, was the speed of light faster than it is now?
C. Is our concept of "time during history" incorrect?
D. A theological explanation proposes an appearance of age because starlight was created "in transit" to earth, so the starlight we see did not really come from a star, and the distance actually traveled is much less than the distance from star to earth.
E. A philosophical explanation is based on a postmodern skepticism that asks "were you there? did you see it?" and implies that "no" means "then you can't know much about it."

 
Before examining each explanation (A B C D E), here are four overviews:
Distant Stars and Time by Robert Newman, explains the scientific problem (for a young universe) and criticizes three of the solutions: A, B, and D.
• Christopher Sharp explains why The Distant Starlight Problem is not solved by A, B, or C, and he questions the theology of D.
Ģ Answers in Genesis (AiG) is a prominent organization for young-earth creationists:  from 2000 to 2008, AiG's page about this question asking How can we see distant stars in a young universe? which was Chapter 5 in The Revised and Expanded Answers Book by Ken Ham, Jonathan Sarfati, and Carl Wieland.  They criticize a "false appearance of old age" explanation (so they say not-D) and evaluate three scientific explanations;  they think estimates of distance are approximately correct (so not-A) and they reject a claim that light took a "shortcut through space" on a curved Riemannian surface (another not-A), and they are pessimistic about a slowdown of light speed (not-B) but are optimistic about white-hole cosmology (hopefully-C), and (appealing to E) their chapter ends with a "caution" because "all theories of fallible men, no matter how well they seem to fit the data, are subject to revision or abandonment in the light of future discoveries."
• AiG's current page Does Distant Starlight Prove the Universe Is Old? by Jason Lisle is a chapter from The New Answer Book.  Lisle also rejects A and D.  He doesn't propose any specific answers but he uses E (postmodern skepticism) by asking "can we be certain" about B (was the speed of light constant throughout history?) and C (was the flow of time constant, or did it change due to gravity or miracles?).
 

A. Estimates of Distance
If the star-to-earth distances are much smaller than scientists estimate, all starlight could reach us in thousands of years. But the estimates would have to be wrong by a factor of a million (to convert billions of years into thousands) and "wrong distances" are rarely claimed by young-earth creationists.  Here are explanations of how distances can be measured and/or estimated by geometry and in other ways (by 26 methods).  These distance estimates are not being challenged by any creationist authority that I've seen.

B. Slowdown of Light Speed
If the speed of light was super-fast early in history, distant starlight could reach us in thousands of years, even though at its current slower speeds (after the slowdown due to c-decay) this would take billions of years.
• The two most prominent young-earth organizations don't promote this idea:  AIG now thinks it is "doubtful" and in 2001 said "let's not be too quick to rush to judgement [in claiming support for c-decay based on new research]" and their 3-author chapter (cited above) acknowledges that c-decay would produce "physical consequences" that have not been observed, and in 1988 an ICR author analyzed light-speed data and found that support for c-decay "is not warranted by the data" and neither AIG nor ICR has any pages proposing c-decay in its website.
• But some young-earth creationists, led by Barry Setterfield, continue to claim c-decay, as in a defense & Setterfield Simplified & overview.
• The many reasons to reject c-decay (including the data & constancy of constants & pre-starlight irrelevancy) are summarized in compact overviews (1  2) and in more detail (3  4).

C. Perceptions & Measurements of Time
The 3-author page of AIG describes the White Hole Cosmology of Russell Humphreys, and explains why they hope it will provide a solution for starlight travel;  according to the General Relativity of Einstein, "gravity distorts time" which could produce a "massive gravitational time dilation" that would allow billions of years of light-travel time (in space) to occur during a short time (on earth).  According to standard science, however, this gravitational effect would be far too weak to cause any significant decrease in the travel time for starlight;  therefore, defense of a young universe requires replacing conventional Big Bang cosmology (explained in AGE OF THE UNIVERSE - ASTRONOMY) with a young-universe alternative.
• But is White Hole Cosmology scientifically plausible?  descriptions from AiG & CreationWiki and criticisms (brief & in detail) plus views from Humphreys (a  b) and his page with some criticisms and responses (but they omitted this one), plus blogs (begin here and work upward, plus other entries if you're curious).
Ģ A similar proposal is a new cosmology: solution to the starlight travel time problem by John Hartnett.

D. False Appearance of Old Age
This idea is examined in APPEARANCE OF AGE — THEOLOGICAL QUESTIONS.

E. Postmodern Skepticism (scientific relativism)
Generally, young-earth criticisms are based on a postmodern view of historical science, as in the conclusion of Jason Lisle: "Such arguments [in historical sciences such as astronomy and geology] also involve assumptions about the past.  That is why, ultimately, the only way to know about the past for certain is to have a reliable historic record written by an eyewitness.  That is exactly what we have in the Bible."   HISTORICAL SCIENCE - Can it be reliable?
 


 
APPENDIX:
Here is a history of the "main page about distant starlight" of Answers in Genesis, based on information archived by the Wayback Machine:
The first page in the WM archives (Jan 19, 2000) is by Donald DeYoung, who asks How can we see distant stars in a "young" universe? and briefly describes 4 possible answers: A, B, C, D.  The second archived page in WM (Oct 17, 2000) is by Ham, Wieland, and Sarfati.  The current page, by Jason Lisle, is dated "December 13, 2007" which is consistent with its first appearance in the AiG website sometime between 2-15-08 (version by Ham-Sarfati-Wieland) and 3-17-08 (version by Lisle).  Currently, entering the old URL (.../docs/405.asp) automatically forwards you to a new URL (.../articles/nab/does-starlight-prove) so evidently, for some reason, AiG has taken their 3-author page out of circulation.