Does distant starlight require an old universe?
The reason this claim is often made is because science has calculated some stars to be millions of light-years away from earth, yet we can see them today. A light-year is the distance that light can travel (about 186,000 miles/second) within one year’s time, which is roughly 6 trillion miles. At the estimated current speed of light it is calculated that it would take millions of years for the light from one of these very far stars to reach us.
Is this reason to doubt a young earth creation that the Bible teaches? Not at all!
Consider these theories from PhD’s in Astronomy and Astrophysics, who also hold to the Bible as being 100% true.
Light In Transit: When God created the stars He could have also created the light beams already in place to reach the earth. God is supernatural and operates outside the bounds of our human understanding and physics. During the creation week He did, in fact, create many things fully functional, as though they had an apparent age and maturity. (for example, if God simply planted seeds on day 3 then there would have been nothing for animals and man to eat 3 days later when they were created.) God created everything “Ex Nihilo” or “out of nothing,” so this could be true for the light in the cosmos as well.
Gravitational Time Dilation: Einstein formulated a theory that the fabric of time and space is not always constant, but that it can in fact be different throughout the universe. He predicted that time itself is affected by things such as speed and gravity in his theories of General and Special Relativity. One aspect of his predictions is that time itself tends to slow down the closer an object is to a source of gravity. This has been shown to be true through many experiments such as synchronized atomic clocks, that when one is taken into orbit, or even on an airplane it comes back with a slightly different time. It is also seen with clocks that are at sea level vs. those on mountains. Although they may be set at the exact same time, the ones further away from earth (mountains, sky, space) tend to experience time faster than those on the earth. If the earth itself were in a cosmic “gravity well” then time itself may in fact be ticking by quicker in other parts of the universe where these distant stars are located. Although God may have created everything within those same six days, what the earth has experienced in thousands of years may be affected by Gravitational Time Dilation and other parts of the universe may in fact be millions of years old at this point. It kind of hurts my brain to think about this, so let’s move on to number 3.
Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC): This has to do with the fact that we can’t actually measure the speed of light, only the speed of which light is reflected back to us. The only way we have to measure the speed of light is to take something like a mirror, bounce a beam of light off it and back to us, and then measure the amount of time it takes to travel both ways. Cut that time in half and, bingo, we have the speed of light. The problem is, this may not be true! In reality we cannot measure the actual speed on light on a one-way trip, only it’s reflected round-trip. ASC has to do with the theory that this one-way speed of light may in fact be infinite. That means that the speed of light going from a source would reach its destination instantly! We know that the closer an object approaches the speed of light, the more that time stands still. At the one way speed of light the photons would in fact have an infinite amount of time to travel in comparison to the rest of the universe, thereby being able to reach its destination instantly. Jason Lisle, Ph.D. (Astrophysics) has been working on this convention, and with no one able to disprove it, the theory bears much promise.
In conclusion, distant starlight is not really a problem for a young earth creation. There are good scientific models which can answer questions that people often have.
What most people don’t realize is that those who believe that the universe is billions of years old have the same problem as we do, only in reverse. Light is found from galaxies that are older than the universe is believed to be. How could that be? The universe isn’t old enough according to their belief for the light to have traveled to get here.
Maybe the problem is with the interpretation and we’re just not quite sure how light in deep space works?
Thank you Nate Loper for this great article.
The explanations offered here are tentative and research continues on these as well as other possibilities.