HomeArticlesIs Distant Star Light Evidence for Millions of Years?

Is Distant Star Light Evidence for Millions of Years?

Excerpt from Unreliable: The Science and Logic of Bill Nye by Heath Henning. This book can be downloaded for free here.

The most valid argument presented by Bill Nye during his debate with creationist Ken Ham was that of distant starlight. He said, “There are billions of stars, billions of stars, more than 6000 light years from here. A light year is a unit of distance, not a unit of time. There are billions of stars. Mr. Ham, how can there be billions of stars, more distant than 6000 [light] years, if the world is only 6000 years old? It is an extraordinary claim.”1)Bill Nye Presentation (30 minutes) during the Bill Nye Ken Ham debate, “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origin In Today’s Modern Scientific Era?” Feb. 4, 2014; transcript at http://www.youngearth.org/index.php/archives/rmcf-articles/item/21-transcript-of-ken-ham-vs-bill-nye-debate This is the primary reasoning for the many Christians who reject the biblical chronology of creation as understood from a straight forward, literal interpretation of Genesis. The leading Christian voice that uses the distant starlight argument as evidence for an old universe is astrophysicist Hugh Ross.

First we should be honest with ourselves about our ignorance when it comes to the universe at large. Stephen Hawkins willingly admitted this when he wrote, “Stars are so far away that they appear to us to be just pinpoints of light. We cannot see their size or shape. So how can we tell different types of stars apart? For the vast majority of stars, there is only one characteristic feature that we can observe-the color of their light.”2)Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, Bantam Books, 1988, p. 37 This ignorance of the universe is due to vast immeasurable size. Distant stars of millions of light-years do seem hard to fit within the relatively short time allotted by the Bible. However, “The argument that distant starlight proves billions of years has a fatal flaw—the big bangers have their own light-travel-time difficulty, called the horizon problem. If both sides have an unsolved problem in one area, this area cannot be used as evidence against only one of the models.”3)Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D., Refuting Compromise, Master Books, 2004, p. 391-392 For Bill Nye, or any evolutionist or old earth creationist to utilize this line of reasoning against a young earth creation position is due to either their own ignorance of their own issue, or a deceptive method hoping the audience is ignorant of the issues that exist, or it is a logical fallacy of special pleading.

Jonathan Sarfati explaining the distant starlight issues with the big bang theory, stating:


The universe as a whole also has a uniformity of temperature throughout, as shown by the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, to within 1 part in 100,000. This is a problem for evolutionists, because for the temperature to be so even after the extreme unevenness of the alleged big bang, energy must have been transferred from hot parts to cold parts. The fastest this can occur naturally is at the speed of light, but even given the evolutionary age of the universe, light could only have traversed about a tenth of the distance needed to equilibrate the temperature. Incidentally, this is a light-travel time problem for believers in the big bang.

Cosmologist call this the horizon problem, and they have invented a number of mathematical fudges like ‘inflation’ and claims that light travelled faster in the past to try to solve it. But the observations of uniformity in the entire cosmos are consistent with a single Creator of space and time Who holds the universe together (Colossians 1:17).4)Jonathan Sarfati, The Greatest Hoax on Earth, Creation Book Publishers, 2010, p. 97


So how do the creationists propose to answer this quandary? There have been a number of models offered over the years.

One theory that has been held by a few in the past but has been completely disregarded is known as the Light in transit theory. It stated that God created the universe with the appearance of age. Norman Geisler, an old earth creationist, accurately criticized this idea but at the same time revealed his own lack of logic in holding to an old age. Geisler says, “One of the biggest problems for the young earth view is in astronomy. We can see light from stars that took 15 billion years to get here. To say that God created them with the appearance of age does not satisfy the question of how their light reached us. We have watched star explosions that happened billions of years ago, but if the universe is not billions of years old, then we are seeing light from stars that never existed—because they would have died before Creation. Why would God deceive us with the evidence?”5)Norman Geisler, Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, Baker Books, 1990, 1996, p. 230 But if he is concerned with God deceiving us, than we would return the question as to why God would tell us that He created male and female in the beginning (Matthew 19:4) if He really created them billions of years after the beginning? For God to say such a thing out right would seem as a more deliberate deception on God’s behalf instead of creating the universe with the illusion of age which may be interpreted inaccurately by an observer. Furthermore, the “light in transit” view had been discarded long before Geisler wrote his book with that comment so he is presenting a strawman argument.

In 1988, Gerald A. Aarsma wrote: “In a recently published technical report entitled, The Atomic Constants, Light, and Time, Trevor Norman and Barry Setterfield put forward their most recent evidence in favor of the hypothesis that the speed of light, c, has been decreasing in the past.”6)Gerald A. Aardsma, Ph.D. 1988. Has the Speed of Light Decayed?. Acts & Facts. 17 (5); accessible at http://www.icr.org/article/has-speed-light-decayed/ Most creationists have rejected this opinion today because if the speed of light were to change, other constants would have changed also and those constants that would be affected govern the very structure of matter.


In recent times, secularists such as John Moffat, Andreas Albrecht, and Joao Magueijo have appealed to the speed of light decay (VSL or Variable Speed of Light) as a possible solution to the secular starlight problem. Perhaps as secular scientists do further research, they will see that there are some problems with this model. Either way, creationist scientists are “light years” ahead of them in the research (pun intended).7)Dr. Danny R. Faulkner and Bodie Hodge, “What about Distant Starlight Models?” The New Answers Book 4, (ed. Ken Ham, Master Books, 2013, p. 259


This is the secular idea submitted within the “Inflation theory” commented above by Jonathan Sarfati.


 [it] is called “inflation” because it suggests that the universe briefly underwent a period of accelerated expansion (the inflation phase) shortly after the moment of the Big Bang. Then the inflation turned off and the universe went back to its normal expansion rate—at least for our region of the universe. But inflation amounts to nothing more than additional assumptions, and it has problems of it own. What would cause the inflation? What would stop it? How could it be stopped everywhere at the same time (the “gracefull exit problem”)?8)Guide To Creation Basics (Institute for Creation Research, Dallas TX: 2013), p. 51


Other models proposed include the “White Hole” cosmology model of Dr. Russell Humphrey9)Dr. Russell Humphrey, Starlight and Time, Master Books, 1994 or Dr. John Hartnett who developed Humphrey’s model further by utilizing Carnelian physics. Perhaps the most promising is Dr. Jason Lisle who presented “the Lisle-Einstein Synchrony Convention, otherwise known as the Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC), which is based on an alternative convention that is positional-based physics as opposed to velocity-based physics. Einstein left open both options but did most of his work on velocity based, and so have most physicians since him.”10)Dr. Danny R. Faulkner and Bodie Hodge, “What about Distant Starlight Models?” The New Answers Book 4, (ed. Ken Ham, Master Books, 2013, p. 261

Dr. Lisle explains:


Albert Einstein discovered that the rate at which time passes is affected by motion and by gravity. For example, when an object moves very fast, close to the speed of light, its time is slowed down. This is called ‘time dilation.’ So, if we were able to accelerate a clock to nearly the speed of light, that clock would tick very slowly. If we could somehow reach the speed of light, the clock would stop completely. This isn’t a problem with the clock; the effect would happen regardless of the clock’s particular construction because it is time itself that is slowed. Likewise, gravity slows the passage of time. A clock at sea-level would tick slower than one on a mountain, since the clock at sea-level is closer to the source of gravity.11)Jason Lisle, “Does Distant Starlight Prove the Universe Is Old?”, The New Answers Book, (ed. Ken Ham) Master Books, 2007, p. 247-248


Richard A. Swenson M.D. expresses how Einstein’s equations affect time dilation. “In physics we know that the elasticity of time is related to both velocity and gravity. The faster the velocity or the greater the gravity, the slower time passes. This effect is not simply an observational phenomenon. It really happens. It is called time dilation. The time dilation effect maximizes at the speed of light, when the passage of time stops altogether.”12)Richard A. Swenson, M.D., More Than Meets the Eye: Fascinating Glimpses of God’s Power and Design, Navpress, (Colorado Springs, CO: 2000), p. 164 Lisle comments, “However, physicists have been able to accelerate particles (smaller than an atom) to nearly the speed of light. And these particles behave exactly as Einstein predicted. Since lengths and time-durations are not absolute but are relative to velocity, Einstein’s physics is often referred to as ‘relativity.’”13)Jason Lisle, “Distant Starlight: The Anisotropic Synchrony Convention” https://answersingenesis.org/astronomy/starlight/distant-starlight-thesis/ With the calculations of physics being complicated, Lisle offers a simple analogy:


If the plane left Kentucky at 4:00 p.m. local time, it would arrive in Colorado at 4:00 p.m. local time. Of course, an observer on the plane would experience two hours of travel. So, the trip takes two hours as measured by universal time. However, as long as the plane is traveling west (and providing it travels fast enough), it will always naturally arrive at the same time it left as measured in local time.

There is a cosmic equivalent to local and universal time. Light traveling toward earth is like the plane traveling west; it always remains at the same cosmic local time….

Since God created the stars on Day 4, their light would leave the star on Day 4 and reach earth on Day 4 cosmic local time. Light from all galaxies would reach earth on Day 4 if we measure it according to cosmic local time. Someone might object that the light itself would experience billions of years (as the passengers on the plane experiences the two hour trip). However, according to Einstein’s relativity, light does not experience the passage of time, so the trip would be instantaneous.14)Jason Lisle, “Does Distant Starlight Prove the Universe Is Old?”, The New Answers Book, (ed. Ken Ham) Master Books, 2007, p. 249-250


Though the calculations’ may seems suitable to solve the distant starlight issue, the answer will never be established by empirical experiments and will always remain in the realm of theoretical physics. “Another well- established (though not commonly known) implication of relativity is that the speed of light in a vacuum can be objectively measured only on a round trip. It cannot be measured on a one-way trip without first assuming this speed.”15)Guide To Creation Basics (Institute for Creation Research, Dallas TX: 2013), p. 61 So embedded in any theory involving distant starlight (whether developed by creationists of secularists) is circular reasoning. It may be concluded that “there is a solution based on standard physics that shows starlight can indeed reach Earth from the farthest galaxies in virtually no time at all.”16)Guide To Creation Basics (Institute for Creation Research, Dallas TX: 2013), p. 60 With this instantaneous arrival of starlight we can watch stars dying as they occur, and not millions of years after the events. This answers the arguments of long age creationists claiming that if God’s creation is young it is deceptive to the observer who sees long ages from distant starlight. The observer in such a case is simply not believing God’s word but rather their own understanding (Proverb 3:5) and their own deceptive heart (Jeremiah 17:9).



Heath Henning
Heath Henning
Heath heads the Set Free addictions ministry on Friday nights at Mukwonago Baptist Church and is involved in evangelism on the University of Wisconsin Whitewater campus, offering his expertise in apologetics at the weekly Set Free Bible Study every Tuesday evening. He currently lives in East Troy, Wisconsin with his wife and nine children. Read Heath Henning's Testimony

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