ICR and the Speed of Light

A few years ago we posted How Old Is The Creationists’ Universe?, in which we said:

Creationists are forever claiming that the world — and the entire universe — started only around 6,000 years ago. They wave away all of geology, claiming that everything is a consequence of the Flood. They wave away radiometric dating techniques, claiming that the decay rate of isotopes used to be different. They dismiss the hundreds of millions of years required for evolution because … well, because they don’t like evolution.

One of the creationists’ lesser-known difficulties is their Starlight problem, which asks this question: If the universe were only around 6,000 years old, then how is it possible that we see light coming from stars and galaxies that are millions of light-years away from us?

That was where we first discussed a supernova with the catalog number SN1987A (so numbered because it was the first supernova discovered in 1987). It provides direct observational evidence that the speed of light hasn’t changed in 168,000 years.

Creationists don’t care. They say that because you weren’t there in the past, you have no idea what things were like back then. How different was everything? As we mentioned in The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Creation Science, things were “As different as necessary, whenever necessary, for as long as necessary, in order to have a universe in which Genesis is absolutely true in every detail.”

Now we bring you the latest anti-science effort from the granddaddy of all creationist outfits — the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). They’re the fountainhead of young-earth creationist wisdom. Their article is Distant Starlight and the Big Bang. It was written by Brian Thomas, about whom see The Mind of Brian Thomas. Here are some excerpts from his creation science article, with bold font added by us:

Since light travels at a known rate, how could incredibly far-away starlight have reached Earth in just one day — specifically, Day 4 of the creation week?

That’s the big question. Here’s Brian’s response:

Since the most distant galaxies are so far away, secular astronomers, who assume that light travels at the same speed in all directions (see below), argue that the cosmos must be billions of years old in order for the most distant light to reach us. However, a stunning characteristic of something called cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) throws a wrench into that idea by introducing the horizon problem. To understand why it’s a problem, we first need to know a little about the CMB.

Only the most mindless simpleton would read a creationist’s description of anything in science in order to learn about it. If you want a good starting point, here’s Wikipedia’s article on the cosmic microwave background, and then the Horizon problem. Skipping Brian’s description of that, he tells us:

In Big Bang scenarios, space and energy mysteriously came into existence and began expanding like an inflating balloon. Some regions of the early universe were allegedly much hotter than others. The hot spots would emit light, thus carrying some of their heat to the cold spots. How long would it take the hot spots and cold spots to reach the same temperature, forming the same-looking CMB we see today? Hot and cold spots that lie on opposite sides of the visible universe are simply too far apart to have reached this same temperature even after 13.8 billion years. This is the horizon problem.

According to the Wikipedia:

The horizon problem … points out that different regions of the universe have not “contacted” each other because of the great distances between them, but nevertheless they have the same temperature and other physical properties. This should not be possible, given that the transfer of information (or energy, heat, etc.) can occur, at most, at the speed of light.


[T]he universe is in fact extremely isotropic, which also implies homogeneity. The cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB), which fills the universe, is almost precisely the same temperature everywhere in the sky, about 2.728 +/- 0.004 K. The differences in temperature are so slight that it has only recently become possible to develop instruments capable of making the required measurements. This presents a serious problem; if the universe had started with even slightly different temperatures in different areas, then there would simply be no way it could have evened itself out to a common temperature by this point in time.

Your humble Curmudgeon is obviously missing something, but we’ve never been bothered by any of that. Why? Because at one time, when the universe was very small, everything was essentially in contact, or nearly so, and a thermal equilibrium could have existed. There’s no need for what are now distant regions of the universe to be exchanging heat instantaneously. Anyway, assuming there is a problem, let’s read on to see what a creation scientist like Brian does with it:

Thus, Big Bang supporters need light to travel from the hot spots to the cold spots in much less time than their own model allows. This is a light-travel time problem — in essence, the same problem as the distant starlight problem allegedly plaguing biblical models. So, light-travel time cannot be used to argue against one view of origins if the alternative view faces the same type of issue.

Aha! The horizon problem is evidence that Genesis is true! [*Face palm*] How could we have missed that? Brian continues:

Creation scientists continue to investigate the intriguing question of how distant starlight can travel to Earth within the biblical timescale. Before scoffers accuse creation researchers of forcing data into a biblical history, they should understand that Big Bang scientists do just that — they look for ways to accommodate the CMB and a host of other observations into their billion-year history.

Yes, “Big Bang scientists” and creation scientists are wrestling with the same problem. Then Brian mentions Jason Lisle’s “Instant Starlight” Paper — you knew he would — and after that he wraps it up with this:

We know that light-travel time challenges Big Bang models that stumble over the horizon problem, but it’s far less an issue for biblical creation. So while we wait for more observations and better answers, why not trust that God did just what He said about stars: They were created on Day 4 to be “lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth.”

So there you are. Cosmologists and creation scientists are working with the same problem, but only creationists have the vision to see The Truth.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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35 responses to “ICR and the Speed of Light

  1. Mary L. Mand

    I’ll place my trust in, “We don’t know yet, but we’re working on it.”

  2. Stephen Kennedy

    The creationists have been talking about the “Horizon Problem” for years. The basic problem is that even though the everything was close together at the time of the Big Bang, the Universe would have expanded smoothly but so fast that there would be no opportunity for all the matter to come to the same temperature during the age of the Universe.

    The problem was essentially solved in 1980 when Allen Guth proposed the Theory of Cosmic Inflation. This theory says there was a period of exponentially rapid inflation of the Universe 1×10^-32 seconds after the Big Bang which resulted in the CMB having a uniform temperature as well as eliminating magnetic monopoles.

    Brian Thomas is again showing his ignorance of Astronomy.

  3. Doctor Stochastic

    Lost deep in the Lyman Alpha Forest.

  4. I’m beginning to get the impression that the Distant Starlight Problem is causing a lot of consternation (ahem) in the YEC camp.

    This latest attempt is an example of their failure to recognize the difference in scale. The Distant Starlight Problem begins to cause problems for YEC in the small (in astronomical terms) distances within the Milky Way, specifically within as little as 10,000 light years. Whatever peculiarities there are going on in the large-scale cosmology, billions of light years, they cause no problems in our measurements in our neighborhood.

    If we were to find that the large-scale structure and timing of the universe were wrong in incredible degrees, that would still mean that the Milky Way Galaxy and its near-by galaxies are still measured in millions of light-years.

  5. Doctor Stochastic

    Not to mention the events of 1987. For example, 1987A. It’s not bigamy, it trigonometry.

  6. We know that light-travel time challenges Big Bang models that stumble over the horizon problem, but it’s far less an issue for biblical creation. So while we wait for more observations and better answers, why not trust that God did just what He said about stars: They were created on Day 4 to be “lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth.”

    So the stars were created just to “give light to the earth”? Then why did they have to be huge and far away, instead of close by and smaller? Or do creationists believe they are close by and smaller?

  7. Eric Lipps asks: “Then why did they [the stars] have to be huge and far away, instead of close by and smaller?”

    To understand the creationists, you have to think like a Babylonian. The stars are little lights in the sky, and not very far away.

  8. Doctor Stochastic

    Wasn’t the light there (to give night and day) before the stars? Or am I think of Cole Porter.

  9. It is difficult to sort out what Genesis 1 has to say about light and its source.
    In the beginning of God’s creation, he makes light. Later on, he separates light from darkness, making day and night. Still later on (on the fourth day), he places lamps in the firmament to produce light and to make day and night and mark the passage of time.
    I’m aware that there are ways to make sense out of this, but the ingenuity needed is less than that which is needed to accommodate, for example, evolution.

  10. “They wave away radiometric dating techniques, claiming that the decay rate of isotopes used to be different.”
    Were they there?

    “In Big Bang scenarios, space and energy mysteriously came into existence and began expanding like an inflating balloon.”
    Yes. Some christians – WL Craig for instance – conclude “hence God”.

  11. The creationist’s ultimate answer is as close at your belly button (Omphalos in Greek). God made the universe with the appearance of age, just as he gave Adam and Eve belly buttons, even though they never travelled a birth canal. Trees in the Garden of Eden would have growth rings even though they only existed for an instant. Philip Gosse thought that creation ex nihilo “broke into” some sort of cycle of life and, therefore, had to look like it had a history. Just expand to include the universe. God wanted a big universe (for the awe factor) so he had to create the light from those stars already in transit.

    If humans get a little confused about that, it’s their own fault for not believing the Bible as written. A sly fellow, that God of theirs.

  12. I don’t know the answer, of course, but what fraction of the universe can we actually see with our unaided eyes as “lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth.” Maybe a trillionth? (if that’s a word) Less than that? If not to serve as lights in the firmament, what is the entire rest of the universe for, and why is it not mentioned in the bible? We’re not talking a little waste around the edges of creation, we’re talking all of creation as unnecessary waste – the earth’s neighborhood is too small relative to the universe to affect that conclusion.

  13. Charles Deetz ;)

    Yes, scientists and creationists are trying to solve the same problem … metaphorically you might say the scientists are trying to get their average over .300 and the creationists are trying to hit the ball off the tee.

  14. @Ed
    We can see the Andromeda Galaxy at about 2.5 million light years.

    The gamma-ray burst GRB 080319B was visible to the naked eye for about one minute, and is said to be the most distant visible naked-eye object.

  15. Doctor Stochastic:
    “Not to mention the events of 1987. For example, 1987A. It’s not bigamy, it trigonometry.”

    Yep — 1987A is definitely evidence of great distance, and it can’t be explained away by Omphalos. Unfortunately, almost all creationists are incapable of grasping the significance, even if they were willing to listen long enough to get an explanation. One exception is Jason Lisle, PhD. I wonder if he has figured out how to explain it away.

  16. @retiredsciguy
    The Wikipedia article on parallax mentions:

    The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission, launched in December 2013, will be able to measure parallax angles to an accuracy of 10 microarcseconds, thus mapping nearby stars (and potentially planets) up to a distance of tens of thousands of light-years from Earth.[11][12] In April 2014, NASA astronomers reported that the Hubble Space Telescope, by using spatial scanning, can now precisely measure distances up to 10,000 light-years away, a ten-fold improvement over earlier measurements

    Note that there is a prediction, that the astronomical model that places thousands of stars at more than 10,000 light years away will be verified by parallax measurements by Gaia.
    The YECs better get their theorists busy in preparing for explaining away when the measurements come in as predicted.

  17. To repeat myself, this latest excuse by YEC ignores the (in astronomical scale) nearby objects, in the range from 10,000 light years to a couple of million, and tries to cast doubt on what is going on at several billion light years.
    Even if all of the science of all of the galaxies beyond the Local Group is totally false, if the Big Bang cosmology is worthless, we have much more than 10,000 years of light to account for.
    Even if it turns out that Bill Gates is not a multibillionaire, it is obvious that he is not making do with less than 10,000 dollars.

  18. @TomS
    Assume that a sphere with a radius of 2.5 million light-years encompasses all the “lights in the firmament” referred to in Genesis to provide light on the earth. The difference in the volume of that sphere and one with a radius of 13.82 billion light years is so large that for all practical purposes our little volume of space might as well be zero. When I try to do the math, I get a percentage of our little sphere of space to the universe as 6.9 with an exponent of -12. (Not sure if I’m right, but whatever the exact number, it’s immeasurably small) Whether the big bang is true or not, it should be a vexing theological question of why virtually all of the universe is completely out of reach and has no effect whatsoever on the earth. That really calls into question the idea that it was all made for us.

  19. Ed:
    “…it should be a vexing theological question of why virtually all of the universe is completely out of reach and has no effect whatsoever on the earth. That really calls into question the idea that it was all made for us.”

    Oh, we might think it would vex the creationists (if they thought about it long enough to be vexed), but wouldn’t they just say, “God made the universe that way just to prove how wondrous He was!”?

  20. This is no problem for Jason Lisle, with his anisotropic light speed theory everything coming into an observer comes in instanteously. So presumably the events of supernova 1987A happened in 1987 and we saw it in real time. Then you have Danny Faulkner (Hambo’s astronomer) he’d say God just had to press the fast forward button. If you delve into the original Hebrew of Genesis it seems to suggest this.
    Lisle of course equates the horizon problem with the young earth light problem, though doing so is like equating the flat earth with the spherical earth as both being wrong…of course one is much more wrong than the other.

  21. @retiredsciguy
    But if He were to show how wondrous He was, it would have to be infinite. Anything merely finite gives the false impression that His wonder is limited.

  22. Stephen Kennedy

    Jason Lisle’s anisotropic light speed can easily be shown to be false. His claim is that since only the round trip speed of light can be measured, it is possible for incoming light to have a speed of c = infinity while outgoing light has a speed of 1/2 c.

    However, there are other ways of measuring the speed of incoming light and we can derive its one way speed. We can use Planck’s equation for the energy, E, of incoming light and calculate its velocity. E = h x f where E is the energy of an incoming proton, h is Planck’s constant = 6.62 x 10^-34 joule-seconds and f is the frequency of the light wave. (Light has a dual particle (photon) and wave (frequency) nature.) We can write f = c/lambda where c is the speed of light and lambda its wavelength. We can than write the equation E = h x c/ lambda. We can solve for c be rearranging and get c = (E x lambda)/h. We can measure E with a photoelectric photometer, lambda with spectroscope and h is a constant that has been well determined for over 100 years. All these values are finite and non-zero so a speed of c= infinity is not possible.

    We can also use Einstein’s equation from Special Relativity E= c x p where p is the momentum of the photon and from de Broglie’s equation we find that p = h/lambda. This can now be written as E = c x (h/lambda) which gives us the same value for c as found above. It gives us the speed of incoming light only and shows it is not infinite.

  23. TomS wrote:
    In the beginning of God’s creation, he makes light. Later on, he separates light from darkness, making day and night. Still later on (on the fourth day), he places lamps in the firmament to produce light and to make day and night and mark the passage of time.

    As so often happens in the Make a Comment section of this website, TomS “nails it” quite well. I don’t know what sort of academic background TomS has in reading ancient texts, but he has the traits which so many Young Earth Creationists lack: solid reading comprehension skills and the ability to observe and to think. I also can’t help but notice and mention the fact that good scholarship in the humanities is very much like good scholarship in the sciences. As a result, contrary to the “same data, different interpretations” rubbish of Ken Ham et al, both theists and atheists can read Genesis 1 in the context of genre and historical setting and reach many of the same conclusions: a poetic type of “tribute to the Creator” text doesn’t try to be a rigorously unambiguous, chronologically-arranged historical narrative with a systematic description of the nature of light. At least some of the ancient Hebrews would have noticed some of the same issues we do–but wouldn’t care because the original author/compiler(s) of Genesis wouldn’t have cared. They understood that one doesn’t look to poetry for physics, just as a botanist doesn’t look to Shakespeare for instruction on roses and what to call them.

    The YECs better get their theorists busy in preparing for explaining away when the measurements come in as predicted.

    One marvels at just how far they are willing to go in applying elaborate scaffolds and patches to somehow make a rotting corpse of a ridiculous “hypothesis” to appear to still be alive. One wonders how many YECs in the quietness of their own thoughts ever allow themselves to consider: “If a six 24-hour days creation just a few thousand years ago really does provide the very best explanation for what happened, shouldn’t the real world data fit that hypothesis at least once in a while? After all, if Genesis gives YECists a “scientific advantage” in getting the scientific details from someone who really was there [as Ken Ham describes it], shouldn’t that give them a better scientific explanation than all others, not a weaker one?

    Of course, such thinking really does take place behind the scenes and that is why so many Young Earth Creationists don’t stay in YEC-dom. Those who care about evidence really do move on, usually very quietly without overly upsetting Mom, Dad, Grandma, and the very nice Sunday School teacher who always brought her fresh-baked cookies to the children she loved. Ken Ham’s money machine depends on pretending (despite his denying) that Young Earth Creationism is the most important thing in the Bible. So it is easy for the general public to get the impression that all Fundamentalist Christians share that obsession with him. The reality among the rank-and-file of Christian America is far more varied and nuanced.

    That’s why it is important–for the sake of quality science education and future generations–that the war against “creation science” be fought with the most powerful strategic weapons available: evidence and the scientific arguments based upon that evidence. When we let politics and anti-religion polemics drift into the debate, Ken Ham is delighted because his income stream is assured. Even the rancor is a welcomed bonus, reinforcing the assumptions of millions of science-illiterate American that these are purely subjective matters driven by ideology, not data, and that “It is all just a matter of opinion, cuz nobody really knows for sure. It’s just a question of how one chooses to interpret the evidence.”

  24. I’ve been surprised not to run across any creationists who have seized upon recent speculation that the universe could be a holographic projection.They could perfectly justify omphalism by claiming their god created the hologram six thousand years ago to display a process 13.8 billion years long and counting.

    This idea could solve the “bad engineer” problem by incorporating the doctrine of immanence, which holds that the creator did not just build the universe and let it stand, but is continuously performing it. Since art does not demand the complete dedication to efficiency that engineering does, what is often ridiculed as wasted space and matter could instead be lauded as a burst of artistic exuberance.

    Also, positing creation as a work of art resolves the problem of evil. Art operates on the principle of conflict and resolution. No suffering, death, and destruction means no conflict. No conflict means no art. The resolution will come in the sweet by and by.

    It still doesn’t solve the problem of placing human life at the focus of all creation, though. If the universe were a symphony, we would be less than a hemidemisemiquaver played by the second chair oboe a few bars into the second movement. No composer would write a whole symphony simply to frame that single instant of musical tone. Furthermore, we cannot be the *audience* for the performance, because we are *part* of the performance. It is ludicrous to think that that hypothetical symphony could have been written to entertain that hypothetical note. Besides that, our species not survive to witness the resolution to our movement in the composition–the great crescendo when our sun turns into a red giant and boils our oceans away,

    We might not even be part of the score. Maybe we are annoying little squeaks like fret noises on a guitar. Perhaps Noah’s flood was merely the clearing of a spit valve on some celestial trumpet or trombone.

  25. Stephen Kennedy, thank you for an outstanding summary debunking that anisotropic light speed “hypothesis”. (I avoid using the word “theory” in such contexts, and even try to put words like “hypothesis” in quotation marks to flag for readers of my blog the fact that Young Earth Creationists often use scientific terms quite differently from actual scientists.)

    I may be mistaken on this but I believe I saw the Australian creationist, Dr. John G. Hartnett , actually promoting this “light may be travelling at different speeds incoming versus outgoing” nonsense. That surprised me in that he is an actual physicist with a legitimate Ph.D., a Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide, and appears to have a reasonably noteworthy CV of peer-reviewed journal articles and conference papers. Obviously, I mention that in contrast to Jason Lisle, whose Ph.D. in astrophysics has certainly not generated any sort of impressive CV by any measure since he got his sheepskin.

    I’ve tried to make sense of some of Hartnett’s writings because he seems to reject just about everything in the mainstream of contemporary physics, and talks like even the very words and phrases “the Big Bang”, “dark matter”, and “dark energy” are an offense to God and man. Jason Lisle’s rubbish is easy to see through, but I will freely admit that when Hartnett starts talking, I quickly get lost in his use of technical language and obviously intentional obfuscation tactics. Do you have any familiarity with Hartnett and how he gets past the basic undergraduate physics that makes the equations and explanations you provided so obvious? Are they just a couple of oddball rebels or is there a small group of contrarian physicists who have non-religious reasons for complaining about round-trip measurements of the speed of light?

  26. @Stephen Kennedy
    I am not a scientist, but this occurs to me:
    Wouldn’t the stellar aberration be a measure of the incoming speed of
    light? At least it should show the difference between an infinite(*) and finite speed of light?
    Surely the theorists on this effect have suggested some experimental method of detecting it, haven’t they?
    (*)We don’t need infinite speed of light, only orders of magnitude greater than the canonical speed.

  27. I’m not 100% sure of the science but since Maxwell derived the speed of light from the electric and magnetic constants, wouldn’t this also prove Lisle’s theory DOA?

  28. This was thrashed out extensively in our comments when Jason’s paper first appeared. It appears that the one-way speed of light can’t be determined, because of the problem of synchronizing the clocks at the source and the detector. If all we’re left with is timing a round-trip, one can’t be certain that the speed was the same in each direction. That’s the basis of Jason’s paper. However, light would always have to “know” whether it was leaving the observer or coming toward him, in order to know whether to travel at half-speed or infinite speed.

  29. michaelfugate

    Does it seem odd to anyone else that the supposed miracles of Jesus seem pretty puny in comparison to those of God? And every year get punier?

  30. michaelfugate

    Prof. Tertius have you seen this on Hartnett’s 2007 book?

  31. Doctor Stochastic

    I suppose that one could attempt to solve the problem of how light knows which way it’s headed would be to postulate that the earth occupies a special place in the universe. Of course, this would entail giving up conservation of momentum (a result of Emily Noether).

  32. Thanks for the link, MichaelFugate.

    I nearly heaved when I caught this statement (from your link) when I read this expression of contempt towards the challenger: ““Dr [Tas] Walker has …suggested that you ‘put up or shut up’”. Face-palm. I’ve tried to get Tas Walker to put up or shut up for years about some of my most basic challenges toward his young earth and global flood arguments. It doesn’t take much for them to turn their backs and ignore the most basic requests that they explain their contradictions. For example, I asked Walker, “If uniformitarian methodologies are so hopelessly flawed, why do virtually all of your young earth arguments depend upon them?” I also asked him why they depend upon “X is consistent with a young earth” for so many of their 101 Evidences for a Young Earth when that is a virtually meaningless “argument”. As I had prefaced in my question and challenged to young earthers, the statement “My grandfather died in 1911 at age 95” is entirely consistent with a 6,000 year old earth–and is just as entirely consistent with a 4 billion year old earth. The “consistent with” argument is simply a way to convince gullible, science-illiterate (and logic-oblivious) audiences that a “creation science” speaker has “evidence” behind his claims.

    After all, the recession of Niagara Falls is consistent with a young earth! (Obviously, it is entirely consistent with ANY age of the earth which provides sufficient time for Niagara Falls to recede.)

    Yes, many “creation science” speakers/writers are just plain ignorant when it comes to science (and logic and the use of evidence.) Yet, I refuse to believe that they could all be THAT stupid. The exact allocation of pathological dishonesty versus pathological hubris is an exercise left to the reader.

  33. However, light would always have to “know” whether it was leaving the observer or coming toward him, in order to know whether to travel at half-speed or infinite speed.

    Hmmm. Perhaps Lisle will say that light knows when it is being observed–in which case its speed is “c”. But the moment nobody’s looking, it either slows to c/2 or it accelerates to “infinity”, depending upon whether it is head toward earth or away from the earth……or neither or both.

    I think this might be related to “creation science” explaining why a watched pot never boils. (In that case, c drops even further.)

    It is all explained in the The Creation Science Theory of the Conservation of Light Velocity. That theory states that the speed of light, c, varies to whatever speed that is necessary to justify whatever “creation science” is being claimed at that moment.

    And if that speed of light “c” means that all of the flood waters of the “global flood” would boil off the face of the earth, that’s OK because “the speed of light was different in the days of Noah.”

    For that reason, I’m convinced that the variable speed of light in “creation science” is the fundamentalist equivalent of the traditional Goldschmidt’s Universal Equation Solver. (To solve any problem, just multiply both sides of the equation by zero.)

  34. Do these people have no intellectual integrity? Starting from what they know to be true (a huge conjecture) they distort and obfuscate to their heart’s content. Some people are a complete waste of skin … I know, I know it’s God’s plan … which He won’t tell us about, because we would probably expect something to happen if we followed it.

  35. Steve Ruis
    What disturbs me is the inconsistency.
    For example, the facile interpretations of the Bible to avoid accepting what the Bible plainly says when they don’t want to accept it. Yet otherwise, they insist on literalistic adherence to the text. How they can make up stories with no justification whatsoever when it serves their purposes and pretend that that is what the Bible says.
    If they treat their dear text that way, they have no compunction about the rest of the word.