INTRO BY DEB: While much of our work at BioLogos is about presenting the case for evolutionary creation, we also take the time to analyze scientific proposals made by Christians who oppose evolution and an ancient universe. Today we continue a blog series focusing on a proposal from young-earth creationist scientist Jason Lisle to explain how distant starlight could have reached Earth if the universe were created roughly 6,000 years ago. Our guide through the topic is Casper Hesp, a graduate student in astrophysics and a gifted science writer. This series is intended for readers without any background in astronomy who want to learn more about God’s creation and how to think carefully about issues of science and faith.
For any newcomers to this series, I will now summarize very concisely the conclusions of our previous posts. Astrophysicist Jason Lisle’s proposal is aimed at solving the problem of distant starlight that young-earth creationists face. Its name may sound somewhat overwhelming: the Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC). This convention entails a way of synchronizing clocks such that the speed of light is infinite towards every observer. As such, it is supposed to explain how light could have reached Earth instantaneously during a six-day Creation event. While this convention is technically allowed within Einstein’s framework of Special Relativity, it is not the convention that Einstein himself selected. In the last post we zoomed in on the most important reason for that choice. It turns out that the nature of light imposes limitations on its traveling speed. Specifically, light traveling through empty space can only do so at a constant, finite speed. This contrasts starkly with the ASC, which assumes that the speed of light varies with direction and is infinite towards the observer. The ASC does not correspond with the actual physics that underlie the universe. For evaluating the physical implications of this proposal, we need a constant speed of light which is obtained using Einstein’s convention.
In this post, we will step beyond considering only the ASC by itself and study what the Creation model that Lisle proposed actually looks like. Lisle claims that God could have used the ASC to describe how he created the universe about 6,000 years ago. From here on out, we will refer to this as the ASC model. It paints the picture of all the planets, stars, black holes, and other objects in the universe as being supernaturally formed on the fourth solar day of Creation. All these objects would have been created somewhere along the full spectrum of maturity, ranging from blue newborn baby stars to flashy exploding stars (supernovae) to old white dwarf stars. The light belonging to all these objects then reached our planet instantaneously that very same day. Keep in mind that this is the picture provided by the ASC. But how realistic is it?
The comprehensibility of God’s Creation
Some may view God as some kind of engineer who has put together an extremely complex machine (called the universe) and then decided to step back to watch its development. All kinds of variations can be added to this picture, such as God predicting intended outcomes beforehand or throwing in miracles now and then. However, this description bypasses an essential aspect of God’s providence that occurs “behind the scenes” every moment. By his divine will, he is continuously upholding physical order within his own Creation. He is keeping it all together, moment by moment. What comes to mind are Paul’s words on Jesus in Colossians 1:17, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” The Christian doctrine of creation is not just about the initial “spark”, but about a continuous act of divine providence (as discussed by Jim Stump in another post here on BioLogos). The resulting regularities are what make our world understandable. Nature appears to function according to a coherent set of physical laws. No matter what faith one has, everybody can marvel at this property. As Einstein put it, “the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.”
In the physics that underlie the created order, God provides us with a framework for comprehension. He himself chooses to maintain it every single moment. The previous post clarified that the standard synchrony convention of Einstein respects the physical nature of light (finite, constant speed), whereas the ASC does not. Therefore, while the ASC may potentially solve a single interpretive issue related to Genesis 1, it does so at the expense of the God-ordained regularities of nature.
Is God the 3D-printer of our cosmos?
At this point, let’s return to the railway analogy we introduced in the previous post. Our imaginary railway company set the station clocks in such a way that all the trains seemed to arrive instantly in a certain city, say New York, no matter from which station they departed. So, imagine passengers sitting on a train, checking the clocks on all of the stations. They stepped in at 3 o’clock. Halfway towards the Big Apple, there is a short stop at an intermediate station. To their surprise, it’s also 3 o’clock there. Some extra passengers get on and the train departs. Finally, they arrive in New York City at… 3 o’clock. The passengers who got on the train halfway measured the same traveling time as those who made the full journey. But in physical reality, those passengers who got on the train halfway experienced only half the traveling time of the other travelers. What all these passengers have in common is that they arrived in New York at the same time.
Let us apply this to the ASC model. It has all rays of light departing from all over the universe and arriving at Earth at approximately the same time, during the fourth solar day of Creation. However, in physical terms (constant speed of light), those rays of light coming from the Sun took about 8 minutes and those from the next nearest star Alpha Centauri took about 5 years, while those emanating from the center of our galaxy (Sagittarius A*) took about 26,000 years (!). To keep their time of arrival the same on the physical level, God would have needed to create Sagittarius A* almost 26,000 years before he created Alpha Centauri. That star would have been created almost 5 years before the Sun. As distances to objects become larger, the moment of their creation gets pushed back further in time to allow their light to arrive simultaneously with that of the Sun. It results in a scenario in which God created the universe gradually, starting with the objects farthest away from Earth and proceeding inward with the speed of light. Along the way of this journey centered on Earth, more and more light rays or “passengers” are being picked up from a variety of objects. But all of them arrive on Earth exactly on the fourth solar day of the existence of the Earth. This process can be compared to that of a cosmic 3D-printer which prints the universe starting with the outside “shell”, and then moving inward until it reaches the Earth at its center. If you are having trouble with visualizing this, below I have produced a small animation. The dot in the middle is the future location of the Earth, while the globe around it delineates the volume which remains to be filled with created objects.
The revival of geocentrism
I can imagine that this leaves you with more questions than answers regarding the ASC model. So, let us carefully summarize our results. While the ASC model may seem to provide a neat account of Creation within the ASC, it gives rise to a rather peculiar story on the physical level (assuming a constant speed of light). On that level, there are at least two remarkable features.
- The process corresponding with the fourth solar day of Creation in the ASC model is effectively spread out over a period of billions of years for the observable universe. This does not align at all with a literal solar day as commonly perceived. It defeats the original purpose for which the ASC model was constructed: namely, to uphold the “plain reading” of Genesis 1 in terms of literal solar days. The ASC model, when interpreted in terms of plain physics, contradicts the very reading that it aims to defend.
- As can be seen from the animation above, the ASC model results in the revival of a geocentric view of the universe. It renders the whole universe as having been created inwardly and geocentrically. This is reminiscent of the times when even respected theologians like John Calvin believed that the Scriptures demand that people adhere to a geocentric worldview (see, for example, this BioLogos blog post by Wyatt Houtz). While we all thought that humanity had put the issue of geocentrism to rest centuries ago, the ASC model indirectly brings it back to life in a different form.
Now, could God have created the universe in this particular way? Of course he could. If he desired so, he could also have created the heavens to revolve around Earth. He could even have created everything with the appearance of age. But the models that have prevailed over the course of time are the ones that make the most sense of God’s created order. The scientific method favors models that produce coherent and parsimonious descriptions of Creation. This principle is called Ockham’s razor, after the English Franciscan friar to whom it was attributed: William of Ockham (1285-1347). One formulation of this principle is as follows, “Everything should be kept as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Now, geocentrism has already lost in popularity due to this criterion and hence, in extension, this places pressure on the viability of the ASC model.
From a purely theoretical perspective, our current treatment does not place the ASC model in a good light (pun intended). Firstly, the ASC as a descriptive convention does not respect the physical nature of light. Secondly, the ASC model is self-defeating because its straightforward physical interpretation stretches Creation across billions of years (contradicting the reading of literal solar days that it seeks to defend). Thirdly, the physical description of Creation that results from the ASC model leads to a geocentric view of the universe.
All of this appears to be rather problematic for the ASC model. However, we must be aware that wielding Ockham’s razor irresponsibly can lead to reductionism. That’s why the second element of Ockham’s principle warns against oversimplification (“.. but no simpler.”). One implication of this is that basic theoretical considerations are not always enough to debunk a model. So, how does the ASC model fare when trying to account coherently for actual observations of the cosmos? This is where we start focusing on the empirical side of the story. In the coming posts, we will highlight several key observations that directly contradict the ASC model. It will lead us along some amazing parts of God’s Creation, such as relativistic jets, distant galaxies and an ancient bath of cosmic radiation.