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. We discussed how the ASC as a descriptive convention does not respect the physical nature of light. In the previous post, we used that result to arrive at two conclusions regarding the ASC model. Firstly, its plain physical interpretation stretches creation across billions of years. Secondly, it leads to a geocentric view of the universe. Now, we’re ready to compare the ASC model itself with our universe.
The ASC model claims that all heavenly bodies in the universe were created on the fourth solar day, most of them created in mature form. Light rays coming from those objects then reach Earth instantaneously. At least, if described using the ASC. An infinite speed of light appears to solve the problems in the directions towards Earth. However, what about other directions? Let’s examine, for example, the directions of movement across the sky (perpendicular to our line of sight). For a visualization of such movement, see the animation further on in this post. If some ray of light or other object moves across the sky, its distance to us remains constant. Now remember that in Lisle’s coordinate system, the clock synchronization varies with the distance to the observer. So for a ray of light moving across the sky (with constant distance to the observer) an observer using the ASC would measure simply the “ordinary” speed of light, c. This provides us with a good observational test case for the ASC model. Are there objects or causal relationships that stretch more than 6,000 light years across the sky? In fact, there are many of them. Let’s zoom in on one truly amazing kind of example.
Relativistic jets: the most powerful fountains in the Universe
You must have noticed the spectacular image shown above. The purple haze shows the radio emission of relativistic jets belonging to the galaxy Centaurus A. Here the object is projected in its actual size as it would be seen on the sky if its light were visible to the human eye. This stunning example spans 1,000,000 (!!!) light years across the sky, and many more jets such as these can be found. (If you’re wondering about that shining globe on the left, that’s the full Moon.)
But what causes those jets exactly? At the center of this huge flare of Centaurus A (at the small dot in the middle with a higher intensity) lies an object 55 million times heavier than our Sun. It’s a black hole! Black holes are objects so dense that even light can’t escape from them. They don’t usually emit any light themselves, but the matter around them does. Black holes pull huge amounts of gas towards themselves (mainly hydrogen atoms). As a result, the temperature around the black hole increases. Due to the heat, the hydrogen atoms start to separate into free charged particles (protons and electrons). As the gas is being pulled inward, it starts spinning quickly around the center (much like a ballerina pulls her arms towards her body to increase the speed of her pirouette). Consequently, each black hole possesses a very dense, hot, rotating disk of free charged particles. This is what they call the accretion disk, because it consists of the matter that is being collected by (or accreted onto) the black hole.
Hopefully, moving charges will remind you of something we discussed in the second post, namely, that these charges are the necessary ingredient for creating magnetic fields. The charges in the accretion disk are moving at incredible speeds and are gathered in large numbers. This and other effects produce extremely strong magnetic fields near black holes, even the strongest we know of, especially in the regions above and below the disk (at the “poles”). Although astrophysicists don’t fully understand how it works, these changing magnetic fields near the poles can start to function like some sort of cosmic launching platform. Any matter that ends up near the poles will then be propelled into space at speeds of the same order as the speed of light (~0.5c for this example). Since this can happen at both poles of the black hole, objects can have two jets in opposite directions ranging across humongous distances. In the image shown above, astronomers happened to observe such a phenomenon stretching across the sky. These jets are moving perpendicular to our line of sight. In case you’re having trouble to visualize the launch of such jets, I have produced the small simplified animation shown below. The blue cones are the jets, while the green ellipse shows the disk on its side.
Is God shooting straight with us?
At this point, we can return once again to Lisle’s proposal. He proposed that all objects such as galaxies were created mature—instantaneously, and fully formed. So our own galaxy would have been created approximately in its current state, complete with spiral arms and stars at different points in their development. After Creation, light needs about 100,000 years to traverse our galaxy. Since light travels at the fastest speed possible, this is the minimal time needed for regions to “connect” causally. For stable systems such as most galaxies one might choose to be lenient towards such an assumption.
However, take another look at the jets in the image above. It’s definitely not a stable system. We see some discrete “blurps” in the jets, as if the output has been changing in the past. Even light (traveling at the fastest speed possible) did not have time enough to “connect” these regions with each other within 6,000 years. In the ASC model, such relativistic jets (including their discrete blobs) were created midflight. This would give us human beings only the illusion of a causal relationship between the source (the medium near the black hole) and the astrophysical jet itself. This illusion would include a fictional history of variable input from the source near the black hole. Even today, distinct parts of this particular jet would only be causally connected with very small surrounding regions (only about 0.5 percent of the whole jet length).
Lisle rejected the proposal of light being created in transit based on the principle of intelligibility. His argument was that we would expect God to provide some way to understand his Creation. Otherwise, it would not be worth the effort of trying to make sense of everything at all anymore. The fact that Lisle and other young-earth creationists have rejected the idea of light being created in transit is what originally led to the need of a solution to the distant starlight problem. However, we have seen in this post that Lisle’s proposal suffers from exactly the same problem which it aimed to avoid. It leads to a picture of the universe wherein God produced sequences of imaginary events in relativistic jets. This would revive the idea of God creating “appearance of age,” overruling any attempts to understand Creation coherently. It leads to the Omphalos hypothesis, which holds that God created nature with all the telltale marks of a distant past which it never had. Young-earth creationists such as Lisle have aimed to distance themselves from this hypothesis because it contradicts the principle of intelligibility. However, as we’ve seen here, assuming the mature creation of relativistic jets revives the Omphalos hypothesis.
In summary, we have seen in this post that relativistic jets give the strong appearance of being causally related to their source. They even show evidence of specific event histories. It’s like observing multiple flying missiles coming from a launching platform. In the ASC model there is no way for the “missiles” (blurps in the jet) to be causally connected to their “launching platform” (medium near the black hole). Previously, we saw that the ASC model in its “plain” physical interpretation defies the reading of Genesis 1 in terms of literal solar days. Now, we see that the ASC model defeats another premise which it aimed to uphold, namely the assumption of intelligibility of Creation. Next time, we will be taking a look at another feat of nature that doesn’t fare well with the ASC model. We will take a look at the different kinds of galaxies that we observe in the universe, at different distances. Stay tuned for more.