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Distant starlight and the days of Genesis 1

Published: 13 April 2013 (GMT+10)
NASA/JPL-Caltech The Orion Nebula
The Orion Nebula

How should we approach the distant starlight travel time issue? How do we argue against day-age theory? CMI’s Shaun Doyle examines these questions in today’s feedback from William L. from Australia.

Dear William,

Thank you for your email and your kind words. As a general point, I recommend our search function and our Q and A pages, by which you can find articles that answer all these questions.

NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); Acknowledgment: J. Gallagher (University of Wisconsin), M. Mountain (STScI), and P. Puxley (National Science Foundation) Messier-82 galaxy
Messier-82 galaxy

Dear CMI,

I’m a huge fan of your work and I appreciate all that the organisation has done in strengthening the faith of many Christians worldwide.

I just have a few questions on starlight, scripture and Dr. Humphreys’ theory.

1) The speed of light is related to a number of physical constants. E.g. E = mc² and c² = 1/ε0µ0 (Deriving the speed of light with Maxwell’s equations). Hence, changing the speed of light will change the energy levels of atoms, atomic and nuclear constants (classical electron radius will change, if energy was kept constant then mass of electron and proton will have to change) and the electric and magnetic constants (ε0 and µ0). This leads to the question: how do you reconcile a faster speed of light in the past (and the change should be substantial to allow light to travel ~ 13 billion lightyrs from the farthest galaxy to the earth in 6000 yrs) with the Anthropic principle which includes the argument that all the physical constants of the universe can’t be changed by a fraction (as that would mean that man will not be able to exist)?

We don’t have to reconcile the two because we do not currently advocate any sort of idea that postulates a faster speed of light in the past to explain distant starlight, nor does Dr Humphreys. Please see How can we see distant stars in a young Universe?

2) I read the section in your book ‘refuting compromise’ about why it is wrong to interpret each day in Genesis as one of God’s days (or a long period of time). Please correct me if I’m wrong but it seems that the main argument is that because there is a number associated with the word ‘day’ in Hebrew (yom), therefore, the Hebrew language does not allow the long period of time interpretation for the word. But I was wondering, if we were to translate the verse in Peter’s letter about how 1 day can be a 1000 years to God from Greek into Hebrew, wouldn’t it be a Hebrew instance where even if there is a number associated with the word ‘yom’, that ‘yom’ could still be a long period of time?

This is what Dr Sarfati says:

“When modified by a cardinal number (for example, one, two, three …) or ordinal number (for example, first, second, third …) as used 359 times in the OT [Old Testament] outside Genesis 1, yôm always means a literal day of about 24 hours, or the light portion of the day-night cycle. This is true in narrative, legal writings, prophecy, wisdom literature, and even poetry. So there must be extraordinary reasons to justify an extraordinary exception, if Genesis 1 is indeed an exception.”1

He of course goes on to demonstrate that Genesis 1 is no exception to this unanimous usage, and not just by appealing to this pattern (he cites other evidence in favour of his interpretation). But this argument is inductive—he is establishing a general pattern from specific examples. He is saying that in every actual example of the ‘yôm + number’ construction in the Old Testament yôm always refers either to a 24-hour day or the daylight hours of a 24-hour day. Instead, your question misconstrued Dr Sarfati’s argument as deductive—explaining a particular example by a general rule; i.e. that there is an inviolable rule in Hebrew grammar that says: “yôm +number can only refer to a 24-hour ‘day’”. There is of course no such inviolable rule. But this doesn’t matter for Dr Sarfati’s argument because his argument is inductive, not deductive.

Concerning 2 Peter 3:8 (also covered in Refuting Compromise), note the second half of the verse: “and a thousand years are like a day”. And note 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Peter is expanding on Psalm 90:4 to show that some people’s idea of ‘slow’ is wrong. God’s promise will be fulfilled in due time, and the so-called ‘slowness’ doesn’t demonstrate the falsehood of the promise, but demonstrates God’s patience. In all this, understanding the point of 2 Peter 3:8 still depends on understanding ‘day’ as a typical 24-hour day. Note also that these verses have nothing to do with the days of Genesis 1.

Please see 2 Peter 3:8—‘one day is like a thousand years’, Did God really take six days?, The meaning of yôm in Genesis 1:1–2:4, and The days of Creation: A semantic approach.

3) I read in one of your books or heard in your videos that CMI believes that the universe was in existence in Gen 1:1–2. How old was the universe just before the 1st day?

Genesis 1:1–2 was not before the first day, but describes the starting conditions of the cosmos on the first day. Referring to the Sabbath, Exodus 31:17 says: “It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.” Everything was made in those first six days of history, including the initial state of the universe from nothing (that was actually the beginning of the first day). Please see ‘Soft’ gap sophistry.

4) In Dr. Humphreys’ theory, he argues that because of the deformation in the space-time fabric and the expanding universe, time ran faster on the edge of the universe compared with time at the location of the Earth. Hence, billions of years could pass at the edge of the universe in 4 earth days. But doesn’t that mean that the universe itself is still billions of years old (at least on the outer limits of the universe)?

What matters for Dr Humphreys’ cosmology (and others like it) is that only one day passed on earth while billions of years’ worth of physical processes occurred on the outer reaches of the universe. In a relativistic sense we could say that the universe is both 6000 years old (as measured on Earth) and billions of years old (as measured at the edge of the universe). However, the Bible counts time from an earth-bound reference frame, so it speaks of the universe being about 6,000 years old. Please see How can we see distant stars in a young Universe?

Note that all creationist cosmologies seek to do is try to understand how distant starlight got to Earth in a single Earth day. They are not seeking to discern whether that happened. That question is easily settled—it happened. That God is omnipotent clearly means God can do it, and Genesis 1:14–19 clearly implies that it happened. We just don’t know how it happened. But we don’t need to know how distant starlight got to Earth in a single Earth day to know that it did.

Nevertheless, it is good to try and figure out how it happened, or at least develop plausible theories on how it could have happened given the observational data we have. It shows we think Genesis 1 occurred in the real space-time-matter world, and is not some ‘religious’ idea that has nothing to do with the real world. It also shows that the observational evidence really is consistent with Genesis 1. And it shows we’re not against science per se. Please see Modern science in creationist thinking.

Thanks CMI for your help. You answers will be very much appreciated.
Kind regards and God Bless,
William

Kind regards,

Shaun Doyle
Creation Ministries International

References

  1. Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise (Updated & Expanded), Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, p. 73, 2011. Return to text.