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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,

Kind regards,

Shaun Doyle
Creation Ministries International


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

Readers’ comments

Philip K.
Another well explained article thankyou!

I have no problem with the time involved for light to travel from the stars to earth.

In Psalm 33:6 (NASV) "By the Word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by breath of His mouth, all their host (stars, moon, sun, galaxies)" I picture that event in a rather simple (if not slightly crude) way. In some sporting events, spectators may throw a toilet roll but hold on to the first sheet. As it quickly travels away it unwinds leaving a white trail. The whole event takes seconds but it would require, for example, hours for an ant to walk the entire trail! I am not sure if that concept would make God deceptive any more than it would with Adam looking 20 years old when he, in fact was only days old at the beginning.

The same could be said about the water turned into wine by Jesus. A (10?) year old vintage wine mere minutes old at the word of His mouth.

Creation, like many other events in the Bible, not to mention modern miracles (e.g. a middle aged man with a brand new stomach only minutes old) are supernatural and therefore by definition outside the normal operating laws of nature.
Richard L.
Rigorous inductive bible study involves thinking through the contrasting dual formulaic “With the Lord, … and …” expression in 2 Peter 3:8. Doing so, we discover an “objective time [ObT]; subjective time [SuT]” pattern.

With specific reference to 2 Peter 3:8: “ To God, [1st part] a short period of actual time seems long, and [2nd part] a long period of actual time seems short.” It is the SECOND part of that dual expression—NOT the first—that has some parallel to Psalm 90:4.

The long-agers’ attempted wrong connection (I used to be guilty of this) between that FIRST part and Psalm 90:4 shows their (and my former) lack of inductive-study rigor when grappling with this verse. Their choice [the 1st part] is exactly opposite to the choice [2nd part] logically required in their attempt.

I used to be (like all old-earthers) desperate to find a rationale for upholding both the Bible and an old-earth concept. In my desperation, my normal desire for rigorous Bible study got compromised. I sloppily examined this verse, relied on a defective first impression, and made the above described mistake.

With respect to interpretation of the 2nd part of the formulaic saying: good interpretation prioritizes local context. Immediately after the 2nd part is Peter’s tie in of God’s patience to “1,000 years are as a day”. As you at CMI point out, we must let this explicitly linked divine patience have primacy of interpretation of that formulaic 2nd part. It doesn't comment on the creation account.

The rest of 2 Peter 3 points to the obvious interpretation of the 1st-part “a day is as 1,000 years”: God’s ability to make physical changes quickly and powerfully, whether in Noah’s flood or at the return of Christ. We YECers should prize that 1st part!
Brent H.
I personally do not like that creation scientists accept star distances without questioning them. One light year is about 10 trillion kms. How in the world can one light year be measured. Sin, cos, tan, yeah sure. The hubble telescope can not take a good picture of the moon in BLACK AND WHITE, why should I believe NASA when they say that they received a gorgeous COLOUR picture billions of light years away, and we can not measure one light year with our technology today. I say the universe is not near as big as they say and you can't measure it to prove me wrong, I believe the secular world is lying about the size of the universe just to make evolution more plausible. Yeah and you think I am ridicules. Why would we believe their unfounded assumptions about anything.
Shaun Doyle
The problem is that the notion that the universe is easily big enough to cause e.g. a distant starlight time-travel problem is not unfounded. The data we receive from telescopes only really makes sense if most of the objects we observe in the sky are of the same class as our sun. And given the sheer number we observe, trying to force-fit countless trillions of stars into e.g. a 6,000 light-year radius around us would vaporize us. There may be uncertainties in the larger distance measurements, but they are not so far in error that we can completely solve the distant starlight issue by appealing to a reduced size of the universe. Please see Modern science in creationist thinking and How can we see distant stars in a young universe?
Marius H.
Have you thought that the stars etc. were created in the same way as God created the trees and plants for Adam and Eve to eat? They did not have to wait several years for the trees to grow and bear fruit before they could eat! The same creation "Rule" exists for the creation of the stars etc. They shone in all their glory for their Creator from the moment they were created.
How wonderful is our GOD..
Shaun Doyle
There is no question that the stars glorified God from the moment they were created, and that they were visible to Adam and Eve on their first night. But that doesn't tell us how distant starlight got to Earth for Adam and Eve to see in so short a time. We can't simply assume that how mature trees formed with ripe fruit ready to eat is in any way related to how distant starlight travelled so far in such a short timeframe. Presumably the trees would not have had to go through the normal developmental process, but the starlight still had to proceed from the actual stars and reach Earth somehow. Otherwise we have a lightshow that bears no relation to the actual objects they purport to reveal; it makes God look very much like a deceiver.
Jazz M.
Your answer to point 1 here
appears to go against your other articles I was reading eg here which suggest c-decay?
Shaun Doyle
This article (Speed of light slowing down after all?) does not advocate c-decay as an explanation of distant starlight. Dr Wieland says:

"And in addition to being different from the prediction of the Setterfield theory, this research by itself does not support c-decay theory of the magnitude that Setterfield proposed. The change is billions of times too small."

graham P.
Great article. Our ignorance of how the light got here so fast might be counterbalanced against the Big Banger problem of where the missing 96% of matter in the universe is, (that their model requires).
Put in that context, our light-travel issue pales into insignificance, especially when seen against the background of Quasar red / blue-shift anomalies that beg for a revision of the galacto-centrist question.
Randy S.
Your correspondent writes, “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.” This is actually not the case regarding Humphreys’ model. In reality, what he hoped to construct was a means to hold the Earth encapsulated in a sort of “timeless bubble” while unimaginable ages passed elsewhere. Whether or not he succeeded is a matter of debate. However, the danger of incorporating this kind of thinking into creationism is that such a timeless construct could be built around any Genesis system to ‘make it work’. For instance, one could say, “Let’s insert the Garden of Eden in Humphreys’ timeless domain while great ages pass just beyond its borders on and in the planet. That would allow for untold ages of geologic events to occur.” Sure, we could win a lot of arguments that way, but lose the purity and elegance of Genesis in the effort. If our models become increasingly bizarre, it won’t be long until we begin to appear desperate in our attempts to undergird our beliefs.
Shaun Doyle
However, there is only one Genesis narrative. Since there was no suffering, predation, or disease anywhere before the Fall (Genesis 1:31), even if a 'timeless bubble' was only around the Garden of Eden, this would have nothing to do with the fossil record we actually have, which is full of thorns, cancer, predation, etc. Humphreys, like all biblical creationists, treats the historical reliability of Genesis as axiomatic for all historical model building.
Erik W.
I read the recent article expanding on Carmeli's expansion model of the universe. It was a lot to fathom, so hopefully this question makes sense.

If I understood correctly, the model states that time ran faster in the rest (outer edges?) of the universe than at earth, in the past, namely during Day 4, I figure, and that this means that the rest of the universe did in fact age billions of years, compared to the earth.

BUT, does this mean that the light reaching us from distant stars and galaxies are showing them as billions of years old? I think, if I understood the article, that the light from the rest of the universe, being red-shifted, is showing us what the rest of the universe looks like 6,000 local years after its creation. So even though it has aged much older, that light has not reached us yet, because it has not experienced the dilation, only the light shortly after its creation experienced the dilation, so we're seeing a 6,000-year-old universe no matter what?

Pardon me, profusely, if this is even asking the wrong question because I didn't understand what I read. But if I got enough right to ask a question that makes sense, if you'd care to answer it, I'd appreciate getting set straight. :)
Shaun Doyle
Time dilation is not easy to fathom; it is counter-intuitive to our everyday experience. The basic point is that as one day passed on Earth billions of years passed at the outer reaches of the universe. The important thing to note is that both are genuine measurements of time. But Einstein figured out (and it has solid experimental support) that time is not absolute. Time does not always run at the same rate; it is distorted by two things: speed and gravity. So the question is this: by which clocks do you measure time? By Earth clocks, the cosmos is 6,000 years old (which is the biblically relevant clock), but by clocks at the edge of the cosmos, it would measure into the billions of years. For more information, please see How can we see stars in a young universe?
Fraser M.
This article along with others I have read is very enjoyable to read and gain insight from. I also appreciate that respect given by CMI writers to the different persons and it says a lot about and for the respect CMI has for the Lord and His Word. " Love your neighbour as yourself ".
The one thing about so many people Christian or not when we talk about God and His Handy Work is that we look at it and discuss all as focussed under a microscope. Such a small part of the picture and not considering the whole at the same time to get the proper perspective. When some one paints a picture of a sun rise and the light rays a shining through a light mist onto the beautiful colored leaves on a forest floor they do a complete picture. God said let there be light , later making the sun, moon and stars. He is GOD we have to stop trying to fit what He Did and Does into a box of human reasoning. THERE WAS NOTHING IN THE PHYSICAL UNTIL HE SPOKE IT INTO EXISTANCE. Go ahead , speak your favourite ice cream cone into existance. See what I mean. He operates out side of our reality. He is still keeping it all together just by His Word. When one atom is only split apart the results are huge. Now think of the number of atoms and energy He is holding from coming apart all the time And carrying on all the other things He does at the same time. Then there is the whole Spiritual realm He made and over sees including a Spiritual on going battle 24/7 . We really need to step way back and say hold it I have to start focusing with both eyes.
The last few paragraphs of the article point in that direction. It is fun to search out the things of God and I believe He enjoys us doing so BUT we have to quit saying and waisting our time saying that God couldn't , it is just painting for Him.
Randy S.
Ps 19: 1 "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands". In a time-dilated universe the skies are proclaiming that God’s handiwork went on for billions of years, not 6000. Your correspondent is asking a tough question of CMI which is timely. It’s time to start thinking more seriously about the potential negative consequences of time-dilated creationist theories. God’s universe is not a ‘confused’ system. God does not author confusion. Time-dilated theorists inadvertently build an inconsistency into the created system which can only lead to confusion and disagreement between diverse reference frames. You can’t have observers from our Earth-bound locale declaring God’s glory and a six day creation while the stars are claiming to glorify the same God in a creation that for them lasted billions of years. A shouting match between the two frames of reference will ensue. When the Bible record is consulted, the Earth observers will be found to correctly align with Bible history, while the stars will be found in outrageous disagreement. This could only point to a confused and inconsistent creator, surely not the One our Bible declares. You know that I am YEC. No fight there. But I think it is time for a complete re-engineering of our creation cosmologies. The driving question in my opinion should be, “Can we do this in 6 days - everywhere?” Can we at least try harder than we have been trying.
Shaun Doyle
We disagree. We don't think that time dilation necessarily leads to a "confused system". It's well within the bounds of relativistic physics, which is a well-attested operational science theory. There is nothing in Scripture that rules out the notion of time dilation (How could there be? They didn't know anything about it!). Of course, this doesn't prove time dilation was the means God used, but we've never said God used time dilation for certain. And neither are we against the idea of cosmologies that don't use time dilation (e.g. c-decay theory was popular in the 1980s, but not anymore). Models about the deepest past based on physical evidence are always tentative, and as such should always be held loosely. We currently think time dilation cosmologies are the best on offer—nothing more, nothing less. And that may change in the future. Please see ‘Hanging Loose’: What should we defend?
Hans G.
Back to Genesis: In the beginning......that means time. But what is time? Everything between beginning and a point of ending can be related to time. And while God is the inventor of time, He handles it as He needs to even if He has to 'speed' up time.
In this star light issue the distance and the speed of light are (fairly) constant, time is the variable and God can alter it.
The easiest way to find out is to make it to heaven and then ask God.
Richard M.
I never cease to be amazed by the thoughtful and ever helpful way in which CMI writers seek to put into plain words explanations of complex scientific processes. You are greatly to be commended and thanked. God bless you.
Roger T.
There is a simple solution to this issue - The universe was in existence BEFORE the earth was created.
The universe was in turmoil because of Satan's rebellion.
God created the earth as a testing ground for Satan's form of government based on self not love.
So the earth becomes the centre of the universe.
It all hinges on the interpretation of Gen. 1:16b.
Some scholars interpret this statement as inclusive of creation at the same time as the earth (CMI), others say that it is a separate statement to be understood that the stars (universe) was already there.
This view solves all the speed of light problems because the stars were already shining and the light was reaching God's new creation as He formed it.
I can't see that this view in any way compromises the young earth belief.
God created this world for a purpose. It was not just a random idea God had one day. 1 Cor. 4:9 "For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings."NIV.
"For all the world's a stage. And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,..." William Shakespear. As You Like It. Sc. 2 Act 7.
Shaun Doyle
There is a simpler problem with this "simple solution": Exodus 31:16–17: "Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 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." Heaven and earth, i.e. everything, was made in that six 24-day timeframe.

Another problem is Genesis 1:28: "And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" Dominion over creation was given to humanity, not Satan.

Please see Gap theory revisited, ‘Soft’ gap sophistry and What about gap theories?,

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