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Supernovae and gamma-ray bursts in a biblical cosmology

Published: 13 October 2018 (GMT+10)

This answers two independent inquirers who ask about the same issue in principle: how do stellar explosions fit with the biblical (‘young earth’) creationist cosmology? The answer that Dr Jonathan Sarfati gave to the first largely applies to the second, so we present an edited combined answer. A colleague thought it would be useful to present current creationist cosmological thinking, even a model not previously discussed on this site. Multiple working hypotheses is a good thing for a new area of research, as geologist T.C. Chamberlin explained way back in 1890.

First, Brian H., a regular attendee at CMI–USA superconferences, wrote in a good question to the panel that we didn’t have time to answer:

Supernovas: They seem to present a different problem from the ‘distant starlight’ problem in general—for which you presented to us various possible solutions.

But supernovas are events we see but earlier humans didn’t. So it doesn’t seem easy to fit them in with the various possible explanations of what happened during Creation week. How do we answer the objection that supernovas prove the earth must be millions of years old, otherwise we couldn’t see these phenomena now?

Second, Callum S. of Australia writes:

Hi and thanks for all the terrific work you guys do!

My question is regarding a recent documentary I saw on Netflix regarding Gamma-ray bursts …

I was particularly interested that these devastating explosions seem to be happening everywhere but this galaxy and it reminds me of what is written in Isaiah 45:18.

I ended up rejecting a fair chunk of the documentary due to the evolutionary undertones, but there are a few problems that I can't seem to get my head around.

  • If gamma-ray bursts are occurring in faraway galaxies as observations suggest, does that mean that these would have occurred on day 4 of creation week?
  • Would stars exploding be contrary to creation being "good" at the end of day 4?

I apologize for the skeptical nature of this query. I'm a committed creationist but have no idea to explain this. An explanation better than my own would be hugely appreciated.

At the CMI-USA 2018 Superconference, Spike Psarris gave two well-received presentations on creation astronomy, and he gave several solutions to the distant starlight problem proposed by biblical creationists. We recognize some unanswered questions, but point out that evolutionary solutions to the horizon problem are at least equally speculative, and we remind people of the evolutionary distant starlight problem.

My own thoughts for a solution: gravitational time dilation solutions, i.e. some combination of the ideas of Dr John Gideon Hartnett and Dr Russell Humphreys, have been preferred by CMI, including my own books. Time dilation is an experimentally supported result of Einstein’s theories of relativity.

Artist’s illustration of a bright gamma-ray burst occurring in a star-forming region. Energy from the explosion is beamed into two narrow, oppositely directed jets.

Also, after the conference, I was made aware that the papers of the International Conference on Creationism-2018, which occurred not long after our conference, were available online. One of these was yet another solution to the distant starlight issue: Tichomir Tenev, John Baumgardner, and M.F. Horstemeyer, “Creation time coordinates solution to the starlight problem” (available at creationicc.org).

This invokes another point of Einsteinian theories: that things that are simultaneous to one observer may not be simultaneous to another, because of the finite speed of light as the upper limit of transferring information. This provides an alternative definition of synchronous events: if they have the same creation time coordinates. According to this convention, ‘simultaneous’ events have the same CTC. So on Day 6, Adam would have seen stars as ‘signs’. They explain:

Because of the combination of the special initial conditions and synchrony convention described above, starlight emitted on Creation Day Four according to each star’s CTC also arrives at Earth on Creation Day Four according to the Earth’s CTC. The Distant Starlight Problem is resolved without violating Scripture or Special Relativity.

The section “Proposed solution” explicitly discusses how the creation time coordinates would work with supernova SN 1987A, 168,000 light years away from Earth, that evolutionists believe exploded c. 166,000 BC. They argue that the star was created on Day 4, c. 4,000 BC, and the CTC of that explosion is c. 4,000 + 1987 = c. 5987, being the number of years after creation. Any observer of the light would have the same CTC, clock reading, including the earth, i.e. seeing it at AD 1987 on their CTC.

But creationists had previously explained supernovae in other ways. Dr Hartnett had explained supernovae by gravitational time dilation: the light travelled 168,000 astronomical years, but most of those years occurred during Day 4 of Creation Week as measured by Earth clocks that ran much slower during creation week. Dr Harwood concurs:

At 170,000 light years away we are looking at an event that occurred on Day 4 but whose light did not reach us until 1987.

Dr Humphreys explains the supernovas in terms of an expanding timeless zone during creation week.

I had discussed this CTC idea with two of the authors a few years previously. Dr Hartnett informed me that he was a referee for this paper but that his criticisms were not addressed adequately. But this need not be fatal; Drs Humphreys and Hartnett have criticized earlier versions of their own models too.

It’s also encouraging that Humphreys, Hartnett, Tenev et al., as well as Dr Jason Lisle think that the argument from supernova remnants for a young creation is still good, contra a recent critical paper by Dr Danny Faulkner, as long as it’s formulated as too few stage-2 SNRs and rare to non-existent stage-3 SNRs, rather than how much the remnant has expanded (see the first ever young-age article I wrote for Creation mag). Evidence for galactic youth in its own time frame, including paucity of SNRs, would favour either their CTC or Dr Lisle’s ASC model (of which I have been critical) over some time dilation cosmologies.

When it comes to quasars as asked specifically by the second inquirer, a similar issue is answered in Changing-look quasars: how do they fit into a biblical creationist model?

Finally, in answer to his last question, I endorse Dr Harwood’s answer:

Is an exploding star consistent with a perfect creation? God said that the stars were created to be for signs and seasons (Genesis 1:14) and God foreknew all that would happen right from the very beginning. What to us seems to be destruction is actually just a physical process which does not necessarily denote any lack of perfection in the original creation. Importantly, there is no loss of biblical life involved (the creatures affected by death brought about by the Fall were those the Bible calls נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה (nephesh chayyāh)).