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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)).

Readers’ comments

Nathan G.
I find the comments about Einstein to be very skewed. He was a deist, not an atheist. Einstein said: "Without religion, science is blind. Without science, religion is lame." How does anyone view this as atheism? He would have very much liked not to have a beginning to the universe (steady state), but was intellectually honest enough to take back his initial, built-in fudge factor in relativity theory when called out on it. That is not just scientific and personal integrity, it shows a commitment to the truth. How many other scientists made an accurate prediction 100 years before it was testable, i.e. the gravitational wave idea when two black holes combine that was recently measured for the first time? Russell Humphreys didn't need to wait for 100 years, but his predictions of the magnetic fields of three planets was still impressive, to say the least. The white hole cosmology is interesting and at least a start for considering other non-evolutionary ideas that might just work scientifically, even if they have to be refined

The more interesting question would be whether the "extrapolation disease" suffered by most evolutionists might also work backwards. Might the outer reaches of the universe have already died and exploded in order for the light/darkness to reach the earth for the signs and seasons given in the book of Revelation ( sun dark, stars dark, etc.) at the proper creation-based time? Might the "elements melting with fervent heat", already be at work from the outside to the inside of the universe and finally end in our own galaxy? That would be highly amusing, despite the apocalyptic consequences for all involved (pun totally intended).
Clyde W.
When Sue C.was amazed to hear Dr Fred Watson of the Anglo-Australian Observatory at Siding Springs, say "We don't really understand what time is." I would say not many of us would understand what timelessness is. It would be like asking God How long was he timeless before the creation. Ps. I think he is still timeless. Clyde W.
Sue C.
Thank you CMI. This is fascinating, although these are difficult concepts to get my High School (many years ago) Physics brain around.

I watched Stargazing Live on ABC Australian TV earlier this year, and was amazed to hear Dr Fred Watson of the Anglo-Australian Observatory at Siding Springs, say "We don't really understand what time is."

It is refreshing to know that someone with a PhD, working in secular astronomical science, also has the humility to admit to not having all the answers.

I love starting my day with CMI online. It reminds me just How BIG our God is! May He continue to bless you mightily, all at CMI, who work so hard to show our wonderful and loving Creator and Saviour to a needy world.
Peter C.
I could build a firecracker today and say it's really good. I would be happy with my creation.
Tomorrow I blow it up and others who see it proclaim that it looks beautiful. Even though it has been destroyed. Maybe God shows his creative hand to us all .
Thomas R.
I think there may be a serious difference in the speed of light between how a machine measures it, and how human eyes (or any biological eye) sees it.

Also, there may exist a different type of light than what is typically emitted by heat sources.

In other words, light not generated by a heat source may travel at a completely different speed than light generated by bulbs, stars, flames, etcetera.
Don Batten
There is no evidence that electromagnetic radiation ('light') from different sources transmits at different velocities.
David S.
I appreciate the work that so many have put into this area of research, putting forth theories that I can barely begin to grasp the fringes of. It’s all very interesting! I wonder, though, if Dr. Faulkner said it best when he postulated that since the creation of the stars AND the light of those stars being seen all happened on day 4 during the MIRACULOUS creation week, we might never be able to explain it by natural processes. I’m not saying give up, I’m just saying that we should emphasis more the miraculous nature of this phenomenon, being that we believe in a supernatural God that during one awe inspiring week, did MANY unexplainably awesome things. To chalk something like this up to God’s power is not really giving up if it’s true. It’s bringing glory to the One who speaks and it happens! Praise Him.
Don Batten
Yes, of course creation week events were miraculous.
But it is fun to try to work out 'how God might have done it'. None of the creationist astro-physicists are at all dogmatic about their models. It is well to keep in mind that secularists (who don't believe in the Creator) actually believe in miracles, but without any sufficient cause for the miracles; that is, they believe in 'magic'. See Five atheist miracles.
Paul S.
While I appreciate the dedicated work done by Christian physicists in attempting to address the difficult cosmological issues discussed in this piece, I cannot accept as valid any approaches which rely on Einstein's relativity theories. These are, at their metaphysical heart, every bit as atheistic as Darwin's theories (and there is even an abstract intellectual line running from Darwin through Mach to Einstein although evolution itself has no direct connection to relativity) and thus cannot serve as a background for Christian interpretations of cosmological events. Einstein's argument for the relativity of simultaneity, for example, can't get off the ground without his implicit atheistic assumption. Time "dilation" is no more than a mathematical artifact as Lorentz and other anti-relativity physicists down to the present day have noted - time doesn't "dilate"; clocks slow down due to physical processes. I don't expect to convince those pursuing the above (relativistic) lines of research of the ultimate futility of their efforts now, but I am planning a book resulting from my extensive research in this area. Hopefully, that will help to turn the Titanic. This figure of speech is a reflection of the seriousness with which I regard this matter, and not a reflection on the sincere Christian men who are honestly seeking the truth, but are, unfortunately, following a misguided approach.
Don Batten
It is good that you appreciate the sincerity of the Christian physicists and their work.
We don't share your view of Einstein's theories of Special and General Relativity as being in any sense anti-Christian. They are physical theories and well-attested ones at that (with many experimental verifications). As we wrote in Einstein, the universe and God:
"In fact, Einstein proposed a view of nature in which absolute space and time were replaced by absolute velocity of light. He preferred to call his theory the ‘invariance’ theory, but the term ‘relativity’ stuck."
Some then confuse this with moral or metaphysical relativity, but they are unrelated.
It's interesting that Einstein's science heroes were all strong creationists; Newton, Faraday, and Maxwell (Einstein's heroes). He was standing on their shoulders in the development of his ideas.
Of course, this does not mean that there is 'nothing beyond Einstein', any more than 'there was nothing beyond Newton'. Who knows what might lie in the future?
Grant R.
I have read Genesis Chapter 1 many times and find that all this speculation is caused by an interpretation that the entire universe was created in the 6 days of genises chapter 1. However Genesis 1:1 says in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and at verse 2 the earth was without form and void. To me at the beginning of the creation week God is creating this earth the heavens have already been created. Genesis 1:14 says “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide day from night and let them be for signs and seasons and for days and years. This is referring to the planets in this solar system and then in verse 16 sun and moon. An aside is then added saying “He made the stars also” which to me has always indicated that he had made them previously. This makes sense as it is unlikely God has been sitting around for eternity doing nothing and solves the problem of light traveling from distant stars.
Don Batten
You are proposing a 'gap theory', which has manifold problems, as revealed in many articles on creation.com, such as Answers Book chapter 3 on Gap theory. God himself refutes it when he gave the Law to Moses (God wrote on stone!):
"I created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them in six days..." (Exodus 20:11). That is, everything was created in six days.
Please prayfully reconsider this idea, which undermines the Gospel (if you think about it).

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