Tension, not extension in creation cosmology


Published: 12 August 2014 (GMT+10)

For a considerable period of time modern biblical creationists as well as non-biblical creationists, like the progressive creationists (with an old earth/big-bang-embracing worldview) have used many biblical texts to argue that Scripture supports cosmological expansion of the universe. In 2011 I reviewed those texts.1 What I found was that to suggest that they describe cosmological expansion of space, with galaxies being spread out in space using the often-quoted rubber-sheet analogy, is not justifiable and is really eisegesis.

Fig. 1. The trampoline analogy used in Humphreys’ second cosmology.

The straightforward meaning is that of God constructing the heavens above and the earth below as a description of His preparation of a habitat for man. The metaphors used are of putting up a tent or canopy, which does not stretch like a rubber sheet.

Even though the texts do not rule out the notion of cosmological expansion, because they are silent on the matter, they do not explicitly describe it. Therefore I believe if we

  1. properly exegete what the Scriptures say, and
  2. are as faithful to the text as we know how in developing our cosmologies (really cosmogonies; cosmogony is the description of the origin of the universe), God will lead us into the truth.

We may not in our lifetimes discover exactly how He created the universe, but it is also the case that if we are not faithful to His Word we may never find that truth we seek.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Recently I received an email from Russ Humphreys in regards to this matter as it had been discussed on the Creation Research Society site. The email is reproduced here with Dr Humphreys’ permission.

[Posted 24 April 2014]:

Hi Richard and CRS:

Richard, thanks for giving me an opportunity to explain some things that have been on my mind for three years. When John Hartnett first raised the point you raise below (John, Richard gave a link to your [Journal of Creation] article Does the Bible really describe expansion of the universe?) to me in early 2011, I realized he was absolutely right. Scriptures like Isaiah 40:22(b), “Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in”, aren’t comparing the heavens (the space in which the stars exist) to something as elastic as a rubber sheet, which can extend its length and width considerably when we apply tension to it. Rather, God compares the heavens to a fabric, like a curtain or tent material. When we apply tension to ordinary fabrics, such as those available in Bible times, they only increase their dimensions by a few percent. That is not nearly large enough to give the sevenfold or more increase in size that we would need to explain the redshifts we observe. That sent me back to the drawing board on my second cosmology.

I realized pretty soon that a simple increase of tension in the fabric of space, even without much extension of its size, could give us large red shifts. If you go to Figure 4 on page 85 in the article on my second cosmology,2 you’ll see an illustration of a trampoline with a heavy iron ring on it. [See Fig. 1 here.]

The weight of the ring represents the mass of the “waters above the heavens”, and the depth of the dent it makes in the trampoline represents the gravitational potential in the fabric of space within the waters above. It is the tension in the trampoline fabric that supports the ring. If we suddenly increase the tension in the fabric, the ring will start moving upward. It will continue upward until the ring reaches a new point of equilibrium. In the case of the fabric of the heavens, a large sudden increase in the tension could make the fabric move upward for billions of years, since the masses involved are huge. Or, if the tension increased gradually, the movement would continue as long as the increase continues.

This decrease of depth of the dent corresponds to a decrease in the depth of the gravitational potential of the fabric of space throughout the visible cosmos. That would mean the gravitational potential of space would not be the same at the beginning and end of a photon’s flight. It would be greater or smaller at the end of the photon’s trip to us, depending on the rate of increase of the potential. That affects the ratio of the two Phi’s (representing potentials) in eq. (21) (page 89) for the redshift. (With a non-stretchable fabric of space, the two R’s in the equation would have a ratio of about one, thereby dropping out of it.) So it would be the change of potential with distance traveled that would determine the amount of redshift. This turns out to give us a reasonable redshift-distance relation. Other things related to my cosmology work out nicely also.

In summary: we don’t need extension of the fabric of space, merely tension. In the words of the bad guy in Alfred Bester’s 1950’s sci-fi book, The Demolished Man, “Tension, apprehension, and dissention have begun.” I’m working on an update on my 2nd cosmology with these ideas, and I hope to submit it to the Journal of Creation soon.

Fig. 2. A finite bounded universe in Humphreys’ second cosmology.

Best regards in Christ,

Russ Humphreys

Russ Humphreys’ second cosmology is a substantial departure from his first cosmology3,4 though there are some very similar aspects to it. In my opinion the second is another major step forward in the science. He posits the universe as roughly galactocentric with a centre and an edge. The outer edge is delineated by the‘waters above’. (See Fig. 2). In that initial version of the model the universe underwent cosmological expansion as illustrated by the outward pointing arrows in the figure. The point he makes in the email above is that that is not necessary, and sufficient time dilation to solve the biblical creationist starlight time travel-time problem is possible with this model without cosmological expansion, but derived from change in the tension of the fabric of space itself.

This line of argument needs to be fully explored and therefore at present it can only be a research problem that must be subject to a full examination and peer-review. Dr Humphreys wanted me to be clear that readers understood that. Nevertheless, for those who are following these sorts of developments in creationist cosmological models, please pray for this project.

References and notes

  1. Hartnett, J.G., Does the Bible really describe expansion of the universe?, Journal of Creation 25(2):125–127, August 2011; creation.com/expansion?; recently reposted on biblescienceforum.com. Return to text.
  2. Humphreys, D.R., New time dilation helps creation cosmology, Journal of Creation 22(3):84–92, December 2008; creation.com/dilation; pdf available at creation.com/images/pdfs/tj/j22_3/j22_3_84-92.pdf. Return to text.
  3. Humphreys, D.R., Starlight and Time, Master Books, 1994. Return to text.
  4. His first cosmology used the Klein metric whereas for the second cosmology he found a general solution of what might be called the Schwarzschild metric. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Stephen L.
In ancient times individuals thought the known world floated on water and that the sky was solid holding back water. Why not interpret scripture as the hearers would have understood it. Reading cosmological physics into a few words of scripture is an abuse of scripture and tarnishes the credibility of sincere bible believers.
John Hartnett
I partly agree with you hence my review of the original scope of meanings of the Hebrew texts that were used to justify 'stretching the heavens'. But to interpret scripture by what you thought the hearers at the time understood is not the same as by what the words themselves meant or could have meant. In the former case it lays your interpretation open to 'private interpretation' but 2 Peter 1:20-21 tells us differently. "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." We need to carefully exegete what the scriptures say.

K. C.
It seems that you are starting to accept some of Dr. Gentry's theory of a Center of the Universe.
John Hartnett
No, that is not correct. I respect the work that Dr Gentry has done, but if anyone should be credited with leadership in this area it is Dr Humphreys.

I compared Gentry's, Humphreys' and Carmeli's finite galactocentric cosmologies, as they were in 2005. See A creationist cosmology in a galactocentric universe. But I know both myself and Russ Humphreys have done much work since then.
Norman C.
For reference from a respected scientist and big bang dissident: read "The Static Universe" by Hilton Ratcliffe. [URL deleted as per feedback rules]
Carl Wieland
Dr Hartnett reviewed Ratcliffe's book soberly here for our Journal of Creation.
Grant D.
This does not work.
1. The waters above were divided from the waters below were divided, and the water available was that which was on Earth. There is not enough water to generate a depression in the space/time continuum.
2. The fountains of the great deep were broken up during the flood and the windows of heaven were opened. Water at the edge of the universe cannot contribute to this.
I think the "stretching out" we read of is a pretty simple description to understand and apply and does not require any application of Einstein's ideas. Initially, the stars and the Earth were close together, then the curtain was opened and the stars were separated from Earth by great distances.
The difficulty, and probably a key to understanding further, lies in whether the stretching out happened after day 4 or if the stars were actually made on day 1. I lean toward the latter.
John Hartnett
Your point 1: The scripture does not say how big the initial water was that God divided as 'waters above' and 'waters below'. It could have been just enough for clouds like we see today, but it might have been enough to envelope the entire universe, like Humphreys imagined. But you can't say there is not enough if you don't know how much there was. And water outside the universe would not depress the gravitational potential in the middle but provide a flat potential if there was enough water there. That's Humphreys' model. My model is that the 'waters above' is localised to the solar system. See The 'waters above' and Hartnett, J.G., Look-back time in our galactic neighbourhood leads to a new cosmogony, Journal of Creation 17(1):73–79, 2003.

Your point 2: Humphreys never suggested that water came to flood the earth from outside the universe. The windows of heaven then are not related to the 'waters above' in his interpretation.
Erik W.
The big-picture idea of what Humphreys' time dilation model described made a lot of explanatory sense to me. I wonder, when he is proposing that God didn't stretch the fabric of space, would that affect or leave unaffected what he explained: that God created the universe "working outward from earth," so that this new model would be saying He made each galaxy "in place" simultaneously on Day 4?

I'm just wondering if and how that part of the time dilation model would be altered in his new cosmology.
R. D.
Am I correct in thinking that neither you nor Dr. Humphreys (today) posit that the "water above" is necessarily anything beyond our detection? I seem to remember that I have once seen you suggest that it can be equated with the so-called "Kuiper Belt" - am I remembering correctly? This seems to be the most plausible solution according to our current knowledge.
Also - if you and Dr. Humphreys' correspondent are correct here (and in your earlier piece) that there is no need to posit the expansion of space - and you make a compelling case - is it still tenable to propose the time-dilation which a creationist cosmogony requires as a result of a gravity well in the Solar System on day four? (Which is, if I understand Dr. Humphreys correctly, the essence of his second proposed cosmology) This has been my preferred solution to date but I, obviously, don't want to continue to advocate it if God's Word doesn't support it. Can you clarify for me?
John Hartnett
On the 'waters above', Russ Humphreys and I have offered different ideas, but only theories mind you. Mine was as you say, a sort of Kuiper Belt of frozen water enveloping the solar system, and I still think that that is a good idea. That has little bearing on the overall cosmology of the universe, because the scale is too small, compared to the whole universe.

Your second question relates to what Humphreys is now working on, a time-dilation mechanism that works in a static universe. Yes, he has a mechanism in his second cosmology that can potentially provide that, but you will need to wait until he publishes his idea. That was the point of the article here, to give you some idea of the direction that this research might be heading.

Please understand that all cosmology is like 'thinking out loud.' We cannot interact with the universe, and so at best our models are weak, in that they cannot be proven. At best we can rule out the bad ones that do not conform to observational data.

Neither Humphreys nor I would offer a cosmology as the certain true history of the universe. So it maybe best to take the approach that different ideas, models, provide some answers, and provide importantly an answer to the starlight-travel-time problem, but do not hold to any too strongly. Advocate the Genesis history only as trustworthy, and our 'scratchings on paper' as a feeble attempt to explain the universe we see.
Chris N.
God stretching out the heavens could be a poetic and/ or real reference to an area in which his dwelling place is. Now within that area he could stretch out the stars with his fingers
Colin M.
Couldn't you have extension and tension if following the analogy of a curtain? What would happen to the red shift and other observational data if photons were traveling from the peak of one fold to another during the tension/extension? It seems to me that this might present some conundrums with an objects distance and it's redshift. Would there be any tell tale signs of unfolding (opening the 'curtain')? It brings to mind the ripple effect from the recent SDSS mapping.
John Hartnett
Interesting ideas. We should consider that.
Kenneth L.
Dr. Hartnett, thanks for your reply (and all of your replies), which sharpened up my mind on the 'speed of outer stars' in spiral galaxies problem. To be more succinct than I was in my previous comment: It seems to me that Carmeli's model (i.e. that an expansion of space explains the observed phenomenon of outer rim stars orbiting galactic centers 'too fast', if I have stated that correctly) offers a very good solution to the 'speed of outer stars' problem. Would that not therefore be good evidence that space is indeed expanding, or would increased tension of space account for this phenomenon just as well?

Regarding the other matter I raised: I agree with your basic reasoning on Scripture, but I think that given the large degree of unknowns that still exist in this field, it would be wise to avoid becoming too doctrinaire at this point on any highly specific interpretation (which might be wrong) of poetic language in Scripture, which could have the effect of closing lines of research that might be fruitful. Wouldn't you agree?
John Hartnett
On the first question: The answer relates to the problem of 'degeneracy' in cosmology and astrophysics. What that means is, there could be multiple explanations for the same observed phenomena, as there are currently for galaxy rotation curves, i.e. Milgrom's MOND, Carmeli's new physics, and halo dark matter. All three offer a solution to the same problem but how do you decide which is the true state of the universe? So the answer is that a success in one area does not prove, in any sense, the model. Look at my analysis on 'expansion of space' in the two papers cited above. The overall balance of the evidence is equivocal, in my opinion. So, Humphreys will now explore the notion that if space is static, can tension account for the time-dilation needed.

On the scriptures, I was trying to show that we should not be too dogmatic, as I believe the previously held position of it meaning 'cosmological expansion' was. So let me put it this way, I don't rule out the latter, but I simply argue that you cannot conclude from the Hebrew scripture texts that cosmological expansion by factors of 10 or 1000 or 10^30 was ever meant by the writers (and hence the Creator).

I know people want a clear cut answer to these types of issues, but maybe that is why we have Ecclesiastes 3:11. So as stated above, we should be faithful to scripture and press on to look for models that fit the universe we observe.
Richard A.
I am so excited to see that you and Dr. Humphreys are collaborating. I thought I had a handle on creationist cosmology when Dr. Humphreys' first book Starlight and Time came out. As he began to modify his theory and your book Starlight, Time And The New Physics came out I have found it to be more and more confusing. I hope that the two of you can present something with illustrations and/or analogies to help make it easier to understand. I believe God has blessed both of you with great understanding and I look forward to seeing your work.
Robert B.
The Great Rift is a comparatively close concentration of mass in the Milky Way.

Humpheys first cosmology posited a white hole that was local to the solar system with the enclosing mass that created the white hole being "separated" and used to fabricate everything else in the cosmos.

It will be fascinating to see what you guys come up with.
Rachael O.
This made a lot of sense to me, but the high redshifts remind me of floating bubbles being drawn to the rim of a cup. Could stars be doing the same because they are affected by the same law(?), the name I can't recall?
Kenneth L.
Dr. Hartnett, I'm a YEC with a keen interest in, as you say, cosmogony, and particularly Dr. Humphreys' second cosmogony, which I think blows the lid off the crumbling Big Bang paradigm, if for no other reason than that it demonstrates possibilities that no one had ever considered before. Even without it, of course, the Big Bang is crumbling under the weight of its problems just as the Ptolemaic universe did.

I do think it is possible, however, to take the Bible's poetic language of the 'stretching out of the heavens' too literally, if you will. Do you think it is really wise to break it down to the extent of distinguishing between 'tension' and 'extension"?
Is there not a possibility of getting trapped in an overly restrictive interpretation of the Bible's poetic language in this matter, and possibly being led into a scientific dead end as a result?

Also, I wonder if you could comment on how this affects the problem of the speed of stars at the outer limits of spiral galaxies, which seems to defy intuition, which I believe you dealt with in terms of the expansion of space in a DVD you made not too long ago? Or possibly it was a DVD by someone else, but I think it was you. I was really intrigued by that explanation and I'd like to know your thoughts on that as regards this change from 'extension' of space to 'tension'.

Thanks, and thank you for your articles on all of this. Thanks to Dr. Humphreys for his work also.
John Hartnett
In constructing our cosmologies, I believe, we must look to Scripture for the guidance. We should do our best to faithfully interpret the text accurately. Of course, what the Bible does not forbid is not forbidden in cosmology. But we might make more progress if we followed as close as we can to what God has written. That is my opinion. And that is my approach to this subject.

In terms of motion of stars in spiral galaxies, it depends on the cosmology you apply. I applied Carmeli's to that problem, which was not Humphreys' model anyway. But a static universe may not have a direct bearing on galaxy rotation curves. It depends on what comes with it. But we need to explain those observations, as they are quite anomalous. It would be nice to not invoke dark matter, which just seems too bizarre.
Richard A.
I am having a difficult time conceptualizing this in my layman mind. Would it be accurate to say that God just instantly created the universe in all its vastness and then just sort of pulled things tight? Is redshift not related to any sort of Doppler effect?
John Hartnett
Your first questions needs an answer that explains how light travelled the vast distances in the available time. See HOW DO WE SEE DISTANT GALAXIES IN A 6000 YEAR OLD UNIVERSE?. And in the near future both Russ H. and I will develop our ideas further. Stay tuned. That was the point of this article.

On redshift: It could be a Doppler effect, but it could be also from other causes. See for example, The heavens declare a different story!
Stephen D.
Humphrey mentions "the waters above" as being around the universe. I've always thought that refered to a water layer (in one form or another) that acted like a super protective ozone layer and fell down as massive rain during Noah's flood.
John Hartnett
I think you refer to the Canopy theory once theorized by creationists. Vardiman, who did a lot of the modelling, recognized a major difficulty with the canopy theory. The best canopy model still gives an intolerably high temperature at the surface of the Earth. See Chapter 12 of the Creation Answers book. This is not a theory we now promote at all.

But Humphreys read the scripture as saying the 'waters above' were above the expanse, which put them outside all the stars, outside the universe. That is explained in his book "Starlight and Time".
Robert B.
In Humphreys' first cosmology, he advanced the notion of a white hole that was local to the earth/solar system to explain the disparate clock speeds on the Earth vs the trillions of times faster flow of time in the Cosmos. Humphreys proposed a huge concentration of mass (the waters) as the instrumentality for this white hole. I thought that perhaps the 1 million plus solar mass Great Rift was a residue of that mass and in effect a smoking gun for part of Gods actions during the Creation week.

With this letter from Humphreys and considering the nature of your prior work as described in "Starlight, Time and the New Physics", can I infer that a local mass induced temporal effect as an explanation for the young Earth and old Cosmos is now a passe idea?
John Hartnett
It is true that Humphreys' first model had the 'waters above' outside the universe--a finite bounded universe with our galaxy near the centre. I am not familiar with a Great Rift. Could be you mean Great Wall of galaxies, if so, I do not think that is that significant to a time-dilation cosmology. I would say though in Humphreys' model, which did use gravitation for a time-dilation mechanism, whereas mine does not, the mass of the universe may not be as important now. His second model uses the gravitational well of his finite bounded universe, which comes from the total mass in the universe. Now he is considering not a change in gravitational potential due to expansion but a change in tension of the fabric of space.
Emmanuel N.
I was precisely thinking about the matter this weekend, as a result of a discussion with a muslim who pointed out that the Koran mentioned the expansion (he also believed the Big Bang and I pointed him to Hartnett's Dismantling the Big Bang). I have to admit I was a bit confused as I read CMI's articles on it, because I read Humphreys' book and then Hartnett's article mentioned in the first reference. But soon after, a christian friend sent me the following article by a non-creationist astrophysicist named Eric Lerner, suggesting the universe is not expanding after all:

By the way, on the same webpage, there was an article on another interesting topic, saying that researchers found that Homo floresiensis is just a modern human with Down syndrome.

God bless.
John Hartnett
Emmanuel, in cosmology things are not so cut and dry. It is wise to keep an open mind and look at all the evidence. Is the universe expanding? Maybe or maybe not. Read the two papers linked in the comment above on observational evidence. Some of Eric Lerner's work is listed in that. See also COSMIC MYTHOLOGY: EXPOSING THE BIG BANG AS PHILOSOPHY NOT SCIENCE. That's a good starting point.
Andrew B.
This is a really thought provoking article, John. I have always accepted that interpretation, because it has never been opposed, but now I'll inquire a bit more. It goes to show how important good Biblical word study is for having the correct expectation.

As you point out with Ecclesiastes 3:11, God has ensured we will not understand all God has done, and we can be assured there will be pleasant surprises along the way. The Bible does give us some fundamental expectations, which will be realised with science. It also gives us a framework, eg that God made all things by His Word (Hebrews 11:3). This has come up, over and over, in scientific discovery (ie DNA, information science and the coherent structure of the universe).

Chris G.
Sorry I think I misunderstood. My [first] comment about spreading out the heavens, was more in terms of observations of galaxies moving away from each other rather than a belief in big bang cosmology. I don't believe in the big bang because there must have been a time (ironic) when even quantum physics did not exist, which is the creative force appealed to by men like Krauss. I also find it the height of stupidity to say that when matter and antimatter are added together the sum energy of the universe is zero.
Any argument which fights against the knowledge of God, is a good one it seems.
John Hartnett
Though the point of Humphreys' new line of research is that the universe may not be expanding. Redshift alone is not sufficient to guarantee expansion. See Does observational evidence indicate the universe is expanding?—part 1: the case for time dilation and Does observational evidence indicate the universe is expanding?—part 2: the case against expansion.
Chris G.
When I spread out a curtain or a tent, I am not just pulling at the fabric. In the case of a tent, I take a folded bundle of canvas and open it right up and then tighten it with ropes. Curtains work because we open them up from being folded together, not because we attempt to distort the fibers.
The bible expresses things poetically not scientifically, but the basic premise is that he stretches out the heavens.
John Hartnett
Chris, I think you should read the referenced article Does the Bible really describe expansion of the universe?. The Hebrew words (and their applications) do not imply cosmological expansion like the rubber sheet analogy for expanding space. The point you make is that God simply 'put up' the heavens like putting up a tent, or unfolding a curtain, but that is quite different to blowing up a rubber balloon from the size of a dot on this page to the size of the universe (about a factor of about 10^30 or more). Big bang cosmology requires the visible universe to expand by this factor from the big bang until now.

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