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How Could Light Have Traveled Millions of Years?

One of the most common questions thrown at creationists is to ask them to explain how light could have traveled millions of years across the universe, if the universe is only 6,000 years old.

Such a question actually contains its own misunderstanding of the facts. It is an issue of terminology. The distance to stars is usually measured in light years. A light year is a unit of distance, not a unit of time. It obviously has a relationship to time, in this sense: Light is observed to travel at a speed of approximately 186,000 miles per second, through a vacuum. Therefore, in a year, we can calculate that the light should have traveled:

186,000 x 365.25 x 24 x 60 x 60 = 5,869,713,600,000 miles, or about 6 trillion miles

However, if there were different circumstances — e.g., different speeds, distances or times — then the distance of a star from the Earth may not be a measure of how long it has taken light to get to the Earth.

In a nutshell, here is the perceived problem for creationists. Many objects in the universe are millions of light years away. How do we account for light from these objects reaching the Earth before the end of the creation week, if creation happened about 6,000 years ago?

This article simply reports the issues. A related article will give details of the various model explanations proposed. For now, let’s make these observations:

  1. If the Bible says that God created everything 6,000 years ago, then we accept this as our presupposition.
  2. The Bible does not give the scientific details. There are certain things that we accept on trust, because God is infinite and able to work miracles. We do not have a scientific explanation for how Jesus could raise a dead man to life, but I believe that He did it.
  3. It is completely acceptable to build scientific models to attempt to explain this problem. These models do not have the authority of Scripture. Scripture is true and inerrant. A scientific model may be superseded at a later date. So we hold tightly to the truth of Scripture, but loosely to the models.
  4. There are currently four different models that explain how starlight could have gotten to the Earth in the time required. It is not possible for me to say which model is definitely right. Evolutionists should not expect us to do so. After all, the Big Bang theory is not the only secular theory on starlight. A significant minority of secular astrophysicists do not accept the Big Bang Theory. However, the existence of only one theoretical model for a creationist cosmology verifies that believing the biblical account is reasonable.
  5. The Big Bang theory has its own starlight problem. The Big Bang theory has great difficulty explaining an issue known as the Horizon Problem, which shows that, under its theory, there is insufficient time available for the smoothing of something called Cosmic Microwave Background radiation.

The details on all these issues are given in the sister article, which is much more technical than this. Readers of this article can be reassured that answers to this theoretical problem do exist. A theoretical problem is adequately answered by a theoretical answer. The fact that our answers cannot be defined as definite historical fact is not required. The fact that various models exist is sufficient to verify that an actual solution is possible, even if we do not have the definitive answer yet. Secular astrophysicists do not have perfect answers yet, either, in their model. Sometimes, creationists are expected to jump through hoops that are never required of secular scientists.

In summary, the four possible scientific models currently available are:

  1. Mature creation — God created the light en route to the Earth.
  2. CDK — The speed of light is not constant but has been slowing down since creation.
  3. Anisotropic Synchrony Conventions — The one-way speed of light is impossible to measure, so light could have traveled to Earth at infinitely fast speeds.
  4. Gravitational Time Dilation — The speed of light has not changed in this model, but the rate of passage of time itself has changed for various reasons.

The sister article gives technical descriptions of all four models. This will enable the reader to pick the model which seems the most convincing. However, I also give detailed reasons for why I accept one of the models and reject the other three. So that you know where I stand on this, I will profess now that the most promising model in my personal opinion is model 4 — gravitational time dilation — and in the other article, I give my reasons for the choice. But I need to emphasize again that I hold the model loosely, while holding tightly to the truth of Scripture. The truth of Scripture is that God made everything in six literal days, about 6,000 years ago, and that He made the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day of creation. It would seem likely to expect that, on Day Six, Adam was able to see the majority (and probably all) of the stars currently visible to us.

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