Distant Starlight – Which theory has the bigger problem?

by / February 10, 2016

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This is one of the clearest verses that unambiguously teaches God’s creation of the universe. So for those who take the Genesis account as a straight forward retelling of God’s work during the creation week, there is no confusion. But for the sake of discussion and lack of a better term, (and since we’re used to hearing scientific terms) I’ll call the Genesis creation account a “theory” for the purposes of this article.  There is much to commend this theory of creation, not the least of which is the clear teaching of this verse. But like most theories, it is not without its challenges. One need merely consider the size of the universe to reveal what is often considered the biggest challenge to the theory of creation: Distant Starlight. As creationist physicist and cosmologist John Hartnett put it:

“…I would say probably the biggest question that we really have to answer if we take this position is to explain starlight in this enormous universe.”[1]

This problem is due to two factors: the size of the universe, and the finite speed light. Big Bang cosmologists believe the universe to be 13.7 billion years old, which means we can see light that has been traveling 13.7 years, which creates a maximum range of how far we can see of the universe. So in the “observable universe” as it is appropriately called, we can see galaxies up to 13.7 billion light years away.

As creationists we believe the earth to be about 6,000 years old – certainly no older than 10,000 years.[2]  Thus the observable universe should only be a distance of  6 – 10,000 light years. How then do we explain being able to view astronomical events that are tens of thousands, millions or billions of light years away? For instance  the super nova seen in 1987 in the Large Magellanic cloud 170,000 light years away; or the supernova in the Andromeda Galaxy which is some 2.5 million light years away. It’s paradoxical that such events are  viewable in a 6,000 year old universe. The answer to the paradox is not that the distances are wrong. We have every reason to believe the distances are accurate. As Dr. Hartnett puts it:

“… I’m not going to talk about the size of the universe, but I find no problem with the distance scales in the universe that we see galaxies for example in the Hubble deep field 6 or 7 billion light years away. And on the surface it sounds like it should take light 6 or 7 billion years to get to earth from those galaxies assuming a constant speed of light and so on.”[3]

How then, can we see such distant events if the universe is only 6,000 years old? Before we tackle this distant star light problem for creationists, let’s look at the Big Bang side; we’ll find it too has a distant starlight problem.

The Big Bang’s Distant Starlight Problem

Consider the following conversation:

Big Bang Theorist: 

        The universe began 13.7 billion years ago when a singularity which consisted of all the energy that will ever exist, which did not exist previously, suddenly exploded uncaused into existence out of where (and nowhen[4]) creating time and space in an event commonly known as the big bang. The universe has been rapidly expanding ever since.


        No, the universe began about 6,000 years by an act of God as recorded in Genesis 1.1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

 Big Bang Theorist:

        If the universe is only 6,000 years old, how do you explain distant stars whose light has taken million of years to reach earth?


        There are a number of theories that explain that. How do you explain the big Bang’s Horizon problem?

Big Bang Theorist:

        That’s easy: Inflation.


        Inflation is not the answer, besides the fact that many scientists don’t believe it,  there’s this problem: the whole theory is impossible. As for distant starlight, there are theories on how to resolve that apparent problem.

For those acquainted with defending a young earth creationist world view, this conversation is likely a familiar one. In the above you see the answer big bang theorists give to their distant starlight problem: Inflation.  But to understand their answer, you must first understand the big bang. So let me start with an overview of the big bang as provided by Morgan Freeman from his series, Through the Wormhole

“With the addition of inflation, the big bang became a cohesive three act play.

Act one – a singularity pops into existence out of nowhere and nowhen and containing in one single dot all the energy that will ever be in our universe.

Act two – Inflation suddenly takes hold. An unimaginably rapid expansion of space smooths the spreading out of that energy bringing order to the universe. It’s now a massive soup of evenly expanding plasma.

Act three – the universe cools. Matter starts to clump together under the force of gravity.
Eventually forming stars, galaxies and planets.[5]

Inflation has been mentioned a few of times now. This is Cosmic inflation which has nothing to do with the economy or the amount of air in your car’s tire.

The Big Bang theory: Playing fast and loose with the laws of physics

Why are secular scientists allowed to openly defy the laws of physics and still have their theories called “science.” You don’t have to get deep into the big bang theory before scientists have to start playing fast and loose with the known laws of physics in order to make the theory address facts in the observable universe. For example following are just some of the many problems.

Problem 1: The Singularity
The first one – in act one –  is a familiar one.  It addresses the question of why is there something instead of nothing. The big bang answer: There is no reason, and there is no cause.  It just happens. “A singularity pops into existence out of nowhere and nowhen.” Stop.  This is impossible. Nothing exists. From nothing comes nothing. How can a “singularity” which consists of “all the energy that will ever exist” be created? It defies the law of conservation of energy which states in a closed system, energy can be neither created nor destroyed.

Problem 2: “Popping into Existence”
Just as importantly how can it “pop into existence” when nothing exists? What is there to pop into? Neither space nor time exists at this point. As our narrator Morgan Freeman points out,  there is no “where” for it to pop into, and there is no “when” to pop into since time does not yet exist. Thus there is no “existence” for it to pop into. Let us not forget there is also nothing to do the “popping” since before the big bang, nothing exists.  The whole big bang singularity scenario breaks  the law of causality which states in the cause-effect chain of events – effects follow causes (not the other way around).  And those causes are separate from the effects. This is essentially the argument made by the Kalam Cosmological argument for the existence of God. Namely, that the universe is an effect, and we can tell that because it began to exist. The only cause big enough to make such an effect is God.  Yet big bang cosmologists essentially want  you to believe that the singularity is self caused – because it has to be.  There is nothing else in existence according to the big bang theorists, so nothing could have caused it but itself. Well they say “nothing”, but they don’t mean really mean “nothing” existed at the beginning. I deal with that bit of trickery in the article Exposing The Big Magic Behind the Big Bang.

So here were are in the “first act” of the big bang, we haven’t even gotten to the difficult problems, and already 2 fundamental laws of physics (Conservation of Energy a.k.a. the first law of thermodynamics and the law of Causality) have been broken; and we’re also given some hocus pocus to distract us from the impossibility of anything coming from the initial condition of  “nothing”.  Paul Steinhardt, the Albert Einstein professor of physics at Princeton University explains how physicists allow themselves to get away with this nonsense:

This is normally referred to as the cosmic singularity, some sort of breakdown in the laws of physics, which in the standard big bang theory you simply ignore.”[6]

They simply ignore it. Pretend it isn’t a problem or it doesn’t matter. And they call that science, and themselves scientists?

Problem 3: The Horizon problem

The Horizon problem is yet another show stopping issue for the big bang caused by distant starlight – or more appropriately distant starlight and the limitation imposed by the speed of light.  Big bang theorists will tell you it has been “resolved” by sleight of hand tricks involving the aforementioned theory of inflation. But before delving into the problems with inflation, you need to understand a major problem[7] that inflation “solves” for the big bang.

Here’s a very brief explanation[8] of the Horizon problem: using the WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) satellite, scientists have measured the average temperature of the universe. It varies no more than 1/50,000 to 1/100,000 of a degree anywhere in the universe. That is extremely uniform – to a degree we never see naturally from an explosion. That poses a problem for the big bang which of course begins with a huge explosion. The only way to get such uniformity after the big bang explosion is for hotter and colder regions of the universe to touch – and mix thus making temperatures uniform. The problem is this: when scientists calculated the speed of the big bang, they figured the universe expanded faster than the speed of light – which means the various particles of the universe could not have moved together and touched – because nothing can move faster than the speed of light. Thus they have a problem. To have an even temperature, the particles must have touched. But the universe was expanding apart too fast for the particles to touch. Put another way, the particles were blown apart so far, so fast, they have not yet had enough time to travel from one end of the horizon to the other end to touch, mix and make the temperature uniform. Thus the temperatures should not be as extremely uniform as WMAP has measured it to be. They call this the Horizon problem.

If you believe physicists should propose theories that abide by the known laws of physics, there is no solution to this problem. If you don’t care about the laws of physics and you’re okay with physicists just making something up to solve the problem, then read on because that is what’s been done. It’s called Cosmic Inflation. It “solves” the horizon problem but it’s beset with a host of other problems.

Problem 4: Problems with Inflation.
Recognizing they had a serious problem, big bang theorists needed a solution. Theoretical physicist Alan Guth obliged with his theory of Cosmic Inflation, typically referred to simply as Inflation. It forms the core of Act 2. The short explanation[9] is this:

The singularity popped into existence with a small bang. Somehow gravity, a force of attraction between objects reverses and becomes repulsive.  This repulsive force somehow mixes all the particles together to make them nice and uniform. Now that the temperatures are uniform, big bangers  need them to be spread throughout the universe. So conveniently after the first “small” bang, there’s a second “big” bang which explodes the early universe apart faster than the speed of light. This second bang is the real “bang” in the big bang. Now that the universe has an evenly spread temperature, guess what happens to the expansion? You got it – it stops – just as magically as it started.

How many problems do you see with this theory? I count six striking ones:  (apart from the ones already mentioned in act one).

          a. What physical properly allows the direction of the  force of gravity to  change from being attractive to repulsive?


          b. What is the mechanism that starts inflation – that starts the change of gravity from being attractive to being repulsive?


          c. How can an unguided, undirected force work to conveniently bring order? As Guth has pointed out elsewhere – such order doesn’t happen in any explosion we’ve observed. So how does this mixing before the big bang manage to do so, and in the precise time frame needed before the second bang, of the big bang?


          d. What is the mechanism that changes the first “little bang” to the second “big bang” (effectively changing the strength of the now repulsive force of gravity)


          e. What is the mechanism that stops the expansion of the second “big bang” and slows it to the rate we observe today? (once again changing the strength of the force of gravity)


        f. What is the mechanism that changes the direction of the force of gravity back from repulsive to attractive?

Big Bang theorists have no answers to these questions. Thus the whole theory of inflation is so obviously an  Ad Hoc Rescue it’s hard to believe that cosmologists actually propose this as a serious “scientific” theory. That just goes to show how desperate they are to save their cherished theory of the big bang; they won’t let mere things like conflicting evidence (like the uniformity of the temperature of the Universe) and the laws of physics (which say it’s impossible) dissuade them from it.

There are additional errors in Act 3, but we’ve spent enough time on big bang errors already. Let’s move on to the primary difficulty for believers in Creation:  distant starlight.

The Creation Model’s Distant Starlight problem
As noted above, Creationists on the whole, believe the universe to be about 6,000 years old.[10] That presents a problem for stars at great distances – which is most of them.  If the time it takes the starlight to travel to the earth from a distant star is more than 6,000 years, how then can we see it? Not enough time has elapsed for the light to travel to get here. Early answers to this question such as the light was created in transit; or the stars were created with the appearance of age – much like Adam and Eve would have appeared to be fully mature adults on their first day – won’t work. Those types of answers are unacceptable because they have negative implications for the Character of God. Creationists Carl Wieland and Don Batten explain why the “created in transit” theory won’t work:

This would mean, for a (say) 10,000 year-old universe, that anything we see happening beyond about 10,000 light-years is actually part of a gigantic picture-show of things that have not actually happened, showing us objects which may not even exist.”[11]

Dr. John Hartnett gives another example of the problem:

“In July 1054, the Chinese reported seeing, in the region of the Crab constellation, a ‘guest star’ appear suddenly in the sky.

Now the problem here is that the Crab Nebula is about 6,500 light-years from earth. In A.D. 1054, only about 5,000 years had elapsed since creation, so it should not have been visible. According to the ‘created light beam’ scenario, this supernova should not have become visible until about A.D. 2500 at the earliest, even if it occurred immediately after creation week. This problem is called the ‘starlight and time problem’ and it is the most important scientific issue that any creationist cosmology must address.”[12]

As he points out elsewhere, since light beams contain embedded information, such explanations that involve the “appearance” of age  in light beams that have no basis in the real history of the stars they represent is problematic because it “lays God open to a charge of deception in a manner unlike the creation of Adam as a mature adult.”[13]

How then to resolve this issue of Distant Starlight? More than one solution has been suggested, and those solutions get somewhat technical very quickly, so I will not be able to go in depth into any of them; I will merely point to them so you can do further investigation. Please take note that this approach accords with the scientific process. It involves multiple theories by multiple scientists, and requires evaluation of  the evidence against the theory to come up with the best candidate for an answer. This is how science is supposed to work. Exchanging and working with various ideas. Not as the big bang crowd would have it – with one option (the big bang) the only option available, monopolizing scientific resources, with no research time or dollars going toward any other theory; and no other theories even mentioned in texts books for schools. That approach is not a scientific one. That approach is the guarding and maintaining of a preferred theory – even when that theory has been shown to be at odds with the observed universe as the big bang has been shown to be.

Distant Starlight Solutions
Following are the most promising theories for the resolution of the distant starlight problem. Space does not allow me to present them all.

1. Humphrey’s White Hole / Time Dilation Cosmology
Russell Humphrey’s applies Einstein’s relativistic Time Dilation principle to the Biblical time scale to work out how light could have arrived on day 4 of a 6 day creation.[14]

2. Carmeli’s Cosmological Relativity
John Hartnett demonstrates how Moshe Carmeli’s application of cosmological relativity solves both the distant starlight problem, and the problem of distant spiral galaxies which are moving much too quickly. The theory involves the use of a fifth dimension where two related entities exist: Einstein’s familiar concept of spacetime;  and Carmeli’s concept of spacevelocity.15

3. Lisle’s Anisotropic Synchrony Convention Solution
Jason Lisle  proposes that the speed of light in one direction (for example towards the earth) might be very different (in this case much faster) than it’s speed in the  opposite direction. Lisle demonstrates that this concept, though recognized by Einstein[16], unfortunately can not be verified by measurement without already knowing the one way speed of light – the very thing you’re trying to measure.[17] It does however allow for the instantaneous arrival of light when God says:

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years,
15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.
Gen 1.14-15

One might complain that I’ve spent more time examining the problem that the solution. I would respond: that is a correct observation, and the reason for that is two-fold:
1. As the title implies, the main goal of this article is to demonstrate the the Big Bang theory has a much bigger problem with distant starlight (the Horizon problem) than does the Biblical creation model.

2. While on this topic it seemed appropriate to at least point to a possible solution. But since:

a) these theories are complex and
b) creationist scientists have not settled on a preferred solution yet,

…it is beyond the scope of this paper to go into detail on any particular one.

For those looking for more information on the various solutions I’ve left some recommended reading below.

On the one hand, though the big bang dominates cosmology in terms of popularity, the above problems with the theory will not go away because they defy the laws of both physics and logic. It also denies the truth of scripture. The dogged determination of secular scientists to make the big bang work despite the evidence is further proof that the big bang is treated not just as mere science; it’s the undergirding for a secular worldview that is adhered to with a religious fervor. As such, secular scientists and the institutions they represent work to keep it protected.

On the other hand, scientific models to resolve the distant starlight problem in the biblical model exist and are viable using well understood physics, making the creation model better science and a better, easier to  believe Origins model. But since the theory of creation is not taught alongside the big bang theory, you’re unlikely to see any of the proposed solutions unless you’re looking for them. What is likely is that you’ll hear the distant starlight conundrum raised as problem with the creation model  as they did in an episode of the recent reboot of Cosmos[18] – another clear attempt to discredit the Biblical account.

Thus the biggest problem for the creation model is not distant starlight, it’s that the big bang is an entrenched worldview; with a host of secular scientists gunning to discredit any theory that God has a hand in. With this environment it is unlikely to get the appropriate dollars for research into any of the above Creation theories, and you’re unlikely to see it taught in a public school near you anytime soon.  None of those factors make it any less true.

Theoretical physicist and popular TV scientist Michio Kako notes regarding the big bang theory:

“This is the holy grail of physics, we want to know why it banged, we want to know what banged, we want to know what was there before the bang.”[19]

This is true as long as the answer doesn’t point to the Biblical model. Because secular scientists simply won’t tell you that science supports the Biblical model better than it does the big bang.

So don’t concern yourself with any non-sense about the earth must be billions of years old because of distant starlight. For those who want the truth, and are not satisfied with parroting what the big bang magicians tell you – there’s plenty of science and evidence to defend a young earth creation and how distant starlight is visible from a young earth.  Thus the Christian faith – including belief in a young universe – remains intact as a rational faith – despite the nay saying of those deceived by the big bang magicians.

For further Reading:
Starlight and time: Is it a brick wall for biblical creation?
John Hartnett
(A review of the problem and some of the proposed solutions.)

Aberration of starlight and the one-way speed of light
John Hartnett
(A defense to a challenge to Jason Lisle’s ASC solution above.)http://johnhartnett.org/2015/11/12/aberration-of-starlight-and-the-one-way-speed-of-light/

Does Distant Starlight Prove the Universe is Old?
Jason Lisle
(An identification of unhelpful assumptions in this matter.)


1. John Hartnett, Starlight, time and the New Physics, Creation Ministries Int’l DVD, 2009

2. Due to ambiguities in the dating methods used in the bible – such as genealogies which may vary based on purpose, and whether certain referenced years are full or partials years; there is some debate on the actual biblical age. For a good discussion of the minimum and maximum ranges allowed within a biblical framework, see:
Chris Hardy and Robert Carter “The biblical minimum and maximum age of the earth” Journal of Creation 28(2):89–96, August 2014; online at http://creation.com/biblical-age-of-the-earth

3. John Hartnett, Starlight, time and the New Physics, Creation Ministries Int’l DVD, 2009

4. According to the big bang theory, neither space nor time exist before the big bang, it is created during the singularity event, so before the singularity that is the big bang, there is no space (no where) and there is no time (no when).

5. Morgan Freeman as Narrator – Through the Wormhole, episode “What happened before the beginning?” Science Channel Documentary, 2010

6. Paul Steinhardt, Princeton University, Through the Wormhole, episode “What happened before the beginning?” Science Channel Documentary, 2010
Steinhardt mentions this in support of his own Brane theory which has an alternate explanation for the singularity, but the point is that most physicists refuse to deal with the irrational concept of the self caused singularity. (Steinhardt’s own theory moves the irrationality back to two previously existing parallel membranes – so while he can criticize the big bang, the same critiques could be made regarding his Brane theory.)

7. Technically, Inflation “solves” more than just the Horizon problem. It also solves the unbelievable rate of expansion needed for the big bang, and the problem of the missing magnetic monopoles; but those issues are beyond the scope of this article.

8. For more information on the Horizon problem see (here) from:
The Universe episode “Light Speed”, History Channel Documentary, 2008

9. For more information on Cosmic inflation, see (here) from:
Through the Wormhole episode What Happened Before the Beginning?  Science Channel / Discovery Documentary, 2010

10. This age is based on adding up genealogies in Genesis. Since there are different types of genealogies – complete ones and  “summary” ones; to account for genealogies which may be summaries, some round creationists round the age of the earth up to 10,000 years.

11. Dr. Carl Wieland and Dr. Don Batten  How can we see distant stars in a young universe? Creation Ministries International (booklet), 2008, p.5

12. Alex Williams and John Hartnett, Ph.D. Dismantling the Big Bang, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2008 p. 170

13. Williams and Hartnett, Dismantling the Big Bang, p. 171

14. D. Russell Humphreys, Starlight and Time: Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1994)
See also http://www.icr.org/article/5686/

15. Dr. John Hartnett Starlight, Time and the New Physics Atlanta, GA: Creation Ministries International, 2007

See also article: Starlight and Time: a further break through

16. Known as the Conventionality Thesis and Contained in Einstein’s book, Relativity

17. Jason Lisle,  Creation in the 21st Century with David Rives episode “Distant Starlight in a Young Universe” Trinity Broadcasting Network, 2013

see also Does Distant Starlight Prove the Universe Is Old?, Jason Lisle December 13, 2007

18. Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey: Episode 4: “A Sky Full of Ghosts”, Cosmos Studios Documentary, 2014

19. Michio Kaku referenced from How the Universe Works episode “Big Bang”, Documentary, 2010

Image: Young Stars of NGC 346 
Credit: Antonella Nota (ESA/STScI) et al., ESA, NASA

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Duane Caldwell
Duane holds a B.Sc. in Aeronautics and a M.Div. from Trinity International University. A former pastor, one of his favorite Bible verses is Isaiah 11.9: "...for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." Until that day arrives Duane is distressed to see the glory due God given to false ideas like Evolution and the Big Bang. He is likewise distressed to see those deceived into believing that science contradicts the Bible or has solved all problems apart from God. He considers his current ministry to be demonstrating why the Christian worldview is the only true worldview, and why science does not contradict it or the Bible. He blogs on numerous topics touching the faith at Rationalfaith.com.

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