The starlight problem, or starlight travel-time problem concerns the placement of stars at distances so far from Earth that starlight could not traverse that distance, at its current velocity, in less than the age of the universe. Yet the light has reached Earth anyway. This raises a question under any creation-based theory, including the Big Bang theory: how did this starlight reach Earth so quickly?

There is no conflict with the description in Genesis, which says, "let there be light, and there was light." It doesn't say, "let there be light, and there was darkness that light later reached."

Other possible explanations include the possibility that light traveled faster at higher energies in the past, and/or space has expanded at a rate faster than the speed of light.

File:Crab composite cx.jpg

The size of the universe

Using parallax calculations, the Milky Way galaxy alone can be estimated to have a diameter of approximately 80-100,000 light years, although others estimate the size of the entire universe to be as narrow as only 12,000 light years across.[1]

Calculations based on the observed brightness of supernovae of known energy output can determine the distance to more distant objects. The most distant object known is a galaxy cluster is estimated to be approximately thirteen billion light-years away from Earth, observed by the Hubble Telescope using gravitational lensing.[2]

Starlight Problem for the Big Bang Theory

Although atheists simplistically use the starlight problem to argue against a young Earth, the Big Bang theory has greater difficulty in explaining its own light travel problem, known as the horizon problem.

The Big Bang model proposes that the temperature of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) would have varied considerably from place to place early in the universe, yet because the speed at which this radiation can disperse from hotter to colder parts of the universe is limited by the speed of light, there has not been enough time for the radiation to even out, yet observations today show it to be extremely uniform[3] (with fluctuations at the part-per-million level[4]).

The problem is this: even assuming the big bang timescale, there has not been enough time for light to travel between widely separated regions of space. So, how can the different regions of the current CMB have such precisely uniform temperatures if they have never communicated with each other? This is a light-travel–time problem.[3]

A number of solutions to this problem have been proposed, including several versions of an "inflationary model", in which space itself expanded faster than the speed of light early in the Big Bang, but after different areas exchanged radiation to even out the temperature. However, there is no consensus on which explanation is correct, and each of the proposed solutions have their own problems.[3]

Flaws in arguing for an old universe based on starlight

The observation that many stars are millions of light years away is one of distance, not time.

Light created in transit

Some creationists have proposed that the light we see from stars more than 6,000 light years away was not emitted by those stars, but was created 'in transit' by God. Some question why we would see an image of a star exploding if the explosion did not actually occur, but the finest artistic design is often illusory.

Moon-Spencer theory

Some creationists promoted an idea by Parry Moon and Domina Spencer that light somehow takes a shortcut through "Riemannian Space", taking no more than 15 years to reach Earth from the outer limits of the universe. However, this idea never really caught on and appears to no longer have adherents.[5]

Decrease in the speed of light

File:Barry setterfield.jpg

Creationist Barry Setterfield has proposed that the speed of light was faster in the past. [6] This idea initially found wide acceptance by creationists, but is now widely rejected, although some still hold to the idea.

One criticism of it by anticreationists was that if the speed of light had changed, we should see the difference in the Fine Structure Constant as measured by nearby stars versus distant stars, but this was not observed. Yet in 1999, John Webb, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and his colleagues reported astronomical observations suggesting that the value of the fine-structure constant may indeed have changed. They subsequently published this in Physical Review Letters.[7][8] However, although this showed that mainstream scientists are open to new and controversial ideas, the methods Webb used were shown to contain simple flaws, which discredited the results. [9]. A later study of 23 absorption systems using the 'Very Large Telescope' found no measurable changes.[10].

These problems with the theory have led most creationists to drop the idea, although some credit it with stimulating further research.[11]. Systematic uncertainties are difficult to quantify and so Webb's results still need to be checked by independent analyses, using quasar spectra from different telescopes. Their efforts are ongoing, apparently by several different teams of scientists.

Humphreys' model

In 1994 Dr. Russell Humphreys proposed a new cosmology[12] that includes a bounded universe with a center and an edge, that God had created 6,000 years ago as a much smaller body than today, then stretched it out, making it much larger. In Humphreys' model, because the universe has a center and an edge (unlike the unbounded model of the Big Bang universe), the center of the universe is also the center of a gravity well, meaning that gravity is stronger at the center of the universe than at the edge.

As gravity can affect the rate at which time passes, he calculated that while the six days of creation week were passing on Earth, billions of years' of time was passing at the edge of the universe. According to this idea, the Biblical references to time are according to an observer (real or imaginary) on Earth, so ages are given in "Earth time".

However, this theory is not without problems. The evidence contradicts Humphrey's assumption that the earth is in a large gravity well. If the earth were in such a gravity well, light from distant galaxies should be blue-shifted. Instead, it is red-shifted. Also, gravitational time dilation, if it existed on such a large scale, should be easily observable. On the contrary, we observe (from the periods of Cepheid variable stars, from orbital rates of binary stars, from supernova extinction rates, from light frequencies, etc.) that such time dilation is minor. It is thought that here is some time dilation corresponding with Hubble's law (i.e., further objects have greater red shifts), but this is due to the well-understood expansion of the universe, and it is not nearly extreme enough to fit more than ten billion years into less than 10,000.[13]

This model receives cautious but wide support among creationists.

Time dilation field

Dr. John Hartnett, a creationist physicist, spurred by Humphreys' model, has proposed an alternative time dilation model, by theorizing the Earth was in a time-dilation field during the first few days of creation, from Earth's point of view, while billions of years passed for the rest of the universe. According to the Bible, God "stretched out"[14] the heavens (space), and this movement during creation week caused time to travel faster for those objects, in accordance with Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, adding to the time dilation caused by gravity, per Humphreys, in accordance with Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.[15]



  1. Fangrad, Richard, 2007.
  2. Amos, 2004
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Lisle, 2003
  4. Fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background
  5. Humphreys, 1994, p. 46.
  6. Norman and Setterfield, 1986
  7. Physical Review Letters 091301, 2001
  8. Sarfati, 2001
  9. M. T. Murphy, J. K. Webb, V. V. Flambaum, Phys. Rev. Lett., 99, 239001 (2007)
  10. H. Chand et al., Astron. Astrophys. 417, 853 (2004)
  11. Humphreys, 1994, p.128
  12. Batten et. al., 2007, p.90, Humphreys, 1994
  13. Conner, S. R. and D. N. Page, 1998. Starlight and time is the Big Bang. CENTJ 12(2): 174-194. (See also letters in CENTJ 13(1), 1999, 49-52).
  14. For example, Isaiah 40:22
  15. Hartnett, 2003, Hartnett 2007
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