A Failure of Creationist Cosmology

by Max Andrews

Einstein’s GTR [and aspects of STR] has made incredible contributions to natural theology.[1]  Given the fixed speed of light, that nothing can travel faster than light, and the billions of light-years separation between the earth and other stars, it follows that the universe is billions of years old.[2]  This has created a problem for young-earth creationists.[3] Current estimations for the age of the universe have been set at 13.73±2 billion years old.  Young-earth creationists have adopted three main approaches:  (1) embrace a fictitious history of the universe in the spirit of Philip Gosse’s 1857 work Omphalos; (2) view the speed of light as having decayed over time; and/or (3) interpret Einstein’s GTR so that during an “ordinary day as measured on earth, billions of years worth of physical processes take place in the distant cosmos.”[4]

Regarding a fictitious history of the universe, the argument states that all present light, which appears to be billions of light years away, was created in transit with an appearance of age.  So, when supernovae exploding in a galaxy millions or billions of light years away, the young-earth creationist [advocate of a fictitious history] must adopt the approach that no supernovae ever exploded.[5]  Einstein and the scientific theologian’s epistemic method reject such an interpretation.  Einstein’s method of inquiry based the natural order as having an ontological status of genuine reality and the discoveries are made a posteriori; no such method of inquiry is tenable under a fictitious history.  Einstein’s epistemology has influenced Big Bang theists and scientific theologians regarding GTR and the objectivity of the natural order.  It appears, objectively, that the universe really is billions of years old.

The second argument was a denial that the speed of light has been a constant [approximately] 300,000 km/s.  As previously discussed, Einstein’s E=mc2 states that energy is proportional to the mass of an object multiplied by the speed of light squared.  If c decays then that would imply that there has been a change in the quantity of energy in the universe.  This creates a problem for thermodynamics.  Thermodynamics would not be the only problem; many other constants would need to change as well to preserve the stability of a life-permitting cosmos such as Planck’s constant .  Suddenly the objection is not only with c because that would in turn change all of physics.[6]  All of this would be done to circumvent an old universe suggested by a constant speed of light.  Before Einstein’s relativity theories, this would not have been a problem for the young-earth creationist.

The third foremost-misconstrued aspect of Einstein’s equations by natural theologians has been to misinterpret GTR and time dilation.  The mathematics of this theory shows that while God makes the universe in six days in the earth’s reference frame (“Earth Standard Time”), the light has ample time in the extra-terrestrial reference frame to travel the required distances.[7]  The problem with this theory is that there are mathematical errors in its use of Einstein’s GTR.

One misunderstanding is the theory’s use of the Cosmological Principle.  It wrongly assumes that the long-time-scale implications of Big Bang cosmology are crucially dependent on the global validity of the principle and that the relaxation of this assumption, through the introduction of a boundary to the matter of the universe, produces dramatic differences in the gravitational properties of the universe.[8]  A second misunderstanding is the nature of time.  The theory wrongly affirms that the physical clock synchronization properties, which occur in the standard Big Bang model are due to the boundary conditions implied by the Cosmological Principle and that modification of these boundary conditions can change the way physical clocks behave.  Clocks in either our bounded or unbounded universe will behave exactly the same way whether on earth or at a distant galaxy provided there are identical interior matter distributions.[9] The third misunderstanding to be discussed is how GTR relates to event horizons (the point where escaping a mass’s gravity becomes impossible).  The theory wrongly affirms that observers who pass through event horizons observe dramatic changes in the rate of time passage in distant parts of the universe when it is the case that no such changes occur.[10]  Einstein’s impact on young-earth creationism has been profound and, arguably, has overthrown the tenability of young-earth creationism altogether.[11]

Einstein’s impact on natural theology has not been completely negative, as in the case for young-earth creationists, but for scientific theologians [and old-earth creationists] he has been a catalyst for epistemic and religious advances.  It is important to understand that as a GTR-based theory, the model does not describe the expansion of the material content of the universe into preexisting, Newtonian space, but rather the expansion of space itself.  The standard Big Bang model, as the Friedman-Lemaître model came to be called, thus described a universe that is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a g finite time ago.  Moreover, the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo.[12]  Christian theologians and philosophers already had arguments for a beginning of the universe based on necessity, contingency, and the concept of an actual infinite, but Einstein’s equations, which led the Standard Model, gave a mathematical and physical description of the universe that supported the Christian doctrine of creation.  The metaphysical concept of creatio ex nihilo now had empirical evidence.

In the 1960’s there was a dramatic increase in a series of dialogue on the relationship between science and religion.[13]  Natural theology [by the tasks of primarily scientists and philosophers] has sought to demonstrate that God is a necessary element in any comprehensive explanation of the universe is a long tradition, one that the Darwinian crusade sought to eliminate.  It might be legitimate to say that this renewed relationship between science and religion is a return to normal if Einstein was right when he said that “science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”

[1] Natural theology supposes that the belief in God must rest upon an evidential basis.  Belief in God is thus not a properly basic belief.  Through the development of Einstein’s work, natural theology was undergoing barrage of attack from theologians such as Karl Barth.  Barth’s polemic against natural theology can be seen as a principled attempt to safeguard the integrity of divine revelation against human attempts to construct their own notions of God, or undermine the necessity of revelation. Alister E. McGrath, The Science of God: An Introduction to Scientific Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 81-82.

[2] It is worth noting that space itself can travel faster than the speed of light, Einstein’s STR permits this.  It is expected that space begin to exceed this cosmic speed limit relatively soon.  William Dembski, The End of Christianity (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2009), 65.

[3] Young-earth creationists have an epistemic method that begins with the Bible and shapes the rest of nature and science according to that specific interpretation rendered.  Their conclusion is that the six days of creation are a literal 24-hour day period and the universe is roughly six to ten thousand years old.

[4] These are the three primary approaches as they relate to Einstein’s work.  Young-earth creationists have certainly developed scores of other arguments, but these are the most relevant and most cited.  D. Russell Humphreys, Starlight and Time: Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe (Green Forest, AR: Master, 1994), 37.

[5] Dembski, 66-67.

[6] Dembski, 67-68.

[7] Humphreys, 13.

[8] Samuel R. Conner and Don N. Page, “Starlight and time is the Big Bang,” CEN Technical Journal 12 no. 2 (1998): 174.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] In Conner and Page’s response to young-earth creationism’s cosmology they assume five mathematical and methodological points.  (1) GTR is an accurate description of gravity.  (2) Gravity is the most important force acting over cosmologically large distances, so that the conventional application of GTR to cosmology is valid.  (3) The fundamental parameters of nature, such as the gravitational constant G and the speed of light c, are invariant over the observable history of the universe.  (4) The visible region of the universe is approximately homogenous and isotropic on large distance scales.  Lastly, (5) the events which we witness by the light of distant galaxies and quasi-stellar objects are real events and not appearances impressed onto the universe by the intention of the Creator.  Ibid, 175.  The first two assumptions directly reinforce Einstein’s GTR equations.  The third assumption, as previously discussed, relates to Einstein’s STR equations.  The fourth assumption relates to the balancing of Einstein’s field equations and its adjustment after Hubble’s discovery of expansion.  The final assumption relates to Einstein’s epistemic method of reality having real ontological value in an epistemic inquiry.

[12] Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration (Leicester, England: Apollos, 2004), 222-223.

[13] These efforts were predominately made by scientists and not theologians.  Such landmark works were Ian Barbour’s Issues in Science and Religion (1966) and later Paul Davies’ God and the New Physics (1983).

11 Responses to “A Failure of Creationist Cosmology”

  1. Max:

    I am not a physicist, but do try to keep up with the ideas related to cosmology.
    That said, regarding the fixed speed of light as fastest speed possible and the “star-light” problem (ie “the billions of light-years separation between the earth and other stars”) and the following conclusion that the universe is billions of years old, could the universe be younger than currently assumed if one uses the inflationary theory.

    That is if the inflationary theory “solves” the uniform temperature problem for an older universe, could the expansion of space / time (and its subsequent flattening) have helped star light appear to travel faster because the light reached earth before the star moved further away from the earth.

    You seem to have a better grasp on the issues and wondered if this was plausible.

    MikeB (@g1antfan)

    • Hey Mike,

      Thanks for the question. I don’t think inflationary cosmology permits a young universe. It primarily refers to the role of the force of expansion (the dark energy density) that occurred at the beginning of the universe and the conditions prior to the big bang. It’s usually associated with the inflationary string landscape and once the energy density is reach at a certain level expansion begins. Now, how this works with the YEC starlight problem I’m not quite sure how that would fit. I haven’t heard any creationist models that try to use inflationary cosmology in their models. Sorry I’m not able to answer your question to the fullest.

  2. Max

    No problem, reading your post brought this idea to mind. I also have not seen anyone propose this as a possible solution to I a young universe. But after reading some of Elegant Universe and seeing how most scientists considered the inflation of the universe as a possible/probable solution for the temperatures actually found then it seemed possible that this “idea” could affect how we see light from distant stars.


  3. Even in GTR, as I understand it, space is not limited on how quickly it can expand. This is how the Universe could expand faster than the speed of light in inflationary cosmologies, even while matter and energy cannot.

    As to GTR overthrowing YEC, not so much. Even if everything you have shown is correct, all that it could conceivably prove is that it couldn’t happen that way naturalistically. Yet, creationists of all stripes allow for supernatural intervention. Yet, such supernatural interventions act as discontinuities in the record of nature, when one is extrapolating into the past from present conditions. This is one reason some scientists don’t want God to exist. Because, if God exists and is active in nature, then we are limited in what we can know for certain.

    To illustrate: Take a theistic evolution scenario where God just creates the first cell and allows it to evolve into all life assuming that is even possible. Now, starting from the second day the cell has existed, someone examines the cell and studies it. What will this sleuth discover? If only naturalistic means are allowed, the observer will have to assume that at some point in the past, the cell arose from its surroundings by chance. He may or may not even get the cell’s age correct.

    In a theistic Universe, naturalistic calculations are not guaranteed to be correct in a given instance, and they are guaranteed to be wrong in an indefinite number of instances.

  4. Had you considered that God may have created light to be where it needed to be in order to be immediately useful? We see in the way God creates in Genesis 1 a fully grown creation. He didn’t plant seeds in the ground, but rather made plants and trees fully grown and ready to reproduce. He didnt creat eggs, but rather made birds that were flying, sea creatures that were swarming the oceans and land animals that were moving and creeping the day they appeared. Adam didnt begin as an embryo, but a communicative, intelligent adult. Wouldnt it be rather inconsistent then for God to create light only within stellar sources to begin travel, only to reach earth billions of years later? I would think He would have made stars visible and therefore useful right away by creating light both at the source and along its path.

    • I have considered that but I don’t think it’s a plausible conclusion. Surely, it could be the case that God created animals like that without any evolutionary predecessors. Adam and Eve weren’t created with the appearance of age but were created brand new. They didn’t have any effects of decay since age implies being subjected to thermodynamics for a period of time. This post I’m linking below has a few other related posts on this subject.


      • I’m don’t think that effects of decay are necessary if God creates Adam as a brand new adult. That is the “appearance of age” only from the standpoint that created beings’ first moments were as adults. You and I have endured decay in order to reach adulthood, but Adam and Eve, along with animal and plant life, were apparently created in that stage. Likewise, light could have been created in such an “adult” stage, far from its source.

        • I don’t think light could have been created in transit or ‘adult stage’ because that’s deceitful. When we see a supernova explosion at a great distance that’s a fictitious history. That supernova never happened. I think I’d have to hear all of your sufficient and necessary conditions for what being created brand new and created with the appearance of age is. I think creation with the appearance of age is just an ad hoc attempt by YEC to try to account for the evident old age of the universe. Nonetheless, I think we need to define our terms before we keep going. I think the preservation of the effects of enduring through time is a necessary condition for the appearance of age (i.e. decay). Something can be created brand new and not have the effects of aging. Adam wouldn’t have had sun damage on his skin, scars, liver spots, and other effects of age. This also excludes any theistic evolutionary account for Adam. I don’t necessarily hold to that view but I’m open to it. I’m agnostic when it comes to human origins. In the end, I think the creation with the appearance of age is deceitful of God. He would have created the world that depicts a fictitious history.

          • I could be swayed away from the idea of light being created in place.

            Consider this, though. One of the stated purposes for stars is to act as signs of seasons, days, and years, and also to help give light during the night. Each of these things requires that the light be in place, whether associated with a “real” star or not. They would serve this purpose, whether they exist as real entities or just as light created in a path, or a combination of the two. Now, I am not claiming any of these off hand, just saying that they are in line with the stated purposed of stars in Genesis 1.

            Now, consider this. Genesis doesn’t say how this was brought about. A natural reading of the text seems to indicate this all happened in one twenty-four hour day, but if this is being used figuratively it could be any period of time. So, there is room here for an OEC or YEC interpretation. But, our interpretations of what happened, from Scripture and from observations of the Universe, do not bind God. Just because we think we have determined how God did something does not mean that God did it that way. If God used only naturalistic means to create all that is, then science has a good shot at determining how things came about. Howver, a theist, and more specifically as a Christian, I believe that supernatural means have been used. This implies discontinuities in the record, which will means that extrapolations to the past may not be accurate.

            In this case, the accusation that this would be deceitful on God’s part could be countered by saying that their appearance is part of their function as signs. This could be considered ad hoc, but not completely unreasonable, as their purposes as signs is in the text of Genesis.

            However, all of this being said, I prefer to think of stars as actual objects in space, like our sun, as is posited by science. So, the idea that these could be just light in a path is not appealing. This leaves us with the other two possibilities, which are somewhat more reasonable that the first. But, I think I will leave off here, as this isn’t my blog.

  5. The evening and morning language of the bible, and the chronological timeline of the stories indicate a young earth. GTR does not change that. The task then is to find what you are looking for. Atheists look for evolutionary explanations and a universe that is billions of years old. I am looking for an explanation of how Gravity and Time relate in a way that can account for the universe of about 6000 years and a 6 day creation. The answer must be simple enough that people of faith and intellect who need to understand it can. But it is possibly theoretically very complex.

    What does this mean? -> http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2010/feb/17/gravitys-effect-on-time-confirmed

    It seems that if gravitational density has a center of the universe, time would click slower there relative to much faster clock ticks the farther out into the universe one would measure on the event horizon. Time is a curve of events arrayed out into space from the gravitational center of the universe. These events are buffered toward it from the event horizon at a rate that decelerates in relative time along that curve. The beauty of the simplicity would be that one might calculate the curve from the farthest known point in space along the event horizon to arrive at a rate of time decay as it approaches the earth as the gravitational center of the universe. …. This would make me a reverse heretic … a religious man trying to rationally use evidence to locate the earth back at the center. But the would need to be some other practical test of the “decay rate” calculation or this would really be no evidence of a young earth but simply an exercise in who it theoretically might be possible.

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