Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Did the Devil Make the Astronomers Do It?

One source of difficulty with YEC (Young earth creationism) is the fact that, even without evolution, there is a problem with astronomy. I haven't heard anyone arguing that we should teach alternative doctrines of astronomy in public schools, but if "the heavens and the earth" were created in six literal days, and the age of not only the earth but the universe can be counted up through the genealogies, you get not just an earth but a universe that is approximately 6000 years old. What this means is that anything that is further out in space than 6000 years should not be visible, because the light from those stars would have to travel more than 6000 light years to get here, which would break the intergalactic speed limit. Nevertheless, we do see stars millions of light years away, according to astronomy.

I am linking to a site from Answers in Creation, which raises this issue for YEC.

Is modern astronomy an attack on the God of the Bible? Why are conservative Christians upset by evolution, but never upset by simple astronomy? Why do Christians sometimes think the Devil made Darwin do it, but they never worry about whether the Devil made the astronomers do it. Yet astronomy strikes me as being as big a problem for lead-footed literalism as evolution.


Mike Darus said...

I have wondered if a light-emitting star is propelled away from a point at say 100 times the speed of light, if it leaves a visible "light trail" from that point? If not, how long would it be visible? Then, if it slowed, how would you calculate the time when it would be visible again? I am pretty weak on physics.

JJ said...

I never quite get how evangelicals can be so strongly and definitely anti-evolution, yet so casually Copernican. In the OT they command the sun to stand still, yet I see no attack on the idea that the earth revolves around the sun. Why is that no threat to literalists?

Rasmus Møller said...

For the sun to stand still, it would suffice to stop the rotation of the earth.

JJ said...

The point is the sun is always "standing still". What would have been truly impressive is if the original wording had said "caused the earth to stop it's rotation", anticipating the actual scientific truth.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:
The reason that Anti-evolutionists don't get all worked up about astronomy is they have no personal stake in it. Evolution has serious implications for the nature of humanity and the origin of sin. The issue is far more "nebulous" (pun intended) when it comes to starlight.

Doctor Logic said...


If you move the stars away faster than light (by expanding space in which it is embedded), then the light will be massively red-shifted, and the stars won't look the same (if they were visible to us at all). There will be a "light trail" but it will be faint and in the radio spectrum instead of the visible.

If we're going to warp the laws of physics, why not just trash the laws altogether, or make the universe look older than it is by creating the light in transit? If one has magical powers, one might as well use them.

One answer could be that if we do this, then the Big Bang science can't be interpreted as consistent with Genesis. But why care? If science is to be thrown on the trash heap when it's inconvenient, we can do that from the start.

Facepalm! Why am I even talking about this? We're talking about a collection of poetry written thousands of years ago by ignorant, barbaric tribesmen. It counts for nothing. It's idiotic to grant it any credence at all.

Anonymous said...

Bob prokop writing:

To "Dr. Logic": The books of the Bible (or the Vedas, or Gilgamesh for that matter) were not written by "ignorant,, barbaric tribesmen". they were set down by members of (non-technologically advanced) civilizations that were in most ways equal to our own, and superior to it in more ways than you might think. Our contemporaries have yet to come up with an equal to Homer, or the author of "Job", to cite at random. Bask if you wish in your admiration of modern science (I do), but please do not presume that we are in anyway "superior" to the great minds of earlier ages. You will lose that one.

Doctor Logic said...


What reason do you have to believe that ancient, non-technological civilizations with low literacy rates were any more sophisticated than similarly primitive societies today?

The authors of the OT thought that stoning, genocide and ritual sacrifice were pretty cool ideas. They thought monarchy was awesome. They thought women were property. What am I missing?

In what way were they superior to today's Western societies?

And what makes you think these books had a single brilliant author? These texts are not the product of a single genius who discovered truths about the universe. These stories were poems, probably written and amended over centuries by many authors and editors. Even if there were one or two Shakespeares who had a hand in these works, so what? What did Shakespeare do for us, but entertain?

What real knowledge do these texts contain? Do they contain more knowledge than, say, the Harry Potter series?

Blue Devil Knight said...

I mostly agree with DL here. But it seems trivial for the YET to say that God created the Earth and stars, and also made sure there were already photons raining on Earth from said stars. He's God, after all. That should be trivial. It's like asking how he could make a river from point X to point Y when it would take Z years for the water to go that far. He just makes the whole dang river all at once from source to ocean.

Of course, there is an appearance of age that might worry the faithless.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:
Dr. Logic, You obviously have not spent much time among today's "similarly primitive societies". Well, I have. All over the world. For many years. And I can assure you that technology, although it most definitely makes one comfortable (and healthy), makes no contribution toward sophistication. Some of the wisest, most hospitable, most "civilized" people I have had the pleasure to meet in this world have been members of societies you evidently would turn your nose up on.
And being a part of a technological civilization does not make one, personally, any more sophisticated. I myself could not construct a heat pump, a computer, or even a toaster. Heck, I can't repair my own car, but have to take it into the shop. How does owning all this stuff make me superior to the brilliant minds that composed the achingly beautiful poetry of The Psalms, or the Bhagavad Gita?
And if the great works of the past had multiple authors, so what? That merely spreads the wealth around, making even more persons in these past societies my "betters".
You, sir, are guilty of what C.S. Lewis termed Chronological Snobbery!

Doctor Logic said...


Some of the wisest, most hospitable, most "civilized" people I have had the pleasure to meet in this world have been members of societies you evidently would turn your nose up on.

I don't doubt that. But when you say wise, I don't think you're referring to knowledge about the universe. You're referring to knowledge of local customs, culture, local agricultural practices, local ecology, ways to get along with people in a group, etc. I would be shocked if the leaders of small, isolated, non-technological groups weren't more wise in such matters than urban twenty-somethings whose survival strategy consists of anonymously walking down to the quickie mart to pick up a burrito.

When you say wise, you are not referring to critical thinking, philosophy, biology, astrophysics or the other sciences. If you are, please give examples.

And, you are right that sophistication isn't just a matter of owning stuff. I know a lot of people who can't do much but play video games. Not sophisticated, not knowledgeable, and mostly sad. But I also know a lot of people who think critically, who are not afraid to contemplate the possibility that women are not property, other races are not inherently inferior, who are politically aware, who know what a fallacy is, and who have read widely. There's an academy in our civilization that formalizes criticism. Few of the ancient societies had that (the Greeks being on of the notable exceptions).

And at least some people in our society are willing to challenge ancient texts as the myths that they are. It takes a straight-jacketed mind to believe that ancient texts are magical words handed down by gods. To be sure, we have plenty of such minds in our society, but the great (non-poetic) works of our society are the ones that survive criticism, not the ones imposed on everybody by force, by blind obedience, or by social obligation. The Big Bang and evolution aren't accepted because everybody liked them or because we bombed the people who rejected them, but because they survive criticism.

Imagine going back in time a few thousand years, criticizing these ancient texts as concocted stories. I doubt you would survive long in their "wise" and "hospitable" societies.

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Victor,

I'm in the boat with Mike Darus when he says he's pretty weak on physics. (In fact, I’m probably out of the boat treading water!) Nevertheless, I thought I would at least steer you to the work of a YEC named Barry Setterfield [] who came out with a paper 20 years ago or so on the decaying speed of light. As I remember it, Setterfield, unlike other astronomy thinkers who have assumed that variations in measurements taken of the speed of light (over 400 years) were due to minor inefficiencies in the measuring instruments themselves, noted a certain mathematical curve in the variations. In fact, he discovered that the variations followed something called the log sine (sometimes abbreviated as log sin) curve. In mathematics the log sine curve would express e.g., the motion of a spinning top that has been disturbed as it recovers to its more characteristic, if slower, pattern of spinning.

Also, Setterfield seemed to suggest that a decay in the speed of light might have other ramifications in physics regarding certain other 'constants'.

Anyway, Victor, I’m not even sure I’m using all the proper nomenclature here, but I thought I would pass along the info. Incidentally, it seems (according to my brother who follows these things more closely than I) that Setterfield’s work has been derided by some Creationists who embrace Relativity theory regarding the velocity of light.

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Victor,

I'm sorry, but I forgot to mention the main import of Setterfield's work regarding the declining speed of light. By postulating backwards according to the law of multiple proportions, Setterfield concludes that at the time of Creation (again, he's a YEC) the speed of light would have been so fast as to account for our ability to see the light of stars so very far distant.