©1986 by Paul D. Ackerman    http://www.creationism.org/books/ackerman/ 

 8 - The Speed of Light


Covering Thyself with light as
with a cloak, Stretching out
heaven like a tent curtain.
            Psalms  104:2,  NASB


Of all the topics discussed in this book, the following is the most far-reaching and revolutionary in its implications for a relatively recent six-day creation as described in the Genesis record. Interestingly, the account of this most amazing clock of all begins with the fervent prayer of a perplexed young man.

After becoming a Christian, an Australian named Barry Setterfield, a student of physics and astronomy, began to struggle with the obvious conflict between the biblical account of creation and the currently accepted cosmological view he had learned during his scientific training.1 In particular he had difficulty reconciling the Genesis implications of a sudden and recent creation with the arguments and evidences that seemed to imply the vast antiquity of the earth and cosmos. Most specifically he felt trapped logically by what has become over the years the evolutionists' most persuasive argument for an ancient origin of the universe— the speed of light.

The Speed-of-Light Argument

The most powerful evolutionist "age argument" for most thinking persons has been that based on the measured speed of light and the time it would take light to travel from distant objects in the heavens. We hear of stars and galaxies that are believed to be millions and even billions of light-years from earth. Even if scientists are greatly mistaken in their views about the size of the universe and distance to the far reaches of the cosmos, surely it must be admitted that these distant objects are far in excess of a few thousand light-years away. If so, how can the entire universe be only a few thousand years old?

By far the most common creationist answer to the dilemma has been to suggest that when God created the distant stars he created "light trails" connecting them to the earth, to each other, and so forth. To the unbelieving skeptic, this is probably the most irritating argument in the creationist arsenal, and Barry Setterfield had grave reservations about accepting it.

The most unpalatable aspect of the created-light-trail argument is that it implies that much of what we see in the night sky never really happened, since it is a record of events that would have occurred before the creation of all things. The argument seems, on the surface at least, to lay God open to a legitimate charge of deception. Barry Setterfield began to look into the matter.

A Look at the Evidence

The most powerful evolutionist "age argument" for most thinking persons has been that based on the measured speed of light and the time it would take light to travel from

In the entire history of scientific investigation there have been less than a hundred published determinations (each made by averaging a number of separate measurements) of the speed of light. The first determination was reported by the Danish astronomer Roemer in 1675, and the second followed some fifty years later in 1728 and was made by the English astronomer Bradley. No more determinations were made until the mid-1800s, and from that time to the present, determinations of the speed of light have occurred fairly frequently. Although published measurements of the speed of light that have not been previously noted by researchers occasionally do turn up, these are almost all from the modern era. The pre-1940 data are thought by most experts to be complete. This point is vital, since it means that the examination made by Setterfield into the provocative question of light-speed decay is based upon all the evidence there is.

Barry Setterfield examined these data, and—much to his amazement and in spite of everything he had learned from his professors and textbooks—the figures showed a clear and distinct pattern of decay with the passage of time. The speed of light has not been constant; it was faster in the past.

Setterfield was astonished. Had anyone in the scientific community ever noticed this decay trend? He found the answer to be in the affirmative. There have been a number of scientists in the past who saw the trend and concluded that light must be slowing down. Articles to this effect have appeared in the scientific literature over the years. Nevertheless, the evolutionary scientific establishment has assumed the constancy of the speed of light in spite of the actual physical data.

An Incredible Discovery

At this point Setterfield began an extensive investigation into the light-speed evidence to find out more about the rate and parameters of the decay as well as other physical implications. The interested reader should obtain Setterfield's monograph on this topic, since it elaborates technical details and laymen's summaries far beyond the scope of this book.

One of the first things Setterfield set out to do was to determine the best curve to fit the observed light-speed measurements. This would enable one to make projections back into the past and see what the speed of light was at earlier times and, more importantly for our purposes, to obtain an estimate of when the whole process began and thereby make an approximation of the age of the universe.

Of all the decay curves that could be fitted to the existing data, one stood out clearly as the best fit. Setterfield's jaw dropped as he viewed the curve. It indicated an origin of the universe about six thousand years ago—the traditional figure based on analysis of biblical chronologies and genealogies! At some point a little beyond 4000 B.C., the curve approaches infinite light speed and thus the ultimate origin.

Staggering Implications

Setterfield has devoted many years to researching this problem and testing out its theoretical and practical implications. There are far-reaching implications that go well beyond the scope of this chapter. Suffice it to say that this one factor potentially explains an astounding array of cosmic perplexities, including many earth formations and mineral deposits, water-erosion features on other planets such as Mars, anomalies in the inferred velocities of distant galaxies, the "echo of the Big Bang," and many others.

From the standpoint of the age issue, one extremely important implication needs to be explained. The principal method scientists use to determine ages of matter involves various types of radioactive decay. The main reason most scientists (as well as lay people) give for accepting evolutionary claims for vast geologic ages is related to the results of various radioactive dating procedures involving such materials as carbon 14, uranium-lead, and potassium-argon. If certain assumptions are granted, all such methods indicate ages far in excess of a few thousand years.

In the past, recent-creationists have attacked this central fortress of the evolutionists' ages concept by challenging these necessary assumptions. This approach has been fairly successful, owing to the tenuous nature of many of the radioactive-dating assumptions. However, the discovery that the speed of light has been slowing down through history raises a whole new and devastating problem for all radioactive-dating methods, since a key factor in all such rates of decay is the speed of light. Physicists know that the rate of decay for radioactive elements is directly related to the speed of light. The faster the speed of light, the more rapid the decay of radioactive elements, and vice versa. This means that all dating calculations published in the past must be refigured with the corrected and ever-decreasing value for light speed. When this is done, all radioactive dates fall within a time frame of a few thousand years!

To see why radioactive dates are so drastically reduced, consider a simple example of a rock thought by modern calculations to be four billion years old. The four-billion-year figure assumes, however, that the speed of light was the same in the past as it is now and thus that the rate of radioactive decay was the same in the past as it is today. When scientists infer from certain measurements that a considerable amount of radioactive decay has occurred in a rock, they assume that the decay process has always proceeded at today's rate and therefore that billions of years were required for the rock to reach its present condition.

Now we introduce the finding that light traveled much faster in the past—and if light traveled faster in the past, the radioactive-decay process in the rock sample was also proceeding more rapidly in the past. Thus the amount of decay that scientists thought would take four billion years to accomplish is now seen to take only six thousand years. The new estimate of the rock's age is thereby dramatically reduced. All radioactive-decay dates are brought into the recent-creation time frame by Setterfield's results.

Current Status of Setterfield's Work

Setterfield's work with the speed of light is understandably controversial. Even many recent-creationists have been very cautious about this revolutionary concept and take an almost it's-too-good-to-be-true posture. For his part, Setterfield has continued his research and sought every opportunity to debate and discuss his findings with fellow scientists. To date no one has been able to debunk the findings, and corrobora-tions of Setterfield's work seem to be piling up.

As one example, Setterfield has examined historical measurements of over a dozen other so-called fundamental atomic constants that would be related to the speed of light. A number of these postulated constants are independent of light-speed changes because of mutually canceling factors and thus should really have constant values through history. Others are tied to light speed and should, in fact, be showing the same decreasing historical trend found with speed-of-light measurements. Still others relate to the speed of light in an inverse manner and would be expected to have increased historically.

Astonishingly, and in spite of the fact that all of these fundamental parameters are—as with the speed of light— assumed by modern astronomers to be constants, every one of them shows the exact historical trend predicted by Setterfield. The odds against such matching data trends in support of Setterfield's theory occurring by mere chance are astronomical. It is easy to see why this work is generating a lot of interest. The evidence keeps piling up. The universe is young!


–   UPDATE 2002  -  Added for the Web Version   –

After the publication of his theory in the 1980s, Mr. Setterfield set it aside in order to attend to some family responsibilities. Now, circumstances have changed, and Mr. Setterfield is back working on the theory, testing and refining it. The details are beyond the scope of this book, but in brief Mr. Setterfield's recent work deals mainly with the mechanism behind light's slowing over time, as well as answering some of the potential problems with the theory that other experts have raised. For an easy-to-understand summary, go to http://www.ldolphin.org/setterfield/simplified.html. A link to Mr. Setterfield's technical explication of his theory is provided at this site.

Another Plausible Theory

In the 1990s, physicist Russell Humphreys developed another plausible, scientific answer to the distant starlight question. Mr. Humphreys adopted a biblically consistent assumption that the universe has a boundary and thus a center and outer edge within which all created material things exist. He then applied Einstein's theory of General Relativity to the assumed nature of the universe and found that his theory literally fell out of the General Relativity equations.  See his book, "Starlight and Time", by Dr. D. Russell Humphreys, publ. Master Books.

General Relativity theory says that the passage of time, as experienced by the things God has created, is dependent on the movement of the material particles of which they are composed. The speed of these movements is relative, in turn, to the magnitude of the gravitational field in which the particles move. Therefore, the passage of time will be faster in locations where the gravity field is weaker.  For example, clocks located on the tops of mountains will run faster than clocks at sea level.  Clocks on the moon will run faster than clocks on the earth.

According to Mr. Humphrey's theory, the six days of creation refer to the passage of time from the vantage point of things on the earth which was created at the center of the universe on day one.  When God stretch out the heavens (Isaiah 44:24) and created the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day (Genesis 1:16-17) the gravitational field was maximal in the vicinity of earth but minimal in the heavens being stretched out.  Thus, during a few moments from the vantage point of the Word of God calling the heavenly bodies into existence on earth, billions of years of processing would have occurred from the standpoint of created objects in the stretching heavens.  Similarly, the light from the distant heavens would have arrived on earth as the objects were coming into existence so that the Word of God could see them and declare them as “good” (Genesis 1:18).  For more details, see: http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/405.asp.

PREV   NEXT     Start of: "It's A Young World After All"    www.creationism.org