The Unraveling of Starlight and Time
By Samuel R. Conner and Hugh Ross, Ph.D.
In 1994 a physicist who is prominent in the young-earth movement, Dr. D. Russell Humphreys, unveiled a proposed alternative cosmology1 which, it was claimed, resolved a long-standing problem for the young-earth movement --- how light could travel billions of light years from distant galaxies during the passage of only a few thousand years of Earth time. This new cosmology was widely hailed in the young-earth movement and has been widely distributed in book form2. The author, Dr. Humphreys, is not formally trained in general relativity or cosmology theory, and his initial article and book acknowledged the tentative character and possible falsity of the new proposal. He also solicited, publicly and privately, feedback from Christian physicists who did have formal training in these disciplines. Starting even before the appearance of Starlight and Time and continuing to the present, such feedback has been forthcoming, and, to our knowledge, it has been uniformly critical of the theory. In fact, Starlight and Time and related writings by Humphreys exhibit profound misunderstandings of relativity theory and cosmology. Humphreys’ theory is irremediably flawed. It is very unfortunate that these writings have been so widely distributed in the young-earth community and have misled so many Christians.
Before proceeding with our discussion of the present state of the Starlight and Time hypothesis, we wish to make it clear that our observations about Dr. Humphreys' cosmological writings are not intended to cast aspersion on the sincerity of his Christian faith or the quality of his Christian testimony. The errors and defects in Humphreys' ideas are not moral errors, but scientific ones, and our pointing out of Humphreys' errors in these scientific areas does not imply criticism of his moral integrity. The one moral criticism which we would make of Dr. Humphreys' advocacy of his model, is his failure to heed the counsel of skilled Christian physicists in this matter. This is not a small criticism, for Humphreys' overconfidence in this matter has led to the widespread dissemination of a false theory. The inevitable collapse of this theory may damage the faith of many Christians who have leaned on it to reinforce their faith. The responsibility for such damage will rest with Dr. Humphreys and those of his associates who have promoted his theory, disregarding the expert counsel which God has made available to them. It is also possible that the widespread distribution and acceptance of his theory will have negative consequences for the credibility of Christian testimony to unbelievers. Again, responsibility for this will lie with Dr. Humphreys and his associates.
Reasons to Believe and RTB associates have played a leading role in the effort by Christian physicists to help the young-earth movement recognize and repudiate the errors of Starlight and Time. Prior to the initial publication of Starlight and Time, Humphreys was advised to drop the theory in view of its incompatibility with the observed time-keeping properties of distant physical phenomena3 (see appendices for specifics). In early 1995, RTB assembled a team of qualified physicists to analyze the mathematics of the theory4. In retrospect, it is apparent that this analysis, which was performed in early- to mid-1995, was the first thorough review the mathematical aspects of the theory had ever received, notwithstanding the theory's initial presentation in a nominally peer-reviewed forum, the International Conference on Creationism(ICC). This review led to the preparation of a number of documents which RTB has been distributing on request since mid-19955,6 and to the publication of a brief but thorough rebuttal of Starlight and Time in a young-earth publication in September, 19957. Despite this rebuttal, the subsequent rejection of Starlight and Time by the ICC8 and further rebuttal, this time by a young-earth writer, published in another young-earth publication9, Humphreys has continued to insist that his model is valid. The latest exchange in the controversy occurred recently in the pages of Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal10,11.
To our knowledge, not one person competent in general relativity and cosmology theory who has examined Starlight and Time has given a "pass" to this theory12. Despite the lack of expert corroboration of his work, Humphreys continues to insist on the validity of his demonstrably false theory. Unfortunately, most of the major young-earth organizations13 are continuing to follow Humphreys and are ignoring the demonstrations of the falsity of his theory which have arisen from both inside and outside the young-earth movement.
Reasons to Believe has kept a low public profile on this matter over the past three-plus years in the hope that the young-earth movement would have both the will and the skill to resolve this matter internally and thereby save itself the humiliation of being corrected by outsiders. We also wanted to keep the matter quiet in order to avoid attracting the attention of hostile unbelievers, for whom Starlight and Time would provide a persuasive example of "Christian incompetence" in the natural sciences, evidence which would aid their attempts to exclude Christian thought from the public arena. Such attention would be most harmful to the young-earth movement, but it would by association also harm the entire church and potentially discredit the church's gospel witness. We also hoped that Humphreys would himself eventually "come around" on this matter14, and it appeared probable to us that a very public role for RTB would diminish the likelihood that this would happen. For all of these reasons, RTB mounted the smallest "organizational" response to Starlight and Time that would suffice to respond to inquiries about Starlight and Time. In lieu of an extensive formal "organizational" response, Professor Don Page15 and RTB associate Sam Conner16, writing on their own behalf, have presented thorough rebuttals of Starlight and Time in the above-cited young-earth periodicals, in the hope of persuading the readership of these publications of the falsity of the theory.
Unfortunately, our expectations were too optimistic. Starlight and Time has been ever more widely distributed in the young-earth community and employed in that community as a pretext for attacking RTB's ministry. Contrary to our expectations, Starlight and Time has not received the thorough testing and re-evaluation by the young-earth movement which it clearly needs17. Given the uncertainty as to whether this matter will be resolved in the near future by the young-earth community, we believe that it is time for RTB to mount a more thorough "organizational" response to the Starlight and Time hypothesis. This article is part of that response. It is our hope that this response will:
A variety of rebuttals of Starlight and Time, ranging from short and readable to very long and mathematically involved, have been published (refs. 5,6,7,9,10,17). Many of these are available in printed form from RTB.
Our purpose here is not primarily to review or expand on this material (we encourage our readers to peruse it at their convenience), but rather to update our readers on the current state of the Starlight and Time hypothesis and to discuss the problems in the latest revision of the theory which Humphreys has put forth.
In brief, the theory is falling apart. Apparently under the weight of the critiques recently published10,17, Humphreys has abandoned most of his original erroneous proposal but has, unfortunately, replaced it with an even more unreasonable one. We will first discuss Humphreys' abandonment of the original proposal and then survey the problems in the new one. A detailed rebuttal of the errors of the new proposal is too lengthy to present in this brief survey, but will be made available separately in paper and electronic form from RTB19.
2 The Abandonment of Starlight and Time
In his latest attempt to defend Starlight and Time11, Humphreys actually quietly abandons it. The three central arguments of the original Starlight and Time proposal were:
It has been shown in a number of articles10 17 that all three of
these claims are manifestly false. In particular,
In his most recent defense of this theory, "New Vistas of Spacetime Rebut the Critics11", Humphreys gives up so much ground on each of these three central arguments that one can fairly say that he has abandoned the original formulation of his hypothesis. New Vistas has little to say about Schwarzschild time. Whereas this time coordinate was "the essence" of the original argument, it now receives only passing mention and is no longer appealed to in support of Humphreys' claim to have solved the light travel problem. Although Humphreys continues to employ the phrase "gravitational time dilation", it is clear from his argument that he no longer contends that potential differences in the bounded matter sphere produce differences in the time-keeping rates of physical clocks --- indeed, he explicitly concedes that physical clocks tick at the same rate in such a universe20. Finally, event horizons, which played a prominent part in Starlight and Time, are now admitted by Humphreys to have no effect 21, and the effects which he wrongly attributed to them in Starlight and Time are now attributed to the changing signature of the Klein metric.
Four years after the original publication of Starlight and Time, Humphreys has abandoned all the central arguments of that hypothesis. All that remains is a skeleton, consisting of the idea of a bounded universe and a phrase, "gravitational time dilation." The disproof of the original central arguments of Starlight and Time is not difficult. Dr. Humphreys' recent abandonment of the central physical arguments of his original proposal shows that these physical arguments were not well-thought out and were not adequately reviewed by experts in relativity theory and cosmology prior to their dissemination in the church.22
In New Vistas, Humphreys quietly drops his old physical arguments and invents new ones to take their place. Before proceeding to a discussion of these new errors, it is worthwhile to revisit one of the claims which Humphreys has not yet dropped --- the claim that there is a profound difference in the gravitational properties of bounded and unbounded universes. Let’s explore this concept.
3 The identity of the gravitational behavior of bounded and unbounded homogeneous/isotropic universes—an old error explained
One of the errors of the original Starlight and Time proposal which remains in Humphreys' reconstruction of his argument, is the claim that gravity is radically different in a bounded and an unbounded universe. The falsity of this claim is obvious to people familiar with relativity theory and cosmology and is easily explainable to non-specialists. Humphreys' continued insistence on this is further evidence of misunderstandings of the physics of general relativity and cosmology.
In general relativity, matter produces spacetime curvature, and spacetime curvature manifests itself in what we call gravity. The relationship between the spacetime curvature and the matter content of the universe is given by the Einstein field equations, which are customarily expressed in shorthand notation as
Gm n =8p GTm n
The left hand side of this equation, Gm n , is the Einstein curvature tensor, which is composed of products of the spacetime metric tensor gm n with derivatives of that tensor with respect to the spacetime coordinates23 The right hand side contains numerical constants (G is Newton's gravitational constant) and the "stress-energy" tensor, T m n , also called the "energy-momentum" tensor. It contains information about the matter, energy, pressure and momentum content of the universe. It is obvious from this equation that if two universes have the same energy-momentum T m n ,, then their Einstein curvature tensors will also be identical. The matter-filled region of the bounded universe which Humphreys postulates has an identical energy-momentum tensor to the unbounded universe he wishes to replace, and consequently it has spacetime curvature which is identical to that of the unbounded universe. Gravitational behaviors such as the "Newtonian gravitational field"24 and time dilation are a consquence of the spacetime curvature. Identical spacetime curvature means that the gravitational behaviors must be identical. This fact alone is an adequate rebuttal of Humphreys' claims.
Aside from the idea of a bounded cosmos, the only significant physical claim which Humphreys preserves from the original version of Starlight and Time is the assertion that there are no gravitational fields in an unbounded universe. This assertion has been repeatedly disproven7,10,17, but Humphreys persists in affirming it. It is easy to see that there must be gravitational fields in an unbounded universe. We present a brief demonstration here, and an elaborate demonstration in supplementary materials which are in preparation.
If Humphreys' claim that there are no gravitational fields in an unbounded universe were valid, then it would be impossible for the expansion of such universes to decelerate: no unbounded universe model could decelerate as it expanded25. This is inescapable, for gravity is the only force which acts in such models; in the absence of any gravitational field, there can be no relative acceleration of different parts of the universe. Thus, Humphreys' reasoning requires that, while bounded universes can decelerate, so that their expansion slows with time, unbounded universes cannot. If Humphreys' reasoning were correct, general relativity would predict that unbounded universes do not decelerate. However, general relativity in fact, predicts that unbounded universes do decelerate, and in exactly the same way as bounded universes with the same interior properties. Since gravity is the only operative force in these models, the identical deceleration of bounded and unbounded universes means that the gravitational field of such universes must be identical.
It is easy to calculate the Newtonian gravitational field in an unbounded universe and from this field to derive the deceleration of such a universe. It is a well-known fact in relativity theory that such a Newtonian analysis leads to a prediction of the deceleration of an unbounded universe which is identical to the predictions of general relativity. This calculation is illustrated in previous publications contra Starlight and Time though not explicitly worked out (it is explicitly worked out in many textbooks on general relativity26 and will be presented in materials in preparation).
Humphreys explicitly rejects this calculation. This rejection is foolish on two counts. First, general relativity predicts that unbounded universes must decelerate, and it predicts the same deceleration equation as the Newtonian analysis applied to either a bounded or an unbounded universe. Second, many introductory-level textbooks on relativistic cosmology perform the Newtonian analysis; indeed, this analysis is so common that it has its own name: "Newtonian cosmology." Humphreys is certainly aware of this. Thus Humphreys, who has minimal formal training or professional research experience in general relativity or cosmology, is presuming to have an understanding of these matters which is superior to every professional general relativity/cosmology theorist on Earth27. This has the potential to lead to future humiliation for many Christians who have unwisely accepted his ideas as authoritative.
4 New Errors in the New Vistas publication
A pattern which has become evident over the past few years is that each attempt by Humphreys to defend Starlight and Time from competent analysis leads to the unveiling of new, and usually more serious, misunderstandings of relativity physics as well as the repeating of old ones. Humphreys' latest attempt to preserve a vestige of his original cosmology proposal, "New Vistas of Spacetime Rebut the Critics",11 continues this pattern.
Humphreys' basic error is to mistake a feature of a particular coordinate representation of the geometry of a bounded universe for a fundamental property of that geometry28. In the process, he also misunderstands, misrepresents and misapplies much of the literature he cites in support of the new misunderstanding. The errors are numerous. For example, Humphreys:
It is important to note in surveying this list that few of these issues are particularly profound; most of them are introductory-level issues in the interpretation of the equations of general relativity and cosmology. Humphreys' lack of training in these fields is painfully obvious to trained eyes. Unfortunately, there are few general relativity/cosmology-trained individuals in the young-earth movement (and the few whom God has placed in the movement have been ignored by the movement, with the sole exception of the ICC). The result is that Humphreys and his sympathizers among the leadership of the young-earth movement have (unwittingly) misled the young-earth movement on these matters for several years.
5 The Impossible Hypothesis of Young-Universe Relativistic Cosmology
In Starlight and Time is the Big Bang and other critiques of Starlight and Time, it has been shown that a short timescale for the history of the universe is completely incompatible with general relativity and the observed properties of the universe. The demonstration takes the form of two mathematical proofs derivable from the equations of relativity-based cosmology which show that
Both of these predictions are unavoidable consequences of general relativity applied to the locally homogeneous and isotropic class of models employed by Humphreys and both are contradicted by abundant physical evidence from astronomy. It is noteworthy that Humphreys does not dispute the accuracy of the derivation of these proofs. He does, however, dispute their applicability to his bounded universe model, claiming that the Robertson-Walker metric (on which these proofs depend) applies only to an unbounded universe and not to a bounded universe. This claim is manifestly false, as may be verified by reference to any introductory text on general relativity which addresses homogeneous stellar collapse32. Not only is the Robertson-Walker metric a perfectly suitable description of the geometry of the bounded universe advocated by Humphreys, but the alternative coordinate representation of the metric which Humphreys prefers is in fact derived from the Robertson-Walker metric by a coordinate transformation, a fact which is obvious from the texts Humphreys cites33. The Schwarzschild-like metric which Humphreys prefers is the Robertson-Walker metric expressed in a different coordinate system34. As has been shown by explicit calculation in reference 17, Humphreys' prefered metric leads to Earth time behaviors which are identical to the standard Big Bang models.
6 Starlight and Time/New Vistas as a paradigm of the fundamental problem of young-earth apologetics
In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus observed, "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?"(John 3:12, NIV). Nicodemus was not able (or perhaps not willing) to understand the spiritual reality of regeneration by the Spirit of God which Jesus was describing by means of the earthly metaphors of physical birth and physical wind. Nicodemus' misunderstanding raises an important issue for Christian apologists and evangelists: how is one to describe spiritual reality to someone who has no personal experience of such a reality?
This communication issue faces not only "traditional" Christian evangelists, but also Christian apologists who wish to use evidence from the natural world to point unbelievers to supernatural realities and the Gospel. A particularly acute form of this problem faces the young-earth movement in its attempts to use revisionist young-earth "science" for this purpose. If the science is incredible or manifestly false, then, rather than pointing unbelievers to God, it may drive them further away. Jesus' question to Nicodemus 2000 years ago suggests a set of challenges to Christian apologists today: if our claims about earthly, empirically testable things such as natural history are demonstrably untrue, how can we expect unbelievers to accept our testimony on subjects which are not empirically testable and which call for a faith response? The answer is clear: we cannot. If our testimony on scientific matters is demonstrably false, rather than giving unbelievers reasons to consider the Gospel, we will give them grounds to reject it. To put it another way, if the Church demonstrates itself to be unreliable in the interpretation of scientific matters which are subject to verification by unbelievers, it undermines, by association, the credibility of our claims that unbelievers need to pay attention to the Bible's statements about spiritual matters which are not empirically verifiable by unbelievers. If Christians' claims about physical reality cannot be trusted, what grounds do unbelievers have to trust our claims about spiritual realities? Demonstrably false "science" gives the lost "reasons to reject" the Gospel --- "reasons to disbelieve" rather than "reasons to believe."
This is a serious obstacle to the efforts of the young-earth movement to minister the Gospel to unbelievers, particularly to scientifically literate unbelievers. Much of the young-earth apologetic depends on the idea that the earth and the entire physical universe is no more than several thousand years old. This position appears to us as believers to be impossible to reconcile with any reasonable interpretation of the data of nature; it is also manifestly false from the perspective of unbelieving scientists. Young-earth claims on the age issue are so obviously mistaken, in fact, that many non-Christian scientists do not believe that young-earth apologists are honest people, which gives them yet another reason (or excuse) to reject the Gospel35. Perhaps the clearest instance of the impossibility of young-earth "science" is the light-travel problem, but this problem characterizes the entire young-earth position on the age-of-the-universe/age-of-the-earth issue36.
Starlight and Time/New Vistas is, from our perspective, one of the most obvious recent examples of manifestly erroneous "science" offered by the young-earth movement as a defense of the Bible. The errors are elementary and are almost entirely in the arena of comparatively simple mathematics. That these glaring errors have been widely accepted within the young-earth movement and widely propagated in the Church casts doubt on the credibility, reliability and trustworthiness of the leadership of the young-earth movement and, by association, the entire church. It should be noted that we do not believe that any young-earth leader has engaged in conscious deception. The failure of the movement to detect and act on the erroneous nature of Starlight and Time is not a failure of moral integrity but a failure of scientific judgment and discernment. Starlight and Time/New Vistas shows that the movement's scientific judgment is not implicitly trustworthy --- the movement is not able to discern and rid itself of its own scientific errors. In this sense, the leadership of the young-earth movement cannot be implicitly trusted to reliably counsel or guide the church on scientific matters.
The young-earth movement's failure to recognize and repudiate the false science of Starlight and Time/New Vistas is a stumbling block to informed non-believing scientists and may become a stumbling block to many other unbelievers if the young-earth movement persists in affirming this manifestly untrue theory. In the interests of the credibility of its own Gospel witness and the witness of the wider Church, it is time for the young-earth movement to repudiate the Starlight and Time/New Vistas theory.
We at Reasons to Believe have hoped that the young-earth movement and that portion of the church which looks to the young-earth movement for scientific guidance would repudiate Starlight and Time. RTB has to this point, avoided extensive public comment on the theory. In doing so, RTB has sought:
But the young-earth community has not seemed able and/or willing to examine itself. Our restraint seems to have been interpreted by proponents of Starlight and Time as an inability on RTB's part to respond to Starlight and Time. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the interest of the credibility of its Christian testimony, we appeal to the young-earth movement to undertake the long-overdue reassessment of the validity of Starlight and Time and, now, New Vistas.
September 30, 1992
Dr. D. Russell Humphreys
Dear Dr. Humphreys:
In response to your August 13 letter, I assume you are referring to your paper entitled "A New Solution to Einstein’s Field of Cosmological Significance." John Baumgardner gave me a copy in October 1990.
I have read the paper, but I saw no reason to check your solutions. Whether or not your solutions permit the universe to expand to its present condition in only a few thousand years, reality does not. Astronomical observations overwhelmingly confirm that the expansion rate was slower. In fact, the observed expansion rate is part of the evidence for God’s design. If the universe had expanded any more slowly or rapidly than the observed rate, life in the cosmos at any time would be impossible. There is ample documentation of this point in my own and others’ writings.
As I have said before, the confidence astronomers express in a several-billion-year-old universe (young from their perspective), is supported by voluminous data, and such an age in no way compromises the accuracy and authority of the Bible-from a straightforward reading of all of the relevant texts. Why this insistence on 6,000 years? Let’s let the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not the age of the universe, be the watershed.
Sincerely in Christ the Savior,
March 15, 1993
Dr. D. Russell Humphreys
Dear Dr. Humphreys:
I finally am making some headway on my backlog of correspondence. Let me begin by answering again your questions on November 12.
Yes, I would change my position on the age of the universe given enough supporting evidence. I would need to see three things: 1) sufficient evidence for a different age, 2) proofs that the current evidences are all invalid, 3) a model that correctly predicts new discoveries. Since I view the age of the universe as a theologically minor point, I am not ideologically committed. It would be no big deal philosophically or theologically for me to change my position. The only reason I am so strongly committed to a billions-of-years-old universe is because of the strength of the observational evidence and its predictive track record.
To which I do give greater allegiance, general relativity or the big bang? The observational evidence for both is impressive. But right now, that evidence is stronger for the big bang (see, for example, Science News, January 16, 1993, page 43). That could change, however, with some soon-to-be-scheduled experiments.
As for your paper, I will repeat for the third time that my basic problem with it is its failure to address the observations. As you must be aware, there is no observational evidence for as rapid a rate of expansion for the universe as you desire. And if there were, we would not be here to discuss it. Life cannot exist in such a rapidly expanding cosmos.
It seems to me that you would rather overthrow most of established physics and astronomy and consign the promoters of established physics and astronomy to the lake of fire than admit that your interpretation of the Genesis creation accounts might possible need some adjusting. If that is the case, then it is your "god", not mine, that is "uncaring, deceptive, and unreliable."
Dr. Humphreys, I am praying that you will turn your attention fully toward reaching the lost with the Gospel of Christ and cease making the age of the universe a big issue between us and between you and unbelievers. The time is too short, and the Lord has called us to use it wisely.
Incidentally, both James Dobson and Paul Crouch have asked to be kept out of our dialog. I have honored their request. I ask you to do the same.
Sincerely in Christ the Savior,
April 15, 1993
Russell Humphreys, Ph.D.
Dear Dr. Humphreys:
I have not explicitly stated my qualifications to review your paper on cosmology because it seemed to me that my qualifications were sufficiently obvious as to need no special reiteration. I believe you already know that I earned a Ph.D. in astronomy at the University of Toronto. While there I studied under some of the world’s leading cosmologists. My graduate work was fully funded by an award from the National Research Council of Canada. Upon completion of my degree, I was accepted as a post-doctoral research fellow at the California Institute of Technology, where I continued my study of quasars for five years. During that time, I co-authored several articles published in technical journals.
As I’m sure you also know, I left my full-time research position for full-time ministry, but I have continued to read (and understand) the astronomical literature. At the same time, I have been involved in leading many people to salvation in Jesus Christ. Before launching Reasons to Believe I served for more than a decade as minister of evangelism for a Bible-believing church not far from Caltech, and I had the privilege of particapting in the church’s growth from a few hundred members to about a thousand, many of whom had no previous involvement in church. If you need more information on my background, you could obtain a curriculum vita from my office.
If you are asking me to review your paper, all I can say is that I must see it before I can agree to do so. I want to see how well it fits the observational data about the universe. If it strays too far from the observations, I simply cannot spend time on it.
Sincerely in Christ,
P. S. It seems you have misunderstood my statement about the big bang and general relativity. I consider both to be solidly established by abundant observational data.
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