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Posted by on May 15, 2013 in Q & A | 0 comments

How Do We Explain Genesis 1 in Regards to Starlight?


Hello Robert,

I’m sort of confused after coming upon some information. I don’t believe in evolution in terms of the world being 4 billion years old or the galaxy being 18 billion years old, but something gave me a hang up the other day.

Light travels at 300 million m/s, so whatever emits or reflects light has to take time to reach us. So sunlight takes 8minuites to reach us as soon as it’s emitted. This makes sense.

The “problem” arises when scientists speak of stars hundreds or millions of light years away, indicating the light must have began at least those hundreds or millions of years ago just to reach us. Logically, there could be an ‘old galaxy, young earth,’ but that doesn’t necessarily sit well with me.

I’m always cautious and skeptical when people claim anything on such big magnitudes (e.g. that they are seeing something X million miles away or X million years ago), but on some level there is ‘basis’ for all this. So, maybe these things are not as far away as we think they are – since the distance is being measured in an indirect sense. It also doesn’t sit well with me with the notion that by the time we see some of these things, the star might not even still exist. But that just leads to another question, are we seeing the star itself or the star light only?

Any comments, resources, or help would be appreciated.

God Bless,


R. Sungenis: Nick, I wrote about this issue in Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right, VOL. 2. Here is the excerpt for you.

The Stars and the Speed of Light in Genesis 1

Here we will tackle one of the most common objections raised against a literal reading of Genesis 1. The objection concerns the apparent anomaly regarding the speed of light and the creation of the stars. It is argued that, since it is established from modern science that the stars are very far away, so far away that light from the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, presently takes four years to reach the Earth as it travels 300,000 km/sec, it would have been impossible for the light from stars, which were made on the Fourth day of creation, to reach Earth on that very day; and, in fact, Proxima Centauri would not have been seen until at least four years after Adam was created. It could further be argued that if the other stars are hundreds of thousands of light-years from Earth, then the age of the universe could not be anywhere close to the 6000 years that a literal reading of the biblical text demands, otherwise, we would not be seeing the light from these most distant stars today. [1]

On the surface this seems to be a very logical and worthy objection, and as a result, it has perplexed and paralyzed not a few biblical scholars. Their reactions to this apparent problem are many and varied. Some have been persuaded to abandon a literal reading of Genesis 1 altogether, or at the least, have tried to advance alternative literal renderings.[2] Some have moved to a theistic evolutionary interpretation of Genesis. Others have proposed using the time-warping principles of Special and General Relativity to answer the anomaly;[3] while still others are so bothered by the anomaly that they are willing to rearrange the whole chronology of Genesis 1.[4]

At the outset we must note that it makes little difference if one bases his argument on the idea that the stars are billions of light years or just four light years from Earth. In either case, if the speed of light is given an unchanging value of 186,000 miles per second, yet it is agreed that when the stars were created on the Fourth day an observer on Earth would have seen their light immediately, then the light of the stars must have reached Earth either instantaneously or sometime before the close of the Fourth day. Even if we give light an extra day or two to arrive on Earth such that it would have appeared on the Fifth or Sixth days of creation, this does not provide an adequate solution to the problem, since the nearest star is, at least according to modern astronomy, four light years away. As such, the light from Proxima Centauri would have arrived four years after Adam was created, and light from stars that are farther away than 6,000 light years would not yet have reached the Earth, according to the biblical timetable.

Some might advance the counterargument that, after the stars are mentioned in Gn 1:16, they are not mentioned again in the biblical text until Gn 15:5, when God tells Abraham to look up at the stars and count them. This would allow their light to travel for the whole time from the creation week to the time of Abraham’s old age. As such, the total time of travel could have been two thousand years (4,000 B.C. to 2,000 B.C.). If we assume light’s speed has always been the same, then, at the maximum, the total miles traveled would have been 3.5 × 1016 miles in 6,000 years, or 3.5 quadrillion miles. This distance could accommodate quite a few stars in the universe. In fact, it would more than satisfy the only empirical method of determining the distance to the stars, namely, stellar parallax, which, beyond 100 parsecs or 1.92 quadrillion miles, cannot be applied as an accurate means of measuring distance.

It could further be argued that the alternative and more common method of measuring the distance to the stars beyond the limits of parallax, that is, the redshift of light, is simply an unproven scientific hypothesis that remains in the throes of controversy, and therefore no biblical scholar is required to accept or apply a redshift/distance relationship as an irrefutable scientific fact. Moreover, various astrophysicists have already proposed a mathematical model for a much shorter travel time for light in the universe. Parry Moon of M.I.T. and Domina Spencer of the University of Connecticut introduced the idea in a paper titled “Binary Stars and the Velocity of Light.” The authors state:

The acceptance of Riemannian space allows us to reject Einstein’s relativity and to keep all the ordinary ideas of time and all the ideas of Euclidean space out to a distance of a few light years. Astronomical space remains Euclidean for material bodies, but light is considered to travel in Riemannian space. In this way the time required for light to reach us from the most distant stars is only 15 years.[5]

The problem with all the above proposals, however, is that they will not allow light from the stars to appear on Earth on precisely the Fourth day of creation, yet the text of Genesis insists the opposite is true since the stars are included among the celestial bodies given the task of time-keeping (Gn 1:14: “and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years”; Gn 1:18: “and to govern the day and the night”). We know the stars’ role in time keeping today as “sidereal time,” and it is an essential ingredient in chronology for it allows us to have a contrasting background in order to measure the sun’s path around the Earth. So precise is this star/sun relationship that the sidereal day is always four minutes shorter in length than that which we keep by the sun on a 24-hour-per-day clock.

Although we are not compelled to include distances beyond 100 parsecs because of the uncertainty of the redshift hypothesis, still, since redshift is considered as a viable measuring device by the modern scientific community, and since, in any case, there certainly could be stars that are further away than the limits our present parallax capabilities can judge, there needs to be another solution to the starlight problem. In other words, if there is a star beyond the round figure of 6,000 light years away from Earth, biblical chronology (at least based on an unchanging speed of light) seems to have no way of explaining how that star’s light reached Earth during the Earth’s biblical time of existence.

When we dig deeper into the biblical text, there is an easy solution to the problem, and, in fact, there are several solutions, all of which may be working together.

(1) Any solution must never discount the possibility that the stars could have been created many thousands of light years from the Earth and their light could have been brought to Earth instantaneously by an act of creative fiat. It would certainly be illogical to argue, on the one hand, that God created the stars instantaneously, but then argue, on the other hand, that He could not perform a creative miracle and allow their light to stretch instantaneously to the Earth. If one accepts a divine intrusion for the former, on what basis can he deny it for the latter? God himself determines the boundary line for how and when His miraculous intrusion ceases and natural processes take over. None of us can set arbitrary limits on when the crossover should take place, especially in the very beginnings of creation when most events are dependent on God’s miraculous direction. One of the main reasons that modern atheistic science believes the universe is 13.5 billion years old is that it denies a creative fiat at any time, insisting that everything, from the appearances of matter to starlight, respectively, must occur by natural processes. At some point, the biblicist must deny the premise of naturalism, whether he decides to do so on the Fourth day of creation or at the so-called Big Bang, for even the most liberal-minded biblical scholar knows that something cannot come from nothing. Hence, it is no great stretch for the conservative biblicist to include the creative fiat not only the stars themselves but also the light intervening between them and the earth.

(2) We can also address this issue by pointing out that the cosmological principle has certainly not been proven. The speed assigned to light (300,000 km/sec) has only been demonstrated in our local environment, not throughout the rest of the universe. Although it is reasonable for one to assume that the speed of light is the same everywhere in the universe, by the same token, it would be rather presumptuous to build a whole cosmological system on something that has no demonstrable proof. At the least, cosmologies that posit a faster speed of light for other parts of the universe which may be under different cosmological constraints should not be dismissed out of hand, especially since there is growing experimental evidence that the speed of light has, on the one hand, been generally slowing down since the inception of the universe in conjunction with the laws of thermodynamics, and, on the other hand, has been increased in vacuo beyond the value of c in various laboratory experiments. As we noted earlier, even Einstein was caught having to modify his major premise that c remained constant, both in Special and General Relativity. [6]

(3) After we recognize that God could have made starlight appear on Earth miraculously, other biblicists may feel compelled to at least offer some naturalistic explanation for the starlight’s reaching Earth, if for no other reason than to cover all the bases and convince the opponent that there is no escape for those looking for a more naturalistic approach to Genesis 1 (e.g., evolutionists). As such, we refer ourselves to the events of the Second Day of creation, when God created the firmament. We have already noted that the firmament includes both the expanse of space to the limits of the universe (Gn 1:6-9, 14-19) as well as the space in the immediate vicinity of Earth in which “the birds fly” (Gn 1:20). As also noted, the Hebrew word eyqr raqia (firmament) denotes something hard and dense like metal but it also describes something ethereal and penetrable. Fitting the firmament between those two extremes means that we have a truly amazing substance in our universe. In Volume I we belabored the point that the best way to incorporate the two extremes is to understand the firmament as an extremely fine yet dense particulate substance that is frictionless and which permeates every part of the universe and constitutes its vast internal substructure.

In addition, Scripture speaks of the firmament being transformed from its original dimensions to an “expanded” state. For example, Psalm 104:2 says that God is “stretching out heaven like a curtain.” Depending on the Hebrew passage cited, the expansion of the firmament is an event that occurred once in the past; occurred in the past but was also a progressive event for a certain period of time; or occurred in the past and is still continuing today.[7]

The first question regarding the expansion concerns how fast it occurred. Since the sun and stars were placed “in the firmament of the heavens,” the firmament would need to be big enough at the dawn of the Fourth Day to house the sun and all the stars. As the celestial bodies were placed in the firmament, it would have continued to expand away from the Earth, and in the process it would have carried the stars with it to the outer-most recesses of the universe.

If we limit the speed of light to 186,000 miles per second at the time the stars are placed in the firmament, and also limit ourselves to affirming that their light reached Earth on the Fourth Day, this means that the size of the firmament at the end of its expansion on the Fourth Day would be no bigger than the allowable distance light could travel in 24 hours (i.e., the 24 hours from the beginning of the Fourth day to the end of the Fourth day). As such, the radius of the firmament would have been no bigger than 1.6 x 1010 miles (or 16 billion miles); and its volume would have been 1.256 x 1031 cubic miles.

Here is the crucial point: within the distance of 16 billion miles, the light from the stars travels to Earth in a period of 24 hours or less. As such, we have satisfied the objection concerning how starlight could appear on Earth on the Fourth Day of creation. All that is needed now is to add the subsequent events. Consequently, as the starlight reaches Earth on the Fourth Day, the expansion of the firmament continues. After an initial expansion, the rate of expansion could then be accelerated in order to arrive at the size the universe is today. In any case, the expansion will cease once the universe reaches it optimal size, but we do not know when that termination point occurred, or if it has yet occurred.

As the firmament continues to expand beyond the radius of the Fourth Day it will carry the newly created stars with it. As a result, light from the star will be stretched and, depending on the intensity of the stretch due to whether the star was initially placed nearer to or farther from the Earth, it will produce a corresponding redshift in the wavelength of the starlight. Whether this is the cause of the redshift we see today is not certain, but the major point is made that, within the context of the expanding firmament, the Bible places no limitations on starlight reaching Earth on the Fourth Day.

Using the Redshift Formula for a Small and Young Universe

In regard to the redshift, it is interesting to see what happens when we use Big Bang cosmology’s very own formula for measuring the age of distant objects. The age is calculated by the formula t = t0 (1 + z)–3/2, where t0 is the current age of the universe and z is the redshift factor of the object.[8] Most of modern science believes the universe began during a Big Bang, and using their own assumptions and scale factors, it believes that this seminal event occurred 13.7 billion years ago, at least according to the latest data from NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. Let’s say NASA finds a distant object in the sky and assigns it a z-factor of 1. NASA will then plug in the value for t0 as 13.7 billion years and will compute a value for t, which is understood as the age of the universe when the radiation emission of the distant celestial object took place. In the case where z = 1 then t = 4,844,413,013 years. Since using the number 13.7 billion years is completely arbitrary (for it is based on the unproven Big Bang assumptions of the universe), let’s say we assume t0 is 10,000 years instead of 13.7 billion. In this case, where z = 1 then t = 3,536 years. In other words, when an astronomer sees a star with a z-factor of 1, he might just as well assume the universe was 3,536 years old rather than 4.8 billion years old, since the z-factor is only a function of one’s assumption regarding the beginning of the universe. If an astronomer finds an even more distant object that correlates to a z factor of 2, then the age of the universe when the object began radiating was 1,924 on the biblical scale but 2.6 billion years on the Big Bang scale.

Of course, the biblicist does not interpret either the 3,536 years or 1,924 years as the different times that two stars were created, for he holds, on a dogmatic basis, that all the stars were created on the same day. It only means that, as the firmament expanded and carried the variously placed stars within it, their wavelength would be stretched by their medium, the firmament, in proportion to the distance they were originally placed from Earth. (See 1Co 15:41, which teaches that “star differs from star in glory,” presumably because of their specific composition and purpose, which required them to be placed at different distances from the Earth). Thus, if we were to understand redshift as a distance indicator, what we see as differences in redshift values today is merely the result of the differences of the original placement of the stars on the Fourth day of creation. The stars that were placed closer to Earth will now exhibit lower redshift values today, and vice-versa for the stars placed farther away.

Interestingly enough, if we use modern science’s formula for measuring the age of the universe when the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) was released, we get very close to the time we have predicted that the firmament would create the 2.73º Kelvin temperature. The formula is T = T0 (1 + z). Plugging in a z-factor of 1089 for the CMB, the Big Bang theory arrives at a universe age of 380,711 years after the primordial explosion for the arrival of the CMB, whereas using the same z-factor the biblicist obtains 0.278 years, which puts the CMB well within the first three months of the first year of creation and after the fall of man when, as we will see in Chapter 16, according to Hildegard, the universe began rotating and the firmament needed to be cooled at 2.73º Kelvin.

[1] A time span of 6000 years (~ 4000 B.C. to 2000 A.D.) is produced from interpreting the ancestral lines of Genesis 5 and 11 as strictly father-son relationships.

[2] Fr. Stanley L. Jaki, Genesis 1 Through the Ages, 1992.

[3] In particular, D. Russell Humphreys in the book Starlight and Time: Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe, Green Forest, AR, Master Books, 1994. Humphreys’ bottom line is that “God used relativity to make a young universe” as he sides with what he calls “the experimentally well-established general theory of relativity.” He further suggests, “the universe started as either a black hole or white hole. I suggest here that it was a black hole, and that God let gravity take its course” (pp. 128, 127, 123, quoted in order). In other words, General Relativity’s dilation of time through gravity is the basis of Humphreys’ theory. Hence, a clock on Earth would measure the Earth’s present age as 6000 years, whereas a clock at the edge of the universe would measure 13 billion years. In essence, Humphreys uses the mathematics of General Relativity to posit that the 13 billion years commonly associated with the age of the universe is an illusion created, but allowed, by the principles of General Relativity. However, someone who also employed Relativity’s principles came to the exact opposite opinion, which is not surprising, since in Relativity everything is “relative” (G. L. Schroeder, “The Universe – 6 Days and 13 Billion Years Old,” Jerusalem Post, September 7, 1991). Humphreys can have little argument against this, since according to General Relativity, a person standing at the edge of the universe would think that his immediate vicinity is 6000 years old and the Earth is 13 billion. All in all, this is just another case in which General Relativity becomes the wax nose that can be molded to fit a variety of cosmologies due to the very nature of its inability to have a fixed and absolute reference point.

[4] In particular, Gorman Gray in the book The Age of the Universe: What are the Biblical Limits?” Washington, Morning Star Publications, 2005, in which he argues that the clause in Gn 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens,” denotes that at that time the sun and the stars must have been created, and that the text allows for an indefinite time-gap between the appearance of the stars/sun and the creation of the Earth. During this “indefinite time,” starlight is said to be traveling to Earth and, based on a speed of 186,000 miles per second, would have had enough time to make the multi-million year journey. To substantiate this interpretation, Gray further argues that the Hebrew asah appearing in Genesis 1:16 and normally translated “made” really means “brought forth,” such that the light of the sun and stars is now allowed to penetrate to Earth, having previously been obscured by a “cloud of thick darkness” (cf. Jb 38:9) that has since been removed. This is similar to the view we noted earlier propounded by Hugh Ross, yet it must be rejected for the same reasons. There is absolutely no indication in the Genesis text that stars were created before the Earth, and it is likewise exegetically presumptuous to limit the definition of Gn 1:1’s “heavens” to the existence of stars in the heavens as opposed to the heavens itself. According to Gn 1:14-16, the sun and stars are placed “in the heavens,” that is, they are not the heavens but are attached to the heavens. The Hebrew phrase is .ymVh=eyqrB=tram=which translates as “lights in the firmament of the heavens,” with the preposition “in” denoted by the consonant “B” prefixing the word eyqr “firmament.” This phrase is repeated in Gn 1:17 (“And God set them in the firmament of the heavens”) with the addition of the word ,tn (“set”) to reinforce that the sun and stars are distinct from the firmament in which they are set. In addition, there is no “firmament” on the first day of creation, there is only the empty heavens, and as such, the emptiness is waiting to be filled by both the firmament and the celestial bodies, on the second and fourth days, respectively. Moreover, Gray’s contention that “brought forth” is a clearer translation than “made” of the Hebrew asah is untenable. Although asah has some variation in its contextual meaning, when it appears in creation contexts, its meaning is closer to “made” than it is to “brought forth.” For example, Psalm 33:6 [32:6] states: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made [asah], and by the breath of His mouth all their host.” Here asah is used in the almost identical wording that appears in Gn 1:1 (“In the beginning God created the heavens…”) although in that case the Hebrew arB (bara) is used instead of asah, which shows that the words are exegetically interchangeable.

[5] Parry Moon and Domina Spencer, “Binary Stars and the Velocity of Light,” Journal of the Optical Society of America, Vol. 43, No. 8, August 1953, p. 635, emphasis added. By an exhaustive study of the binaries, Moon and Spencer concluded: “Velocity of light in free space is always c with respect to the source, and has a value for the observer which depends on the relative velocity of source and observer. True Galilean relativity is preserved, as in Newtonian gravitation” (ibid., p. 641).

[6] See Appendix 1: “Anomalies Concerning the Speed of Light” in Volume I for more information on these laboratory experiments. Regarding Einstein’s modifications to the speed of light, see Volume I, Ch. 5.

[7] Based on the stipulation in Gn 1:8 that “God called the firmament heaven,” the term “heaven” is often interchangeable with “firmament.” In regard to the “expansion,” Jb 9:8 contains the Qal participle hfn which can refer to a progressive “stretching out,” and matches the progressive speech in the preceding verse: “the One speaking to the sun, and it does not rise and to the stars he sets a seal.” The same Qal participle appears in Ps 104:2 and Is 42:5 in a similar context of progressive action, whereas Is 44:24 uses the same Qal participle but could refer to a single act or a progressive action. Is 45:12 uses the Qal perfect wfn referring to a past act, as does Jr 51:15. In Is 51:13 the Qal participle is coupled with a past act (“founded the Earth”), yet Zc 12:1 uses the Qal participle coupled with two other Qal participles (“founding the Earth” and “forms the spirit of man within him,” the latter of which is a continuing action). All in all, the evidence leans towards the “stretching out” as an event with a definitive beginning in the past but in continual progress, at least for some indefinite period of time, and thus a process that did not cease on Day Two of creation week.

[8] This z-factor formula is based on the so-called “dust model” of the universe wherein the major components of the universe do not exert any pressure on their surroundings. But if one were to base the z-factor on the radiation of the CMB in terms of number of particles, the formula would be t = t0 (1 + z)-2. This again, shows the complete arbitrariness of the formulas since they invariably depend on one’s unproven assumptions.

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