Young-earth (YE) and old-earth (OE) creationists disagree on a great number of scientific issues—most prominently the ages of the Earth and universe—but both groups generally agree on the astronomical distances measured with telescopes. The Sun sits just over eight light-minutes away, the center of the Milky Way Galaxy at 25,000 light-years, the Andromeda Galaxy around 2.5 million light-years, and the most distant quasars up to 13 billion light-years away. These distances pose no problems for inflationary, big bang models of the universe (consistent with an OE view), but the YE creationist models have a “distant starlight problem.” How do observers see such distant objects in a few-thousand-year-old universe?
Astronomer Jason Lisle,1 until recently at Answers in Genesis, has proposed a novel solution to the “distant starlight problem.” His article describing the model provides details,2 but here are the salient features of what he calls the Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC).
1. A subtle (but important) feature of relativity theory is that one must choose a convention or standard for synchronizing distant clocks in the universe. In contrast to the absolute space and time featured in Newtonian mechanics (predecessor to general relativity), space and time exhibit a dynamic nature in Einstein’s relativity. Consequently, simultaneous events in one reference frame are not necessarily simultaneous in another frame moving with respect to the first. Also, clocks in relative motion run at different rates. These relativity effects mean that one must choose a synchrony convention.3
2. The scientific community continues to use the convention chosen by Einstein (isotropic or “same” synchrony convention), namely that light from two distant but stationary clocks arrive at the midpoint at the same time. This reasonable and simplest convention means that the speed of light is the same in all directions.
3. Lisle adopts a different synchrony convention where light travels at infinite speed in one direction and half the speed of light on the return trip.
4. He also introduces a directional dependence such that light travels at infinite speed toward the Earth. Lisle then argues that the Genesis 1 creation account suggests that God used the ASC in His miraculous work during the creation week. For example, all the stars created on the fourth day would need to be visible from Earth’s surface in order to perform their function (to serve as signs for seasons––Gen. 1:14). Choosing the ASC would mean the light from these stars arrived instantaneously on day four.
Lisle’s solution highlights how important the frame of reference is for determining the proper nature of the creation miracles and that Earth’s surface provides that reference frame. It also acknowledges the strength of the scientific evidence for the antiquity of the universe. Assuming the ASC is the correct convention, when one transforms back to the standard Einstein synchrony, all of the distant objects have ages far beyond a few thousand years.
The pressing question becomes: which convention is the correct one to use? Without a doubt, the standard convention provides the easiest framework for calculating a sequential history of the events in the universe as well as for computing how to build particle accelerators, GPS systems, and many other technological instruments. Unfortunately, Lisle’s choice of conventions is untestable, as he acknowledges:
The anisotropic synchrony convention is just that—a convention. It is not a scientific model; it does not make testable predictions.It is a convention of measurement and cannot be falsified any more than the metric system can be falsified.
However, Lisle uses the ASC to develop a model that does make predictions about how the universe should look. Specifically, distant and local regions of the universe should appear the same and show evidence of youth, i.e., consistent with ages of a few thousand years. His examples of youth (abundance of young blue stars, spiral galaxies, planetary rings) represent negative evidence against great age rather than a positive case for something thousands of years old. Furthermore, scientists have made significant progress in solving these “problems” in the last few decades.
Lisle’s addition of a directionality condition (item 4 above) may prove the most problematic aspect of the ASC. Although the synchrony convention is a genuine choice, the anisotropic nature of the ASC would produce observable consequences. The biggest consequence would be a detectable gravitational field (apart from the one caused by Earth’s mass) and scientists measure no such field.4
This new approach to solving a YE creationist problem illustrates one of the counterintuitive features of our universe, namely the difficulty in deciding what simultaneous and instantaneous really mean. Lisle’s solution basically works by proposing a definition where distant starlight instantaneously reaches Earth, regardless of an object’s distance, and claiming this is the definition God used in Genesis 1.
Such a definition seems counter to how humanity thinks about light’s behavior. That doesn’t mean it is wrong, but the ASC falls short of supplying evidence to supplant Einsteinian relativity. The venerable physicist appears to have “chosen” correctly, and his breakthrough has advanced scientific understanding of the wondrous cosmos.