The biblical creation model—starting with a universe that began transcendently, then continually expands and cools through time1 (popularly known as the big bang)—has passed yet another crucial scientific test, the time dilation test. Here’s some background: If the universe is expanding from a big bang creation event, the most distant objects observable must be moving away from Earth-bound observers at very high speed, as fast as 10 to 80 percent the velocity of light. At such speeds, according to special relativity (the familiar E=mc2), time on such bodies would run more slowly than on comparable “clocks” in Earth’s galactic neighborhood (because of the way velocity impacts the time factor).
Perhaps few people realize that clocks exist throughout the universe. An astronomer can tell time by Cepheid variable stars’ pulsation periods, by novae and supernovae’s progression through various eruption phases, by the rates at which certain stars form, by stellar burning rates, and by galaxy rotation periods. One barrier they have faced, however, in confirming the fundamentals of big bang creation is this: In the farthest reaches of space, at distances great enough to put the big bang model to a definitive test, astronomers could read only the very brightest clocks. And until recently, only a few of these clocks could be seen.
One breakthrough came in 1995 when astronomers first detected the time dilation effect in a certain class of supernovae (giant star burnout explosions).2 They found that very distant type Ia supernovae, located a few billion light years away, took about 10 percent longer than nearby type Ia supernovae to proceed through their eruption phases (from normal brightness to maximum brightness to minimum brightness). Now, in 2003, astronomers can observe more than a hundred type Ia supernovae, some as distant as eight billion years. The slowing they see matches the predictions so well as to give them overwhelming support for their model—the universe has indeed been continuously expanding for nearly 14 billion years.3
Meanwhile, this research has been boosted by study of an even brighter set of clocks: gamma ray bursts. First detected in the early 1990s, these gamma ray events have proven especially helpful because they are bright enough to be detected at distances approaching 12 billion light years. More than 400 gamma ray bursts have now been analyzed by various teams of astronomers worldwide, and the time dilation observed in them powerfully corroborates the dilation data from type Ia supernovae.4
Taken together with other findings (including the Tolman test, described in Facts for Faith5) these verifications of time dilation establish with considerable solidity that the redshifts (spectral lines’ stretching toward redder wavelengths) astronomers see in distant quasars and galaxies actually do reflect the great speed with which these objects are moving away from observers on Earth. This confirmation is important to Christians because thousands of years ago a half dozen Bible writers described the universe in various metaphors and direct statements—all depicting ongoing expansion from a transcendent creation event.6
Time dilation measurements provide dramatic and emphatic results. For this reason, two groups of people are bothered by the time dilation findings: 1) atheists, dismayed by the theological implications of a finely tuned universe about 14 billion years young—too young and with too much design for naturalistic evolution, and 2) proponents of Dr. Russell Humphreys’ model for a few-thousand-year-old universe, proposed to support a 24-hour interpretation of the Genesis creation days. According to Humphreys’ model, astronomers should see distant bright clocks running faster (a million times faster), not slower (by 10 to 60 percent), than similar clocks in Earth’s vicinity.7
For more detailed information, particularly on the topic of gamma ray bursts, readers may wish to access the July 15 (2003) “Creation Update” Web cast via our site.
- Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3d ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), 23-29; Hugh Ross and John Rea, “Big Bang—The Bible Taught It First!” Facts for Faith 3 (Q3 2000), 26-32.
- B. Leibundgut et al., “Time Dilation in the Light Curve of the Distant Type Ia Supernova SN 1995K,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 466 (1996), L21-L24; Garson Goldhaber et al., “Observation of Cosmological Time Dilation Using Type Ia Supernovae as Clocks,” in Thermonuclear Supernovae, Proceedings of the NATO Advanced Study Institute, held in Begur, Girona, Spain, June 20-30, 1995,eds. P. Ruiz-LaPuente, R. Canal, and J. Isern, series C, vol. 486 (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997), 777-84.
- A. G. Riess et al., “Time Dilation from Spectral Feature Age Measurements of Type Ia Supernovae,” Astronomical Journal 114 (1997), 722-29; G. Goldhaber et al., “Timescale Stretch Parameterization of Type Ia Supernova B-Band Light Curves,” Astrophysical Journal 558 (2001), 359-68; Bruno Leibundgut, “Cosmological Implications from Observations of Type Ia Supernovae,” Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics 39(2001), 67-98.
- Ming Deng and Bradley E. Schaefer, “Time Dilation in the Peak-to-Peak Timescale of Gamma-Ray Bursts,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 502(1998), L109-L114; Rong-Feng Shen and Li-Ming Song, “Characteristic Variability Time Scales of Long Gamma-Ray Bursts,” Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan 55 (2003), 345-49; I. G. Balåzs et al., “On the Difference Between the Short and Long Gamma Ray Bursts,” Astronomy and Astrophysics 401 (2003), 129-40.
- Hugh Ross, “Tolman’s Elegant Test,” Facts for Faith 8 (Q1 2002), 10-11.
- Gen. 1:1; 2:3-4; Job 9:8; Pss. 104:2; 148:5; Isa. 40:22, 26; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12, 18; 48:13; 51:13; Jer. 10:12; 51:15; Zech. 12:1; John 1:3; Col. 1:15-17; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2; Heb. 11:3, The Holy Bible.
- D. Russell Humphreys, Starlight and Time (Colorado Springs: Master Books, 1994).