Tuesday, July 10, 2018

No Progress on Young Earthism's Biggest Problem: Startlight, Part 2

All is not well with the fundamentalist*project to solve their self-inflicted star-light problem; they are in a mother of a muddle over it and they are arguing between themselves.

The contention of the fundamentalist ministry Answers in Genesis is that the cosmos is a mere 6000 years old. This creates an immediate and obvious issue if one is to accept that the majority of stars are far more than 6000 light years in distant. Few people today would question this finding of astronomy any more than they would question that the Earth is a globe. For we are not dealing here with an abstruse question of mathematical astrophysics such as the precise details of the Big Bang (or even if it is in fact a distant reality), or how the Moon was formed long ago, or how cometary statistics can be explained with the hypothesized Oort cloud. Rather, we are dealing with something that is relatively elementary;  in fact the experimental data can be gathered by anyone who walks into their garden at night, perhaps armed with a telescope or binoculars, and looks up at the sky and observes the Milky Way: You don’t need a multi-billion dollar particle accelerator or state of the art telescope to gather this very elementary data and you don’t need a PhD in mathematical astro-physics to interpret this data: This data can be gathered and interpreted by any intelligent layman. On the assumption that the Milky Way is composed of stars then a few calculations will confirm that these stars are a lot further than 6000 light years.  This is about what you can observe and interpret in your garden and not about tentative & abstruse theoretical astro-physics. Everyone agrees that here we have strong evidence of a cosmos whose age runs into billions of years.; everyone, that is, except Christian fundamentalists. Cue the fundamentalist star-light problem: How does that light get to us in less than 6000 years?*2

In this second part to my series on the latest developments in fundamentalist attempts to address this issue, I will be looking at John Hartnet’s criticsm of fellow fundamentalist Danny Faulkner; as I related in part 1 Faulkner has proposed his own “solution” to the Genesis literalist’s star-light conundrum (See here for part 1). However, since my post on Faulkner’s “solution” a year ago other articles have popped on the AiG starlight page; in particular the latest article, written by Faulkner himself, is for lay readers. In this article Faulkner summarises his thinking (my emphases):

We need to recognize that God used many processes during Creation Week that are different from processes today. He didn’t make Adam instantaneously out of nothing, but instead formed him from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). God used a similar process to make the land and flying animals (Genesis 2:19). And he caused the plants to grow rapidly out of the ground on Day Three (Genesis 1:11–12). In other words, God rapidly and miraculously matured many things during Creation Week. It seems both logical and theologically consistent that, in a similar manner, God could have rapidly “matured” the universe, bringing the light from distant objects to the earth in a way similar to trees instantly sprouting and rising to full height.

In addition to creating the physical universe during Creation Week, God also created the laws that govern it. What if these laws were not in full effect until the end of that week, as we see when God created mature plants, land animals, and the first two humans?

Instead of bringing starlight to earth according to physical laws, God could have miraculously solved the light travel time problem on Day Four, before putting the laws that govern light travel into effect. After all, nearly everything about creation was miraculous.

This is an essentially layman’s summary of what Faulkner has already proposed: Viz: Star light problem? No problem! God “matured” everything miraculously during the “creation week” so that by the end of that week the cosmos was all but indistinguishable to the one we see. In Faulkner’s model star-light was, during the “creation week", miraculously rushed to its destinations all over the cosmos (including the Earth). Faulkner’s model is only a tad more honest than Whitcomb and Morris’s in-transit creation of photons, a suggestion they made in their 1961 book The Genesis Flood. Since then some fundamentalists (including AiG, - but not fundamentalist John Byl; see here) have become uncomfortable with this doctrine because it blatantly cuts across the integrity of the creation, a creation Christians see as the work of a God who does not lie: Signals created in transit would effectively have been created to “lie” about their origins and deliver a false report about the events in the distant cosmos.

Unlike Whitcomb and Morris, Faulkner is saying that star-light has truly traversed its way across billions of light years of space, albeit miraculously hurried along by God himself during the creation week. But…and this is the big “but”….  as we saw in my first part Faulkner’s model, nevertheless, also has built into it bogus histories: Distant cosmic events like supernovae, which have been observed by humans over hundreds if not thousands of years, either would have to be all crammed into the creation week or deceptively pre-embedded in the light rays that God “shoots” across the universe: So, we're back to light beams which at best create false impressions and at worst deliver false reports and fake news! Faulkner can claim that in his “solution” light signals are telling the truth as to where they are from, but his model would involve so much “creation week” special pleading and contrivance that he’s almost back to square one and forced to posit a model which employs bogus histories.

But in the final analysis Faulkner can just sweep all these concerns away; he can claim God is God and divine fiat means that God can do what He wants even if his activity effectively tells lies creates a false impression and deceives us about the way the cosmos works.  And yet it seems that Faulkner’s model is the (currently) preferred "solution" at AiG. Evidence for this is indicated by the fact that Faulkner’s boss, Ken Ham, promoted Faulkner’s work in a blog post (see part 1). Moreover, since part 1 there has been another article posted on AiG’s star light page by a fundamentalist called Lee Anderson. This article, as we shall see, also suggests that Faulkner’s ideas go down well at AiG. The abstract of this article reads as follows (my emphases):

The purpose of this paper is to evaluate such cosmological models from a biblical (exegetical and theological) perspective, seeking to determine if they are consistent with Scripture. The specific interpretive claims of these models will be examined, as well as their overarching implications concerning the principal focus of the Genesis creation narrative and the intent of the biblical author in light of his understanding of the text’s original readers. This paper concludes that these cosmological models are dependent on strained exegesis and that they introduce interpretations dependent on modern scientific ideas that would have been foreign to the original readers.

I’ve only dipped into this paper but the general impression is that this fundamentalist theologian isn’t too impressed with the efforts made so far by fundamentalist anti-scientists to solve the star-light problem and that they kowtow too much to modern science. In Anderson’s view fundamentalist astronomers should spend more time interpreting the Bible according to fundamentalist hermeneutic rules before they move onto the science. Anderson has at least got one thing right: Viz: Modern scientific ideas would have been foreign to the original readers. But it never occurs to this kind of writer that perhaps that is why the ancients generated a mythical creation account rather than a literal account; a literal account would have been well beyond their concept range. All they needed to know was the essential theology of creation; i.e. the order and purpose of creation and that it was God who made it and organised it, contrary to many of the pagan ideas at the time.

Anderson is very critical of Russ Humphreys’ time dilation “solution” which in the final analysis admits to the existence of billions of years of time in the universe at large, although gravitational time dilation is supposed to slow time in the vicinity of the Earth so much that only 6000 years have passed on Earth since creation. Russ Humphreys' efforts represent another failed fundamentalist attempt to solve their star-light problem. Near the end of the article Anderson comes out in favour of Faulkner’s model:

It is critical to foster a commitment to a sound grammatical-historical hermeneutic and to a robust theological method (moving from biblical theology, to systematic theology, to worldview development, to interaction with scientific data) so as to avoid inadvertently imposing on the biblical text models that are foreign to the Scriptures. Faulkner’s proposal for a new solution to the light travel time problem does this (albeit in a basic fashion; see Faulkner 2013b; Faulkner with Anderson 2016, 199–220). It would be encouraging to see more works that take a similar approach.

This, I think summarises where things are at with AiG: Namely, a fall-back on the cop-out of Creation Weekism. Problems? All the problems were miraculously solved during the creation week! As an aside: The quote above tells us how clueless Anderson is about Biblical hermeneutics. The connotational nature of natural language means that the resources of translation form a huge hinterland of information and processing power, a hinterland which exists well beyond the Biblical text: Scriptural interpretation accesses the resources of history, current cultural knowledge and common understandings of human nature. Therefore determining what is foreign to the Biblical writers must necessarily access the modern historian’s view of those ancient writers. Thus our interpretations of Biblical texts are necessarily a function of our own culture and knowledge; we cannot escape our world view and therefore we are epistemically responsible for getting that world view right, thus enabling us to deliver correct interpretations of scripture. Fundamentalist Jason Lisle also gets this wrong; see here. Fundamentalists read scripture with the motive of seeking absolute certainties, certainties which give them a pretext to condemn outsiders  in the strongest possible terms (especially “apostate” Christians!). Therefore fundamentalists much prefer a model of Scripture whereby they believe they can bypass epistemic doubts & difficulties thus justifying in their minds their highly authoritarian pronouncements.


So, after that long preamble I now wish to turn to Hartnett’s criticism of Faulkner’s star-light “solution”, the current favourite at AiG. Mercifully, Hartnett’s article is short: I have to confess that there’s a side of me which begrudges having to untangle the complex mental knots that fundamentalists tie themselves into with their anti-science! There are other more constructive things I could be doing with my time.

However, I feel sorry for Hartnett. As with Russ Humphreys Hartnett doesn’t want to patch in miracles willy-nilly to make it all work; rather he wants to do a bit of genuine science, something that fundamentalist culture with its emphasis on a God who “speaks stars into existence” does not favour. Of Faulkner’s proposal Hartnett writes the following (my emphases):

Firstly, this is not a new proposal. In my book Starlight Time and the New Physics, first published 2007, I mentioned this very proposal as a possibility, which I discounted immediately. I excerpt the relevant text here:

“There is a way around this issue, a really complex and ad hoc miracle that would enable the creation of a beam of light from source to observer so that the observer appears to see current information. For example, when the supernova named 1987a occurred in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is about 170,000 light-years distant, God could have miraculously translated the light across 170,000 light-years’ distance of space instantly (as if the photons had passed through a wormhole) and then just outside the solar system let it move at the usual speed of light. This hypothesis is untestable and, though not impossible, seems implausible, to put it mildly. Miracles in the Bible are rare and special events, the purpose of which is clearly understood and/or revealed. This does not fit that category; it looks more like a convenient set of miracles invented ad hoc to overcome a difficulty”. (Hartnett 2010, p. 27)

Faulkner’s concept is that God miraculously did it, so it is exactly as I envisaged there. The most serious problem with his proposal can be broken down this way. If you say that while God did this He also suspended all the other laws of physics necessary to translate the light (the photons), from the source to the receiver, but only when it arrives in the solar system those laws again all apply, then the proposal is untestable. (There is nothing else to do.)

Hartnett then goes on to consider what he thinks might be the observable effects of Faulkner’s proposal: After all, Hartnett’s article is entitled:

Critique: Faulkner’s Miraculous Translation of Light Model Would Leave Evidence

Hartnett looks at the kind of mechanisms God might have used to carry out the miracle: If God miraculously accelerated the photons then we would expect that the light from across the inverse would  show “massive blue shifts”. Alternatively, if God did it by stretching space then we would see massive redshifts. At one point Hartnett is reminded of Setterfield’s failed light-speed-decay hypothesis where, he says, an unholy collection of improbable coincidences are needed. Presumably Harnett sees Faulkner's work as just as unholy!

But why should Hartnett’s otherwise reasonable call on the logic of physics carry any weight at all among fellow fundies when they are apt to use arbitrary divine magic fiat to contrive anything? (cf “God spoke the stars into existence!” - a variant on "hey presto!"). Why in the miraculous creation week should stretching or accelerating light result in spectral shifts if the laws of physics don’t apply during that week? Surely extrapolating physical logic into that week is a hazardous exercise; at what point do the laws of physics as a reliable guide to what has happened end and the inscrutably miraculous start? Faulkner has the freedom to rig up anything and he can simply wave it all away with a “God did it!”, end of story, no science is needed!  Hartnett, however, is aware that Faulkner’s thesis does provide a bottomless supply of ad hoc miraculous resorts waiting in the wings to bail out his “theory”, although clearly Hartnett doesn’t like it one little bit:

I am sorry to say that Faulkner’s proposal here is not new and it does not have any substance at present. Currently, therefore, it fails in what it sets out to do. Unless these objections are answered it is not a solution to the problem.

If you contain the substance of the model to the totally miraculous, in the sense that you postulate that none of the obvious observations are possible due to God suspending all relevant laws so that these known aspects of physics do not apply in this instance, it is an ad hoc proposal which can never be refuted. I included the idea in my book, along with several others, because I cannot be certain that God did not act that way, but in my opinion it is highly unlikely.

The science starved Hartnett craves a coherent comprehensible creation where light signals don’t deliver a set of unholy lies and where an underlying physical logic makes the cosmos comprehensible:

I expect a creationist solution to include the fact that everything we see in the universe obeys the current testable laws of physics, which are the creation of God (Hartnett 2011b). That does not mean He did not suspend laws while creating, but that what we observe can be relied upon using known physics.

Hartnett is making a forlorn call to physics but it’s not going to wash with the literalist ultras who so thoroughly enamored of divine magic. 

In part 3 I will look at Faulkner’s reply to Hartnett, but we might have to wait another year: Fundamentalist anti-science is just not worth spending too much time with.

*1 I use the term fundamentalist to designate an attitude rather than plain Biblical literalism. Although Biblical literalism is often a condition of fundamentalism it is not a sufficient condition. For example Christians like Paul Nelson and Sal Cordova believe in a young earth but their willingness to form constructive relations with Christians who don’t agree with them makes them amenable parties and excludes them from a fundamentalist classification. The Wiki definition of "fundamentalism" sums it up well:

Fundamentalism usually has a religious connotation that indicates unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs. However, fundamentalism has come to be applied to a tendency among certain groups—mainly, though not exclusively, in religion—that is characterized by a markedly strict literalism as it is applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions, leading to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which advocates believe members have strayed. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established "fundamentals" and their accepted interpretation within the group is often the result of this tendency.

We can see this cultic insider vs outsider ethos well developed in Ken Ham.

*2 As has been pointed out by Faulkner himself, the fundamentalist star-light conundrum starts as soon as Adam sees the stars!

Relevant links

The AiG Star-light page can be found here:


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