Monday, April 26, 2010

The Age of Light

Let the glory of the LORD endure forever;
Let the LORD be glad in His works

One interesting facet of the debate between Old-Earth Creationists and Young-Earth Creationists has to do with the age of light (not like "the Internet age" or "the Gilded Age," but like "What do you think is the age of that tree over there?"). Old-Earth Creationists point out that we see galaxies that are many millions of light-years away from the earth. Since a light-year is, by definition, the distance that a particle of light travels in the span of a year, the necessary implication is that events seen from many millions of light-years away must be events that happened many millions of years ago (which is when the journey of many millions of light-years must have been begun in order to be completed now).

Young Earth Creationists uniformly take refuge in the idea that the photons only appear to be that old but are not actually that old (not that photons in any way exhibit signs of age internally, but that the relative paths of protons from the same apparent source give the appearance of their having come a certain distance which implies that they are of a certain age). Theories advanced to reconcile this phenomenon with a young earth include the highly imaginative C-Decay theory and the idea that God created light already in-transit from galaxies far, far away.

I favor the latter explanation. One difficulty asserted against my position is that of God's motivation for such a thing. Why, the Old-Earth Creationist asks (as, indeed, do the non-Creationist and the C-Decay Theorist as well), would God create a deliberately deceptive universe? After all, the light-on-the-way created by divine word does not consist solely of static points of light. This is not just a Lite-Brite set. The light en route to Earth is depicting events in the Cosmos—explosions and implosions and astrophysical activity—that, if the light-on-the-way theory is correct, never really happened. Is God pulling a prank on us? Did He, foreseeing the birth of atheistic scientists, decide to dupe them with a little divine legerdemain? That seems out of God's character does it not?

I believe that this objection is really not a strong one at all, for I find it quite simple to imagine God's motivation in creating the Universe as He did—Beauty. The purpose given in Genesis for the creation of the stars is to provide light and to give a marking for seasons. The constellations only accomplish their seasonal tasks by their projection of an astrophysical drama upon the Earth—fixed and immutable stars simply do not mark seasons very well. But beyond that utilitarian perspective, fixed and immutable shafts of light from stars also are not very compelling visually. Is it possible that God just didn't like the way that would look?

A brief perusal of the pictures showcased from the Hubble Space Telescope (see link in the photo caption above) evidences few close-ups of individual burning balls of gas. Our predilection is for dramatic pictures of stars in motion. In our stargazing we have a penchant for verbs rather than nouns, desiring to gaze upon actions rather than upon mere objects. Even our scientists, hardnosed data sifters that they ostensibly are, seem to recognize what is beautiful in the nightly heavens.

Theologians have a tendency to minimize the topic of aesthetics in our treatments of God. Creationists, it seems, are vulnerable to the same weakness. Paley's watchmaker notwithstanding, we must allow for a God who is as much artist as artisan. For artists, illusion is not at all a bad thing; it is, as a matter of course, the objective.


Jeff said...

Bart, Excellent article. God did not create the universe to deceive man, but man has deceive himself via sin. What God meant as testimony of his glory, man has twisted to rob God of his glory.

Baptist Theology said...

Aesthetics? Yes!
Legerdemain? Yikes!

volfan007 said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly, and yes, God is the Master Artist. He looked at His creation, and He said that it was GOOD.

And, there's absolutely no reason, no real reason, to believe in an Earth that's millions and millions and millions and millions and billions of years old. All of that is just the guess of men, who have no way to know that; and many of them have an agenda in their lost condition. They dont want there to be a Creator God that will, one day, judge created man.


bapticus hereticus said...

Bart: Theologians have a tendency to minimize the topic of aesthetics in our treatments of God.

bapticus hereticus: Well said, Bart. Such a belief propels the writings of philosophers and theologians like Whitehead and Hartshorne. Inherent in the universe, given its inherence in God, is beauty, value, and creativity. Kaufman, although I do not think he affirms a universe that assumes God, asserts that constituent of the universe is a drive toward order. In the beauty and vastness around us is rich and deep meaning.

Grosey's Messages said...

It is interesting that the focus in Genesis 1 is on God creating light... above stars.. hence the aesthetic above the means.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will serve as signs for festivals and for days and years.15 They will be lights in the expanse of the sky to provide light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to have dominion over the day and the lesser light to have dominion over the night—as well as the stars

Strider said...

Interesting post Bart. I actually became an old earth creationist over this very issue. The idea that God was 'in a hurry' seemed totally out of character to me. I do think that preconceived ideas have warped both sides of the argument and that is frustrating because I believe that God is glorified when we find the truth in what He has created.

r. grannemann said...

But isn't it a curious kind of beauty?

Supernova with signature light spectra from atoms apparently being formed, nebula of hydrogen and helium coalescing under gravity (apparently the creation of a star), an electromagnetic Doppler shift which is greater the further the galaxies are away (suggesting a Big Bang). A rather curious beauty indeed for something that isn't there.

Anonymous said...


The speed of light is a constant so long as it is measured in a vacuum. The more dense space is the slower light will travel. Some secular scientists in Great Britan have postulated outer space is more dense than it is in our part of space and consequently objects in outer space would appear to be much farther away than they actually are. They are in the process of testing their hypothesis but it will take about ten years to finish the study. I once had a link to the article but cannot put my hands on it right now.

Tim B

Christiane said...

"Where, except in Uncreated Light, can the darkness be drowned?"

--Letters to Malcolm
C.S. Lewis

The term 'uncreated light' is often used by the Orthodox in their description of the light that Christ emitted during the Transfiguration.
The Orthodox consider this light to be the uncreated light of Christ's Divine Nature, which for a moment, the apostles present were permitted to see in all of its glory.