astronomy Creation/evolution Physics

Einstein’s physics says there is no biblical creationist starlight travel-time problem

Review of the book “The Physics of Einstein” by Jason Lisle


I would say that there is no other biblical creationist book like this on the physics of Einstein. Astrophysicist Jason Lisle explains the subject matter in a style that any educated non-specialist could understand. However, there are sections that contain equations, which are important, but they are sectioned off into boxes so that one may skip those without loss of the train of thought.

In the book Lisle addresses questions such as:

“Is it possible to travel faster than the speed of light? Will future human beings build spaceships that can travel at ‘warp’ speed like in Star Trek? Is time travel possible? If so, could we ever travel back in time to prevent a catastrophe from occurring? What does E = mc2 really mean? What are black holes, and do they really exist? What would happen to a person who fell into a black hole, and how do we know? Is the universe really expanding? How long does it take starlight to travel from distant galaxies to Earth? Does this distant starlight require the universe to be billions of years old?” (p.7)

Figure 1: The Physics of Einstein

The book starts with a short history of Einstein and his discoveries in physics. Though Einstein never performed any physical experiments to test his theory of relativity, today it is one of the most well established theories of science.

One small initial criticism I would make is how Lisle uses the word ‘prove’ in relation to relativity theory. He does qualify what he means:

“My point here is that relativity, unlike most branches of science, is actually provable, within the context of its foundational premises” (p.9)

I think it is unfortunate that he was not clear enough on this. He writes that the proofs involve basic logic, basic geometry and basic mathematics. This is a different sense to experimentally testing a theory. In an experimental sense no theory can ever be proved. It can be tested and even disproven, but never proven. Even so, relativity—both the special and general theories—has been extensively tested on Earth and in space and has be found to be exquisitely consistent with all results.  Nevertheless, there is a domain where it is expected to break down, and that is at the quantum level.

Newton and Maxwell

Chapter 1 starts out with a discussion of Newtonian physics, involving gravitation as well as the three laws of motion. Newton realised that all motion is relative, that is, that any speed and direction of a particle is only meaningful when quoted with respect to a particular observer. And this sets the scene for the rest of the book. One important aspect of that is ‘reference frames’. The outcome of any experiment will always be the same for all inertial reference frames, though the measured values may vary. An inertial reference frame is one where the observer is not accelerating—but either stationary or moving in a straight line. So Newton’s laws of motion apply only to inertial reference frames. The Earth is not an inertial reference frame but for some applications it is approximated as such.

This is followed by Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism. Maxwell’s equations indicate that all electromagnetic radiation must propagate in a vacuum at an absolute speed—the speed of light. Maxwell developed his theory in the 1800s before Einstein developed his relativity theory in the early 1900s. However Maxwell knew approximately the speed of light (crudely measured at that time) and realised that it was the speed indicated by his equations.

So there is a paradox. Newtonian physics indicated no absolute motion. All motion is relative to any observer. But Maxwell’s equations indicated that all electromagnetic radiation must travel at the speed of light c, regardless of the observer’s frame of reference. Albert Einstein solved this paradox with his relativity theory.

Einstein resolved the paradox

Physicists at that time had made one false assumption which Einstein realised. Motion is relative to any observer but the speed of light is not. The speed which photons (packets of light at any wavelength) travel is always the universal speed limit, which we designate by the letter ‘c’. The current value of c is defined as 299,792.458 km/s. We say it is canonical, because it is a fundamental constant in the universe, and all inertial observers would measure the same speed.1

From chapter 2 onwards the author outlines how the laws of physics were changed by this key assumption that Einstein made.  This resulted in what we refer to as special relativity, which does not consider the effects of gravity.

Then Lisle explains the consequences when gravity is added. This came about by another key insight of Einstein, known as the equivalence principle. That states that any observer in an accelerating (non-inertial) frame cannot distinguish any measurement he might make from that he would make if in a uniform gravitational field.

In a very clear fashion Lisle explains some of thought experiments that ran through Einstein’s mind. They include trains or rockets (obviously hypothetical ones) travelling up near the speed of light c.  As a result some very strange effects are predicted by the theory—one of those is on time, which we call time dilation.

Many of us have heard of the ‘twin paradox’ where one twin goes off in a rocket ship at speeds of some fraction of the speed of light and returns from a nearby star many years later hardly aged at all when his twin has grown into old age. There are many such effects that are predicted by relativity on, not only time, but also on space (lengths) and masses. But there is neither time nor space (puns intended) in this review to detail it all.

However it is worth noting that standard special relativity assumes the speed of light is isotropic. That means it is the same in all directions, and that all Einstein’s thought experiments, as well as all laboratory tests of relativity assume this. The formula used to calculate any time dilation effect (like on the age of the twin who went off in the rocket ship) assume an isotropic speed c.

The expansion of the universe and the big bang

General relativity is discussed and Lisle goes onto explain how Einstein’s field equations as applied to the whole universe were solved in the 1920s.  In a book of this nature, which avoids a lot of technicalities, one might forgive the author for oversimplifying the case when it comes to the application of Einstein’s field equations to the universe. He correctly states that Alexander Friedmann was the first to find a solution for the universe under the assumption of an isotropic homogeneous matter distribution (known as the cosmological principle2). This was followed by Georges Lemaître who in 1927 found the same solution but also he had data that indicated to him that the universe was expanding.3 Credit for that ‘discovery’ was however given to Edwin Hubble, who published in 1929.

However others also solved those field equations including Einstein himself. But it seems Lisle has accepted that the Friedmann-Lemaitre solution is the correct solution because he goes onto state that the observed redshifted galaxies indicate that the universe is expanding and writes:

“Friedmann was right – our universe is expanding.” (p.177)

That might be right but it might not be. One must realise that cosmology is not operational science. The universe is not a lab in which we do experiments like we might in an earth based laboratory. Cosmology is at best a weak form of science; really it is historical science. The following is from an article in Science quoting two leading professional cosmologists:4

“’Cosmology may look like a science, but it isn’t a science,’ says James Gunn of Princeton University, co-founder of the Sloan survey. ‘A basic tenet of science is that you can do repeatable experiments, and you can’t do that in cosmology.’

‘The goal of physics is to understand the basic dynamics of the universe,’ [Michael] Turner says. ‘Cosmology is a little different. The goal is to reconstruct the history of the universe.’ Cosmology is more akin to evolutionary biology or geology, he says, in which researchers must simply accept some facts as given.” (emphases added)

Unfortunately Lisle seems to accept the notion that the universe is a lab on which we can do repeatable experiments. See page 181. There he recognises that the big bang is not scientific but suggests that future measurements may refute or confirm ideas like dark energy. A refutation is possible but big bang cosmology relies on dark matter and dark energy, so no matter what is observed the paradigm will be very difficult to kill off. I have said, and continue to state, that these are necessary fudge factors, that if the scientists operated by the same standard that they use in their Earth-based labs the increasing need for all of these dark entities (none of which are ever observed) refutes the validity of the Friedmann-Lemaître model.

The real issue here is that cosmology is underdetermined.5 There are potentially many different models that might describe the same observational data. One cannot say definitively that Friedmann found the correct solution for the universe and as a result of that that it follows that the universe is expanding. Galaxy redshifts could possibly be explained by mechanisms other than expansion of the universe.6

Nor can one state definitively that the oft quoted scriptures (e.g. Isaiah 40:22, 42:5, 44:24, 45:12; Job 9:8, 37:18; Psalm 104:2 etc) describe an expanding universe. God always spoke through human agents and used the cultural and linguistic knowledge that they had at the time. When similes are used in some the scriptures (in reference to glass, curtains and tents) they make no connection to the rubber sheet analogy of expansion of the fabric of space in big bang cosmology.7

Distant starlight

Chapters 17-19 deal with the question: How do we see distant starlight in an immensely large universe when the universe itself is only about 6 thousand years old? This is a very important issue and as such I will now focus this review on this topic.

But having said that, the whole book itself builds the message that true physical science, if properly researched and logically and mathematically developed, and tested experimentally, leads us to the conclusion that the laws of physics are the outworking of the creative hand of God. He is the One who created the laws of physics, discovered by notables such as Newton, Maxwell and Einstein. Both of the first two were biblical creationist believers, while Einstein was not a Christian, he held deist-type beliefs that there was an order to the universe.

If that is the case then the final issue discussed in the book is that there is a logical reasonable explanation for how we can reconcile the 6-thousand-year biblical history with the creation of all the stars and galaxies in the universe.

The curious case of the one-way speed of light

The speed of light, c, was mentioned previously in relation to Newton, Maxwell and Einstein and special relativity.  Most attempts to measure the canonical speed c have involved some apparatus that reflected a light signal back to the source. These measurements calculate the round-trip, time-averaged speed also known as the two-way speed of light, because an outgoing and an incoming signal is used. There have been several proposals (even claims) to measure the one-way speed of light but these turn out to be the two-way due to some implicit unrecognised assumption.

You might ask why would the speed of light be different outgoing to incoming? Lisle answers

“I don’t know of any reason why they should be different. But then I don’t know of any reason why they would be the same. People might emotionally prefer the symmetry of having the speed from A to B be the same as the speed from B to A. But does preferring something automatically make it so? Should we expect the universe to conform to our emotional preferences?

If there is one primary truth that we learn from the physics of Einstein, it is that the universe does not always conform to our preferences or expectations.” (p.209)

So it is not necessarily rational to just assume, without evidence, the one-way speed of light is the same in all directions.  One would need to measure the one-way speed of light. To do so one needs to exactly time the passage of a signal from A to B which are separated by some distance. Therefore one needs synchronised clocks located at A and B so that when the light signal is received at B we know what time it left A.

So how does one synchronise clocks separated by a distance? Well, as it turns out the only method is to send a light signal from B to A to synchronise B with A. But then when A sends back a light signal to B it becomes a two-way round-trip measure of the speed of light.

If we knew how long it took the synchronising light signal to travel from B to A, then we could measure the one-way speed on the return journey from A to B. But that means we need to know the one-way speed of light to measure the one-way speed of light.

If you had a radio transmitter located at M halfway between A and B and simultaneously sent radio pulses out to A and B, it should synchronise clocks at A and B. But this does not work because it assumes that the radio pulses travelling M to A and M to B, which are opposite directions, travel at the same speed. Hence the assumption is made that the one-way speed is the same in both directions.

And there is no getting around this problem, it is a catch-22. No matter what method you use, light, radio signals, sound waves through a rod, or whatever, it always means it is a two-way measure of the speed of light.

“To measure the one-way speed of light, we need to synchronize two clocks separated by some distance.

To synchronize two clocks separated by some distance we need to know the one-way speed of light.” (p.214)

But what if you use what is called Slow Clock Transport? You take two clocks at one location and synchronise them then separate one from the other very slowly then they should remain synchronised. This is a method sometimes used in metrology experiments but the only thing that it guarantees is that they were synchronised when together.

We know from special relativity that moving a clock, one with respect to another, time dilation will occur. The idea of the slow transport is to minimise the effect. Any time dilation is assumed to be zero because the speed of moving one clock is very slow. But this fact tacitly assumes the one-way speed of light is the same in all directions, another catch-22.

The reason for this is that the physics of time dilation depends on the one-way speed of light. Most text books which the reader may be familiar with on special relativity assumes the isotropic one-way speed of light, which is what we call the two-way speed c. So again the problem of circularity.

You say what about the famous measurement by the Danish astronomer Ole Rømer in 1670? Didn’t he measure the one-way speed of light using Jupiter’s moons, particularly Io, as a clock? Well, no! If you look into the details you’ll find that it was a two-way speed measurement.  

He assumed his clocks ‘ticked’ at constant rates regardless of whether Earth is moving toward or away from Jupiter. Because he reasoned that the time of the eclipsing of the moon varied according to the distance the Jupiter was from Earth was totally due to the change in the light travel distance he implicitly assumed the isotropic (two-way) speed of light. He neglected to account for any time dilation effects. He wrongly assumed that time is absolute, and not affected by velocity.

Nevertheless, it is remarkable that he determined a value for the round-trip speed of light very close to the modern-day measured value.

The issue of the one-way speed of light has now been debated for about one hundred years. It has been found that no experiment can ever measure it. All experiments measure the two-way speed. As a consequence of this, it would seem that it does not matter what you assume for the one-way speed provided that the round-trip speed always averages to the canonical speed c.

The epsilon equations

In 1970 John Winnie showed that the measurable effects of special relativity only depend on the round-trip speed and not on the one-way speed.  So regardless of what the one-way speed might be it can have no effect on the measurable physics in the universe. The one-way speed

“only affects how we define ‘simultaneous’ and thus how we time stamp various events.” (p.221)

Winnie published his two part paper “Special Relativity Without One-Way Velocity Assumptions” in the journal Philosophy of Science, Volume 37. He used the symbol c for the canonical two-way speed and introduced anisotropy via the symbol ε (Greek symbol epsilon). This is referred to as the Reichenbach synchronisation parameter.

Any choice of ε is valid provided that it is between 0 and 1. In Einstein’s derivation of special relativity he chose ε = ½. This represents the isotropic speed of light—that is, the one-way speed is the same in all directions. All other choices are anisotropic. For ε = 1 the inward-directed (to the observer) speed of light is infinite and the outward-directed speed is ½c. In such a case the average round-trip speed is c.

In fact, for all choices of ε the averaged round-trip (two-way) speed is always c. Winnie showed that regardless of which value of epsilon you choose relativity theory always gives the same correct answer.  And Winnie derived the equations of special relativity for time dilation and length contraction, due to relative motion, without making any assumption on the value of epsilon.  These equations are used by Lisle to illustrate the relativistic effects when non isotropic propagation is assumed, i.e. when ε ≠ ½.

The time dilation equation gives a much stronger effect when ε ≠ ½ than when ε = ½, the value Einstein chose. For the standard isotropic speed of light (ε = ½) the time dilation effect is quadratic in velocity. But with an anisotropic speed of light (ε ≠ ½) there is an extra term in the time dilation equation that is quasi-linear in velocity. This means that a low velocities time dilation strongly affects any measurement, and is strongly direction dependent.

For slow clock transport, with ε ≠ ½ , even as velocities go to zero, a large time dilation term should be included, which depends on the distance of separation of the two clocks and the two-way speed of light. Thus the clocks are not synchronised.  Only when ε = ½ is chosen (isotropic speed of light) will the two clocks remain synchronised. Hence by assuming that the clocks are synchronised it is logically equivalent to assuming that the one-way speed of light is the same in both directions.  Thus it is impossible to objectively measure the one-way speed. 

But this is what Rømer was attempting to do. How did he get the correct value for the two-way speed when he was trying to measure the one-way speed of light?

“Essentially, he made two (potentially incorrect) assumptions that exactly cancel. He assumed (1) negligible time dilation and (2) ε = ½ (the one-way speed of light is the same in both directions).” (p.229)

These two assumptions are related.

Now the observed time difference for the eclipsing of Jupiter’s moons is always 8.317 minutes8 measured over the distance of the Earth’s orbit from a point where Earth is closest to Jupiter to where it is farthest from Jupiter. If ε = ½ the incoming one-way speed of light is c (same as the two-way speed) and the 8.317 minutes is the time it takes the light from Jupiter to cross the earth’s orbit, and time dilation is essentially zero. If ε = 1 the incoming one-way speed of light is infinite (i.e. no travel time to Earth) and the 8.317 minutes is due to the time dilation of Earth‘s clocks. So regardless of the assumed value of epsilon the time difference is the same but the cause of it will be either time dilation or travel time or a combination of both.

“All methods devised to synchronise two clocks separated by a distance tacitly presuppose the one-way speed of light.” (p.230)

Regardless of the value of epsilon assumed (and hence the value of the one-way speed of light) there will be no difference in terms of any objectively measureable results of any conceivable experiment! Of course this means we use the full ε-dependent derivations for time dilation and length contraction.

As seen from the Rømer measurement the full time dilation formula depends on ε is such a way that we can never distinguish the effects of time dilation from the optical lag due to the light travel time. Thus it would seem we are free to choose the one-way speed of light.

This seems frustrating to many. Some suppose there must be a way to objectively measure the one way speed. But both history and the physics tell us that it is highly unlikely.

Others suppose that a one-way speed does have an absolute objective value and that it should be the same in all directions but that it is impossible to measure it—even in principle. They might think this is how God would have made the universe. But our experience with the physics of Einstein should tell us otherwise. The notion resembles the once-believed-in luminiferous ether, which allegedly provided the medium for light to propagate through. It was once believed that an absolute frame existed where the ether is stationary. But Einstein showed that since the laws of physics are the same for all inertial frames it is impossible to detect the frame of the ether, and that led to the rejection of such a frame as having anything meaningful to say about the universe.

The third option is that perhaps there is no objective observer-independent value for the one-way speed of light, in the same way that there is no absolute velocity rest frame.

The conventionality thesis

“As strange as this may seem, it appears that the one-way speed of light is not a property of the universe, but rather a humanly-stipulated convention. It is something that we are free to choose, and then our choice allows us to have a definition of whether or not two clocks separated by a distance are synchronized (relative to a given observer).” (p.235)

This is what we call the conventionality thesis. Though it has been argued over for more than a century, and never disproven, most physicists agree that it is true. This was definitely the view that Albert Einstein held. Thus we are free to choose a value of ε and use it to synchronise our clocks. Most will choose ε = ½ with the one-way speed of light the same in all directions. This choice was Einstein’s because it greatly simplifies the equations of special relativity and creates a symmetry, which is very convenient to solve physics problems. This choice bears his name—the Einstein Synchrony Convention (ESC).

Einstein briefly discusses the conventionality of the one-way speed of light in his primer book on relativity.9 He considered an experiment where two bolts of lightning strike the ground at the same time at locations A and B. An observer M is located exactly half-way between them.

” … if only I knew that the light by means of which the observer at M perceives the lightning flashes travels along the length A -> M with the same velocity as along the path B -> M. But an examination of this supposition would only be possible if we already had at our disposal the means of measuring time. It would thus appear as though we were moving here in a logical circle.” (emphasis added)

The two directions means light travels in two opposite directions towards the location of the observer at M. Einstein solved the dilemma by choosing a value for the one-way speed equal to c with his choice of ε = ½, meaning the same speed in both (all) directions. Einstein wrote that we get to stipulate the one-way speed:

“That light requires the same time to traverse the path A -> M as for the path B -> M is in reality neither a supposition nor a hypothesis about the physical nature of light, but a stipulation which I can make of my own freewill in order to arrive at a definition of simultaneity.” (emphases in the original)

We are free to choose the one-way speed of light, provided that the round-trip speed is the canonical speed c. This choice then defines what it means to synchronise clocks separated by a distance. This is just one more counter-intuitive result of relativity. But there are no valid grounds to reject it. Other counter-intuitive results of relativity, time dilation, length contraction and mass increase as an object approaches the speed of light have been confirmed in many experimental tests.

Objections to the conventionality thesis

Lisle writes that those who object to the thesis generally are not physicists but laymen who have some science education.  Personally I have also found this to be true.

Lisle writes that the most common objection is philosophical and not scientific in nature. They ask, why would the speed of light be different in different directions? But already as stated to measure the one-way speed of light you need to two synchronised clocks separated by a distance. But synchronisation is observer dependent. Thus there is no way to synchronise two distant clocks such that all observers will agree that they are synchronised. Different observers will disagree on the one-way speed of light as measured by those same clocks. This leads us to the conclusion that the one-way speed of light is not an objectively meaningful concept in this universe. To say that the one-way speed of light is ‘really’ the same in all directions, or ‘really’ different in various directions amounts to claiming that the correct unit of measure is feet and not yards.

Another objection is that Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism show that the one-way speed of light must be the same in all directions.  But Maxwell’s equation are derived in a closed system. That is they are most often implemented using integrals around closed surfaces. This means that they can only ever produce the round-trip speed of light.

The way the equations are usually written would, to the uninformed, appear to imply that the one-way speed of light is c. This is because the equations tacitly assume symmetry, and that means ε = ½ and thus the propagation speed c can only be a measure of the two-way speed of light. If Maxwell’s equation are written in the more generalised form10 where ε can take any value then we find that the propagation speed of light v depends on the direction of propagation and the value of ε, as follows:

v = c/2ε for the negative x direction

v = c/2(1-ε) for the positive x direction

If you substitute ε = ½ for the isotropic case you get v = c for both positive and negative propagation directions. This is then the standard way of writing Maxwell’s equations. But for all other cases where ε ≠ ½ the velocities in the two opposite directions are not equal and range between ½c and infinity for all allowed values of ε between 0 and 1. 

So Maxwell’s equations can never be used as an argument against the conventionality thesis. But as we saw, when expressed in their full generalised form they allow for the one-way speed of light to be different in different directions. Their standard form is just the special symmetric case with ε = ½. Einstein understood that the way Maxwell’s equations are normally written assumes ε = ½, and hence they cannot be used to show that ε = ½.

The Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC)

The Einstein Synchrony Convention (ESC), also called the ‘standard synchrony convention’, by virtue of setting ε = ½ assumes the isotropic one-way speed of light equal to c. As a result the physics is greatly simplified making it a very convenient choice. For this reason it is generally chosen. But the one-way speed of light could take any value between ½c and infinity as ε can take any value between 0 and 1. Outside of those limits causality would be violated.

One other very useful choice is to set ε = 1. Under this convention the outgoing light travels at ½c and the incoming light travels at an infinite speed, arriving instantly.11 Lisle named this the Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC).

Under this convention because the one-way speed of light towards the observer is infinite events are time stamped the moment they are first observed. This is quite a different situation than under the ESC. In that case the speed and direction of the observer must be taken into account when comparing the moment any observer determines the event occurred. This is because time dilation due to their relative velocity affects the answer they would calculate.

Thus under the ESC, the determination of whether two distant events are simultaneous depends on the observer’s velocity. But under the ASC it doesn’t. All Earth based observers would agree on the timing of celestial events when the ASC is used. However if two inertial observers are not co-located they will not agree on the simultaneity of the same distant events.  There is no possible synchronisation system that would allow all observers to agree on whether two clocks separated by a distance are synchronised. This is just the way God created the universe.

However, a subset of observers with the common property that they all have the same velocity (regardless of their location), using the ESC, will agree on whether two clocks separated by a distance are synchronised. Different observers with different velocities will disagree.

Conversely, a subset of observers with the common property that they are all co-located (regardless of their velocity), using the ASC, will agree on whether two clocks separated by a distance are synchronised. But observers at different locations will disagree.

Figure 2: The light cone drawn under assumption of speed of light being equal to c. The flashes in the past light cone indicate celestial events which are seen ‘now’ (in real time) under the ASC but in the past under the ESC.

These are the two special cases. For all other synchrony conventions with ε ≠ ½ and ε ≠ 1 simultaneity depends on both velocity and position of the observer.

Therefore when computing relativistic effects due to velocity the ESC is the better choice but when computing the timing of distant events the ASC is the better choice since it does not depend on velocity of the observer but only her position. Thus all Earth based observers using the ASC will agree on the simultaneity of distant events. Using the spacetime diagram (See Fig. 2) the ASC defines the surface of simultaneity as the past light cone. Note the flashes on the surface of the past light cone in Fig. 2.  ‘Now’ extends to all events on the past light cone. The ‘past’ itself is not visible under the ASC. On the other hand, the ESC defines the surface of simultaneity as the horizontal plane perpendicular to the time axis exactly between the past and future light cones. See the solid arrow labelled ‘Space axis’ in Fig. 2. Each convention defines an observer-dependent ‘now’ with the ESC depending on the observer’s velocity and the ASC on the observer’s position.

One can freely convert from one convention to another. It is merely a change of coordinates and does not change the physics. In fact, this is routinely done. The ESC provides for the simplest equations to calculate with but one can also use the full ε-dependent equations.

The distant starlight problem

Possibly biggest problem for many, both sceptics and even believers, is the issue of distant starlight. The history given in the Bible cannot be made to exceed 6000 years by very much, and so a straight-forward reading would indicate the whole universe is only about 6000 years old. Then how do we see distant galaxies billions of light-years away? By definition, the speed of light c is one light-year per year. We must also conclude that we are actually seeing light that left those distant galaxies. We don’t doubt the distances. Thus there are critics who claim that distant starlight is evidence that Genesis is wrong.

But once we understand the consequences of a full understanding of the physics of Einstein we see that there are holes in our critics arguments. They claim that the time between when the light left the distant galaxy and when it arrived at the earth is billions of years. But they have not specified the observer’s frame of reference, and have ignored time dilation, but most significantly they have assumed the ESC as if it is the absolute correct convention to use.

Since light coming from distant galaxies travels one-way to Earth the time it takes to get to Earth is the distance divided by the one-way speed of light.  But as we have seen above that is conventional, we are free to choose it. Under the ASC the incoming speed is infinite and the travel time is zero. There is no travel time. Thus under the ASC we are seeing all of the universe in real time. The ‘now’ we experience on Earth is the same ‘now’ for the whole universe that we see. Only in that sense do all Earth based observers agree on a universal ‘now’. Differently located observers would not agree.12

The critics’ argument is predicated on the assumption that the one-way speed of light must be c. But this has never been demonstrated. Lisle writes that even if some absolute value for the one-way speed of light could be discovered the “value may well turn out to be infinity for inward-directed photons”. (p.249)

The challenge for the critic is to show not only that the conventionality thesis is wrong but also, by an experiment, that the one-way speed of light is indeed c. So far no one has shown either. Therefore distant starlight is not a rational objection to the 6000-year biblical timescale.

Does the Bible use a synchrony convention?

This is the final section of this review. In the second last chapter of the book Lisle deals with some common objections not dealt with elsewhere. I will not summarise those but the reader is advised to read that section of the book.

Since the critics cannot prove the ASC false the apologetic argument is now complete. But is the ASC legitimate from a biblical standpoint? The remaining question then is, is the ASC the convention used in the language of the Bible?

Several times the Bible make mention of celestial events occurring at a particular time. There some synchrony convention is used. But if the Bible uses the ESC as the convention for clocks synchronisation and the creation of the whole universe took 6 Earth rotation days using the ESC then the distant starlight question remains unanswered. But Lisle suggests that the Bible, in fact, uses the ASC and he gives the following reasons.

  • Until modern times the ASC has always be the standard synchrony convention. Ancient astronomers used it to record the time of celestial events and evidenced from their records which we have today. They did not subtract any light travel time. They knew neither the distance to the objects nor the speed of light.
  • There is no evidence anyone used the ESC before the 1670s. It appears that Rømer was the first person to estimate a light travel time from a distant source. Rømer effectively assumed the one-way speed of light was the same as the round-trip speed, which is only true under the ESC. Since the scriptures were written long before Rømer it seems reasonable that they too used the ASC. (This involves the implicit assumption of an infinite one-way speed of light).
  • But couldn’t God have used the ESC long before people had thought of it, long before the speed of light was first measured? Yes, He could have. But if God used a convention (for anything) that people had not yet considered then the people at the time God gave the scriptures would not have correctly understood the Bible. Then how would we know that anything we read in the Bible follows the convention we currently understand?
  • We expect God used the linguistic convention of the time and people group to whom the biblical text was written. This logically extends to how we describe events observed in the cosmos. And from historical documents we know that the original audience used the ASC.
  • The difference in ESC or ASC for timing events is of little consequence13 except when timing celestial events. Events observed today, by the ESC occurred in our distant past. But by ASC reckoning they took place today. Conversely, distant events that take place today, under the ASC, are seen today—instantly when they occur. But under the ESC they will not be seen until some distant future time.
  • Do those Bible verses that speak of celestial events indicate that the light took a long time to travel to Earth or was it instantaneous? The Genesis 1 on the creation of the celestial bodies included the stars (verse 16) and says that they were all created on the fourth day (verse 19). Verse 15 indicates that they were created ‘to give light on the Earth’ but also it says ‘it was so’. That is, the light from the stars illuminated the earth on the same day they were created. No delay. Instant light travel time, just as the ASC requires. There are several Bible verses that indicate simultaneity between the celestial event and their light reaching Earth. Other good examples are Psalm 33:9, and Isaiah 48:7,13.

In conclusion, there is no distant starlight problem under the ASC because the universe appears in real time. What we call ‘now’ here on Earth is ‘now’ everywhere else in the universe. The language of the Bible uses a valid timing convention—the ASC—by recording all events when they are observed to happen. To object to its use makes about as much sense as objecting to the Bible for using cubits instead of the metric system of measurement.

I strongly recommend the book. It is an excellent resource and should find itself on the bookshelf of every keen biblical creationist irrespective of their understanding of the ASC. The book clearly shows that the physics of Einstein supports a biblical worldview.


1. Initially the speed of light was measured using standard length measures, but it was realised that the speed of light is fundamental to nature but length is not, and now, by international convention, c is defined.

2. The cosmological principle also states that there are no special places in the universe, ie. it has no centre or edge. Thus any observer anywhere in the universe would, on the largest scales, see roughly the same distribution of matter. That is a greatly simplifying assumption that made it possible to get a solution of the Einstein field equations, but it is not necessarily the truth.

3. Plotner, T., The Expanding Universe – Credit to Hubble or Lemaître? Universe Today, 11 November 2011,; Block, D.L., A Hubble Eclipse: Lemaître and Censorship, preprint, 2011,

4. Cho, A., A singular conundrum: How odd is our universe?, Science 317:1848–1850, 28 Sept 2007.

5. Hartnett, J.G, Cosmology’s fatal weakness—underdetermination, Journal of Creation 32(2):15–17, 2018.

6. If it could be shown that there is a physical association between low redshift galaxies and much higher redshift quasars, then that would bring into doubt the Hubble law which states that the higher the redshift the greater the distance. Such a claim has been argued by Halton Arp and others for many decades. For recent published research see Hartnett, J.G, Confirmed: physical association between parent galaxies and quasar families, Journal of Creation 32(3):3, 2018.

7. Hartnett, J.G, Does the Bible really describe expansion of the universe? Journal of Creation 25(2):125–127, 2011.

8. The moons are in orbit around the planet. The astronomer measures the time from the point where a moon disappears behind the planet to when it reappears on the other side of the planet. These times are logged from the time Earth is closest to Jupiter to when it is farthest away. The difference in the eclipsing time periods (longest minus the shortest) is measured as 8.317 minutes. Rømer assumed that this is due to the additional time lag the light had to travel to the Earth.

9. Einstein, A., Relativity: The Special and General Theory, 15th Edition. Authorized translation by Robert W. Lawson. Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, 1961.

10. Giannoni, C., Relativistic Mechanics and Electrodynamics without One-Way Velocity Assumptions,” Philosophy of Science, 45:17-46, 1978.

11. It should be noted that under the ASC the one-way speed of light can be determined from c/(1-cos θ) where θ is the angle whereby the light beam departs from the directly incoming direction. For light coming directly toward the observer travels at infinite speed because θ = 0° and light moving directly away from the observer travels at ½c because θ = 180°. And light moving perpendicular to the incoming direction travels at c becauseθ = 90°.

12. For example, hypothetical observers on a planet in the nearby Alpha-Centauri system 4.3 light-years away would experience a different ‘now’ to those on Earth. They would see the same celestial event but offset by 4.3 years due to the time dilation factor. However, because there are no other living beings elsewhere in the universe, Earth is the only planet with sentient life, the universal ‘now’ we experience here is the only relevant one.

13. The light travel time between any two places on the surface of the earth is extremely short—much less than a second. No human could perceive such a delay.

By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.

6 replies on “Einstein’s physics says there is no biblical creationist starlight travel-time problem”

Dear John,

Thanks for this article. I have three questions about ASC.

1. When light exists of photons which travel at an infinite speed, would that not imply a photon would be at different places at the same time?
2. Could there still be a ‘wave’ movement?
3. When ASC is applied for visible light, would that also imply ASC for the whole spectrum of electromagnetic radiation?

I am aware that ASC is a convention, just like ESC, and that it cannot be disproven by experiment and we cannot know if light in fact travels at an infinite speed. However, somehow it would seem there would have to be a physical reason for different speeds in different directions, and physical consequences (not in equations, but in reality). Thus my questions are more or less related to that idea, that given assuming ASC as a convention, for the sake of understanding how that would relate to physical reality also assuming ASC as such would lead to these questions. I hope you don’t mind. Not to be critical, its just that these questions have to do with some stumbling blocks for accepting ASC and models based on it. Thanks in advance for answering.


Please note, the use of ASC does not change the physics. It only changes the timing of events.
Q1: It is what the observer sees. If different observers are co-located they observe the same. But if different distances from the source their clocks experience different amounts of time dilation.
Q2: Yes
Q3: Yes


I am reading Starlight, Time, And The New Physics. I have also read your review of Lisle’s book about Einstein’s relativity. I am in a discussion with a high school science teacher who is a theistic evolutionist and he has said that he would become a young Earth creationist if someone could explain how GPS would work if ASC is correct. There would be some lack of synchronization when satellite clocks are set up, but is that enough to allow for triangulation, if the incoming signal from the satellites is instantaneous? If you could write a few paragraphs which would explain this it would be very helpful.


I don’t believe it is true that an explanation of GPS under ASC would convert him. A theistic evolutionist has his belief system tied in to the establishment science. It is usually not based on the fact of the revelation of God in the Bible superceding man’s knowledge or the claims of man’s knowledge.

Nevertheless, the answer is that you would not use ASC for the simple reason that clocks separated by distance cannot be synchronised except by sending a light signal. So you would use ESC and ‘slow clock transport’. Under that time dilation only depends weakly on the speed and not on distance. So it can be calibrated out. Under ASC time dilation depends strongly on the distance of separation. GPS satellites are moving, not geostationary, and their distances are changing. You could then calibrate for that but it would be far easier to assume the isotropic speed of light (ESC) for the purpose.


It seems that you are saying, yes it would work under ASC even if the signal from the satellite was instantaneous. Is that because of some sort of time dilation? Would that allow triangulation to any point on the surface of the Earth to pinpoint one’s location? Are you saying that the clock on the satellite would be moving faster in time than Earth clocks?

If the TE science teacher gets a solid answer for this question but he will not convert to YE (as he promised), then he will suffer embarrassment which could help lessen his ability to influence thought on our discussion list. In other words I will do my best to have him eat his words.

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//It seems that you are saying, yes it would work under ASC even if the signal from the satellite was instantaneous. Is that because of some sort of time dilation?//

Yes, yu could use it just like transforming to a different coordinate system. There is a time dilation term under ASC that is proportional to the distance from source (satellite) to receiver, even though there is no time lag.

// Would that allow triangulation to any point on the surface of the Earth to pinpoint one’s location?//

Yes. The equations, algorithm are more complicated but you could use it.

// Are you saying that the clock on the satellite would be moving faster in time than Earth clocks?//

Yes, the constellation of satellites is constantly moving. The satellites are not geostationary.


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