How does a biblical creationist explain the fact that we see the sun?

Figure 1: The sun is 150 million km from Earth.

Genesis chapter 1 tells us that God created the sun on the 4th Day of Creation week and the chronology of the Bible puts that about 6 thousand years ago.

The sun is at a distance of about 150 million km and that means light travelling at about 300,000 km/s would take about 8.3 minutes to travel from the surface–the photosphere–to Earth.

But doesn’t the very existence of the sun present a problem for biblical creation? The idea is that the sun is no more than 6 thousand years old. Then how does light reach Earth in that short period of time?

No problem you say! It only takes 8.3 minutes to get to Earth so it easily fits into the 24-hour period of the Creation Day 4. And certainly into the 6 thousand years that have passed since Creation. You say there is no problem there.

In relation to the stars and galaxies, millions and billions of light-years distant, it is admitted by biblical creationists that there is a problem–a starlight travel-time problem–which some have suggested potential solutions for.

My current view is that the ASC model is by far the simplest solution to that problem (see list below).

Here and now I want to focus on the Earth and our solar system only. Let’s not venture farther than that.

Along with all the stars, God created the sun on the Day 4 of Creation week. All biblical creationists must agree on that. It is in the scriptures (Genesis 1:14-19).

Based on the distance to the sun and the canonical speed of light, c, the light travel time from the sun to Earth is about 8.3 minutes. But, and here’s the problem, it has been suggested that light from the core of the sun takes about 170,000 years to reach the surface. This is because gamma photons, generated in the thermonuclear fusion reaction at the sun centre, undergo a random walk as they are absorbed and re-emitted by nuclei on their way to the surface. This is based on modelling the average step length near 1 mm.See Figure 2.

Figure 2: Photon’s random walk. Credit: Richard Pogge, Ohio State U

Now, plants were created on the 3rd Day
(Genesis 1: 11-13). At that time there was no sunlight, but if the sunlight came the next day there would be no problem. How did the sunlight reach the plants the next day after God created the sun?

This question assumes the sun was created as a ball of hydrogen gas and thermonuclear reactions had to start up in the core. Only after the gamma photons from that reaction randomly walked their way to the surface, taking about 170,000 years, could light from the surface fly off to illuminate the earth.

Adam was created on the 6th Day. How did he see sunlight on the 6th Day? Should it not have taken another 170,000 years for the light from the core to reach the sun’s surface and then shine on Earth?

So if God created the sun with nuclear fusion in the core leading to generating light from its surface, for the sun to be visible on the 4th Day and after that, God would have had to have created it about 170,000 years before the 1st Day (when He created the Earth). But that seems to conflict with the order of events in Genesis chapter 1, doesn’t it?

This is then a light travel-time problem for biblical creation. If the solar system is 5 billion years old, as big bang cosmic evolution believers say, then there is no problem. How then does a biblical creationist explain this conundrum?

The first suggestion has been what we call ‘mature creation’. Mature creation in this case is the idea that God created (on Day 4) the sun fully functioning with all those zillions of gamma photons already in place at all depths in the solar interior. That is certainly a possibility but it is one that I take issue with.

We should not consider for a minute that that is the solution to the starlight travel-time problem for light from the galaxies. It would imply God created all the light beams in place, between all the stars and Earth. Each beam carries real information about its source. Then if this is the case all those light beams carry false information (because their source stars never existed prior to the day of their creation about 6000 years ago) and thus the light we see in the universe does not represent real history of the universe. That idea is called ‘created in transit’ and should be rejected.

So how do we avoid the idea of ‘created in transit’ for the gamma photons from the core of the sun?

There is only one biblical creationist cosmogony that I know which can explain it, and it does it easily. It is Jason Lisle’s ASC model. That ASC model says that the physics of Einstein allows us to time events as in the Days of Creation, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. And we time those events by when an Earth observer could see the events happening.2 Thus when the light from the sun first arrived at the Earth it was Day 4. It does not matter, it is even irrelevant, how long the light took to travel. Read Can we see into the past?

This is the language of the Bible. Events occur when they are observed. The sun was first seen by Earth observers on Day 4 and that defines when the sun was created. That event occurred 3 days after God created the Earth on Day 1 about 6 thousand years ago. See Related Reading for more information on this.

References

  1. R. Mitalas & K.R. Sills, On the photon diffusion time scale for the sun, Astrophysical Journal 401(2): 759, 760, 1992.
  2. Even there was no human on Earth on Day 4 the plants were perfectly good observers to receive the light from the sun. They react to sun light. The plants use solar photons for their vital life-giving process called photosynthesis.

Related Reading

17 thoughts on “How does a biblical creationist explain the fact that we see the sun?

  1. John,

    Everything was going so well until you got to here //That is certainly a possibility but it is one that I take issue with.//
    Then, in the next para or so, I got that gnawing sensation in the pit of my stomach of you suddenly jumping the gun!!

    All of a sudden you move to ASC, and I get this sense you are trying to force-fit it in, for whatever other reasons you may have. Sorry I’m being blunt, but I do truly not mean disrespect to you or you painstaking work. I too am coming to understand ASC as I read about it more. But the sudden jump of the gun?…

    Strictly, it may be possible that fission is taking place, even near the surface. So there is no diffusion problem that would strictly matter, even if it were fusion going on a few thousands of km under the “surface” of the sun. We must recall that that process is going on during the creation week, and strictly God likely accelerated things in that week.

    I have not read ref 1. but even so I suspect it would be very difficult for scientists to definitively state that it is ONLY fusion that is generating light, and that too ONLY AT the center of the sun.

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    • Vincent, Actually I was presenting more of the problem than the solution. I mention that the ASC does not have a problem here but all other models have to come up with some hitherto unknown solution to yet again another light travel-time problem.

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  2. Hi John,

    I feel like this is stretching the idea of the photon random walk a bit. Is a photon that has been absorbed by an atom and re-emitted *really* the same photon any more? Maybe we could consider it to be so, if has the the exact same energy and is emitted “immediately.” But what if it has a different energy, or it takes a non-zero amount of time for the atom to de-excite and emit it? What if the atom instead emits two photons each with less than half the energy of the original photon? If we see an atom emit a photon, we have no way of knowing if it was because it was excited by another photon of the same energy, collisionally excited by bumping into another atom and is now radiating the excess energy, or is perhaps radioactive and naturally in a non-stable state. Thus we cannot say anything about the history of a photon beyond the point where it was emitted.

    It’s convenient to talk about a gamma ray photon being created in the center of the Sun and taking 170,000 years on average to reach the surface, but that’s a convenient shorthand for discussing the deeper reality of *energy transport* from the core to the surface. In fact, energy is transported out primarily by radiative diffusion only for about 70% of the way to the surface of the Sun, before switching over to convection. The reality is that the vast majority of the energy in the form of gamma ray photons liberated in the Sun’s core will emerge at the surface as multiple photons with a range of much lower energies, some of the energy being lost along the way in the pressure that keeps the Sun stable against gravitational collapse or the convectional outer layer of the Sun.

    Thus, the photons we receive from the Sun do not contain “real information” about a supposed 170,000 year history; they contain information only about the time since they were emitted in the photosphere and the environment they passed through (the Sun’s atmosphere) on their way to Earth (~8.3 minutes in ESC, zero time in ASC). The photons emitted from the surface are due entirely to the fact that the photosphere has an effective blackbody temperature of ~5,777 K, which causes it to emit—roughly—a blackbody spectrum. Why is this outer layer so hot? Well, because the next inner layer is a little bit hotter, and the layer below that hotter still, until you reach the core, all balanced in a careful equilibrium against gravity.

    Thus, when creating the Sun, God wouldn’t need to create a cool ball of gas with the same composition as the current Sun, then wait 170,000 years for the outer layers to heat up enough to emit light like we see it today; He could simply have created it basically the same way we see it now—with the photosphere already hot and the internal material and thermal composition all in place—and let the light from it be emitted naturally. (He could also have created the countless photons found all across the spectral range all throughout the interior of the Sun if He wanted to, but as these would be produced anyway within the next few milliseconds I don’t know how much of a difference it would make.) Under the ESC it would then take 8.3 minutes for the freshly-emitted light from the photosphere at the surface to actually reach Earth, but as that is less than 24 hours I don’t have a problem with it. Thus I don’t see this actually being a light time travel problem as we only need to account for the time it takes for light to reach Earth from the Sun’s surface, not a supposed 170,000 year history associated with each photon.

    I do want to note that mature creation is definitely a topic I personally struggle with a *lot* in astronomy. Creation ex nihilo of any kind must, of course, result in some degree of mature creation; the plants created on day 3 must have been mature (or Adam and Eve couldn’t have eaten fruit from them on the seventh day). Did the trees have growth rings recording a fictitious history of growth? Or did they, perhaps, grow supernaturally quickly? We can’t cut one of those trees down to check, but in astronomy we see things that seem to be in the process of undergoing events that require millions of years, such as what appear to be ongoing galaxy mergers, or the tidal remnants of such. Were those simply created “as is”, with the structures indicating a history that never actually happened, or were they too somehow accelerated to get what we see as a result of natural laws that God created? It’s one reason I was drawn to theories of time dilation, as it allowed the time necessary for these structures to form naturally without needing to posit that they are actually created that way. It’s definitely a tricky topic, and one I’m still working through (as I am Lisle’s “The Physics of Einstein” book!).

    Cheers,
    Daniel

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    • Daniel

      Thanks for your insightful comments. I agree with much of what you have written.

      I do not claim to have the answer for what could be another light travel-time problem. Your suggestion that the internal gamma photons do not carry any specific information from the core could be the answer.

      Modelling of the sun also involves modelling the fusion reaction that goes on in the core. The scattering process that has been modelled as a random walk of the gamma photons to the surface sets a timescale for that process. By assuming a ‘created in place’ mature creation we can justify the fact that Adam could see the sun on Day 6, as it is a 8.3 minute journey to Earth from the photosphere (under assumption of ESC). I also agree this is not like a galaxy merger or even a type III supernova remnant where it seems that much more than 6,000 years of process has occurred. But I suggest that we should be a little more careful.

      The timescale as indicated by the energy transport to the surface is just one of many with star formation and collective structures of stars and even of galaxies. I have focused only on this particular timescale because it involves the star next to us. As such it is difficult to imagine any time dilation cosmology that could provide any additional time after the sun was created with the fusion reaction starting in the core for the 170,000 years for gamma photons to get to the surface to illuminate the photosphere.

      Lisle’ ASC model needs mature creation of all structures where any process would indicate the elapse of time greater than 6 thousand years, since creation. But that period is for time after Day 4 creation. What I am trying to get at here is anything that carries information that would have been observed on Day 4. The presence of fusion at the core of the sun being consistent with all our observations means that we must say that the gamma photons, which we indirectly see now, never began in the core at all but were created at every level in the sun. Or we can adopt the ‘language of appearance’ found in Lisle’s model.

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      • John,

        Thanks for the clarification; I understand your general drive better, of which this is but a single specific case.

        It sounds to me like the problem can be stated as: “Did God create the Sun with an immense number of photons throughout its interior (in the range of energies that would be found in its interior today), and if so, does this indicate a history that never was, similar to created-in-transit starlight?”

        I think the cases are different. If I see a photon emitted from the photosphere, the photon I see has not just concluded a 170,000 year journey from the core of the Sun (for one thing, if I can SEE it, it’s not a gamma ray photon!); it was created 8.3 minutes ago (under the ESC) from a very hot atom. Why that atom is hot, ultimately, is a complicated process involving the flow of heat from the core of Sun, but the photon I actually observed has a history no longer than ~8.3 minutes.

        I don’t think it’s really useful to think in terms of a stream of photons taking 170,000 years on average to escape the Sun. That’s a mental model to help represent the flow of energy from the Sun’s core, but like all models in science we must be careful of taking it too far. It’s a hypothetical situation that never exactly occurs in reality. Heat is also transferred by conduction, by hot atoms and ions colliding with each other, and this process is only limited by the speed of sound within the Sun, which is much higher than in the Earth’s atmosphere due to the incredible pressure. I think, ultimately, the important quantity to use when talking about the rate of information transfer within the Sun is the speed of sound in the interior, not the average random walk of a hypothetical photon.

        Thus ultimately, I don’t see a problem with the Sun being created mature, any more than I’d have a problem with, say, the hemoglobin in Adam’s red blood cells already carrying oxygen before he took his first breath. Nothing we can actually, currently observe on the surface of the Sun is older than ~8.3 minutes, which fits just fine within a Biblical timeline. We can use models to work backwards to figure out the ongoing process that must be occurring throughout the Sun as it is today, but this doesn’t imply that God must have waited the entire time it would naturally take to happen any more than plants being created mature on the third day would have required God to wait for them to grow. It’s an entirely different case, in my mind, to seeing a photon that’s been travelling for a million light years to bring news of a supernova happening.

        Sorry for the second wall of text there, I think it’s a fascinating thing to debate!

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  3. I fail to see why a “mature sun” explanation is incompatible with the various explanations offered for distant starlight. ASC or gravitational time dilation may be the answer to the distant starlight problem, but why couldn’t God have created the sun fully mature on Day 4, just as He created Adam, the trees and the animals fully mature on their respective days?

    Besides, ASC claims that God created a “mature” universe, does it not? After all, when Adam looked at the stars on Day 6, he was seeing mature stars that were only 2 days old! Also, the same argument that applies to photons taking thousands of years to reach the sun’s surface would also apply to distant stars, so I think we would have to claim that both the sun and the stars were created mature–i.e. emanating full surface luminosity–on Day 4.

    A further thought: If the photons are traveling a random path (“walk”) through the sun, then they are definitely not traveling at an infinite speed their entire journey. ASC allows for an infinite one-way speed, but a random walk travels many different directions, which would slow down the progress to c for 90° angles and c/2 when traveling directly away from the earth. I don’t see how ASC solves the problem, but on the other hand, I fail to see why the creation of a mature sun would raise any problems.

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    • // I fail to see why a “mature sun” explanation is incompatible with the various explanations offered for distant starlight. ASC or gravitational time dilation may be the answer to the distant starlight problem, but why couldn’t God have created the sun fully mature on Day 4, just as He created Adam, the trees and the animals fully mature on their respective days?//

      Yes, I agree He could have. The question I pose though, is there a new light travel time problem here?

      // Besides, ASC claims that God created a “mature” universe, does it not?//

      That is true but there are two separate time periods involved. One is what has to happen on Day 4 of Creation and what happened since then. Lisle’s model requires no process older than 6,000 years because that is all the time we have had. See my response to Daniel.

      // After all, when Adam looked at the stars on Day 6, he was seeing mature stars that were only 2 days old! Also, the same argument that applies to photons taking thousands of years to reach the sun’s surface would also apply to distant stars, so I think we would have to claim that both the sun and the stars were created mature–i.e. emanating full surface luminosity–on Day 4.//

      I agree, but as stated we can separate the issue of the time up to Day 4 when the light first arrives at the Earth and what happened after that.

      //A further thought: If the photons are traveling a random path (“walk”) through the sun, then they are definitely not traveling at an infinite speed their entire journey. ASC allows for an infinite one-way speed, but a random walk travels many different directions, which would slow down the progress to c for 90° angles and c/2 when traveling directly away from the earth. I don’t see how ASC solves the problem, but on the other hand, I fail to see why the creation of a mature sun would raise any problems.//

      The choice of ESC or ASC convention does apply. It applies to all material bodies as well as photons through vacuum. It applies to the energy being sent through the body regardless of what it is made from.

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  4. Shalom Gideon!
    Praying your health is good.
    I have been reading your posts. All have been wonderful, as usual.
    As for today’s…
    Once I became a believer, and began to study the Word…the week of creation and its timing was not difficult for me to accept. Especially how the sunlight came the next day which plants require for life etc. The earth was only deemed ‘good’ once it could sustain life.
    My ah ha moment was when in prayer… I was frustrated with a fellow believer who was waffling between the the 24 hour day vs the millions of years day.
    The Lord simply stated…the question is not why did it take Me so little time…the question is why did it take Me so long. In essence, the Creator could have made our entire universe in an instant.
    So I realized that the Shabbat, the seasons, God’s feasts etc. and their timing were really important and ‘made for man’.
    Blessings,
    Kim

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  5. It appears to me that we (creationist Christians) should not let ourselves fall for anything concerning the supposed 170ky random walk.

    Non-creationist have absolutely NO OTHER choice than to suppose the Sun was created by accretion of stellar “dust”. Therefore they MUST postulate the inevitable build up of layers and layers of subsequent material over a zillion years adding to the increasing pressure until such time fusion starts to occur. Naturally then, such fusion MUST necessarily HAVE TO occur at the deepest part of the sun for the highest pressure to FIRST cause fusion, hence the center of the sun. Once this is postulated to be kosher (in their reasoning), then the next inevitable thing is for the random walk energy transport, ergo, the 170ky.

    No one REALLY knows (this side of the Creator) what is happening in the inner levels of the sun, and any postulates must currently be supposed from such evolutionary thinking. Of course, the creationist has no such problem with a fully functional sun.

    In fact, my own thinking is that fusion or even fission could be occurring possibly even a few 10s of thousand km below the “surface” and that could well be a cause of CME or other prominences. But, of course, I’m just speculating; I’m no solar scientist. But I’d still say, we shouldn’t fall for the reasoning in the second para.

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  6. Hi John,
    I have a question concerning ASC and the one-way speed of light:
    The speed of light in a vacuum is given by c^2 = 1/(eps0*mu0), where eps0 and mu0 are the permittivity and permeability of the vacuum of space. It would seem that, logically, light should propagate through the vacuum at this speed regardless of its direction. Epsilon and mu are scalar quantities, not vectors. How is an anisotropic speed of light consistent with electromagnetic theory?

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    • Mitch,

      Good question. Jason Lisle covers this on pages 239-240 of his book “The Physics of Einstein”. These constants come from Maxwell’s equations. Those equations are usually written in a closed form, and solved by integrals. The constants permittivity (eps0) and permeability (mu0) of free space are thus the round-trip measured values. Therefore c is only a measure of the two-way average speed of light. Actually mu0 is defined, not measured, and nowadays c also is defined.

      If Maxwell’s equations were written in a generalised form, without tacitly assuming symmetry (i.e. the one-way speed of light the same in all directions), then the Reichenbach parameter epsilon (not the same as permittivity) could take any value and not the special case of 1/2 which is assumed in standard Maxwell’s equations. In this case the generalised maxwell’s equations would described electromagnetism for the general case of anisotropic speed of light.

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  7. Another question …

    According to SR, an object moving in a straight line at a constant speed can be considered to be “at rest”, just the same as if it were not moving at all, and thus such an object’s inertial frame could be used as the reference frame by which the motion of all other objects is measured.

    Does this generalize in GR to mean that an object moving along a geodesic in space (such as the earth orbiting the sun) can be considered to be at rest? Or, in other words, is it valid to speak of “time” in terms of an earthbound observer’s clock if the observer’s frame of reference is considered to be subject to various accelerations, due to earth’s rotation on its axis, its revolution about the sun, and tidal forces from the sun and moon, not to mention its orbit about the galactic center? Does it even matter if the earth is at rest in the GR sense?

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    • GR applies to an inertial rest frame. Such a frame is freely falling. Spacetime is only locally flat around the observer. One needs to integrate over the spacetime beyond that. In SR the universe is globally flat but in GR gravity curves spacetime.

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  8. Thanks, John.

    Another question came to mind, regarding relativistic mass dilation.

    We know the rest mass of a photon must be zero, because the denominator of the Lorentz transformation for the mass of a moving object goes to zero as v goes to c. If a photon had non-zero rest mass, it would have infinite relativistic mass when traveling at c …

    … m = m0/sqrt(1-(v/c)^2)

    However, if v is anything other than c, such as infinity or c/2, then the ratio of m to m0 is not zero. Yet, the photon has non-zero energy, given by E = h*nu (where nu is the frequency of light) and so wouldn’t it have a non-zero relativistic mass, given by m=E/(c^2) ? Wouldn’t this imply that the energy of a photon moving faster or slower than c is zero?

    Of course, photons do move slower than c through media other than free space, i.e. transparent media such as air, water, oil, glass, plastic or the cornea and lens of the eye, and this does not appear to result in the photon’s energy going to zero.

    Can you explain? Does the Lorentz transform not apply to photons?

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    • Lorentz transforms apply to ponderable massive particles, not photons. One needs to use a different approach when considering massless particles like photons. You need to consider the momentum of the photon. This was the subject of one of Einstein’s famous 1905 papers in Das Physika, where he derived the famous formula E=mc^2. If you have Lisle’s book “The Physics of Einstein”, it covers all this in chapters 13, and 14.

      Another point though is that you need to use the generalised Lorentz transform when considering relative motion of particles under the assumption of non-isotropic one-way speed of light. The standard Lorentz transforms are for the isotropic case which Einstein adopted. John A. Winnie (Special Relativity without One-Way Velocity Assumptions, Philosophy of Science, vol 37, 1970) has done all the work on deriving the generalised transforms. If you are interested, and you cannot get copy yourself, I could email his paper(s) to you.

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  9. Good afternoon, some time ago while going through a deep depression question my faith, there was so much that with my limited knowledge I could not explain. Then I found the website of Hugh Ross but I could not believe that the universe was millions of years old, this presented more questions than answers. After praying to God for really knowing the truth, I found Jason Lisle and you Mr. HARTNETT, I am very grateful to God for having found people who believe in the creation of approximately 6,000 years. I still have many questions to answer, but now I have a reason to live, a motive that fills me completely. I am 19 years old and I hope to one day be a cosmologist and be able to explain to God through good science. I believe fervently that this is the reason of my life. Thank you for giving me that spark that ignited a reason in my life, greetings and forgiveness because my English is not very good, I’m from Argentina.

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