Questions on the conventionality thesis and the one-way speed of light

The conventionality thesis and the asynchronous convention for the one-way speed of light (ASC) has been presented as a biblical creationist explanation for how light from the most distant sources in the cosmos reached Earth within the 6,000 years since the Creation, as determined from a straightforward reading of the Genesis account. There is no conflict with the true age of the universe because it simply is counted off by the years since creation.[1],[2],[3]

The conventionality thesis in Special Relativity relates to the synchronisation of clocks separated by a distance. It involves to the notion that the one-way speed of light, provided the two-way speed is c, can only be chosen by a convention, since it is impossible in principle to measure it. 

With respect to this subject, I address some issues raised from articles I have recently written on this subject.[4],[5],[6]

Innate bias

The first issue relates not so much to the science but to the mindset of the hearer when the topic is discussed. There seems to be in many of us an innate bias against accepting that the events (in light from stars, galaxies etc) we see in the cosmos are the same age as the earth and solar system. The idea is that all we see in the cosmos is occurring now, and not in some past epoch of time.  However due to our education among other factors we are biased into believing the starlight coming from the cosmos travels at a fixed speed of about 300,000 km/s and because of the distances involved it must have taken billions of years to reach Earth. We believe this even though it has never been measured.[7]

Last year I had the opportunity to share a PowerPoint talk titled “Can we see into the past?”[8] with a small group of friends who were all solidly biblical creationist in worldview. After I gave the PowerPoint presentation some questions were asked and one person, who does have some science training, said that he just could not get his head around it. I respect that but I believe it is a case where a little knowledge can be dangerous. In some cases a prior knowledge has led to a closely held belief, or an innate bias, which in turn can close off a person’s mind to new ideas without any logical reason. Such situations are well documented in science, particularly in fields that are undergoing revolutionary transitions. For example the case of phlogiston.[9]

Another man in that small group, who is physically blind and could not see my PowerPoint slides (so he did not have the advantage that the sighted people did), said that he had no problem understanding it. He said that he had had no science education and did not have any preconceived ideas (for example that the one-way speed of light must be finite, isotropic and equal to c, the measured two-way speed).

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The conventionality thesis on the synchronisation of clocks separated by distance

I recently read the book “Concepts of Simultaneity” by Max Jammer[1] where Jammer presents the history of concepts of simultaneity. Primarily he starts with the Greek philosophers and works through to the modern age—with philosophers and physicists. The book outlines that in regards to the concept of simultaneity the most significant developments occurred in the past 110 years, starting with Albert Einstein when he published his famous paper on Special Relativity in 1905.

Time is intrinsically linked with simultaneity. Simultaneity involves how we might synchronise distant clocks with our own local clocks. This issue then has an enormous bearing on some significant philosophical questions. How do we measure the speed of light coming from the distant cosmos? How old is the universe? How do we know how old the universe is?

We accept as fact, even consider it as empirical fact, something that is actually not fact at all but conventional. I explain below. But an incorrectly held notion has led to the idea that we can definitively know how old the universe is. Since we know the speed of light is finite (not infinite) and the universe is enormously large, then it is concluded that it must have taken light billions of years to travel to Earth from the distant cosmos. From that it follows that both theist and atheist have incorrectly concluded that the biblical timeline cannot be correct. The atheists even use this as an argument against the existence of the Creator.

In classical (Newtonian) physics, up to several hundred years before Einstein and any measurement of the speed of light, a distant event was considered simultaneous with a local event if the local observer saw them occur at the same time, as measured by his local clock. This is because the speed of light was assumed to be infinite. There was no delay between the light leaving its source and its reception at the observer. But that all changed.

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The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) has resolved the event horizon of a supermassive black hole

On April 10th the globally coordinated announcement was made of the first ever image of the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the centre of the distant galaxy Messier 87 (M87). The galaxy is at a distance of 55 million light-years and the supermassive black hole was confirmed to have a mass of 6.5 billion suns. See details of press release here.

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) — a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration — was designed to capture images of supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies.

Figure 1: Using the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), scientists obtained an image of the black hole at the centre of galaxy M87, outlined by emission from hot gas swirling around it under the influence of strong gravity near its event horizon. Credit: Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al.

This is the work of many astronomers using millimetre wave VLBI radio-telescopes across the planet. By stitching together the power of 8 state-of-the-art mmWave radio-telescopes they essentially turned the planet into one giant radio-telescope. By using such a large telescope and millimetre wavelengths they gained never before obtained resolution to image the event horizon, which is about the diameter of our solar system.

Figure 2: Map of the EHT. Stations active in 2017 and 2018 are shown with connecting lines and labelled in yellow, sites in commission are labeleld in green, and legacy sites are labelled in red. Nearly redundant baselines are overlaying each other, i.e., to ALMA/APEX and SMA/JCMT. Such redundancy allows improvement in determining the amplitude calibration of the array.
Credit: Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al

The results, so far, are consistent with all predictions of Einstein’s General Relativity theory.

From the biblical creationist perspective this is, yet again, good operational science. There is nothing new here that refutes the biblical timeline of about 6 thousand year because that is subject to historical science considerations. It is not an operational science question.

The distance to the galaxy is about 55 million light-years. Using the Einstein Synchrony Convention (ESC) (which assumes isotropic speed of light, c) the millimetre waves used in this measurement took 55 million years to reach Earth. But using the Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC), where the incoming speed of light, one-way, is chosen at infinity, the black hole is essentially observed in real time. No delay. This is consistent with the biblical description of events in the cosmos. See Genesis 1:16-19, Psalm 33:9, and Isaiah 48:7,13.

The data was taken from the different telescopes and was assembled and processed over a period of about a year but those initial observations were taken over a period of 7 days in April of 2017. Assuming the ASC, over those days the supermassive black hole was “observed” in real time. In the same way over the 24-hour period Day 4 of Creation Week about 6000 years ago all the stars and galaxies (with black holes at their centres) were “observed” at the earth as God created them in real time (Genesis 1:16-19). God spoke and “it was so.”

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). Continue reading

The effects of the Curse visible in the cosmos present another biblical creationist starlight travel-time problem

Abstract: The notion that the Curse was applied to the whole universe creates another light travel-time problem for biblical creation. Even if we assume that God supernaturally instantly cursed all parts of the universe how do we see those effects now? Any biblical creation cosmology that assumes the ASC is the language of the Bible, which includes an infinite one-way speed of light to the observer on Earth, has an answer to this question. Yet, any cosmology that assumes the ESC is the language of the Bible, which includes the speed of light limited to c (approximately 300,000 km/s), appears to not be able to answer the question. This alone would appear to rule out all cosmologies that rely of the ESC as the language on the Bible.

Introduction

The Curse is an event that many Bible reading Christians know something about. We read in Genesis 3:14-17 that God cursed the earth after Adam and Eve sinned against Him by eating of the tree which He commanded them not to eat of. Their sin brought on them the serious consequence of death. God also cursed the creation, bringing about various forms of corruption, which resulted in life being much more difficult for Adam and Eve and the rest of all life on Earth. The Scriptures tell us that God cursed the whole creation—the whole universe. We may conclude this from Romans 5:12:

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world [Greek kosmos] through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men  because all sinned” (ESV, emphasis added)

The Greek word kosmos meaning ‘orderly arrangement’is translated ‘the world’ in this verse, but meaning the whole universe. (Incidentally, it is the word from which we drive our English word ‘cosmos’.) Thus it was not only humans that were cursed but the whole universe. This is standard biblical creationist doctrine. This conclusion is strengthened when we read Romans 8:19-23:

“For the creation [Greek ktisis] waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (ESV, emphases added)

In this passage the Greek word ktisis meaning ‘original formation’ is translated as ‘the creation’. From the context it has the meaning of the entire creation—animate and inanimate—with the exception of two sets of beings. From verse 23 we can conclude that the creation here does not include the saved children of God. Also it would not include the unbelieving humans as they are not eagerly waiting for the adoption as sons of God. It also cannot include the angels, because the good angels are not subject to futility and therefore the Curse. The bad angels ‘fell’ sometime before the Curse itself and many are kept in chains in prison (2 Peter 2:4) until the final judgement.  So the meaning is all other living creatures and all the physical universe. Continue reading

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

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

Introduction

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.

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Can we see into the past?

Is it possible that when we look into the cosmos that we are seeing into the past?

Hubble Deep Field showing galaxies up to 10 billion light-years distant from Earth.

We hear all the time that we are looking into the past when we look out into space. But we can’t definitively say that! In the following I’ll explain why.

Astronomers say that because the speed of light is a finite value (c = 299,792.458 km/s ) it takes light 1 year to travel a distance of 1 light-year. On the surface of it that seems very reasonable.

That means that light leaving the star alpha Centauri, which is 4.3 light-years away, took 4.3 years to get to Earth and thus the information in that light is 4.3 years old by the time it gets to Earth. Thus they say we are looking back in time — into the past. And for distant galaxies this means we are looking back in time even billions of years.

But is that correct? Continue reading