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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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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A question on ad hoc in my cosmologies

Hi John,

Here are quotes from two of your articles that I’d like to ask a question about:

  • “My first model (2003)1 employed no gravitational potential well, but a supernatural causation only. During Creation week, God miraculously slowed Earth and the solar system clocks in comparison to cosmic clocks. The model doesn’t need an expanding universe, but it is rather ad hoc. That is, it invokes a miracle.” quoted from STARLIGHT AND TIME: IS IT A BRICK WALL FOR BIBLICAL CREATION?
  • “This means placing the earth at the centre of a truly vast spherical universe, where the most distant galaxies were first created tens of billions of years before the first day of creation of Genesis 1 (figure 1),2 and subsequently created closer and closer towards Earth at the constant speed of light c such that the light from all the galaxies arrived at the earth on the fourth day, for the first time.” quoted from THE ANISOTROPIC SYNCHRONY CONVENTION MODEL AS A SOLUTION TO THE CREATIONIST STARLIGHT-TRAVEL-TIME PROBLEM — PART I.

In the first case, God miraculously slowing local vs cosmic clocks is deemed ad hoc; however, in the second case God is required to do trillions of smaller miracles (creating all the stars in a certain order, over billions of years). How is the second any less ad hoc than the first?

Blessings, BKH 

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How do we see distant galaxies in a 6000 year old universe?

690958main_p1237a1The argument is this: The universe is extremely large—tens of billions of light-years across. The Bible tells us that God made the universe a mere 6000 years ago. How does the light from distant galaxies reach earth then?  Surely that size of the universe demands an enormous timescale?

But couldn’t God just have created the light in transit. No, that would be deceptive. It would mean a stream of light carrying false information for billions of years to come.

But surely even you must admit that the simplest and even most logical explanation (if you don’t first presuppose that the biblical account in Genesis is correct) is that the light, from  galaxies millions of light-years away, did indeed travel for millions of years to get here?

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