Review: Starlight, Time and the New Physics

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Starlight, Time and the New Physics by John Hartnett is an important book in the world of Creation Science literature.  Hartnett is an avowed Young Earth Creationist who believes the creation account in Genesis is to be taken at face value.  As such, he seeks to deal with the thorny problem of distant starlight in a young universe. Hartnett earned his B.Sc. and his Ph.D. from the Department of Physics at the University of Western Australia. He works with the Frequency Standards and Meteorology research group, and is a tenured Research Professor at his Alma Mater.

As far as the intriguing and fascinating concepts of this book, it is superb. However, as far as readability and clarity, it is a bit tough going. Unless you have some familiarity with concepts in cosmology and astrophysics you will have trouble reading this book, and I am not talking about the technical appendices. Furthermore, it is not always clear how Hartnett is making his case for solving the problem of distant starlight in a young universe.

The first 2 chapters are easy enough and do a good job of explaining some background to the book. Hartnett was inspired by the more well known work by Russell Humphreys and his book of 1994 entitled, “Starlight and Time.” Humphreys was the first YECer to propose a theory for the starlight problem using a time-dilation model. Hartnett points out that most YECers have been reluctant to use such models because they have historically preferred theories that assume time is absolute. However, I think Hartnett is right that time-dilation models are profitable for pursuing answers to the problem of distant starlight. His book takes this approach.

My problem with the book started in chapter 3 and continued through the end to chapter 7 before the technical appendices. It was never clear how the concepts presented in chapters 3-7 connected together to answering the basic question of how we see distant starlight in a young universe. Chapter 3 deals with debunking dark matter as a sort of ‘god of the gaps’ for the naturalist scientist. Fair enough, but how does this contribute to the basic question? It is not clear.

Chapter 4 deals with the implications of Moshe Carmeli’s application of Einstein’s laws of relativity. Hartnett’s model seeks to employ Carmeli’s theories and apply them to the distant starlight question. Carmeli holds that relativity theory applies to the grand cosmic scale and introduces what he calls “Cosmological Special Relativity” and “Cosmological General Relativity.” Somehow I missed how these theories apply to the question.

Chapter 5 made the case that our galaxy lies close to the center of a bounded universe surrounded by a set of concentric spheres of other galaxies. Convincing observational evidence was given for this and I found it to be one of the more fascinating parts of the book. However, it only later became clear how it contributed to the problem in chapter 7. It would have been nice to see a hint of that though in this chapter.

Chapter 6 deals with the scriptures that indicates God stretched out the heavens. Here we get a more direct indication of Hartnett’s solution. He states that on day 4 of creation, “God stretched out space, by some enormous factor, and spread out the parent galaxies that he then caused to eject more galaxies as quasars in ongoing creation episodes during the course of day 4” (p. 95). He then explained this using the analogy of a firework explosion that sends out smaller sub-explosions. He then supplies evidence from the studies Halton Arp conducted indicating that quasars are associated with active galaxies nearby that have have ejected these quasars from parent galaxies. He contends that this ejection mechanism is where new galaxies were formed. Harnett interprets the visual evidence of Arp’s work as what actually happened on day 4 as we can see it now. This is all very fascinating, but I was unable to follow his arguments for making the case.

Finally in chapter 7 he seeks to make the case that earth clocks on day 4 ran slower than clocks in the cosmos (running normally) using Carmeli’s theories again. This took place apparently when the galaxies were moving rapidly outward from the ‘central’ location of the Milky Way galaxy (thus the reason for chapter 5). I saw 2 problems here. I still am unclear about Carmeli’s theories and how they actually apply to Hartnett’s time-dilation theory. I just felt he had not explained it very well. Secondly, I wondered about his interpretation of the clock issue. He indicates that the earth clocks ran slower than the cosmic clocks on day 4 which ran normally; and then later they both ran at the same normal time (if I understand correctly). If this is the case, then is he saying that day 4 was not a normal 24 hour period from the perspective of earth time? There was no clarification here, but it sounds something like what Gerald Shroeder (A Jewish Physicist from MIT) has proposed. Shroeder accepts Torah (i.e. including the Genesis account of creation). However, he also accepts the standard billions of years history for earth, but suggests that the cosmic clocks amounted to six 24 hour days during creation while the earth clocks ran in the billions.

I would like for Hartnett to bring greater clarity to these issues. I think what would have made this book much easier to digest would have been a chapter summarizing Hartnett’s basic argument without appeal to the evidences and detailed scientific explanations. Even though the chapters were not as full of as many equations as the technical appendices, they were technical enough that I believe the average intelligent reader with a basic science education will still have a hard time following contrary to what other reviewers have said.

I like the fact that Hartnett is seeking to supply us with an explanation of the current problem without appealing to an instance of extraordinary providence (i.e. a miracle, such as the light in transit model). Although it is clear that any understanding of the creation week must employ extraordinary providence, the aftermath of the creation week begins a pattern of ordinary providence (i.e. a normal pattern of governing laws) that is only occasionally interrupted by instances of extraordinary providential events. This means that however we understand the billions of light year distances of the stars, it should require some appeal to a natural explanation using the laws of physics we either already know or hopefully will sometime discover. This is obviously a critical issue for YECers and there is not a credible theory yet that has garnered widespread acceptance. If Hartnett’s theory is plausible (and I think it might be) then it would behoove someone to help us neophytes understand it better.

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