A Review of the Book

Starlight, Time and the New Physics


Starlight, Time and the New Physics: How we can see starlight in our young universe, John Hartnett PhD, (2007), appears to be the most recent effort by a professionally-educated and trained physicist (Australian), who is also a creationist, to find a coherent synthesis (theory of concordism[i]) between the hard scientific evidences of modern cosmology and the Bible’s account of creation set forth in the first chapter of Genesis.

While a synthesis is not theoretically impossible in my opinion, it is a daunting task for a number of reasons…reasons which are beyond the scope of this book review. Like me and other creationists, Dr. Hartnett believes that Genesis chapter 1 includes six, 24-hour rotational “days” as intuitively understood from daily experience. However, he seems at a disadvantage having to rely upon English language translations of Genesis and does not appear aware of the underlying grammatical and hermeneutical issues regarding the Hebrew text. This also adds to the complexity of the subject.

Dr. Harnett’s thesis, in part, is a response to Creation physicist Dr. Russell Humphreys’ (Starlight and Time, 1994) challenge to propose alternative models of concordism. “We need more and better creationist cosmologies. I say ‘more’ because mine may prove to have fatal flaws of its own, but if we have a variety of good theories to choose from, we are much more likely to find the truth” (p. 51). Humphreys was a pioneer with creation cosmology.

The back cover of the book reads, “…the main text of Starlight, Time and the New Physics is easily digestible for the intelligent layperson.” Don’t believe this for one second. Being post college-educated myself, a creationist, born-again Christian and avid reader for nearly 45 years, I had to chuckle at the statement. I’m not sure whether he or the publisher had some particular group of “layperson” in mind or if they were simply attempting to promote sales for an esoteric subject. Chapters 1 to 7 are substantive and complex, and will challenge even those with good high school or entry-level college courses in physics and calculus. The six Technical Appendices require a grasp of advanced mathematics, physics, and cosmological science and are out of the cognitive reach of most.

Dozens of books have been published attempting to educate the public in the basics of the scientific and metaphysical implications of Einstein’s 20th century discoveries. I have several in my personal library. For the most part, a majority of the public are still living, cosmologically-speaking, in a pre-Einstein world. Like physicist Dr. Humphreys before him, Hartnett has made the necessary intellectual leap from a Newtonian concept of 3D space and independent absolute time to the 20th century discoveries of Albert Einstein’s 4D “fabric of spacetime.” This is a difficult challenge and shift for many. Despite the educational efforts of such men like astrophysicist Brian Greene (PBS The Elegant Universe series), the vast majority of the public (both Christian and non-Christian) have yet to break orbit from the observational and highly-intuitive views of Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727).

CHAPTER 1: Readers are introduced to the core topic, the “starlight-travel-time problem,” due to a cosmos that is both extraordinarily large yet also very young. How can both facts be simultaneously true? Since the advent of both modern astronomy and cosmology, the Bible’s account of 6,000 plus years of earthly history has drawn ridicule and scorn from those who hold the Bible is simply a book of mythical stories. The apparent contradiction is often a favorite ‘straw man’ argument. A most recent example was the February 2014 Internet “debate” between Bill Nye the “Science Guy” and Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, where Nye raised the question but failed to grasp Ham’s response.

CHAPTER 2: This chapter begins by providing some basic modern physics and cosmology, but without adequately explaining the fundamental scientific evolution in perspective from Isaac Newton to Albert Einstein. In my opinion, a majority of the public are trapped, metaphysically and cosmologically speaking, in the 19th century. Wonderfully, the author catches a glimpse of the historical issue, “The underlying problem may be a reluctance by creationist cosmologists to break with the idea that time is absolute and that it has always flowed at a constant rate throughout the universe” p. 22. Unfortunately, he still is prone to set creationists and “big bangers” in juxtaposition to each other. Christians need to humbly keep in mind that we have an epistemological advantage. He concludes the chapter by listing five possible solutions to the “starlight-travel-time problem” introduced in the previous chapter.

CHAPTER 3: Dr. Hartnett raises the hot topics of contemporary astrophysics—“dark matter” and “dark energy.” If the reader isn’t lost by now, this chapter will doom him or her for sure. Dr. Hartnett moves rather quickly in assuming his audience has an adequate grasp of both “general and special relativity” as well as Einstein’s understanding of “the fabric of spacetime.” Yikes! Better brew up a very large pot of coffee. Here the reader is also introduced to the advanced theoretical physics of Moshe Carmeli, his “cosmological special relativity,” and 5th dimension of reality—spacevelocity. (I’m still working to understand Carmeli.)

CHAPTER 4: Here, the author deals heavily with the light received from distant stars and how it’s interpreted (spectral analysis) by physicists, both in the past and present. This is the realm of the electromagnetic spectrum, “redshifts,” and “blueshifts.” Hartnett also deals with Einstein’s field equations which supposedly describe the shape of the cosmos. Here, he appears to make an admission which should have been made much earlier. “But don’t be mistaken; though Carmeli is some sort of rebel in that he has challenged the established thinking, in his mind his new theory does not present as anything more than a new type of big bang model. However, we can apply the same theory to extract a new model (Harnett’s ‘New Physics’) that is consistent with what we would expect, starting with the Genesis history” p. 67.

CHAPTER 5: This chapter deals with the shape and size of the universe, the “cosmological principle” (homogeneity) and the distribution of galaxies, and what philosophical/theological significance there might be to where our solar system is positioned in the universe. This is NOT a discussion of geocentrism vs. heliocentrism of our local solar system, which has long been resolved by astronomy science.

CHAPTER 6: The author focuses upon the concurrence of modern cosmology and the biblical revelation of God’s “stretching” the heavens. From the beginning in chapter 1, Dr. Hartnett has been rather dogmatic about the hyper-distention (inflation) taking place on Day 4 of creation (p.10, 24, 93-95, 101, 103, 109, 113, and 115) in contrast to any initial ‘big bang’ singularity. He seems to base this on the placement in the text of Genesis 1:16c “He also made the stars” or “He made the stars also.” Hartnett would appear to assert a strict chronology that “God created the heavenly bodies (stars and galaxies)” on Day 4, but assigns NO chronological significance to the testimony of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” However, in a footnote on page 119, he later softens and backs away from said dogmatism, “The period of rapid expansion of the universe may have involved Days 1 through to 4, but the principle is the same.”

For an alternative and simpler model, see my website Genesis in Space & Time, http://spacetimegenesis.org, which basically reaches a similar perspective to Dr. Hartnett’s conclusions in the final chapter—7.

CHAPTER 7: In this summary chapter, Dr. Hartnett gives his answer to “why we see starlight in a ‘young’ universe” using language and terms like “time-dilation” similarly used by Dr. Humphreys before him. With “time-dilation”, clocks (representing the passage of time) are said to run at different rates—some very slow and some very fast. The point is that time itself (a profound mystery), or possibly our experience of time, is not absolute but relative (Einstein). “The expansion of space caused an enormous time-dilation event on the earth, meaning that Earth clocks slowed by a trillion times compared to cosmic clocks” p. 108. I’ve never felt comfortable trying to understand the stretching of the fabric of spacetime in this fashion. But I’m not about to quibble if others are able to grasp the significance of the nature of physical/metaphysical reality.

Having reached the 21st century, I believe Creationism can successfully offer basic and not-so-basic models of a coherent synthesis between the hard scientific evidences of modern cosmology and the Bible’s account of creation. Dr. John Hartnett has done some extraordinary heavy lifting here. This quest has been achieved via some very “creative” and “imaginative” thinking—an approach to science which was prized by Albert Einstein himself. See The Evolution of Physics: From Early Concepts to Relativity and Quanta, Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, 1938.

[i] Some Christians, loosely defined, are anti-concordism. Examples include: John Walton, Peter Enns, Francis Collins and others associated with the organization BioLogos.