We measure the distance in space in terms of light years. The distance from one galaxy to the next or one star to the next is measured in how long light would travel in a vacuum in a quantity of Julian years (365.25 days). The distance of one light year is approximately 10 trillion kilometers or 6 trillion miles.
To give you an example, our Milky Way Galaxy is approximately 100,000 light years across, the nearest star (other than our Sun) is about 4.22 light years away, and the distance from the Earth to the known edge of the universe is about 4.65 x 10^10 light years away.
Many people use this information on distant starlight as an argument against a Biblical Creation of the universe of about 6,000 years old. The argument goes like this:
There are galaxies that are so far away, it would take light from their stars billions of years to get from there to here; we can see these galaxies, so their starlight has already arrived here; therefore the universe must be at least billions of years old.
The science that astronomers use to measure cosmic distances are generally logical and part of evidential science as opposed to evolutionary assumptions. These calculations are reproducible, observable, and measurable and confirm that the universe is in fact, amazing and big. We are pretty insignificant in the whole scheme of things and the size of the universe declares the glory of God (Isaiah 40:12, Psalm 19:1).
So is this a problem for Biblical Christianity and the Bible’s account of Creation? There are a few logical reasons why I am convinced that the size of the universe is not a problem for those who adhere to a Biblical view of evidential and historical science.
The Creative Work of God
I’m going to tip my hand here and say that this is my Biblical view of the size of the universe – God originally created the universe and He created it good. What I mean by this is that when God created the universe approximately 6,000 years ago, He created it already in motion, in perfect harmony, with light already traveled, in His perfect knowledge.
I have heard many people say that this would make God tricking us or seeing an illusion or is uncharacteristic of God. But I would have to strongly disagree here. Did He create Adam as a baby? Did He create Eve as a baby? Did He create all the animals in hatching eggs and newborns? When Jesus healed the mute man, did the man need to go to a speed pathologist to learn how to speak? When Jesus healed men with mutilated arms or men who were lame, did they need physical therapy to build back up their limbs? No, not at all. Was God trying to pull an illusion or trick us or was this uncharacteristic of Him. I say again, not at all. His creative power is amazing and miraculous and His knowledge is best.
And so, my Biblical argument is God’s creative power put the light in place where it needed to be.
Assumptions in Light-Travel
All scientific estimates as to the age of things like stars and galaxies all have to some degree of assumptions built into these calculations. The assumptions range from the starting conditions, the constancy of things like the speed of light, changes in the system over time, and many others.
The problem with any age estimation comes in knowing the starting conditions. We were not there but there was One that was there. And the history of those starting conditions are recorded for us in the Bible.
The big question to any astronomer is to the constancy of the speed of light. Has it changed over time? Is it slower now than it once was? Since this is a historical scientific issue it is impossible to extrapolate back to know with 100% accuracy if the speed of light has or has never changed.
Another assumption is the relativity of time in space. As Einstein stated, time can flow at different rates from different points of view. This could also apply to distant starlight in that light that would take billions of years to reach Earth as measured from space could reach the Earth in only thousands of years as measured by Earth.
The Horizon Problem
Big-bang proponents believe that billions of years ago the universe began as an infinitely small state of singularity and then rapidly expanded. This theory proposes that the light from distant stars and their expanding nature show evidence for this massive timeframe.
The theory has a huge problem though – often called the horizon problem. When the universe was still very small, it would develop different temperatures in different locations. We will make point 1 a higher temperature spot and point 2 a lower temperature spot. According to their theory, these two points rapidly expanded and are now very far apart.
If you understand the first law of thermodynamics and the conservation of energy, you already see the problem. The universe has an extremely uniform temperature even beyond the farthest known galaxies. The temperatures that we measure through cosmic microwave backgrounds show temperature deviations along the lines of one part of 1 x10^5 power. That is a 0.00001 degree Celsius difference.
Only through the exchange of energy can temperatures come to an equivalence point. Similarly to a cup of ice in water melting from the absorption of heat from its surroundings and coming to a constant, equal temperature. This takes a lot of time to come to an equilibrium and there is proven that there has not been enough time in 14 billion years to get the light from point 1 and 2 to come to that equilibration.
This shows a light travel-time problem that is unanswerable and is therefore a self-refuting argument.
There is only one argument that is consistent, never-changing, and true. That is the argument that is recorded for us in Genesis of God’s Word. The evidence that we test, reproduce, and measure are consistent with His perfect Word and we must humble ourselves to the absolutely sovereign Creator.
The evidence of numerous hot blue stars that cannot last billions of years, rotating spiral galaxies that would be twisted up beyond recognition if they were billions of years old, and the decaying magnetic fields of our own solar system show evidence of a Biblical account of Creation. We can be confident that God was in control of Creation and He organized it and planned all of it. Again His Creation was amazing, miraculous, massive, and humbling.
Let us take His Word for it.
Note: The quote above and some information from “Assumptions in Light-Travel” and “The Horizon Problem” taken from Lisle, Jason. (2006) The New Answers Book. Answers in Genesis.