Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

Star Light, Star Bright

Stars are not just static, twinkling lights in the sky, as Mankind thought in antiquity. Stars are giant, dynamic balls of plasma, nuclear furnaces which are constantly changing and churning. Stars have a “life cycle,” much akin to what we find in organisms on Earth: they are born, they mature, they grow, and they eventually die. A star’s light is not just a constant, unchanging beam pointed at the Earth. Starlight tells a story. It communicates to us tales about the life of that star, every photon like one letter in a massive epic poem.

Even when I was still a Young Earth Creationist, I knew that the stars posed a problem for my view of the world. I recently ran into this, again, while having a discussion with someone who was making the claim that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. I asked him how he accounted for distant starlight, and he gave me the same canned response which I used to use: “God, being omnipotent, could easily have created that starlight in transit.” Now, the problem with a canned response is that it is usually given without really considering its own implications. While it is absolutely true that an omnipotent being, if one existed, could create starlight in transit (after all, if it couldn’t, it wouldn’t be omnipotent), there’s another problem which arises. This person asserted that God was not only omnipotent, but also omnibenevolent, and that it would be wholly against this being’s nature to lie or deceive. Unfortunately, if God created the whole cosmos only 6,000 years ago with its starlight already in transit, it would necessitate that God is a liar.

On July 4, 1054 AD, a new light was found in the sky which was so bright and strange that astronomers from Arabia, China, and Japan all took notice of it and wrote about it. This “guest star,” as the Chinese called it, remained extremely visible and bright for a period of two years, after which they could no longer see it. The light was still there, but it was no longer visible to the naked eye. Seven centuries later, a French astronomer named Charles Messier was using a telescope to watch for the return of Halley’s Comet when he noticed a nebulous light in the sky, too dim to be a star but also apparently unmoving, such that it could not be a comet. He did not realize it, then, but he was looking at the same spot where the Chinese “guest star” had appeared so long before. Jumping ahead to the 20th Century, telescopes had become inordinately more powerful and refined than they were in Messier’s day. We came to learn that Messier’s nebulous non-comet was a beautiful and massive expanse of gas and dust spreading out from a central point, the remnants of a catastrophic event. We named it the Crab Nebula, and to this day, it remains so bright in the night sky that even amateur astronomers can view it with backyard telescopes.

Almost a thousand years ago, those Chinese astronomers had witnessed the death of a star as it burst into a massive explosion of light and debris. They had seen a Supernova.

So why does any of this matter? It’s fairly simple. Supernova 1054 occurred 6,500 light years away from the Earth. A light year, as it’s name implies, is the amount of distance which light can travel in a year. Which means that the light which reached the Earth on July 4, 1054, to show SN 1054 to our Arab, Chinese, and Japanese observers was already 6,500 years old when it reached them. According to my friend, the universe was only about 5,000 years old at that point in time. If God had created the light of stars already in transit, that means that God was showing us the story of an exploding star which never really happened. If my friend was right about the age of the universe, God was lying to Mankind when he created that light, in transit to the Earth.

My friend came to the realization that this, of course, could not be the case, given his understanding of God. Unfortunately, he has not yet accepted that the Earth must be far older than he believes.

The Crab Nebula is just one of literally billions of objects in the night sky which are further than 6,000 light years from the Earth. And starlight is only one small part of a myriad of evidence which suggests that the age of the cosmos is several millions of times larger than the six- to ten-thousand years proposed by Young Earth Creationists. Science is Mankind’s attempt to read these and other stories which have been written in the Book of Nature.

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