Is Light Slowing Down?
(Point - Counterpoint)
Part 1 by Chuck Missler (from Personal UPDATE)
Part 2 by Hugh Ross, Ph.D. (from his Book "Creation and
Part 1: by Chuck Missler (from Personal UPDATE)
We now know that time is a physical property and varies
with respect to mass, acceleration, and gravity.
(See note 1.)
Time is tied to our concepts of the curvature of
space-time, and the velocity of light. The velocity of light
is, in fact, a parameter which appears to affect almost
every aspect of both cosmological physics on the large
scale, as well as quantum physics in the particle scale. It
is, of course, considered to be the fundamental constant of
The early Greek philosophers generally followed
Aristotle's belief that the speed of light was infinite.
(See note 2.) As late as 1600 a.d.,
Johannes Kepler, one of the fathers of modern astronomy,
maintained the majority view that light was instantaneous in
its travels. Rene Descartes, the highly influential
scientist, mathematician and philosopher (who died in 1650),
also strongly held to the belief in the instantaneous
propagation of light. He strongly influenced the scientists
of that period and those who followed.
Speed of Light Measured
In 1677 Olaf Roemer, the Danish astronomer, noted that
the time elapsed between eclipses of Jupiter with its moons
became shorter as the Earth moved closer to Jupiter and
became longer as the Earth and Jupiter drew farther apart.
This anomalous behavior could be accounted for by a finite
speed of light.
Initially, Roemer's suggestion was hooted at. It took
another half century for the notion to be accepted. In 1729
the British astronomer James Bradley's independent
confirmation of Roemer's measurements finally ended the
opposition to a finite value for the speed of light.
Roemer's work, which had split the scientific community for
53 years, was finally vindicated.
Over the past 300 years, the velocity of light has been
measured 163 times by 16 different methods. (As a Naval
Academy graduate, I must point out that Albert Michelson,
Class of 1873, measured the speed of light at the Academy.
In 1881 he measured it as 299,853 km/sec. In 1907 he was the
first American to receive the Nobel Prize in the sciences.
In 1923 he measured it as 299,798 km/sec. In 1933, at
Irvine, CA, as 299,774 km/sec.)
Australian physicist Barry Setterfield and mathematician
Trevor Norman examined all of the available experimental
measurements to date and have announced a discovery: the
speed of light appears to have been slowing down over the
years! [Roemer, 1657 (Io eclipse): 307,600 +/- 5400 km/sec;
Harvard, 1875 (same method): 299,921 +/- 13 km/sec; NBS,
1983 (laser method): 299,792.4586 +/- 0.0003 km/sec.] They
all are approximately 186,000 miles/second; or about one
foot/nanosecond.) (See note 3.)
While the margin of error improved over the years, the
mean value has noticeably decreased. In fact, the bands of
uncertainty hardly overlap.
As you would expect, these findings are highly
controversial, especially to the more traditional
physicists. However, many who scoffed at the idea initially
have subsequently begun to take a closer look at the
Alan Montgomery, the Canadian mathematician, has also
analyzed the data statistically and has concluded that the
decay of c, the velocity of light, has followed a
cosecant-squared curve with a correlation coefficient of
better than 99%.
A New Perspective
This curve would imply that the speed of light may have
been 10-30% faster in the time of Christ; twice as fast in
the days of Solomon; and four times as fast in the days of
Abraham. It would imply that the velocity of light was more
than 10 million times faster prior to 3000 b.c. This
possibility would also totally alter our concepts of time
and the age of the universe. The universe might actually be
less than 10,000 years old!
The key properties of the vacuum of free space include
electrical permittivity, magnetic permeability, zero-point
energy, and intrinsic impedance. If any of these properties
change isotopically, then both atomic behavior and the speed
of light would vary throughout the universe.
The product of magnetic permeability and electrical
permittivity is the reciprocal of c-squared. The
permittivity of free space has not changed, but permeability
has. It is related to the "stretching out" of free space at
the time of creation. The "stretching" of the heavens is
mentioned many times in the Bible. (See
note 4.) Setterfield has analyzed 164 measurements of c,
the velocity of light, gathered over the past 320 years,
which reveal a statistically significant decay in c. When
coupled with associated c-dependent "constants," the data
includes some 639 values measured by 25 different methods.
(See note 5.) A comparison of dates in
orbital time from history, archaeology, tree rings, etc.,
with atomic dates from a variety of radioactive isotopes has
provided some 1228 data points over 4550 years.
Relaxation, or release, has set in, perhaps after the
fall in Genesis 3. The shrinkage of free space could be the
cause for the observed slowing down of the velocity of
light. The "Redshift" may be caused by a decay of c. In
fact, the universe may be contracting, not expanding.
A Tiff about Tifft
William Tifft, an astronomer at the University of
Arizona, has been collecting data for about 20 years on
redshifts, and it now appears that the universe might not be
expanding. In the 1970's, Tifft noted that the redshift
seemed to depend upon the type of galaxy that was emitting
the light. Spiral galaxies tended to have higher redshifts
than elliptical galaxies in the same cluster. Dimmer
galaxies, higher redshifts than brighter ones.
Even more disturbing, Tifft has discovered that some
clusters and pairs of galaxies exhibit only certain discrete
values, rather than the more random distribution one would
expect if the shifts were distance related. These redshifts
appear in discrete quantum levels, similar to the energy
states of subatomic particles in quantum physics.
(See note 6.)
These findings are not popular with astronomers or
cosmologists, and emotions, even in physics, run deep. If
the redshift is not a simple measure of velocity, then the
conjectures about the Big Bang, and its derivative issues
such as "dark" matter, (See note 7.)
etc., tend to fall apart. The elaborate theoretical models
of the Big Bang traditions may be headed for the scrap heap.
There is also the disturbing evidence that the redshifts
change over time. There seems be some basic physics involved
that has yet to be understood. These changes could be due to
basic life cycles of galaxies, the nature of space or light
itself, or other possibilities. (See note
There have been a number of attempts to refute Tifft's
observations. One recent one by Bruce Guthrie and William
Napier, at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, measured the
redshifts of 89 spiral galaxies. The results surprised the
skeptics by uncovering data that supports the case for
If Setterfield proves correct, then this might also
explain the quantization of the redshifts. Specific values
of c govern the quantization of the emitted wave lengths,
and quantized redshifts could result. (See
Radioactive decay rates have changed. The decay of c
affects the speed of nucleons in the atom, and the alpha
particle escape frequency. Thus, all radioactive decay rates
have decreased in proportion to c throughout the recent
history of the universe. For many other reasons, the radio
dating methods, carbon-14, potassium-argon, or any other
atomic-clock method, are unreliable for very large ages.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics indicates that in a
closed system, as time flows forward, energy in the universe
is becoming less and less available. "Entropy" is the
measure of the state of "energy unavailability" in an
energy-containing system. Entropy always increases.
Orderly systems of molecules represent low entropy
systems. Orderly systems tend, on their own, to become
disorderly and chaotic through the processes of decay and
disintegration. With passage of time the normal tendency of
things is for such systems to become disorderly, chaotic,
and randomized. Their "entropy" increases.
We experience this in our daily routine: we spend effort
to organize our desktop, our garage, our school locker.
Soon, however, as "random" events take their toll,
everything tends toward randomness--the entropy increases.
To bring order out of chaos, we must put in outside energy
or information: instructions, codes, blueprints, and effort.
Order comes from chaos only if someone makes it happen. Time
plus chance always leads toward chaos--not order--without
the intervention of outside intelligence.
In the beginning, there apparently was a close connection
between the spiritual and physical realms, until the fall of
man in Genesis 3.
The universe was pronounced "good"--free of defects--by
the Creator. A high degree of order originally existed; that
is, there was very low entropy.
But then Adam fell and the curse of sin began. Disorder
and entropy began to increase. Could the slowing down of the
speed of light have begun with the increase of entropy and,
thus, both be a result of the curse brought about by sin?
The subsequent death, dying, decaying, and destroying
processes affected not only man, but nature as well (Romans
The possibility that the speed of light is not a
"constant" after all and has been slowing down is highly
controversial and conjectural. Yet, some of the most
dramatic changes in scientific perspective come only after
much debate, vigorous opposition, and the like.
The entire field of physics is presently in a state of
upheaval. The particle physicists have decided there is no
causality, and that the universe has at least 10 dimensions.
The redshift has been discovered to be quantized and that
may shatter previous conceptions of our universe. Particle
physics has totally altered our concepts of reality.
Many of today's scientific orthodoxies, however,
originated from yesterday's unpopular heresies. The apparent
decay in the velocity of light may be another of these
controversial "heresies" looming on the horizon of modern
physics. Only time will tell.
These concepts are explored in our briefing packages such
and the Big Bang," "Beyond Time and Space," "Beyond
Part 2; by Hugh Ross, Ph.D. (from his Book "Creation and
The work of two Austrailian creationists has been widely
publicized among proponents of a young universe. Barry
Setterfield and Trevor Norman teamed up to propose the
reason the universe appears old is that light used to travel
much faster than it does today.1 Given decay in
light's velocity, the present value of the velocity of light
would yield an inaccurate measure of the size and age for
The basis for this claim is a misinterpretation of data
from the speed-of-light measurements made over the many
years. What the data actually shows is the increasing
refinement of measurements, not change in velocity.
The first calculation of the speed of light was attempted
in 1675 by Olaus Romer, a Danish astronomer. His figure was
about 3 percent higher than modern measurements show. But
the uncertainty in his measurement exceeded 3 percent.
Recently, three American physicists reworked Romer's
calculations. They found that if Romer had had more precise
data for one part of his calculation, his speed-of-light
figure would have agreed with the modern measurements to
within 0.5 percent.2
Apparently the article describing this research was
misunderstood by the Australians. They took the 1675 speed
figure as evidence for the speed of light decreasing by 0.5
percent since 1675.3,4 Actually, more than fifty
measurements of the velocity of light have been made since
Romer's, and when the uncertainties for each of the
measurements are taken into account, the velocity shows
itself constant through the more than 300 years since
ground-based measurements began.
Using other types of measurements, the speed of light
proves constant over many more years. Studies on a
particular spectral line of hydrogen from nearby galaxies
shows its constancy over the last 18 million years. New
measurements on that spectral line in very distant galaxies
extend that confirmation to 14 billion years.5,6
Let me add a practical consideration. The existence of
life in the universe requires the constancy of the speed of
light. A significant change in the velocity of light would
so radically disturb such things as the luminosities of the
stars and the relative abundance of the elements as to ruin
the possibility for life anywhere, anytime in the universe.
Since the c in Einstein's equation, E = mc2,
stands for the speed of light, a change in that figure would
necessarily mean changes in the m (matter) or
E (energy) or both, an alteration contradicted by
abundant observations. If Setterfield and Norman were right,
either Adam or Eve would have been incinerated by the sun's
heat or the elements essential for building their bodies
would not exist. Calling Einstein's equation into question
will not help Setterfield and Norman's case either. A recent
experiment has confirmed the accuracy of Einstein's equation
to at least twenty-one places of the decimal (within
(To be fair to Chuck Missler, he talks old-earth creation
[10 billion years plus] most of the time. This is the only
time I have heard him talk about young-earth creation. He is
presenting this information by itself. Guy
To order Dr. Hugh Ross's book "Creation And Time" go
to Believe Catalog
Part 1; Notes:
- Personal UPDATE, Jan. 1993, p.12.
- Exceptions: Empedocles of Acragas (c. 450 b.c.);
also Moslem scientists Aviecenna and Alhazen (1000 a.d.)
both believed in a finite speed for light; Roger Bacon
and Francis Bacon (1600 a.d.) both believed in a finite
speed of light.
- A dynamical second is defined as
1/31,556,925.9747 of the earth's orbital period and was a
standard until 1967. Atomic time is defined in terms of
one revolution of an electron in the ground state orbit
of the hydrogen atom.
- Isa 40:22; 42:5; 44:27; 45:12; 51:13; Jer 10:12;
51:15; Zech 12:1; the heavens as a "scroll": Isa 34:4;
- See bibliography for references.
- Sobel, Dava, "Man Stops Universe, Maybe,"
Discover, April 1993.
- "The Missing Universe," UPDATE 2/93, p.
- "Is Light Slowing Down," UPDATE 3/93, p.
- In a varying c scenario, emitted energy flux
remains unchanged, upholding the Stefan-Boltzmann law.
Power is thereby conserved. High c values result in lower
photon energies at emission, and a consequent redshifting
of light from distant astronomical sources.
Part 2, References:
-Ross Hugh, Ph. D., "Creation And Time" Navpress,
(1994) Reasons to Believe, p.97-99
Dr. Hugh Ross's References :
-1. Norman, Trevor, and Setterfield, Barry, "The
Atomic Constants, Light, and Time," Stanford Research
Institute International, Technical Report (August 1987).
This report was published without the permission of SRI
-2. Goldstein, S.J.; Trasco, J.D.; and Ogburn
iii, T.J., "On the Velocity of Light Three Centuries Ago,
Astronomical Journal 78 (1973), p. 122-125
-3. Fackerell, Edward D., "The Age of the
Astronomical Universe," Ex Nihilo Technical Journal,
vol.1 (1984), p.90-91
-4. Norman and Setterfield, p.11.
-5. Peacock, John, "Fresh Light on Dark Ages,"
Nature 355 (1992), p.203.
-6. Uson, J.M.; Bagri, D.S.; and Cornwell, T.J.;
Physical Review Letters 67 (1991), p.3328-3331
-7. Lamoreaux, S.K.; Jacobs, J.P.; Heckel, B.R.;
Raab, F.J.; and Forston E.N., "New Limits on Spatial
Anisotropy from Optically Pumped 201Hg and
199Hg," Physical Review Letters 57 (1986), p.