Galaxies are Billions of Light Years Away, so isn't the Universe Billions of Years Old?

by Dr. Walt Brown
(The original article has been published in the book, In the Beginning, and can be found on Walt’s website here)
For a complementary article on this same subject, be sure to also read this article:
Why Does the Universe Appear to be Expanding?

NIST zoom
This atomic clock at the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology is named NIST-7. If its time were compared with a similar clock 6 million years from now, they might differ by only one second! A newer development, called NIST F-1, will achieve three times greater precision by cooling the vibrating atoms to nearly absolute zero. Despite the extreme precision of atomic clocks, we have no assurance that they are not all drifting relative to “true” time. In other words, we can marvel at the precision of atomic clocks, but we cannot be certain of their accuracy.
The logic behind this common question has several hidden assumptions, two of which are addressed by the following italicized questions:

  1. Was space, along with light emitted by stars, rapidly stretched out soon after creation began? If so, energy would have been added to the universe and starlight during that stretching. Pages 334–338 show that the scientific evidence clearly favors this stretching explanation over the big bang theory, which also claims that space expanded rapidly. (Yet, the big bang theory says all this expansion energy, plus all the matter in the universe, was, at the beginning of time, inside a volume much smaller than a pinhead.
  2. Has starlight always traveled at its present speed—about 186,000 miles per second or, more precisely, 299,792.458 kilometers per second?

If either (a) space and its starlight were stretched out, or (b) the speed of light was much faster in the past, then distant stars should be visible in a young universe. Here we will address possibility (b) by examining the historical measurements of the speed of light.

Historical Measurements

During the past 300 years, at least 164 separate measurements of the speed of light have been published. Sixteen different measurement techniques were used. Astronomer Barry Setterfield of Australia has studied these measurements, especially their precision and experimental errors.1 His results show that the speed of light has apparently decreased so rapidly that experimental error cannot explain it! In the seven instances where the same scientists remeasured the speed of light with the same equipment years later, a decrease was always reported. The decreases were often several times greater than the reported experimental errors. I have conducted other analyses that weight (or give significance to) each measurement according to its accuracy. Even after considering the wide range of accuracies, it is hard to see how one can claim, with any statistical rigor, that the speed of light has remained constant.2

M. E. J. Gheury de Bray, in 1927, was probably the first to propose a decreasing speed of light.3 He based his conclusion on measurements spanning 75 years. Later, he became more convinced and twice published his results in Nature,4 possibly the most prestigious scientific journal in the world. He emphasized, “If the velocity of light is constant, how is it that, invariably, new determinations give values which are lower than the last one obtained ... There are twenty-two coincidences in favour of a decrease of the velocity of light, while there is not a single one against it.”5 [emphasis in original]

Although the measured speed of light has decreased only about 1% during the past three centuries, the decrease is statistically significant, because measurement techniques can detect changes thousands of times smaller. While the older measurements have greater errors, the trend of the data is startling. The farther back one looks in time, the more rapidly the speed of light seems to have been decreasing. Various mathematical curves fit these three centuries of data. When some of those curves are projected back in time, the speed of light becomes so fast that light from distant galaxies conceivably could have reached Earth in several thousand years.

No scientific law requires the speed of light to be constant.6 Many simply assume that it is constant, and of course, changing old ways of thinking is sometimes difficult. Russian cosmologist, V. S. Troitskii, at the Radiophysical Research Institute in Gorky, is also questioning some old beliefs. He concluded, independently of Setterfield, that the speed of light was 10 billion times faster at time zero!7 Furthermore, he attributed the cosmic microwave background radiation and most redshifts to this rapidly decreasing speed of light. Setterfield reached the same conclusion concerning redshifts by a different method. If either Setterfield or Troitskii is correct, the big bang theory will fall (with a big bang).

Other cosmologists are proposing an enormous decay in the speed of light.8 Several of their theoretical problems with the big bang theory are solved if light once traveled millions of times faster.9

Atomic vs. Orbital Time

Why would the speed of light decrease? T. C. Van Flandern, working at the U.S. Naval Observatory, showed that atomic clocks are probably slowing relative to orbital clocks.10 Orbital clocks are based on orbiting astronomical bodies, especially Earth’s one-year period about the Sun. Before 1967, one second of time was defined by international agreement as 1/31,556,925.9747 of the average time it takes Earth to orbit the Sun. On the other hand, atomic clocks are based on the vibrational period of the cesium-133 atom. In 1967, a second was redefined as 9,192,631,770 oscillations of the cesium-133 atom. Van Flandern showed that if atomic clocks are “correct,” the orbital speeds of Mercury, Venus, and Mars are increasing. Consequently, the gravitational “constant” should be changing. However, he noted that if orbital clocks are “correct,” then the gravitational constant is truly constant, but atomic vibrations and the speed of light are decreasing. The drift between the two types of clocks was only several parts per billion per year. But again, the precision of the measurements is so good that the discrepancy is probably real.

For the following four reasons, orbital clocks seem to be correct and atomic frequencies are probably slowing very slightly.

  • If atomic clocks and Van Flandern’s study are correct, the gravitational “constant” should be changing. Other studies have not detected variations in the gravitational constant.
  • If a planet’s orbital speed increased (and all other orbital parameters remained the same), the planet’s energy would increase. That would violate the law of conservation of mass-energy.
  • If atomic time is slowing, then clocks based on the radioactive decay of atoms should also be slowing. Radiometric dating techniques would give ages that are too old. This would bring radiometric clocks more in line with most dating clocks. It would also explain why no primordial isotopes have half-lives of less than 50 million years. Such isotopes simply decayed away when radioactive decay rates were much greater.11
  • If atomic frequencies are decreasing, then five “properties” of the atom, such as Planck’s constant, should also be changing. Statistical studies of past measurements show that four of the five “constants” are changing—and in the right direction.12

So, orbital clocks seem to be more accurate than the extremely precise atomic clocks.13

Many of us were skeptical of Setterfield’s initial claim, because the decrease in the speed-of-light measurements ceased in 1960. Large, one-time changes seldom occur in nature. The measurement techniques were precise enough to detect any decrease in the speed of light after 1960, if the trend of the prior three centuries had continued. Later, Setterfield realized that beginning in the 1960s, atomic clocks were used to measure the speed of light. If atomic frequencies are decreasing, then both the measured quantity (the speed of light) and the newly adopted measuring tool (atomic clocks) are changing at the same rate. Naturally, no relative change would be detected, and the speed of light would be constant in atomic time—but not orbital time.


Does the decrease in the speed of light conflict with the statement frequently attributed to Albert Einstein that the speed of light is constant? Not really. Einstein said that the speed of light was not altered by the velocity of the light’s source. Setterfield says that the speed of light decreases over time.

Einstein’s statement that the speed of light is independent of the velocity of the light source, is called Einstein’s Second Postulate. (Many have misinterpreted it to mean that “Einstein said the speed of light is constant over time.”) Einstein’s Second Postulate is surprising, but probably true. Wouldn’t we expect a ball thrown from a fast train in the forward direction to travel faster than one thrown in the opposite direction, at least to an observer on the ground? While that is true for a thrown ball, some experimental evidence indicates it is not true for light.14 Light, launched from a fast-moving train, will travel at the same speed in all directions. This strange property of light led to the more extensive theory of special relativity.15

Some people give another explanation for why we see distant stars in a young universe. They believe that God created a beam of light between Earth and each star. Of course, a creation would immediately produce completed things. Instantly, they would look much older than they really were. This is called “creation with the appearance of age.” The concept is sound. However, for starlight, this presents two difficulties:

  • Bright, exploding stars are called “supernovas.” If starlight, seemingly from a supernova, had been created en route to Earth and did not originate at the surface of an exploding star, then what exploded? Only a relatively short beam would have been created near Earth. If the image of an explosion was created on that short beam of light, then the star never existed and the explosion never happened. One finds this hard to accept.
  • Every hot gas radiates a unique set of precise colors, called its emission spectrum. The gaseous envelope around each star also emits specific colors that identify the chemical composition of the gas. Because all starlight has emission spectra, this strongly suggests that a star’s light originated at the star—not in cold, empty space. Each beam of starlight also carries other information, such as the star’s spin rate, magnetic field, surface temperature, and the chemical composition of the cold gases between the star and Earth. Of course, God could have created this beam of light with all this information in it. However, the real question is not “Could God have done it?” but “Did He?”

Therefore, starlight seems to have originated at stellar surfaces, not in empty space.

Surprising Observations

Starlight from distant stars and galaxies is redshifted—meaning that their light is redder than one might expect. Although other interpretations are possible, most astronomers have interpreted redshifted light to be a wave effect, similar to that of the lower pitch of a train’s whistle when the train is going away from an observer. As the wave emitter (train or star) moves away from an observer, the waves are stretched, making them lower in pitch (for the train) or redder in color (for the star or galaxy). The greater a star’s or galaxy’s redshift, the faster it is supposedly moving away from us.

Hubble Deep field zoom
Hubble Deep Field North. The Hubble Space Telescope, searching for evolving galaxies in December 1995, focused for 10 continuous days on a tiny patch of sky, so small when viewed from Earth that a grain of sand held at arm’s length would cover that area. This picture of that tiny patch of sky is called Hubble Deep Field North. Most objects in it are not isolated stars, but galaxies, each containing billions of stars. Of the 3,000 galaxies photographed that emitted enough light to measure their redshifts, which presumably measure distance, all seemed surprisingly mature. As stated in Scientific American, “the formation of ‘ordinary’ spiral and elliptical galaxies is apparently still out of reach of most redshift surveys.” Moreover, fully formed clusters of galaxies, not just galaxies, are seen at the greatest distances visible to the Hubble Space Telescope. In 1998 and 2004, similar pictures—with similar results—were taken.Think about this. There is not enough time in the age of the universe (even as evolutionists imagine it, times a billion) for gravity to pull together all the particles comprising clusters of galaxies. Because the most current studies show fully-formed galaxies even farther away than those shown above, creation becomes the logical and obvious alternative. We may be seeing galaxies as they looked months after they were created. Vast amounts of time are no longer needed.
Since 1976, William Tifft, a University of Arizona astronomer, has found that the redshifts of distant stars and galaxies typically differ from each other by only a few fixed amounts.20 This is very strange if stars are actually moving away from us. It would be as if galaxies could travel only at specific speeds, jumping abruptly from one speed to another, without passing through intermediate speeds. If stars are not moving away from us at high speeds, the big bang theory is wrong, along with many other related beliefs in the field of cosmology. Other astronomers, not initially believing Tifft’s results, did similar work and reached the same conclusion.

All atoms give off tiny bundles of energy (called quanta) of fixed amounts—and nothing in between. So, Setterfield believes that the “quantization of redshifts,” as many describe it, is an atomic effect, not a strange recessional-velocity effect. If space slowly absorbs energy from all emitted light, it would do so in fixed increments, which would redshift starlight, with the farthest star’s light red-shifting the most. Setterfield is working on a theory to tie this and the decay in the speed of light together. If he is correct, we should soon see the redshifts of a few distant galaxies suddenly decrease. This may explain why two distinct redshifts are seen in each of several well-studied galaxies;22 they are obviously not flying apart!

Another surprising observation is that most distant galaxies look remarkably similar to nearer galaxies. For example, galaxies are fully developed and show no signs of evolving. This puzzles astronomers.23 If the speed of light has decreased drastically, these distant, yet mature, galaxies no longer need explaining. Also, the light from a distant galaxy would have reached Earth not too long after the light from nearby galaxies. This may be why spiral galaxies, both near and far, have similar twists. [See Figure 170.]

Spiral Galaxies
Figure 170 - Spiral Galaxies
The arms in these six representative spiral galaxies have about the same amount of twist. Their distances from Earth are shown in light-years. (One light-year, the distance light travels in one year, equals 5,879,000,000,000 miles.) For the light from all galaxies to arrive at Earth tonight, the more distant galaxies, which had to release their light long before the closer galaxies, did not have as much time to rotate and twist their arms. Therefore, farther galaxies should have less twist. Of course, if light traveled millions of times faster in the past, the farthest galaxies did not have to send their light long before the nearest galaxies. Spiral galaxies should have similar twists. This turns out to be the case.21 The galaxies are: A) M33 or NGC 598; B) M101 or NGC 5457; C) M51 or NGC 5194; D) NGC 4559; E) M88 or NGC 4501; and F) NGC 772. All distances are taken from R. Brent Tully, Nearby Galaxies Catalog (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

A Critical Test

If the speed of light has decreased a millionfold, we should observe events in outer space in extreme slow motion. Here is why.

Imagine a time in the distant past when the speed of light was a million times faster than it is today. On a hypothetical planet, billions of light-years from Earth, a light started flashing toward Earth every second. Each flash then began a very long trip to Earth. Because the speed of light was a million times greater than it is today, those initial flashes were spaced a million times farther apart than they would have been at today’s slower speed of light.

Now, thousands of years later, imagine that throughout the universe, the speed of light has slowed to today’s speed. The first of those light flashes—strung out like beads sliding down a long string—are approaching Earth. The large distances separating adjacent flashes have remained constant during those thousands of years, so the moving flashes slowed in unison. Because the first flashes to strike Earth are spaced so far apart, they will strike Earth every million seconds. In other words, we are seeing past events on that planet (the flashing of a light) in slow motion. If the speed of light has been decreasing since the creation, then the farther out in space we look, the more extreme this slow motion becomes.

About half the stars in our galaxy are binary. That is, they and a companion star are in a tight orbit around their common center of mass. If there is a “slow-motion effect,” the apparent orbital periods of binary stars should tend to increase with increasing distance from Earth. If the speed of light has been decreasing, the Hubble Space Telescope may eventually find that binary stars at great distances have very long orbital periods, showing that we are observing them in slow motion.

References and Notes:
1. Trevor Norman and Barry Setterfield, The Atomic Constants, Light, and Time (Box 318, Blackwood, South Australia, 5051: self-published, 1987).

2. Two creationist physicists have claimed that the data shows no statistically significant change in the speed of light. See, for example:
  • Gerald E. Aardsma, “Has the Speed of Light Decayed?” Impact, No. 179 (El Cajon, California: The Institute for Creation Research), May 1988.
  • Gerald E. Aardsma, “Has the Speed of Light Decayed Recently?” Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, June 1988, pp. 36–40.
  • Robert H. Brown, “Statistical Analysis of the Atomic Constants, Light and Time,” Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, September 1988, pp. 91–95.
Their calculations contain mathematical errors which, if corrected, would support the hypothesis that the speed of light has decreased. I have discussed these matters with each author. The following professional statisticians have verified my conclusions or have reached similar conclusions independently:
  • Michael Hasofer, University of New South Wales, Sidney 2033, Australia.
  • David J. Merkel, 11 Sunnybank Road, Aston, Pennsylvania 19014, U.S.A.
  • Alan Montgomery, 218 McCurdy Drive, Kanata, Ontario K2L 2L6, Canada.

3. “The Velocity of Light,” Science, Vol. 66, Supplement x, 30 September 1927.

4. M. E. J. Gheury de Bray, “The Velocity of Light,” Nature, 24 March 1934, p. 464. M. E. J. Gheury de Bray, “The Velocity of Light,” Nature, 4 April 1931, p. 522.

5. Ibid.

6. Light beams are considered to be traveling in a vacuum. Light traveling through any substance—such as air, water, or glass—travels at slightly slower speeds.
  • In two published experiments, the speed of light was exceeded by as much as a factor of 100! The first experiment involved radio signals which, of course, are a type of light. [See P. T. Pappas and Alexis Guy Obolensky, “Thirty Six Nanoseconds Faster Than Light,” Electronics and Wireless World, December 1988, pp. 1162–1165.] The second report referred to a theoretical derivation and a simple experiment that allowed electrical signals to greatly exceed the speed of light. This derivation follows directly from Maxwell’s equations. The special conditions involved extremely thin electrical conductors with very low capacitance and inductance. [See Harold W. Milnes, “Faster Than Light?” Radio-Electronics, Vol. 54, January 1983, pp. 55–58.]
  • Another phenomenon allows light to slightly exceed its normal speed. [See Julian Brown, “Faster Than the Speed of Light,” New Scientist, 1 April 1995, pp. 26–29. Also see Jon Marangos, “Faster than a Speeding Photon,” Nature, Vol. 406, 20 July 2000, pp. 243–244.] However, this effect does not explain distant light in a young universe.

7. V. S. Troitskii, “Physical Constants and the Evolution of the Universe,” Astrophysics and Space Science, Vol. 139, No. 2, December 1987, pp. 389–411.

8. “We have shown how a time varying speed of light could provide a resolution to the well-known cosmological puzzles.” Andreas Albrecht and João Magueijo, “A Time Varying Speed of Light as a Solution to Cosmological Puzzles,” Physical Review D, 15 February 1999, p. 043516-9. [The authors state that light may have traveled thirty orders of magnitude faster than it does today!]

“It is remarkable when you can find one simple idea [a decaying speed of light] that has so many appealing consequences.” John D. Barrow, Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Astronomy Centre at the University of Sussex, as quoted by Steve Farrar, “Speed of Light Slowing Down,” London Sunday Times, 15 November 1998.

“If light initially moved much faster than it does today and then decelerated sufficiently rapidly early in the history of the Universe, then all three cosmological problems—the horizon, flatness and lambda problems—can be solved at once.” John D. Barrow, “Is Nothing Sacred?” New Scientist, Vol. 163, 24 July 1999, p. 28.
Two comments. First, each problem Barrow mentions is actually a reason for concluding the big bang theory is wrong. Second, no scientific law says that the speed of light is a constant. It has only been assumed to be such. In fact, today it is arbitrarily defined as a constant.

9. For example, “the horizon problem” recognizes that opposite extremes of the universe have the same temperature. Why should this be? The universe isn’t old enough for such vastly separated regions ever to have had contact with each other. Light doesn’t travel fast enough—at least not today.

10. T. C. Van Flandern, “Is the Gravitational Constant Changing?” The Astrophysical Journal, Vol. 248, 1 September 1981, pp. 813–816.

T. C. Van Flandern, “Is the Gravitational Constant Changing?” Precision Measurement and Fundamental Constants II, editors B. N. Taylor and W. D. Phillips, National Bureau of Standards (U.S.A.), Special Publication 617, 1984, pp. 625–627.

11. Some who believe in an old universe have a different explanation. Those isotopes are extinct because so much time has passed. However, this explanation raises a counterbalancing question: How did those isotopes, and 97% of all elements, form? The standard answer is that these elements appeared during 13.7 billion years’ worth of supernova explosions. This is speculation, because no supporting evidence has been found. Besides, in our galaxy, we see the remnants of only 7,000 years’ worth of supernovas. [See “Supernova Remnants” on page 39.]

12. Alan Montgomery and Lambert Dolphin, “Is the Velocity of Light Constant in Time?” Galilean Electrodynamics, Vol. 4, No. 5, September–October 1993, pp. 93–97.

13. “Precision” should not be confused with “accuracy.” Atomic clocks are very precise, but not necessarily accurate. They keep very consistent time with each other, and each atomic clock can subdivide a second into 9 billion parts. This is remarkable precision. But what if this entire global network of atomic clocks is drifting—speeding up or slowing down? Precision, while impressive, is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for accuracy.

14. Kenneth Brecher, “Is the Speed of Light Independent of the Velocity of the Source?” Physical Review Letters, Vol. 39, No. 17, 24 October 1977, pp. 1051–1054.

15. Another question concerns Einstein’s well-known formula, E=mc2, which gives the energy (E) released when a nuclear reaction annihilates a mass (m). If the speed of light (c) decreases, then one might think that either E must decrease or m must increase. Not necessarily.
  • In the universe, time could flow according to either atomic time or orbital time. Under which standard would E=mc2 be a true statement? Mass-energy would be conserved under both; in other words, the energy or mass of an isolated system would not depend on how fast time passed. Obviously, E=mc2 would be true in atomic time where c is constant, but not in orbital time where c appears to decrease. Today, E=mc2 will be approximately correct even in orbital time.
  • Nuclear reactions convert mass to energy. Unfortunately, the extremely small mass lost and large energy produced cannot be measured precisely enough to test whether E=mc2 is absolutely true in orbital time. Even if mass and energy were precisely measured, this formula has embedded in it an experimentally-derived, unit-conversion factor that requires a time measurement by some clock. Which type of clock should be used: an orbital clock or an atomic clock? Again, we can see that E=mc2 is “clock dependent.”
  • If c has decreased (using the orbital time standard), neither length, electrical charge, nor temperature standards would change. Therefore, chemical and nuclear reactions would not change. However, the speed of chemical and nuclear reactions would change, because the vibrational frequencies of atoms and nuclei would change. Also, radioactive decay rates, which depend on the vibrational frequency of the nucleus, would decrease if c decreased.

16. F. Duccio Macchetto and Mark Dickerson, “Galaxies in the Young Universe,” Scientific American, Vol. 276, May 1997, p. 95.

17. Govert Schilling, “Early Start for Lumpy Universe,” Science, Vol. 281, 11 September 1998, p. 1593. [See also E. J. Ostrander et al., “The Hubble Space Telescope Medium Deep Survey Cluster Sample: Methodology and Data,” The Astronomical Journal, Vol. 116, December 1998, pp. 2644–2658.]

18. This problem for conventional astronomy has been quietly recognized for several decades. See Endnote 6 on page 337 (in Walt Brown’s original book - click here).

19. J. A. Stevens et al., “The Formation of Cluster Elliptical Galaxies as Revealed by Extensive Star Formation,” Nature, Vol. 425, 18 September 2003, pp. 264–267.

20. William G. Tifft, “Properties of the Redshift. III. Temporal Variation,” The Astrophysical Journal, Vol. 382, 1 December 1991, pp. 396–415.

21. “The biggest challenge to the standard model of galaxy formation could be the number of large galaxies showing the spiral structure in the early universe.” Ivo Labbé, as quoted by Ron Cowen, “Mature Before Their Time,” Science News, Vol. 163, 1 March 2003, p. 139.

22. William G. Tifft and W. John Cocke, “Quantized Galaxy Redshifts,” Sky & Telescope, January 1987, p. 19.

23. “Most Distant Galaxies: Surprisingly Mature,” Science News, Vol. 119, 7 March 1981, p. 148.