Gravitational Time DilationMay 23, 2007
If the universe is only ~6,000 years old then how can we see starlight from galaxies that are billions of years away?
That’s a good question. Asking the right questions is half the battle. In 1994 Dr. Russell Humphreys published a book called Starlight and Time: Solving the Mystery of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe. In his book, Dr. Humphreys proposes an alternative model to the Big Bang that neatly explains a number of phenomena. He also helps to clarify many points about the Big Bang and actually gave me a healthy respect for the theory.
A Universe with no Center?
The central difference between the Big Bang and Dr. Humphreys’ “White-Hole Cosmology” is the issue of general relativity and the question of whether or not the universe has a center. When talking about something as massive as the known universe you are dealing with a lot of mass. Mass produces gravity, and Einstein discovered that gravity distorts time. So if the universe has a center of gravity we would see some interesting effects on a cosmic scale.
When we look at the galaxies all around us we see a basically uniform distribution. There are not more galaxies in the northern hemisphere than in the southern, or any spots where we don’t see any galaxies. This could mean three possible things: either we are near the center of the universe, the universe is really big and the center is not within sight, or the universe has no center. The most popularly accepted theory of the Big Bang takes the third option, and employs the Copernican Principle (ironically named after a creationist) which says that the earth is not in a special place in the solar system, a special place in the galaxy, or in a special place in the universe. Basically, earth’s location is not special or remarkable in any way. This leads to the assumption of an “unbounded cosmology” simply put, the universe has no center and no edge. This means that from any place the observer would always look like they were in the middle of the cosmos. The Big Bang theory places the universe on the surface of a 4-dimensional hypersphere that has expanded from a single point to the size/density of our universe today. If this is true then the effects of gravity are evenly distributed over the whole universe and relativity due to gravitational forces can be relegated to little hotspots that don’t have any lasting effect.
The important thing to learn here is that simply by observing the evidence we cannot come to a single theory without first accepting some philosophical assumptions. To quote Gerald Schroeder, author of The Science of God “The difference in theistic and atheistic cosmologies is not whether or not the physical universe has a metaphysical beginning, that is a given. The question is whether or not that first cause still takes an interest in the universe it created”.
So, instead of starting with the philosophical assumption that everything is random, Dr. Humphreys starts with the assumption that the universe is bounded and thus, has a center to it. This matters because if there is a center of the universe then there is a center of mass. Mass produces gravity, and gravity distorts time, according to Einstein’s general relativity. There is an atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado and also one in Greenwich, England. Boulder is one mile above sea level while Greenwich is at sea level. The clock in Boulder registers one extra millisecond every year in comparison to the one in Greenwich. That is because Greenwich is closer to earth’s center of gravity, which causes time to move slower. The time difference between earth’s surface and orbit is much more than a millisecond. Imagine the difference between the core of the sun and Pluto. As the mass involved increases, so does the time dilation effects. If we are near the center of the universe and the center of gravity, a day in earth time could be a very long time at the edge of the universe.
A Possible Scenario
Let’s look at the scenario Dr. Humphreys proposes in his book. Before matter exists there is no time. Time is the framework that we perceive the world, so it’s hard to picture a reality that exists without time. On day one of creation week, the beginning of time as we understand it, God calls into existence a massive sphere of matter (water in this case) containing the total mass of the universe, at least 250,000,000 light years across. At this point in time, all the matter in the universe is in a fairly tight area. The combined gravity of the universe would create a black hole with an event horizon surrounding the universe. The water sphere would begin collapsing under its own weight and nuclear fusion begins in the center. At the start, the entire universe would be illuminated by this massive fusion process. As the event-horizon passed through matter of the universe it would separate the light and dark, creating the universes first shadows as well as time dilation effects.
The event horizon is the gravitational boundary of a black hole where light can no longer escape. It is called the event-horizon because you cannot observe events on either side because not even light is fast enough to escape the pull. The event-horizon is also a point of near infinite time dilation. If you were to watch a person fall towards a black hole they would appear to slow down as they approached the event horizon because the intense gravity slows down time. From the perspective of the person falling towards the event horizon, the rest of the universe would speed up while they remained moving at the same speed.
From observation, we can see that the universe has expanded. This is a commonly accepted scientific fact. If we had an event horizon created by a large conglomeration of matter and space was stretched then the density would start to decrease and the event-horizon would begin collapsing. Once this process starts, our black hole turns into a white hole. Black holes continuously suck matter in, gain mass, and expand their event-horizon. A white hole would be a massive gravitational body that was losing matter out through the event-horizon, which would in turn shrink, losing more matter. White holes are naturally self-destructing. Any matter passing through this event horizon would undergo rapid time dilation wherein they would appear to super accelerate from the time frame of something inside the event-horizon.
The event-horizon would continue to collapse inward toward the center, hyper accelerating protostars as they pass through the event horizon, until eventually all the mass inside the event-horizon is no longer enough to fuel the white hole and the event-horizon disappears entirely. From the perspective of something close to the center, as little as four days could have passed by, while farther out billions of years have gone by. Fact is often stranger than fiction, this is real general relativity. If you’ve got a good math background, you can look at the equations provided in Dr. Humphrey’s book.
This is only one possible scenario of a huge number of possibilities. The important lesson is that the way scientists construct their theories incorporates by necessity a number of philosophical assumptions. When you change these starting assumptions, just like changing axioms, the view can change radically. The Big Bang is not the inescapable logical conclusion of observational data. It requires a person accepts the expanded Copernican Principle, a four dimensional hypersphere even though we only see three dimensions, and the arbitrary fine-tuning of all physical laws to bring about galaxies, solar systems, and an improbable planet like Earth that can bear life. The Big Bang is not a bad theory, it is simply not the only option. The beginning of the universe is not intuitively obvious, class is not dismissed. There are many alternative theories that employ gravitational time dilation instead of trying to avoid it.
Recently, Dr. Russell Humphreys introduced another possible cosmology that employs recent discoveries in space-time and relativity. He developed it when a friend pointed out that biblically speaking, God did not create the matter for the stars on day one, but on day four. He recently wrote a second paper, entitled “New Vistas of Space-Time Rebut the Critics” expanding on his theory and responding to criticism from Old Earth Creationists. I decided not to cover the more recent theory because it employs new scientific research the average person isn’t familiar with, so it’s a bit more complicated. There are other Creationist cosmologies I did not cover, that are still worth looking into.
Alternative Takes on the Big Bang
So far I’ve only discussed the hypersphere version of the Big Bang, that is not because I am ignorant of other theories, only because I’m trying to keep my articles from approaching infinite length. If the universe were infinite in all directions and so long as you kept traveling you would see new and unique galaxies forever then there would also be no center of the universe and no net-gravitational effect. There are some theories that use a bounded universe and accept the time dilation effects that that would entail, and simply put our galaxy at the edge of the universe instead of the center. If you flip the positions around, then we are the hyper-accelerated ones and only six days have passed from the center of the Big Bang. Pastor Peter Hiett uses this cosmology in The Deepest Story to explain how the Bible could say God created the world in six days, which is true from the perspective of the center of the Big Bang, which is billions of light years from Earth. This theory is promoted by Gerald Schroeder in The Science of God mentioned earlier. Here’s a great slideshow comparing the possibilities and mentions the theological issues with theistic evolution and an ancient Earth. The RATE project answers the author’s questions about radioisotope dating referring to “as yet not understood reasons?”.
So it appears we have some elbow room, we have a number of choices in cosmology based on the outcomes of different philosophical assumptions. The question of starlight does not eliminate the possibility of a young earth, in fact, it opens up all number of possibilities and exposes the underlying framework of scientific thinking: philosophy. When it comes to making starting assumptions a Christian should probably take whatever is most Biblical for internal consistency if nothing else. An atheist should take a naturalistic set of assumptions for the same reason. In the absence of any personal experience or scientific evidence both approaches are equally valid and understandable.
Phew, this article is long. It is hard to observe physical processes when we are working with something the size of the entire universe. We can only observe from Earth and our solar system, so it requires a certain amount of faith that the laws of physics are the same everywhere as they are in our infinitesimally small fragment of existence. Still, we have a fair amount of observed evidence to judge off of. We see Red Shift of galaxies in any direction that we look, this is generally interpreted as a Doppler Effect of light. Interestingly, the farther away from us a galaxy is, the more red shift we see, indicating a higher velocity. Red shift can also be explained through spatial expansion. The farther light has had to travel to us the more time it has been under expansion to cause redshift. The white-hole cosmology would be consistent with all red shift patterns without needing to invoke 4 spatial dimensions, in fact, a spherical universe is far more intuitive.
If the galaxies were actually separated from a larger whole instead of flying together in an amazingly structured way then we eliminate the need for a lot of what I would call “theory bandaids” like dark matter, dark energy, density wave theory, the cosmological constant, etc. To my understanding, the spiral twisting of galaxies is caused by the differential forces passing through the event-horizon (or timeless zone in his newer model). I’ll double check that.
Probably the most astounding piece of evidence that the universe truly does have a center is the recent “problem” with Pioneer 10 called the Pioneer anomaly. Pioneer 10 was launched in 1972 and is now far outside our solar system. After accounting for every possible gravitational pull of planets, the sun, even Kuiper belt, it is still experiencing an inexplicable slow-down, as if some force were pulling it back towards our solar system. “The effect is so persistent that it could indicate some physical principle not yet considered in previous explanations of the motions of the planets” (technovelgy.com). This effect is not a mystery in a Creationist cosmology, in fact, it is expected. The effect that is not accounted for is the gravitational pull of the universe, the same force that caused our current time dilation. Our solar system is in a gravity well and Pioneer 10 is trying to get out of that gravity well. How is that for parsimony?
Check out “13 things that do not make sense” and see how this lines up. Most of the astronomy stuff is only a problem in the Big Bang model. I may revise this article later, but I have things to attend to. For now, go stare at the heavens for a while.
Further Comments: Ok, maybe this was a bad idea. First off, I ordered things chronologically meaning that I start with the early days of Creation. This is by necessity the most crazy whacked miraculous period and farthest away from normal human experience. Actually even the Big Bang is pretty insane right at the beginning but then the later stuff is pretty mundane. I’m pretty sure that this has given people that bad first impression that says “this is total pseudoscience and people just making crazy stories up”. If you’ve had a bit more astrophysics then you get used to this sort of thing.
Secondly, not even Russell Humphreys believes this model anymore, so that was a bad choice. The reason I chose it is because there’s a book that you can go and read on it. His new theory is a bit more of a mind bender and also there’s no book on it. Basically, it employs an equation “proof” that someone said that there’s a sort of critical mass to gravitational force. On our 2 dimensional space time plot (picture above) an event horizon is basically the steepness of a gravitational curve. What has been proposed recently is that there is ANOTHER horizon that the maximum amount of total gravitational force. Think of it like sea level. Once you go below this level time actually stops entirely. Not slowed down, there simply is no time. Obviously this would have to be a moving barrier otherwise you couldn’t pass it or recover. Basically the new model proposes that God created the universe with enough mass to put it near this timeless boundary and that the whole universe actually passed through it as it was being created. It has the same overall effect, with the age of any stellar body being directly proportional to its distance from our Solar System and also predicts a phantom gravitational effect centered somewhere in the vicinity (our solar system?) caused by the collective pull of the entire universe. The overall predictions have stayed the same and match data like the Pioneer Anomaly.
I’ll be the first to admit: It’s pretty abstract, like most of astrophysics and quantum physics, relativity, etc. If anything I think you could use it as a proof that astrophysicists are just too far out there to make much sense. When you’re working with stuff that removed in time, space, and magnitude you can basically make up anything. Then again, considering how alien and huge space truly is, isn’t it absurd to think that everything that happens there should be within our realm of experience here on earth?