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I am not trying to be argumentative, this is an earnest question, as this question got me in huge trouble when I was growing up attending a southern baptist Christian middle school. This question (and people's reactions to it) is actually one of the things that lead my away from the church as a teenager (which I later came back to).

If the speed of light is constant and we can see distant objects (stars, galaxies, etc) that are millions or billions of light years away how can we account for a young age of the universe?

  • My father, at that time, was convinced that the speed of light has been slowing down since the creation of the universe. Although, I have never seen any credible evidence of this, and it would seem that measurements taken at CERN (and elsewhere) would be seriously affected if the speed of light was not a constant.
  • My 8th grade science teacher said it was because objects used to be closer than they are now, and have moved away from each other over time. However, if the universe was only 10k years old, and two objects started next to each other and traveled away from each other at nearly the speed of light, the most distant objects in the universe would still only appear to be a little less then 10k light years away.
  • God creating the universe with photons in flight, making the distant universe (and therefore past events) only appear to be taking places (or even existing), is certainly deceptive and I cannot accept it.
  • Do YEC consider the age of the Universe and the age of the Earth two separate questions?

My question isn't 'how old is the universe?', or 'did the big bang happen?', or 'creation vs evolution'. It is simply this: how do Christians, who are YEC, reconcile this?

Edit

Some have asked, why I cannot accept that God created photons in midflight giving the appearance of age?

  • In the video series @SeanDowney posted below, the presenter speaking against this argument shows a star that is 150k light years away that we observed blowing up. So, if God created photons in midflight then for 8k years God has been showing us a star that never existed and showed us an event (the start being destroyed) that never took place.
  • This is a specious argument in general, because I can make the same argument that God created the universe 5 minutes ago and all the evidence to the contrary (physical evidence, our memories of the past, etc.) were all put in place to give the appearance of age.

In both these cases, God making the universe appear to be billions of years old, instead of 5 minutes old, or the universe appearing to be billions of years old instead of 10k years, involves deception on the part of God that I cannot accept God (or my conception of him) would perpetrate.

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Changing the speed of light is a big deal. For example, light is a wave, so it is the case that wavelengthfrequency = c, regardless of what c is. But the energy stored in light is given by E = hfrequency = h*c/wavelength. If c goes way, way up, energy does also, and everything blows to bits. Or, if wavelength goes way, way down to compensate, light is now too small to interact with matter. If you change Planck's constant h, you have a new set of nonsensical physical results. Changing the speed of light while retaining a familiar environment means that physics was radically different. –  Rex Kerr Sep 16 '11 at 20:37
    
People! A chat exists! Use it! On that note... <Chatty comments deleted.> –  El'endia Starman Sep 17 '11 at 18:06
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It seems to me that you have edited your question to ensure that it can't be answered. Your question is directed at YECs, who by definition believe the universe (or at least the earth) is "young", but you categorically reject any answer that doesn't take it as a given that the universe is billions of years old. As it stands, I'm strongly tempted to vote to close because it's "not a real question". –  jimreed Sep 20 '11 at 17:14
    
@jimreed perhaps you are correct, most YEC believe that science and YEC can and should be reconciled, but what I was hoping for was a more diverse set of answers such as ‘YEC’ only believe in a young earth or a young solar system, here is some biblical evidence’ or ‘there are problems measuring distance on the scale of the universe’, or ‘the speed of light isn’t constant, here some evidence to back it up’ which was one I heard in the creationism chat, I was hoping for some more info on that. If creating photons in mid-flight is the only answer for YEC (at this point in history) then so be it. –  aceinthehole Sep 20 '11 at 17:35
    
@jimreed - Agreed; hopefully aceinthehole will accept as correct an answer that conveys the essence of the (most common) YEC position, even if ace finds that view of God personally uncomfortable. If your answer, for example, is widely believed, is there some way you can reference this fact? –  Rex Kerr Sep 20 '11 at 17:52

8 Answers 8

I have a Ph.D. in Mathematical Physics, and have thought about these questions for some time. I am going to write down a few of my thoughts as an answer. The basic question is, it seems to me, "How can we reconcile the biblical creation account with its (at least literal) account of a young earth, with scientific evidence for an old earth?"

Firstly, I question whether the "scientific evidence" is all that scientific. Karl Popper said that a scientific statement is one that can, in principle, be falsified by observation. He may have exaggerated the role of falsification, but surely no one can deny that if a statement cannot possibly be tested by an observation, it is not in the realm of science. So the question, "Is it raining outside?" is scientific, whereas, "Is there a God?" is not.

Let us examine the statement, "The universe is billions of years old." Is it scientific? Are there observations that could confirm or not confirm it? I believe the answer is "no". To test it, we would have to construct hundreds (probably a much greater number) of parallel universes, evolve them in time over billions of years, and see where they wind up. We have no method of constructing parallel universes, so this procedure is impractical. That is, we have no basis for measuring the statement empirically.

Now let us examine the statement, "God created the universe a few thousand years ago." This statement fails to be scientific for nearly the same reasons as the other.

To sum up so far: no ultimate question about origins is scientific, because there can be no experiments to test it.

However, there is the creation account in the Bible, and as I take the inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration of the Scriptures as axiomatic, I see no reason not to believe in that historical account. Science, as we have seen, has no tool at its disposal to prove or disprove anything with respect to origins.

There is another, mathematical, reason why science cannot disprove the idea of a mature creation: semigroup theory. Suppose you have a system that starts at state A, evolves in time through state B, and ends up at C. That is, the state evolves this way: A -> B -> C. Now, let's take an identical system, and suppose that it evolves in time from B -> C. Semigroup theory says that if you're in the system, and you have no outside knowledge or memory of the system, then there is no test you can perform to determine if you came from A or from B. So, if we take the universe as our system, and we have no outside knowledge or memory of its evolution in time, then we cannot tell at all whether the universe was created only a few thousand years ago to look billions of years old, or whether God really did create it billions of years ago, and its age and apparent age match. Therefore, science cannot disprove mature creation.

It has been brought up in comments, and in the edit to the OP, that the appearance of age requires deception on the part of God, and is therefore inadmissable. To that I would reply that we are no judge. First of all, our judgement of the age of the universe can be, and almost certainly is, spurious. We have no memory of those kinds of vast eons of time. Secondly, if we are talking about the Creator of the universe, then He is not answerable to us, but we to Him. Thirdly, I would point out various portions of the Scriptures that indicate that His ways are far above ours. If we do not have the full picture, and we do not, then we should not confuse our short-sightedness with clear-sightedness. Do we have the full picture? Do we know all the things going on here? I think not. If we serve a God Who is by no means obligated to reveal anything at all to us, we should not complain if a "few things" are unclear. Fourthly, God is Who He is, and we cannot change Him. Our conception of God is quite unimportant. What matters infinitely more is the conception of God as He has revealed Himself to us.

It has also been noted in the comments the various reasons why God might have created things with an appearance of age: utility, more glory for Himself. Somewhat related to the second reason there is my favorite reason: for beauty. The stars would surely be more beautiful if their light was already streaming to the earth.

There are a few other aspects of this question that I have answered in different details on this blog post.

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"Are there observations that could confirm or not confirm it? I believe the answer is "no"." Well, you're wrong –  Sven Aug 2 '13 at 21:23
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Yes, I am well aware that there are many such papers that "demonstrate" that the age of the universe is billions of years old. But they have not "demonstrated" that the universe is billions of years old - not a single one of those papers has done that. They can't. What they have done is show that, given oodles of assumptions, the hypothesis that the universe is billions of years old is not incompatible with such-and-such observations/calculations. That's it. That is not the same thing as demonstrating that the universe is billions of years old. You must go much further than that. –  Adrian Keister Aug 2 '13 at 21:36
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A universe that LOOKS 13.75 billion years old is logically equivalent to a universe that IS 13.75 billions years old. Using your definition of demonstrate, nothing can ever be demonstrated. –  Sven Aug 2 '13 at 21:41
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Are you an empiricist, then? Many things are not as they seem. As for demonstrating things, while I wouldn't limit it to mathematical demonstrations, certainly using my definition of demonstrate, many things can be demonstrated in mathematics. Also in theology, using "good and necessary consequence". Science, by its very nature, is a collection of useful falsehoods. Useful, but false. Science does not ever arrive at truth - it can only merely approximate it, and not always very well at that. –  Adrian Keister Aug 2 '13 at 21:44
    
And 13B years is our best approximation. Surely we can't be that much wrong to allow a 6000 year old universe. –  Sven Aug 2 '13 at 21:51

It should be clear from the answers so far that, while there are many creationist theories about distant starlight, there is no one widely held "answer".

This is ok if you treat young-earth creationism like science. Open questions and competing theories are what science is about! It's even ok to say "we don't know right now" - in fact that is better than offering a wildly implausible explanation. Some young-earth creationists (like Kurt Wise and Todd Wood) do have the intellectual honesty and scientific mindset to treat young-earth creationism like a testable hypothesis, and they are plenty honest when data doesn't fit their current model.

The problem is that few people treat young-earth creationism that way. Instead it is treated like a branch of apologetics, which must have "the answer" to refute "the evolutionists".

So, to answer the question, there is no one dominant way to reconcile a young earth with distant starlight. There are some theories, none of which are completely satisfying. Does that mean that young-earth creationism, as a scientific theory about what actually happened, is currently less explanatory than the standard big-bang model? Yes, and young-earth creationists need to be willing to admit that.

But that is not at all the same thing as saying young-earth creationism is false. It just means you have work to do!

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Just as a point of correction, please don't conflate young-earth creationism with creationism in general. There are plenty of creationists who believe that the evidence for a billions of years universe is completely credible and that such an age for the universe poses no conflict with Biblical revelation. –  Lawrence Dol Dec 30 '12 at 22:51

There are two main theories creationists used to explain it:

  1. In 1857 Philip Goose wrote the book Omphalos which proposes the omphalos hypothesis and argues, that God must have created the earth as it is today, with mountains, canyons, tree rings, and thus with the light of stars.

    This theory, of course, raises the question of when the "false history" began exactly. It could have been a few thousand years ago, but of course God might have created us a few seconds ago. His hypothesis is impossible to verify and unfalsifiable, therefore it's widely rejected. Even other Creationists reject that hypothesis on philosophical grounds, as it would lead to a deceptive and inconsistent creator.

  2. In 1987 Barry Setterfield proposes the hypothetis, that the speed of light (and other physical constants) has changed over time and is exponentially slowing down from the moment of creation. Based on this, light from distant galaxies would have covered most of it's journey to earth in the recent past.

    Setterfield used a series of measurements that started in 1667 (Roemer 307,600) and argues that they fit into an exponential curve, resulting in todays accepted figure of 299,792.4358 km/s. That method is highly dependend on the first measurements, which is the outlier that defines the curve.

    The credibility is questioned because he discarded 3 of the 41 data points in an earlier table resulting in a "near perfect fit of the data" (altough not a single data point lay on the curve, even after adjusting it). Other measurements, made only a few decades later then the first and were much more reliable, were not included in his statistical analysis. (Source)

    Another issue the observed explosion of Supernova SN1987A. Its 177000 light-years away and every possible decay curve is ruled out by simple observations. Recent measures of the speed of light have not shown any decay and thus his theory is rejected scientifically.

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The exponential curve theory also failed to account for the error-bars in the measurements. Constant speed of light falls within the older measurement's error bars, which were less precise than those we can make today. When C=x +/- y then all values from x-y to x+y are plausible for C and the current precision of C falls within the previously measured ranges. –  Lawrence Dol Dec 30 '12 at 22:45
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A nitpick, but the first theory raises the question of when the false history began. Begging the question is a logical fallacy whereby the conclusion is assumed true within the argument supporting it. –  Lawrence Dol Dec 30 '12 at 22:47
    
You write "This theory, of course, raises the question of when the 'false history' began exactly. It could have been a few thousand years ago, but of course God might have created us a few seconds ago. His hypothesis is impossible to verify and unfalsifiable, therefore it's widely rejected. Even other Creationists reject that hypothesis on philosophical grounds, as it would lead to a deceptive and inconsistent creator." See my answer for a different take on this. –  Adrian Keister Aug 2 '13 at 20:25
    
The third main theory I hear amongst friends of mine who are both Christians and serious academics (mathematicians or physicists) is the position of skepticism. Roughly, they reject the supposed authority with which mainline astrophysics asserts its chronology. A distinction between observational and historical science is made. The problem of providing a history because the other side already has offered their own is a false choice. No one has a reliable history. This we can say, God created the universe replete with physics. How precisely? Maybe we can't know. –  James S. Cook Oct 17 '13 at 3:21

The big bang has some significant evidence to it. So we cannot discount the fact that a big bang happened. However, nobody knows how it happened, they just know it did.

I've read through Genesis quite a few times in order to understand this situation with the stars. I've discerned quite a few things that have not been considered in this argument yet.

Little Big Bangs

God first created our earth, then He created the sun, then on day four He looks into the night and goes to work.

Genesis 1:14-19 (NIV)

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

Let's gather some premises from this statement above:

  • The stars were created after the earth and the sun.
  • They will serve as signs for sacred times and years.
  • They will give light on the earth

These are the three premises that were made on the fourth day. So if we break these down and add a little science we can understand what exactly that God did.

First Premise. Because God created the stars after the earth, we have to acknowledge that there were multiple big bangs. We know that massive amounts of energy were needed in order to create mass, thus the bangs. So for God to energize massive amounts of energy to bang out a bunch of new universes all over the sky is not against science.

Second Premise. Obviously the moon doesn't really stand for years. It stands for days and for months, but not years and sacred times, such as decades or centuries. The stars tell us about the decade, the century and the age that we are currently in. The difference here, is how far away the stars would need to have been created, from us, in order that they would stand for decades and ages.

They had to be created far enough away, in their orbits so that they would seem to stay in the same location, but still have some movement. So God did create the planets far away, not during one single big bang.

(fallacy in star distance measurements) There have been plenty of arguments against the red shift theory. So it cannot be entirely counted on.

Also think about the way that the stars are measured. They take an angle between the sun and the star, then six months later they take another angle between the sun and the star. The scientists are assuming that the star itself does not move. But they're assumption is wrong. Because we know that all stars are in orbits of their own and there's no telling how far the star they are measuring, has moved. They do not use this measurement on close planets for this very reason, why would they do it on distant planets? This is just simply not a true triangle and thus, the measurement cannot be trusted.

The closer the stars are, the more exaggerated that this triangle is going to be and the farther away the star is going to look, with this method of measurement. They state billions of light years, but nobody can measure the age of the light. These numbers I fear have been grossly exaggerated.

Premise Three. The stars instantly gave light onto the earth after God created them. So the stars have to be within range to do just this.

Conclusion

It's very possible that the stars are not as far away as you think. Alternatively, God did create the stars a long ways away, who knows how far. Alternatively, if God created them close and the stars are moving farther away, there's no knowing just how fast they're moving and how far that they've traveled.

There's a lot of ways to reconcile the age of the universe. We just need more accurate information from the scientists to determine which conclusion is right.

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Could you provide one or more links to arguments against the red shift theory? –  jimreed Sep 20 '11 at 16:59
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According to creationists the error-rates of any measure must be around ±100% so it surely must dismissed as false. –  Sven Sep 20 '11 at 17:31
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I didn't downvote you, I just thought that wobbling stars was a particularly odd claim. Anyway, even if everything you said was completely absurd, if it was plausible that this was how young earth creationists thought, I wouldn't downvote, since it is answering the question. (I might point out the flaws in the logic. For example, if stars started out nearby, they'd have to be dim (or few) or they'd outshine the sun.) –  Rex Kerr Sep 20 '11 at 17:36
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"There have been plenty of arguments against the red shift theory. So it cannot be entirely counted on." Discounting, even partially, a widely accepted theory based upon the volume, rather than the quality, of arguments you haven't directly cited seems a bit dodgy. One could just as easily say "there have been plenty of arguments against the theory that the earth revolves around the sun, so it cannot be entirely counted on." –  Beofett Sep 20 '11 at 17:39
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Fair enough, which is why I did not downvote your answer. However, just because your answer wasn't intended to prove anything is not justification for casually discrediting widely accepted theory without something to back it up. –  Beofett Sep 20 '11 at 17:56

I am undecided on the YEC, but my admittedly unconventional thinking is close enough to that so that I'd like to try to address this.

Regarding the universe being created 5 minutes ago, that is similar an concept from physics known as a Boltzmann brain. Briefly, the problem with the atheist idea that the universe was created by a quantum fluctuation 13+ billion years ago is that the mathematics of quantum fluctuations shows that the recent random appearance of an artificial universe such as you describe is enormously more likely than the gigantic old universe that we see. That is because an artificial universe is much smaller and so the quantum fluctuations that lead to it are exponentially more likely even after accounting for the fact that the structure required for them is more elaborate. So the creation of an artificial world is a very reasonable thing to consider scientifically.

Regarding the supposedly deceptive nature of that type of creation, the concept of a Boltzmann brain shows that an artificial world is a perfectly natural situation that science needs to consider. So there is no more deception involved than the fact that substances such as water are made of atoms when they appear to our senses to be continuous. God has chosen to create us in the manner that he saw fit, and our very limited scientific knowledge is completely inadequate to decide what is and is not appropriate for his purposes.

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D. Russell Humphreys makes an interesting case for reconciling a young earth and distant stars using the generally accepted big-bang model with modified starting assumptions.

It's been a while since I read it and I don't want to erroneously summarise his theory but I seem to recall that if the earth is actually relatively near the center of the universe, time on earth would progress very slowly relative to the rapidly expanding universe around us. This "event horizon"-like effect would allow a universe of far greater age than the earth without requiring a non-constant speed of light.

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I would like to mention, that his hypothesis is rejected not only by scientists, but also other creationists. Summary of criticism –  Sven Sep 20 '11 at 22:18
    
@Sven: That appears to be debunking other of D.Russel Humphreys' work. I don't see any mention in that article about distances to the stars. –  Flimzy Sep 21 '11 at 2:07
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Here is a link to the criticism of Humphreys' cosmological model, and here is Humphreys' response to some of his critics. –  Flimzy Sep 21 '11 at 2:16
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Often the first attempt at a theory fails, but perhaps there is something deeper to search for past Humphreys' attempt. If the literal YEC are correct about their exegesis and the mainstream astrophysicists are correct about their chronology then it is clear that the way we understand time in Scripture needs some insight from relativity. God has warned us that He is above us, but we have a way of forgetting that and insisting his creation narrative fits some Newtonian timeline. To be clear, as a Christian, I do believe the Scriptures are inspired. However, I doubt we understand them all. –  James S. Cook Oct 17 '13 at 3:13

Here's a video series to address the issue: http://www.answersingenesis.org/media/video/ondemand/distant-starlight

AIG, is young earth and they have lots of resources to check out.

I would agree with Jim in saying it's possible for God to create stuff with age. It sounds like you don't like that in the 3rd point of your question, since it makes God look deceptive. But I could argue to say that God needs stuff with age to create a functional world, which is not deceptive, but necessary. Was creating Adam full grown deceptive? What about eve, his wife? The intent of these things was not to deceive but to create a fully functional world

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I like how you address the problem of stuff being created with age. –  a_hardin Sep 16 '11 at 22:02
    
PTL, glad it made since to somebody :) –  SeanDowney Sep 16 '11 at 22:12
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The real reason I have to down-vote this question, though, is that providing a link is not an answer. –  Flimzy Sep 16 '11 at 22:26
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Practically every hypothesis proposed in that video has been disproven. (I can't adamantly say every one, because I'm not familiar with every single one he mentions). –  Flimzy Sep 16 '11 at 23:24
    
@All please see my updated question. –  aceinthehole Sep 20 '11 at 14:43

If you accept that God could create the universe out of nothing and create it any way He desired, then the explanation of God creating the universe with photons in flight has to be taken as a possiblity. I realize you have discounted it as deceptive and therefore unacceptable, but consider the following...

When God created trees, did He create only seeds that grew into trees or did He create full grown trees complete with rings? I assume that He created full grown trees that had an apparent age greater than their literal age.

Similarly, was Adam created as a baby (or embryo) or was he created as an adult? Again, I assume that he was created as an adult with an apparent age greater than his literal age.

In those examples, would anyone assume that God was being deceptive? Probably not because we are not looking at the apparent age of trees or Adam to determine how long ago God created the universe.

As a YEC, I don't look to my surroundings to guide me in how to make sense of the Bible, I look to the Bible to guide me in how to make sense of my surroundings (to include the entire universe).

I don't think God created the universe with the goal of us being able to examine it to determine how long ago He created it. I believe it is more accurate to assume He created the universe as huge as it is so that we would be impressed and glorify Him.

I have a MSEE degree, I minored in Physics when I got my BSEE. I know this answer does not present a scientific view. Science can neither prove nor disprove God's creation of the universe. If it could, then there would be less need for faith "and without faith it is impossible to please Him..."

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“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Isaiah 29:14 "You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”?" Isaiah 29:16 –  2tim424 Sep 16 '11 at 21:52
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Turning this into "chicken vs. egg" isn't really an answer. I also don't think it's fair to assume that trees were created as trees and not seeds (or some unknown third option), nor the same for Adam. I guess you have answered the question how YOU can reconcile these two. So I can't down vote your answer... but I think it's a very intellectually unsatisfying answer. So I can't upvote it, either. –  Flimzy Sep 16 '11 at 22:06
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The problem is not just age but history. Did God create photons that appear to show us stars that never existed, colliding galaxies that never collided? –  gmoothart Sep 16 '11 at 22:40
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@gmoothart How is that any different from the examples I gave of full grown trees and an adult Adam? Today we don't expect either of those to happen instantaneously either. Aside from creation, I don't know of any way to get age without history. –  jimreed Sep 17 '11 at 0:44
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@jimreed: It's different, because light from distant galaxies has no function aside from making it look as though they existed before they did. In the tree/Adam examples, there's at least a theoretical need for them to have been created as "adults." –  Flimzy Sep 17 '11 at 5:46

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