Young Earth Creationism posits that the Earth is much younger than scientific evidence suggests. My question is, could time dilation be used to explain and reconcile the apparent differences?

Time dilation, in simplified terms, is the phenomenon in which time either speeds up or slows down for something. For example, time moves slower for an observer in motion in an inertial reference frame (although this is negligible at low speeds).

If the Earth was subject to (significant) time dilation, all earthly methods of measuring the age of the earth would be incorrect. For example, if the time dilation speed up time on Earth by a factor of 365, trees would grow rings once a day instead of once a year, causing those using tree rings to measure the passage of time to be way off (assuming they where unaware of the time dilation occurring).

This would be a "boon", so to speak, for Young Earth Creationists. The idea that any scientific method of measuring the time of the Earth could be wrong, and a reasonable and logically consistient way to explain it, would be big.

That said, there are certain caveats:

  • Time dilation doesn't happen spontaneously, or without reason, so Young Earth Creationists would have to explain how the earth is being subject to it. Additionally, the time dilation needs to be of the precisely the right "intensity" if it is to provide reconciliation.
  • Since we are talking about time dilation, we need to bring up one more, very very important thing: the relativity of time. The passage of time is relative to an observer. In this sense, asking what the "age of the earth" is ambiguous. It literally depends on who you ask.

    To make the term precise again, we need to specify a frame of reference. Note, in particular, this can not be the Earth's reference frame. That is because an observer can never experience time dilation from it's own vantage point. Indeed, that would not even make sense. That means that we must use some other frame of reference. In particular, Young Earth Creationists need to explain why the Bible would use this frame of reference, instead of the Earth's.

Also, although you do not need to be a physicist or a Young Earth Creationist to answer this question, you should have at least some understanding of physics and Young Earth Creationism to answer this question. In particular, I ask that if you only understand of Einstein's theory of relativity is from popular science, you may want to refrain from answering this question.

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    @NigelJ If you want to dispute time dilation, then Physics is the site for that. – curiousdannii Nov 26 '18 at 6:45
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    let's make sure we restrict ourselves to the question of whether YEC talk about time dilation as one of the possible reasons for apparent discrepancies between the observed and biblical ages of the Earth. let's make sure we don't debate the plausibility of such arguments. – DJClayworth Nov 27 '18 at 15:34

Yes, time dilation has been used by creationists in proposed solutions to the distant starlight problem for quite some time already. The two main proponents are Russell Humphreys and John G. Hartnett. You can read many of their articles at Creation.com. In short, Humphreys' model uses a white hole (a black hole running in reverse) with the earth experiencing extreme time dilation as the matter of the universe crosses the event horizon. I'm not certain how Hartnett's model differs from Humpreys'.

Both would say that the reference frame Genesis 1 is described from would be that of the earth. That is entirely expected, and I don't understand why you say it cannot be the reference frame. Genesis 1 measures the time of creation by periods of light and darkness (days) on the surface of the earth, which is exactly what a relative reference frame would be.

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  • Wow, I was thinking of something a lot simpler (and more plausible) than a white hole. "That is entirely expected, and I don't understand why you say it cannot be the reference frame." Well, my idea was that the Earth would be exposed to time dilation. By definition, an object can not be time dilated from its own frame of reference. That's because time dilation means that a clock would be ticking faster of slower than it should. But from your own frame of reference, the clock is what defines time, and so it is necessarily, or vacuously, measuring time correctly. – PyRulez Nov 26 '18 at 16:19
  • Also, I thought a day was a 24 hour period of time. After all, it was not until the fourth day that sun and moon appeared, so using periods of light and darkness would not have existed before then. – PyRulez Nov 26 '18 at 16:31
  • How can you say that periods of light and darkness would not have existed before the fourth day when God made light, dark, day, night, evening and morning on the first day?!? So, yes, from the earth's perspective time is passing normally, as the day/light contrast God created on day one transitions through the stages of evening and morning. It is proposed that the rest of the universe experiences time at a much faster rate. – curiousdannii Nov 26 '18 at 22:44
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    This answer correctly says that time dilation has been used by YEC to explain the universe's apparent age. It does not say that it's a correct or even a plausible argument. Let's not debate that here. – DJClayworth Nov 27 '18 at 15:31

My understanding of the YEC solution which uses time dilation is that when the Bible says that He "spread out the heavens", God literally caused the rest of the universe to expand, so that the time experienced by the rest of creation is significantly different than the time experienced on Earth. This solves the distant starlight problem, but does not require a special reference frame or answer any claims about the age of various earthly things.

There is no difficulty with the time dilation here; it is the expected consequence of the expansion of space. There are a number of observations that are consistent with this, such as our appearing to be at (or near) the centre of the expansion of the universe (pretty much everything is red-shifted).

There is not, to my knowledge, any claim that more time on Earth passed than 6000-10000 years. Apologies for the lack of references; I know this only in passing.

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tl;dr If you use a specific reference frame, the age of the earth could be 5 thousand years old, due to time dilation, and the earth would be roughly flat in the same reference frame due to length contraction.

Here is what I was thinking. This is based roughly on the twin paradox.

When the Earth is created, set a clock to 0 that is near the Earth. Now send it on a journey. In particular, it will move at a constant speed of 99.99999999995% of the speed of light. Note that this is constant speed, not velocity. It is free to twist and turn. Note as well that we could allow the speed to vary, it would just make the calculations more complicated.

After about 5 billion years, let us say that the clock ends up near the Earth again. The clock will show only 5 thousand years as having past, consistient with the Young Earth Creationist age of the Earth.

"But wait", you say, "the clock is wrong. It underwent time dilation." Yes it is, from the Earth's reference frame. From the clock's reference frame, on the other hand, it is by definition correct. Therefore, if the Bible was using the clock's reference frame instead of Earth's, it would be literally correct in its assessment of the Earth's age. Indeed, due to the relativity of time, Young Earth Creationists and their opponents would both be right in a certain sense. It kind of like how people in the U.S. and China disagree on which way is up and down.

Note that the clock starting and ending near the Earth is important, since otherwise relativity of simultaneity will make things more confusing than they already are.

As an aside, this rather bizarrely also would explain the flat earth theory, since in the clock's reference frame, the Earth is also experiencing severe length contraction, effectively making it flat.

Anyways, you may want to ask "In the clock's reference frame, what the heck is going on with the Earth?" The short answer is that it experiences 5 billion years of time in the space of only 5 thousand years. The long answer is quite complicated, depending on general relativity and the exact trajectory of the clock. See this for a similar scenario. Basically, the earth experiences a mix of gravitational and velocity time dilation that sometimes speeds it up, sometimes slows it down, but overall leads to the answer we got above. This is because the end result (the clock showing 5 thousand years, the evidence on the Earth showing 5 billion years) must be the same in both reference frames. The point is that the from the clock's reference frame, the Earth is experiencing time dilation, as posited in the question.

Now, for the big question.

Why would the Bible use the reference frame of this clock?

Well, we can not be sure, but if we replace the clock with God, it provides a plausible theory. God would presumably want to use his own reference frame for making time measurements, especially when explaining the creation. Additionally, the idea that God is moving fast a lot of the time isn't too implausible either, since God is presumably very busy and wants to go between places quickly.

Indeed, this argument may be enough to persuade an old earth creationist of young earth creationism (indeed, this argument makes it tempting for me to accept young earth creationism). Afterall, it seems probable that God would move between places quickly, and, as we calculated before, this mathematically implies a much younger age for the Earth, even if the Bible did not state how long creation took.

That being said, this is unlikely to convince a non-christian that the Bible is true. Sure, from the reference frame we chose, the Bible gives a surprisingly accurate age for the Earth, which may at first seem like a convincing argument for the Bible. This disappears quickly, though, once you realize we choose the reference frame so that the age of the Earth would match the Bible. 99.99999999995% of the speed of light is just some speed I thought of randomly, but I calculated it to be consistient with a literal interpretation of the Bible. The only thing that "worked out" was the fact the biblical age was shorter instead of longer than apparent age. If it was longer this "trick" would not have worked.


If you use a specially chosen reference frame, the age of the Earth could in fact be 5 thousand years. Additionally, this reference frame could plausibly be the one the Bible uses. That being said, it relies on some rather arbitrary choices.

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  • The length contraction doesn't really seem to "explain the flat earth theory." The earth may appear approximately flat in the clock's reference frame, but we do not exist in the clock's reference frame. To us, living in earth's reference frame, would not see nor experience length contraction and is thus why we see a round earth. This seems to be a fairly independent concept from flat earth theory. – Alex Strasser Nov 26 '18 at 20:38
  • "It kind of like how people in the U.S. and China disagree on which way is up and down." No one does that... There's also no flat earth theory to explain - the Bible doesn't teach it, and for thousands of years we've known the earth is round. – curiousdannii Nov 26 '18 at 22:47
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    @AlexStrasser Well, I guess its not the standard flat earth theory. Also, of course we would not perceive the Earth's flatness. But, in a certain, loopholey sense, you could say the Earth was flat. – PyRulez Nov 27 '18 at 4:20
  • @curiousdannii "'It kind of like how people in the U.S. and China disagree on which way is up and down.' No one does that..." You do realize the U.S. and China on different sides of the Earth, right? So if someone in the U.S. points upward, and someone in China point upwards, they will be pointing in different directions. – PyRulez Nov 27 '18 at 4:21
  • @curiousdannii "There's also no flat earth theory to explain - the Bible doesn't teach it, and for thousands of years we've known the earth is round." The point of my post was not to justify flat earth, it just fell out as a natural consequence. It was unavoidable given the approach I was using. Also, like time, length is relative, therefore making the shape of the Earth also relative. So I do not see why the Earth being flat from one reference frame would contradict the fact that it is round from our reference frame. Of course, its kind of cheeky, since it has no actually implications. – PyRulez Nov 27 '18 at 4:25

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