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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. Nov 27 '18 at 15:34
  • As far as measuring the age of ancient things, modern scientific methods are unreliable in an absolute sense. They rest on controversial assumptions. They work really well if those assumptions are true, but... the assumptions need proving. The underlying assumption that YEC needs reconciling with the conclusions of these investigations requires investigation, since it ultimately rests on controversial assumptions about the natural world. I'm not a YEC. I'm agnostic regarding the age of the Earth. I don't think its age has been proved definitively by either side as yet.
    – jaredad7
    Jul 29 at 14:16
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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
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    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. Nov 27 '18 at 15:31
  • @PyRulez, I doubt we'll ever know, this side of Heaven, how day and night existed before the sun and moon were created. We're told only that they did. (Personally, I like to think of the Universe as a really big Magrathea, and "let there be light" was God turning on the construction lights. At the end of the shift, He turned them off again. After a few days, he got tired of doing this and decided to "automate" the process.)
    – Matthew
    Jul 28 at 16:32
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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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While this does contain "an answer", it is largely an extended criticism of the question, which contains some observations that just don't make sense.

Let's begin...

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.

This is just wrong. A tree will never grow rings at a rate of once per day; not as a "day" is measured on Earth at any rate. Trees grow rings roughly at a rate of one or so per (Earth) year, period. (That they grow exactly one per year is false; sometimes they might grow more than one, sometimes none.)

Additionally, the time dilation needs to be of the precisely the right "intensity" if it is to provide reconciliation.

This is arguing backwards. If you choose a card randomly from a deck of cards and happen to pick the seven of diamonds, you would not expect some deep, complex set of carefully tuned circumstances that caused that specific result. Yes, you could work backwards to try to determine those circumstances, but arguing that they must have been deliberate makes no sense. It is not a requisite that time dilation is a priori of a particular intensity. Rather, we might attempt to determine what intensity it happened to be based on observed results.

In this sense, asking what the "age of the earth" is ambiguous. It literally depends on who you ask.

No, it doesn't. "Time" as a whole may pass at different rates in different places. "The Earth", however, is by definition its own observer. If I ask "how much time has passed for this specific atom", relativity cannot affect that answer. While it's true that this starts to break down at larger scales, it seems highly unlikely that there would be significant differences in how much time various atoms (a majority of such, anyway) composing the Earth have experienced since "the Earth" existed as a planet.

To make the term precise again, we need to specify a 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.

Well, here the crux of the problem seems obvious; your hypothesis is that the Bible's timeline is relative to some observation point that is not Earth, and that Earth is "actually" billions of years old.

To the best of my knowledge, exactly no one believes this. The definition of a YEC is approximately someone that rejects the claim that Earth is billions of years (indeed, more than 10,000 years) old. Generally, this belief extends at least to the rest of the solar system.

While the basic premise of the question is reasonable, and an exploration of that premise is beneficial, the details are completely backwards. Time dilation does little if anything to help with the alleged (by Methodological Naturalists, i.e. people who shape their entire world view starting with the unassailable axiom that there is no God) age of the Earth. What it might address is the "starlight problem", i.e. if the Earth is only ~6,000 years old, why do we see stars that seem to be millions or even billions of light-years away? This might be because space expanded at some point and/or because the universe is finite with Earth (or at least the Milky Way) being at or near the mass center. Other answers have offered better references, so I won't bother, except to add that this might also solve the "dark matter" problem.


So... what about the "apparent" age of the Earth itself?

Well... the "irrefutable" evidence that the Earth is really old is Evolutionism. This, however, relies on several logical fallacies and tautologies and is explicitly contradicted by the Bible. It begs the question and is thus unusable as evidence of age. Also, it's irrefutable because it is a logical conclusion of the Naturalist's unassailable axiom that God does not exist. Since this is clearly unscientific, we can exclude Evolutionism from consideration if we are going to consider this matter fairly. (Note that Evolutionism and Natural Selection are not the same thing. NS, which is solidly grounded in observational science, is widely accepted by both Naturalists and YECs. Evolutionism and Uniformitarianism deal with forensic science, which necessarily plays by somewhat different rules.)

The next "most reliable" evidence is radiometric... which actually is not reliable at all; radiometric dating is so heavily steeped in Uniformitarian assumptions (and has been falsified in some instances) that it's a wonder it's given any credence whatsoever. There is certainly no shortage of evidence that much radioactive decay has occurred, and this is widely accepted by YECs, but observing that decay has occurred is not the same as trying to use such evidence to "date" objects. There is evidence that the rate of radioactive decay has not been constant, and has in fact experience a period of great acceleration at some point. For more, see this answer and especially the R.A.T.E. report, volume I and volume II.

The remaining "evidence" (rock strata, fossils, coal/oil, etc.) is explained quite adequately, and in many cases better, by a cataclismic flood (which may have corresponded with the aforementioned acceleration of radioactive decay). I seem to recall reading about such a thing somewhere...

Various observations within our solar system may also suggest that the rest of our solar system is equally young. Again, it depends greatly on whether your interpretation starts with the assumption of great age. When your world view requires that the Earth, sun and planets are extremely old, you will try very hard to find a way to interpret the available evidence to fit that dogma.

For more, I encourage you to poke around AiG, CMI, CRS and/or ICR.


So, as I have hopefully shown, the evidence that needs to be reconciled is not evidence found on Earth, but rather astronomical evidence. And in that respect, yes, time dilation has been suggested as a potential explanation.

However, with respect to this:

The idea that any scientific method of measuring the time of the Earth could be wrong, and a reasonable and logically consistent way to explain it, would be big.

...I'm going to refer you to 2 Thessalonians 11-12:

11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

There is, as noted (see also Romans 1:20!), more than enough evidence that Genesis 1 is a true account of history. Those who are willing to accept God have little or no difficulty reconciling observations of the world (i.e. true science) with a literal reading of Genesis 1. Those who are unwilling, who have rejected God and have based their entire world view on that rejection, are under a God-sent "strong delusion". No amount of evidence will convince these people that their world view is wrong. They will go to lengths which to a clear-minded person are inconceivable to rationalize their choice to reject God.

The idea you postulate already exists, and is rabidly denied by Naturalists. Just as they rabidly deny all other evidence that God exists. I don't expect this to change short of the Second Coming.

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There are dozens of "alternative" theories of evolution, and several Creationist explanations for Genesis. First, lets define the term Creationist. Any explanation that invokes the bible as a historical document also demands that Adam was the uniquely created first human. The misreading of genesis is that the entire universe also came into existence at the same time. Even a simplistic reading of Gen 1 shows that the "earth" pre-existed 9:00am on a particular Monday morning 6000 years ago.

There are Creationist explanations that deal with this but the human desire to polarize a conversation means that they are not easy to discuss. However one argues it, it is obvious that the creation event was supernaturally revealed to someone since mankind was not present. Traditionally, that was posited to have been Moses, but Prof Wiseman’s hypothesis posits that it was revealed to Adam.

Genesis states that Adam had a relationship with God, so running with this as our assumption, it is entirely reasonable to assume God would have shown Adam his handiwork and explained it and its creation to him in a manner that was comprehensible to him.

So when was Genesis written? Most creationists now believe Genesis was written long before Moses's time, and that it is multiple accounts assembled into a single book. Prof Wiseman put forward this view long before (decades before) its general acceptance, and was an expert in the worlds oldest (first) post-flood civilization.

An educationist always starts with something the pupil already understands then builds on and expands that knowledge, adding detail as they progress so would have God. this is evident in Gen 1, and Gen2 continues in this with ever deepening detail about man's place in God new world. Therefore it is not a “first I did this and then I did that and after that I did the something else”, exposition; (and why should it). If you have ever taught something to someone, you outline the framework, fill in the detail. That is what is happening In Gen 1.

Read in this way, the sun existed on day#1 but does not get introduced into the account until day #4. Hence why we can have morning and evening on day#1, from the light of the sun, without needing to be told about it until day#4. On day#4 when it is introduced, God says it was for Adam to be able to tell the seasons, so day#4 is not about the creation of the sun and stars, but about (one) of their purposes.

Once we accept the possibility of this way to read Gen 1, it is possible that the entire universe was created instantly, possible for it to have been done in 6-days or maybe longer. Indeed, as God also created time, ideas such as "time dilation" become superfluous. All we need to know is that it "just is". From a "just is" position, the awesomeness of the universe becomes mind boggling, and the reality of the human race being just 6000 years old is not a problem. Turning to the historicity of the biblical account, that's well proven, so we have Adam as a historic character living 6000 years ago, Noah and his flood as real events, and no need to do back-flips to prove time runs backwards or another explanation better suited to an episode of Dr Who (of whom I'm a fan).

Does this explanation support evolution? Not at all. This reading requires a coherent account for Genesis and some of the animal kingdom was created after Adam. Again, Genesis 2.19 suggests that some at least they were created after Adam, so when Wiseman says that Adam wrote from Gen 2 onwards, he closes down any possible evolutionary explanation.

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  • "Even a simplistic reading of Gen 1 shows that the "earth" preexisted 9:00am on a particular Monday morning 6000 years ago." Well, yes, since the first day was a Sunday 🙂. But also, all we can really say is that "Earth" was Created before "light". The time difference might have been negligible. (Or maybe "time" didn't exist before light? Which does nothing for Naturalists, because with no time, not to mention no light, there is no chemistry.)
    – Matthew
    Jul 29 at 13:56
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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.

Conclusion

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. 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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