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The James Webb telescope has produced images of galaxies at the limits of observation far beyond anything yet seen in the heavens.

It was expected that galaxies in this region would be 'simple', 'undeveloped', unformed' and much smaller than those observed closer to us.

The reason for this expectation was the theory that these galaxies would have been the first to be created if, indeed, all creation began from a single point, and if all creation flowed out from that point, developing (over a very long time) as the 'universe' (that is to say, space itself) 'expanded'.

What is now observed, appears to contradict that theory. There, at the very limits of what can be observed, have been discovered mature, large, fully formed galaxies, apparently identical to all other galaxies.

The more logical explanation of what is actually being now observed would be a creation that was created with an 'apparent age'. Just as Adam was created as a mature man, just as trees were created already with fruit within themselves, so the heavens were created (the James Webb seems to be telling us) as a complete apparatus, already fully formed.

What is the response, thus far, from 'old earth creationists' ?


"contradicts our current understanding of the universe." Phys.org Astronomy

"their existence could upend current theories of cosmology." The Guardian

"distant galaxies that should not exist" Space.com

"conflict with 99% of models representing early galaxies in the universe," CNN


Update 14/04/23

The James Webb Space Telescope keeps finding galaxies that shouldn’t exist, a scientist has warned.

Six of the earliest and most massive galaxies that Nasa’s breakthrough telescope has seen so far appear to be bigger and more mature than they should be given where they are in the universe, researchers have warned.

The new findings build on previous research where scientists reported that despite coming from the very beginnings of the universe, the galaxies were as mature as our own Milky Way.

MSN.com James Webb Telescope

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    @RayButterworth Your eagle eye appreciated ; I had not spotted that. I have now edited and supplied four links to more balanced and more scientific references.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 0:39

3 Answers 3

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Depending on definition of terms I may or may not be within the target audience for this question, but I will offer some thoughts.

Scientific inquiry

When scientific inquiry challenges a prior theory, that's a good thing. The scientific method is doing exactly what it is supposed to do.

Scientists have found flaws in the hypotheses of their predecessors many, many, many times. This is not an indictment of the scientific method, it's an application of the scientific method.

The age of the earth

I'll touch on this briefly since the OP references "old earth".

  • Some Christians estimate the age of the earth at something times 10^3 years (or 10^4 in some schools of thought) based upon their understanding of Biblical texts, and they will generally conclude that findings from geology have been misunderstood.
  • Some estimate the age of the earth at something times 10^9 years based on findings from geology, and they will generally conclude that Bibilical texts used to support smaller numbers are texts that have been misunderstood.

Neither of these positions is impacted by the findings of the James Webb telescope.

The age of the universe

The discovery of mature galaxies dating to the "dark ages" (aka early cooling period) of the universe, a time when such galaxies were thought impossible, may not impact our understanding of the history of the earth, but it does impact our understanding of the history of the universe.

Possibilities include:

  • The Big Bang theory is incorrect/incomplete
  • The recent data from the James Webb telescope is incorrect/incomplete
  • Humans have misunderstood the recent data from the James Webb telescope
  • The universe is much older than cosmologists previously thought
  • Galaxy formation in the early universe was very different from what cosmologists previously thought
  • Our understanding of red shift (used to estimate galaxy age) is incorrect/incomplete.

None of these possibilities (which are not necessarily mutually exclusive) provide reason to reject scientific discovery in general, though they do serve as a reminder that science is in the business of discovering incremental truth, not absolute truth.

Conclusion

As a devout Christian, I do not feel threatened by science. Christians invented the scientific method and launched the scientific revolution. If scientific inquiry can tell us the approximate age of the universe, I'm okay with that.

For my part, I love science and see it as one of the ways God reveals truth: He created a universe that follows laws, which laws we can test and discover.

I do, of course, take issue with weaponizing science for political goals or propping up unscientific philosophies in the name of science (e.g. verificationism).

I am of the view that perfect science and perfect theology agree perfectly; it is our imperfect understanding of both that creates the illusion of conflict.

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    "Neither of these positions is impacted by the findings of the James Webb telescope." — I think you're missing the point of the question (or maybe I am). These new discoveries seem to support the view that the Universe was created recently. Many new-Earth creationists believe that the Universe was created already in progress (e.g. with light from distant galaxies already on its way here). The new observations support that position, as how else could seemingly old galaxies exist not long after what is considered to be the beginning of time if they hadn't been created that way, fully formed? Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 3:07
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    Also note my comment in the conclusion regarding God revealing truth through the creation. I struggle to believe that the creation was set up to be deliberately misleading. Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 4:16
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    "I struggle to believe that the creation was set up to be deliberately misleading." — True, but the question concerns people that don't hold this view. Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 13:57
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    "Findings from geology have been misunderstood." I guess you could say that. The only geological finding that isn't obviously harmonious with a historical reading of Genesis 1-11 is that lots of radioactive decay has happened. If one assumes that takes a whole lot of time, I guess that counts as evidence against ~6kyo Earth. OTOH, there are several lines of evidence it didn't take a whole lot of time, but in fact, happened over a very short period of time. Cosmology had the better argument... which JWST is busy demolishing.
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 14, 2023 at 21:18
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    Unless you think the creation account is inaccurate, Adam was created with an appearance of age that he did not "actually" possess. I imagine that a time traveling physician would go back to that day, examine Adam, and find a biological 18 year old (or whatever age Adam was made to be). This is not misleading in any way. Actually it rightly highlights God's creative power. Commented Apr 16, 2023 at 17:31
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It would be to ask why we should expect all creation to begin at a single point and why you think it's an important or popular creationist premise in the first place. There's zero scriptural backing for it.

FWIW, if the two alternatives are "It was designed complete with details", and "It evolved/changed over time", then every designed feature will have "the appearance of age".

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What response do 'old earth creationists' have to the discovery of mature galaxies at the limits of observation?

This isn't really a Christian question.

What evidence do we have for the Universe being ancient? Well... stars are really far away. That's about it. According to materialists (that is, those who a prior reject that a divine being plays or has played a part in the universe), there is no conceivable explanation why we can see stars that are billions of light years away unless the light we're seeing is billions of years old.

There are two problems with this. First, the cosmological background radiation is more uniform than predicted by the best (materialist) models. Second, JWST is revealing that these supposedly "young" galaxies don't look any younger than much closer stars.

We have "better" evidence of "old earth". Around 1830, geologist Charles Lyell introduced the idea that "the present is the key to the past". Lyell was an atheist who, critically, denied Noah's Flood. His principle, known as Uniformitarianism, allows us to observe processes in the present day and interpolate them backwards in time to estimate ages. This has, in particular, led to the field of radiometric dating, from which we get an "age" of Earth of several billion years.

This also has problems. The same uniformitarian principle, applied to many phenomena, also yields maximum ages of certain features that are much lower, sometimes on the order of ten thousand years. Moreover, we have substantial evidence that catastrophism, not uniformitarianism, is a viable or even likely explanation for various features that are often claimed as "evidence" of great age. Ultimately, what we're left with is the fact that a lot of radioactive decay has occurred. Since we weren't there to observe it, however, the assumption that this required a great deal of time is just that; an assumption. (In fact, there is evidence that this decay occurred very quickly!)

Overall, the conclusion is that "old earth" (or, more generally, a universe that is billions of years old) is an idea which has many issues, of which JWST's findings are just a few. History clearly tells us, however, that atheists will find ways to fold, spindle and mutilate their model until, if one squints hard enough, it looks like it fits the evidence... much as epicycles were introduced to force geocentrism, or the planet Vulcan introduced to force Newtonian mechanics, to match observations.

What do we find in Scripture? Genesis 1 clearly says that "God created the heavens and the earth". It says this was accomplished in seven periods of light and darkness, of evening and morning. It says Earth was initially water, and that plants were created before the Sun, moon and stars. It gives specific genealogies that place the date of Creation at approximately 4,000 BC.

The "old earth" idea is simply not found in Scripture. It is an idea originated by God-denying, Scripture-denying men. Many Christians have chosen to place their trust in these ideas of men, believing them more trustworthy than the Word of God. Thus, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Christians subscribing to "old earth" would offer an explanation for JWST's findings that differs from atheist explanations. Rather, what we should take away from such findings is a reminder that man's ideas, such as the Big Bang, "old earth", common descent, and the like, are fallible. History is replete with scientific "facts" that have subsequently been modified or thrown out entirely.

Furthermore, as Christians, we ought to be skeptical of any claims that seem to contradict God's infallible Word. We ought similarly to be skeptical of any claims that are founded on a rejection of God and God's ability to act in Creation.

If anything, the 'old earth creationists' response ought to be repentance, and a return to the unchanging teachings of Scripture. Perhaps some will respond that way, but many others will continue to follow whatever atheistic, materialistic "science" claims.

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  • I don't see any information, here, about the 'response of old earth creationists'. This answer surmises responses, but does not report anything.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 16, 2023 at 15:04
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    @NigelJ, then you missed the point. The only possible response that is specifically Christian would be to set aside beliefs based in God-denial and return to what Scripture teaches. I noted that possibility in my Answer. Any other response is not based in Christianity and is therefore off topic, as noted in my Answer.
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 16, 2023 at 17:14
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    Are you calling old earth creationists 'non-Christian' ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 16, 2023 at 20:14
  • @NigelJ, no, I am saying that belief in "old earth" has no basis in Christianity, as stated in my Answer. (If you disagree, please show me where in Scripture it is implied that Earth is >100k years old.) The "old earth" idea does not come from Scripture, or indeed from Christianity in general. Nor do any responses to JWST's findings that uphold the "old earth" idea. The Question is no more on topic than, say, "according to Christians, why does a diode only conduct in one direction?"
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 17, 2023 at 14:17

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