Age of the Universe

by Jon Covey, B.A., MT (ASCP), CLS
Anita K. Millen, M.D., MPH, editor

In 1929, Edwin Hubble decided that because the light coming from most galaxies was redshifted, the universe must be expanding after exploding from an infinitesimal volume of superhot, superdense concentration of matter and energy. The explosion is called the big bang which propelled matter in all directions and at all speeds. According to the big bang theory, the farther away an object is from us, the more redshifted its light. Also, a greater redshift means the object is moving away faster than objects with less redshift. If the universe is not expanding, this cannot be true and the redshift must be due to other causes. An astronomer can tell how old the universe is by the rate of expansion. If the redshift is due to something other than expansion, nothing can be said about the universe's age.

Evolutionary astronomers confidently argue the universe is 12-20 billion years old, although there is no certainty about any astronomical observations. John Eddy, a famous astronomer, once said that there isn't much in the way of observational astronomy that proves the universe is old. He said that with "frantic theoretical readjustment" if new evidence showed that astronomers have been wrong, they could live with Bishop Ussher's date of 4,004 B.C. [1]

Redshift and the Age of the Universe

One thing that could show astronomers have been wrong involves discrediting the use of the red-shifting of light as evidence for big bang expansion of the universe. In Designs and Origins in Astronomy, [22] DeYoung explains the redshift technique for measuring distances to distant galaxies. If a distant galaxy were moving away from us, the wavelength of the light coming from it would shift to a longer wavelength, the red end of the light spectrum. According to the big bang theory, the farther away an object is from us, the more redshifted its light. Also, a greater redshift means the object is moving away faster than objects with less redshift. This technique does not work for nearby stars.

The calculation of distance involves the redshift velocity inherent in the Hubble constant, Ho, the inferred rate of the universe's expansion resulting from the big bang. Ho is around 25-100 kilometers per second for every megaparsec, depending on which techniques one uses to determine the constant and what one's bias is. One parsec is about 19 trillion miles or 3.26 light-years-a megaparsec is a million times farther. This means something that is a megaparsec from us is moving away from us about 80 kilometers/second or 49.7 miles/second. In plain language, if the universe is not expanding, we cannot apply the redshift technique to measure distance, speed or time (age of the universe is calculated using v = H(o) r; v = velocity, r = distance from earth).

Does Light Decay According to the Law of Entropy?

What magic quality does light have which prevents it from degrading entropically when everything else does? If light loses energy due to entropy, it would shift to the red end of the spectrum as energy dissipates. Is it possible that spent light energy would show up in the celebrated cosmic background radiation? Astronomers Tom Van Flandern and Halton Arp are not fond of the "tired light" idea, although some of their colleagues are pursuing it more vigorously. Eric Lerner says that J.P. Vigier has proposed a new term for quantum mechanics in which the vacuum of space absorbs energy as light travels through it. Lerner carries the ball further and gives alternative explanations for the red shift beside big bang expansion.[2]

Recently, different research groups have come up with different H(o) values, which when applied inversely to determine the age of the u iverse, have resulted in estimates that the universe is somewhere between 7 and 16 billion years old. [3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10] Science News reporter Ron Cowen records David Shramm's (University of Chicago) remark on Nial Tanvir's report which put the age of the universe at 9.5 billion years:

You have to be very careful about [drawing conclusions] because all of the [Hubble constant] measurements have huge systematic errors. [11]

Cowen then explains that the discrepancy between Tanvir's estimate on the universe's age and the age of the old white dwarfs suggests that astronomers have come to a crossroads. Either they have to develop a more complex cosmological model or reexamine how they estimate stellar ages. Because there are many current estimates on the age of the universe based on observations using the Hubble Space Telescope, one can select the age which bests suits one's bias. Some Christian astronomers fervently believe in the big bang. However, there is no clear-cut observation that can discard the 7 billion year age and retain the 16 billion year age.

Peculiar Parents and Their Runaways (Quasars) Halton Arp published a book [12] showing physical connections between galaxies with redshifts indicating they were 100 million light years away (speed ~1800 km/sec), and quasars with red shifts showing they were 12 times farther away (speed ~20,000 km/sec). According to big bang expansion, the farther away something is the faster it goes. The fastest objects are the farthest ones. Arp argues that the redshifts seen in the light coming from most galaxies do not indicate velocity because the universe is not expanding. His critics say that chance alone would explain the fortuitous alignment for each of his galaxy and quasar pairs. Others don't believe such chance alignments could happen so frequently. One especially good example of the relationship between quasars and the galaxies from which they were ejected is that of the spiral galaxy NGC 4319, and quasar Markarian 205 (see photograph). Is the quasar a billion light years away from the galaxy or is something wrong with redshift theory? Perhaps there is no expansion, at least not due to a big bang which never happened.

About 20 years ago, Halton Arp and John Bahcall published a debate in The Redshift Controversy, presenting both sides of the argument. Over the last few years, several astronomers have written books attempting to refute the big bang theory and presenting their theories on the origin and destiny of the universe.[2, 13]

The astronomers opposed to the big bang are well-known researchers. Some of them propose that the universe has existed for trillions of years or forever. Using new findings from the Hubble telescope, they have managed to win converts.

Gravitational Red-shifting

Elizabeth Praton suggests that the redshift of distant galaxies has two components: the large one is due to big bang expansion, and the gravitational tug of neighboring galaxies generates the small one.[14] Einstein correctly predicted that gravity can cause a change in the wavelength of light. This might have something to do with the recent observations made by Halton Arp. He noticed that certain types of pinwheel-like galaxies, called Sc I's, have narrower, better defined spiral arms. Sc I's tend to have higher redshifts than the usual Sc galaxies of the same brightness. This means Sc I's are farther away from us and moving faster than the Sc's. When Arp arranged Sc I's in order of increasing distance according to their redshifts, their diameters also grew. Calculations incorporating redshift and HO data show that the farthest and fastest moving Sc I's are also the largest, larger than the giant Sb galaxy, M81 in Ursa Major. If M81 and the Sc I named NGC 309 in Cetus are placed at the same distance, the Sc I appears many times larger.[15] This is strange since Sb galaxies are supposed to be the biggest and brightest galaxies and are used as "standard candles" for determining the distances of galaxies too far away or too dim to measure their redshifts.

Thorium/Neodymium Ratio and Age of Universe

Mitchell Waldrop, a reporter for Science, interviewed Harvey Butcher who had discovered an interesting way to determine the age of the universe using essentially the same principles from radiometric dating. He measured the ratios of thorium (Th) and neodymium (Nd) in the sun and 20 nearby stars spectroscopically. Analyzing stars' spectral lines to determine the abundance of parent/daughter ratio is fairly simple. The stars have done the hard work of preparing the sample by vaporizing these isotopes and mixing them in their atmospheres. Each element has its own characteristic absorption lines: three for thorium and one for neodymium.[16] Neodymium is a stable daughter product of thorium. Butcher says:

"What I expected to find was a change in the ratio of thorium to neodymium between the oldest and youngest stars."[17]

"Virtually all the original thorium is still there, even in the oldest of the sampled stars," writes Waldrop.[17 ]

Butcher expected that the ratio would be as much as two or three times smaller in the older stars, the white dwarfs, because the thorium would have had more time to decay. What he actually did find, however, was almost no variation in the thorium/neodymium ratio. Butcher suggested that, based upon the results of his measurements, the galaxy must be about five billion years younger than previously thought, possibly as young as 8 billion years. If "virtually all the original thorium is still there," the stars can't have aged much.

I looked at the data published in his 1987 report in Nature and compared the estimated age for each of the stars tested, including our sun, with the actual spectral data. The Th/Nd ratios of the sun and the other stars were essentially the same, although the age of some stars was supposed to be 600 million years and others 15-19 billion years.

After Butcher made this information available, Waldrop reports that Schramm was strongly skeptical of it, saying "it was a very uncertain kind of measurement and the results were grossly over-interpreted." [17]

Schramm's assessment of Butcher's results pivoted on whether Butcher's instruments could read the faint spectral lines representing the concentrations of thorium and neodymium. Nuclear fusion reactions in supernova and other violent events produce thorium. To decide how much thorium and neodymium should be present in stars, one has to make assumptions about when and how much thorium was made during the life of the galaxy. Butcher had to keep his assumptions of thorium production consistent with the abundance of thorium in meteorites and moon rocks because they, too, coalesced from the supernovae products along with the sun and the rest of the solar system. He says that once a star is born, its outer atmosphere provides an unchanging sample of the general composition of the Galaxy at that time, modified only by the free decay of radioactive species. [16]

Based on these considerations, his conclusion was that the thorium within stars has to be about 10 billion years old or less. Schramm believes the meteorite data is consistent with 15 billion year old globular clusters which contain the very old white dwarfs. White dwarfs are believed to have been stars that were 1.2 to slightly less than 1.4 times the sun's mass. They possibly became red giants as they used up their hydrogen fuel over many billions of years, possibly went through a nova or supernova stage depending on their mass, collapsed to white dwarf stage, and are in the process of radiating their remaining energy before they collapse further to become black holes. There are several theoretical routes to the white dwarf stage in the life of a star.[18]

When Barry Madore and his coworkers studied the Cepheid variable stars and concluded that Hubble's constant must be revised upward to 83 +/- 13 km/s, they reported to the American Astronomical Society that the universe is no more than 10 billion years old. Schramm said

"these are absolutely first-rate astronomers doing a very fine job." [19]

Shramm wasn't the only man of renown who noticed Butcher's report. William A. Fowler, who won the 1983 Nobel Prize in physics made the opposite remark in the same Science report by Waldrop:

"I am very pleased with Butcher's result. It seems to be the strongest evidence so far for a time scale I've advocated for 20 years!" [17]

Fowler disagreed with Schramm's remarks and said that Schramm is simply wrong about the meteorite data (the thorium content) being consistent with 15-billion-year-old globular clusters. According to Fowler's calculations ("a result of a detailed study of nuclear physics is involved"), the age of our galaxy is 10 billion years and the age of the universe is 11 +/- 1.6 billion years. [17]

Butcher had a few final remarks to make in Waldrop's report:

"If it had been possible to do this measurement before, then someone would have done it. But you need very high spectral resolution, so you have to have very sensitive detectors, and you have to integrate for hours and hours. It takes somebody like me to push things to the limit and then say what he thinks. I'm convinced that the signal-to-noise ratio is adequate to make the claim. But the important thing is that this should provoke people to go out and try to reproduce the result with other equipment.[17]

Theory of Stellar Evolution Force Fits Age of Universe

Persistent belief among astronomers that the universe cannot be less than 15 billion years is due to the mistakenly assumed age of white dwarfs based on the current theory of stellar evolution. Harvey Richer and his group are working on a Hubble project observing extremely faint white dwarfs in the globular cluster, NGC 6752. He expects to publish his results next year. The fainter a white star, the older it is supposed to be. [20]

We have not actually seen stars evolve through the assumed stages based on nuclear and astrophysical considerations, and we aren't all that certain our own sun and other stars are powered by nuclear fusion. The expected number of solar neutrinos that would be generated by such a process is not nearly high enough. John Bahcall suggests one reason for this is the concentration of dark matter in the sun's center prevents many neutrinos from escaping.

It is not entirely true that there has not been direct observation of stellar evolution because in antiquity Sirius the dog star was consistently referred to as a red star by Ptolemy, the Romans, and the Babylonians but it is now white with a bluish hue. The Romans sacrificed red-coated dogs to Sirius, and the Babylonians recorded its color in their records.[21] DeYoung explains:

"Historical records of the star Sirius B, however, tell a different story about the time scale of stellar decay. This binary star of Sirius A has visibly and inexplicably changed from a red giant star to a white dwarf within only a thousand-year period. The star is evidently decaying on a time scale which is much shorter than current theory indicates. This finding is appropriately called a "Sirius problem!" [22]

He adds that other stars, e.g., Betelgeuse, have shown color changes during recorded history. Perhaps John Eddy should do a "frantic theoretical readjustment."


1. John Eddy in R.G. Kazmann, 1978, "It's About Time: 4.5 Billion Years," (report on Symposium at Louisiana State University), Geotimes, 23:18.

2. Lerner, Eric, 1991, The Big Bang Never Happened, Times Books, New York, p. 429.

3. Hogan, Craig J., 1994, "Cosmological Conflict," Nature 371:374.

4 .Jacoby, George H., 1994, "The Universe in Crisis," Nature 371:741.

5 .Cowen, R., 1994, "Searching for Cosmology's Holy Grail: Hubble telescope joins a constant battle," Science News, 146:232-234.

6. van den Bergh, Sidney, 1995, "Ages of the Oldest Clusters and the Age of the Universe," Science 270:1942-1943.

7. Sandage, Allan R., et al, 1996, Astrophysical Journal Letters, March 20.

8. Chaboyer, Brian, et al, Feb 16, `96, Science.

9. Tanvir, Nial R., et al, 7 Sep 95, Nature.

10. Matthews, Robert, 1993, "Cosmologists Meet to Face Their Fears," Science, 262:846-847.

11. Cowen, R., 1995, "Further Evidence of a Youthful Universe," Science News, 148:166.

12. Arp, Halton, 1966, Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

13. Van Flandern, Tom, 1993, Dark Matter, Missing Planets and New Comets, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley.

14. Science News June 22,1996, p. 395.

15 .Arp, Halton C., David L. Block,1991, "The Myth of Overgrown Spirals," Sky & Telescope, p. 373-374.

16. Butcher, H.R., 1987, "Thorium in G-dwarf Stars as a Chronometer for the Galaxy," Nature 328:127.

17. Waldrop., M. 1987. "A Younger Universe is Seen in the Stars." Science, 237:362.

18. Abell, G. O., 1984, Realm of the Universe, CBS College Publishing, New York.

19. Croswell, Ken, 1992, "Variable Stars Pulse in a New Light," Science, 255:404-5.

20. Cowen, R., 1995, "Dating the Cosmos: Hubble Eyes Aging Stars," Science News, 148:151.

21. Schlosser, Wolfhard, Werner Bergmann, 1985, "An Early-medieval Account on the Red Colour of Sirius and its Astrophysical Implications," Nature 318:45-46.

22. George Mulfinger, Jr., ed., 1983, Design and Origins in Astronomy, Creation Research Society Books, Norcross, p. 15 for Sirius, p. 41 for redshift.


This article appeared in Creation in the Crossfire of the South Bay Creation Science Association, 22322 Harbor Ridge Ln #2, Torrance, CA 90502. All rights are reserved. Used by permission.

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