Quick Response: Stand to Reason on Distant Starlight

Jan 30, 2018 | Apologetics, Article, Creation

In July of 1998, Greg Koukl of the Christian apologetics organization Stand to Reason posted a Solid Ground publication titled Star Light & the Age of the Universe.

On a recent episode of the organization’s bi-weekly podcast, a caller referenced the 1998 article and dialogued with Greg about the “appearance of age” issue—an issue that, coincidentally, I just wrote about on this blog.

I wanted to write this quick response not because I necessarily have an issue with Mr. Koukl’s take on the “appearance of age” problem. As a matter of fact, I myself have theological issues with this position and therefore, even as a young age creationist, do not hold it myself!1

But that is exactly my point.

The reason for this response is the troubling claim present in both the Solid Ground publication and the recent podcast episode. Namely, the assertion that the issue itself supposedly serves to nullify the recent creation view.

If this were true it would certainly be news to almost every single young age creationist astronomer and astrophysicist. As it stands I am not aware of one who currently holds to an “appearance of age” model of the universe.

There are a few recent creationists (non-astronomers) who still hold to this view, and even some who still maintain that the miracles of Jesus are sufficient justification for this belief. However, I’ll not take the time to refute Mr. Koukl’s position because on this issue—just as with many other issues—I tend to agree with him.

Instead, I want to highlight an area where his initial publication missed the mark and also underscore a bigger problem his recent podcast episode has made obvious in the origins debate.


Missing the Mark


I want to begin by quoting a lengthy portion of a publication dated the same year as the STR Solid Ground article. It was written by Dr. Danny Faulkner—a recent creationist astronomer who remains active in creation research today:

“Most creationists have adopted the concept of a fully functioning universe as the best explanation for the light travel time problem. In the garden Adam would have been a particularly healthy male. If we could go back in a time machine and examine him we might have concluded that he was 20 to 30 years old. Of course we would have been wrong, because Adam was created only a few days before. In other words, creation implies some sort of apparent history. It is argued that in like fashion, for the stars to serve their intended purpose (for the marking of time and seasons) their light must have reached earth in time for Adam to see them two days later. Thus God must have created the light in transit. But did Adam bear the scars of past history, such as injuries that never happened? When the fossilized remains of large extinct and previously unknown creatures were unearthed over a century ago, some Christians responded that the fossils were created in the rocks and that the creatures never existed; they just appeared to have existed. Most people would reject this as absurd. Yet the creation of starlight in transit raises a similar philosophical point. In the spring of 1987 a supernova was observed in a nearby galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud. Since that time the progress of the explosion and its aftermath have been carefully observed. We have been able to piece together many fine details of what happened. But if the notion of light created in transit is correct, then none of the observed events happened. How is this different from God creating fossils in the ground? This idea also has no predictive power like the other two suggestions above, which relegates it more to a philosophical idea rather than a scientific one.”

Before continuing, we need to draw two immediate observations relevant to the STR article:

First, Koukl is seemingly justified in his dogmatic assertion that “if some stars are millions of light years away, then their light must have traveled for millions of years for us to see it, making the recent-creation view impossible.” It’s obvious that according to Faulkner’s article this model was indeed the most widely accepted astronomical answer to starlight by recent creationists at the time.

Second, however, in the same 1998 publication, Faulkner mentions at least two other solutions to the light time-travel issue.2

Although Faulkner readily admits that “some progress has been made in creationist astronomy, but there is much work to be done,” it is obvious from this publication that the argument Koukl refutes was on its way out the door, and at the very least, was certainly not the only plausible recent creation model of the universe.

It’s my opinion that Koukl’s original 1998 Solid Ground publication misses the mark on this point.

Specifically, because it seems to hang the truth of the recent creation view upon one specific scientific model rather than upon the truth of God’s Word as clearly stated.

Koukl writes rather dogmatically, “The young-universe creationist is in an untenable spot. If the earth is six to ten thousand years old, then virtually nothing we see outside of our solar system is real. All observational astronomy of distant heavenly objects is a fiction. There were no supernova explosions billions of years ago. The only stars we behold are “shooting stars,” bits of intergalactic dust that burn up in our atmosphere.”

But such dogmatic statements are simply not necessary. This assertion is based only upon what would be true if one model of the universe were correct—incidentally, a model that creation scientists of the time were beginning to reject themselves in favor of other suggestions.

Although this “Current State of Creation Astronomy” paper by Faulkner was published a month after the Solid Ground article, no doubt, the peer-reviewed creation literature highlighting issues with the “appearance of age” model was already available. Not to mention the existence of other creation models which were not dependent upon such a solution.

Why was such research seemingly not consulted before the writing of Koukl’s article?

I’m left further troubled by the way Koukl concludes his piece: “On the other hand, if we see real stars when we look heavenward, and those stars are a billion light years away, then they must have existed a billion years ago. If our eyes and our instruments can be trusted, then the universe is ancient. When the Bible tells us to behold the stars, it speaks the truth.”

This is a statement that Koukl is making about reality, not the creation model he has been discussing. Koukl erroneously asserted that the stars must have existed a billion years ago if they are a billion light-years away. “If our eyes and our instruments can be trusted, then the universe is ancient,” he claims.

But this isn’t true!

Although I have no space for a critique of the big bang in this article, even now, 20 years later, the big bang theory still faces a light time-travel problem of its own3, and no inflation theories to account for this problem have been mathematically verified and agreed upon.4

He places the final nail in the coffin, so to speak, using the Bible. He claims, “When the Bible tells us to behold the stars, it speaks the truth.” But, on his view, is the Bible also speaking the truth when it says the Sun was created on Day 4? On Koukl’s view, this phenomenon must have taken place on Day 1. But the Bible knows nothing of this interpretation.5

A further problem is that if the big bang theory is true, nearly all of creation week is out of order from the biblical record.

Simply adding time to the days won’t help.

Therefore, if anyone’s position is subject to Koukl’s reflection that “the Bible’s claim does not correspond to reality…It is false, and the Bible has deceived us,” it is his own.


Falling Behind the Times


This seems an awfully strange bone to pick 20 years later. I realize that. (Especially with the words “Quick Response” in the title.)

But the reason I felt compelled to write this response was not because of the 1998 article, but rather the 2018 podcast episode which dealt with the 1998 article as if it was still relevant!

The simple fact is that, while the point the article makes is still relevant—and was worthy of the discussion it was given—it seems to still be treated as the only option for a recent creationist.

But since the time of original article, numerous proposals have been made to solve the distant starlight “problem” for recent creationists—many with great success.

Astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle has proposed a model which many find feasible. Physicist Dr. Josh Hartnett has expanded upon this, adding proposed mechanisms for cosmological redshifts.

Dr. Danny Faulkner’s current proposal is not a model for the universe, but rather a call to look at the problem in a new light; namely, to lend more credence to the miraculous nature of creation week, rather than looking for a naturalistic solution to the problem.

And, of course, these are just a few of the proposed solutions. Is every creationist agreed on a satisfactory solution? Of course not! Just as every secular scientist is not agreed on proposed big bang theories and inflation models. The point is that, since the time of STR’s article, vast progress has been made which points away from the “light created in transit” theory, but this was not reflected upon or even mentioned in the recent podcast episode.

What’s more is that recently, on an episode of the #STRask podcast, Koukl shares some of his righteous indignation about the fact that many recent creationists often misrepresent his position—claiming, for instance, that to believe in an old universe is exactly the same as believing in Darwinian evolution.6

But Koukl is participating in a similar misrepresentation of the young age view by essentially claiming that one must believe light was created in transit in order to be a recent creationist!

If Koukl does not currently hold this view, then it should have been addressed in the podcast episode where a link was given back to the original article which contains such dogmatic statements.

It’s not helpful at all in the origins debate—even to the extent that it is in-house—for anyone’s views to be misrepresented. I see the same inconsistency in Dr. Frank Turek’s ministry when he claims that he is neutral with respect to the debate (because both require certain scientific assumptions about the “beginning”), but then only teaches the SURGE model in his books, lectures, and seminars.

The point—and where the rubber meets the road—is that it is wildly unhelpful to reject a view—especially one that fits a natural reading of the biblical text—on the basis of a misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

If a follower of Koukl’s feels comfortable rejecting the young age creationist view, he is welcome to do so. But he should do so realizing that Koukl’s organization has failed to keep up with current creationist research and seems to fundamentally misunderstand the view it critiques.

One should also be aware that he is rejecting a view which the majority of the church has held faithfully for around 1800 years.

It must be pointed out that this is a fundamental problem in the origins debate.

Many Old Earth Creationists and Theistic Evolutionists have not kept up with nor contributed to recent creation research. The result has been trying to read the Bible in light of naturalistic age assumptions instead of contributing their meaningful expertise to understanding how the world fits within the age assumptions the Bible gives in its natural reading.




I fear that few will have made it this far in the article. As a writer, I find it disheartening that most people tend to comment and voice their opinion of a writer or their material before they have given them the chance to make their case.

If you’ve made it this far, then let me emphatically say that I ENJOY the ministry of Greg Koukl (and of Dr. Turek, whom I also mentioned). I am a regular listener of their material. In fact, I have not missed an episode of Mr. Koukl’s podcasts in a very, very long time.

I find his teaching on tactics to be monumentally helpful and do not have one bad thing to say to anyone about his organization.

That said, I can not—and will not—remain silent when a gross mishandling takes place. I believe this particular issue is one where’s Koukl’s organization has missed the mark in a significant enough way to make an impact on folks that it need not make.

Put another way, if one wants to reject a recent creationist cosmology, fine. But don’t do it based on a faulty understanding of the view. Intellectually, you owe yourself—and our Heavenly Father—better than that.

Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!


  1. For my thoughts on this issue, please see the article I wrote last week.
  2. These include Setterfield’s argument for a changing speed of light and Humphrey’s white-hole cosmology.
  3. This is formally called “The Horizon Problem.”
  4. This article is a secular attempt at providing a layman explanation of this. The discerning reader will note that such proposed inflation theories, while speculated upon, are not agreed upon, nor has the cause of any such theory been observed or identified. I have no problem with scientific models! But models are models—not facts.
  5. Many will disagree on this point, but the point of this article is not to debate this—rather to demonstrate that most organizations have not kept with creationist research.
  6. Of course, this is not the case. However, it IS the case the “old universe” is based on the same uniformitarian assumptions as evolution. In other words, kill Darwinian Evolution, kill the time needed for it to happen. So while STR and Koukl Himself staunchly oppose evolution, they do ascribe to its necessary timeline.

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