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Speed of light has changed (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Speed of light has changed (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CE411:

The speed of light was faster in the past, so objects millions of light-years away are much younger than millions of years.

Source: Norman, Trevor G. and Barry Setterfield, 1987. The Atomic Constants, Light, and Time. Flinders University of South Australia, School of Mathematical Sciences, Technical Report.

CreationWiki response:

While this theory did create some initial excitement among creation scientists, a significant number of them who had examined it have found the theory flawed, both is its analysis, and in the consequences of such a large change in the speed of light. But this reaction by some creation scientists doesn't speak for all of them, since others among them still hold to the theory of a variable speed of light. The best approach to use in the discussion of the speed of light is to allow the people who still see the theory has having validity to speak for themselves, rather than being written off by the majority, a practice which is notorious within mainstream science with its relegation of alternate theories of the history of the universe to obscurity simply because they disagree with the widely accepted theory of cosmic, chemical, and biological evolution, and the philosophy of naturalism.

(Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

The possibility that the speed of light has not been constant has received much attention from physicists, but they have found no evidence for any change. Many different measurements of the speed of light have been made in the last 180 or so years. The older measurements were not as accurate as the latest ones. Setterfield chose 120 data points from 193 measurements available (see Dolphin n.d. for the data), and the line of best fit for these points shows the speed of light decreasing. If you use the entire data set, though, the line of best fit shows the speed increasing. However, a constant speed of light is well within the experimental error of the data.

Now what would constitute as any evidence for change in the speed of light? Would a graph highlighting the empirical results of a multitude of experiments on the speed of light, undergoing statistical mathematical treatment, which shows a significant change in the speed of light constitute as evidence for change? For the majority of people with average intelligence, it would constitute as evidence of change. Why? Because the graph shows the results apparently changing over time, mostly in a certain direction, that direction being downwards. Now it may be true that a good number of physicists have looked at the data, and then rejected it for some reason or other, but does that then mean that the evidence no longer exists? No, because all they've done is checked it out for themselves and come to their own conclusion. There are others who have looked at the same evidence and found it convincing, coming to a different conclusion.

For a smaller version of that graph, see this link. Or you can see a more detailed graph at this link which includes error bars which help one see that there is a significant decrease in the experimental results of the speed of light. For more extensive graphs, see "True Science Agrees With The Bible" by Malcolm Bowden.

The fact that one of these has error bars and such thing were incorporated into Setterfield's paper undermines the power of the statement of Talk Origins that the older measurements were not as accurate as the latest ones, since it shows that Setterfield had already thought about this problem before he gave his paper and it was not seen to significantly affect his major findings.

Talk Origins makes the point that Setterfield chose some results and that if a person was to use all the results you would get a different conclusion. But there are some important facts you must take account of when you see this claim by Talk Origins. Firstly, in a good number of experiments done in mainstream science, there are a significant amount of cases where all results are not used when analysing findings. A strong example of this is in radiometric dating where results that are thought to be too big or too small are not used because they disagree with some previous conclusion the experimenter has made, i.e., because the rock is at a certain depth or of a certain constitution, e.g. limestone, it cannot be younger than a certain age. Thus ages outside of the preconceived parameters, no matter how rational or irrational those parameters are, are not used. The same thing can be said for Setterfield's choosing a significant sample of results from the master data list. Please note that setterfield still used the majority of results. This leads to the second point.

The important question to ask is WHY? Why did Setterfield use some results and reject others? Here is a quote from the people who checked and assessed Setterfield's work.

"When Alan Montgomery and I decided to look at the measurements of c [the speed of light] back in 1992 we gathered each and every published measurement from all known sources. This gave us a master list to start with.

We could not find any additional published data points or we would have added them to this master list.

The master list includes (a) published original actual measurements, (b) "reworkings" of many of these original data points by later investigators, (c) subsequent published values of c which are not new data but actually merely quoted from an original source. (For instance a value published in Encyclopedia Britannica is probably not an original data point).

Naturally we needed to work with a unique data set which includes each valid measurement only once. In some cases we had to decide whether the original measurement or a later reworking of a given measurement was to be preferred. In the data set a couple of data points were so far out of line with any other nearby measurements that they are easily classified as outliers.

What was humorous to Alan and me is that if we take all the data from the master list, that is, all the raw data from all sources, including spurious points, outliers, duplicates and do a statistical analysis of THAT (flawed) data set the statistical result is STILL non-constant c. (Alan and I did this for fun when we were selecting our "best data" set).

We did our calculations on an Excel spread sheet with embedded formulas so we could easily generate various subsets of the data. What we found was that our conclusion of non-constant c was still implied. In other words we tried everything we could think of to prove ourselves wrong, hence our continuing desire to receive valid

criticisms of our statistical methods." —*From Lambert Dolphin regarding the statistical analysis of Atomic Constants, Light, and Time (emphasis mine)

Lets also note a following, more recent statement made by Lambert Dolphin.

"Note: due to the specific criticism that none of those supporting the Setterfield material had actually supported the statistical use of the data in the 1987 report, but had re-worked the data and arrived at the same conclusion Setterfield and Norman had arrived at, a request was made to Lambert Dolphin for a statement in this area. He submitted the following statement June 2, 2003:

When Alan Montgomery and I originally decided to check Barry Setterfield's data on the speed of light in 1991 our interest was two-fold. Had Setterfield inadvertently erred in his mathematics?

Secondly, was there additional data he had missed that we could find and add in to the suite of available measurements on c? The entire exercise was very useful for our own edification. All said and done, we found that Barry was correct in his 1987 analysis and conclusions. Alan and I believe we have only confirmed and further strengthened his work so that it stands on even more solid ground.

Ten years later both Alan and I are eagerly waiting for someone to write us challenging our work and Barry's work before us.

Lambert Dolphin

June 2, 2003." -*ibid.

So what we really have from Talk Origins is a confession that they used "all the raw data from all sources, including spurious points, outliers, duplicates...". That doesn't appear to be very scientific or use any sort of scrutiny when trying to duplicate the results of the historical-empirical study by Setterfield.

If Setterfield's formulation of the changes in physical parameters were true, then there should have been 417 days per year around 1 C.E., and the earth would have melted during the creation week as a result of the extremely rapid radioactive decay (Morton et al. 1983).

Concerning the point about the amount of days per year in 1CE, the problem with Talk Origins rebuttal and that of Morton et al is that they are dealing with grand size kinetic energy, whereas Setterfield was talking about molecular kinetic energy. The subject may need critical investigation.

About the latter point about the earth melting, Setterfield has an answer for that at this link.

As an aside, some creationists assert that fundamental laws have not changed (Morris 1974, 18).

This point says very little at all. Some creationists may say that the fundamental laws have not changed. That simply means that others disagree with that statement. Evolutionists disagree about different points of their theory. Disagreement doesn't mean much in refuting Setterfield's claim. The principle point has to be why there is disagreement and if the points made directly and irrefutably destroy Setterfield's claim. Apparently, they do not.

To conclude, the point of this article is NOT to say that Setterfield's theory is now biblical, God-given truth. It may have flaws, but so does a whole heap of so-called scientific theories out there amongst the science community, such as the Big Bang and the theories of evolution. But the major points that it makes still has validity, even in this day and age, still give food for thought, and is a possible answer to some questions about time, red shift, radiometric dating, and other related topics. Setterfield is searching for truth in his own discipline, as we all must in our own different ways. His findings are another source of enquiry for anyone looking for answers for this whole topic.


  1. Barry Setterfield Research Library
  1. Constancy of the Velocity of Light by Lambert Dolphin