I came across an article in Phys Org in which a physicist suggested that the speed of light might be slower than thought. This is pretty amazing, considering that the speed of light is one of those things considered “settled science,” or a universal physical constant. No one questions the existence of gravity, or that the world is round, so it’s kind of strange to hear from a physicist who questions the accepted belief that light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second (186,282 miles per second to be more precise, or 299,792,458 meters per second) in a vacuum.
Although there’s some criticism of the article submitted by physicist James Franson of the University of Maryland, others are taking his work seriously. If Franson is correct, the implications could be staggering; scientists would have to recalculate the distances of objects in space, and new theories would have to replace old ones.
But for now the article is undergoing peer review in the New Journal of Physics, so we’ll have to wait and see what develops. No doubt the process could reject his findings, and that would be the end of it. But, nonetheless, this does remain an interesting concept to explore.
The basis for Franson’s work comes from the observations of Supernova 1987A, which exploded in February of 1987. When the photons and neutrinos arrived on earth, they were 4.7 hours later than expected. It was theorized, therefore, that the photons had come from a different source. However Franson is speculating that there was a real delay caused by what’s called vacuum polarization, where photons split for a brief moment.
Whether or not he’s right, this isn’t the first time scientists have questioned the speed of light. Scientists from the University du Paris-Sud and the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Light in Erlangen, Germany have explored the idea that the speed of light isn’t constant. Of course there are skeptics in each of these instances- as there should be- but it’s great that their work can be examined seriously, rather than be dismissed without scrutiny.
Another thing I noted when reading several articles on Franson’s work, many of them highlighted that Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity could be wrong. But even if that’s true, Einstein understood that we can’t measure the one-way speed of light without resorting to circular reasoning , and he claimed that the speed of light is ultimately based on what we choose it to be (as long as it’s consistent):
“That light requires the same time to traverse the path A → M as for the path B → M is in reality neither a supposition nor a hypothesis about the physical nature of light, but a stipulation which I can make of my own freewill in order to arrive at a definition of simultaneity.” (Einstein 1961, p. 23).
I bring this up because, as a creationist, starlight is often cited as a reason why the earth cannot be young. It’s assumed that it would take starlight many billions of years to reach the earth from the furthest star, and, therefore, the earth must be billions of years old. But if we consider the evidence at hand without bias, and examine the unproven assumptions involved, there’s no reason why the earth and universe couldn’t be less than 10,000 years old, just as the Bible suggests. The Bible tells us that God created the sun, moon and stars on Day Four of creation, and this suggests that Adam and Eve were able to see stars when they were created several days later.