The theory of evolution requires unfathomable lengths of time – eons … billions and billions of years.
Even with all that time, it’s still hard to imagine how complex biochemicals such as hemoglobin or chlorophyll self assembled in the primordial goo. But to those of us who question the process, the answer is always the same. Time. More time than you can grasp – timespans so vast that anything is possible, even chance combinations of random chemicals to form the stunning complexities of reproducing life.
Modern physics is now considering a theory that could throw into confusion virtually all of the accepted temporal paradigms of 20th-century science, including the age of the universe and the billions of years necessary for evolution. Further, it raises the distinct possibility that scientific validation exists for a (gasp) literal interpretation of the seminal passages of Genesis. Goodbye Scopes trial.
The theory is deceptively simple: The speed of light is not constant, as we’ve been taught since the early 1930s, but has been steadily slowing since the first instance of time.
If true, virtually all aspects of traditional physics are affected, including the presumed steady state of radioactive decay used to measure geologic time.
It’s an intriguing story – and like many revolutions in science, it begins with observations that just don’t fit currently accepted scientific dogma.
Early in 1979, an Australian undergraduate student named Barry Setterfield, thought it would be interesting to chart all of the measurements of the speed of light since a Dutch astronomer named Olaf Roemer first measured light speed in the late 17th century. Setterfield acquired data on over 163 measurements using 16 different methods over 300 years.
The early measurements typically tracked the eclipses of the moons of Jupiter when the planet was near the Earth and compared it with observations when then planet was farther away. These observations were standard, simple and repeatable, and have been measured by astronomers since the invention of the telescope. These are demonstrated to astronomy students even today. The early astronomers kept meticulous notes and sketches, many of which are still available.
Setterfield expected to see the recorded speeds grouped around the accepted value for light speed, roughly 299,792 kilometers /second. In simple terms, half of the historic measurements should have been higher and half should be lower.
What he found defied belief: The derived light speeds from the early measurements were significantly faster than today. Even more intriguing, the older the observation, the faster the speed of light. A sampling of these values is listed below:
- In 1738: 303,320 +/- 310 km/second
- In 1861: 300,050 +/- 60 km/second
- In 1877: 299,921 +/- 13 km/second
- In 2004: 299,792 km/second (accepted constant)
Setterfield teamed with statistician Dr. Trevor Norman and demonstrated that, even allowing for the clumsiness of early experiments, and correcting for the multiple lenses of early telescopes and other factors related to technology, the speed of light was discernibly higher 100 years ago, and as much as 7 percent higher in the 1700s. Dr. Norman confirmed that the measurements were statistically significant with a confidence of more than 99 percent.
Setterfield and Norman published their results at SRI in July 1987 after extensive peer review.
It would be easy to dismiss two relatively unknown researchers if theirs were the only voices in this wilderness and the historic data was the only anomaly. They are not.
Since the SRI publication in 1987, forefront researchers from Russia, Australia, Great Britain and the United States have published papers in prestigious journals questioning the constancy of the speed of light.
Within the last 24 months, Dr. Joao Magueijo, a physicist at Imperial College in London, Dr. John Barrow of Cambridge, Dr. Andy Albrecht of the University of California at Davis and Dr. John Moffat of the University of Toronto have all published work advocating their belief that light speed was much higher – as much as 10 to the 10th power faster – in the early stages of the “Big Bang” than it is today. (It’s important to note that none of these researchers have expressed any bias toward a predetermined answer, biblical or otherwise. If anything, they are antagonistic toward a biblical worldview.)
Dr. Magueijo believes that light speed was faster only in the instants following the beginning of time. Dr. Barrow, Barry Setterfield and others believe that light speed has been declining from the beginning of time to the historic near past.
Dr. Magueijo recently stated that the debate should not be why and how could the speed of light could vary, but what combination of irrefutable theories demands that it be constant at all.
Setterfield now believes there are at least four other major observed anomalies consistent with a slowing speed of light:
- quantized red-shift observations from other galaxies,
- measured changes in atomic masses over time,
- measured changes in Planck’s Constant over time,
- and differences between time as measured by the atomic clock, and time as measured by the orbits of the planets in our solar system.
Perhaps the most interesting of these is the quantized red-shift data.
The red shift refers to observations by astronomers of the light emitted by galaxies. Early astronomers noticed that galaxies considered to be most distant from the earth had light spectra shifted toward the red end of the spectrum. In 1929 astronomer Edwin Hubble compared the galaxies’ spectra with their presumed distances (calculated using different methods), and showed that the amount of “red shift” was proportional to the calculated distance from Earth.
Hubble and others postulated that the “red shift” was caused by the velocity of the galaxies as they receded from Earth and from each other – the farther away the galaxy, the faster the velocity, the more the observed Doppler red shift. Galaxies whose observed light is seen as shifted into the far red are considered to be moving at amazingly high speeds away from us.
Hubble’s theory of the expanding universe demands an even distribution of red-shift data.
Dr. William Tifft, now retired from the University of Arizona, measured and recorded red-shift data for over 20 years. Dr. Tifft found that the red-shift data were not random at all, but grouped into quantum bands.
Quantum red-shift data simply does not fit in the comfortable world of classical physics.
Where it does fit, like it was made for it, is in the Setterfield Hypothesis. According to Setterfield and others, declining light speeds would cause changes in the quantum states of atomic structure within these galaxies, leading to quantum shifts in the light emitted – precisely what Dr. Tifft and others detected.
Setterfield believes that the speed of light was initially about 10 to the 10th power faster than it is today. After the creation of the universe, light speed declined following a curve approximating the curve of the cosecant squared. He believes that light speed reached a point where it is asymptotic since the mid 1960s. Though reasonably constant, he believes the speed still varies in waves – sometimes higher and sometimes lower than the accepted standard.
Intriguingly, recent observations of the signals received from the aging satellites Galileo, Ulysses and Pioneer are also in the category of speed of light anomalies. A unexplained Doppler frequency shift has been detected from all of these satellites, even though the satellites’ distances from the Earth are only about 20 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun – way too close for a traditional Doppler shift to occur in the electromagnetic spectrum. NASA scientists have attempted with little success to attribute the anomalies to an unknown acceleration. Setterfield suggests that equally plausible explanations are variations in c.
It’s important to recognize the resistance that the current hierarchy of science has to the possibility that light speed may not be constant. Dr. Joao Magueijo was forced to wait for over a year between submission of his initial work on varying light speed and publication. Setterfield, Dr. Tifft, Dr. Paul Davis, Dr. John Barrow and others have been subjected to peer review which borders on ridicule.
Dr. Tifft’s discussion of red-shift anomalies was published with seeming reluctance in the Astrophysical Journal in the mid 1980s with a rare editorial note pointing out that the referees “neither could find obvious errors with the analysis nor felt that they could enthusiastically endorse publication.”
After Dr. Tifft’s initial publication, several astronomers devised extensive experiments in attempts to prove him wrong. Among them two Scottish astronomers, Bruce Gutherie and William Napier from the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh observed approximately 300 galaxies in the mid 1990s. They found to their surprise confirmation of quantum banding of red-shift data.
They also had difficulty publishing their data. It has been reported that the prestigious Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics refused publication until an additional set of observations from 97 other spiral galaxies was included. A Fourier analysis of the 302 early data points, and the subsequent total of 399 data points strongly confirmed the quantum shifts.
Despite this – and additional observations by Bell in 2003 – many scientists are still reluctant to give up on the theory that red shifts are solely caused by Doppler shifts and have continued to claim that the red-shift quanta results by Tifft and others are due to sloppy research or insufficient data.
It’s intriguing to note that the first measurement of light speed by Olaf Roemer in the late 17th century was an attempt to disprove the Aristotelian belief that light speed was infinite. Despite overwhelming and repeatable evidence, over 50 years passed before the scientific hierarchy of the time accepted evidence which, in retrospect was clear, compelling and unimpeachable.
Discussions of Dr. Tifft’s red-shift observations
Speed of light varying
Dr. Joao Magueijo’s “Faster Than the Speed of Light”
Signals from Pioneer and Galileo Spacecraft “Doppler Shifted”
Note: NASA is currently building a mission to fly a satellite by Pluto and beyond to the Kuiper Belt, scheduled for launch in 2005. It will be interesting to see if the anomalies of radio-wave Doppler shifting can be observed when the satellite nears Pluto in 2015 and then to the farther reaches of the Kuiper Belt some years later.
Chris Bennett manages an environmental engineering division for a West Coast technology firm. He and his wife of 26 years make their home on the San Francisco Bay.