Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Admitting significant errors in my understanding of physics — speed of light theories

arroba Email

I had advocated Barry Setterfield’s decaying speed of light model as a possible mechanism for seeing distant starlight on shorter time scales than billions of years. At this time I need to appraise those who have followed my defense of Barry’s theory, that I no longer think Setterfield’s versions of the c-decay are workable as stated.

Although we still have potentially anomalous data points in the measurement of the speed of light that could argue for a universal, isotropic decaying speed of light (as reported in Nature), and even though Joao Magueijo, John Barrow, Paul Davies have argued for the possibility that the speed of light was universally faster in the past, I have not been able to resolve difficulties in Setterfield’s c-decay model.

Changing of the speed of light and attendant changes in other constants (like Plank’s constant) can lead to insurmountable problems. However, this does not preclude other mechanisms for seeing distant starlight in a short amount of time.

Independent of theology, there are empirical reasons we might think distant starlight reaches us quickly as I stated in this discussion Distant Starlight, the thorn in the side of YEC and there are theoretical reasons for the desirability of varying speed of light to solve problems which inflation cosmology cannot solve.

To that end I’d like to point out that I concurred with Dr. Jerry Jellison and WT Brigman that they had uncovered errors in Setterfield’s work, and I conveyed my criticism to Barry Setterfield. Barry is a good friend, and I’m sorry I must disagree with my good friend.

Below is Jellison and Bridgman’s essay on Setterfield’s work 2007.

Analysis of the Variable Lightspeed (c-Decay) Theory of Barry Setterfield

I’m only posting it now because I needed a few years and a lot of study in physics to think on the matter. Here are some relevant highlight from Jellison and Bridgman:

The precise nature of the error was communicated to him [Setterfield], and an Excel spreadsheet verifying the error was posted on the website by Cordova. Setterfield’s response was that “software packages” often fail to “pick up on” certain algebraic identities, and that this was undoubtedly the case here. He also claimed to have re-checked his derivation, and verified that it was correct. However, Cordova expressed the opinion that there really was a problem. At this point, after about a month of arguing the matter, Setterfield acknowledged the error.


The decision to write this report was occasioned by Salvador Cordova’s expressed willingness to post it on his creationist web site. Mr. Cordova carried through on his promise and, in so doing, exposed Setterfield’s theory to what may be its most intense scientific criticism. Although we do not endorse the content of many of Cordova’s posts on the youngcosmos.com discussion forum and blog, we do acknowledge his willingness to side with us against Setterfield when he saw the correctness of our arguments. In addition, we acknowledge the role the youngcosmos.com discussions had in our developing understanding of the weaknesses of the c-decay theory.


In Nature for April 4, 1931, Gheury de Bray commented: “If the velocity of light is constant, how is it that, INVARIABLY, new determinations give values which are lower than the last one obtained. … There are twenty-two coincidences in favour of a decrease of the velocity of light, while there is not a single one against it.”


A team of Australian scientists has proposed that the speed of light may not be a constant, a revolutionary idea that could unseat one of the most cherished laws of modern physics — Einstein’s theory of relativity.

The team, led by theoretical physicist Paul Davies of Sydney’s Macquarie University, say it is possible that the speed of light has slowed over billions of years.

If so, physicists will have to rethink many of their basic ideas about the laws of the universe.

“That means giving up the theory of relativity and E=mc squared and all that sort of stuff,” Davies told Reuters.



Call it heresy, but all the big cosmological problems will simply melt away, if you break one rule, says John D. Barrow–the rule that says the speed of light never varies

One advantage that the varying light speed hypothesis has over inflation is that it does not require unknown gravitationally repulsive forms of matter. It works with forms of matter and radiation that are known to be present in the Universe today. Another advantage is that it offers a possible explanation for the lambda problem–something inflation has yet to solve.


4. I pointed out there is evidence that the speed of light may change locally:
Vodka! Return of the Aether (some help perhaps for YECs).

5. some of the anomalies I suggested to Barry were problems of the spectroscopic binary stars in the globular clusters, the anomaly still remains, but we don’t know what it signifies

6. there is simply too much we don’t know, we need more observations and experiments

7. I mentioned the relevance of these considerations to ID here: Cocktails! The Relevance of YEC to ID

8. Apologies to JGUY and others whom I may have led astray in the past regarding my physics errors.

9. Thanks to Dr. Jellison and Dr. Stephen Cheesman for the inspiration to study physics

NoahsDays, Thanks for your interest. Welcome to Uncommon Descent. Let me say, I hope Barry Setterfield or some YEC succeeds in figuring out the distant starlight problem. I had a hard enough time with the versions of his theories in 2007. I have not seen his most recent. At ICC 2013, there wasn't much enthusiasm in the YEC community over decaying speed of light. I do not mean to be dismissive, but NO ONE has enough data to make any sort of coherent theory right now. Too many experiments and observations to be made before we can even think to move forward. I hope Barry or someone figures this out, but there are too many experiments and observations that need to be done first. I wish Barry the best. One thing that came out of all this was our mutual interest in the anomalous ratios of eclipsing binaries to spectroscopic binaires. I was the one who suggested that be explored in 2007, so if he mentions it, I was the one who first suggested it to him, and I hope he's uncovered some serious anomalies as this will be important to resolving the distant starlight problem. I'm sorry I don't have any more to say. I'm more inclined to say, "wait and see". Suffice to say, I think everyone right now is wrong. I surely don't have the answer. scordova
Scordova, The debate regarding Speed of Light Theories has been enlightening and entertaining for years now...I have perused Setterfields responses to some of the errors noted in your investigation/review and as OneSquareLight indicated would like to see your response to said revisions to his observations and his corrected critics. Do your conclusions still stand as stated? NoahsDays
Scordova, Given the date of your post above (August 2013) I presume you are commenting on the most up to date articles by Setterfield. As mentioned above by JGuy, Setterfield has replied to the input from Dr. Jellison. In fact he made changes/corrections based on the critique. In an article entitled "Response concerning Jellison's criticisms": http://www.setterfield.org/Jellison.html Setterfield states: "My article on "Quantized Redshifts and the Zero Point Energy," published by JVR in December of 2008, brings the entirely new approach to this whole situation. Jellison's comments are therefore out of date. There is now NO quantum change in sub-atomic particle masses. Everything depends on the behavior of Planck's constant, h, and the conservation of orbital angular momentum in atoms." He also states here: http://www.setterfield.org/GSRresearchpapers.html Quantized Redshifts and the Zero Point Energy -- (JVR, December, 2008) [there is a problem with some of the mathematical equations in this paper which are corrected in the technical appendix to Data and Creation: The ZPE-Plasma model] The correction is explained in the Appendix here: http://www.setterfield.org/ZPE_Plasma_technical_appendix.html ................ Are Setterfield's latest changes factored into your assessment of C-decay above? I'm just curious. Has he adequately addressed any of your concerns with these revisions? OneSquareLight
The problem that really alarmed me was is the effect of changing constants like c (speed of light) and h(Plank's constant) on atomic characteristics like: 1. Bohr radius 2. ionic bond lenghth 3. van der waals forces 4. Plank's law Essentially disintegrating the atom. I talked to Barry about my concerns over the phone, and I posted it at the youngcosmos website, and Dr. Jellison was quick to agree with me, and at that point both of us fell very sorry for Barry. At that point, I decided I had insufficient expertise to argue the matters, and while Robert Marks was inviting me to Baylor to study evolution informatics, I simultaneous submitted my application to Johns Hopkins/Whiting School so I could learn more. I decided, I really didn't want to be studying CSI for a year and a half, and when Dr. Marks' lab was shut down, the decision for me to study physics instead was essentially made. Hence I let the discussion remain in limbo until I learned more, and while in school, I slowly cooled to my friend Barry's model. My first semester, I met Barry that Fall in California via a miraculous coincidence while visiting Casey Luskin on IDEA matters and sneaking out to the Barona casino where the Blackjack Hall of Fame is hosted. :-) The velocity of c is actually dependent on two other values: ε and μ Look at what happens to the distance of atoms in an ionic bond if ε varies over time, http://www.scienceiscool.org/coulomb/coulombslawapplicationtochemistry.htm As the potential energy well either deepens or becomes more shallow the bonding length between two atoms changes and that means ionically bonded crystals in the Earth radically change size. NOT GOOD! Also the Bohr radius and other aspects of atomic size change. NOT GOOD EITHER! To see the change look at his formula: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohr_radius And then what about Plank's law black body radiation, another fail for varying Plank's constant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck's_law Barry made not only basic calculus errors that his co-author should have caught there were basic algebra errors (such as trying to solve for 2 unknowns with only 1 equation). He was courageous to persist, and his efforts were tireless, but a little more peer review would have helped prevent some of these problems. That's why it is a good idea to get an unfriendly critic on occasion to provide free-of-charge peer review for ones ideas. The Darwinists have done a lot of that for the ID community... Apologies for the terse and technical response, but physics isn't easy, maybe one of the hardest subjects (next to math) on the planet... I held out hope for years that the idea could be salvageable in light of some of the anomalies that exist in the data. The anomalies are there, they challenge the mainstream, but I don't know that they are solved by Barry's model. I do believe there are changes in the speed of light locally as I've posted elsewhere at UD (such as Shtyrkov and Demjanov's experiments). I don't think Barry's isotropic temporal change is viable. There is still too much we don't know. Barry was good at finding anomalous data points, and those may be very valuable in the future...we'll see. I wish him well, he's a good man. scordova
I'm not sure what to think exactly about Setterfield's work and cdk as he proposes. Even if it is wrong, which again I do not say to be the case, I do think there may be other light speed slowing scenarios that are not changes to any properties of light that could produce a similar effects as Setterfield's description of cdk. To be fair, Setterfield did respond to the above critical paper the subsequent year it was written. FWIW: http://setterfield.org/Jellison.html http://setterfield.org/Bridgmanresponse1.html JGuy
ericB, Thanks. I fixed it. My spell checker didn't catch my semantic/syntax error. Thanks! scordova
"Barry is a good friend, and I’m sorry I must agree with my good fried." seems to have a couple typos. --> "Barry is a good friend, and I’m sorry I must disagree with my good friend." Thanks, Sal, for updating us on this topic. ericB

Leave a Reply