It has the makings of a science fiction movie: in the farthest reaches of our solar system, scientists discover spacecraft acting mysteriously and other unexplained phenomena—and now these strange happenings are spreading closer to home. However, this is not the plot for some space opera; this is the focus of a recent news story concerning unexpected anomalies in the motion of several space probes. Could a creation-based cosmological model hold the answer?
Although the data are still preliminary and await official publication, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have released findings that five spacecraft, when flying past earth, have gone either faster or slower than expected by standard models. This may not seem like a monumental discovery at first glance, but it has nonetheless left JPL astronomer John Anderson “humble and perplexed” because there is “no convincing explanation.”1
A bit of history might help explain the import of this finding. If you have followed astronomy, there’s a chance you may have heard of a phenomenon known as the “Pioneer anomaly.” Named for the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, this anomaly has garnered much press over the last two decades or so, primarily because mainstream science has yet to come up with an explanation. To put it succinctly, the Pioneer spacecraft are inexplicably slowing down (accelerating sunward) for some unknown reason.2 While it would be easy to dismiss such an anomaly as stemming from a mundane mechanical or non-novel physical cause (mathematical or data errors, gas leaks, effect of solar wind or dark matter), similar findings for other spacecraft (e.g., Ulysses and Galileo) help establish the anomaly as something that must be accounted for.3 That is, it is easier to dismiss something as trivial and, in this case, more likely due to individual spacecraft malfunction if it is only seen in a small sample; however, when we have a larger sample, the results are more likely to be significant.
That’s what makes the JPL news release so interesting. While there’s no conclusive evidence that the two anomalies are linked (Anderson says that he would be surprised if they were not), some cosmological models put forth by creationists could make sense of both. Although there are other models,4 as the field of creation cosmology has been expanding in recent years, for this article we will focus on Dr. Russell Humphreys’ “white hole” cosmology and how it could help us understand the recent data.5
Many people incorrectly picture the big bang this way: a gigantic explosion pushed matter and energy out from a central location—like ripples moving outward after a stone splashes into a pond. However, the standard big bang model does not actually allow for a center or edges of the universe that things proceed away from or toward. Instead, picture space-time as the surface of a balloon, with all known galaxies lying on the surface of the balloon (that is, all of known space is the surface of the balloon, not the inside of the balloon). There is no “center” to the surface of a balloon nor are there any edges. If someone were to inflate the balloon slowly, all the galaxies on the balloon’s surface would move farther away from each other, yet there would be no center for any to move farther away from, nor an edge for any to move closer to.
Furthermore, without any center or edge, a hypothetical astronomer in each galaxy would see roughly the same number of other galaxies as any other hypothetical astronomer would; there wouldn’t be galaxies near an edge whose astronomers would have little in the night sky to see, nor galaxies in the center that would be surrounded by comparatively more galaxies.
Here’s why this is an important distinction: under the incorrect “ripples in a pond” view of the big bang model of the universe, astronomers on most planets—all except those at the center of the universe—would see more galaxies on one side of them (toward the center) than on the other side (toward the edge). Big bang subscribers believe the “surface of the balloon” model instead of the “ripples in a pond” model—that is, that the universe doesn’t have a center or edges. After all, from earth, the universe does appear to be similar in all directions.6
The idea that earth is at or near the center of the universe out of billions of galaxies is obviously unpalatable for anyone who denies purpose and design.
But there’s another answer. Yes, it could be that the universe is pretty much the same everywhere, as the big bang’s balloon-surface model says. But under the pond-ripples model, there is one place where the distribution of galaxies would look uniform: at or near the center. But the idea that earth is at or near the center of the universe out of billions of galaxies is obviously unpalatable for anyone who denies purpose and design; thus, the big bang model was founded and is sustained on the assumption that since earth “cannot possibly” be at or near the center (as this would suggest purpose), the universe must be “isotropic” (homogeneous throughout—the balloon model).
Notice, though, that this is an assumption. Because we currently have no concrete way of testing homogeneity of the universe (the data that we do have show how things look to us), we must begin with a starting axiom. Darwinists and others start with the so-called “Copernican Principle” that dictates that we are not special and that it is far too unlikely for us to be in a privileged position—such as near the center of the universe—for us to even consider the idea. Or you can start with the idea that we are, in fact, in a special place, with our exact location in the universe chosen by the Designer of the universe.7
The commitment of most secular astronomers and astrophysicists is to fit the data to this preexisting framework that earth cannot be in any way special. That is, even if the findings were to imply that it is somehow a one-of-a-kind planet, as they do, they are not allowed to speculate in that regard.8 In contrast, many creation cosmologies appear to be more consistent with the evidence, since they begin with the assumption that earth is indeed in a special place in the universe. This is certainly not a biblical necessity, but it would make sense given that earth is the focus of God’s attention and plan of salvation. Dr. Humphreys’ cosmology begins with this assumption and envisions earth at the bottom of a gravity well (the point where the stone struck and sent out ripples).
According to a paper by Dr. Humphreys on the Pioneer anomaly, the behavior that we observe in the Pioneer spacecraft and the other probes as well “supports the essentials of several creationist cosmologies—a cosmic centre of mass, expansion of space, and recent gravitational time dilation.”9
Specifically, if earth is at or near the center of the universe and if there is some form of time dilation (whether from a white hole [a black hole in reverse] or another method), we would expect to see the anomalous behavior of spacecraft as they move out from the gravity well.
That is what makes these new space probe anomalies interesting. While the Pioneer spacecraft were affected far from earth, these recent probes show the anomaly can be local as well.
Creation cosmologies, giving earth a special place in the universe, can predict and account for various phenomena that the big bang model needs ad hoc stories to explain away.
While we should be cautiously optimistic, there is still insufficient data to come to a firm conclusion. After all, there may be factors involved that we do not know at present. However, this “mystery” does present an interesting test case for creation cosmologies and highlights the research being done to understand the first six days of creation and distant starlight. Obviously, there are other possible reasons for the anomalies, including prosaic ones—though the mounting evidence seems to suggest otherwise. But creation cosmologies, giving earth a special place in the universe, can predict and account for various phenomena that the big bang model needs ad hoc stories to explain away.
Ultimately, the main point to remember is that any theory or model based on human conjecture of how God formed the universe is fallible because it depends on our limited understanding. Various creation cosmologies may very well be bolstered by these probe anomalies, and certainly these models are built upon the foundation of God’s Word. But they also depend somewhat upon conjecture into the past. Further research is assuredly needed and will be presented (e.g., at the International Conference on Creationism), but we must always keep in mind that the true authority is the One who “laid the cornerstone [of the earth], when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:6–7).
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