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Inconstant Speed of Light May Debunk Einstein
Reuters via Yahoo! ^ | Wed Aug 7, 2:07 PM ET | By Michael Christie

Posted on 08/08/2002 9:06:23 AM PDT by Momaw Nadon

SYDNEY (Reuters) - 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.

"But of course it doesn't mean we just throw the books in the bin, because it's in the nature of scientific revolution that the old theories become incorporated in the new ones."

Davies, and astrophysicists Tamara Davis and Charles Lineweaver from the University of New South Wales published the proposal in the August 8 edition of scientific journal Nature.

The suggestion that the speed of light can change is based on data collected by UNSW astronomer John Webb, who posed a conundrum when he found that light from a distant quasar, a star-like object, had absorbed the wrong type of photons from interstellar clouds on its 12 billion year journey to earth.

Davies said fundamentally Webb's observations meant that the structure of atoms emitting quasar light was slightly but ever so significantly different to the structure of atoms in humans.

The discrepancy could only be explained if either the electron charge, or the speed of light, had changed.

IN TROUBLE EITHER WAY

"But two of the cherished laws of the universe are the law that electron charge shall not change and that the speed of light shall not change, so whichever way you look at it we're in trouble," Davies said.

To establish which of the two constants might not be that constant after all, Davies' team resorted to the study of black holes, mysterious astronomical bodies that suck in stars and other galactic features.

They also applied another dogma of physics, the second law of thermodynamics, which Davies summarizes as "you can't get something for nothing."

After considering that a change in the electron charge over time would violate the sacrosanct second law of thermodynamics, they concluded that the only option was to challenge the constancy of the speed of light.

More study of quasar light is needed in order to validate Webb's observations, and to back up the proposal that light speed may vary, a theory Davies stresses represents only the first chink in the armor of the theory of relativity.

In the meantime, the implications are as unclear as the unexplored depths of the universe themselves.

"When one of the cornerstones of physics collapses, it's not obvious what you hang onto and what you discard," Davies said.

"If what we're seeing is the beginnings of a paradigm shift in physics like what happened 100 years ago with the theory of relativity and quantum theory, it is very hard to know what sort of reasoning to bring to bear."

It could be that the possible change in light speed will only matter in the study of the large scale structure of the universe, its origins and evolution.

For example, varying light speed could explain why two distant and causally unconnected parts of the universe can be so similar even if, according to conventional thought, there has not been enough time for light or other forces to pass between them.

It may only matter when scientists are studying effects over billions of years or billions of light years.

Or there may be startling implications that could change not only the way cosmologists view the universe but also its potential for human exploitation.

"For example there's a cherished law that says nothing can go faster than light and that follows from the theory of relativity," Davies said. The accepted speed of light is 300,000 km (186,300 miles) per second.

"Maybe it's possible to get around that restriction, in which case it would enthrall Star Trek fans because at the moment even at the speed of light it would take 100,000 years to cross the galaxy. It's a bit of a bore really and if the speed of light limit could go, then who knows? All bets are off," Davies said.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Front Page News; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events; Philosophy; Technical; Unclassified
KEYWORDS: einstein; light; physics; relativity; speed; universe
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FYI and discussion
1 posted on 08/08/2002 9:06:23 AM PDT by Momaw Nadon
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To: Momaw Nadon
They are not the first to propose this. It's been kicking around for a while now. It makes quite a bit of sense.
2 posted on 08/08/2002 9:10:05 AM PDT by vannrox
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To: VadeRetro
Do you remember our discussion of this some month's back? Interesting, this, to say the least.
3 posted on 08/08/2002 9:12:09 AM PDT by logos
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To: Momaw Nadon
Hmmm - I can picture God chuckling and saying to Himself: "You guys got it figured out, yet?"
4 posted on 08/08/2002 9:12:18 AM PDT by Psalm 73
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To: logos
Earlier thread. This one may or may not be removed.

I forget the details of what we discussed, I fear.

5 posted on 08/08/2002 9:19:11 AM PDT by VadeRetro
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To: Momaw Nadon
Barry Setterfield, an Australian creationist, published his theory that the speed of light has decreased over 20 years ago. He produced evidence from historical observations of the speed of light and other "constants" of physics. It's amazing how science keeps on proving the truth of creation.
6 posted on 08/08/2002 9:23:16 AM PDT by far sider
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To: Psalm 73
Unlike the case in math, in which conclusive proofs can be had, there are no hard proofs of science. The best you can do is show a theory isn't inconsistent with anything yet known. You can never say that a theory is proved, incontrovertibly, to be true, because there might always be some regime in which it breaks down.

For example, Newtonian physics is very nearly true, except near very strong sources of gravity, or at very, very high speeds, or in the microscopic world of atoms. The needed modifications to Newtonian physics, repectively general relativity, special relativity, and quantum mechanics, hardly influence daily experience, and it took a long time to discern that Newtonian physics demonstrably failed in these regimes. (And, all of these theories reduce to classical Newtonian experience in the limits of low gravity, slow speeds, and large quantum number.)

7 posted on 08/08/2002 9:24:06 AM PDT by coloradan
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To: Physicist
ping
8 posted on 08/08/2002 9:24:09 AM PDT by maxwell
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To: Momaw Nadon
Ok, for you physicists out there, I have a question. In the expansionist model of the universe, the size of the universe expanded far faster than the speed of light. Could it be that the rate of expansion of space has something to do with the observed effect? If this light is 12 billion years old, maybe the rate of expansion of the universe, being closer to the date of creation, was faster then and somehow interfered with the photons.
9 posted on 08/08/2002 9:26:01 AM PDT by Jesse
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To: VadeRetro
No, I was thinking about this discussion:

Is Even the Bible Relative?

I don't remember joining in the thread you linked to... [but I am getting older...]

10 posted on 08/08/2002 9:27:26 AM PDT by logos
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To: Momaw Nadon
I remember from my old physics that the speed of light is NOT constant. Light slows up based on the index of refraction. Glass is typically at ~1.3 refracvtion index. That means while the light is moving through your glass lenses, it's speed has slowed to 300,000/1.3 or about 230,770 kph.
We assume that space is a perfect vacuum with an IR of 1.0. There can be traces of gases which will effect the light speed traveling through it and make the IR something slightly higher than 1.0
11 posted on 08/08/2002 9:28:02 AM PDT by det dweller too
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To: Momaw Nadon
The discrepancy could only be explained if either the electron charge, or the speed of light, had changed.

... or there was a smudge on his telescope lens.

12 posted on 08/08/2002 9:28:09 AM PDT by smokinleroy
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To: far sider
...published his theory that the speed of light has decreased over 20 years ago.

You know, the explains why ever since the early eighties it's seems to take the light longer to come on after I flip the switch. ;-)

13 posted on 08/08/2002 9:28:31 AM PDT by PBRSTREETGANG
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To: far sider
Click here.

"Well, it certainly doesn't vindicate CDK, as we're talking about a change of one part in 100,000 over 12 billion years."

---- the freeper known as "Physicist"


14 posted on 08/08/2002 9:28:50 AM PDT by VadeRetro
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To: logos
I was pointing out that the lead article of this thread was posted yesterday. The AMs are inconsistent about deleting dupes, so who knows about the life expectancy of this one?

It was interesting rereading that two-year old thread. You aren't the only one getting older!

15 posted on 08/08/2002 9:36:11 AM PDT by VadeRetro
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To: VadeRetro
Earlier thread. This one may or may not be removed.

This is messed up. I did a search on FR to see if the article had been posted yet.

I used all of the words in the headline, but got no results.

16 posted on 08/08/2002 9:37:29 AM PDT by Momaw Nadon
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To: Momaw Nadon
I just pick a key word rather than trying to match phrases when I title-search. The search engine has some treachery in it.
17 posted on 08/08/2002 9:40:15 AM PDT by VadeRetro
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To: VadeRetro
So far as I know, there is only one alternative to getting older...

With all the articles posted at FR every day, I would be more amazed to learn that the moderators were aware of all the duplicates than I would be to learn that the theory of relativity was all a big mistake. (Although it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that the T.ofR. needed some modification - I do believe in the evolution of revelation, after all.) :^)

18 posted on 08/08/2002 9:40:41 AM PDT by logos
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To: VadeRetro
"Click here."

I did. Thanks, Vade.

19 posted on 08/08/2002 9:44:42 AM PDT by far sider
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To: far sider
It's amazing how science keeps on proving the truth of creation.

How did science prove the truth of creation in this case? And what is the truth of creation?
20 posted on 08/08/2002 9:44:49 AM PDT by Stone Mountain
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To: Momaw Nadon
This is messed up. I did a search on FR to see if the article had been posted yet.
I used all of the words in the headline, but got no results.

I did the same thing when I posted this very same article yesterday. (It was deleted)

Apparently the search doesn't find articles that are posted to the "General Interest" forum.

21 posted on 08/08/2002 9:46:49 AM PDT by Willie Green
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To: Momaw Nadon
Inconstant Speed of Light May Debunk Einstein

Yep, red light is a lot quicker than green, just ask any driver ;-)

22 posted on 08/08/2002 9:49:20 AM PDT by varon
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To: far sider
It's amazing how science keeps on proving the truth of creation.

What relation exists between possible changes in the fine structure constant and the many various creation stories handed down to us from ancient times?

23 posted on 08/08/2002 9:49:43 AM PDT by RightWhale
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To: Momaw Nadon
Maybe it's possible to get around that restriction, in which case it would enthrall Star Trek fans because at the moment even at the speed of light it would take 100,000 years to cross the galaxy. It's a bit of a bore really and if the speed of light limit could go, then who knows? All bets are off," Davies said.

I would love to see a huge shuttle packed full of Star Trek fans, speeding away faster than the speed of light, toward the far side of the galaxy.

24 posted on 08/08/2002 9:55:17 AM PDT by caddie
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To: Momaw Nadon
But if you drive faster than the speed of light are you overdriving your headlights?BWHAHAHAHAHA!
25 posted on 08/08/2002 9:57:19 AM PDT by lexington minuteman 1775
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To: Momaw Nadon
...Davies' team resorted to the study of black holes, mysterious astronomical bodies that suck in stars and other galactic features

Sorta like the federal government and my paycheck.

26 posted on 08/08/2002 9:58:05 AM PDT by SGCOS
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To: Momaw Nadon
I've been making this same argument for years. I'm not trained in physics, but there were just some things in that field that I just can't help but think are irrational.

The great double nickle speed limit in the sky, the speed of light. Sure, I can buy the concept that using a ground fixed accelerator and magnetic fields, that it takes up more energy to accelerate particles as they approach light speed. But I can't buy it that this has any bearing on the speed limit of my starship Enterprise (fuel capacity might limit speed, but nothing to do with light).

For one thing, if there is some speed limit in the sky, then define for me some place that is not moving that can then be used to define when you hit the speed limit. The surface of the earth is moving. The planet is moving. Everything is moving. So there is no definable state of non-movement. Therefore, no definable speed limit.

Another problem. If nothing can travel faster than light. What about the case of an observer who observes a vehicle traveling toward his left ear at say .9 light speed. And a second vehicle traveling toward his right ear at .9 light. Then aren't the two vehicles traveling at something greater than light speed relative to each other? Einstien groopies say that there is some wierd math that proves that I might observe this condition, but that the two vehicles would observe each other traveling at less than light.

Ok.

And I've got a bridge to sell you.

27 posted on 08/08/2002 10:21:03 AM PDT by narby
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To: Momaw Nadon
...electron charge shall not change and that the speed of light shall not change, so whichever way you look at it we're in trouble," Davies said.

I knew it! We're all doomed!

Think I'll have a beer and a coupl'a shots of Jose'.

FMCDH

28 posted on 08/08/2002 10:24:22 AM PDT by nothingnew
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To: narby
The problem here is that the speed of light is not truly constant, and that is one of the things that Relativity states. People always misconstrue this.

The speed of light is constant in a relative sense. What this means is that to any observer (frame of reference) light will always travel at the same magnitude of speed no matter what the direction of it is or the velocity of the object that is emitting it. This is one reason that even with the doppler effect you still see absorption lines the same distance apart just shifted.

The speed of light itself is not a limiter of maximum speed but is instead a gauge by which to tell what the maximum speed is for a particle with any mass or energy. As an object moves faster, it's surroundings observe it as having more mass, thus relative to it's surroundings it becomes harder to accelerate it. The limit of this acceleration is the speed at which light travels.

An interesting question is what happens when you set your frame of reference to be a quanta inside a stream of light... Is the quanta next to you traveling forward away from you at the speed of light?
29 posted on 08/08/2002 10:40:11 AM PDT by Xenon481
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To: RightWhale
What relation exists between possible changes in the fine structure constant and the many various creation stories handed down to us from ancient times?

OK. In this instance I'm refering to Young Earth Creation Science rather than the creation myths you seem to be refering to.

From a creationist point of view, I am always amazed that when I pick up practically any issue of a science periodical (Discover, Science News, etc.) usually several articles either 1)support Young Earth Creationism (missing mass in the universe, etc.); 2)contradict Darwinian evolution; or 3)reveal errors or hoaxes of evolution (like the dinosaur/bird in National Geographic, or the hominid skull that turned out to be female gorilla). While, I admit, it is a stretch to say this article vindicates everything Setterfield wrote, if you're familiar with his theory, you should know that he attempted to collect every measurement of c and related constants and plot them. He said there was a real, measurable trend and it seemed to be an exponential decay.

The concept that c could change in any way was laughed at then. Now it's news.

30 posted on 08/08/2002 10:40:33 AM PDT by far sider
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To: Stone Mountain
See #20.
31 posted on 08/08/2002 10:41:59 AM PDT by far sider
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To: Stone Mountain
I mean #30.
32 posted on 08/08/2002 10:42:27 AM PDT by far sider
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To: far sider
Okay, before you start cheering the CDK "theory" please note that the changes are on the order of one part in 100,000. That means that the universe, instead of being 15 billion years old is only 14.99985 billion years old. It pretty much canxes any ideas of it all being just a few thousand years old, doesn't it?
33 posted on 08/08/2002 10:47:02 AM PDT by Junior
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To: narby
I'm not trained in physics, but there were just some things in that field that I just can't help but think are irrational.

I think I can explain it to you in a way you will not only understand, but accept. Give me a little time.

34 posted on 08/08/2002 10:54:37 AM PDT by Physicist
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To: Momaw Nadon
If the speed of light varies from one time to another, will it also vary from one place to another? (In fact, if I remember my relativity accurately, what is a difference in time to one observer can be a difference in place to another. Which raises another question -- again as I remember relativity, one space-time point is unambiguously earlier than another if the distance between the two cannot be covered in time at the speed of light. Otherwise, different observers can decide that two different space-time points are both earlier and later. So, if the speed of light varies, how do we decide?)
35 posted on 08/08/2002 10:56:30 AM PDT by aristeides
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To: Momaw Nadon
I tried to post a reply to your thread yesterday. By the time I finished writing my reply, the thread had been deleted. I then failed to find another thread on the subject.
36 posted on 08/08/2002 10:58:25 AM PDT by aristeides
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To: Momaw Nadon
E=MC² fallacies
37 posted on 08/08/2002 10:59:24 AM PDT by Consort
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To: Momaw Nadon
There is yet another alternative: time varies.

;^0
38 posted on 08/08/2002 11:00:32 AM PDT by headsonpikes
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To: far sider
From a creationist point of view, I am always amazed that when I pick up practically any issue of a science periodical (Discover, Science News, etc.) usually several articles either 1)support Young Earth Creationism (missing mass in the universe, etc.); 2)contradict Darwinian evolution; or 3)reveal errors or hoaxes of evolution (like the dinosaur/bird in National Geographic, or the hominid skull that turned out to be female gorilla).

Have you also read articles that contradict Young Earth Creationism? I guess my point is that scientific theories were meant to change and be modified - finding evidence that current theories of evolution are wrong doesn't necessarily mean that the whole concept is wrong (although it's certainly possible) but it could also mean that the theory just needs to be changed a little. Scientific theories allow this type of modification to happen, so articles that poke holes in current scientific beliefs eventually get assimilated and new theories are proposed. Young Earth Creationism, on the other hand, has a core set of unchangable tenets. I have no doubt that you have seen much scientific evidence that supports this belief. My question is have you seen scientific evidence that doesn't support YEC? If so, do you discount the evidence as having to be flawed, or do you change your theory? Or have you never seen scientific evidence that contradicts your beliefs?
39 posted on 08/08/2002 11:09:50 AM PDT by Stone Mountain
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To: aristeides
I think what you are speaking of in #35 is called the Lorentz Transformations. Here is a link to some interesting notes on the subject.
40 posted on 08/08/2002 11:15:30 AM PDT by Alamo-Girl
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To: far sider
The idea that the speed of light in a vacuum is constant and that no particles can move faster is the premise of the special theory of relativity. Assuming the speed of light is that, the rest of the math was developed. The theory of relativity did not prove the constancy of the speed of light in a vacuum, but relied on that assumption.

Then it comes down to what is meant by "vacuum." It might be necessary to add a term to the equations and that will disrupt their apparent canonical simplicity. That's the way it goes.

41 posted on 08/08/2002 11:15:55 AM PDT by RightWhale
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To: Momaw Nadon
...and maybe:

"Light doesn't travel at all, but its presence causes units of aerogen matter to move. Some of this movement produces the phenomena which appear as waves and the speed of light."

42 posted on 08/08/2002 11:16:38 AM PDT by Consort
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To: Momaw Nadon
"Maybe it's possible to get around that restriction, in which case it would enthrall Star Trek fans because at the moment even at the speed of light it would take 100,000 years to cross the galaxy. It's a bit of a bore really and if the speed of light limit could go, then who knows? All bets are off," Davies said.

I'm gonna report this guy to Star Fleet Command.

43 posted on 08/08/2002 11:21:57 AM PDT by AxelPaulsenJr
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To: Momaw Nadon
The suggestion that the speed of light can change is based on data collected by UNSW astronomer John Webb, who posed a conundrum when he found that light from a distant quasar, a star-like object, had absorbed the wrong type of photons from interstellar clouds on its 12 billion year journey to earth.

Or the quasar isn't really that far away and the light is actually characteristic of more newly created matter, the higher redshift quasar having been relatively recently ejected from a relatively near, lower redshift Seyfert type galaxy. This guy's problems stem directly from his unwarranted assumption that the redshift of the quasar is a product of its recessional velocity.
44 posted on 08/08/2002 11:22:12 AM PDT by aruanan
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To: aristeides
Aha, I found a much better one with graphics! Construction of Lorentz Transformation
45 posted on 08/08/2002 11:27:20 AM PDT by Alamo-Girl
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To: Alamo-Girl
Lorentz Transformations.

Once again, you have impressed me!

Actually, I feel very sad about people that must create an alternative physical universe to justify thier views of religion and life.

I always keep an open mind, but I will not keep it so open than my brains fall out.

46 posted on 08/08/2002 11:27:23 AM PDT by Hunble
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To: Stone Mountain
Have you also read articles that contradict Young Earth Creationism?...have you never seen scientific evidence that contradicts your beliefs?

Of course I have. There are some things that I still have problems with, but the list is pretty short. The two biggies are the distribution of animal species and orders on the earth (e.g., Australia) and how the heck did light from millions of light years away get here if the earth is less than 10,000 years old? These are two questions that I wish Creationists had better answers for. That's why Setterfield's theory was/is so exciting, despite the continuing problems with it. Otherwise, we're pretty much stuck with the "apparent age" argument, which has its own problems.

My "list" of problems with evolution is much longer however. For instance, from a young earth view, dark matter, solar neutrinos, short period comets, stable planetary rings, unstable galaxies, uniform 3K background radiation, etc., do not pose problems.

47 posted on 08/08/2002 11:27:44 AM PDT by far sider
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To: Hunble
Thank you oh so very much for the kudos (blushing...!)

Actually, I am a Christian "fundamentalist" because I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. And I have no problem at all with science because I see where science and the Bible reconcile quite nicely!

48 posted on 08/08/2002 11:35:01 AM PDT by Alamo-Girl
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To: Jesse
I believe that is one inference you could draw from this experiment - at least that light used to be faster, and so the "speed limit" was higher back in the "old days."
49 posted on 08/08/2002 11:39:51 AM PDT by eno_
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To: far sider
...and how the heck did light from millions of light years away get here if the earth is less than 10,000 years old?

What does the age of a planet have to do with light coming from an older distant object? If a new planet is formed tomorrow, it too will receive the same old light.

50 posted on 08/08/2002 11:40:38 AM PDT by Consort
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