Review of Hartnett - 'Starlight, Time and the New Physics''
Martin (John)
Source: Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 22.1 (April 2010), pp. 104-105
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  1. Near the beginning of Chapter 1, we read: ‘The Bible tells us (in Genesis 1) that the earth was created four days before the creation of the stars in the universe… God created Adam only two days after the stars…’ Clearly, this book is going to be a presentation of a Creationist- Young-Earth viewpoint of cosmology. Two sentences earlier, we read: ‘I don’t dispute the commonly held view that the visible universe is about twenty-eight billion light-years across…’. A few sentences later: ‘For creationists this has been one of the most difficult problems to solve.’ Although I am not a Young-Earth man myself, I consequently expected an unusually interesting presentation of the Young-Earth position.
  2. One valuable aspect of the book is its useful review of recent observational developments in cosmology. Being retired, I was largely out-of-touch with details of topics like ‘dark matter’, ‘dark energy’, anomalous features in galaxy rotation, apparent irregularities in the distribution of galaxies throughout the visible universe, and so on. The book was a worthwhile remedy. Dr Hartnett seems to be a competent observational cosmologist.
  3. On the other hand, the work in this book is of very uneven quality. The following notes deal with a small selection of specific examples of inadequacy.
  4. First, however, there is a general principle to be followed. Any adequate theoretical description (a model, usually mathematical) of a body of observation must embody features known to occur, must exclude features believed not to occur, and must have a logical structure which would satisfy William of Ockham: ‘It is wrong to use a lot where less will do.’ When a model is proposed, it may involve an attempt to predict hitherto unnoticed behaviour. If experiment confirms that the prediction is valid, the model is provisionally acceptable. Otherwise the model is revised or, in the worst case, rejected.
  5. Einstein’s general relativity provides a very precise model for the universe as a whole. In particular, it labels ‘events’ with the ‘points’ of a 4D-structure (spacetime) with a metric whose matrix everywhere has one positive eigenvalue and three negative. This straightforwardly yields the concepts of time and 3D space. The past and future of any typical observer are clearly distinguishable, and are separated by the observer’s present. On the other hand, the ‘New Physics’ of this book’s title (the Carmeli-Hartnett ‘spacetimevelocity’ model) is a 5D-structure (2 positive/3 negative). No significance for the nature of each individual ‘point’ is offered. No significant distinction between past and future exists – the topology is wrong – and one’s future can re-enter one’s past without difficulty. The extra dimension in this context has introduced a looseness which defies Ockham’s razor (28), and which prohibits any reliable correspondence between model and reality. All are substantial flaws.
  6. The author uses the words ‘the rate at which time flows’ (108), and similar phrases (111). It is difficult to decipher any meaning here. In Observer A’s immediate neighbourhood time flows at precisely one second per second; it has no other option. Similarly in Observer B’s neighbourhood. If A and B are separating, it may well happen that both may see the other’s clock as running slow. This ‘clock paradox’ rules out the notion of ‘absolute’ time in standard relativity, and for the same kind of reason will rule it out in the Carmeli-Hartnett model also. Inserting an extra timelike dimension will not help. If any writer believes that ‘absolute’ time is essential to physical reality then he must be prepared to discard altogether theories such as Einstein’s. Otherwise six days (93-95) will be unhappy alongside a billion years.
  7. A final comment: ‘He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent.’ (Ps. 104:2, author’s italics, 91,92) This text was offered as a primary justification for an expanding universe. I provisionally believe in an expanding universe. However, I remembered times when I camped in the Scottish Highlands. I would stretch out my tent. Then I would admire the starlit heavens stretched out like a tent. Then stretch out on my airbed, and sleep while the night stretched out to day. I cannot include expansion in any of these thoughts. I sincerely believe that we must not use Scripture like that.
  8. Normally, on finishing a book like this I would casually place it on one side and get on with other business. But not here. My worry is summarised in a quotation from another writer: ‘If [unbelievers] find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books,’ [presumably the books of the Bible] ‘how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven?’ (St Augustine, in Latin, c.400) Over the last sixteen centuries, the ‘foolish opinions’ have regularly changed. The underlying problem has not.
  9. Dr John Martin was Reader in Physics (retired 1996), Kings College London, and is author of General Relativity (Prentice Hall Europe 1995).


Review of "Hartnett (John) - Starlight, Time and the New Physics: How we can see starlight in our young universe". Click here for Note and Click here for Note for my thoughts on Hartnett & Carmeli, together with "Carmeli (Moshe), Hartnett (John G.), Etc - Scientific Papers of Moshe Carmeli, John Hartnett & Others" for further material.

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