The following articles are Numbers 256 and 263 in the series of pamphlets published by 


The Speed of Light 

A review of Barry Setterfield's Invited Research Report for Stanford Research Institute International 

Since producing his first monograph on the subject in 1983 as reported in a previous pamphlet[230], Barry Setterfield has been urged to present his work in a scientific journal so that his theory can be completely reviewed and criticised by established scientists. Despite several attempts, he has failed to have his work accepted for publication, seemingly because of his creationist stance or the implications that his theory has, regarding evolution. Nevertheless, a number of experts around the world have shown considerable interest in the subject. As a result, there has been a breakthrough for he has now produced an officially invited Research report for the Stanford Research Institute International, at the invitation of Lambert T. Dolphin, the Senior Research Physicist of the Geo-science and Engineering Center of the Institute. This prestigious organisation was started by physicists of Stanford University in America, and now has centres around the world. 

Setterfield has worked with Dr. Trevor Norman of Flinders University, and his paper had to have the approval of both Stanford and Flinders for it to be accepted. It is customary for universities to circulate their reports freely to each other, so the whole subject has now entered the mainstream of secular scientific debate. 

The Report is headed "Atomic Constants, Light and Time." Dolphin, in a 5 page forward, notes that he came across a small paper by Norman and Setterfield, and had learnt by experience that "... it is out of papers like this one that change and progress in science often come." "At first I was both cautious and sceptical ..." and that it took him "four years to get comfortable (and enthused) about their findings." He had "... since talked to several other respected and competent scientific colleagues in America and abroad who take Norman and Setterfield's work seriously, and this has given me increased confidence that they are on to something important... Their arguments are sound, their homework has been done, and they have 'done their sums correctly'.

Then follows 90 pages with 5 graphs, 24 tables and a formidable list of 377 references to technical journals. Those who have read the first monograph will be well familiar with the evidence he produces for the decrease in the speed of light, and much of the paper is taken up with this. There is one major change to his former theories. The cause of the decrease is now considered to be due to a change in the 'cosmological constant', which affects the working of both the atom and the universe. The most likely curve for the decrease is now thought to be the square root of a 'damped oscillation curve' which gives a very good fit to the observed results and for which there is good theoretical support. Depending upon the constants of the curve, further research is suggested to see if it might rise again in the future, of which there is a slight indication from recent measurements.

The implications the thesis has upon other areas of science are only briefly dealt with in this technical paper, and these are in fact covered more fully in his original monograph. The theory deals with aspects of 

all related to astronomy. In the final paragraph there is a pregnant comment that the impact of the theory in the fields of geology and palaeontology " require further investigation" and a second paper is proposed.

The Supplement

The main report will be circulated to the scientific world and is purely technical. 'However, Setterfield has produced a separate 17 page Supplement to the report entitled "Geological Time and Scriptural Chronology" and this is of major interest to Christians. In it, he has developed his 'model' for the stratification of the world as we know it today. This is much like his treatment in his first memorandum, but there are two main new features as follows: 

1- The date of creation may have been about 5300 to 5700 B.C. Atomic decay rates are affected by the speed of light, and radiometric dating of rocks can be correlated with historical dates. This period is covered by the Pre-Cambrian (radiometric dating of 600 million years ago.) 

2- There were two major catastrophes: 

(a) Noah's Flood in about 3053 B.C. which correlates with a radiometric dating of 250 million years ago. This was caused by the expansion of the earth's interior due to high radioactivity, which split the crust and water and debris poured out over the land. The mixing of the new material and older local catastrophe strata gives a range of dates with the cut-off date of 250 million years ago, which is the mass extinction date which closed the Palaeozoic era.

(b) Asteroid impact in the time of Peleg, "when the earth was divided." (See pamphlet 236 'The tilt of the earth's axis'.) The date was circa 2345 B.C., correlating with the second 'mass extinction' date  at the close of the Mesozoic era, 76 million years ago. This separated the continents and isolated the populations. There was a decreasing amount of geological activity over many years, one such event being the inundation of Sodom. The resulting high mountains and the changed conditions due to the tilt of the earth caused the extremes of temperature we have today that favour warm-blooded animals, who are more adaptable to their environment. Many of,  cold-blooded dinosaurs and reptiles gradually died out, having been abundant during the warmer Mesozoic era.

The proposal of two world-wide catastrophes solves a number of problems facing 'young earth' creationists in trying to explain certain geological features such as wind blown strata inundating a nest of dinosaur eggs, or rapidly frozen Siberian mammoths. These possibly could not have occurred in one great flood. Each event was associated with the laying down of coal beds as the forests were swept away, and a subsequent glacial era. Other problems are also explained by this scenario, and some other creationists independently of Setterfield, have suggested that there may have been more than one event to explain the present geological strata.

This latest publication by Setterfield is a further step forward in the unravelling of this important subject, and it warrants careful study. Eventually, with any necessary amendments, it should be capable of presenting a sequence of events that is first and foremost in accordance with God's written Word, and also conforms to sound scientific principles.

Note: Copies of this report, together with the supplement, are obtainable from the author of this article, Malcolm Bowden, at 92, Bromley Common, BROMLEY, Kent BR2 9PF. Cost: 5 including postage and packing


Decrease in the Speed of Light


In pamphlet no. 256 we give a summary of the main points in 'The Atomic Constants, Light, and Time' by Trevor Norman and Barry Setterfield, SRI International, August 1987. (The SRI have since withdrawn their support for this work following pressure from certain quarters.) In this pamphlet, which replaces and updates Numbers 230 and 238, a brief summary is given of the evidence for a decrease in the speed of light, and the effects which a higher speed would have had in the past. These are largely from Setterfield's memorandum 'The Velocity of Light and the Age of the Universe'. Some proposals are based upon measured data and sound scientific principles, whilst others may be considered speculative. They do, however, give an explanation of the observed phenomena, some of which have puzzled scientists for years, such as the high isotropy of the background radiation of space and the observation of matter in distant galaxies moving at speeds many times faster than light. For the creationist, the decrease in the speed of light and in radioactive decay 'constants' changes the framework of the age of the universe from several billion to only several thousand years,

Evidence for the decrease

1.  In 1675 Roemer calculated the speedy of light (designated 'c') by timing the revolution of the moon Io around the planet Jupiter He noticed that this appeared to take longer when the Earth and Jupiter were moving apart from one another in their orbits than when they were approaching each other. These differences in the apparent times of eclipses were the result of the time taken by light to traverse the changing distance between Jupiter and the earth. Several measurements have been made by this method over the years.

2.  The speed of light can also be measured using an astronomical telescope (Bradley's method.) As the earth sweeps through space, the angle at which it see a star will depend upon the speed of the earth (known) and the speed of light. When the earth is travelling in the opposite direction, relative to the star, six months later, the angle at which the the star is viewed will have changed. Using these vectors, c can be calculated.

3.   A third method is to use a rotating toothed wheel to break up a beam of light that is shining through it to a distant mirror which then reflects it back. At a certain speed of the wheel, the returning beam of light would be blocked by the next tooth that had revolved into the position where the gap had been. Knowing the distance from wheel to mirror and back, and the speed of rotation of he wheel, the speed of light, c, can be calculated.

These are just three ways of measuring c among sixteen methods whose results were used by Setterfield. A plot of some of these results is given in the figure above. It can be readily seen that there is a definite decrease in c with time. The decrease is not linear so deciding what the value of the speed of light was at any time before these measurements were made, involves some degree of conjecture. In his first paper, Setterfield suggested that the curve followed a 'cosec squared' formula. Discussion with astronomers, however, indicated that the most likely form is related to the Cosmological Constant and the resulting curve would take the form of the square root of an exponentially damped sinusoid (see figure at top [in pamphlet 256].) Using either curve, and extrapolating back in time from the measured values, c becomes infinite in six or seven thousand years! [See CHART]

The principle of energy conservation requires that if c diminishes with time, certain other physical 'constants' must also change. For example, Planck's constant, h, must increase such that E = he/A remains constant. Setterfield examined the values of a number of these physical constants against the dates of their measurements. He found that every one of them displayed the trend predicted if c is decreasing. This is independent support for this contention.

Appraisal of the alleged decrease in c

Some scientists reject the possibility of c decay, attributing the diminishing values to inaccurate instruments in the past. However, if this were the case, there would have been a spread of results on either side of the true constant value. Yet the results show a steady decrease. Indeed this observation provoked considerable correspondence in the scientific journals in the past. For example, in Nature for April 4th 1931, p522, De Bray asked; 'If the velocity of light is constant, how is it that, INVARIABLY, new determinations give values that are lower than the last one obtained... There are twenty two coincidences in favour of a decrease of light, whilst there is not a single one against It.' (his emphasis).

Interestingly, one worker, Michelson, used the same rotating mirror method to calculate the speed of light from 1879 to 1926, a span of 47 years. His results show a steady decrease, in line with other workers.

Reviewing Setterfield's work recently, Aardsma did a statistical analysis of the past values of c which indicated that c had, in fact, been invariant. Those measured values which were less precise were given a lower weighting. However, since these were the older values which were further from the present value, Aardsma's finding of a constant c was inevitable and meaningless.

Some consequences of a decrease in c

Radiometric Ages of rocks. An objection to a short time span since Creation is that radiometric dating indicates an age for rocks of hundreds of millions of years. It can be shown that radioactive disintegration rates are linked to the speed of light. It follows that these rates were much faster in the past, producing decay products much more rapidly. This would lead to a false appearance of age. Rocks which seem to be hundreds of millions of years old by today's disintegration rates would have a true age of only thousands of years since their formation.

Light from Distant galaxies. Another objection to a young age for the Universe is that light from distant galaxies must have been travelling for millions of years. However, with light moving at up to 1010 times faster in the past, such distances could be covered in only thousands of years.

Background Radiation of Space. Setterfield contends that the speed of light was initially ten million times faster than its present value of 299792.458 km/s (kilometres per second.) The oldest stars in the centres of galaxies (known to astronomers as population II stars,) would have experienced great rates of radioactivity so that the very large stars would have exploded as supernovas, the smaller ones becoming red giants. Most of the emitted energy would have been in the form of X-rays, which when shifted ten million times lower in frequency as c decreased, would account for today's background radiation of 2.8K (degrees Kelvin.) (This radiation is conventionally explained as the residue of a Big Bang at the beginning of time.)

Superluminals Astronomers have been puzzled by observation of material moving at many times the speed of light. However, we are seeing events which occurred when light was much faster, so these apparent superluminals are not doing the impossible.

Contracting Universe. The decrease in c has the effect of shifting the frequency of light from distant galaxies to the red end of the spectrum, just like the Doppler effect. This red shift is conventionally interpreted as due to the Doppler effect as the universe expands. Setterfield calculates that the amount of red shift due to the decrease in c is more than the observed figure. This means that the Universe is contracting, its Doppler violet shift partially off-setting the red shift due to the decrease in the velocity of light. This makes the Cosmological Constant negative rather than positive as it would be for an expanding Universe, and accounts for the so-called 'missing mass' of astronomy.

Geological Effects. It can be shown from theoretical physics that, as a consequence of the decrease in the speed of light, viscosities would be lower, heat transfer quicker and electron movement faster in the past. This would have affected geological activity. Magma flows in the past would have moved more rapidly, mantle convection and drift rates would have been greater. Rapid electron movement would seem to lead to superconductivity in the earth's core, generating a high magnetic field.

Biological Effects. The greater number of light photons reaching plants in the past would have caused a high rate of photosynthesis. Fossil plants from the time of the Flood were larger than today. Insects breathe through microscopic air tubes in their bodies. With lower viscosity and faster diffusion, much larger insects could exist, as found in the fossil record. For flying insects and birds, lift to drag ratios would be higher, making for more efficient flight. The flight of pterosaurs with wing-spans in excess of 25 feet has long puzzled scientists. Breathing in mammals and man, blood flow and many other body functions, including nerve impulses would be faster. The greater speed of electron and ion movements may even have meant that man was more intelligent in past millennia.

Corroborative evidence

All this fits remarkably well into a Biblical framework of a recent Creation. It is based upon independent measurements of c and other physical entities over the years. More recently, we have based our standard of time on the 'atomic clock' which uses the frequency of vibration of electrons in caesium. This frequency is bound up with the speed of light so if c is not constant our time standard will be faulty. Traditionally time has been measured by astronomical periods. In 1984, van Flandern of the US National Bureau of Standards published his findings that the atomic clock was slowing down relative to astronomical time (N.B.S. (U.S.) Special Publication 617 (1984)).

More recently still, a Russian scientist, Troitskii, of the Radiophysical Research Institute, Gorky, has come to the conclusion that light was initially up to '10 to the tenth power' times faster than its present value. He notes that radioactive decay rates are affected. He suggests a contracting universe with the red shift due to c decay. He concludes that a decrease in the velocity of light gives a satisfactory explanation of the high isotropy of the relict background radiation and of superluminal speed in quasars. The English translation of his paper (V S Troitskii, Astrophysics and Space Science, vol. 139. (1987)389-411), published since the Setterfield and Norman paper, is full of mathematical equations. As can be seen from the foregoing, Troitskii arrives at many of the same results as Setterfield, yet he fails to conclude that the Universe is only a few thousand years old! While Setterfield infers from direct measurements that the speed of light has decreased, Troitskii comes to this same conclusion from an investigation of the red shift of distant galaxies.

Not all scientists are opposed to the idea of c decline. Recently Lambert T Dolphin, who invited Norman and Setterfield to write the report for the Stanford Research Institute, gave a lecture on the subject to 70 members of the prestigious Battelle Laboratory in America. When it was suggested by implication that the universe may be less than 10,000 years old, no one protested. At the end he was warmly applauded, and the subject was discussed carefully at some length.


Measurements of the speed of light and other physical 'constants' show that light travelled much faster in the past. Other workers confirm this by comparing atomic time with astronomical time and also by looking at the red shifts of distant galaxies. This decrease in the velocity of light with time, together with the decrease in radioactive decay rates, leads to the conclusion that the Universe is only a few thousand years old. Other changes that would accompany a decrease in the speed of light point to differences in geological and biological rates of reaction in the past. All of these changes fit into a Biblical framework for the history of the earth.

Copies of the Norman and Setterfield report, together with the supplement giving the implications for Biblical Creation, may be obtained from the address below for 5-00 including p&p. A sheet is also available giving replies to recent criticisms (s.a.e. please).

Malcolm Bowden,

Another important essay by Professor D.B.Gower takes this argument further by examining


The Author of these two papers is   Malcolm Bowden C.Eng., M.I.C.E., M.I.Struct. E.  The Honorary Secretary of The Creation Science Movement.  PO Box 888, Portsmouth PO6 2YD.  United Kingdom.


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