Hey Daniel,

I can relate really well to the questions you are asking. I was in the same position a few years back, trying to figure out how it all works together. (Incidentally, now I have a PhD in science, and a bachelor degree in theology, and I still can’t answer all of the questions!) I don’t think that there is a simple answer that I’m going to be able to give you. Instead, let me encourage you in two ways as you think this through:

(1) The Bible has to be read with genre and context in mind. So, for example, when it says “The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.” (Ecclesiastes 1:5-6), its not making a claim about the sun’s speed through the sky in the day vs the night, and its not talking about meteorology. We need to read Genesis 1 very carefully to decide exactly what it is, and what it is not claiming about the physical history of the world. A lot of supposed “contradictions” between science and Christianity can be cleared up just by realising that the Bible is more nuanced in its use of language and interesting than we previously realised. While I do personally believe that the days in Genesis 1 are 24 hour periods, a lot of well thought out Christians maintain that they are longer periods of time and I think their position is theologically defensible (cf. 2 Peter 3:8).

But also…

(2) Science is not an infallible enterprise. It’s done by people who are sinful just like everyone else. Especially when it comes to talking about the pre-history of the world, science can’t test it and it can’t directly observe it. All it can do is extrapolate data backwards, but this kind of process is fraught with difficulties at the presuppositional level. To establish the age of the earth from a geological point of view, for example, I have to suppose (without any direct evidence) that geology has always happened the same way as I observe it today. Yet the Bible explicitly claims this is not the case (2 Pet 3:5-6). Science, by its very nature, can’t deal with Noah’s flood if it really was a world-covering flood, since science can’t observe or repeat it. Therefore, a lot of scientists say this is an “unscientific hypothesis”, which is true in the sense that science can’t deal with unique events. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen that way. A lot of the supposed tension between science and Christianity can be cleared up if we refuse to admit that science represents “objective truth” and treat it with the healthy degree of skepticism it deserves as the enterprise of fallible and sinful people. I’m not saying we can’t trust it at all. All I’m saying is we can trust it like we can trust history. It’s always open to revision if further facts come to light.

I think between these two caveats there is enough room for most Christians to reconcile the two. Exactly what you want to do with starlight and time is up to you. I’m personally taking a “wait and see” attitude to this question. I’m not prepared to admit that science has had its final say on this yet—the postulation of dark matter for one thing makes me think there is science left to discover yet. It may be that 100 years down the track another Einstein comes along and figures out something we don’t already know and the problem goes away. It might be that God created the light in transit so that we could see the stars that were that far away. It might be that the days in Genesis 1 are periods of time and not literal days.

Whatever you decide in the end, you need to avoid the two extremes above. The Bible actually encourages us to do science and to investigate the world on its own terms. We were made as rational creatures in the image of a rational creator God. Our world works in an ordered, scientifically understandable way because God made it that way. We shouldn’t use the Bible naively to try and say that science is useless, and we should be very careful before we use the Bible to say that science is wrong. On the other hand, neither should we take for granted everything science says, just because they tell us its right. In the end, a careful reading of God’s word should always trump a scientific theory, because science is done by sinful and fallible people. Even the history of science shows us that the best theories of today will be unenlightened relics in the eyes of tomorrow’s scientists. The word of God, however, endures forever. (Ps 119:89)

Hope that’s helpful.