The Genesis Chronicles: A Proposed History Of The Morning Of The World
Chapter 2: "THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD"
This chapter covers the following topics:
An Introduction to Flaws in the Theory of Evolution
So there you have how the theory of evolution came to be. Many believe that we have said all that needs to be said, so why bring up the argument again? After all, wasn't evolution proven to be correct in the John Scopes trial? Can so many scientists really be wrong?
The answer to the last question is a resounding "YES." Intellectual brilliance and a string of degrees cannot keep man from making mistakes; what's more, those credentials will encourage the ignorant among us to follow the mistaken professor down the same wrong path. For instance, it happened in astronomy. In the second century A.D., an astronomer named Claudius Ptolemy taught that everything in the universe revolved around the Earth, and this was accepted as the truth for the next 1,400 years. However, even in Ptolemy's lifetime there was a problem with his theory--sometimes a planet appears to stop, move backward across the sky, and then move forward again. We now know why this happens; it is caused when the Earth passes another planet in its orbit around the sun. It's the same optical illusion you get when you're driving at 40 MPH and pass another car doing 30 MPH; for a moment the other car looks like it is going backwards at 10 MPH. Ptolemy explained this by saying that every planet is mounted on an invisible wheel called an "epicycle," which carries the planet around the Earth and rotates at the same time; hence, at one point the epicycle will make the planet loop backward, other times it will push it forward. As time went on this didn't fit all observations either, so some astronomers imagined epicycles upon epicycles to account for smaller orbital changes, until they had filled the solar system with imaginary wheels. For want of a better theory this was universally accepted; even the Church endorsed it, denouncing those astronomers who argued otherwise as heretics. When Copernicus published his theory about the planets orbiting the sun, some astronomers like Tycho Brahe tried to compromise by putting the sun in the center of the solar system and keeping the epicycles. It was only after Johann Kepler introduced his laws of orbital motion and Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity that epicycles were seen as unnecessary, and the Ptolemaic system finally collapsed; this happened, by the way, more than a hundred years after Copernicus started the astronomical revolution.
In medicine, we have many cases where doctors conform to bad ideas; the medical wisdom of one generation becomes foolishness later on (in the 1940s and 50s, doctors thought that DDT was good for one's health and vitamins weren't). A sad example of this concerns an Austrian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-85), who practiced just before Louis Pasteur laid down the principles of pathology. Semmelweis was in charge of obstetrics in one of Vienna's largest hospitals, where almost one fifth of the births in his ward were soon followed by the death of the mother and/or baby, he also noticed that the doctors and their students frequently went straight from examining a corpse to examining a patient. From this he concluded that some invisible agent was transferred between corpse and patient, and imposed a new rule; every physician and student must wash his hands after leaving the morgue. Sure enough, the infection and death rate among new mothers and babies dropped dramatically, to just one percent.
However, the doctors didn't like the added inconvenience of having to wash their hands often (I suppose good plumbing was hard to find in those days), and they were even more offended by the idea that they might be transmitters of death, rather than life-savers. Professional minds, warped with pride, got Semmelweis dismissed from his job and blacklisted from all other hospitals in Vienna. Dr. Semmelweis moved to Budapest, where he found employment running the maternity ward of a local hospital. Again he introducted new rules on sanitation, and again the mortality rate fell rapidly. But his detractors followed him from Vienna, and got Semmelweis dismissed again. On one side he heard the criticism and sarcasm of his colleagues, on the other side he heard the screams of dying patients. Caught between saving lives and keeping a job, Semmelweis suffered a nervous breakdown, and was placed in a mental institution.
In 1998, humanist writer Rob Wipond made these caustic comments about scientific rationality:
"'Rational thinkers' have not always been the most insightful and open-minded of people. Throughout history, 'thinking rationally' has often become a guise for repressive attitudes toward the new or unconventional."
" . . . Indeed, science and rational thinking have had a dubious and ragged history in our culture . . . Louis Pasteur was widely ridiculed for his speculations about invisible creatures that caused illnesses."(1)
It has now been more than 150 years since Darwin's theory was introduced, so evidence favoring it should be clearly visible to everybody by now, but the truth of the matter is that while evolution is taught as fact, it cannot be proven as fact simply because none of us was there to watch it happen. The theory of evolution has never been any more than that--a theory. Those who defend it today have to do so with a considerable amount of faith, in view of the problems that have cropped up since Darwin's time. When an evolutionist says that a pile of molecules can put itself together to become an amoeba that doesn't have a brain but somehow decides to have a brain, arms, legs, sex, and change itself millions of times to become a man, you have to wonder at the absurdity of that statement, especially if he says in the next breath that he doesn't believe in miracles!(2)
But what are the actual problems in the theory of evolution? We will look at them over the next few chapters in the following order:
1. The evidence for a younger, violent universe.
Now I cannot claim to present all the evidence for creationism, since other authors have done a more thorough job of that than I can do here. Nor can I perfectly compress into a few hours what took me more than twenty years to learn. The best I can do is give an overview of the reasons why I believe in creation, and allow you to draw your own conclusions. Once again I ask you to listen to everything you hear in this class with an open mind, and wait until we are finished before deciding whether the evolutionary or creationist approach to our origins is correct. I don't expect to convert anybody in the short time we have together, because like many of you, I was brought up to believe that evolution was true, and in school science was one of my favorite subjects, so that meant a lot to me. Before I got saved I never even heard of creationism, and after Grady McMurtry got to me I continued to favor evolution for nearly a year until I read enough creationist literature to get better. I was a teenager then; if I was older or if I was an accredited scientist, I'm sure the conversion would have taken longer (it took Gary Parker three years). In the back of this book I included a bibliography, so you may go there to seek the answers for any questions you may still have after this course is finished. Now that the disclaimer has been made, let's look at the case for special creation.
In the twentieth century there have been two popular theories on how the universe got started. One, the steady-state theory, was popular in the 1950s but not today. This theory claims that as the galaxies move out from the center of the universe, new matter is created in the empty places left by them. This matter condenses to form new stars and galaxies, they in turn start moving out, and create a void for the next generation of matter to be created in. Evolutionists liked this theory because it allowed the universe to last forever without any change in its basic structure. This sounds pleasant enough, but the "steady-state" just did not square with what was observed. One problem was that believers in the theory predicted there would be an equal number of galaxies and stars of all ages, because new ones would constantly replace the ones that had died. Nowhere could such "stellar reincarnation" be observed, nor was there any place found between the galaxies where new matter was forming. Eventually the steady-state theory collapsed under the weight of unprovable assumptions; even the astronomer who invented it, Sir Fred Hoyle, stopped believing in it by the end of the 1970s.
The other theory, the big bang, is still going strong. Originally developed by a Belgian astronomer, Georges Lemaitre, in 1927, it was popularized by Sir Arthur Eddington and George Gamow. It says that the universe started with all of its matter and energy compressed into an impossibly small space, called "the cosmic egg" by the mythologically-minded among us. Suddenly this cosmic egg exploded, flinging all its contents in every direction at nearly the speed of light. Within a fraction of the first second, this started to cool, and the matter separated itself from the energy, formed subatomic particles, and came together to form hydrogen and helium atoms. Then this hydrogen and helium gathered together in clouds to form the first stars and galaxies.
Scientists are still busy looking for evidence concerning how the big bang happened and how the parts of that explosion could stop flying outward and form the universe as we know it. They are also trying to figure out how much time has happened since the big bang(3), and how the universe will end. The first proponents of the big bang theory expected the pieces of the universe to keep flying outward forever and never come back; this meant that the universe had a traceable beginning, and maybe a predictable end (when the last star goes out). Many didn't like that idea, so they proposed an "oscillating" universe. This hypothesis predicted that 40 or 50 billion years from now the universe will stop expanding and everything in it will reverse course and head back toward the point from which the big bang took place. Thus the universe would collapse in a "big crunch," and compress into a new cosmic egg. The "egg" would in turn heat up and explode in another big bang, another universe would be created, and the cycle would begin again, ad infinitum. Thus we have the same situation the steady-state theorists wanted: a universe with no traceable beginning or end.
For the universe to "oscillate," the critical question is whether there is enough matter to exert through gravity the braking action necessary to halt and reel back in what the big bang blew out. Calculations of mass using visible matter like stars and clouds of gas (nebulae) show that there isn't enough, but what about invisible matter? Modern theorists like Stephen Hawking have postulated that besides the atoms and molecules we are familiar with, the big bang also produced all kinds of unusually charged particles like black holes, magnetic monopoles, antimatter, quark nuggets, neutrinos, etc., which they call "exotic matter" (that's "weird stuff" for you laymen). So far, measurements suggest that there is only 20% of the exotic matter needed to do the job.
But let's suppose there is enough exotic matter to make the universe come back together. Once that happens, will it "bounce back" to create a "new Heaven and a new Earth?" I don't think so; Hugh Ross points out that this would violate the second law of thermodynamics. We will go into this more in Chapter 6, but for now let me just say that in this scenario every time the universe expanded outward there would be less available energy than there was the previous time. This means the matter would fly out more slowly and be more easily captured; our oscillating universe has the bouncing ability of a lump of clay. Like a bouncing ball, which rises to a lesser height after each bounce, each universe produced by the series of "big bangs" would be smaller and shorter-lived than its predecessor. And just as a bouncing ball eventually runs out of energy and comes to a stop, the universe would eventually have so little energy left to it that when it collapses, there would be no more explosion, and no more expansion: The End.
One of the astronomers advocating the "big crunch" idea is Paul Davies, who wrote a book on it called The Last Three Minutes. He ends the book on an incredibly morbid note, which shows how futile life must seem to an intellectual who does not know God:
" If there is a purpose to the universe, and it achieves that purpose, then the universe must end, for its continuing existence would be gratuitous and pointless. Conversely, if the universe endures forever, it is hard to imagine that there is any ultimate purpose to the universe at all. So cosmic death may be the price that has to be paid for cosmic success. Perhaps the most that we can hope for is that the purpose of the universe becomes known to our descendants before the end of the last three minutes."(4)
One of the big bang theory's problems is that is requires all matter in the universe to be evenly distributed, since it was spread out evenly at first. However, the more we observe the universe, the more lumpy it looks. Observations made in recent years have detected huge super-clusters containing millions of galaxies, separated by great voids of empty space as much as 300 million light-years across. Those scientists who subscribe to the big bang theory are currently trying to explain how "exotic matter" could make the universe lumpy in the first place, but their hypotheses have not yet convinced everybody. A related problem is the issue of how matter blown in every direction can suddenly change course and come together in large enough amounts to form stars and galaxies--the explanation just isn't there, since explosions by nature are supposed to destroy, not create. A small but growing number of dissenting astronomers are questioning the basic assumptions behind the big bang theory, like David Darling:
"Don't let the cosmologists try to kid you on this one. They have not got a clue either. . . . 'In the beginning,' they will say, there was nothing--no time, space, matter, or energy. Then there was a quantum fluctuation from which--whoa! Stop right there. You see what I mean? First there is nothing, then there is something--and before you know it, they have pulled a hundred billion galaxies out of their quantum hats."(5)
While we are on the subject, the name "big bang" was invented by Sir Fred Hoyle in 1950 to make fun of the theory, while he was promoting his own "steady state." Some scientists have felt there must be a better name for the idea, so the August 1993 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine ran a contest to rename the big bang. They got 13,000 entries from 41 countries; since there are only 10,000 professional astronomers in the world, this means a lot of laymen were interested. Among the more amusing submissions were "Matter Morphosis," "The Bottom Turtle," "Super Seed," "Hubble Bubble," "Bertha D. Universe," "Doink," "Let There Be Stuff," and "Hey Looky There at That!" In the end the three judges (Hugh Downs, Carl Sagan, and Sky and Telescope editor Timothy Ferris) couldn't decide on one and gave up. Sagan explained, "There's nothing that even approaches the phrase 'Big Bang' in felicity. . . .The idea of space-time and matter expanding together and not 'into' anything may be permanently beyond reach in the universe of short and lucid phrases."(6)
Since the big bang theory is in trouble, some are starting to look for alternatives. One of the newest is the "plasma universe," which suggests that in intergalactic space there are gigantic currents of plasma (charged atomic nuclei and electrons running around loose), which are hemmed in by magnetic fields and made to wrap around one another, like stripes on a barber pole. Supposedly galaxies form at some point along the path of these currents, causing their spiral shape. Like the steady state theory, this view of the universe has some appeal among those who want the universe to have no beginning or end. But it asks more questions than it answers, like, "Where does the electromagnetism involved in the plasma currents come from? How does it actually form galaxies?" It looks like whatever theory evolutionists come up with to explain the origin of the universe--be it steady state, big bang, plasma universe, or whatever--it will eventually fall when a new one arises to take its place.
What we are left with is the idea that the only workable theory for where our universe came from is one which gives it an actual beginning and end. How do creationists feel about this? Some, like Hugh Ross, feel that the big bang is the way God created the universe, and see it as less evolutionary than alternatives like the steady-state theory. Others like Duane Gish prefer the simple Biblical explanation that God created everything from nothing. Still others see the Big Bang not as a description of the way things began, but the way they will end; as Ken Ham put it, "The Big Bang didn't happen, but it will happen!" (See 2 Peter 3:10 for details). Since physics is outside my specialty, I have simply presented the arguments and look forward to the day when the Lord clears up the matter for us.
One proposed answer is that a nearby event like a supernova explosion disrupted the normal expansion outward of heated gas, keeping it in one place until it became a star. But this only moves the problem back one stellar generation; if stars are needed to make other stars, where do the first stars come from? Another problem is that stars depend on other elements besides hydrogen and helium to burn properly (oxygen, carbon, and various metals, collectively called "interstellar dust"), but these were supposedly not formed when the universe was created. If stars need dust to work, and dust can only come from other stars, than how did the first star function?
Astrophysicists throw their hands up at such questions and make statements like, "It would be easy to prove why stars do not exist if stars didn't exist, but since stars do exist we have to account for them somehow." As it is with the whole universe, it looks like the idea that God created the stars is the most credible theory that will come along.
This is the most heavily cratered planet in our solar system; bearing craters upon craters upon craters, it looks like the target in a cosmic shooting gallery! Many objects in our solar system, like Mars and most of the moons, also show craters, and since we believe the impact of meteors caused most of these, this means the solar system was once a much more crowded and dangerous place. One of these craters, the Caloris Basin, is 800 miles across; imagine what that meteor would have done if it struck the earth instead! Evolutionists concede from the weight of the evidence that there must have been an "age of bombardment," but they put it back in time a safe distance, about 3.9 billion years ago. This is one of the rare times when they allow for a process to work on the planets that is not so active now. They also for the same reason keep on the lookout for "earth-grazing" asteroids which come dangerously close to us (less than 1 million miles) every year; if one of those flying mountains hit us, it could end civilization as we know it. Perhaps that is what John meant in Revelation when he predicted falling mountains and stars (see Rev. 8:7-11).
Mapping missions to Venus by the Pioneer and Magellan space probes have revealed vast volcanoes and huge plateaus, once of which is 25,000 feet high and covers an area the size of the United States! What titanic force is responsible for the uplifting of these features? It makes more sense to suppose that it was short but violent beyond belief, than one that continued gradually over millions of years without interruption, as the uniformitarians would have us believe.
This is also a good point to mention that until the 1960s, astronomers knew very little about Venus, because its surface is always covered with clouds. Going by evolutionary assumptions, they predicted that it would be the most earthlike planet, because it is the closest planet to Earth and almost the same as our planet in size and gravity. Under its clouds they expected a world-encircling sea, or jungles full of dinosaurlike monsters. What they found instead was a hellish place with fiery temperatures exceeding 800o F., and a corrosive, crushing atmosphere, equal in pressure to 90 Earth atmospheres. Scientists were quick to blame this on a "runaway greenhouse effect"; maybe once our sister planet was more earthlike, but carbon dioxide seeped from the rocks into the atmosphere, where it created a "heat trap" that kept all heat from escaping, raised the planet's temperature until the oceans boiled away, and killed whatever life may have once existed there. The problem with this hypothesis is that the greenhouse effect observed on Earth uses both carbon dioxide and water vapor, but no water vapor has been detected in the Venusian clouds. Also, the planet radiates into space more heat than it receives from the sun. Did its heat come from some other source besides the sun, and lasted to our day because the atmosphere has held onto it effectively for thousands of years?(7)
Finally, note that Venus rotates clockwise, once every 243 days; the other planets rotate counterclockwise. Since the current theories of stellar formation require all planets in the solar system to turn in the same direction, why is Venus spinning backwards?
The Earth and the Moon
The Earth has also experienced its share of meteoritic bombardment; it's not obvious because most of the craters have been erased by wind and water erosion. The most famous crater on Earth is Meteor Crater in the Arizona desert. Remnants of older crater rings have been found, including one big enough to have carved out Hudson Bay. Scientists call these astroblemes, meaning "star wounds," and are now suggesting that one of them killed off the dinosaurs. And apparently we aren't completely safe from them today. The Roman writer Pliny tells us that a "bolt from Mars" fell and destroyed the Etruscan city of Volsinium around 750 B.C.; today you can see an oval lake, Lake Bolsena, where Volsinium used to be, about 60 miles north of Rome. It is a curious lake, with a bottom layer of ash and lava rock, even though there is no volcano nearby; did a meteor hit Italy in the time of Romulus and Remus?
In What is Creation Science?, Henry Morris and Gary Parker gave 68 reasons why the earth must be younger than the 4.6 billion years normally put in our textbooks. Due to time constraints I can't go into all of them here, but I would like to briefly discuss two, points #1 and #3. Point one concerns an issue which evolutionists have no answer for--the Earth's magnetic field is young and decreasing. In 1971 Dr. Thomas Barnes, a creationist physicist, publicized the results of his study of past measurements of the Earth's magnetism. They showed an overall decrease of 14% since the time of the oldest measurement (1829). From that he postulated that the electrical current generated by the rotation of the Earth's iron core is decaying, with a half-life of only 700 years. This means that around 1300 A.D. the magnetic field was twice as strong as it is now, four times as strong in 600 A.D., and eight times as strong in 100 B.C.. By extrapolating back to the time when the strongest possible magnetic field existed, Barnes came to conclusion that the magnetic field, and hence the Earth, could not be more than 8,700 years old, and since there were violent fluctuations and even complete reversals in the field as recently as the third millennium B.C., we can make a case for a younger Earth than that. It also puts a possible date for the Earth's end; if the magnetic field ever disappears completely, we will lose our first line of defense against cosmic radiation, and life as we know it would become impossible.(8)
Point #3 involves both the Earth and the Moon. Meteors come into our atmosphere every day, but most of them burn up before reaching the ground; their molecules drift down to us as dust. It has been estimated that a steady stream of this falling meteoritic dust, at the rate it is coming in now, over a period of billions of years, should have accumulated to the point that every spot on the Earth should be covered by at least 44 feet of the stuff. But we don't have to go out in the morning to sweep or shovel drifts of stardust off our driveway. In fact, the accumulation of dust is too small to measure. When we first sent spacecraft to the Moon, there was genuine concern that such dust would be piled up so deep that our spacecraft and astronauts would sink into it like they were in quicksand, but but nothing of the sort happened. If we really underwent millions of years of target practice from flying rocks, then where is all the iron, nickel and dust?
Along that line, if you are old enough to recall the Apollo 11 mission, do you remember how we treated the astronauts when they returned? Instead of a proper homecoming, NASA treated them as if they had the plague. Upon leaving their space capsule, they had to don suits that kept them out of contact with their surroundings, and they went to a quarantine facility called the Lunar Receiving Lab (LRL). All this was done because many scientists thought they might be carrying living microbes from the moon, and were ready in case they brought back any unearthly medical problems. However, none of the tests conducted showed anything unusual, so after three weeks of isolation, the astronauts got to rejoin their families and go to the parades given in their honor. It was the same story with the Apollo 12 and Apollo 14 astronauts, so NASA concluded that the moon is lifeless; the last Apollo astronauts were allowed to go home right away after their return. The few creationists at the time never expected lunar life, so here is another case where they were ahead of the evolutionist majority.
Like Mercury, our Moon is heavily scarred with craters from a violent past, which have lasted because there is no wind or water to wear them away.
Before the space age began, astronomers produced three theories to explain where the Moon came from:
None of these theories convinced everybody, and they cannot stand up to the facts. #1 and #2 were proven invalid when the astronauts brought back Moon rocks, and they had a different chemical composition from those normally found on Earth. The "capture theory" is highly unlikely, since an object diverted by the gravity of another object won't automatically go into orbit; a third large body has to exert its own gravitational pull for that to happen. Nor can they explain why the Earth is the only planet in the inner solar system with a large moon; large moons are more common around the giant outer planets. Irwin Shapiro, a well known cosmologist, recently looked at the theories which try to explain the presence of the Moon orbiting the Earth, and suggested that the best answer is observational error--the Moon does not exist!
Mars, like Venus, was originally expected to be earthlike, but American space probes instead found a red moonlike planet, dotted with craters worn down by the winds of the threadbare Martian atmosphere. We should have expected the craters, since Mars is on the edge of the asteroid belt. Nor did the probes see the "canals" or any sign of the blue-green vegetation astronomers thought they had observed from Earth. A completely unexpected discovery was the presence of four enormous volcanoes on one side of the planet, one of which, Olympus Mons, is 15 miles high and covers an area the size of the state of Nebraska; on the other side of the red planet is Valles Marineris, an enormous 4-mile-deep canyon that puts our own Grand Canyon to shame. The only explanation I can give for either of these features is that some huge tidal/gravitational action, perhaps a near collision with another planet, wrenched and cracked the surface of Mars. Try to find a uniformitarian with a natural explanation for this, but don't hold your breath . . .
Another discovery that did not surprise the creationists is that the space probes NASA sent to Mars failed to find any signs of life, let alone little green men. However, in 1996 a rock found in Antarctica was identified as a Mars rock, and microscopic analysis showed some tiny rod-shaped structures in it that could be fossil bacteria. This has given hope to evolutionists who want to believe that Mars once had life, if not now. How did that rock get here? Supposedly it formed on Mars 4 billion years ago, and bacteria got into it. Then a meteor blasted it into space about 16 million years ago, and it drifted until it crashed near the south pole of Earth, supposedly 13,000 years ago.
You are probably skeptical, and plenty of scientists are, too; we know of inorganic chemical processes that produce similar structures. But even if they turn out to be fossils, how do we know they really evolved on Mars? Hugh Ross pointed out that meteorites large enough to make a crater more than 60 miles across will blast earth rocks into space at speeds exceeding escape velocity. Out of 1,000 rocks thus ejected, 291 will strike Venus, 20 will go to Mercury, 17 will hit Mars, 14 will make it to Jupiter, and one will travel all the way to Saturn. Wherever these rocks go, they will take Earth microbes along for the ride. What this means is that even if life turns up on other planets in our solar system, how do we know they aren't contaminants from Earth?
In the late eighteenth century astronomers began wondering about the big gap (342 million miles wide) between Mars and Jupiter, and started looking for an undiscovered planet in it. One was found and named Ceres in 1801, but it turned out to have a diameter of only 400 miles. Soon other objects turned up in the same region, all of them irregular in shape and only a few miles across. By the 1960s, over 2,500 were identified; 50,000 more unseen ones are expected.
These flying rocks have been called various names: asteroids, planetoids, minor planets, and "vermin of the skies." Most of them stay in the so-called asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but a few share the same orbit as Jupiter (the "Trojan asteroids"), several have orbits that cross Earth's orbit (the "Earth grazers"), one comes closer to the sun than Mercury (Icarus), one has an orbit that takes it all the way out to Saturn (Hidalgo), and one follows a planet-like orbit between Saturn and Uranus (Chiron). Most astronomers believe that they are the pieces of a planet that got too close to Jupiter and was torn up, providing yet more evidence that the solar system was not always as peaceful as it is now.
The main feature of the largest planet is a huge hurricanelike storm, called the Great Red Spot. It is twice the size of the Earth, and has gone on for hundreds of years, with no signs of fading away. How did such turbulence get started? Even the evolutionists cannot come up with a slow, uniformitarian answer to this question. It now looks like some titanic disruption took place in the gas giant at an uncertain date in the past, from which it has never recovered. It might have something to do with comets, because the comet which collided with Jupiter in 1994 left several black spots on the face of the planet, which lasted for weeks afterward.
Also difficult to explain in evolutionary terms is the fact that each of its four largest moons is completely different from the others. Callisto is covered with craters upon craters, like Mercury and our own Moon, Ganymede has twisted mountains and just a few craters, and Europa is covered completely with ice. The fourth moon, Io, is the strangest of all; its surface is dotted with volcanoes, one of which is always erupting at any given time; a fine example of catastrophism taking place today.
Here we have the most beautiful example of catastrophism in our solar system. The rings which make up Saturn's distinguishing feature are millions of pieces of ice, which orbit Saturn in a zone nearly 100,000 miles wide and only 10 miles thick. The Voyager space probes which flew by in 1981 detected a very complex structure, with short-lived "spokes" and "shepherd moons" controlling where gaps appear between the ring particles. It has long been thought that the rings were produced when a moon came too close to the planet and shattered into tiny bits, but recent studies of the discovered ring structure suggest that the rings cannot last for more than one million years. Since all four of the gas giant planets have rings, and those of the other three are exceedingly faint (especially Neptune's), it would appear that they are indeed dissipating, with Saturn's being the youngest.(9)
Uranus can be called the "sideways planet." It has the strangest axial tilt in the solar system; whereas none of the other planets is tilted on its axis more than 27 degrees from its orbit, Uranus is tilted a full 98o! This means the planet "rolls on its side" as it travels around the sun. Since a Uranian year is 84 years long, an observer on the north pole of that planet would experience daylight for 42 years, followed by 42 years of night. No theory of stellar or planetary formation has yet explained how Uranus could form so that it rotates in a completely different plane from the other planets, or what might have "tipped it over" after its creation.
Remember what I said about our solar system being once a "cosmic shooting gallery?" Even out here, nearly two billion miles from the sun, we find moons pockmarked with craters; one of them, Miranda, looks like an impact from a big meteor nearly destroyed it.
Neptune and Pluto
We must admit that something is drastically wrong at the edge of our solar system. Neptune's innermost and largest satellite, Triton, follows a circular, retrograde orbit--it goes around the planet backwards. All other moons which do this (48 around Jupiter, 18 around Saturn, and 8 around Uranus) are small enough and far enough from their planets that they can be explained away as captured asteroids, but how can we explain Triton's path? Conventional theories of planetary formation insist that all planets move in the same plane as the sun's rotation, and that all objects rotate and orbit the sun in a counterclockwise direction. The second largest moon, Nereid, follows a very elliptical orbit; in fact it's a cigar-shaped orbit. On top of all this, Neptune has a "Great Dark Spot," which seems to work like Jupiter's Great Red Spot.
For seventy-six years after its discovery in 1930, Pluto was listed as the outermost planet, but astronomers were always puzzled by it. For a start, it has a very strange orbit, which is tilted 17 degrees to the orbits of the other planets, and intersects with the orbit of Neptune. This means that for a twenty-year period it is actually closer to the sun than Neptune. Moreover, it is not a "gas giant" like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, but only half the size of the next smallest planet, Mercury. Then in 1978 a moon was discovered around Pluto, Charon, which turned out to be more than half the size of Pluto itself.
Pluto's identity as a planet was called into question when a number of objects were discovered orbiting beyond Neptune's orbit, at a range of 30 to 55 astronomical units (2.79 to 5.1 billion miles). All appear to be made of rock and ice, like Pluto, and are too large to be the nuclei of comets; at least one, Eris, is larger than Pluto. The first of these objects was spotted in 1992, and by the end of 2005, nearly 600 had been found. Astronomers decided this must be a second asteroid belt; they named it the "Kuiper Belt" (after Gerard Kuiper, an astronomer who studied the outer solar system in the mid-twentieth century), and the objects in it are known as "Kuiper Belt objects" (or KBOs), "trans-Neptunian objects," "plutinos," "plutons," or simply "dwarves." As a result, an astronomers' convention, held in Prague in 2006, voted to demote Pluto from planetary to dwarf status; now it is seen as merely one of the largest and nearest of these outer asteroids.
These mysterious visitors to the solar system come by every year, and occasionally one appears that is bright enough to see without a telescope. We know that the center or nucleus of a comet is a "dirty snowball," an asteroid-sized object made up of rock and ice mixed together. When one of these comes within a hundred million miles of the sun, the frozen gasses boil off and form the comet's beautiful tail, which is then blown outward by the sun's radiation. After a close pass, the comet heads off for interstellar space again. Most comets are not likely to return for thousands of years--if they come back at all--but some have orbits which bring them back regularly; the most famous of these, Halley's Comet, returns every 75-76 years (2061 is the next approach date).
Nobody knows where comets come from. A Dutch astronomer named Jan Oort suggested that a cloud of comet bodies is drifting way beyond the planets. Occasionally one of these comets is disrupted in its travels, and it falls in toward the sun where we can see it. Then if it is not captured and pulled into a shorter orbit by one of the planets, it goes back to the Oort cloud when it is done. This theory may be universally accepted in scientific circles, but it bears a problem in that there is no observation to back it up; the Oort cloud has never been seen, so at this point it may only exist in the imagination of astronomers.(10)
Another point to be made is that comets have a fixed life span. Since part of it burns up every time it visits us, eventually it will reach a point where there is no ice left in its nucleus, and then it becomes just another flying rock. If Halley's Comet traveled in its present course since the beginning of the solar system, then according to the thinking of evolutionists it would have to grow and lose about 60 million tails! And many comets break up when they make a close pass to the sun. At the rate we're using them up, I venture that it won't take more than a million years before we run out of comets.
Along that line, there is some evidence that the number of comets has decreased within historical times. Ancient astronomers kept close track of comets because they didn't know what they were, and feared them as signs of bad things about to happen. Today about a dozen comets visit us annually, but most don't get much attention because they are too dim to see without telescopes; only about once per decade does one arrive that is bright enough to get non-astronomers excited.(11) Yet in the year that Julius Caesar died (44 B.C.), 57 naked-eye comets were reported. Since I just pointed out that comets burn out after a few passes to the sun, does this mean that a billion years ago, our sky was impossibly crowded with comets? Kind of makes you wonder . . .
This is the End of Chapter 2.
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