What’s Wrong With This Picture?
Genesis and the big bang
Young Earth - Old Earth, what does it matter?
Science and the Bible can be harmonized
The Bible and Science in Conflict
Understanding Genesis Chapter 1
Scriptural Evidence for Long Days
The Origin of the Universe
The Creation / Evolution Controversy Part 1
The Creation / Evolution Controversy Part 2
The Creation / Evolution Controversy Part 3
The Creation / Evolution Controversy Part 4
Entropy, the Fall, and Adam
The Tree Of Life
What I learned at an Answers in Genesis Conference
What's Wrong With This Picture?
Science finds a purpose for the appendix
Flat Earth - A lesson to all of us
Why are young people leaving the church?
Why Does God Hate Me?
Links to the World and Beyond
On TV Can Be Hazardous To Your Brain
I recently tuned in to an episode of the Universe – a series about, well, the Universe that for the most part has been very well done and interesting. Each episode tackles a different subject, presenting a brief overview of current thinking, examining past theories, and projecting what could happen in the future. The episode that inspired this article centered on the Earth/ Moon relationship but the lesson herein applies to all science programs: Always watch with an alert questioning mind.
To be fair, let me add at the beginning that the lesson applies to all of life. My Pastor is always quick to caution the church to look up the scriptures he uses and make sure he is telling the truth. The point, God gave you a mind – use it! I have walked all over religious tradition in many of my articles. This time it is science programming I want to focus on with Universe being the example.
In the show’s previous season the leading theory on the origin of the Moon was presented by which the early Earth is struck by a rather large Mars-sized object that liquefies the planet. The object also obliterated is then absorbed into the Earth. During the collision a large amount of crust and mantel material is thrown in to space, eventually forming the Moon. Physical support for the theory came with the examination of rocks brought back by the Apollo astronauts. There are still some unsolved mysteries but it is a good theory with much support.
In this season’s episode we are given some insight in to the workings of the early Earth/ Moon cycle. The Moon formed much closer to the Earth than it is today. Being closer it traveled around the Earth much faster. The Earth spun on its axis much more quickly as well, each day lasting only about 6 hours. The Moon has been slowly pulling away from the Earth since its formation.
Currently the Moon is moving about 2 inches further away each year. As it moves away the gravitational pull on the Earth has caused our planet’s rotation to slow down. This explains our current 24-hour day. Oh, and don’t worry, even though the Moon is slowly pulling away, it will remain in Earth orbit for several billion more years.
When the Moon was nearer the Earth its gravitational pull was much greater (duh). Today the tides, according to the program, rise about 10 feet. The early pull was 1000 times greater and the waves of the tides may have risen as much as 10,000 feet.
This is presented as a good thing for Earth as it meant the tides were churning up the mineral rich deposits on the shores. Forming, and fueling, the ever-popular primordial soup pools. Oh, happy day, as this means life will now joyfully and inevitably evolve, grow legs and walk away in a protective environment! Good grief!
At this point let me interject that the series has not been particularly anti-God. In fact in one episode they correctly presented the big bang theory as easily compatible with belief in an old earth creation. I found this refreshing, as generally speaking science programs seem to operate in a vacuum, oblivious and uncaring how the material plays in the real world. So I give them credit for at least trying not to alienate their audience.
As for their brief primordial soup comments, it was all I could do to keep from yelling at the television. I think I lectured my son instead! What the show did was attempt to reinforce an evolutionary mythology with evidence that conflicted with the idea being proposed while completely ignoring the fossil record. Either the writers are unaware of any conflict, in which case they should hire an advisor, or they were more interested in promoting a faulty agenda than accurately portraying the facts. It is possible they are guilty of both. While I am not surprised by the error, I am disappointed, as I have come to expect better from the Universe series.
If you are a scientist please allow me to elaborate on my critical comments to see if my complaint is valid. I am not protesting the science presented in this episode. I am not even protesting evolution, as I understand evolution to simply mean change with time. I am protesting the presentation of the science in this program and some of the philosophical conclusions that have been drawn from the faulty presentation.
Since the Stanley Miller experiments in the 1950’s science programs aimed at the general public have tried to convince us, all that is necessary to jumpstart life is the proper pool of bubbling ooze and a few well placed lightning strikes. The creature will then awaken (to shouts of, “it’s alive!”), stand on two legs and walk away.
The truth is the Miller experiments were flawed from the beginning because they were based on assumptions about the early planet that were incorrect. Assuming for a moment that this was not the case, the experiments still fail in that the difference between a flask of amino acids and the most basic form of life is astronomically vast. Of course that fact is seldom if ever mentioned in the programs.
The Universe to its credit did not use the Miller experiment but then again it was not necessary. This 50-year-old image is now part of our collective psyche. Instead, what they did was to use special effects to create an equally incorrect image. A scene we have all seen portrayed numerous times. A gentle ocean wave fades into a thermal vent and a bubbling puddle of ooze morphs into a pool with a tadpole swimming about. This scene gives way to an iguana soaking up the sun. I know they only had a few seconds to make a point but this misrepresented view of reality is not acceptable.
Let’s forget for a moment that nothing even close to life has ever been brought forth in a controlled lab experiment under any conditions. Let’s forget for a moment that science is no closer today than it was 50 years ago of adequately theorizing how even the simplest life form might have originated under natural conditions. Let’s for the moment go with the proposal from this episode. The ocean churns under the tidal force of the Moon and carries the mineral rich sediment and deposits it in the primordial pool to create the soup.
The problem here is that according to the program the waves are 10,000 feet high. They would not gently leave their deposit and recede. The waves would slam into the shore (assuming there is a shore – as I believe dry land came later in earth’s history) with forces unlike anything we see on earth today. The worst tsunami today is a little ripple compared to the power of these waves. To make it even worse the destruction would occur again every three hours - two high tides and two low tides per 6 hour day!
Suggesting the land being dragged into the ocean would supply the minerals for a thermal vent/ primordial pool sounds good, except at this point in Earth’s history there should be no appreciable difference between land and ocean bottom composition. Further, tidal forces strong enough to create 10,000 foot waves would certainly stir up the minerals, whether on land or sea, but the resulting currents at the bottom of the ocean would prove overly destructive to any potential new life forming. The gravity would also twist the still warm plates of the crust like a pretzel further destroying stable conditions in the primordial ooze. Add to this even more disturbance caused by magma spilling out of the plate cracks and you should be able to see my complaint. Come on, this idea is just plain ludicrous!
Let’s pretend that somehow this isn’t a problem. Let’s pretend there is a primordial pool fed by monstrous waves and it does bring forth life. The program makes it appear this same pool quickly brings forth higher life forms. Yet the record shows simple single-celled life lived fairly unchanged for 3 billion years before complex single-celled life with a nucleus appears. Then it was another ¾ billion years before complex multi-celled life suddenly springs forth in the Cambrian explosion. My point is the picture painted on the Universe is a gross over-simplification leading the viewer to believe life in general and higher life in particular is automatic and guaranteed. This is preposterous!
The first signs of life appear in the earliest fossil records as soon as the pulverized and liquefied Earth cools enough to form solid rock. This would have been a time in Earth history with near hell-like conditions with its toxic atmosphere, volcanic eruptions, and seismic activity off the scale, not to mention those 10,000 foot waves. The miracle of life becomes even more amazing when you put it into the proper historical context. What possible reason could there be to present a distorted picture of early life?
One possible reason is it is not intentional. I have noticed a tendency to assume the other guy has the answers. The biologist theorizes life evolved from a single celled organism in a gentle primordial pool and the cosmologist simply goes with that explanation without questioning where the single cell came from since the biologist is the 'expert' in evolution matters. The evolutionist is not concerned with where life originated, just how it changed with time. Since it is obvious life has changed throughout Earth’s history and since the biologist accepts evolution explains those changes it is a small step by television programmers to assume life began in the ooze by natural means. No one seems to notice biogenesis science is a separate field of study from evolutionary biology. The currently insurmountable problems facing the scientist in this field never gets mentioned on programs like the Universe.
People of faith are often accused of taking a God of the gaps approach. Whenever something can’t be explained it is attributed to a miracle of God. Since God is the Creator, I personally have no problem with attributing all of nature to his hands. The problem with the God of the gaps approach is when one stops looking for explanations of how God did it. Absolutely we should keep looking for scientific explanations. God told Job too look to the creation to better understand him. I see no reason to believe God has changed his mind when speaking to us today.
The presentation of science on television often suffers a similar but opposite take on things. It is a probability of the gaps approach. Whenever something can’t be explained it is just sort of glossed over. Since the universe is old and stellar evolution is fairly well understood, and since life is here and flourishing, it must be possible, so the programs contend, we could get here by natural means. The fact that no workable model of biogenesis exists is irrelevant. Life must have come from the ooze. After all, isn’t it the essence of science to offer the best guess theory of how things operate and came to be by natural means?
Some claim this means there is no room for God in the explanations. Others, like myself, see God’s hand all over the explanations. Either way, it serves no purpose and does much harm when science programs whitewash the enormous gaps in our understanding of the complexities of the universe. Education does not imply indoctrination. Admitting to the problem areas may well spark the imagination of the one young mind that could find a missing piece to the puzzle.
The other possible reason for distorting the picture of early life is very closely related. It is due to an evolutionary paradigm. From the big bang to man’s lofty theories, evolution is accepted as the correct explanation to our existence. Biblically, evolution does not disturb me whether it is or isn’t true. That is not the point. Obviously change with time happens. One color moth survives while another color does not because of the environment they live in. This is just fact. No one objects or denies that many varieties of dogs have been bred by careful selection of desirable traits. Again these are just the facts.
The problem comes when the facts are taken and extrapolated into a history of life that is mainly speculation and not testable (a prerequisite for real science). Yet because science is only concerned with natural explanations, the programs work to convince us the speculation must be true. Therefore we are bombarded with the evolutionary explanation at every opportunity. Like the Miller experiment, if it is said enough it becomes part of us and is accepted whether it can be substantiated or not.
I have seen interviews with leading scientists in their fields where they would offer their theory beginning with a phrase similar to, “What we think is happening is…” and the narrator would immediately afterwards interject, “What we now know is…” There is a big difference between the two. The first shows a work in progress. The second declares authority that the scientist never claimed in the interview!
It is interesting that the modern scientific method originated because men of faith believed that since God is, and since he created, the universe must contain order that can be studied. To their way of thinking, if God did not exist then random acts of nature should produce chaos not order; therefore the universe would prove unknowable.
Today the public in general, and the religious community in particular, are often highly suspicious of modern science. It accomplishes marvelous things but despite this many are concerned that science has lost its way. No longer seen as trying to understand the work of God it is perceived as pushing an anti-god agenda. A few outspoken scientists are openly hostile toward faith and while this is not the norm it adds to the distrust of the public. So it is just plain bad public relations when an otherwise decent science program lowers itself to pushing propaganda instead of sticking to explaining science.
The origin of life escapes explanation at present. Someday a lab tech may stumble on how to accomplish the seeming impossible. If so they may feel a bit like God. The however is that the Bible doesn’t say God directly created the first life. It says he commanded the earth to bring it forth. He is responsible for life but he built the ability for it to spring forth into the universe from the beginning. It may appear natural from our perspective but there is a supernatural element behind the physics and chemistry of our universe. Yes that is a faith based statement not a scientific one.
Our Moon most likely formed due to a very precise collision. The likelihood of such a collision happening in other solar systems is estimated at 1 in 400 but the likelihood that such a collision would happen with an earthlike planet is extremely remote. Remember the planet would have to be located at just the precise distance from its sun for life to exist. The impact would have to be with just the right sized object to produce a large moon and the trajectory of the impact would have to be extremely precise to result in a stable planet/ moon system. We live on a privileged planet.
Without our large moon it would be virtually impossible for higher life to originate on our planet. The collision resulting in our moon had very advantageous consequences. It stabilized the rotational axis of the planet which stabilized our climate. The Moon itself is composed primarily of Earth crust. The crust material ejected during the collision made Earth’s tectonic activity possible for billions of years. The moving plates of Earth's crust make land possible. Without it the Earth would be covered by ocean. Of course the oceans are only able to exist because of the collision as well. It blew off the early atmosphere which would have caused the waters to be lost in a greenhouse effect. Oh, and the Moon is responsible for the tides on our planet which do churn up the ocean floor and deposit precious resources on the soil, even if it did all start with 10,000 foot waves.
Why is it that the story of us, is almost always told as, life is inevitable and we are just the result of billions of years of mindless unguided evolution? We are nothing special. What nonsense! We are fearfully and wonderfully made! By the way that fearfully part means reverently. Life is due a sense of respect and awe because it is the gift of our Creator.
The Universe (and all science programs like it) could present the picture of early Earth as it has been explained here and the viewer would have been uplifted with a sense of wonder and appreciation for the creation and for our place in it. Even if you remove the small amount of faith based commentary I believe this remains true.
When you watch science on television, learn to watch actively. Ask yourself questions constantly. Do not just accept you are being told the whole story. There usually isn’t time to go into great detail and there may even be an agenda behind not telling the whole story. Do watch with your spiritual eyes. If it isn’t honoring life and pointing out the wonder of creation (the heavens declare the glory of God) then there is definitely more to the story. I do enjoy the Universe program and do recommend it, you just need to watch with your brain engaged.
Some Final Thoughts
When I first wrote this piece it was fairly unfocused as it was more of a rant than an article. I have since revised it, and toned it down, in an attempt remove any anti-science bias that may be perceived. While I am always going to view these subjects from a Christian perspective, I am not demanding a strict literal traditionalist perspective. What I do expect is that theories, whether scientific or theological, be carefully thought through and plausible. Glaring holes or inaccuracies, no matter where they come from, should not be allowed to go unchallenged.
It is easy to complain. It is a little harder to offer a workable solution that does not simply rely on a god or probability of the gaps approach. With this thought in mind let me offer a plausible explanation for the beginnings of life on earth. If the Universe program had presented it as a possible scenario it would have resulted in this article never having been written.
Remember the controversial Mars rock sample a few years ago that sparked a lot of debate as to whether it contained a microscopic fossil? At the time Christian astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross pointed out that even if it did contain a fossil of a living organism it did not mean life originated independently on Mars. Microscopic life is being blown into space every day by the solar winds. Any life on Mars most likely originated on Earth.
Some scientists realizing the enormous complexity of even the simplest life forms and the hostile conditions of the early Earth have proposed an opposite view that life may have originated in space, possibly even on Mars, and was somehow carried to Earth by comets, asteroid impacts, or solar winds. The problem I have with this idea is it seems terribly coincidental that the planet would be seeded immediately as it cools enough to allow life to exist.
In the Mars rock example we learn that it is at least theoretically possible for microscopic life to be carried into space and survive the journey to another planet. In the second example we see an acknowledgment of the hostile environment of the early earth and the total lack of time necessary for life to develop in a primordial pool. What if we combine all these ideas with the Moon origin episode of the Universe?
What if the Mars-sized sister planet to Earth was blessed (no matter how unlikely) with all the perfect conditions for the formation of life? What if it had already done so abundantly before the fateful collision? If only a very small percentage of the microscopic life survived the impact and were thrown into orbit, as the earth took form, it could explain how life got started so immediately on our privileged planet.
This idea would not violate Genesis 1:1, which gives God the credit for creating the heavens and the earth. It tramples all over tradition once again making it not likely to be acceptable to young earth creationists. I am not sure how testable this idea is but it is at least compatible with Moon origin theories. I may be totally off base in my thinking but I believe this to be a far closer rational explanation than the fairytale presented on the Universe. If this idea turns out to be correct, just remember you read it here first on a Christian web site.
God, Genesis and the big bang
Copyright © 2007 by Kevin Sluder
Revised February 2008
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