Creationist Alternatives on the History of the Solar System

by Wayne Spencer

A creation approach to understanding the solar system must acknowledge evidence, not only of intelligent design, but also of catastrophes that may have altered God's original creation. Natural processes are insufficient for explaining the origin of the solar system, but natural forces do produce an order that is designed for our benefit. Isaiah 45:18 says about the Earth, "He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited (NIV)." The great physicist, Isaac Newton, sometimes called the greatest scientist who ever lived, believed our solar system's objects had to be created by intelligent design. Such a way of thinking is not out of date but is reasonable even today.

What are some characteristics of our solar system that point to design? Regular patterns can indicate created order. Created order can be due to the created laws of nature or in some cases a special arrangement perhaps intended to show God's greatness. One of the most amazing findings of the Voyager spacecraft received very little attention. There are two small moons of Saturn not far outside Saturn's rings called Janus and Epimetheus. These moons are found in orbits that are extremely close to each other--so close that they do not have room to pass each other. One moon very gradually catches up with the other until about every four years the two objects rotate around each other so that they exchange orbits. Janus and Epimetheus actually trade orbits! This is extraordinary and very unlikely considering the laws of motion since it requires a very delicate relationship between mass, speed, and distance. One wonders what Isaac Newton would have said about these "dancing" moons.

Something similar to the dancing moons has been recently discovered (in the Summer of 1997) very close to Earth, in the unusual motion of a near-earth asteroid. Asteroid 3753 is a small object about 5 Km in diameter that moves in an unusual path around Earth. This asteroid shares Earth's orbit but follows a complicated path that has been variously described as an "overlapping horseshoe" or as a "kidney bean" orbit around the Earth. Its unique orbit is due to the gravitational pull of the Sun nearly matching the gravitational pull of Earth for this object. Its motion is "chaotic" which means it could not remain in this type of trajectory for more than 100 million years, as estimates go. Both Asteroid 3753 and the dancing moons at Saturn are known as cases of coorbital resonance. The origin of these objects and their motions are a significant mystery. The existence of Asteroid 3753 could point to some kind of catastrophic event near Earth in the past, such as a major bombardment or collision. If many objects collided with Earth in the past, it is possible one object could have been caught in such an orbit, while the other objects were swept up by the planets and our Moon.

Other indicators of design have to do with patterns relating many different objects, such as the planets themselves. A creationist point of view implies there is a purpose behind the way in which things are made. The inclinations of the planet orbits are measured by an imaginary plane called the ecliptic. The ecliptic is the plane defined by the Earth's orbit, so Earth's orbit has an inclination angle of zero. It happens that the planet orbits are all of little inclination, within several degrees of the ecliptic plane, except for the planet Pluto. In the evolutionary interpretation, this is due to all the planets having a common origin from one large spinning gaseous disk in space.

However, purpose is evident in the low inclinations of the planet orbits since without this relationship we would not be able to see the planets as easily or as often as is the case. For instance, if Mars had an orbit highly inclined compared to Earth's orbit, only people living far from the equator, near the polar regions, would be able to see Mars. Further, it might only rarely be possible to see planets whereas today certain planets such as Venus, Jupiter, and Mars are very easily and very frequently visible. The visibility of the planets helps us define seasons, or "seasons and days and years," in the words of Genesis 1. The planet orbits are nearly circular in shape as well. This is also for our benefit, since if the planet orbits were highly elongated or elliptical in shape then collisions would be much more likely because the planets would probably pass closer to each other on occassion than they do today. Thus, the Creator has designed for us to have a stable environment in which to live, where "environment" includes the solar system.

Whereas some facts about the solar system seem to follow predictable logical patterns, other facts are quite surprising. These "surprises" show that the Creator-God is not limited to the naturalistic patterns predicted by evolutionary theories. In recent years scientists have examined new data from the various solar system exploration missions and have been struck by the diversity and variety of objects found in the solar system. A recent article in Science quoted planetary physicist David Stevenson, from the California Institute of Technology: "The most striking outcome of planetary exploration is the diversity of the planets."1 Another scientist put it this way: "I'm surprised at the versatility of nature. . . You put together the same basic materials and get startlingly different results. No two are alike; it's like a zoo."2 Like a zoo! Of course, since the same God made the animal kingdom and the solar system! It is not nature that is versatile, rather it is God who is versatile and creative.

Scientists have long argued that studying the other planets should help us understand our own planet, but it seems this is not the case. One planetary Geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey said, "I wish it were not so, but I'm somewhat skeptical that we're going to learn an awful lot about Earth by looking at other planetary bodies. The more that we look at the different planets, the more each one seems to be unique."3 Many characteristics of the Earth are quite unique to Earth and recent discoveries about planetary geology, atmospheres, magnetic fields, and other subjects simply underscore this. Thus, there is now a turn toward viewing the science of planetology as a study of contrasts with Earth, not similarities to Earth.

Creationist science should be better than evolution-based science. This implies creationists must work to provide a positive alternative to evolutionary models. How can the facts of the solar system be explained assuming it to be thousands of years in age rather than billions? An evolutionary approach relies on natural processes over long periods of time. But this approach underestimates what is possible from the effects of catastrophic unusual events. Underestimating the Creator can lead to underestimating the creation. The Bible outlines in some detail the world wide Flood of Noah's day. But when we study the solar system, we no longer have an outline from Scripture. The Bible does not rule out the possibility of other catastrophic events in addition to Noah's Flood, which could have affected much or all of the solar system including Earth. Creationists are making exciting progress in explaining the geology of Earth in terms of catastrophic processes. The geologies of the nine planets and over sixty moons of the solar system need to be explained as well.

Cratering, volcanism, and other geological processes are evident throughout the solar system. There is an unknown history to unravel from these facts. If there has not been 4.6 billion years of time for the above processes to occur, then something catastrophic must have occurred to explain the many craters, the extremes of topography, and the unusual surface features on planets and moons. If the solar system is young, something in the solar system occurred to produce many craters and impacts in a time very short compared to the accepted evolutionary time scale. In a young solar system many known physical processes take on a very different role or no significant role at all. Thus, the following ideas are preliminary as creationists have only begun to attempt to explain the solar system and the universe beyond it.

At least three types of events are worth considering as possible solar system catastrophes. It is possible that the truth could include none of these models, or even some combination of them. First, a planet in the region between Mars and Jupiter is a possibility that has been suggested by many scientists. It has been suggested that such a planet was destroyed to produce the objects we now call the asteroids. A second possibility would be a cloud of solid debris from outside the solar system passing through the solar system. Dr. D. Russell Humphreys has suggested a possible model for the origin of the magnetic fields of the planets Uranus and Neptune. His model involves a major collision experienced by each of these planets. What would cause such an event? A large object colliding with one of these gaseous and fluid planets could explain the unusual orientation of their magnetic fields. Unique characteristics of Neptune's rings and its moons may indicate some kind of unusual event took place in that region. In addition, in recent years astronomers have discovered objects beyond Neptune that could be the source of the objects we know as comets. They are small; only a few are detectable, and barely at that. What is the origin of these newly discovered objects?

A major collision could lead to a variety of other events that would take place over a periods of months and years. A large collision in the region beyond Neptune would obviously produce many fragments that could take many different paths away from the explosion. A few fragments could be "captured" into orbit around a planet, for instance. Neptune's moon Nereid seems to be a likely candidate for having been captured because its orbit is extremely elongated, a characteristic of such orbits. Neptune's rings have thick regions and thin regions. The unevenness of Neptune's rings imply they must have a recent origin. They cannot be billions of years in age, since collisions of the ring objects would eventually make the ring very uniform in density. A collision near Neptune could lead to the destruction of one or more moons, as they were forced to pass too close to the planet. At a certain distance near a planet, known as the Roche limit, an object can be literally pulled apart by gravity. This could explain at least some of the rings of the planets, especially those at Neptune. One major collision could lead to a sort of gravitational chain reaction, if you will, that might affect more than just one planet. One major collision event could cause a number of other collision, capture, or breakup events. Thus, the third possibility for a solar system catastrophe could be at least one major collision, perhaps near Neptune.

The Planet Neptune(The planet Neptune) 


Considering the possible effects of large collisions in the solar system, the second possibility mentioned above is very interesting. This is that a large number of objects passed through the solar system, leading to a number of collisions. Saturn's moon Enceladus possesses many craters around its North Pole.4 This appears like what one would expect if a group of objects came from outside the solar system and impacted with the moon in a brief period of time. Some of the moons of Saturn have so many craters that present processes cannot explain them, even using an evolutionary time scale. An authoritative book on Saturn made this point about Saturn's moon Iapetus: "At estimated current rates it would require one thousand billion years to produce the crater density observed on Iapetus."5 Small objects, perhaps similar to small asteroids, passing through the solar system would be deflected by the planets into various paths. Jupiter and Saturn would have especially strong pulls on such debris objects. This could lead to some objects being pulled toward the inner solar system, and perhaps even to Earth.

Iapetus(Iapetus at Saturn) 


Impacts are powerful events. The Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL-9) comet impact of 1994 illustrated this.6 The SL-9 comet fragments caused plumes of superheated gas to rise about 3,300 km (2,050 miles). Scientists were surprised how long-lived the effects of the collision were in Jupiter's atmosphere. Though there are many uncertainties about the sizes of the fragments, best estimates suggest 0.5 to 1 km in diameter for the largest. What happened at Jupiter could have occurred at Earth, so that just one object could break up and cause a number of impacts. Recently, Astronomy magazine reported the discovery of a 700 km long line of eight probable impact sites in the United States, stretching from eastern Kansas to southern Illinois.7 These sites have been found to have circular structures as craters should, there are shocked minerals and shattered rocks as well, that are good indicators of impact. This probably represents a comet object that broke up as it approached Earth, producing a straight line of eight impact sites. In historical times, there have also been known cases of objects from space exploding in Earth's atmosphere, as well as striking the ocean. Over one hundred sites on Earth have been suggested as being remnants of impact craters. Could a solar system event have caused a large number of impacts on Earth? This is a definite possibility. Such an event may have occurred at the time of the world-wide Noahic Flood. One recent discovery from the Clementine spacecraft shows that very large impacts have occurred on the Moon, very close to Earth. Near the Moon's South Pole the largest known impact site in the solar system, the Aitken Basin, was discovered. It is approximately 2,500 Km in diameter and on the far side of the Moon, the side which is always oriented away from Earth. The following graphic shows the Aitken basin, in the large blue and purple circular area at the bottom of the graphic on the right.

(Topographic map of the Moon) 


New findings from robotic spacecraft provide factual data that can be very helpful to creationist scientists as they develop a creationist model for explaining the solar system. In coming years there will be more discoveries from missions to Saturn, Mars, and Pluto, assuming NASA's current plans become reality. NASA has begun a series of missions known as the Discovery program.8 The Discovery missions will be unmanned spacecraft which are built to provide a high scientific return for limited cost. The first is NEAR, which has already been launched. NEAR stands for Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous, in which a spacecraft will orbit and study the asteroid Eros at very close range. Other planned Discovery missions include the Mars Pathfinder, the Lunar Prospector, and another mission to collect material from a comet and bring it back to Earth, called Stardust. The Mars Pathfinder mission includes a small robotic rover vehicle which is equipped to move across the Martian surface and gather data including the composition of Martian rocks. The Cassini mission to Saturn will be somewhat similar to the current Galileo mission to Jupiter. A spacecraft will stay in the Saturn system for an extended time and will send a probe into the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan.

There is no need to allow new astronomical discoveries to undermine faith in the Bible. Rather, new facts help creationist scientists develope alternatives to the accepted evolutionary theories. Now is a time to keep aware of new findings from the various solar system exploration missions. Surprising discoveries are to be expected. Many questions are being raised by the new data from the Mars Pathfinder mission. Dramatic catastrophic events have shaped Mars in a number of ways, including large impacts, giant volcanoes, and apparently changes in its atmosphere. Dealing with these discoveries does not require accepting the naturalistic evolutionary assumptions that are prevalent in scientific circles. These new discoveries reveal to us not only new scientific facts, but also reveal the greatness and creativity of our Creator.


1. Richard A. Kerr, 'The Solar System's New Diversity', Science, Vol. 265, September 2, 1994, p 1360.

2. Richard A. Kerr, p 1361.

3. Richard A. Kerr, p 1360.

4. Joseph F. Baugher, The Spaceage Solar System, 1988, John Wiley & Sons,

p 251.

5. D. Morrison, et. al., Satellite Geology, Saturn, Tom Gehrels and Mildred Shapley Matthews, Editors; 1984, University of Arizona Press, p 634.

6. Paul Weissman, 'Making Sense of Shoemaker-Levy 9', Astronomy, May 1995, p 49.

7. Michael Carroll,'Multiple Impact on Earth by Asteroid or Comet String?', Astronomy, April 1996, p 26.

8. Jim Schefter, 'Outward Bound,' Popular Science, March 1996, pp 60-61.


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