I have begun a new research project on the formation of Earth. I feel this is an important issue and no creationist has seriously dealt with this topic to my knowledge. Creationists as well as Intelligent Design proponents have written often about the design of the Earth for life. But the real issue is what or who do we attribute Earth formation to? Do we thank God and give him glory for it or do we attribute its existence to natural processes? The Old Testament is very emphatic about God creating the Earth (see for instance Isaiah 6:3, 44:24, 45:18, & 1 Samuel 2:8). It has often been argued that Earth is designed because it is the right distance from the Sun, has the materials needed for life, etc. These are basics and I certainly agree with this. But there is a need to go farther and critique the theories of Earth formation. There is now a large body of research on how Earth allegedly formed by known natural physical processes. The theory for this has been developed based on research on our solar system and its origin, on the general theory of planet formation, and even on theories about extrasolar planets orbiting other stars. Ideas put forward to explain other solar systems with exoplanets have been applied to our own solar system in recent years and they are now being applied to explaining Earth. Planetary science is coming home. But creationists have not had an answer to many aspects of these theories.
I began studying this topic to prepare for the International Conference on Creationism in 2013. But after delving into it some I became convinced I was not ready to do a paper on it yet. I haven’t done a blog entry for a while because of focusing on my study of Earth formation. So I backed out of doing my ICC 2013 paper. It saddens me to do this because I have presented at the ICC for the last 4 conferences. I won’t be presenting anything in 2013. I hope to attend though. But not presenting doesn’t mean I’m not doing research, I just wanted more time and flexibility in approaching it. I collect technical material sometimes for years before writing something, especially on major topics that are important. I don’t want to address something on a technical level until I feel I can adequately support what I’m saying. I hope that my technical papers will stand the test of time. Below is a short version of the story scientists are believing today when they do not believe the Biblical account of God supernaturally creating Earth in six literal days.
There are some surprising things in the theories of Earth formation that scientists accept today. The early Earth is a place you would not recognize, according to the scenario scientists believe about how our planet formed. By early I mean the first few hundred million years of Earth’s existence by the accepted naturalistic or evolutionary ideas. Scientists would say Earth is about 4.55 Billion years old. You could think of it as in three stages, I would say. The first 10 million years after the beginning, then the next 45 million, then the next 100-200 million. Earth’s rapid accretion stage is the first 10 million years. This stage is about 10 million years (or less) because its believed that the disk of gas and dust that Earth formed from would be most conducive to forming planets and other objects during this time. After about 10 million years the gas and other material in the disk would dissipate and objects like planets or moons or asteroids would grow more slowly. Many objects drifted around the solar system for a long time, and Earth (and other planets) grew in size from impacts of small bodies. At the end of the 10 million years Earth was not yet full size, one estimate would say it was about 60% of its present mass. Also Earth was not separated into layers as it is today. Scientists call this differentiation, where the planet has a metal core in the center, with a mantle and crust outside that. A differentiated planet (or asteroid or moon) will be in neat layers with the most dense material in the core, with less dense material in the mantle, and the least dense material in the crust. This structure in a planet may make it more stable and makes a magnetic field possible.
The second stage is from 10 million to about 55 million years after the “beginning.” During this stage, Earth is not totally solid but much of it is melted from the frequent impacts and from great heat from radioactive decay from various elements. So the Earth is covered in what is called a magma ocean, which is a few hundred miles deep. The magma ocean is essentially partially molten or largely molten rock. Impacts from space continue to add more matter to the Earth. Earth’s atmosphere during this time is very different from today also. There are different proposed models of what the atmosphere was composed of but the main idea is that it was extremely dense. It is an atmosphere much thicker than even Venus’ atmosphere is today. One model says the mass of the early atmosphere was about the same as the mass of the early Earth. One approach looks at Earth’s atmosphere as similar to Venus, mostly Carbon Dioxide and Water. Another model thinks of it as more like the gases in Jupiter, which has hydrogen, helium, and some organic gases. The key idea in Earth’s early atmosphere is that it has a strong greenhouse effect that keeps the surface hot enough to melt most metals. This way the surface stays molten for tens or hundreds of millions of years. In Earth’s formation it is important that the surface be molten so that materials that come from space via impacts can mix into the Earth. As material rains down on the Earth from impacts, metals and minerals are separating by density in Earth’s interior. So by the time you get to about 55 million years after the beginning, some iron (and small amounts of other dense materials) has sunk into the center to form part of the core. Between 10 and 55 million years, the impacts become less frequent but the impacting bodies average larger and larger in size. Earth’s atmosphere changes perhaps multiple times in this period because large impacts blow some of it away and gases add to the atmosphere from the impacting bodies themself as they are vaporized by the impacts. Note that some of Earth’s liquid water could have come from vaporized impacts from asteroid like objects and some comets. However today scientists only believe that about 10% of Earth’s water got on the surface from late impacts in this way. Scientists also believe it is possible life could have evolved multiple times in this period, only to be wiped out by the harsh conditions or destroyed by the large impacts.
At about 55 million years, a really big object hits the Earth. This was an object that was about the size of Mars. This object has come to be referred to by scientists as Theia, a name from Greek mythology. The Theia impact melts a big part of the Earth and ejects a lot of material into orbit around the Earth. This material then forms into our Moon. Most of the core of the Theia object sinks into Earth, merging with Earth’s core. This leaves the Moon with materials that are very similar to Earth’s mantle but the Moon is only left with a very small iron core of its own. After the Theia impact, the impacts from space continue but decrease in frequency. As these impacts slow down, the surface begins to cool. While impacts were continuing gases were released from Earth’s interior.
As metals and various minerals form and separate inside the Earth, water and other gases are released from Earth’s interior, sometimes by the melting of rock and sometimes by chemical reactions. So water accumulates on the Earth and Earth’s atmosphere changes its composition over millions of years. Oxygen gets in Earth’s atmosphere largely from water vapor in the atmosphere that dissociates from the heat and from strong ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. When water dissociates it essentially splits into hydrogen and oxygen gases. As Earth cools the gases remain in the atmosphere and the liquid water remains on the surface. Some gases in the early Earth atmosphere are lost to space and some disolve into the liquid water on the surface (the forming oceans). Some of the gases in Earth’s atmosphere are organic (such as methane, hydrogen cyanide, and others) and thus they contribute to the evolution of life from chemicals in “warm little ponds” scattered across Earth’s surface. Life is believed to have got started when the first living cell evolved from chemicals sometime between 3.5 and 4.0 billion years before the present, which would be several hundred million years after the beginning. It is generally believed that life could not get started until impacts from space mostly ended and Earth’s surface had cooled off.
These are the main ideas of the naturalistic formation of Earth according to planetary scientists and Earth scientists. Which is more miraculous, this story or Genesis 1? I’m not sure! Though scientists would not like me calling the above scenario miraculous, I think you could argue it is, practically speaking. It would be an amazing series of accidents that caused Earth to form as a beautiful blue habitable planet by natural forces alone. Would you rather believe in natural processes doing all the above over millions of years, or in an all powerful God who could form the Earth in six days? I choose to believe the latter, but I don’t believe it irrationally. I’m beginning the process of investigating the naturalistic models of Earth formation so I can honestly evaluate them scientifically. It is rational to choose to believe God created as Genesis describes, because the God of the Bible can do it. It is very debatable whether natural processes can do it.