A Titanic Oasis

The equatorial lakes are not nearly as large as these near the north pole

Click through for a bigger versionMore than a year ago a graphic began circulating that purported to show that the Earth couldn’t be billions of years old based on the claim that we would have gone through all the water in that time. Based on the shear absurdity of such an argument alone this must surely be parody – though Poe’s law confuses this somewhat – but I’m not as sure about that now as I was just a short while ago.

You see, Thomas’ latest – Young-Looking Methane Lakes on Saturn’s Moon – uses a rather similar argument to the one in that picture. He doesn’t do any calculations, avoiding the potential for embarrassing mistakes like the one he made for Enceladus. Instead, he seizes on a couple of comments made in a Nature News article, and dismisses out of hand their explanation.

He opens:

The Cassini spacecraft detected what appear to be lakes and ponds near Titan’s equator. If so, one lake is almost forty miles long, 25 miles wide, and at least three feet deep. Natural processes on the moon’s surface rain down methane mixed with hydrocarbons, but only near the poles. Near the moon’s equator, natural processes evaporate the methane. So, after many millennia, any ancient equatorial methane lakes on Titan should have completely dried. The methane lakes’ continued presence baffles astronomers, leaving them to face the difficult task of explaining it.

“Baffles” you say? I doubt it, at least not in that way – the point is that they are not expected by our current understanding of Titan’s climate, not that they “should have completely dried.”

His first quote is:

Caitlin Griffith, planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, is lead author of the study results published in Nature. She told Nature News, “Lakes at the poles are easy to explain, but lakes in the tropics are not.”

The Nature paper is here, while the news article, once again, is here. And why are the lakes hard to explain? Some context to this quote would be helpful:

This cycle is expected to form liquid bodies near the moon’s poles, but not at its dune-covered equator, where Cassini measurements show that humidity levels are low and little rain falls to the surface. “The equatorial belt is like a desert on Earth, where evaporation trumps precipitation,” says astrobiologist Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Any surface liquid there should evaporate and be transported to the cooler poles, where it should condense as rain. “Lakes at the poles are easy to explain, but lakes in the tropics are not,” says Caitlin Griffith, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Indeed, Cassini has spotted hundreds of lakes and three seas in Titan’s polar regions.

As I said, it’s a climatic anomaly – not an ‘age of the universe’ anomaly. Thomas continues:

These observations are easy to explain if evaporation has only been occurring for thousands, not billions of years. How could methane lakes still exist on Titan’s equator after billions of years of evaporation?

The young Earth creationist mindset of the ICR apparently includes the assumption that many of the universes features were created in a state which has since decayed with little or no action in the opposite direction to restore some kind of equilibrium. It’s an extreme reaction to the omphalos hypothesis, the idea that the world was created recently but with the appearance of being ancient. It leads to situations like this, where Thomas is seriously proposing that the equatorial lakes of Titan (which might not even actually exist, as not all possible alternative explanations for the observed phenomena have been exhausted) were created as puddles, with no option but to evaporate. That God of his must be mighty pleased that we finally got around to exploring the outer solar system so we could find the things: I wonder what we missed?

This way of thinking also leads to the ignoring or dismissal of the otherwise patently obvious explanations for such features creation and continued existence:

“Because tropical lakes on Titan should evaporate over a period of just a few thousand years, the researchers argue that these ponds and lakes are being replenished by subsurface oases of liquid methane,” according to Nature News. That kind of argument is very familiar.

So’s this one: namely, sticking your fingers in your ears and singing Majesty at the top of your voice. That, and changing the subject:

For example, in 2008 Cassini discovered frozen carbon dioxide on Iapetus, another of Saturn’s moons, even though sixty-trillion tons of the carbon dioxide are lost to space during each orbit. To explain this, researchers proposed that it is replenished from below the surface or from impacts, but neither explanation has supporting evidence.

Interesting fact: the CO2 on Iapetus should only last hundreds, not thousands of years (similarly, the “thousands of years” above seems to be a rather off-hand remark). Something funny must be going on, for the timeframe does not even fit that of the creationists. The article referenced here is by ol’ David Coppedge, by the way, which is interesting in and of itself.

Another case in point involves comets. Researchers continue to imagine an invisible cloud or belt of comet sources lying near the solar system to explain how comets with short life spans still swing through the Solar System, even though they are supposed to be billions of years old.

Er, if you haven’t got the memo yet Brian we have actually found the Kuiper belt: it’s neither ‘invisible’ nor ‘imagined’ if you can see it in a telescope. I find long-period comets much more interesting to the creationism ‘debate,’ as it happens: they were apparently created mid plunge into the inner solar system, in an undeniably omphalos situation (we’re going along with YEC here, obviously). Would the ICR deny, I wonder, the existence of other long-period comets that are positioned in their path such that they would never be in these parts at any time during the short ~10000-year window they think the Earth has existed and will exist for? I’ll have to ask someday…

Likewise, to explain the moon recession problem—it would have been touching the earth and making life impossible at only a fraction of the earth’s supposed billions of years—many suggest with no evidence to back the claim that the moon’s current drift rate away from earth is abnormally fast these days.

So when creationists claim that radioactive decay etc was different in the past they can just be dismissed as lacking evidence? Actually, they can, but I’ll take this as Thomas’ permission. As for lunar recession, talk.origins naturally has a good article on this ancient argument.

Thomas concludes:

Rescuing devices are a central feature of long-age astronomy. Thus, it is no surprise to read of another one. The claim that an unseen subsurface methane reservoir is an attempt to rescue Titan’s supposed old age from scientific evidence of its youth.

As you can see he has made no attempt to refute the ‘rescue,’ but has instead tried to discredit this very important aspect of science: its ability to continue to explain the universe due to changing its mind about things in the light of new evidence. Remind me why the Institute for Creation Research employs this man? I wonder if he realises that “rescuing devices” are the central feature of “creation science”…

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One thought on “A Titanic Oasis

  1. “”Because tropical lakes on Titan should evaporate over a period of just a few thousand years, the researchers argue that these ponds and lakes are being replenished by subsurface oases of liquid methane,” according to Nature News.2 That kind of argument is very familiar.”
    The scientists aren’t trying to disprove any fact of a young Titan, Brian!

    “Rescuing devices are a central feature of long-age astronomy. Thus, it is no surprise to read of another one. The claim that an unseen subsurface methane reservoir exists is an attempt to rescue Titan’s supposed old age from scientific evidence of its youth.”
    It’s all a wicked anti-Christian plot, I tell you.

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