Doing the Planetary Freestyle

That break lasted longer than I thought, but less than I feared. Longtime readers will have noticed that posting tends to slow or vanish entirely around this time of year due to the start of school: it’s only the second week of university now,* which isn’t so bad. It’s also the start of US daylight saving time this week, which helpfully brings typical ICR posting time to a slightly more manageable hour.

Nothing has visibly changed in Dallas in my absence. Today’s Creation Science Update is by Brian Thomas, and called “Asteroid Medley Challenges Naturalistic Origins.” I’ll admit that I had to look that word up to see whether it has a meaning beyond the realm of competitive swimming, but it seems so.

Thomas’ sole source for this article is a review paper in Nature from the 29th of January called “Solar System evolution from compositional mapping of the asteroid belt,” which I cannot find a pdf of for you. All claims made can therefore be assumed to have come from one of his internal organs and cannot be blamed on any other creationist who might know slightly more about the subject at hand. His argument is simple: the asteroid belt cannot (yet) be explained “nationalistically” in its entirety, therefore goddidit 6000 years ago. We’ve all heard that one before.

This leads to some very strange conclusions. For example, he says:

However, secular astronomers have not yet explained how less common asteroids mixed so thoroughly with more common types. DeMeo and Carry wrote, “The rarer asteroid types, such as the crust and mantle remnants of fully heated and melted bodies, are seen in all regions of the main belt.”

But his own explanation of this kind of evidence is of course:

A better way to explain the unique arrangement of rare and common, large and small asteroids is that God put them there in the beginning. If so, they have been around since creation took place only thousands of years ago. Do the asteroids look more like they are thousands of years young or billions of years old, cold, and dead?

The problem is that these “crust and mantle remnants of fully heated and melted bodies” imply either significant time in their own right or that Thomas’ god created them with the appearance of age. It may be that we don’t know everything about asteroid distribution, but we can at a stroke refute the notion that they in some way appear young.

It has been relatively recently discovered that planets are not fixed in their orbits over the history of the solar system, and this helps explain the modern distributions of both the planets and the asteroids relatively well, though of course not perfectly. The Nice (as in the French city) and Grand Tack models have been proposed to deal with various eras of planetary migration, but Thomas thinks they’re flawed:

Yet, like many grand astronomy concepts, the Grand Tack model seems to create more problems than it solves. What massive force could have moved giant Jupiter in toward the sun, and why didn’t that force destroy Jupiter, other planets, or the asteroids themselves? And then what powerful agent slung Jupiter outward to its current, stable orbit? It’s as though researchers need Jupiter’s gravity to act as a magic hand that mixed and placed asteroids near to where we see them today—in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Now, a few weeks ago the cosmologist Sean Carroll debated the Christian apologist William Lane Craig on the subject of cosmology. I didn’t watch it, but Jason Rosenhouse wrote a summary on his blog. I quite liked this part, and think it’s applicable here:

Carroll was eloquent in pointing out that this was all just nonsense. The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem does not have the awesome consequences Craig wants to draw from it (what abstract theorem could?). With regard to his own model he retorted, “I’m the first one to say that it has problems. None of the problems that it has are the one’s that Dr. Craig raised.” Zing!

“Zing” indeed. Similarly, the Grand Tack may have issues of its own, but in his incredulity at the very notion of Jupiter’s migration Thomas has apparently avoided naming a single one. I suggest he look at one of the pages I already linked if he wants to learn about the mechanisms that would cause it to occur.

Thomas also says:

The Nature study authors wrote, “Planetary migration ends well within the first billion years of our Solar System’s [assumed] 4.5-billion-year history. The asteroid belt, however, is still dynamic today. Collisions between asteroids are continuously grinding the bodies down.” Why do asteroids still exist after grinding each other down all this supposed time? If the main belt were that old, it would contain nothing more than dust remnants of the active bodies that once orbited there.

Isn’t it interesting how he cannot resist interjecting the woefully inaccurate “assumed” into the quote? He gives two footnotes. First:

The main belt asteroids would have been ground to dust and then swept away by solar radiation.

No calculations are attached to show that we should expect billions of years to be enough to produce an empty asteroid belt – this is taken on blind faith.

His second reads:

Ironically, this very process of grinding refutes the nebular hypothesis, which asserts that dust coalesced into planets and the sun. In reality, dust particles bounce off of one another far more readily than they adhere.

Planetesimals can collide and break up, sure, but they can also clump together. That under present conditions there is too little matter available for clumping relative to the amount breaking apart does not in any way refute the notion that this might be a little different in a nebula full of gas and dust.

Thomas concludes by reiterating that the only way to understand anything is to see it through the lens of his restricted worldview – no surprises there. What else have I missed then?

*Before you ask: intro to biochemistry, cell and developmental biology, and linear algebra.


7 thoughts on “Doing the Planetary Freestyle

  1. “Before you ask: intro to biochemistry, cell and developmental biology, and linear algebra.”

    Well Peter, you already have a jump on the biochemstry, and cell/developmental biology. Best of luck and I hope you enjoy them. I certainly did.

  2. Thomas said …

    “The asteroid belt, however, is still dynamic today. Collisions between asteroids are continuously grinding the bodies down.” Why do asteroids still exist after grinding each other down all this supposed time? If the main belt were that old, it would contain nothing more than dust remnants of the active bodies that once orbited there.”

    Thomas has, or is at the very least counting on his readers to have, that cartoony fictional movie image of the asteroid belt in his head. You know, where great battles are held in swarms of tumbling asteroids banging against each other while starships twist and dodge them? Yeah, not so much. The truth of the matter is that on average the asteroids are so far apart that collisions are in fact fairly rare, in particular between the very largest of them. Scientific American puts it this way …

    “There are more than 100,000 asteroids larger than 1 kilometer in diameter, but these objects are distributed within the huge volume of the asteroid belt. Their average spacing is several million kilometers. Collisions are thus extremely rare; an average 1-kilometer asteroid suffers one collision every few billion years, or maybe one or two collisions over the lifetime of the solar system.

    Spacecraft pass through the asteroid belt with virtually no chance of a collision, and in fact considerable effort is required for a close flyby of even one asteroid, such as the Galileo spacecraft flyby of Ida in 1993. The spacing is also so large that seen from one asteroid, even the nearest 1-kilometer asteroid would likely be too faint to be visible without a telescope.

    Even if there were 100,000 sizable asteroids (more than a few kilometers in size) in the asteroid belt–and the real number is quite likely about ten times less–the average separation between them would be about five million kilometers. That is more than ten times the distance between the earth and the moon. If you were standing on one of those asteroids and looked up, you would not see a sky full of asteroids; your neighbors would appear so small and dim that you would be quite lucky to even see one, let alone hundreds. I would not even call crossing through such emptiness terribly “interesting,” which is fortunate for the space probes like Galileo and the Voyagers that have had to do just that.

    So, no zippy zoomy for Galileo and the Voyagers passing through to the outer Solar System. Bummer. They continue …

    Some scientists were seriously concerned about the possible high density of objects in the asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, when the first robotic spacecraft were scheduled to be sent through it. The first crossing of the asteroid belt took place in the early 1970s, when the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft journeyed to Jupiter and beyond. The danger lies not in the risk of hitting a large object. In fact, such a risk is minuscule because there is a tremendous amount of space between Mars and Jupiter and because the objects there are very small in relation. Even though there are perhaps a million asteroids larger than one kilometer in diameter, the chance of a spacecraft not getting through the asteroid belt is nearly negligible.”


    Thomas has painted a picture where a very crowded belt of asteroids that should have ground itself into something like planetary rings to be blown away in solar winds. Once again, demonstrable reality differs from Thomas’ imaginative assertions.

    No matter, ICR will let the article stand as it suits their agenda of fostering doubt of science in service of bolstering faith. Mission accomplished.

    • Not so far as I know. Exceptions have been made before (e.g. their Great Debate commentary) but typically the ICR is around a fortnight or so behind events. Check back around March 28, I think. Is it any good?


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