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Preliminary comments on the PBS-TV series “Origins”

by , astrophysicist

29 September 2004

On Tuesday evening, the US television network PBS (Public Broadcasting System) aired the first two hours of a four-hour miniseries on “Origins.” In the series prologue, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson1 asks a series of questions about history. “How did the universe, our planet, how did we ourselves come to be? How did the first sparks of life take hold here? Are we alone in the cosmos? Where did all the stars and galaxies come from?”

In the first hour, viewers are shown the evolutionary story of Earth’s origins. We are told that the earth formed by accretion of cosmic dust billions of years ago. This primitive earth was allegedly a “fiery wasteland” being heavily bombarded by meteors and comets. The series offers an explanation that comets (which contain a large amount of water-ice) may have delivered water to the infant earth. An object the size of the planet Mars supposedly collided with the primitive earth which ejected material that coalesced and became the moon.2 Although the special effects are very impressive, the story is merely fiction presented as truth. It stands in stark contrast to the historical account of origins recorded in Scripture.

Consider the many differences between the biblical account of history, and the evolutionary story promoted by the “Origins” series. The Bible teaches that the world was not created through natural processes; it was created directly by God (Hebrews 11:3). Scripture indicates that the origin of the earth (as well as the entire universe) was thousands of years ago, not billions. According to Scripture, the earth had water right from the start (Genesis 1:2); it was never a molten blob nor did it require comets to deliver the water as the “Origins” broadcast teaches.

Indeed, the earth was a “very good” paradise (Genesis 1:31) before Adam sinned; this is difficult to reconcile with the evolutionary belief that death, suffering, disease, and bloodshed have been around for millions of years before mankind. The earth according to the Bible was certainly not a “molten planet, hostile to life” as the “Origins” broadcast teaches.

The order of events is quite different between recorded history and the secular story. For example, the Bible teaches that the earth was created before the stars, birds existed before land animals, and fruit trees were made before fish; but the evolutionary story as promoted in the PBS series reverses these events.

The moon was a special creation by God, not the result of a cosmic collision as depicted in “Origins.” Nor did God use such a collision to form the moon as some Christians teach (thus compromising the Bible); such a collision would destroy life on Earth, yet plants were created before the moon according to Genesis. These many differences expose the folly of trying to fit the Genesis account of creation to the secular alternative with its billions of years.

Furthermore, there are many scientific difficulties with the ideas of the formation of Earth, the moon and life promoted by the PBS series. To name a few: there are problems getting the dust grains to stick together to form planets;3 the decay of Earth’s magnetic field is not consistent with a multi-billion year age;4 the rotation rate of the sun is far slower than would be expected from these evolutionary scenarios;5 and the recent discoveries of massive, Jupiter-sized extra-solar planets orbiting very close to their star goes against the predictions of the evolutionary model of solar system formation.

The “Origins” series mentions that the moon would have been much closer to the Earth in the past. What it fails to mention is that the moon would have been so close, it would actually be touching the Earth “only” about 1.4 billion years ago,6 yet the earth-moon system is claimed to be over 4 billion years old. Many other scientific difficulties could be listed. But none of these are problems for biblical creation.

Both parts of the series employ an interesting analogy: the supposed 4.6 billion years of Earth’s past are compared to a 24-hour clock. Using this scale, we are told that human beings come on the scene only in the last thirty seconds of history. Yet, Jesus said that human beings have been around from the beginning of creation (Mark 10:6). If we compress the approximately 6000 years of true history as recorded in the Bible down to 24 hours, then humans existed within the first fraction of a second of history—right at the beginning as our Lord has said. It is clear that Jesus did not accept the timescale promoted in the “Origins” miniseries.

During the second hour, the “Origins” special discusses the origin of life on Earth. The program recalls the Stanley Miller experiment that produced amino acids (the “building blocks” of life) by mixing several gases in a chamber with electricity. “Origins” explains that amino acids are found in meteorites and that these can be fused into simple peptides through impacts. Like most evolutionists, they ignore the huge chemical problems of getting some of the essential building blocks and then growing them into chains, and obtaining the pure “handedness” required for life. But even if this all these mountainous chemical hurdles could be climbed, this does not help particles-to-people evolution because it does not produce the genetic information so crucial for life. All life contains vast quantities of information stored on DNA molecules. Yet, all available evidence indicates that such information does not and cannot arise by itself in matter; rather it always has an intelligent source.7 The existence of large amounts of information in living organisms is very well explained by the Genesis account of creation, but is highly problematic for evolutionary scenarios.

The “Origins” special fails to produce any evidence to support the general theory of evolution and does not discuss the origin of genetic information. The program acknowledges that the leap from non-living material to life (in the evolution view) is “staggeringly complex” and that “no one knows how this process started or what course it took.” These candid admissions are refreshing. However, I would add that biblical creationists do indeed know how life was started, and what course it took, because we accept the written record of the Creator. When the evidence is examined, it is consistent with what God has said in His Word. And how could it be any other way? God understands the evidence very well; He created the universe! This is why we can have such confidence in the authority of the Bible.

References and notes

  1. Director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium. Return to text.
  2. This idea has many problems. See Problems for ‘giant impact’ origin of moon. Return to text.
  3. Spencer, W., The existence and origin of extrasolar planets, TJ 15(1): 17–25, 2001. Return to text.
  4. See The earth’s magnetic field: evidence that the earth is young. Return to text.
  5. See Refuting Evolution, chapter 7: Astronomy. Return to text.
  6. See The moon: the light that rules the night. Return to text.
  7. Gitt, W., In the Beginning Was Information, Bielefeld, Germany, 1997. Return to text.

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