Confusion over moon origins

Naturalistic origin of the moon comes under hard times

Gregory H. Revera, wikimedia commons moon
Figure 1. The near side of the moon.

by

Science built on naturalism has always struggled with the origin of our nearest neighbour, the moon. Three competing ideas have previously been suggested, only to all be shown to be highly improbable.1 These comprise the fission theory, in which the moon separated from the earth; the capture theory, in which the earth captured a wandering moon; and the condensation theory, in which the earth and moon formed from the condensation of the same dust cloud. Researchers rarely leave a theoretical vacuum.

After these ideas were disproved, planetary scientists invented the idea that the moon formed after a collision between the earth and a Mars-sized object. It is called the ‘giant impact hypothesis’ and has been the reigning model for the past 30 years. Some have come to believe this hypothesis as a fact.

Moon too similar to Earth to be caused by a giant impact

Computer models have been invoked to simulate the giant impact, but they have always had difficulty in correctly simulating the impact origin of the moon, although there has been a little success in ‘modelling’ physical parameters that must be explained.2,3 However, the identical isotopes of various elements between the earth and the moon indicate that the giant impact hypothesis has serious problems.4,5

In September of 2013, researchers gathered at the Royal Society to do an in-depth review of the origin of the moon and concluded that the giant impact hypothesis is highly unlikely based on the geochemical and other problems:

“Following almost three decades of some certainty over how the Moon formed, new geochemical measurements have thrown the planetary science community back into doubt. We are either modelling the wrong process, or modelling the process wrong.”6

Astronomers are discovering more and more that the geochemistry of the moon is almost exactly that of the earth:

“A crisis in the field has been created by the growing realization that the Moon and Earth are exceptionally similar in composition—so similar, in fact, that the emerging constraints are difficult for the giant impact hypothesis to meet. … The Earth and Moon seem to share identical isotopic signatures in oxygen, iron, hydrogen, silica, magnesium, titanium, potassium, tungsten and chromium. … That all these isotopic compositions are the same on the Earth and Moon, to high precision, places stringent constraints on physical scenarios for making the satellite.”7

Such exactness defies the giant impact hypothesis because models have concluded that most of the moon should have been created from the debris of the impactor, and therefore the geochemistry would be significantly different.7

Many models … no solution

Many models have attempted to form the moon from a giant impact by varying the parameters, such as size, velocity, and impact angle, of the impactors.8,9,10 After many model runs, an acceptable isotopic similarity between the moon and Earth has been simulated. The models had to rely on a special Earth–moon–sun resonance to decrease substantially the very high angular momentum of the early Earth.

However, these moon origin simulations are simple models, and adding more complexity to the models will be a major challenge.3 For instance, after the collision a homogenous vapour is supposed to have evolved with the same isotopic ratios of many elements. However, some elements, such as titanium, would condense out too quickly to produce the same isotopic ratio between the earth and moon.3,6 The decrease in angular momentum of the Earth–moon system by resonance with the sun depends upon the ‘thermal state’ of the system, which can only be guessed at.3

Moreover, there are other problems with the simple idea of resonance: “The tidal heating and flexing of the hot young moon so near the earth may, however, prevent capture into these orbital resonances”.7 Where does that leave naturalistic theories on the origin of the moon? Apparently, there is no credible alternative at the moment, and extreme, untested physics seems to be required:

“The simulations of a Moon-forming impact have yet to produce a moon that fits all the puzzle pieces, geochemical and otherwise. … We are attempting to model processes of physics that are extreme as compared to current Earth conditions. We have never observed these processes in nature or in the laboratory.”7

Older theories are still seen as implausible:

“Competing hypotheses, such as fission of the moon from a de-spinning earth or capture of an unrelated Moon into orbit around earth, do not fit as many of the required constraints, and require special pleading on several fronts.”11

It seems that the main reason scientists have been unable to explain even the closest body to the earth, the moon, is their naturalistic worldview: “we want to explain our Moon and earth as the outcome of a common and reasonable process”.7 The failure of naturalistic models is implicit support for the Genesis record of creation of the moon by God on the 4th day of creation, an idea unfortunately unthinkable to naturalists.

References and notes

  1. DeYoung, D. and Whitcomb, J., Our Created Moon: Earth’s Fascinating Neighbor, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2003. Return to text.
  2. Elliott, T. and Stewart, S.T , Shadows cast on Moon’s origin: a chip off the old block, Nature 504(7478):90, 2013 | doi:10.1038/504090a. Return to text.
  3. Ref 2. Return to text.
  4. Oard, M.J., Problems for ‘giant impact’ origin of moon, J. Creation 14(1):6–7, 2000; creation.com/moonimpact. Return to text.
  5. Samec, R.G., Lunar formation—collision theory fails, J. Creation 27(2):11–12, 2013; creation.com/lunar-collision. Return to text.
  6. Elkins-Tanton, L.T., Occam’s origin of the Moon, Nat. Geosci. 6:996–998, 2013 | doi:10.1038/ngeo2026. Return to text.
  7. Elkins-Tanton, ref. 6, p. 997. Return to text.
  8. Cuk, M. and Stewart, S.T., Making the Moon from a fast-spinning earth: a giant impact followed by resonant despinning, Science 338(6110):1047–1052, 2012 | doi: 10.1126/science.1225542. Return to text.
  9. Canup, R.M., Forming a Moon with an Earth-like composition via a giant impact, Science 338(6110):1052–1055, 2012 | doi: 10.1126/science.1226073. Return to text.
  10. Halliday, A.N., The origin of the Moon, Science 338(6110):1040–1041, 2012 | doi: 10.1126/science.1229954. Return to text.
  11. Elkins-Tanton, ref. 6, p. 998. Return to text.

Reader’s comments

Kenneth L.
Apology: In my last comment, I forgot to change the country to Canada.

I'd like to clarify the essence of that message:

My questions and problems are all in reference to the 'nebular' hypothesis of the formation of the solar system. All the evidence I am aware of that has been collected from exploration of the solar system in the last half century contradicts that hypothesis. Spike Psarris' DVD's on this subject are excellent and should be watched by anyone interested in this.

Not only the planets, but also the numerous moons of the various planets are replete with evidence that invalidates the nebular hypothesis.

One good example: Saturn's moon Titan. It was predicted, based on the nebular hypothesis, that there should be an ocean of ethane on the surface a mile or two deep, supposedly having accumulated over billions of years. It turned out that there are few shallow lakes.

Again, based on the nebular hypothesis, Earth's moon was supposed to have a thick layer of dust (estimates of thickness varied, but a lot more than actually is there). Many scientists in the 1950's and early 1960's doubted that humans could land safely on the Moon, because their landing craft would sink into a thick layer of dust, and, unable to see the Moon's surface, would crash or be forced to abort the landing.

This was based on a scientific prediction made on the basis of the nebular hypothesis. It turned out to be false when only about one inch of dust was found by probes, and astronauts landed there a few years later, leaving footprints.

This, to my mind, is also incontrovertible proof that the long-age nebular hypothesis has demonstrated multiple failed predictions and is therefore proved wrong. The current rate of lunar dust accumulation is therefore simply irrelevant.

Thank you.
Kenneth L.
The naturalistic 'nebular' theory of the formation of the solar system surely has an insurmountable problem, namely that only 2% of the system angular momentum is in the Sun, and it should be much higher, i.e. the Sun should be spinning much faster than it is. Aside from all other evidence in the solar system, this should be enough to definitively rule out the 'nebular' hypothesis of the solar system's formation, and that would also seem to rule out the 'collision' hypothesis for the formation of the Moon.
Is there a similar problem with the angular momentum of the Earth-Moon system today, based on a hypothesized collision between Earth and a Mars-sized object?
Also, is the Moon in the correct orbital position now, based on the 'collision' hypothesis, or should it be farther away from Earth, and if so, how much farther away should it be? My current understanding is that it is too close to Earth now, based on that hypothesis. Is that correct?
I have felt for a long time that creationists gave up too easily on the matter of the small amount of dust on the Moon's surface, given the really immense amount of dust that the nebular hypothesis would require to have existed in the hypothesized 'early' solar system.
Today's rate of dust accumulation would seem to be as relevant to this matter as today's radioactivity rates are in determining the ages of rocks on Earth, since the nebular model of solar system formation does not exactly portray a miniscule supply of dust in the alleged 'early' solar system! Surely the nebular model itself has to either account for the lack of dust on the Moon, or be discarded.
Based on what we now know about the solar system, and the Big Bang theory's huge problems, I have no hesitation in telling people that Genesis is the literal truth.
Mike Oard
Yes, the angular momentum problem seems insurmountable, but I think I have read about attempts to explain (typical). However, there are many more problems, which you can learn from watching Spike Psarris's excellent DVDs. In regard to your questions, I had not heard there was an angular momentum problem with the earth and moon...in fact I believe they are in balance in that tidal forces break the earth's spin, which is made up by the recession of the Moon.
In regard to the second question, I do not know.
In regard to the third question, I also agree that we gave up too soon. I have since read an article, maybe about 5 years ago and do not remember the title, that there probably was still a problem with landing on the moon with the dust but not as severe as evolutionists earlier claimed. Like a lot of areas in science, some results that seem settled become unsettled with new variables.
In regard to your last statement, I say "Amen"
Matthew C.
Michael, I'm a YEC, so I don't accept any of the old earth ideas here anyway, but I have a question about the 'Giant Impact Hypothesis'. You state that 'Astronomers are discovering more and more that the geochemistry of the moon is almost exactly that of the earth". To my mind, if the moon was formed from material from the earth. then it should be made up chemically from the same stuff. You state 'models have concluded that most of the moon should have been created from the debris of the impactor'. How would we know now what was originally earth composition and what is now the combination of earth and meteor?
Good article, though, if a little short for me.
Mike Oard
Scientists have discovered the isotope ratios of earth rocks, whether they are correct for the earth as a whole I do not know. They have also measured them on moon rocks, and they are too close for the Moon to have been caused by a Mars-sized object, which should have much different geochemistry.
Chris R.
On QI recently I heard there is a new theory; the Ten Moon Hypothesis. Supposedly a series of impacts produced up to 10 moons which eventually coalesced into our present single moon. We can expect this idea to have its 15 minutes of fame before it too gets discarded.
Mike Oard
This idea sounds far fetched. How would ten moons coalesce? But it shows that the Mars-sized impact hypothesis is out, and they are desperate for any hypothesis. They think if they have a hypothesis, no matter how poor, the believers will continue to accept the paradigm.
B L.
ugh - some people go through so much trouble trying to figure things out when the answer is usually right in front of them. the truth has always been and will always be in the Holy Bible.
Mike Oard
Yes and Amen
J. B.
I was thinking as I read this article about the moons of the other planets. As far as I know they are all very different from each other and from the planets which they orbit. So, IF a naturalistic explaination can be found for our own moon being so similar in composition to earth, it would not explain the other moons. Back to square 1 yet again! Once more the evidence points to a designer who is very creative. 1 Corinthians 15:41 sums it up very well. "The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor." I don't think it's unreasonable to consider that this verse can include all the moons of the solar system. They are all splendid in their own way.
Mike Oard
Good point.

Article comments are only available for 14 days from publication.