The planets are young: 4

Prof. Brian Cox


We continue our response to the 2019 BBC-TV series The Planets, narrated by Professor Brian Cox. In this article we are considering the fourth episode, titled Life beyond the sun, Saturn. (for the others, see Related Articles, below).

Prof. Brian Cox begins this episode with something of a eulogy to Saturn:

“Beyond the warm worlds of the inner solar system, beyond the gas giant Jupiter, in the freezing regions far beyond the sun, lies Saturn, a planet made unique thanks to a nearly 300,000-kilometre-wide ring of frozen water. Here trillions of pieces of ice have been sculpted by gravitational forces into some of the solar system’s most stunning vistas. … It’s almost as if a god has taken snowflakes and sprinkled them over a gravitational field so we could see, it.”

Of course, he is not talking about the Creator God of the Bible.

The evolutionary story about Saturn


Next, Cox gives viewers his evolutionary story for the origin of Saturn:

“Saturn began life as tiny worlds of rock and ice tumbling chaotically through space. … Under the force of gravity, this abundant rock and ice combined, helping the young Saturn to grow into a giant. … Within just a few million years of its birth, Saturn had grown as large as it could from rock and ice alone. And now it turned to another building material, the hydrogen and helium gas left over from the formation of the sun. … Trillions upon trillions of tonnes of hydrogen and helium gas began to envelop the planet.”

However, as we have pointed out in previous episodes of this series, it is not a property of dust to spontaneously form rocks, and for rocks to grow into planets, because if any rocks did begin growing in space, the gas through which they were travelling would act as a brake, slowing their speed and sending them into the sun. Without the gravity of a planetary core, hydrogen and helium would not assemble around that core. See also: Saturn—the ringed planet.

Then Cox makes this statement: “Saturn was now so big it could contain nearly 5,000 Earth-sized worlds. But this vast, wild proto-planet was totally unlike the Saturn we see today.”

This is a surprising statement for two reasons.

  1. Because today only 764 Earths would fit in Saturn, which means Saturn has somehow lost 84.7% of its former bulk (according to Cox), and
  2. Cox doesn’t tell us in the rest of this episode how this shrinkage of Saturn occurred.

Saturn’s long-age weather

Cox briefly mentions Saturn’s weather, apparently to get billions of years into the story before giving some more factual information: “Now there’s been weather on Saturn for over 4 billion years. … The storms on Saturn are amongst the most violent found anywhere in the solar system. … Lightning 10,000 times more powerful than on Earth illuminates the sky.”

Then he returns to his origin-of-Saturn story. He says that Saturn: “remained largely unchanged for billions of years, although very different from the planet we know today. But in time its great size would lead to one more iconic transformation.” He is referring to the formation of Saturn’s rings.

Saturn’s rings

Saturn has many thousands of rings in seven major ring divisions. They have been given letter names A–G in order of their discovery. The moon Enceladus produces the materials that compose the E ring.

Cox: “Saturn’s rings are made up of trillions of ice crystals. … They reflect sunlight back just as powerfully as the planet itself. …”

Cox is right about the composition of Saturn’s rings. Galileo had observed them in 1610, but his telescope was not strong enough to work out the shape. Rather, he thought Saturn had attachments he called its ‘ears’. But in 1656, Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens built a telescope powerful enough to resolve them, and wrote that Saturn had a thin flat ring that didn’t touch the planet. Later scientists showed that there was more than one ring.

But for another 200 years, the rings’ structure was a mystery, and scientists wondered how the rings could be stable. The mystery was solved by the creationist physicist James Clerk Maxwell, probably one of the top five scientists of all time and one of Einstein’s three scientific heroes. He showed that the ring could not be solid, nor liquid, nor even a series of solid ringlets. Rather, it must be composed of lots of small pieces he called “brickbats”, which are all orbiting more or less independently. Maxwell’s work won the prestigious Adams Prize. Maxwell’s paper was so convincing that it was undisputed, and was vindicated by the Voyager space probes.

Back to Cox: “[Space probe] Cassini made a startling discovery. If the rings had been around Saturn for billions of years, they should have been darkened and dimmed by the dust. But they are pristine and bright. And the reason is because they are young. Nearly 4.5 billion years younger than Saturn itself!”

How to explain such a tremendous blow to evolutionary theory? No problem—the evolutionary story is very flexible.

Cox: “As Cassini analyzed the ice moons in ever greater detail, it became apparent that many of them were made of exactly the same material as the rings themselves. The rings and moons were profoundly linked. But for all the moons that Cassini saw, it now seemed likely that one was missing. When dinosaurs roamed the Earth, we now suspect Saturn had a moon in orbit that no longer exists. [That’s got at least 70 million years into the age of the rings.] A moon perhaps some 400 km across and formed almost entirely of ice. But this world was doomed. It found itself orbiting too close to resist the immense forces of Saturn’s gravity. … Up to 15,000 trillion tonnes of ice broke apart in orbit around Saturn. Because of the speeds the ice fragments were travelling, it’s likely that in just a few days they spread out, to encircle the great giant. Saturn’s iconic ring had been born. Today, the giant ring has evolved. … turning one ring into many.”

It’s somewhat curious that ‘young’ to an evolutionist is ‘when dinosaurs roamed the earth’, i.e. 70 million years by evolutionist reckoning, and that the rings were not ‘darkened and dimmed’ at all in that immense amount of time! A ‘short age’ for Bible-believing Christians is the ~6,000 years time frame from Genesis. We take God’s Word for it that this was when Saturn formed. Note that the Hebrew word for ‘stars’ (כּוֹכָבִֽים kôkāḇîm) is broader than the modern meaning, and includes meteors (‘shooting stars’) and planets (formerly ‘wandering stars’) in Genesis 1:14–19. For more information on the problems the rings pose for evolution and long ages, see:

Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASAeclipse-sun-Saturn
An eclipse of the sun by Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn. It highlights the otherwise faint E ring, formed by the ice-fountains of the moon Enceladus.


NASA/JPL/Caltech/Space Science InstituteEnceladus
Left: Enceladus (arrowed) is miniscule in size compared with its planet, Saturn. This tiny moon is far too small to have retained its heat for billions of years. Middle: Artist’s concept of the fractures, called ‘tiger stripes’ (colourized), that straddle the south pole, with Cassini spacecraft flying by. Right: The geologically active ‘tiger stripes’ spray plumes of water vapour and ice crystals (colourized) hundreds of kilometres into space. This material forms the E-ring.

Cox concludes his Episode on Saturn with an extensive description of Saturn’s small icy moon, Enceladus:

“As Cassini approached Enceladus … great plumes of water vapour and ice were erupting from its surface. Over 200 kg of material was being released every second. It seemed to be feeding one of Saturn’s outer rings, helping to replenish it. … Cassini was able to touch the plumes. … As the plumes of water-ice were analysed, we discovered complex organic compounds, silica particles that [Cox says] could only have come from hot hydrothermal vents.”

Cox then tells viewers: “Many biologists believe that hydrothermal vents, like those that are almost certainly present on the floor of Enceladus’ ocean, were the cradle of life on Earth.”

But this is a huge mystery for evolutionists: how could such a small body be active for billions of years? Even tidal heating by Saturn would not stop it freezing solid after 30 million years—1% of its evolutionary age. See: Enceladus: Saturn’s sprightly moon looks young.

Possibility of life?

It is true that many evolutionist biologists believe that life evolved on Earth in hydrothermal vents. However, it is not true that this is what actually happened—nor that it is even possible, let alone likely.

Cox continues his vagueness. He talks of “hot water in touch with ice and minerals, a reactive cauldron of chemistry, reactive gases, methane, molecular hydrogen in the plumes”, and from all this he deduces: “So there really is a possibility that there is life in orbits around Saturn today.”

However, we suggest that none of these factors have been proven to be the origin of life on Earth, and in fact there is massive evidence that ‘chemical evolution’ is scientifically impossible. Hence, there is zero possibility that there is life in orbits around Saturn. See Origin of life.

Cox doesn’t wish to be misinterpreted, so he backs away from what the majority of his viewers would consider ‘life’ to be: “If it [life] is there, it’s likely to be only the simplest and most primitive of organisms. And … may only have arisen relatively recently. Now we don’t know how long Enceladus has been geologically active, how long it’s had an ocean. If it’s only tens of millions or even hundreds of millions, of years, that may not have been enough time to get life going.”

Of course, no amount of time will make the impossible possible. If physical and chemical laws dictate that something has zero chance of happening, time is irrelevant. Life is characterized by programmed information, and this is something that does not arise spontaneously from raw chemistry. This is the fundamental dilemma of the materialist, and is what caused Professor Antony Flew, formerly the world’s leading atheist philosopher, to change his mind and declare that the evidence indicated that there must be some sort of god, some sort of designing intelligence. In the light of this known science, Cox’s comments appear as declarations of faith that life can and did create itself, unsupported by any evidence. See: Former leading atheist argues for the existence of God.

Life on Earth does not equate to life on Enceladus

After the above exculpations, Cox reverts to expounding his thesis:

“If there is life there, then we can glimpse its future because there are still hydrothermal vent systems present on Earth today, and life doesn’t survive there, it thrives. Often found in the deep ocean basins along fault lines in the Earth’s crust, hydrothermal vents are some of the richest and most complex ecosystems on Earth. Feeding off the abundant bacteria that breed there, these habitats support a multitude of strange and complex organisms. Whilst creatures like this will never exist on Enceladus, billions of years from now, it is just possible that this distant world may become home to its own unique forms of life.”

As we have just said, it doesn’t matter how much life there may be in Earth’s hydrothermal vents, there is no evidence whatsoever that life originated there by evolutionary processes—quite the opposite. Thus evidence of life flourishing in Earth’s hydrothermal vents is not evidence whatsoever that life is happening or will ever happen on Saturn. The law of biogenesis, first proposed by the great creationist biologist and chemist Louis Pasteur, remains completely intact in real science, namely that life is only ever observed to come from pre-existing life. See also:

As an aside, what would happen in the unlikely event we were to detect say, microscopic life elsewhere in the solar system? Intelligent life, as we have already indicated elsewhere, would be so far out of sync with the whole thrust of Scripture, it would in effect falsify biblical creation. [See Is the Bible falsifiable?] But since life on Earth so clearly serves as part of humanity’s created life support system, even finding microscopic life would be something most puzzling; why would God have created it elsewhere than on Earth? So if microbial life were discovered elsewhere, we would suggest it would most likely show affinity with microbes on Earth, as it would most likely have originated from here. How? Evolutionist astrobiologist Paul Davies some years ago pointed out that microbes within rocks blasted off of Earth by impacts could survive years of space travel to colonize other worlds. Secular scientists themselves have expressed concern that unmanned space rovers sent from Earth to Mars may already have taken Earth microbes with them to that planet.

Having said that, the idea of life being discovered on Enceladus remains highly unlikely, and as far as real science is concerned, is still in the realm of speculative evolution-inspired science fiction. Nevertheless, for those, like Cox, committed to explaining this world without the Creator/Redeemer/Judge of the Bible, such speculations are an important article of faith, to be expressed as many times as possible. See:

Published: 4 September 2019