A Young Mercury? Apparent Age Redux

The Planet Mercury (click for larger view): USGS map: http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/Projects/Messenger/

Another blog brought to my attention a recent daily news update from ICR that comments on the origins of Mercury.  The latter article comments on recently published results of the MESSENGER spacecraft that is now orbiting the planet Mercury (Science abstract).  That spacecraft is mapping the surface of Mercury with several instruments including  X-ray fluorescence spectrometer which can measure the planet’s composition and thus allow comparisons of different geological features.   Different types of weathering processes (slumping, cosmic dust, asteroid impact, volcanic activity  etc..) will produce different sorts of surface chemistry.   From these very new data several spots on the surface of Mercury were predicted to be much younger than others.

Brian Thomas of ICR (Institute for Creation Research) commenting on the Science article portrays the Science article as providing evidence that Mercury exhibits features that would be expected of a young planet.  Below are two quotes from the short article followed by my observations:

“Images of the planet’s surface revealed unusual, irregularly shaped hollows or depressions with rounded edges that were comprised of material so bright that many showed “high reflectance halos.” Researchers hadn’t expected to find such highly reflective features, which “appear fresh and lack superposed impact craters, implying that they are relatively young,” according to the report published in Science.”

The article concludes by stating:  “Mercury’s active geology is the exact opposite of long-age predictions—but it is just what one would expect if Mercury is only thousands of years old.”

What is obvious (but not surprising) about the ICR article is that a quick read by the lay Christian would undoubtedly result in their receiving the impression that here again we have evidence of a young creation that secular scientists are only reluctantly admitting now that this satellite is providing direct evidence of “fresh” and “relatively young” features.   Here we have an obvious example of a common strategy in YEC literature.  Thomas is using the exact words from the article but does not provide his reader with the meaning of the words that a science-literate audience would understand.    The words “fresh” and “relatively young” sound comforting because the usual secular story is one of a planet of great age where little has changed over billions of years.   But the article quoted here is using “fresh” in a geological sense in which these processes that are “relatively young” are slumping/sinking of surfaces possibly in the last 200,000 years and probably in the past 100 million years rather than having happened a billion years or more ago.   I don’t think this is what “relatively young” means in the mind of the reader of the ICR article.  The amount of cosmic dust and asteroid debris on the surface is such that the a tremendous amount of time would have to pass to accumulate such material on top of prior volcanic outpourings.

Apparent Age Again

I expect that Thomas understands that the time scales is still far from less than 10,000 years but is tying to cast doubt on the usual very very old age model of this planet and gives hope that the origin of Mercury can be squeezed into a young earth time frame even if this article is still talking about hundreds of thousands of years.    What I really want to focus on those is the mindset of Thomas and others at ICR and Answers in Genesis in their attempts to explain the origin of the planets outside the earth.   The following quote is from the same article:

“But if Mercury was created, then its volatile and non-volatile constituents would have been formed on purpose. And if Mercury was created only thousands of years ago, as the Bible clearly indicates, then it could easily have plenty of residual energy.”

Playing off the Science article, Thomas hopes to show that if these “fresh” erosion features where created by volatile gases releasing from below ground and these are not expected to be present in a multi-billion year old planet then maybe this could explained by God creating a planet with thee gasses trapped in the rocks.  Those gasses might posses the energy needed to explain some of these “recent” young spots on Mercury.  Thomas wants to be able to explain these odd recent surface depressions as an active process that happened since creation and thus God created the planet with gasses in its rocks so that such features could be formed for us to see today.   But does this really help maintain the YEC worldview?

False color image (NASA) of the surface of Mercury (click for larger image). The large yellowish area is thought to be a very large impact crater that has been filled in with volcanic material. The bright orange spots are thought to be volcanic vents. Craters with white streaks extending away from them would be the "youngest" craters as their debris is laying on top of over craters and has less cosmic dust covering over them.

Please notice what is happening here.  Thomas and many other creation scientists  want to have God create a set of formless and void planets which are then shaped after their creation into the form we see today.  That could have been during a period of “special” formation during the 6 days or more “naturally” since closing of the 6-day period of creation.  Layers of craters on the surface were not simply created with this appearance but were literally the result of cosmic impacts albeit they all occurred within the past 10,000 years in extremely rapid fashion.  In the case of Mercury like Mars, which I wrote of earlier (see Apparent Age: craters on Mars), there are many overlapping craters of different apparent ages because they have clearly experienced very different amounts of erosion.  See the picture of Mercury’s surface where clearly there have been 10s of thousands of impacts which happened not as once but in some order because there are impact craters within impact craters that are on lava fields that may fill other impact craters.  For Mercury these “fresh” features are fresh because they expose subsurface chemicals that have been covered over by mounds of cosmic dust collected over billions of years and thus they are they most recent events.   What good does it do to call attention to these most recent features as having occurred within the past 10,000 years when they are clearly the most recent events but recent certainly is not within the last few thousand years.  All the craters would then all be older and must also be compressed into a time after the creation of the planet.   The effort here is to avoid resorting to creation with apparent age because craters have the appearance of a chronological series of events.  But does “formless and void” in Genesis 1 really necessitate that this mean that the planets began in some sort of state of a ball of molten rock?  Was there some sort of 6 days of forming Mercury as there was the earth?  Why does God feel that he needs to communicate through Genesis the state of the all the planets prior to the 6 days of forming the earth?

Can it be said that Mercury appears young? 

The ICR article by Thomas is entitled “Mercury’s Surface Looks Young.”   Again, any person receiving this article from ICR is going to believe that the article supports a view that the features of Mercury can be explained within a 10,000 year time frame.  Why say it appears young rather than God created with apparent age?  Because they wish to avoid apparent age as an explanation.   But even if all the surface features are the result of actions since the creation of Mercury only 10,000 years ago how could it be said that the it appears young.  Asteroid impacts are exceedingly rare today (probably on the order of 1 every 10-100 thousand years but the surface is covered with 10s of thousands of impact and other features.    One might say that during the first 1000 years there where thousands of impacts and the rate of impact has slowed but even if this were the case one would still say the surface appears old.  In other words, the phrase for the young earth creationists should be that planets are “apparently old but are actually young”.   Nothing about this ICR article should comfort a young earth creationists but only serve to highlight the very strange ground that many creation scientists try to tread by forcing hundreds of thousands of events into a very small amount of time just to satisfy the urge not to claim that God created these planets just as they appear today.  The choice seems abundantly clear in the examples of Mars and Mercury, either God created these planets recently as they appear today or he created them through a process that involved long periods of time of development.    Attempts to build a middle ground of super fast planetary evolution followed by a slowing of processes makes little sense.

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