What Will Planet Nine Do To Creationism?

Look out, folks. Scientists may be on the verge of discovering another planet in our solar system, a hypothetical “Planet Nine” that could end up replacing that slot left by Pluto in the planetary pantheon.

No, it’s not named Nibiru, and it’s not coming for Earth. That’s a silly tale started in the 1990’s by someone claiming to talk to aliens, and it gets recycled every couple years by conspiracy theorists who attach it to whatever is the latest real dwarf planet or comet or other far-away object that NASA has discovered.

But there really might be another planet orbiting our Sun at the far reaches of the Solar System, so far away that all our telescopes and probes have never seen it.

The Backstory

There’s a bunch of stuff orbiting the sun way beyond Neptune in a region called the Kuiper belt, but most of the objects are too small and far away for us to know much about them yet. We knew about one – Pluto – and we used to call it a planet, until we realized there were a bunch of other objects like it out there, so we demoted it to “dwarf planet.” Outer space is huge, and even our best telescopes can only zoom in on so much of it at a time to hunt down these dim KBO’s (Kuiper belt objects). Thanks to improving technology, including larger and larger ground-based telescopes and the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, we’re starting to learn more and more about these other objects. (We’re up to five official dwarf planets – and counting – including one called Haumea that we just learned has its own ring!)

In 2014 some scientists noticed that several of these KBO’s all had a “coincidental” alignment in their orbits that looked just like you might have expected them to look, if, say, a planet the size of Neptune had flown past them. But, of course, they were all too far away for Neptune to have had this effect on them. So began the hunt for “Planet Nine.” Since then, we’ve been finding more and more signs of the gravitational effects of this mysterious hypothetical celestial body. They’ve slowly been narrowing the range of its potential location, and now they think they’ve got a specific orbit figured out to carry out a final search by telescope. It may take a few years, or only a few weeks, but sometime in the near future, this “Planet Nine” will either be found, or confirmed not to exist at all.

This could be a very exciting discovery in the history of space exploration, but there’s one interesting little detail. Neptune goes around the sun every 164 years. Pluto’s orbital period is 248 years. Even though we’ve known about Pluto for less than 100 years, we can calculate its orbital period from Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. But “Planet Nine” is so far away that it has a potential orbital period of…

10,000 to 20,000 years!

This could present an interesting little problem for young-earth creationists, especially those who believe the solar system is only 6,000 years old.

The Potential Conclusions

There are three potential kinds of conclusions, and we are hurtling rather quickly toward one of them.

  1. Scientists may confirm that Planet Nine may not exist. The odds of its existence seem to be increasing with further scientific discoveries, but it still hasn’t been discovered and there could always be alternate explanations for the evidence it has allegedly left behind. This result would present no problems for young-earth creationists.
  2. Scientists may confirm that Planet Nine exists, but its orbit could actually lead to problems with old-earth models. It’s possible that the planet could be discovered, but in such an orbit where calculations showed an apparent impossibility of going back millions of years, due to instabilities it would have caused in the solar system. This result would present no problems for young-earth creationists, and would even bolster their confidence.
  3. Scientists may confirm that Planet Nine exists, with an orbital period of over 10,000 years, and clear evidence in the orientations of other objects that it has completed its orbit at least once. While anything could happen, this currently seems like the most likely option, so it’s worth exploring the potential reactions and repercussions.

The Potential Reactions

If the third option happens, this could be one of the strongest challenges ever to young-earth creationism. Christians who believe in deep time say the universe has not just the “appearance of age” but the “appearance of story,” that is, of specific events occurring in sequence and setting the stage for other events according to God’s perfect plan. A long-orbiting planet that was discovered by the effects of traveling that long orbit would be a clear demonstration of both age and story.

Deep time Christians may believe there is already plenty of evidence for such history, which young-earth creationists have not found convincing, and thus they may be skeptical that a new discovery would be interpreted any differently. But our solar system and its planets are much more familiar to the average person than other more distant and exotic objects, and unlike supernovas or fast radio bursts or even gravitational waves, everyone will hear about this planet and understand its significance very intuitively. If scientific materials start including a ninth planet after Neptune with an explicit number in the orbital column of, say, “14,000 years,” that would lead to obvious questions from Christians who have been taught that such lengths of time are incompatible with a sacred Scripture.

So how might young-earth creationist organizations respond? I can think of a few potential reactions.

  1. Some might question the orbital period, since it would be a calculation that has not been empirically verified. However, this skepticism would come at a cost. Johannes Kepler was a devout Christian of the seventeenth century. His laws of planetary motion have long been seen by Christians as one of many evidences of an orderly universe established by an orderly God with intelligence and purpose. Even secular scientists marvel that the universe has this kind of reliability that lets us discover the way it works. It seems risky to try to save a favored Biblical interpretation by undermining the fundamental laws we believe God established.
  2. Some might question whether the planet has completed an orbit around the sun since creation. If the planet is found from predictions based on its nudging effects on other planets from multiple paths around its orbit, this may not be a very compelling explanation. However, that may depend on how obvious or complicated such effects are, and how much room there is to reasonably doubt that scientists really know what they are talking about regarding such effects. Some may suggest God simply set the objects in “balance” around the sun and it’s only an assumption that they have affected each other. (In my opinion, this may be a likely response by some official organizations like AIG or CMI.)
  3. Some might suggest that within the vastness of space and time, and the mystery of God, and the limited understanding of man, that there is some other way, inexplicable as it may seem, to reconcile these things that scientists focused on the conventional mindset just aren’t making the effort to consider. After all, we cannot be certain that time in the Kuiper belt passes the same way as it does on Earth, or that general relativity or black holes or some other as-yet-undiscovered celestial object or principle might play into this somehow, or that some critical mistake made by the scientists involved will later be discovered. (In my opinion, this may be a likely response by some unofficial groups or laypersons.)

There are many intelligent and creative young-earth creationists, and there may be other responses I cannot anticipate. Much will depend on the specifics of the discovery.

It is also important to recognize that there are many different flavors of young-earth creationism. While there is a general unity about the history of biology, there is a little more variation about geology. “Young Life Creationists” allow for an old earth, interpreting Genesis 1:1 to occur at an indeterminate period before the six days started in verse 3. There is even more flexibility when it comes to cosmology and the history of far-away objects that are not really mentioned in Scripture.

However, most tend to insist on the sun’s appearance on the fourth day of creation, and a long-orbiting Ninth Planet would suggest not just a universe but planets orbiting the sun for at least tens of thousands of years before the creation events described in Genesis. Some followers might be convinced by the above potential explanations, or others that may appear, but some may not be satisfied, and may experience a crisis of faith, or at least embark on some curious searching. It is important for Christians of all beliefs to be prepared for this.

Potential Repercussions

Christians who accept deep time – whether evolutionary creationists or old-earth creationists – may be tempted to mock young-earth creationists in these situations, but I believe such disrespect is unwarranted and unhelpful. Young-earth creationists get enough mockery from atheists. They are sincerely committed to what they see as the only viable option for devoted Christians believing in the divine authority of Scripture, and thus diatribes about scientific evidence will not be compelling without a matching offer of plausible Biblical interpretation. The metaphorical interpretations and theological challenges of evolutionary theology are not likely to seem any more appealing to these Christians, but this situation could provide an opening for many for old-earth creationism, which tends to reject biological evolution but has few qualms with the long ages of cosmology. (I’m working on related resources at my Creation Explore site here.)

Many young-earth creationists may not be aware that old-earth creationists fully affirm Scriptural inerrancy, or that such a position was extremely common in the United States about a hundred years ago, and that many prominent Christians today have thoughtfully considered such positions and found them convincing, including Dr. William Lane Craig, a philosopher famous for defending the historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection, and “Bible Answer Man” Hank Hanegraaf. Some may find this comforting. As such I would recommend even evolutionary creationists to suggest such a path for any brothers and sisters who might have such questions, especially if they still find evolution fundamentally untenable.

The simplest starting point is the difference between two small Hebrew words: bara and asah. Bara is a powerful active verb usually rendered “create” in English, suggesting, for instance, a deliberate creation out of nothing. Asah is somewhat more passive, often rendered “make” and subject to a variety of possible meanings, including the arrangement or organization of pre-existing materials. The first verse of Genesis barks forth with bara: “God created the heavens and the earth.” Some of the other parts of the story use the more passive asah, including the passage about God “making” the sun, moon, and stars, on the fourth day.

It is on this basis that many Christians have suggested that the light on the first day really came from the sun, created by God at the beginning (Even the ancient father Origen thought something like this made more sense, long before geologists started pushing back the timeline). In this view the fourth day still depicts God’s assignment of the celestial bodies as time-keepers for humanity, but it potentially represents their first appearance in the sky after the clearing of a dim watery haze, and with no less of a reality than the daily “appearance” that the sun “rises” and “sets.”

If this interpretation is viable, it neatly allows for years and years of orbiting planets, including our new potential Planet Nine. We don’t even have to get into animal death before the Fall – though deep time Christians have interpretations for that, too. But that may be a satisfying starting point.

Thus I would encourage young-earth creationists to keep an open mind about all of this. We don’t yet know what we’ll find out there. But we can all rejoice in the wonder of the universe God created and the way he set it up for us to explore it and discover it. In this way, each new discovery further reveals both the “infinite” majesty of God’s creation, as expressed in Genesis 1, and the “intimate” connection of God’s creation to humanity, as expressed in Genesis 2. Whatever we find, God is still Creator. And we are still his children.

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The New Geology by George McCready Price (1923)

George McCready Price was an early 20th century Seventh Day Adventist and committed young-earth creationist in an era where many (and allegedly most) American Christians were turning toward an old earth. He was one of the first to promote a detailed scientific account of “flood geology” and was a major influence on the YEC resurgence of the 1960’s and beyond. I found his 700-page tome The New Geology (1923) somewhere online and read it in entirety. (Sorry, I downloaded a PDF and have lost the original link.)

General Contents

The 42 chapters are divided into sections.

Physiographic Geology (2 chapters) gives a general account of the Earth’s present distribution of land and sea and the different kinds of living things found in different parts of the world.

Structural Geology (2 chapters) describes the different kinds of minerals that are the “constituents of rocks” and introduces basic geological concepts of “formations” and their various inclines and “unconformities”

Dynamical Geology (11 chapters) discusses “the present action of the forces engaged in rock making and rock modification,” including chemical forces, the atmosphere, the erosive and transporting power of running water, ice, ocean waves and currents, living creatures and their role in producing peat, coral, and limestone, volcanoes, and earthquakes.

These sections are primarily presenting information, not theoretical interpretations, but Price takes ample opportunity throughout to point out where he sees facts as causing problems for old-earth or evolutionary views. or as potentially explainable by way of a fast flooding catastrophe.

Stratigraphical Geology (21 chapters) takes a detailed tour through the standard geological classification system, from “Pre-Cambrian Rocks”, to the “Ordovician System” and the “Silurian System,” and on through to the “Quarternary System”. Price describes the different types of fossils found in the different systems, generally accepting the classification system for the sake of discussion but vociferously disputing any interpretations about long lengths of time or any confidence in their accurate classifications and absolute ordering.

(I noticed that Price liked to highlight old “living genera” that “can not be distinguished” from present creatures, while Hitchcock liked to highlight the changing genera that were different from each time period.)

Theoretical Geology (6 chapters) closes with an organized interpretation built from the opinions scattered throughout the information in the previous chapters, arguing that the presently accepted history of geology is not properly supported by facts, and that fossils do not occur in a chronological order but show signs of formation in a “world catastrophe.” He closes with a brief chapter criticizing the “unscientific methods” regarding evolutionary claims around “the origin and antiquity of man.”

Prominent Themes

  • Decries the “unscientific” methods and interpretations and “assumptions” of standard geology. Claims to simply be requesting a fair hearing of his challenge to standard “dogma”: “a great world catastrophe… should always be kept in mind also as the alternative… Following true principles of scientific investigation, we ought to be able to decide very positively whether or not any such event has ever happened to our world” ““Claiming that this hypothesis has already been considered a century ago and found wanting, is palpably untrue. This hypothesis has never in the history of science had a sober and careful consideration, with a sufficient amount of evidence available to furnish the grounds for a safe and final decision of the case”
  • Geological layers in the wrong order
    • Price’s “most important law” of “the order” of strata: “Any kind of fossiliferous beds.. may be found occurring conformably on any other fossiliferous beds, ‘older’ or ‘younger’… we have not… examples of every possible combination,” and though he concedes “we usually find the fossils” in “relative sequence”, he says we have enough examples “to justify this broad general statement.” “This law alone is quite sufficient to relegate the whole theory of organic evolution to the lumber room of science.”
    • He especially was impressed by Chief Mountain and Crowsnest Mountain in Glacier National Park, “a huge Paleozoic island floating on a Cretaceous sea,” an “obvious contradiction to the traditional order of the rocks”, rejecting “unfounded theories” of folding which he compares to geocentric “epicycles”.
    • Describes Werner’s “mineral-onion coat” theory that minerals “always occurred in a definite sequence,” until “contradictory” examples “accumulated in such enormous numbers” and “real intellectual courage” overturned it. He now sees the subsequent “biological-onion coat” theory that fossils occur in sequence in a similar position, and he believes the accumulating contradictory examples will bring it to a similar collapse.
  • In contrast to “uniformitarianism,” Price distinguishes between “modern” and “ancient” deposits, claiming, for example, that “modern-forming” beds are “more or less a heterogeneous mixture,” while ancient ones are not. He interprets effects “of far greater intensity which may have operated in the past,” and arguing “we do not find now in progress” some effects seen from the past (though at one place he concedes, “it may be difficult to draw the line between these two kinds of deposits”)
  • Links geology to evolution, “the dominant idea, of course, in the minds of those who arranged the geological series, was the evolution theory regarding the development of life,”
  • claims “readjustment” of fossil classifications to better fit the expected order, deriding it all as a “purely artificial arrangement”

Flood Geology

  • Perfect Pre-Flood Climate: “Hypothesis” of a former “equable climate all over the earth” without deserts or frozen regions in “a mantle of springlike loveliness,” discusses much evidence of warmer past in the arctic, etc,  Quote geologists on uniformity of tropical conditions, “‘a non-zonal arrangement’ of climate”, Posits “a peculiar salubrity of the atmosphere which would secure a regularity of moisture… promoting a most luxuriant vegetation,” but “each locality having its own special flora” and thus “its own particular fauna”
  • Sudden Fossilizations: fossils that seem to be “buried suddenly”, shells “buried while the animals were still alive”, “abundant remains” in “natural graveyards”, fossils with “marvelous preservation” suggesting some “tremendous catastrophe”, sees sudden freezing of mammoths as part of this “sudden” and “permanent” change and evidence that “this change occurred within the human epoch”
  • Ecological zoning: Suggests “biological zones and districts” whereby “diverse faunas and floras may have existed contemporaneously in separated localities”, buried in “successive beds” by “a change in the currents”, “a current from a different direction bringing in some contemporary forms of life from a few hundred years away, or at the most merely a few miles away… Were there not zoological provinces and districts… in the olden time”
  • Suggestions explanation of “alternating layers of coal, shale, and limestone” by an “abnormal tidal action”
  • “The Flood prevailed over the whole earth a little more than a year,” but “the full recovery from it occupied much more time… the completion of the mountain making, and the spreading out of the drift over Western Europe and Northeastern America, may have occurred years or even centuries after the other geological work was done, and after practically the present land and ocean boundaries had been established”
  • Suggests “an astronomical cause.. a jar or a shock from the outside,” suggests the earth’s axis may have been changed from “perpendicular” “to its present inclined position,” and “the oceans would sweep a mighty tidal wave,” though he hedges “I do not affirm that this was actually the method” but is “impressed” with its potential explanatory power
  • Post-flood Ice Age: suggests “almost continuous precipitation” from “ocean waters cooling” and contacting “icy cold air,” perhaps for “years or even centuries,” providing “an easy explanation… of extended glacial action”
  • Admits it will be easy “to find objections” or “impossibilities”. “As one stands on the brink of the Grand Canon” or “the base of a Niagara… there are very many phenomena which seem beyond the reach of any explanations we may offer.” But has hope that “we shall probably improve our understanding… with further discoveries,” and is confident that his explanation is “so far superior to any hitherto offered.” “Future discoveries may amend and clarify” details of “this hypothesis of the new catastrophism,” but “are not likely to require any material changes in its essential features.”

Concepts Emphasized in Modern YEC

  • Were You There: “We have no direct and first-hand scientific witnesses… it is all circumstantial evidence”
  • On Geological Layers: “The student should not be misled by the appearances given in such tables as these, of the strata piled one above another in a regular order of superposition…. the rocks do NOT thus occur in a single case anywhere on earth”
  • “Trunks of old trees” extending through strata; “It frequently happens that a fossil tree is found extending up through two or more of these successive beds of coal, together with the intervening beds of shale or sandstone.”
  • “Sudden appearance” of fossils: “Evolutionists are justly surprised at the sudden appearance, in the lowest Cambrian rocks, of so many different species of quite highly organized animals, with only the most scanty evidence of any other lower and more embryonic forms of life having preceded them”
  • Coal formations via “luxurious vegetation” that was “swept” like a “raft” on an “enormous scale… into lakes or valleys”
  • Possibility of Living Dinosaurs: On plesiososaurs, “From the frequent reports by competent observers… some of these creatures may have survived to our time.” Pterosaurs… would serve to justify the tradition of flying dragons”
  • Connecting Fall, Flood, and Restoration: “These unanswerable proofs… recording the death and burial of that beautiful world… come to us with the sweet assurance that some day the bright, happy conditions of Edenic life will be restored to our sin-blasted planet, and God’s redeemed people will shine forth in the restored image of divine beauty
  • Distinguishing between “facts and conclusions”, decrying “unwarranted assumptions” behind the “dogma” of uniformity, which should really be a “hypothesis,” and asking for an “open mind” for his ideas.
  • Affirming belief in compatibility: “I believe that the Bible and the book of nature have both the same Author””
  • Rejecting regional flood interpretations: words that “express the absolute universality of the Flood…are repeated over and over again”.
  • Impending Doom: “the doctrine of uniformity as taught by Lyell has also fallen into disrepute… Only a question of time until the world will see the complete collapse of that doctrine
  • Possibility of Post-Flood Hyperspeciation (Joel Duff has analyzed this concept here.)
    • Says we are also learning that distinctions of “species… were marked off on altogether too narrow lines… It is perfectly evident that both plants and animals have varied much more in a natural way than used to be thought possible; and hence two or more comparatively different forms may very well be supposed to be of a common descent… From this, it further appears that the problem of accounting for the modern diversity of animals (and plants) as survivors from a universal Deluge has been greatly simplified; for the more variation we admit as possible, the easier it is to account for the present fauna (and flora), since fewer original forms would be required to begin the present stock.”
    • “Doubtless our old ideas of the limits of a ‘species’ will now have to be enlarged so as to include perhaps all the forms now listed under a genus, perhaps all the members of a family.”
    • “Most of the ‘species’ under any given genus.. Are probably artificial distinctions… probably all descended from one stock. In some instances, perhaps even the different genera of a family may be thus of a common origin… this is by no means to concede the doctrine of evolution… a correct view of geology forever puts the evolution theory out of possible consideration… the origin of variations does not touch the problem of accounting for the originals out of which these are derived.”

Random Notable Quotes

  • Refers to the “unscientific” and “prodigal use of many causes when one would be sufficient” (this is in contrast to Pye-Smith’s “diversity of effects” needing a “diversity of causes”)
  • Sauropod design: Quotes Lull on sauropods: “The skeleton of one of these creatures is a marvel of mechanical design; the bones of the vertebral column are of the lightest possible construction consistent with strength, the bony material being laid down only where stresses arise… The assembled skeleton reminds one forcibly of a cantilever bridge borne on two massive piers…”
  • On convergent evolution: “Ichthyosaurs.. are especially plentiful… must have looked almost exactly like the modern dolphins and porpoises,” which “the evolutionists call.. a remarkable case of ‘parallel development’… there are almost innumerable cases of such ‘parallel development’ all through the plant and animal kingdoms
  • Here’s an idea that didn’t take: He gives evidence to disprove that “volcanic vents are connected with any very deep-seated part of the earth’s interior,” but rather promotes a theory that “lava beds have originated from burning coal beds”
  • While we need hypotheses to make progress in science, “hypotheses are always dangerous things… because of the ease with which it seems to help us explain other facts, the more surely do we become its slaves… if this hypothesis happens to be really wrong… often we will not listen to the testimony of others who claim to have tested it, if their results do not tally with what our pet hypothesis has taught us”