The Moon: A Faithful Witness in the Sky
by Donald B. DeYoung, Ph.D.
At last count, our moon was just one of three dozen planetary satellites in the solar system. Jupiter has at least fourteen; Pluto and many of the asteroids apparently also have orbiting moons. However the moon which dominates the earth's night sky has many created distinctives of its own. Furthermore all efforts to explain our moon's existence by natural physical processes have failed completely. This lack of understanding of origins also continues on the larger scale of the universe itself. Astronomers are perplexed by the missing mass of the galaxies, the missing neutrinos of the sun, and the missing mechanisms for formation of stars and planets. One is reminded of the prophet Jeremiah's counsel that the creation itself is in the end unfathomable: the heavens can never be fully measured, nor the foundations of the earth searched out (Jeremiah 31:37). Only the special revelation of God through His Son and His Word provides final answers in matters of origins. God was, after all, the only One there!
The Lord knew that men would attempt to account for the moon by natural evolutionary mechanisms. Thus there are forty lunar references in Scripture, many of which declare the moon's supernatural origin and beneficial design. The moon is compared with the Lord's covenant with David:
It shall be established forever like the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven (Psalm 89:37).
The moon above serves as a constant reminder of God's faithfulness and of the creation event.
Natural Lunar Origin
Evolutionary ideas for the source of the moon divide themselves into three areas: formation from the earth (fission), formation independent of the earth (capture), and formation simultaneously with the earth (condensation). These three mechanistic alternatives are sometimes respectively called the daughter, wife, and sister theories of lunar origin! A brief consideration of each will demonstrate their total inability to naturally explain the moon's existence.
The fission theory assumes that the earth rotated very rapidly during its early history. A moon-size chunk of material broke loose from the earth's equatorial region due to the rapid spin, together with resonant vibrations. The lunar material went into a low earth orbit and has been slowly spiraling outward ever since. This theory was first proposed in 1898 by George H. Darwin, one of Charles Darwin's ten children. However the fission theory is completely ruled out today on the basis of three mechanics considerations. First, the combined earth-moon system today has less than half of the required angular momentum or circular motion needed for fission to actually occur. To become unstable the earth would have to rotate with a period of just three hours instead of the present 24 hours. Angular momentum is a conserved or constant quantity in nature, and such a large amount of angular motion does not exist today.
Secondly, a moon flung off from the earth would leave from the vicinity of the rapidly moving equator, and assume an orbit in the earth’s equatorial plane. However the actual lunar orbit is tilted by as much as 28.5° to the earth's equator. Thirdly, the large disruptive tidal effects of a moon initially in the vicinity of the earth would be catastrophic for both objects. Frictional effects would raise the earth's temperature to 1000° with consequent melting and partial vaporization of the crust. The moon would fare even worse as it passed through the earth's breakup distance, or "Roche's Limit." Extending 18,500 kilometers outward from the earth's center, a massive satellite within this boundary would be unstable against the large disintegrating gravitational force.
An origin by capture requires the moon initially in its own solar orbit to drift close to the earth. The earth's gravitational attraction then deflects the moon into a permanent earth orbit. Of course this theory does not actually explain the initial origin of the moon. Furthermore there are strong arguments against capture, including the low probability of the event and the actual mechanism of capture.
For example, how is the speed of the initially unbound moon reduced to permit capture? There is simply no known means by which the moon's velocity could be largely dissipated on a single pass.
The condensation or nebular theory calls for an independent growth of the earth and moon from dust and gas in the same region of space. The fundamental assumption made here is that condensation will actually occur. However, force calculations and entropy considerations rule out such a collapse process unless extreme initial conditions of a highly dense gas already exist. Some suggest that a supernova explosion in the solar system's neighborhood compressed the gas. Others propose an initial abundance of gravel-sized particles with an inherent "stickiness" to aid gravitational collapse. Condensation of either moons, planets or stars is clearly an enormous problem for natural astronomy!
It was hoped that the impressive series of Apollo visits to the moon would provide final answers to the embarrassing scientific dilemma of lunar origin. However the conclusions drawn from the vast new reservoir of data are still ambiguous with respect to origins. One research leader summarized Apollo findings at the conclusion of the $25 billion project:1
In spite of everything that we have learned during the last few years, we still cannot decide between these three (lunar origin) theories. We still need more data and perhaps some new theories before the origin of the Moon is settled to everyone's satisfaction.
Supernatural Lunar Origin
The common assumption of the previous explanations is that the moon formed slowly by random, accidental processes. Scripture, in direct contradiction to man's futile reasoning, states that the moon was created instantly (Psalm 33:6), out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3), and as a fully functioning satellite (Genesis 1:16).
Does the earth's moon actually reveal purposeful design and uniqueness? Consider the following five examples selected from the vast store of lunar physical data.
1. The earth has only one natural satellite! Furthermore the mass or size ratio of the earth-moon pair is more than ten times that for any other known planet-satellite pair in the solar system.2 That is, while several other satellites are heavier than the moon, no other planet possesses a satellite having a mass which is such a large fraction of the planet's mass. Thus it is significant that the earth, true to scripture, has just one substantial moon to provide its evening light.
2. The moon does provide the earth with adequate night illumination. In contrast with the sun, it is a gentle, passive ruler of the night sky. Of course the moon's large size is essential for it to provide significant reflected light on the earth. If its mass were reduced by 99% to make an "average size" solar system moon, then the evening light received on earth would be severely decreased by twenty times its present amount.3
The Book of Genesis states: "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night ... " (Genesis 1:16). The Hebrew term translated light (or) in this passage is flexible enough to include light reflectors such as the moon and the planets. The fact that the moon, which is a reflector, and the sun, which is far from being the largest star, are named "two great lights" is perfectly consistent with the language of appearance which is used throughout the Bible.
3. Throughout history the moon's cycle of phases has provided man with an accurate time record. During Old Testament times the nation of Israel based their calendar month on the moon. They celebrated the first appearance of the waxing crescent moon with a festival of reconsecration to God.4 The 29.5 day lunar calendar is still in use by the Islamic world, and even today we base the date of Easter on the moon's phase.
The combination of size and distance of the moon from the earth results in the special situation that the 0.5° angular size of the sun and moon as seen from earth are the same. The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun but it is likewise 400 times closer to the earth. Because of this purposeful situation the moon is able to occasionally eclipse the sun exactly, providing a precise time record. Computer studies furthermore show that this perfect eclipse condition is unique among all the known moons of the solar system.5 The significance of eclipse data for Biblical studies is great, for it provides confirmation that the chronological systems employed by Old Testament scribes were perfectly accurate.
The tides provide a final example of the moon's orderly motion around the earth. Earth tides are caused primarily by the gravitational attraction of the moon. These tides have inestimable value in prospering ocean life, cleansing shorelines, and even providing a potential non-polluting energy source.6 These tidal efforts vary as the inverse distance cubed between the earth-moon system. Thus if the moon were just 30% closer to or further from the earth, the tidal effects on earth would be respectively doubled or halved. Either alternative would greatly upset our way of life. As is always the case, any proposed readjustment of the physical creation leads to degeneration.
4. The moon's orbit is stable. It is in no danger of burning up in the earth's atmosphere, as for instance the artificial satellite skylab. The moon is a safe twenty earth diameters away and yet is large enough to be seen clearly. Actually the earth-moon separation is slowly increasing. Tidal drag is decreasing the earth's rotation rate and days are becoming longer. Meanwhile the moon is spiraling outward from the earth as it gains the earth's lost angular momentum. However the very small changes involved reveal the actual long-term stability of the system. Eclipse records show that the earth rotation period of 24 hours has decreased by only 0.075 seconds in the past 3000 years! Simultaneously the moon is leaving the earth at the rate of 5.8 centimeters/year, or only 174 meters in 3000 years!
Recent fossil data have been used to "prove" that the moon was 60% closer to the earth 400 million years ago.7 The fossils considered are those of the chambered Nautilus. As Nautilus grows it incorporates two repeating structures: first, new chambers in which it lives, and secondly, growth lines within each chamber. It is assumed that growth lines occur daily, and further that a new chamber is tidally induced with each lunar cycle. If true, then Nautilus does indeed preserve a historical record of the number of days per lunar month. The number of growth lines is found to decrease sharply for fossil shells, from 29 down to only 9 days/lunar month. Thus the conclusion drawn is that the fossils reveal short lunar months in the past. That is, the early moon which regulated the fossil Nautilus was close to the earth and revolved three times more rapidly than at present. Of course the assumption is made that Nautilus behavior and tidal effects have remained unchanged for nearly 0.5 billion years! Furthermore, it remains an unproven hypothesis that Nautilus actually grows according to daily and lunar cycles. Finally, the lunar records derived similarly from banding in corals and from other Nautiloid species do not agree with the chambered Nautilus results!8 Therefore this marine fossil evidence involves a vast extrapolation with inconsistent results.
5. No hint of life has been found on the moon, nor anywhere beyond the earth in the solar system or universe. How fair the earth is to look at in comparison with the lifeless, cratered surfaces of our neighbors! The first two Apollo teams were quarantined upon their return to earth, but this was quickly realized to be unnecessary in view of the sterile moon. The moon definitely provides multiple benefits for life on earth. However it remains secondary to the earth with no life of its own because none was created there!
6. The fission-capture-condensation theories each requires the moon to be billions of years old. However, several lines of evidence continue to point to a recent lunar creation on the scale of thousands of years. First, a growing catalog of transient lunar phenomena (moonquakes, lava flows, gas emissions) show that the moon is not a cold, dead body. It is apparently not yet in thermal equilibrium and is still adjusting to tidal stresses. Secondly, the lunar dust problem won't go away! A uniformitarian extrapolation of present dust accumulation leads to a moon that should be covered with a vast sea of dust. Efforts have been made to reevaluate dust accumulation rates and to find a mechanism for lunar dust compaction, but the dust's absence remains unexplained on a billion-year time scale. Thirdly, the analysis of lunar soil has cast doubt on long ages of time. The lunar surface simply does not reveal the extent of soil mixing that long ages predict. Also, the radiometric dating of lunar soil shows it to be a billion years older than the adjacent rocks. However, the soil and rocks had previously been assumed to be of the same age!
The evidences of the value and beauty of the moon are not meant in themselves to prove the truth of Christianity or creation. The witness of nature was never intended by God to be a substitute for special revelation. Its function is to remind men of what they already know about God and to activate their consciences with respect to their spiritual responsibility. (Rom. 1:18-23). This presentation has contrasted the failure of natural origin theories with the positive evidences of lunar creation. May it provide a basis for the further study of creation and the perfect Creator, to whom the moon owes its perfect design and whose faithfulness it eloquently declares.
1 French, B. M., The New Moon: A Window on the Universe, Washington, D.C.: NASA, 1975, 11.
2 Whitcomb, J. C., and D. B. DeYoung, The Moon: Its Creation, Form and Significance, Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 1978, 130.
4 The new moon festival is described in the apocryphal book Ecclesiastes 43:6, 7.
5 Mendillo, M., and R. Hart, "Resonances," Physics Today, 27:2 (February, 1974), 73.
6 J.C. Whitcomb and D.B. DeYoung, 140.
7 Kahn, P. G. K., and S. M. Pompea, "Nautiloid growth and dynamical evolution of the Earth-Moon system" Nature, 275: 5681 (October 19, 1978), 606-11.
8 Ibid. 608.
* Detailed references and arguments for this article may be found in reference 2.** Dr. Donald B. DeYoung is Associate Professor of Physics at Grace College, Winona Lake, Indiana and has served as Visiting Professor of Science and Mathematics at Christian Heritage College during the 1978-79 academic year. He has also been writing and speaking for the Institute for Creation Research during this period.