The seas of Titan prove god exists…yeah (cough).

Saturn setting over the hydrocarbon seas of Titan

It annoys me when creationists use holes in our current knowledge as a way to try to prove the existence of god. Especially when they bring the solar system into it.

Science is only just beginning to explore the solar system and beyond so it’s an easy place to pick holes; similar to picking on the fat kid. I just read a post over at ‘New Discoveries & Comments about Creationism’ that postulated that because the science based prediction of liquid hydrocarbon lakes on Titan was misjudged it therefore proves that the moon isn’t as old as scientists say and therefore was made by god. First of all, yes, I know that if this stuff annoys me I shouldn’t be reading a blog with a name like that but I feel that it would be bigoted to not engage in arguments simply because their view is so different. Anyway…

Lets firstly have a quick lesson on Saturn’s moon; Titan. Titan reads like an Oscar’s award list; it is the largest of Saturn’s moons, and the second largest in the whole solar system, is the only satellite in the solar system with a dense atmosphere, and is the only space rock, aside from Earth, that has stable surface liquids. We really didn’t know much about this fella until Cassini went and had a look. It was then that scientists discovered the hydrocarbon oceans. Most interestingly it is probably the most likely place in the universe, at present, where we could find life. Yeah you thought Mars was the business didn’t you; wrong. Any life there would be extremely foreign, just like Sofia Vergara, and would most likely use the liquid methane as a medium instead of water like organisms on earth do. The surface of the moon itself would actually be reasonably recognisable to most people; it has weather, rivers, streams and oceans which have sculpted features like sand dunes and mountains.

So the argument that Michael was using was based on the fact that ‘irreversible erosion’ of methane and a few other hydrocarbons was raining these chunky molecules out of the atmosphere. Scientists predicted that it would have been happening for the entire life of the moon, about 4.5 billion years, and should therefore be forming large oceans of the stuff. The problem was that there aren’t any. There should be a global covering of noxious goo about half a click deep. The Cassini probe observed some accumulations of the stuff around the poles but mostly it was missing. Michael, and a few others, have viewed this as evidence that obviously there hasn’t been 4.5 billion years of rain failing on those plains. This is backed up by the idea that the precipitation was irreversible. This basically means that the hydrocarbons had no way to get back into the atmosphere once they are on the ground, at least in ethane’s case. It’s not a terrible argument, but it definitely isn’t great. He also postulates that the sedimentation around the edges of these lakes and in locations where the lakes have infiltrated the surface – basically melted into the sand – probably isn’t massive enough for four and a half billion years of continuous deposition. Like I said, all up, not a terrible argument.

There are some holes though. For instance the current rate of precipitation from the atmosphere doesn’t say anything about the precipitation over the last few billion years. It could have been ‘raining’ hydrocarbons much more slowly in previous eons accounting for some of the lack of the tar pits. Also the presence of cryovolcanoes – that’s a volcano that spews forth super-cooled water and ammonia – could be replenishing atmospheric ammonia much like volcanism in our planets beginnings helped shape our atmosphere. This is a fact that Michael actually mentions before glossing over it to say that the simplest explanation is that God did it all.

I have nothing against creationism, other than it being taught in schools, which I guess means that I do have something against it, but this is just silly. To say that scientists are speculating beyond the scope of the available data is to go against what makes us human. As humans we have a fascination with speculation, mystery and solving the riddles of the world and beyond. If Darwin hadn’t speculated on the possibilities of a mechanism for the development and differentiation of species we wouldn’t have evolution. Damn right, I went there. If Craig Venter hadn’t speculated beyond the observations we have about life would he have taken the first steps in creating new life.

So to say that because they are speculating beyond what we know about Titan they are wrong is a poor argument.

It is the finish of the argument that really made me cringe though; to paraphrase, dramatically, ‘there is an upper limit on the time that Titan could have existed and therefore there is a god’. Yeah that’s right.  God exists because science was moving too slow.

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