Explaining Fossils (reprise): Many worlds smashed together to make this one

Continuing my Summer break I offer this:

I keep hearing that fossils came from some other creations out there in the far reaches of space–that our Earth is a conglomerate of the remnants of these previous creations. My kids have actually heard this in seminary. Apparently the story goes something like this: God made lots of worlds though special acts of creation. Then to make this Earth he took all these other creations and put them together into this one. This story is nice because it explains why we have fossils millions of years old on a earth that is just a few thousand years old. It answers the age old question, “How do we get rid of Godless evolution.” So dinosaurs lived in these extra solar planets which furnished the material for this earth. The great thing about armchair speculation like this is that you don’t have to deal with any messy things like data and evidence. To ask the question, “What evidence for this might you expect?” and “What evidence do you see that leads you to this conclusion?” are not questions you have to explore. They also don’t have to ask, “What implications are there for sticking this bit of nonsense in our theology in our religion?” So there are lots of little subtleties they don’t have to tackle. You just say it and it’s true. How convenient.

But just for a second let’s step back and think about this. Just a little bit. Not in detail. Just a few questions for the Smashed Together and Uniting Planets Indurately Doctrine.

1. Presumably these planets had dinosaurs (and hundreds of other kinds of plants and animals) only living on the surface, which means that the surface to volume ratio of bone matrix to planetary internal material must have been very very small (the crust of the earth makes up very little of the actual mass of the earth). So did the creator sort through all the good and bad stuff and use only the crustal material with bones? That’s a lot of work. It may be that ideas that we assisted in the creation actually involved us sorting through rocks for bones. No wonder there was war in heaven. Of course, I’ve made undergraduates do worse (ask me about sorting through flies sometime).

2. Since we have these bones in ecological contexts there must have been a whole slew of these worlds. Once for each strata found on our planet, so several hundred ought to do it. Each of these with its own fauna. Worlds with cool Precambrian invertebrates. Several trilobites worlds because we find them in so many different strata with different sets of invertebrates. Fish world. Swamp world (which was the world made for all the oil rich organic material I suppose we’d need to cause global warming to usher in the end time catastrophes (and an extra ‘yuck’ for those souls having to sort out that from its world’s matrix of extra rock. I hope we got to use magic or cool celestial steam shovels and didn’t have to physically like move it into barrels for placing it into this world to make the oil fields). Early amphibian world. Dino world (I hope I sorted that one!). Early mammal world, late mammal world and other scores of these. Whoa, I’m exhausted thinking of that process.

3. Now whose job was it when the moon was formed to keep these strata in the place God put them (and make no mistake He had to put them because they are in a nice progression from simple organisms to more and more complex and they lead from one kind to another (invertebrate swimming thing s=> fish => fish with lungs => amphibian like fish => fish-like amphibians => amphibian-like reptiles => reptiles => mammal-like reptiles => mammals etc. And lots and lots of specific sequences like this. More impressive sorting going on as the worlds are smashed together.)) You see, early in our planet’s history a Mars sized planetoid smashed into our planet (presumably after it was formed from all the other planets we talked about) and the back splash of this collision created the moon. Wow that must have made us all sigh in despair as we scrambled back to untangle the mess that that made. And who was in charge of making sure all the fossils didn’t melt in the generated heat? Or did we lay down our extra-solar fossils after this. I’d vote for that. But then . . . let’s move to theology?

4. What’s weird is why do all this? Why lay down the strata to look like, well to look exactly like things evolved? Like things were here all along? Like we are related to these bunches and bunches of special creations that we know from some of our teachers were from other planets? Why? The reason I’m confused is that Elder Oaks’ talk on honesty says (he was only the president of BYU at the time so you don’t have to believe it if you don’t want):

The children of God have always been commanded to seek the truth and to say what is true. We are all familiar with the Ten Commandments the Lord gave the children of Israel through Moses. They include: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exod. 20:16). Proverbs contains this teaching: “A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape” (Prov. 19:5).

And

Revealed scripture teaches us that truth is a “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning” (D&C 93:24–25). To speak the truth is therefore to speak things as they were and as they are. In other words, to give an accurate account of the facts.

Elder Marvin J. Ashton’s said, “A lie is any communication given to another with the intent to deceive” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1982, p. 10) and dag nabit since he said it in conference you have to believe this.

The problem is that for the life of me I can’t figure out why these fossils were so carefully arranged except to make me think that things aren’t as they were. It almost feels like a . . . well . . . deception.

But then in Ether 3: 12 we have this: And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.

So this whole smashing up other worlds is going to have to be explained to me in a little more detail. How it worked. Why it looks so much like it wasn’t done that way. Plus. If it is not too much to ask. Just a tiny bit of evidence for this story. Can’t one of these people who promote this engage with the fossil evidence directly and with enough detail for it to make even a little sense? Thank you for your help in this.

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11 comments to Explaining Fossils (reprise): Many worlds smashed together to make this one

  • Well, actually, Steve, those who propagate the idea of worlds being smashed together don’t have to come up with evidence. That’s just for you scientists to do. The rest of us can just come up with ideas that sound good and answer our questions, and we can believe those ideas because they fit with our preconceived ideas about the creation.

    Getting serious, now, I wonder about the statement from one or more GA (sorry I don’t remember names) that their mission is to bring souls to Christ, and they leave science to the scientists. That statement leads me to believe that when I read the scriptures I should look for things to bring me closer to Christ, and I shouldn’t worry about the details of the creation — that is for scientists to study.

    That statement from GA, if taken literally, means I should have two viewpoints about things: a spiritual viewpoint to become more like Christ, and a physical viewpoint to understand better how the universe was created, as scientists gain data about the creation. Scientists don’t have a good explanation of “why” the universe was created, and I, as a religious person, look to God for the “why”. While doing that, I look to science for the “how” of the creation, a viewpoint that is completely ignored in the scriptures.

  • Well, the nice thing is one day we will live in a church where people don’t have to waste time clearing these things up.

    I mean, could you imagine what a mess it must have been living in a day where churches were trying to reconcile “established doctrines” with the new found reality that the earth orbits the sun. It used to be a real problem.

    This is how it is today with evolution in the LDS church. One of these days LDS scientists won’t have to waste time with this. It will just make sense to the LDS people that evolution is just as true as the earth orbiting the sun.

    It just always takes several generations for many people to accept new scientific discoveries. But, like the Copernican revolution, eventually evolution will come around too.

  • Rich

    Steve, brilliant as usual. One thing I like to add here is how the smashed together folks explain how many of these extra-solar fossils have managed to stick around; many are still swimming in our oceans today. :)

  • DB

    SteveP-

    Why do you keep tiptoeing around the Smashed Together and Uniting Planets Indurately Doctrine? Why don’t you just attack it head on? The fact is there is absolutely no scriptural reference to this theory. As far as I can tell, this theory is based solely on two statements made by Joseph Smith but there is no inference in either statement that Joseph believed in this theory. The first is an 1841 statement that Joseph’s private secretary, William Clayton, recorded him as saying:

    “This earth was organized or formed out of other planets which were broke up and remodeled and made into the one on which we live.”

    The other is from the King Follett discourse in 1844:

    “You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing, and they will answer, ‘Doesn’t the Bible say he created the world?’ And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time He had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end.”

    Now let’s assume that both quotes, including the first that was presumably heard only by William Clayton, came word for word from the mouth of the Prophet. In neither statement did Joseph say that God took large chunks from other planets and molded them together like play-doh or that He stripped layers from other planets and sandwiched them into our earth. NDBF would argue that He built the earth like a man building a ship (with lumber and poles, etc) but to me it’s clear that Joseph was simply using that metaphor to illustrate the meaning of the word baurau, which is to organize out of something rather than create out of nothing (which was the whole point of this statement) and not to illustrate how the earth was formed. What Joseph did say was that God used broken up planets and chaotic matter to create the earth. What exactly did he mean by broken up planets? He didn’t say. SteveP briefly explained how the earth and the moon were formed from two smaller planets colliding. Maybe that’s what Joseph was referring to. Maybe the chaotic matter from the second statement came from the broken up planets in the first statement. I’m imagining a giant, planet sized dirt clod being smashed in God’s hands resulting in a giant dust cloud. And what about the planets that Joseph referred to? Were they lush green planets full of life or just big spheres of rock? Joseph didn’t say anything about that. Most planets that we are aware of have zero life on them and are just large chunks of rock flying through space. If God created the earth from other planets why would He carefully dissect several earth-like planets and put them back together rather than smash up some Mars-like planets and use all that chaotic matter to make a more livable planet? Again, Joseph never said what kind of planets he was referring to and never said anything about planets with fossils or other life forms.

    According to my short analysis of Joseph Smith’s two statements, it appears that what he said gives no more validity to the Smashed Together and Uniting Planets Indurately Doctrine than he does to current scientific theories. Joseph just said that the earth was created from pre-existing materials and not out of nothing (current scientific theory agrees with this) and that those pre-existing materials came from other planets (current scientific theory also agrees with this or at least doesn’t necessarily disagree with this). So where did the “fossils came from other planets” theory originate? Not from the scriptures, not from Joseph Smith, not from scientific evidence. Certainly, anything taught in seminary should have some scriptural or prophetic source to back it up. This doesn’t.

  • Have you ever read “Earth: In the Beginning” by Eric N. Skousen? Not doctrine, of course, but Skousen has a few interesting ideas.

  • David H Bailey

    I have always shaken my head in bewilderment at “God the Great Deceiver” theology such as this. How can anyone ever take seriously the notion that God has deliberately planted evidence to mislead diligent seekers of truth? Yet I see this not only in evangelical writings (a lot) but also in some LDS writings. See, for instance,
    http://www.meridianmagazine.com/sci_rel/050316wood.html

  • DB interesting history of the idea. I always wondered where it came from.

  • “This earth was organized or formed out of other planets which were broke up and remodeled and made into the one on which we live.” I believe more details of this statement, and of confirming records by at least one other brother who heard the statement (he remembered “other globes” rather than “planets”) are quoted in Professor Salisbury’s book, The Creation.

    Note that the statement does NOT say anything about the original planets being peeled apart to create strata with dinosaurs and hydrocarbons and sedimentary and metamorphic rocks.

    The currently accepted theory of the moon’s creation is as you have said, that it was the result of an impact about 4.3 billion years ago between Earth Mark I and a smaller planet about the size of Mars, at a precise angle that imparted the significant momentum the moon still has. The two planets were melted and a lot of elements, especially lighter rocks, were literally vaporized, the gas pressure pushing most of the moon out far enough to form a ring and then to coalesce into the moon, albeit much closer to earth than it is now and orbiting much faster. This process explains why the moon has less iron and other metals than earth.

    My reading in Scientific American has seen reports that simulations of planetary formation in the early Solar System show it likely that as many as 100 smaller Mercury-to-Mars-size planets coalesced originally, and then chaotically collided together to form the planets we know. The estimate of the researchers doing the simulation is that as many as 8 or 10 of these smaller bodies collided over time to form the earth, the last collision being the one that formed the moon.

    So basically, the most current cosmology of the 21st Century tells us that many (10 qualifies as “many”) planets or “globes” were the material from which the earth was formed. That looks to me to be exactly what Joseph Smith said as recorded by William Clayton–no more, no less. That looks to me like a spot-on prophecy about what science would eventually learn about the earth’s formation some 150 years later.

    Of course, just as happened with the moon-forming collision, no structures would survive these high-energy impacts, including layers of rock containing entire dinosaur fossils. Rocks would be melted “with fervent heat”–just as is prophesied will take place when the earth is transformed into a Celestial body. As you have discussed, the theories about this multiple-planet antecedent being an explanation for the fossil record is illogical, and is specifically NOT supported by either science or by anything that Joseph Smith said.

    But we should NOT dismiss the statement attributed to the Prophet for this reason. He apparently made a perfectly accurate, scientifically prescient statement about the formation of planet earth and its moon. He is not responsible for the unscientific extrapolations other people have made from it. He clearly rejected the notion of creation ex nihilo–out of nothing. And his focus on the earth also points out that the claim of Young Earth Creationists that Genesis One tells the story of the entire universe is also not justified by the text of the Bible. Rather, it describes the basic sequence of events in the creation of this planet and the life on it. When looked at in that light, the verses in Genesis are chapter headings that would be suitable for a textbook about the geology and biological development of our planet. It is precisely because the statement appears to be scientifically accurate that I tend to accept it as a legitimate record.

    We have no reason to think Joseph deduced this theory by the normal process of scientific research, no more than we should think he figured out how to translate the Book of Mormon by study of Demotic Egyptian. He either intuited it, or received it in a revelatory experience. He certainly had no way to know that his theory would be confirmed by scientists using supercomputer simulations a century and a half in the future. Most Christian ministers of his day would reject it as contrary to creation ex nihilo. It was an odd statement in the culture of his day. So I suspect it is something he observed incidentally in the process of one of his several revelatory experiences that deal with the creation, such as the Book of Moses, Book of Abraham, or the temple endowment. It is a little postcard he sent us, which only we in the 21st Century can properly comprehend, that shows he was a witness to processes we are only now coming to understand.

    So I would not be hasty to throw the statement out because of its abuse by Mormon Young Earth Creationists, any more than I would throw out Genesis One because of its abuse by the same people.

  • jmm1

    I always figured that God put the fossils on the earth so that we could all benefit from the entertainment of watching “Jurassic Park” 1 and 3.

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