A century before Lamarck, Darwin and Wallace were imagining how biological evolution could have occurred, Bernoulli, Kant, Buffon and Laplace were imagining how the solar system could have evolved. In both cases the naturalists were certain evolution had occurred, though they had nothing but unfounded speculation about how it occurred. Bernoulli, Kant and Laplace had proven the solar system evolved with the usual silly evolutionary proofs.
A false dichotomy
Bernoulli’s explanation, that the sun’s atmosphere caused the planetary motions and alignments, was reminiscent of Descartes’ whirlpools. And while Bernoulli’s explanation was later discarded (as most evolutionary explanations eventually are), he introduced a powerful argument that became crucial in evolutionary thought and remains pervasive today.
Bernoulli argued that there are two possibilities: random design or a single mechanistic cause. Like ripples in the sand, patterns that we observe in nature are, according to evolutionists, necessarily a consequence of mechanism. It is yet another evolutionary argument that is difficult to explain because it is so silly. But that is the argument. In this false dichotomy, random design is evolution’s null hypothesis.
It was well known that the planetary orbits were aligned so as to form a striking pattern. Surely this could not have arisen by chance, argued the great mathematician. Bernoulli argued that either the planets fell into their orbits by chance or some mechanism caused their alignment. Bernoulli used a calculation to show the long odds of random design, thus proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that a mechanical cause did the job. He who would deny this, Bernoulli fallaciously concluded, “must reject all the truths, which we know by induction.”
Twenty years later Immanuel Kant elaborated Bernoulli’s argument. Why do planets revolve about the sun in the same direction? “It is clear,” explained the great philosopher, “that there is no reason why the celestial bodies must organize their orbits in one single direction.” If God had directly arranged their orbits then we would expect them to reveal deviations and differences:
Thus, God’s choice, not having the slightest motive for tying them to one single arrangement, would reveal itself with a greater freedom in all sorts of deviations and differences.
Theology was not discarded in the Enlightenment, as is often said, it was internalized. Laplace followed with his version of Bernoulli’s random design null hypothesis calculation, and cosmic evolution increasingly became accepted. The details were yet to be worked out, but it was fast becoming a fact.
Thus Laplace could on the one hand assure Napoleon of his evolutionary theory while, on the other hand, fail to explain new observations such as the anomalous orbits of Uranus’ moons, discovered by William Herschel. Here is how historian Stephen Brush describes it:
Laplace was familiar with Newton’s opinion that the regular motions of the planets proved their divine design. We know he was acquainted with Daniel Bernoulli’s prize essay of 1734 on the subject, since in an earlier paper he had cited Bernoulli’s method for calculating the probability that n bodies all move in the same one of two possible directions if their motions are selected by chance: 2^(–n+1). In that paper Laplace had applied the method to six planets and ten satellites, finding the probabilities to be 2^–15 = 1/32768. By 1796 he had made the coincidence even more unlikely by including the seventh planet, Uranus (discovered by William Herschel in 1781), as well as four more satellites, Saturn’s rings, and the rotations of five planets, the Sun, the Moon, and one of Saturn’s satellites (Iapetus). Thus of the 30 known motions in the Solar System, all are in the same direction. If these motions had been determined by chance, the probability that at least one of them would be different from the rest is extremely high (1–2^–29). [Nebulous Earth, Cambridge, 1996, p. 21]
It is astonishing that thinkers such as Bernoulli and Laplace promoted such metaphysical madness. Brush continues:
Laplace was aware when he first published his theory that Herschel had found the two satellites of Uranus to have orbits in a plane nearly perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic. In 1798 Herschel announced that the satellites of Uranus have retrograde motion. While this amounted to only a slight revision of his earlier result—the orbit plane is still nearly perpendicular but is tilted in the other direction—it was still [Herschel explained] “a remarkable instance of the great variety that takes place among the movements of the heavenly bodies” since previously all known motions took place in the same direction.
A remarkable instance of the great variety? Even the evolutionary false dichotomy was breaking down. But no matter, the narrative had become too compelling. Laplace simply ignored the anomalies (as evolutionists routinely do today), while including four other satellites announced by Herschel which were never confirmed:
In later editions of the Exposition, Laplace simply ignored the fact that at least two of the Uranian satellites have retrograde orbital motion, even though he added to his total the four spurious ones announced in the same paper by Herschel. Perhaps he considered that an orbit that is nearly perpendicular to the ecliptic should not be counted as retrograde; but I agree with Jaki that his treatment of this case is peculiar. Laplace did express doubt about the existence of the four satellites reported in 1798, and unless they are counted as retrograde (which Herschel did not claim) their inclusion scarcely affects the statistical argument.
In fact Laplace’s treatment of this case is not at all peculiar. Confirmation bias is standard practice in evolutionary apologetics. And that’s after the false dichotomy.
Laplace referred to his theory as the “true system of the world.” Sound familiar? Laplace could assure Napoleon that the God Hypothesis was superfluous not because Laplace had solid scientific details backing up his case—he didn’t—but by virtue of this ridiculous, fallacious line of argument.
Flexibility of explanation
Herschel’s anomalous satellites, with orbits almost perpendicular to expectations, would by no means be the only problem for Laplace’s Nebular Hypothesis. Problems mounted and, as usual, the theory became more complicated.
In Laplace’s Nebular Hypothesis, planet formation is a natural consequence of star formation. In Buffon’s earlier comet theory, planet formation is a separate event and not a consequence of star formation. This fundamental difference defines two categories of theories for the origin of the solar system—the monistic and dualistic categories, respectively. Monistic theories hold that all the major components of the solar system formed together. Dualistic theories hold that stars form by one process and planets form by a different process.
Since Laplace the mounting problems with the Nebular Hypothesis caused a reevaluation and search for alternate explanations. A major problem was that the sun rotates too slowly. The vast majority of the angular momentum in the solar system resides in the planets, a fact that was difficult to reconcile with the Nebular Hypothesis.
And so the twentieth century witnessed a series of monistic and dualistic theories competing to explain the solar system’s origin. There was the dualistic theory of a close encounter with a nearby star proposed by Chamberlin and Moulton and later by Jeans and Jeffreys. But such a close encounter could not reproduce the high angular momentum we observe in the planetary orbits. Also, material ripped from the sun by the encounter would be too hot to condense and form planets.
Russell proposed a new monistic theory calling for a rise in density of the collapsing solar nebula. Also, the idea of magnetic braking was considered as a mechanism for depleting the sun’s angular momentum. This was followed by the dualistic theory of Alfvén and Schmidt, and then the monistic theory of Kuiper and Urey. Schmidt’s dualistic theory was later refined in the Safronov–Wetherill model and after this Cameron promoted the “supernova trigger” hypothesis.
Both monistic and dualistic theories have been repeatedly proposed throughout the twentieth century. In fact, as Brush observes, the time scale for reversing the answer has grown shorter and shorter as we approach the present. Hence the origin of the solar system, says Brush, is an unsolved problem.
Today’s accepted theory for the origin of the solar system is a complex, cosmic choreography based on the Nebular Hypothesis. It goes something like this (as you read this keep in mind it is a fact because, as Bernoulli and Laplace argued, there obviously is only a single cause):
A large cloud of material, including dust, hydrogen and helium, collapses to form the sun and a surrounding disk. The rotational rate increases as the cloud collapses. It also heats up, especially in the inner region, say within the orbit of Jupiter. In this inner region, only rocky materials can withstand the high temperatures and they collect to form the inner planets, initially as molten blobs. Later they are coated with particles that collect on their surface. These become the crusts of the inner planets.
Between Mars and Jupiter there is no planet but instead we find the asteroid belt. This is because Jupiter perturbed the nascent planets that formed in that region, causing them to collide rather than coalesce. The result is a ring of asteroids, rather than a planet, circling the sun.
In the outer regions of the solar system, where the temperature is lower, icy dust collects to form small planetesimals that later attract the hydrogen and helium gases. Left over planetesimals may be captured as moons or are ejected to the outer reaches of the solar system to become comets. Hence the composition of comets and meteorites should represent the early solar nebula.
Later, the sun’s radiation and solar wind drive any remaining gas out of the solar system, and the sun’s rotation is dramatically slowed by magnetic braking. This is the rendition of Laplace’s Nebular Hypothesis from recent years, but there remain several anomalies to explain. For instance, Venus and Uranus have anomalous spin characteristics. Also, about a third of the more than one hundred moons in the solar system have irregular orbits, revolving about their host planet in the wrong direction for example. And some revolve faster than their host planet spins. This would not occur if they were formed by a condensing cloud. Also, Pluto’s orbit is more elliptical than the other planets, and significantly inclined from the ecliptic.
There is no general explanation for these many anomalies. It could be that huge impacts reversed the spin of Venus and tipped Uranus on its side. Perhaps moons that revolve too fast have dropped from a higher orbit, and thus increased their rate of rotation. Or they may have been captured by rather than formed with the planet.
As for Pluto, one idea is that a large planetesimal passed near Neptune, lost some energy and fell down near Jupiter which ejected it to beyond Pluto. In the process the orbits of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are all perturbed and Neptune, in turn, perturbs Pluto into its highly eccentric and inclined orbit we observe today.
Another difficulty with today’s theory of the solar system origin is the great size of the outer gaseous planets. In order to accumulate so much light gas they must have formed very quickly because early on the sun’s solar wind would have blown the gas out of the solar system altogether.
One explanation for this is that these planets formed via a faster acting mechanism known as disk instability. But if this works for Jupiter and Saturn, it leaves open the question of why Uranus and Neptune are not so large. If the disk instability mechanism gave Jupiter and Saturn their thick atmospheres, why didn’t it give thick atmospheres to Uranus and Neptune?
One answer is that our solar system formed in a cluster of stars. Perhaps the neighboring stars were so close that radiation heated the gases in the outer reaches of our solar system, making them more difficult for Uranus and Neptune to capture
A new flip?
In recent years the Nebular Hypothesis has met with even more failures. For instance, discoveries of distant planets have revealed star systems that make no sense on the Nebular Hypothesis. As one researcher commented, “These discoveries are making it very difficult to stick to the party line endorsing the so-called standard model.”
And now, new analysis of NASA’s Genesis mission reveals contradictory variations in nitrogen and oxygen isotopes. As one researcher explained:
These findings show that all solar system objects including the terrestrial planets, meteorites and comets are anomalous compared to the initial composition of the nebula from which the solar system formed.
And as another researcher concluded, that raises questions about the Nebular Hypothesis:
The implication is that we did not form out of the same solar nebula materials that created the sun—just how and why remains to be discovered.
Discovered? This has very little to do with scientific discovery. The researcher is confusing metaphysics with science. The reasons for the isotope variations will be explained, not discovered. New epicycles will be applied where needed, and perhaps there will be a flip to a new dualistic theory.
Of course there is nothing wrong with hypotheses about how the world arose. Even circuitous, heroic and unlikely theories are at least worth consideration. There should be no constraint or limit on our imagination. Theories can be posited, tested, evaluated and rejected, as appropriate. But of course evolutionary thinking isn’t about any of this. If it was then the true status of the theories would be admitted.
Evolutionary thinking is about injecting a religious agenda into science that evolutionists insist must be true. Religion drives science, and it matters.