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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

How Good Are Those Young-Earth Arguments?

A Close Look at Dr. Hovind's List of Young-Earth Arguments and Other Claims

by Dave E. Matson
Copyright © 1994-2002

Dr. Hovind: It only takes one proof of a young earth to decide between CREATION and EVOLUTION.

0. This magic bullet mentality, the tendency to rely on a single, isolated argument to win all the chips, has gotten creationists into more trouble than possibly anything else. Unfortunately, Mother Nature does not give little, gold ribbons to certify the accuracy of our proofs! Indeed, nothing in science is ever "proven" beyond all possible doubt; there is no way of knowing, with 100% certainty, that one's proof is foolproof. One can always dream up possible scenarios that will contradict even the best scientific models. (The better the model, the more farfetched the loopholes are.) If you crave the certainty of a real "proof," the final word as it were, then you had better stick to mathematics or logic! Those are the only arenas where absolute proof plays any serious role.

Scientific hypotheses are rated according to their credibility; as more and more data support a scientific hypothesis, the greater our confidence in it. If that hypothesis fits into a common pattern, successfully interlocking with established theories, then it gets another big plus. If that hypothesis has no credible competition, despite much work in the area, then our confidence in it begins to soar. If that hypothesis also supplies us with numerous insights into nature, which are confirmed by further observation and testing, then it might attain the status of a "scientific theory." (Note that a scientific theory ranks very high in credibility, has been tested repeatedly, and serves as a successful framework for integrating and explaining a class of diverse, natural phenomena; it must not be confused with the layman's use of "theory" which refers to half-baked speculation or guesswork. Consequently, the complaint that evolution is merely a (scientific) theory is a little like saying that an athlete is merely a gold-medal winner!)

If there is one thread running through the scientific world, it is an emphasis on the total picture. Great care is taken to survey all the relevant literature and to arrive at a balanced judgment of the known facts. Scientists are trained to overcome a one-shot, "cowboy" mentality. When great scientific ideas do fall, on rare occasions, they do so of many grievous wounds followed by the rethinking of the total picture. The idea, literally worshiped in creationist circles, that you can disprove a theory by whipping out some cute, isolated "proof" that settles everything at once and for all, is not scientific. Even if such a "proof" were technically correct, it would likely shoot down only a weak model of the theory. Deep truths are seldom grasped whole; early models are often flawed in some of their particulars. Furthermore, isolated data, even if correct, are often misleading. Consequently, scientists must evaluate the total picture and avoid being fixated on specific points.

Facts successfully explained do carry weight and cannot be ignored; facts that don't fit are not necessarily fatal to the central ideas behind a hypothesis. Good scientific judgment is the art of weighing all these variables and properly evaluating the big picture. Contrary data and isolated arguments are important in that they carry the potential for bringing down a theory or hypothesis. That grand potential is seldom realized in the light of further investigation.

The one thread running through "scientific" creationism is a fixation on particular arguments or "proofs" to the exclusion of all else. This shows a profound misunderstanding of the scientific process by people who should know better. Dr. Hovind, for example, is blissfully ignorant of the relevant literature surrounding his "proofs." Consequently, his audience is given no hint of what the "competition" has to say. Nor does he discuss the weaknesses in his arguments. (By comparison, Darwin was always mindful to point out potential problems and acknowledge the strongest opposing arguments.) In short, Dr. Hovind has made no attempt to grapple with the BIG PICTURE. As a result, his arguments carry no scientific weight.

Not one of Dr. Hovind's 30 isolated "proofs" holds any water. Meanwhile, an avalanche of burgeoning data continue to increase our confidence in an ancient Earth and cosmos. I will refute every last "proof" of a young Earth listed in Dr. Hovind's Seminar Notebook (c. 1994). I will also supply two or three examples which have no reasonable interpretation save that our Earth is old.

Young-earth "proof" #1: The sun is shrinking at 5 feet/hour which limits the earth-sun relationship to less than 5 million years.
Other Links:
The Solar FAQ
Deals with various creationist claims about the Sun.

1. The shrinking-sun argument contains two errors. The worst, by far, is the assumption that if the sun is shrinking today, then it has always been shrinking!

That's a little like watching the tide go out and concluding that the water level must have fallen at that rate since the earth began. Therefore, working backwards, much of the land must have been under water a few weeks ago! Since careful inspection shows no signs of such a flood, the earth can't be older than a few weeks!

Obviously, we cannot extend a rate willy-nilly. We do need to know something about the system under study. Tides come and go. No one familiar with tides would assume that the rate of water going out is constant over weeks of time! Just as obvious, at least to the experts, our sun could not have been continuously shrinking over millions of years as described by some creationists. Such a view totally ignores the known forces at work within our sun. Infinitely more likely is the possibility that our sun might alternate between small periods of shrinking and small periods of expansion, a kind of oscillation. Indeed, some scientists believe there may be an 80-day cycle of slight shrinking and expanding.

In its formative years, before our sun's core became hot and dense enough to ignite the fusion process and, as a result, check the gravitational collapse, our sun did do some prolonged shrinking. Billions of years from now the depletion of the sun's hydrogen will upset the sun's internal balance, and the sun will again undergo some long term changes. But, that has absolutely nothing to do with the shrinking-sun argument above, which attempts to prove that the solar system is less than 5 million years old.

To sum up our first point, the shrinking-sun argument rests squarely on a naive extension of a rate measured over a relatively short period of time. It's the type of blunder one might find in a high school science project.

An ad hoc attempt to prop up this naive extrapolation boldly declares that our sun is really getting its energy from gravitational collapse alone! An ongoing gravitational collapse of the sun, called the Helmholtz (or Kelvin-Helmholtz) contraction, was the best that scientists could come up with before nuclear fusion was discovered. The heat liberated from vast quantities of falling matter would be enough to make the sun shine. Then nuclear fusion was discovered. The discovery of nuclear fusion (and the realization that the sun's core had the density and temperature to initiate and sustain nuclear fusion) made it clear since the 1930s that the thermonuclear-fusion process was responsible for the sun's energy. Thermonuclear-fusion would soon stop any Helmholtz contraction. Aside from totally ignoring the last 60 years of solar science, this ad hoc argument also ignores the massive evidence relating to ancient climates. (A much larger sun in our recent geological past would have had a noticeable effect on the climate.) The creationist advocates of the Helmholtz contraction argue that their idea rules out the possibility of past geological ages. Just the opposite is true! The evidence for ancient climates, spanning millions of years, is massive and well documented; it rules out this ad hoc use of the Helmholtz contraction.

Howard J. Van Till, in Science Held Hostage, also points out that a contraction of five feet per hour would be hundreds of times faster than anything a legitimate Helmholtz contraction could handle! One might apply such a rate to just the outermost layers of the sun, but that probably wouldn't yield enough energy to account for the sun's brightness. The sun's current brightness, by Helmholtz's own calculations, would be consistent with a 25 million-year collapse from an initial solar diameter exceeding the earth's orbit (Kaufmann, 1994, p.322). Those "scientific" creationists have cut off their young-earth noses in order to have something to throw at us evolutionists! It was a terrible sacrifice, especially considering that they missed their target!

Blunder number two is the unwarranted assumption that the rate of shrinkage reported by Eddy and Boornazian is an established fact. Far from it! The rate of shrinkage was published as an abstract to further scientific discussion, not as a polished paper. Certain creationists nevertheless pounced upon it as though it were the Holy Grail. Before long, serious flaws in its methodology turned up and the data has since been discredited; the full text of their study was never published. It is instructive to note how creationist authors became fixated on that one point even though several studies at the time (or shortly thereafter) drew completely different conclusions.

Some creationists, such as Walter Brown, have tried to pump new life into the argument by quoting additional sources (Lippard, 1990, p.25), but only in vain. In Brown's case, two of the three sources offered were obsolete, and the third actually undercut his position! (Lippard, 1990, p.25). In a rebuttal to Lippard, Walter Brown offered no new studies to back up his "feeling" that the sun is undergoing a small, but continuous shrinkage (Brown, 1990, pp.45-46).

Brown, in his debate with Lippard, then dodged into the missing-neutrino problem in a vain effort to turn it into evidence for his position. (Neutrinos are subatomic particles with no electric charge and little or no mass. They are important here as a calculated by-product of the thermonuclear-fusion process in the sun. The vast majority of neutrinos pass effortlessly through the earth and are, therefore, extremely hard to detect.) To make his case, Brown must demonstrate that the "missing" neutrinos are due to a corresponding lack of nuclear fusion, and that the sun's current output of energy is due, in large part, to gravitational collapse. (A prolonged gravitational collapse of the sun is impossible once the thermonuclear-fusion process gets rolling. A creationist might argue that the coexistence of nuclear fusion and a Helmholtz contraction implies a young sun on its way to equilibrium. However, that would be a very tough row to hoe in that possible oscillations in the sun's diameter and other phenomena unrelated to a true Helmholtz contraction must be ruled out. Thus, Brown's motive for undermining the thermonuclear-fusion process by way of the missing-neutrino problem.)

As there are several possible solutions to the missing-neutrino problem (Lippard, 1990a, p.32), Brown's scenario is an extremely tall order. Even if it were proved that there is a serious deficiency in solar nuclear fusion, that being the cause of the low neutrino count, Brown would still have to prove that the situation was permanent. It could be a temporary glitch or even part of some complex cycle. Thus, any attempt at the present time to use the missing-neutrino problem as support for a shrinking sun is wholly misguided. Furthermore, invoking a Helmholtz contraction in place of thermonuclear fusion is subject to all of the problems listed above.

It was in 1979 that astronomers John Eddy and Aram Boornazian presented their paper and published its abstract: "Secular Decrease in the Solar Diameter, 1836-1953." In the April 1980 issue of ICR's Impact series (Impact #82), Russell Akridge picked up the report and naively extended the shrinkage rate of 5 feet/hour into the indefinite past. As that soon led to an impossible situation, he concluded that the earth was much less than 20 million years old. Soon, Walter Brown, Thomas Barnes, Henry Morris, Hilton Hinderliter, James Hanson, and other creationists were in on the act, and the shrinking-sun argument became a creationist legend. A number of studies have not found any evidence for a continuous shrinking of the sun. Leslie Morrison, for example, drawing on Edmund Halley's observations of the solar eclipse of 1715, concluded that there is no evidence that the sun is shrinking. His findings were reported in the January, 1988 issue of Gemini (no.18, pp.6-8). Gemini is the official journal of the Royal Greenwich Observatory.

Thomas Barnes, Walter Brown, and Henry Morris used the argument for several years after the original report by Eddy and Boornazian was discredited (Van Till, 1986). I guess a lot of creationists still haven't gotten the word. In his debate with Dr. Paul Hilpman, on June 15, 1992 at the Royal Hall of the University of Missouri, Dr. Hovind applied the obsolete, shrinking-sun argument.

Isolated from the corrective of continuing professional investigation and evaluation, the 'creation-science' community continues to employ this unwarranted extrapolation of a discredited report as 'scientific evidence' for a young Earth.

(Van Till, 1986, p.17)

That was true in 1986 and is true today; it will be true for years to come. "Scientific" creationism lives like the proverbial ostrich with its head buried in the sand; it has no effective mechanism to weed out error.

An outstanding study by H. Van Till (Van Till et al, 1988, pp.47-65) beautifully contrasts the sober scientific handling of the findings of John Eddy and Aram Boornazian (who advanced the scientific claim that the sun was shrinking) with the reckless, speculative spin put on it by the "scientific" creationists. The reader might also consult pages 29-39 where Van Till gives us an excellent feeling for what scientific competence, integrity, and judgment are all about. After reading that, one understands why "scientific" creationists are rarely published in the refereed scientific journals.

Young-earth "proof" #2: Given the rate at which cosmic dust accumulates, 4.5 billion years would have produced a layer on the moon much deeper than observed. By implication, the earth is also young.
Other Links:
Meteorite Dust and the Age of the Earth
Tim Thompson debunks cosmic dust arguments.
Moon Dust and the Age of the Solar System
Answers in Genesis, the leading young-earth creationist ministry, disowns cosmic dust arguments.

2. The most amazing thing about the cosmic dust argument is that it is still being used! It has coasted along on obsolete evidence, and nothing but obsolete evidence, for the last 25 years!! It nicely illustrates how creationists borrow from each other and never do any outside reading.

The obsolescence of this argument has been brought out in numerous debates and published in countless books, journals, and newsletters. It can be discovered by anyone who exercises his or her library card. It's not a state secret! What does it take to get through to the creationist brain??

The earliest use of the cosmic dust argument that Van Till (Van Till et al, 1988) could find was in an article by Harold Slusher, which was published in the June 1971 issue of Creation Research Society Quarterly. Slusher made several blunders which are handed down in the "scientific" creationist literature to this very day. In 1974 the cosmic dust argument received its big kick-off from Henry Morris' book, Scientific Creationism. Morris quoted an article by Hans Pettersson in the February 1960 issue of Scientific American. Pettersson's upper estimate for the influx of cosmic dust, a figure he considered risky, was based on particles he collected from two filtration units in the Hawaiian Islands. One was located near the summit of Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and the other near the observatory on Haleakala, Maui. He came up with 39,150 tons/day. Pettersson actually favored a figure about two-thirds less, and he warned his readers that the true figure could be much lower still. Further work was planned in Switzerland.

This caution seems to have been lost on Henry Morris, who may have been relying on Slusher's work, and he ignored Pettersson's preferred value in favor of his highest estimate. By the time the Impact insert #110 of Acts & Facts (August 1982) came out, sporting as it did a collection of young-earth claims, the reader was being told that just prior to the manned, moon landing scientists were worried about a thick layer of dust. (Again, we have echoes of Slusher's article.) Of course, the sea of cosmic dust did not materialize, and the Impact article claimed a victory for creation science which supports a young moon without much cosmic dust. Steven Shore shows that this entire scenario is wrongheaded. Let's get a proper perspective on history:

In a conference held in late 1963, on the Lunar Surface Layer, McCracken and Dublin state that

"The lunar surface layer thus formed would, therefore, consist of a mixture of lunar material and interplanetary material (primarily of cometary origin) from 10 cm to 1 m thick. The low value for the accretion rate for the small particles is not adequate to produce large scale dust erosion or to form deep layers of dust on the moon, for the flux has probably remained fairly constant during the past several billion years." (p. 204)

(Shore, 1984, p.34)

In 1965, a conference was held on the nature of the lunar surface. The basic conclusion of this conference was that both from the optical properties of the scattering of sunlight observed from the Earth, and from the early Ranger photographs, there was no evidence for an extensive dust layer.

(Shore, 1984, p.34)

Thus, several years before men landed on the moon there was a general feeling that our astronauts would not be greeted by vast layers of cosmic dust. Although direct confirmation was not yet at hand, thus allowing a few dissenting opinions, few scientists expected even as much as three feet of cosmic dust on the moon. In May 1966 Surveyor I had landed on the moon, thus putting an end to any lingering doubts about a manned landing sinking in dust.

The cosmic dust argument was already obsolete by the time Henry Morris included it in his book, Scientific Creationism. It was already obsolete when Harold Slusher wrote his article three years earlier.

Since the late 1960s, much better and more direct measurements of the meteoritic influx to the Earth have been available from satellite penetration data. In a comprehensive review article, Dohnanyi [1972, Icarus 17: 1-48] showed that the mass of meteoritic material impinging on the Earth is only about 22,000 tons per year [60 tons/day]... Other recent estimates of the mass of interplanetary matter reaching the Earth from space, based on satellite-borne detectors, range from about 11,000 to 18,000 tons per year (67) [30-49 tons/day]; estimates based on the cosmic-dust content of deep-sea sediment are comparable (e.g., 11, 103).

(Dalrymple, 1984, p.109)

Thus, we have good satellite data from the late 1960s in addition to estimates from deep-sea sediment content, the latter going back to at least 1968 and yielding comparable figures. Satellite data goes back even further. On August 9-13, 1965 a symposium on meteor orbits and dust was sponsored by NASA and the Smithsonian Institute (Van Till et al, 1988, p.70). Results from the early microphone-type dust detectors (recording clicks as bits of space dust struck at high speeds) were compared with penetration detectors (which recorded holes punched in thin foil). At the time there was no clear explanation as to why the former method gave such higher counts, sometimes as much as a 100 times that of the penetration detectors. Shortly afterwards it was learned that the microphone-type detectors also picked up spacecraft noises due to thermal expansion and contraction as well as effects caused by solar flares and cosmic rays. Even so, those early detectors gave results which were 10 to 100 times smaller than Pettersson's figure.

Dohnanyi's figure of 60 tons/day includes everything from slowly settling dust to the average input of meteorites.

Dohnanyi's figure for the moon (2 x 10-9 grams/square centimeter per year) yields 2.3 tons/day. In 4.5 billion years a layer of about one and a half inches of cosmic dust would accumulate on the moon. (On the moon, of course, a ton would weigh much less. We're actually talking about a mass that would weigh 2.3 tons on Earth.)

In his book Age of the Cosmos, published in 1980, Harold Slusher devoted a chapter to the amount of space dust raining down on the earth. He dwells on Pettersson's 1960 figure of 39,000 tons/day and even produces a 1967 figure which gives a whopping 700,000 tons/day! Alan Hayward, a respected physicist and Bible-believing Christian, felt it necessary to make the following observation:

To write like that in 1980 was inexcusable. The two sources he quotes were dated 1960 and 1967--hopelessly out of date in a fast-changing area of science. They merely provide estimates of what the influx of meteoritic dust might possibly be.

But we no longer have to rely on estimates. A paper, published four years before Slusher's book, described how the amount of meteoritic dust in space has now been measured, with detectors mounted on satellites.

(Hayward, 1985, pp.142-143)

Hayward was referring to a July 1976 article by D. W. Hughes, published in the New Scientist, which gave a figure of 48 tons/day--enough to cover the earth with about 1.5 inches of dust during the earth's lifetime! It's nearly a 1000 times smaller than Pettersson's figure, and it utterly destroys the cosmic dust argument.

Because of the incredible amount of space junk orbiting the earth, modern estimates of incoming dust have become more difficult. However, with the 1990 retrieval of the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) satellite, which spent nearly six years in orbit, possibly the clearest figure yet is now available for the influx of space dust.

In the October 22, 1993, Science, Stanley G. Love and Donald E. Brownlee (University of Washington) describe their analysis of 761 small impact craters found on some of LDEF's aluminum-alloy plates. These surfaces continuously faced spaceward while the satellite was in orbit. ...As the researcher explain, this location was superbly suited for their study. It was largely protected from orbital debris and secondary impacts from collisions elsewhere on the satellite, and in pointing

outward it also sampled a variety of interplanetary directions as LDEF orbited the Earth.

(Sky & Telescope, March 1994, p.13)

The article goes on to explain that dust particles as small as 35 trillionths of an ounce (10-9 grams) were detected. Love and Brownlee concluded that each year the earth collects about 40,000 metric tons (121 tons/day) which is a bit higher than the less direct figures given above. The results are "comparable to rates crudely calculated from the long-term accumulation of the rare element iridium in sea sediment and Antarctic ice."

Thus, the very latest, and possibly the best, cosmic dust influx measurement dooms the creationist argument once again. (How many strikes does it take before you're out in creationland? Answer: Who knows? They play by no rules and have no referees.) In summary, the general scientific consensus, going back to the 1960s, has been borne out by numerous measurements during the last 25 years.

Perhaps these constant reminders about obsolete data finally got to Henry Morris. Yet, he did not drop the cosmic dust argument like a hot potato, as one might expect. To the contrary, his second edition of Scientific Creationism (1985) expanded his footnote reference to Pettersson to suggest that a much more recent source from NASA gave an even larger influx of dust! The reader was referred to: "G.S. Hawkins, Ed., Meteor Orbits and Dust, published by NASA, 1976" (Wheeler, 1987, p.14). Thus, Morris appeared to have an unimpeachable source which was even more recent than Dohnanyi's figure!

Frank Lovell, suspecting that years of direct measurement from space (supported by sea floor studies) could not be that wrong, smelling a rat as it were, checked up on the source. It turned out that the actual date was 1967! The digits had been reversed (Wheeler, 1987, pp.14-15). Furthermore, the figure quoted by Morris (200 million tons of dust each year) was not given in the original source! It was a calculation based on the original source, done by an unnamed "creationist physicist" who botched it! The unsuspecting reader would have assumed that the rate had the official blessing of NASA. Astronomer Larry W. Esposito had some choice words concerning this incredible fiasco by Henry Morris:

...the work is incorrectly cited, outdated, from a non-referenced symposium publication, based on unreliable data. The calculation multiplies together unrelated numbers: the product of these factors is not a reliable estimation of the current cosmic dust deposition rate.

(Wheeler, 1987, p.15)

Wheeler and Lovell were party to another strange, creationist tale of reversed digits! They had written a letter to a religious magazine, Concern, published in Louisville, Kentucky, and had criticized an article which had used Pettersson's obsolete figure for cosmic dust influx. Concern published that letter along with a reply from the author of the original article. The author stated that Richard Bliss (a member of the Institute for Creation Research) had written the following to him in a letter:

It seems that we have estimates on meteor dust deposition, based on various assumptions, of the total volume of incoming meteoritic material ranging from 800,000 to 1 x 106 tons per day. You can get this information from the following sources:

1. Space Handbook, Astronautics and its Applications by R.W. Beucherin and staff of the Rand Corporation, Random House, NY 1959.

2. Nazarove, I.N. Rocket and Satellite Investigations of Meteors presented at the fifth meeting of the COMITE Speciale De I'annee Geophysique International, Moscow, August 1985.

(Wheeler, 1987, p.15)

The first source was even more obsolete than Pettersson's, but the second one was dated 1985. In response to a query, Bliss said that he got the figures from Harold Slusher, also of ICR. Several attempts to get through to Slusher failed.

Finally it occurred to us that the date cited for this reference, like that of Morris, might be incorrect. The International Geophysical Year ("I'annee Geophysique International") was 1957-1958, and I found in Nature [182:294 (1958)] that the fifth meeting of the Special Committee was held in Moscow in July-August 1958, and that it included a symposium on the rocket and satellite program; this obviously was the source of Slusher's reference.

(Wheeler, 1987, p.15)

Thus, we have a second case of inverted digits! A complaint about obsolete data was answered with data even more obsolete!! The average reader, of course, would never have guessed that the citation was bogus.

Thus, creationism carried its obsolete banner ever forward. In 1989, Walter Brown came out with the 5th edition of his booklet In the Beginning. He was no longer quoting Pettersson as was the case in older editions. Nevertheless, he calculated that in 4.6 billion years 2,000 feet of dust should have accumulated on the moon.

Brown says his figure is based on data from two sources, Stuart R. Taylor's Lunar Science: A Post-Apollo View (New York: Pergamon Press, 1975, p.92) and David W. Hughes's "The Changing Micrometeoroid Flux" (Nature 251(379-380), 4 October 1974). Hughes gives no basis for any calculation.

(Schadewald, 1990, p.16)

As for Taylor's paper, Schadewald identifies the appropriate distribution equation, makes use of the calculus and shows that even if we extend the range of particles way beyond what was actually detected we would get a layer of dust only 1 inch deep! Schadewald was left wondering where Brown got his 2000 feet of dust! Perhaps, he mused, Brown had moon dust in his eyes when he made that calculation.

I shouldn't tease Dr. Brown since I blew the initial calculations before correcting myself! The equation which Schadewald uses (from Taylor) is:

log(N) = -1.62 - 1.16 log(m)

N is the number of bodies with masses greater than m, which impact a square kilometer of moon per year. The density of the dust is given as 3 grams/cubic centimeter. It does make a difference which units one uses for mass. The context of Schadewald's article suggests that the proper mass units are grams (not kilograms), and a little playing around with the equation makes that reasonably clear. If one erroneously uses kilograms and integrates N(m) over a range of 10-16 kilograms to 1020 kilograms, a figure of 2259 feet of dust may be obtained for a period of 4.6 billion years. Possibly something like that happened in Dr. Brown's calculation. (By the way, if you are not familiar with mathematics, just hop over these little diversions. I dive into the mathematics, at times, to give the more able reader the finer points. You don't need them to get the general drift.)

If I understand the equation properly, a straightforward integration of N(m) is not the most precise method, but it does yield a good approximation to the answers I got. For a mass range of 100Kg to 1000Kg I calculate that 4.6 billion years would deposit a layer of dust 0.107mm (4 thousandths of an inch) thick. For a mass range of 100gms to 1000Kg I get 0.79mm. However, in extending the calculation to extremes, from 10-13 grams to 1023 grams, I came up with 26.4cm (10.4 inches) instead of 2.5cm which Schadewald got. The point is that you wouldn't even get 10.4 inches of dust in 4.6 billion years, being that the formula is not accurate for these extreme ranges. Attempts to inflate this value further, by going to even greater ranges, is simply an abuse of the formula and proves nothing.

Neither the above formula, when properly used, nor actual measurements made in space offer anything close to the huge amounts of cosmic dust needed in this young-earth argument. Of course, a little thing like that would never stop those creationists from circulating it!

Today, armies of creationists, such as Dr. Hovind, carry forth the banner of the cosmic dust argument, and some of them are still using Pettersson's 1960 calculations! As for Dr. Hovind, he seems to have written a new chapter altogether! In his June 15, 1992 debate with Dr. Hilpman in the Royal Hall of the University of Missouri, Dr. Hovid calmly stated that scientists had predicted that 182 feet of cosmic dust would be found on the moon based on an accumulation of 1 inch every 10,000 years. I played that video segment three times to make sure I had it right! Had he checked those figures he would have found that they represent two different rates, that of 4144 tons/day and a whopping 872,798 tons/day! Compare either figure to the 2.3 tons/day given by Dohnanyi which was based on actual measurements made in space. The cosmic dust argument, having been obsolete for 25 years, has now entered the realm of comedy! Perhaps, I should have said "tragedy" since this is the kind of nonsense creationists want to teach our children.

Did I say "want to teach"? It may interest you to know that a sixth-grade science textbook Observing God's World, published by A Beka Book Publications in 1978, made use of the cosmic dust argument! (Van Till et al, 1988, p.78). It was probably written for one of those private, "Christian" schools which don't teach evolution. I certainly hope that none of our public schools have sunk that low! There's something rotten about foisting such sleazy garbage on children who look to their teachers for knowledge.

For an excellent study of this moon dust argument, read Clarence Menninga (Van Till et al, 1988, pp.67-82). If you do, you will find that there are still more blunders associated with this infamous creationist argument!

A few young-earth creationists do show signs of acute embarrassment, and in them there is some light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Some of them are trying to set up a review process to weed out errors in the creationist literature. However, I'm afraid that when the last of the bath water is thrown out, no baby will be found!

Young-earth "proof" #3: The existence of short-period comets means that the universe is less than 10,000 years old. Comets and meteoroids only last from 10,000-15,000 years before they are blown apart by the solar wind.

3. In his debate with Dr. Hilpman, Dr. Hovind stated that comets lasted 10,000-15,000 years before being blown apart by the solar wind! Really! Any high school kid with a keen interest in astronomy will tell you that it is the heat of the sun which is a comet's undoing. Each time a comet, which is akin to a dirty snowball, passes near the sun it loses tons of material to vaporization. Thus, the number of orbits such a comet can make before being reduced to a swarm of gravel is limited. The solar wind along with the heat and light of the inner solar system are responsible for a comet's magnificent tail. Thus, comets brighten up as they near the sun, their tails pointing away from the sun. A few comets occasionally crash into one of the planets, especially Jupiter, or into the sun itself. Others are thrown out of the solar system forever.

In passing, let me point out that the projected life span of one short-period comet, that of Halley's comet, is 40,000 years (Chaisson and McMillan, 1993, p.339). Thus, we can forget about Dr. Hovind's 10,000-year figure! A comet's actual life span depends on its size.

Short-period comets can be used to support a young solar system, hence a young earth, only if they have no reasonable source of replenishment. By definition, they orbit the sun at least once every 200 years. Since they lose material each time they pass near the sun, they soon burn out and must constantly be replaced over billions of years. To destroy the creationist argument, we need only throw reasonable doubt on their claim that short-period comets are not replaced. If that point is in doubt, then the whole argument crumbles away.

Creationism's main argument seems to be that we don't have close-up photos of the Oort Cloud and, therefore, cannot be 100% certain that it really exists! Sorry fellas, but if you want to use this comet argument it is up to you to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the Oort Cloud and other sources don't exist! (The Oort Cloud, named after Jan Hendrik Oort, is a calculated accumulation of comets and cometary material occupying the fringes of the solar system at a distance of roughly 50,000 to 100,000 AU. One AU is the average distance of the earth from the sun, i.e., 93 million miles. Various computer studies of cometary orbital data in conjunction with other evidence strongly supports the existence of the Oort Cloud.)

Let's briefly summarize what science knows about comets. In 1950, based on a study of the orbits of several long-period comets, the Dutch astronomer Jan Oort proposed that a great spherical shell of them existed at the remote frontiers of our solar system. Better statistics in more recent years have supported the existence of the Oort Cloud and put it at a distance of 50,000 AU (1.3 light-years).

During the 1980s, astronomers realized that Oort Cloud comets may be outnumbered by an inner cloud that begins about 3,000 AU from the Sun and continues to the edge of the classical Oort Cloud at 20,000 AU. Most estimates place the population of the inner Oort Cloud at about five to ten times that of the outer cloud -- say, 20 trillion or so -- although the number could be ten times greater than that. The innermost portion of the inner Oort Cloud is relatively flattened, with comets extending a few degrees above and below the ecliptic. But the cloud rapidly expands, forming a complete sphere by the time it reaches several thousand AU.

(Benningfield, 1990, p.33)

This inner cloud of comets is called the Hills Cloud. Originally, it was thought that short-period comets were merely long-period comets from the Oort Cloud which had been converted by close encounters with Jupiter or the other large outer planets. That may well be true for some of them, but modern studies of short-period comets have identified their probable origin in a region of space now named the Kuiper Belt, which resembles a flattened ring just beyond the orbit of Neptune. Computer simulations show that such a source would account beautifully for the low-inclination, short-period, prograde orbits, and other features associated with short-period comets. The Kuiper Belt probably has anywhere from 100 million to several billion comets, which probably formed there when the planets formed. The gradual pull of the giant gas planets over time continually send a few of those comets towards the sun. Thus, the short-period comets are replenished from the Kuiper Belt. The Kuiper Belt is no longer "just" a theoretical construct. As of 1998, more than 60 of the larger objects in the Kuiper Belt have been directly observed! That translates to some 70,000 objects out there whose diameter exceeds a whopping 100 kilometers—not to mention countless numbers of normal-sized comets. Jim Foley was kind enough to pass along an Internet site for those of you who may be interested in these new discoveries. The Kuiper Belt web page ( is maintained by David Jewitt, who personally discovered many of these objects.

Thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have finally proven that short-period comets come from a vast region of space beyond Neptune. This is the realm of the Kuiper disk — an enormous population of shadowy mini-ice worlds that slowly orbit the Sun in near total darkness.

(Astronomy, October 1995, p.28)

Theoretical calculations indicate that the great bulk of comets were originally formed in the region between Uranus and Neptune. They represent planetesimals which escaped being gobbled up by the outer planets. Gravitational interactions eventually tossed them into elliptical orbits which took them thousands of astronomical units (AU) away from the sun. This region, then, is the ultimate source of those comets making up the Oort Cloud.

Oort determined that comets tossed into highly elliptical orbits by Uranus and Neptune would be nudged into more nearly circular orbits by encounters with passing stars. Stellar encounters also would scatter comets above and below the ecliptic plane, creating a sphere of comets instead of a flattened disk. After four decades of refinements to Oort's original ideas, astronomers today believe the Oort Cloud extends from about 20,000 to 100,000 AU (almost 2 light-years) from the Sun and contains as many as two trillion comets with a total mass several times Earth's.

(Benningfield, 1990, p.31)

A star passing within a few light-years would likely perturb the orbits of the comets in the Oort Cloud, sending some of them towards the sun. Statistics indicate that about 5000 stars have passed that closely during the earth's lifetime. An encounter with a giant molecular cloud, which is likely to happen every few hundred million years as our sun orbits our galaxy, would also perturb the Oort Cloud.

Another newly discovered agent for perturbing Oort Cloud comets is gravitational tides. Created by the gravitational force of material in the Galactic disk, these tides could alter the orbits of Oort Cloud comets. In fact, some astronomers estimate that as many as 80 percent of the long-period comets entering the inner solar system for the first time were shoved from their previous orbits by the gentle tug of Galactic tides.

(Benningfield, 1990, pp.32-33)

Once in a great while, perhaps 9 times during the lifetime of our Earth (Astronomy, February 1982, p.63), a star will pass so close as to stir up even the Hills Cloud of comets (the innermost Oort Cloud which is shaped mostly like a disk). A collision with a giant molecular cloud would have a similar effect.

Occasionally, though, a star or giant molecular cloud passes directly through both Oort Clouds, scattering comets like a cue ball striking the neatly racked balls on a billiard table. Such an event kicks many comets into the outer cloud, replenishing those lost to other processes.

(Benningfield, 1990, pp.33-34)

Thus, we have adequate sources for replenishing both our long-period comets and our short-period comets over a period of several billion years. In the case of the latter, we can actually see some of the larger ones lurking in the Kuiper Belt!

Granted, we don't have photos of comets in the Oort Cloud or the Hills Cloud. At those distances comets are too small to show up even in the best telescopes. The fact that the Oort and Hills Clouds are still "theoretical" does not mean that they are based on guesswork and rank speculation. Computer simulation, as already mentioned, matched the short-period comets to the Kuiper Belt. Now, we have visual confirmation. Similar studies of long-period comets, even from the 1950s, points clearly to their origin in the Oort Cloud. All in all, a great deal of computer work has been done that supports and refines the above models. The astronomical community treats the Oort Cloud, at the very least, as an excellent working hypotheses.

That there is some kind of large comet reservoir beyond the range of our telescopes follows directly from a simple observation. Astronomers detect new long-period comets at the rate of about one per month. By that rough estimate, 24,000 long-period comets have entered the inner solar system since the time of Christ! Orbital analysis show that these approaching comets generally take several million years to orbit the sun, and, as they are more or less randomly distributed in their orbits, we may deduce that the bulk of them are presently beyond the range of our telescopes. Only the exceptional comet, at any given moment, would be in that small portion of its orbit which crosses the inner solar system.

For the sake of argument, suppose that it takes each of these comets four million years to orbit the sun. In 2000 years we see only 2000/4,000,000 or 1/2000 of them. Thus, we would have about 48 million comets altogether. However, even that figure is extremely low since only the exceptional comet would have an elongated orbit which takes it anywhere near the sun. Oort showed that most of them would happily orbit the fringes of our solar system and never come near the inner regions. Obviously, as you can see from this ballpark calculation, there is an ample source of comets beyond the range of our telescopes.

This reservoir of cometary nuclei surrounding the Sun is called the Oort Cloud . . . Estimates of the number of "dirty snowballs" in the Oort Cloud range as high as 12 billion. Only such a large reservoir of cometary nuclei would explain why we see so many long-period comets, even though each one takes several million years to travel once around its orbit.

(Kaufmann, 1994, p.304)

Another simple observation applies to the short-period comets, which means that we didn't even need the visual confirmation of the Kuiper Belt to win the argument! If there were no means for replenishing comets, then all of them would have the same age. In creationist eyes, they would all be 6000 years old. Yet, observations show that short-period comets with equivalent orbits and sizes have a variety of ages. They range from gaseous "babies," which could hardly have gone around the sun more than a few times, to burnt-out gravel heaps, which have been around the sun once too often. This simple observation proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the short-period comets are being replaced.

Benningfield (1990, p.32) gives some interesting evidence indicating that vast comet clouds exist around certain stars, but we shall not pursue the matter further. The point has already been made. In order to win this argument, the creationist must prove that there are no reasonable sources for replenishing comets. Instead, we find compelling evidence for cometary reservoirs!

Young-earth "proof" #4: There are no fossil meteorites in the geologic record. If the latter were laid down over billions of years we would expect to find at least a few fossil meteorites in the geologic strata. Therefore, the geologic record was deposited rapidly.

4. Meteorites are hard enough to find on the surface of the earth when they are fresh and "obvious" -- unless one happens to know about a choice site. Search a random acre of land in the United States and see how many meteorites you can find. I suspect that you would be lucky to find a single one even if you repeated the search a thousand times on a thousand different acres.

How much more difficult it is to find a meteorite embedded in ancient strata! Most meteorites landing on the continental areas probably suffer severe erosion before eventual burial. Those which fall into the ocean may eventually be subducted with the oceanic plate into the earth's mantel or metamorphosed and thrust up in a mountain chain. The vast majority of people who drill or dig in the earth are not looking for meteorites and would not recognize one if it fell into their lap. After a little erosion, a stony meteorite looks just like any other pebble or rock; iron meteorites would likely have rusted out long ago. Thus, it would be a truly rare meteorite to survive initial erosion and chemical decomposition, to be uncovered by erosion, and, finally, to have somebody stumble upon it and identify it. If you ask yourself how many people in the world can identify an eroded, stony meteorite, you'll have some idea of the problem.

After reviewing such difficulties, geologist Davis Young (1988, p.127) tells us that, "The chances of finding a fossil meteorite in sedimentary rocks are remote. It is not to be expected." G. J. McCall, in Meteorites and Their Origins (1973, p.270), said, "The lack of fossil record of true meteorites is puzzling, but can be explained by the lack of very diagnostic shapes and the chemical nature of meteorites, which allows rapid decay..."

It may surprise you, therefore, to hear that we do have such a find! Two Swedish scientists made the first positive identification of a fossilized stony meteorite (Astronomy, June 1981). Per Thorslund and Frans Wickman reported in Nature that a 10 centimeter object found in a limestone slab from a quarry in Brunflo, central Sweden in 1952 is really a stony meteorite as demonstrated by microscopic examinations and other properties. It has a terrestrial age of about 463 million years. The object had until recently been mistaken for something else. If the odds were not bent enough, it appears that the meteorite hit an Ordovician mollusk which is fossilized in conjunction with the meteorite! (Spratt and Stephens, 1992, p.53)

In 1988 another Swedish meteorite, called "Österplana 1," was discovered in Lower Ordovician Limestone about 5 million years older and 300 miles away from the first one (Hansen and Bergström, 1997, p.1).

Twelve more meteorites have been found at the Thorsberg Limestone Quarry in Sweden:

A 10-foot-thick section of the Holen ("Orthoceratite") Limestone, of Early Middle Ordovician age, is extracted at the Thorsberg quarry and sawed into thin slabs that are used for window sills and floor tile. Quarry workers discarded slabs with impurities, such as the meteorites, until Professor Maurits Lindström of the University of Stockhom alerted them to save such slabs. The 12 specimens were recovered between 1992 and 1996. Ten of the specimens were recovered from a 2-foot-thick bed of limestone and may represent a single meteorite fall. The other three specimens were recovered from two separate levels above this layer. Seven of the specimens, collected between 1993 and 1996, are from a quarried limestone volume of no more than about 127,000 cubic feet. Most of the specimens are now on display at the Stiftelsen Paleo Geology Center in Lidköping, Sweden. ... The dark, reddish brown meteorite masses [from 0.5 to 3.5 inches in diameter] look like iron nodules surrounded by a zone of lighter colored limestone and would be mistaken by many people for common sedimentary features.

(Hansen and Bergström, 1997, p.3)

In 1997 a research team from the University of Göteborg found 17 meteorites buried 480 million years ago at Kinnekulle in Sweden! It was mentioned in the news program "Dagens Eko" by Birger Schmitz of the research team. Sweden seems to be the place to go for fossil meteorites!*

In 1930 a fist-sized piece of Eocene nickel-iron was said to have been recovered from a bore hole at a depth of 1,525 feet. This "Zapata County" Texas iron has since been lost (Nature, January 22, 1981).

Fritz Heide mentioned that "The iron of Sardis, Burke County, Georgia, was found in 1940, in strata believed to be of Middle Miocene age." (Heide, 1964, pp.118-119.)

Glenn Morton informs us that:

James M. Barnett determined the sedimentation rate of Silurian salt (circa 400 million years old) from the Michigan basin by studying the micrometeorites found in the salt [Barnett, 1983]. One would expect to find such material in an evaporative basin open to the air but not in salt formed in other fashions.

Why would God create pollen, fungal spores and micrometeorites with the salt? If God did this one would be able to charge him with deception - making a created salt deposit look like an evaporative one.

(Morton, 1995, p.17)

Not only do we have buried micrometeorites here, but we have a problem for Noah's flood. If it is, indeed, responsible for laying down most of the geologic column, as claimed by Henry Morris and others, then how do we explain this evaporative salt deposit? Did the flood poop out in its early stages and give way to a prolonged dry spell before resuming?

We may conclude, therefore, that it is not true that fossil meteorites don't exist in the geologic record. An extensive, systematic search in the right areas will likely produce results. However, recovering and identifying them is extremely rare in practice.

Other Links:
Impact Craters on Earth
An illustrated look at impact craters and why they refute young-earth creationism.
Interactive Map of Terrestrial Impact Craters
A map of many known impacts with information about each.
Are Radioactive Dating Methods Consistent With Each Other?
The discovery of a crater chain leads to a strong test of the trustworthiness of radiometric dating.

A much stronger test of this creationist argument is to look for the remains of giant meteorite impacts. Their craters might not be a snap to identify, due to erosion and burial, but we can at least expect to find a number of them if the geologic column is truly ancient. Thus, we have a definitive test between the two viewpoints. If the earth's geologic record is the result of many hundreds of millions of years of slow accumulation, then we would expect a fair number of "fossil" meteorite craters in all the major strata. On the other hand, if the geologic column was laid down in a mere year by Noah's flood, then it would be extremely unlikely to find even one "fossil" crater.

Well, I won't keep you in suspense. The geologic record contains at least 130 positively identified "fossil" craters. They are preserved in all the major strata from the Precambrian (2 billion years ago) to Recent times. Except for Chicxulub, the following partial list is from R. A. F. Grieve and P. B. Robertson (1979). More fossil craters have since been found, but a portion of their 1979 list will do just fine. With one exception, all of those listed are larger than Meteor Crater in Arizona. Lovely maps showing the known fossil crater sites, and even photographs, may be found on the Internet (

Only within the last 25 years or so has it been possible to positively identify fossil impact craters. Thus, one should check the date on quoted materials. Usually, a positive identification of an impact crater is based on several clues that, taken together, make an airtight case. Here are some of those clues which geologists look for:

  1. An impact crater, such as Arizona's Meteor Crater, may exhibit a reverse order of the strata making up the rim. That is, some of the strata gets flipped back and over to form the rim. Unfortunately, erosion will usually have erased such evidence.

  2. Material thrown out by the impact may still be around. An example is Ries Crater in southern Germany, which is 26 kilometers (16 miles) in diameter. A blanket of ejected material up to 100 meters in depth surrounds a roughly circular lake (Davies, 1986, p. 82).

  3. Shatter cones may be present. They are structures in which closely spaced fractures flare outward and downward from the apex of a cone. Sometimes many shatter cones are aligned so as to point towards the probable center of impact. These cone-shaped rocks are sometimes mistaken for fossils by amateurs!

  4. Thin sections of rock may, under microscopic examination with plain and polarized light, reveal small droplets of melted material or other unusual structures. X-ray crystallography may show that the normal crystalline structure has been altered or broken down.

  5. Another important clue is the presence of igneous rocks that have recrystallized after having been melted by sudden impact. Oddly placed glass is another solid clue. At the Chicxulub site glassy material suddenly appears in the limestone at a certain depth along with shattered rock.

  6. The presence of greatly compressed forms of quartz (such as coesite and stishovite), which can be created only by high temperatures and pressures, is a very strong indicator of an impact site. The formation of coesite requires more than 30,000 atmospheres of pressure, and stishovite requires over 100,000 atmospheres of pressure (George Wetherill, 1979, p. 59). They have been found in the vicinity of many impact craters. There are a variety of such minerals, known as impactites, which are associated with ancient craters.

  7. In a few cases meteorite fragments are found associated with the crater.

These and other clues, often found together, have ruled out the usual geologic alternatives such as old volcanic craters, natural basins, etc.

The Geologic Column Location of Crater Millions of Years
Precambrian Vredefort, South Africa 1970.  
Precambrian Sudbury, Ontario, Canada 1840.  
Precambrian Jänisjärvi, Russia  700.  
Cambrian Kelly West, N.T., Australia  550.  
Cambrian Holleford, Ontario, Canada  550.  
Cambrian Kjardla, Estonia  500.  
Ordovician Sääksjärvi, Finland  490.  
Ordovician Carswell, Saskatchewan, Canada  485.  
Ordovician Brent, Ontario, Canada  450.  
Silurian Lac Couture, Quebec, Canada  420.  
Silurian Lac La Moinerie, Quebec, Canada  400.  
Devonian Siljan, Sweden  365.  
Devonian Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada  360.  
Devonian Flynn Creek, Tennessee, USA  360.  
Carboniferous Crooked Creek, Missouri, USA  320.  
Carboniferous Middlesboro, Kentucky, USA  300.  
Carboniferous Serpent Mound, Ohio, USA  300.  
Permian Kursk, Russia  250.  
Permian Dellen, Sweden  230.  
Permian St. Martin, Manitoba, Canada  225.  
Triassic Manicouagan, Quebec, Canada  210.  
Triassic Redwing Creek, North Dakota, USA  200.  
Jurassic Vepriaj, Lithuania  160.  
Jurassic Rochechouart, France  160.  
Jurassic Strangways, N.T., Australia  150.  
Cretaceous Sierra Madre, Texas, USA  100.  
Cretaceous Rotmistrovka, Ukraine   70.  
Cretaceous Chicxulub, Yucatan, Mexico   65.  
Paleocene Kara, Russia   57.  
Oligocene Mistastin, Labrador, Canada   38.  
Oligocene Wanapitei L., Ontario, Canada   38.  
Miocene Haughton Dome, N.W.T., Canada   15.  
Miocene Karla, Russia   10.  
Pliocene New Quebec Crater, New Quebec, Canada    5.  
Pliocene Aouelloul, Mauritania    3.1 
Pleistocene Bosumtwi, Ghana    1.3 
Pleistocene Lonar, India    0.05

As you can see, plenty of impact craters have been detected throughout the geologic column, from the Cambrian to recent times. Eleven have been found in the Precambrian. Of those, six are about a billion years or more old. Traditional geology stands vindicated. Obviously, the major strata of the geologic column have been laid down over the ages. Those ages have seen the impact of many large asteroids, each one a rare event.

Major impacts are obviously rare. None have occurred during recorded history. (The Tunguska impact in Russia, believed to be caused by a stony asteroid, was just a minor flash in the pan compared to the crater-makers we are talking about. Meteor Crater, Arizona, is probably the freshest "big" crater around, and it happened some 50,000 years ago.) Therefore, creationists must conjure up a miraculous swarm of asteroids which decide to drop in on Earth throughout the year of Noah's flood. They fall here and there without destroying the ark with huge waves or blast effects far exceeding that of any atomic bomb. After the flood dries up, this bunch of asteroids, which had been steadily bombarding the earth and creating miraculous numbers of craters, suddenly decides to pack up and go home. Thus, history knows of not one large impact in the thousands of years since that one, magical year. Sounds a little like a creationist fairy tale, doesn't it?

The geologic column stands vindicated. It wins hands down!

While we're on the subject of asteroid impacts, let me point out another fatal problem for the young-earth scenario. A casual inspection of the cratered surfaces of Mars, the Moon, and Mercury, not to mention most of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, make it intuitively obvious that a lot of enormous asteroids were once flying around our solar system. It would be plain silly to think that Earth escaped untouched while everything around it was plastered with craters. Unlike the Moon and Mercury, and to some extent, Mars, those early craters on Earth have not been preserved. Various geological processes such as weathering and plate tectonics have long ago erased them.

That the earth partook in this early massive bombardment is made even clearer by the use of statistics.

Start with the oldest parts of the Moon, and imagine counting up the number of craters of different diameters. On the Moon, you find that when you go down a factor of ten in crater size, the craters become more common by about a factor of a hundred. Of course this rule isn't perfect, and some crater sizes are present in greater or lesser number than this simple rule leads you to expect.

Now play the same game with craters on the ancient terrain of Mars, or on Mercury, and what do you find? Not only do you find the same overall relationship between crater number and crater size, but those particular sizes that broke the rule on the Moon break the rule to about the same extent on Mars and Mercury as well. A common interpretation of this similarity in bombardment records is that all these worlds were cratered by the same population of objects... But if Mars, Mercury, and the Moon were all pummeled by the same population of impacting objects during the heavy bombardment, Earth and Venus must have been as well.

(Chyba, 1992, p.31)

What does all this mean? It means that the above list of craters represent just the leftovers from the BIG DINNER!

Any one of the largest impacts would have produced a short lived global atmosphere composed of rock vapor, temporarily raising the temperature of Earth's surface to above that of the inside of an oven. In the most extreme cases, this searing heat would have lasted long enough to have evaporated the entire ocean, sterilizing the surface of the Earth.

Scientists can use the bombardment record on the Moon to estimate just how often this level of destruction took place. Statistically, because of Earth's larger gravity, something like 17 or so objects larger than the largest object that hit the Moon should have collided with Earth. If the largest object that impacted the Moon was the one responsible for the 2,500-km-diameter South Pole-Aitken basin on the lunar farside (whose controversial existence was finally confirmed two years ago by the Galileo spacecraft), Earth was probably hit about five times by asteroids or comets big enough to have completely vaporized its oceans. [A number of scientists now believe that life originated several times on the primeval earth, only to be wiped out in its first few attempts by the above impacts! -- D.M.]

(Chyba, 1992, pp.32-33)

Creationists just haven't come to grips with the tremendous beating that the early Earth took from asteroids. Most of that evidence has been destroyed on Earth and Venus by geological activity, but much of it can still be seen on the Moon, Mercury, and the older portions of Mars. A similar bombardment hammered the outer solar system, leaving its marks on many of the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Evidence indicates that one or two of those moons were actually blown apart, their pieces slowly coalescing again through gravity! The early solar system was a violent place, and it took more than a few days for it to settle down!

The heavy bombardment period ended about 3.8 billion years ago. By creationist reckoning, that places it before Noah's flood and after the creation of the earth. Poor, old Noah would not even have had the privilege of being blasted out of the water! The ocean, itself, would have boiled away before he ever got started! Noah, along with the antediluvian population, would have had the dubious privilege of breathing hot rock vapor! The impacting asteroids probably melted a large part of the earth's surface. Nobody would have been left alive for God to punish!

If the above facts are not grim enough for you, there is good evidence that Earth, very early on, collided with a protoplanet the size of Mars! (Kaufmann, 1994, pp. 172-176; Chaisson and McMillan, 1993, p.184). Such a collision is the only credible explanation we have for the origin of the moon! Supercomputer studies by Benz, Slattery, and Cameron show that some of the material thrown out by a glancing blow from this Mars-sized protoplanet would regroup to form the moon.

The collisional ejection theory is in agreement with many of the known facts about the Moon. For example, rock vaporized by the impact would have been depleted of volatile elements and water, leaving the moon rocks we now know. If the collision took place after chemical differentiation had occurred on Earth, when our planet's iron sunk to its center, then relatively little iron would have been ejected, which would account for the Moon's small iron-rich core.

(Kaufmann, 1994, p. 173)

Maybe that's why Earth is tilted so, though we must be careful about assuming, a priori, that a planet's tilt is a permanent feature in need of a specific explanation. (It might, for example, be unstable over long periods of time.)

We already have Noah and the antediluvians breathing hot rock vapor in an oceanless world with a semi-molten surface, due to the heavy bombardment of asteroids. We now find that they had been living on a planet which quite probably had been blasted to its very core in a planetary collision! God puts Noah to a lot of trouble to build the ark, so that he and the animals might survive a worldwide flood. Funny, the flood was the least of Noah's problems! What Noah really needed was a spaceship and an early ticket out of there!

Looks like it's miracle time again for those "scientific" creationists. Once you start with a young Earth, you are committed to squeezing everything into a small time frame. Some things, such as the heavy asteroid bombardment and Earth's probable collision with a protoplanet, don't squeeze very well! How long does it take a moon to form from scratch, anyway?

Young-earth "proof" #5: The Moon is receding a few inches each year. Less than a million years ago the Moon would have been so close that the tides would have drowned everyone twice a day. Less than 2 or 3 million years ago the Moon would have been inside the Roche limit and, thus, destroyed.

(Dr. Hilpman vs. Dr. Hovind, June 15, 1992; the Royal Hall of the University of Missouri)

Other Links:
The Recession of the Moon and the Age of the Earth-Moon System
Tim Thompson refutes claims that lunar recession prove the Earth-Moon system is young.

5. Once again, Dr. Hovind's figures just boggle the mind! Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the Moon is receding at 6 inches per year. If we go back a million years, then the Moon was 6 million inches closer to the earth. That comes to about 95 miles! Since the Moon is about 240,000 miles away, that doesn't amount to diddly-squat! Indeed, the Moon has a slightly elliptical orbit that varies more than 95 miles all by itself.

A more accurate estimate, based on the present rate of lunar recession, puts the Moon within the Roche limit around 1 or 2 billion years ago. That is the argument most creationists use. (Since Dr. Hovind's notes match the figures he quoted in his debate with Dr. Hilpman, they are fair game and not a simple slip of the pen.)

The tides, chiefly caused by the Moon's gravitational attraction and the orbiting of Earth and Moon about a common point, act as a brake to slow down the earth's rotation. The nearer tidal bulge, which carries the greater effect, runs slightly out of alignment of the Moon overhead; the gravitational interaction between it and the Moon serves to speed up the Moon in its orbit even as it slows down the earth's rotation. As it speeds up, the Moon moves to a higher orbit.

The effectiveness of this tidal brake on the earth's rotation strongly depends on the configuration of the oceans. Thus, we should inquire as to whether the current arrangement is an average value or not.

The present rate of tidal dissipation is anomalously high because the tidal force is close to a resonance in the response function of the oceans; a more realistic calculation shows that dissipation must have been much smaller in the past and that 4.5 billion years ago the moon was well outside the Roche limit, at a distance of at least thirty-eight earth radii (Hansen 1982; see also Finch 1982).

(Brush, 1983, p.78)

Thus, our moon was probably never closer than 151,000 miles. A modern astronomy text (Chaisson and McMillan, 1993, p.173) gives an estimate of 250,000 kilometers (155,000 miles), which agrees very closely with Brush's figure. Thus, the "problem" disappears!

It may surprise you to learn that Charles Darwin's second son, George Darwin, regarded by many as the father of geophysics, studied the Moon's tidal effects in great detail. He came up with the idea that the Moon broke away from the earth due to rapid rotation (the fission theory), and estimated that at least 56 million years would be required for the Moon to have reached its present distance. George Darwin regarded his view of the Moon's origin as nothing more than a good guess, and he considered his time estimate to be nothing more than a lower limit. In the nineteenth century such a calculation of the earth's age was a reasonable scientific exercise. Today, in the light of what we now know, it's an exercise in futility. Too bad "scientific" creationists don't keep up with these little details. For more insight into the problem, see Dalrymple (1991, pp. 48-52).

Young-earth "proof" #6: The Moon contains considerable quantities of U-236 and Th-230, both of which are short-lived isotopes that would have expired long ago if the Moon were 4.5 billion years old.

6. Thorium-230 is an intermediate decay product of uranium-238 which has a half-life of about 4.468 billion years (Strahler, 1987, p.131). Thus, it will be continually generated as long as the supply of U-238 lasts. Funny, that Wysong, whose argument Hovind is using, should have overlooked the intermediate decay products of long-lived isotopes!

According to the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 7th edition (1992), the naturally existing uranium isotopes are: U-234 (0.00054%); U-235 (0.7%); U-238 (99.275%). However, trace amounts of U-236 also exist in nature. Dalrymple (1991, p.376) informs us that "U-236 is rare but is produced by nuclear reactions in some uranium ores where sufficient slow neutrons are available." Thus, Th-230 and U-236 are currently being generated and their existence in nature proves nothing. Creationists will find the following table of the known radioactive nuclides with half-lives greater than 1 million years far more interesting. Here is elegant proof that the earth is old!

(Dalrymple, 1991, p.377) - Nuclides currently produced by natural processes are tagged with a "P"
Nuclide Half-life (years) Found in nature?
V-50   6    x 1015 Yes
Nd-144 2.4  x 1015 Yes
Hf-174 2.0  x 1015 Yes
Pt-192 1    x 1015 Yes
In-115 6    x 1014 Yes
Gd-152 1.1  x 1014 Yes
Te-123 1.2  x 1013 Yes
Pt-190 6.9  x 1011 Yes
La-138 1.12 x 1011 Yes
Sm-147 1.06 x 1011 Yes
Rb-87  4.88 x 1010 Yes
Re-187 4.3  x 1010 Yes
Lu-176 3.5  x 1010 Yes
Th-232 1.40 x 1010 Yes
U-238  4.47 x 10 Yes
K-40   1.25 x 10 Yes
U-235  7.04 x 10 Yes
Pu-244 8.2  x 10 Yes

Sm-146 7    x 10 No
Pb-205 3.0  x 10 No
U-236  2.39 x 10 Yes-P
I-129  1.7  x 10 Yes-P
Cm-247 1.6  x 10 No
Hf-182 9    x 10 No
Pd-107 7    x 10 No
Mn-53  3.7  x 10 Yes-P
Cs-135 3.0  x 10 No
Tc-97  2.6  x 10 No
Np-237 2.14 x 10 Yes-P
Gd-150 2.1  x 10 No
Be-10  1.6  x 10 Yes-P
Zr-93  1.5  x 10 No
Tc-98  1.5  x 10 No
Dy-154 1    x 10 No

Other Links:
Radioactives Missing From The Earth
Don Lindsay provides another and more up-to-date presentation of this material.

Look again at the table above. Notice how every single nuclide with a half-life greater than 80 million years is found in nature; every single nuclide with a half-life less than 80 million years is not found in nature unless it is currently being produced by nature. Does that tell you something?

You're looking at prime evidence in favor of an old Earth! Those radioactive nuclides with half-lives below a certain value have, in the turning of the ages, decayed away to nothing. The only survivors are those which can be created by nature.

Could this be a chance arrangement? Not likely. The odds against being able to draw a line anywhere which divides the nuclides in the above table so that all the nuclides above that line are found in nature by chance while all those below are not, is 536 million to one! (To be fair, we don't count those nuclides that nature can create.) Actually, in testing for a 10,000 year-old Earth, we should extend the table downwards to include nuclides with a half-life of 1000 years or more. They should all be present if the earth is only 10,000 years old. If you do extend the table, you will find that none of those nuclides, save those made by natural processes, are found in nature. The odds (based on an eligible list of 56 nuclides) against that are 72 quadrillion to one! Any takers?

Those who argue that the missing nuclides were never created must hope and pray that there is some natural process which works against the creation of short-lived nuclides. However, that argument comes up empty also.

There is good evidence that nucleosynthesis occurs in stars today and did so in the past. The spectra of some old stars, for example, reveal the presence of technetium, an element that has no stable nuclide and does not occur either in the Sun or on Earth (Merrill, 1952). . . Promethium has also been found in stars (Aller, 1971), and yet the longest-lived isotope of Pm has a half-life of only 18 years.

(Dalrymple, 1991, p.380)

In the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is a small companion galaxy to our own Milky Way, a spectacular supernova (SN1987A) occurred in 1987. After the main explosion died away, much of the light from this supernova was actually powered by radioactive elements! For a time cobalt-56 (with a half-life of 77.1 days) dominated. It is a decay product of nickel-56 (with a half-life of only 6.1 days) which was produced in quantity by the explosion. After the cobalt-56 decayed away over a period of about 4 years, cobalt-57 (with a longer half-life of 270 days) became the main source of the supernova's light. The decay of cobalt-56 and cobalt-57 liberates gamma rays of very specific energies, and these diagnostic gamma rays can be detected by high-altitude balloons or satellites. Moreover, astronomers could actually watch the light fade according to the exact decay rates of these two cobalt nuclides! (Gehrels et al, 1993, p.75).

Beginning around November [of 1987], spectra from the Kuiper [NASA's airborne infrared telescope] and from Australia together revealed an entire zoo of elements in the supernova core -- not just iron, nickel and cobalt but also argon, carbon, oxygen, neon, sodium, magnesium, silicon, sulfur, chlorine, potassium, calcium and possibly aluminum. Their intense infrared lines signaled larger quantities than could have been present in the star at its birth. The elements--the components, perhaps, of some future solar system--were made in the core of the star or in the explosion itself.

(Woosley and Weaver, 1989, p.38)

Such direct evidence, as well as laboratory findings and theoretical study, make it clear that when Mother Nature gets around to cooking up elements she makes plenty of those "missing" nuclides. They are missing from our old neck of the woods because they decayed away a long time ago. Dalrymple (1991, pp.280-384) supplies additional evidence showing that there is no barrier to the production of the missing nuclides. After probing the details for iodine-129, Dalrymple concludes with:

Similar arguments can be made for the other missing nuclides listed in Table 8.3. Most occupy advantageous positions in the chart of the nuclides so that ready synthesis by the r- and s-processes is expected. A few are less exposed and are produced in lesser but not negligible amounts by other nucleosynthetic processes.

(Dalrymple, 1991, p.384)

Finally, to add insult to injury, we find compelling evidence that some of the short-lived nuclides really did exist in our solar system once upon a time! Take aluminum-26, for example, which has a half-life of 716,000 years.

The fact that our solar system lacks aluminum-26 suggests that it is at least 15 million years old. That's about how long it would take for all the aluminum-26 to decay away. Mother Nature certainly knows how to make it; there's no problem in that department. With the help of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, which was placed into orbit in 1991 by the space shuttle Atlantis, we now know that our galaxy is full of aluminum-26 (Gehrels et al, 1993). Most of it lies along the galactic plane as would be expected if it were produced by supernovae from time to time.

Supernovae not only produce new elements but are implicated in the birth of stars. The gas shells of ancient supernovae have been identified, and some of these coincide with swarms of young stars. This is not too surprising since the shock wave of a supernova would compress any gas clouds which happened to be in the vicinity, thus setting the stage for the formation of new stars.

Indeed, our own solar system appears to have formed in that very manner! John Wood (1982) gives an excellent account of that discovery from which the following has been abstracted. It all began with the Allende meteorite which broke up over Mexico on February 8, 1969, showering the area near the village of Pueblito de Allende with thousands of stones. Scientifically speaking, it was one of the most important meteors ever to fall. Radiometric dating showed that the material was about 4.5 billion years old which is the accepted age of our solar system. More importantly, Allende samples contain little inclusions of material which once floated freely in space before being packed together with the surrounding space dust. These inclusions are rich in calcium, aluminum, and titanium, and are called CAI minerals. CAI minerals appear to be survivors of a primeval heating of the material from which our solar system was formed.

In addition to the irregular-shaped inclusions, Allende also contains oval-shaped inclusions called chondrules which are mostly made of olivine and pyroxene. A study of the chondrules and inclusions of Allende led to a remarkable discovery in the 1970's by Robert Clayton and co-workers of the University of Chicago. They found that the ratios of oxygen-17 to oxygen-18 in Allende (and similar meteorites) could best be explained by assuming that two fundamentally different sources supplied the oxygen in our solar system. One source might have been the original nebula from which our solar system formed, and the other might have been material injected into that nebula from a supernova explosion. The Allende discovery opened up a whole new area of scientific research with respect to meteorites.

One of the major advances on this front was made by G. J. Wasserburg and co-workers of the California Institute of Technology in 1976, when they found unequivocal evidence of the former presence of Al-26 in Allende CAI's. This isotope has a very short half-life, only 720,000 years, toward its decay into Mg-26. For any detectable amount of it to have been "alive" in Allende inclusions requires that it was created immediately before or during the formation of the solar system, and promptly mingled with the solar system's raw materials. It seems inescapable that a supernova (which is capable of creating Al-26, among other things) occurred near enough to the nascent solar system in space and time to contribute important amounts of freshly synthesized nuclides to it.

(Wood, 1982, pp.191-192)

That ancient supernova probably triggered the collapse of a nearby nebula which, in turn, produced our sun and, most likely, a slew of other stars which have long since left the general vicinity. Such a supernova, like SN1987A, would have contributed a whole zoo-full of short-lived radioactive nuclides in addition to aluminum-26. Vast quantities of oxygen, carbon, sulfur, iron, silicon and other basic elements would likely have been produced as well.

Consequently, we not only have Wasserburg's discovery that aluminum-26 was present in the early solar system but also the supernova process responsible for it, which guarantees that short-lived nuclides were a natural part of the landscape. Had the earth literally been created in seven days, Adam and Eve would have fried amongst the radioactive aluminum, cobalt, and what-have-you!

Another of the missing nuclides (very nearly so) is that of radioactive iodine-129 which has also left solid evidence of its former extensive existence in our solar system. (The small amount of iodine-129 found in tellurium ores, where it is produced from tellurium-130 by cosmic-ray muons [Dalrymple, 1991, p.376], and that from atomic bomb fallout do not affect our argument.) In the Richardson Meteorite, which fell in 1918, and the black stone Indarch, which fell in 1891, one finds regular iodine-127. That's the iodine you hopefully find in iodized salt. Since iodine-129 would have been produced along with ordinary iodine-127 during nuclear fusion, and since their chemical similarity would have tended to keep them together, we have a mystery. Where did all the iodine-129 go?

Studies showed that the above two meteorites have unusually large amounts of xenon-129 trapped in them, and, you guessed it, xenon-129 is a stable decay product of iodine-129! There was far more xenon present than could be created by cosmic rays. But there is more:

In the Earth's atmosphere, Xe-129 constitutes about one-fourth of total xenon. ... Yet in many meteorites Xe-129 is as much as 30 times more abundant, relative to the other xenon isotopes, than expected (Reynolds, 1967: 294, 1977: 217). As it is very probable that isotopes of the same element were thoroughly mixed when the Solar System formed, where did the excess Xe-129 come from?

(Dalrymple, 1991, p.384)

Thus, we have something missing and something extra, and the two are only sensibly linked by radioactive decay! Iodine-129, which would have been created side by side with its chemical twin, iodine-127, had long ago decayed away, and xenon-129 is a daughter product of that decay.

With a half-life of 16.4 million years, 99.97% of that iodine-129 would still exist if our earth were only 7000 years old! Since it's all gone, save that produced by atomic bombs and in tellurium ores, Earth is at least 300 million years old.

When we consider the above table of nuclides as a whole, we find that the earth is more than a few but less than about 10 billion years of age (Dalrymple, 1991, p.387). For a variety of reasons this approach can only give us a rough estimate, but it's enough to easily put away the young-earth claims.

Out of sheer desperation, creationists often challenge the constancy of the decay rates. Maybe radioactive elements decayed much faster in the past! However, neither theory nor laboratory experience offers any hope for that (see topic R2). That fact, of course, hasn't prevented creationists from taking flights of fantasy via their homespun theories about the universe. They simply toss Einstein's relativity, quantum mechanics, and any other inconvenient bit of science into the trash bin!

But, hey! Special relativity (and to a lesser extend, general relativity) and quantum mechanics have earned their stripes. They are the great success stories of modern science! We're not talking about rank speculation here! Atom smashers are built according to the specifications of special relativity; quantum mechanics is the proven core of theoretical chemistry. Both have been tested by diverse and clever experiments, and both have run true in thousands of applications.

Who are these creationists who can walk in and, without even putting their case before the scientific community, make up their own theories about the universe? They are generally individuals who are driven by religious doctrines of biblical literalism rather than by an honest search for truth. On the pretense that we have no reliable theoretical knowledge, they ask who was there, in those long lost ages, to check those decay rates. That is their ultimate refuge against the reliability of the radiometric clocks.

The astounding fact, as noted in another context a page or two earlier, is that we do have a direct observation pertaining to ancient, radioactive decay rates! The light of supernova SN1987A, in its trailing phases, was produced almost entirely by the radioactive decay of cobalt-56, at first, then cobalt-57 a few years later. Those two nuclides of cobalt were positively identified by their gamma rays as they decayed. In both cases the rate at which the light faded precisely matched the decay rates for cobalt-56 and cobalt-57!

All we need now is the distance to SN1987A, which turns out to be around 170,000 light-years (i.e. 52,700 parsecs). Any attempt to change the speed of light has observable consequences and can be ruled out with nothing more than Newtonian physics. (See Topic A6 for the details). Putting it all together, we reach the firm conclusion that we are seeing SN1987A as it was about 170,000 years ago. Thus, as it were, we have a window on the past which confirms that there has been no changes in the decay rates for cobalt-56 and cobalt-57. Hence, there is no reason for believing that any of the decay rates have changed as quantum mechanics describes them all and has been vindicated in the case of the two cobalt isotopes.

We also have a less direct but equally reliable window on the past in the formation of the present Atlantic Ocean. The magnetic stripes on the Atlantic sea floor, running parallel to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, show that the sea floor has been spreading at a rate which has been roughly constant. That rate, which can now be measured directly with fair accuracy, is 1.5 inches per year. Averaging a couple of measurements of the width of the Atlantic from my trusty globe, I came up with 3500 miles as a good ball park figure. At 1.5 inches per year it would have taken 147 million years for the Atlantic to reach its present dimensions. It turns out that the oldest sediments in the Atlantic, those near the continents, are from the latter part of the Jurassic Period. The Jurassic Period, as determined by radiometric dating, covers a period of time from 135-190 million years ago. Therefore, the two methods are in excellent agreement. Obviously, there was nothing much wrong with those radiometric decay rates even 150 million years ago!

It's "miracle time" once again for those young-earth creationists. However, if your viewpoint requires a miracle to save it, then it doesn't belong in the science classroom.

Young-earth "proof" #7: Space dust would be vacuumed out of our solar system by the Poynting-Robertson effect in a few thousand years. Since that is not the case, the earth is very young.

7. The Poynting-Robertson effect is an effect that sunlight has on small dust particles orbiting the sun. The continuing absorption of sunlight robs the dust particle of more and more of its angular momentum, giving it a tendency to slowly spiral into the sun as its orbit shrinks.

Based on the Poynting-Robertson effect alone, particles 0.001 cm in diameter located at a distance equal to that of the earth's distance from the sun (one AU) would spiral into the sun in about 19,000 years; particles 0.0001 cm in diameter would require less than 2,000 years.

(Strahler, 1987, p.145)

Slusher, in his book Age of the Cosmos (a 1980 ICR technical monograph), argued that the presence of such fine dust in our solar system limits its age to less than 10,000 years. However, Slusher has overlooked several things:

Reflected sunlight (as versus absorbed light for the Poynting-Robertson effect) applies an outward force on dust particles. As a particle gets nearer to the sun, this outward radiation pressure increases faster than the force of gravity pulling the particle in (Strahler, 1987, p.145). Observe that the tail of a comet points away from the sun. As many comets have tails of dust as well as gas, we have dramatic proof of the above fact! We have a case of dust moving away from the sun! Slusher didn't tell us about that little complication.

Another point overlooked by Slusher is the gravitational effect the planets would have on dust spiraling in. Many dust particles would be kicked into elliptical orbits which would greatly lengthen their time in space. A different gravitational effect, recently confirmed with the aid of a supercomputer at the University of Florida, is responsible for a huge dust ring which is associated with the earth's orbit. This diffuse ring is about 30 million miles wide from its inner to its outer edge and about 200,000 miles thick (Discover, Nov. 1994, page 31). Al Jackson and Herb Zook of the Johnson Space Center did the initial work, which was confirmed in much greater detail (and certainty) by Stanley Dermott, Bo Gustafson, and their colleagues at the University of Florida. The details of this ring, which only a supercomputer could work out, explain for the first time why the zodiacal light is 1-2% brighter in the direction trailing Earth than in the forward direction of the earth's orbit. (At certain times of the year, just after sunset or before dawn, one can see a faint glow in the sky due to sunlight being reflected from space dust--the zodiacal light.) We might reasonably suppose that Mars, Venus, and maybe even Mercury have dust rings associated with their orbits. Thus, we have yet another source of long-lasting dust which Slusher has (understandably) overlooked.

Still another effect "...overlooked by Slusher is trapping of particles by gravitational resonances with the larger planets (Alfven and Arrhenius, 1976, p. 81). So trapped, particles could remain in stable orbits indefinitely." (Strahler, 1987, p.145).

What about those comets which sweep through our inner solar system every few years? Comets usually have two different kinds of tails, one of gas and one of dust, and those tails often extend many tens of millions of miles across space. As they near the sun comets are constantly outgassing material. Comets contribute a fair amount of new dust (Dutch, 1982, p.31; Discover, Nov. 1994, page 31).

Even major asteroid impacts on the smaller planets or moons would occasionally contribute some dust to the interplanetary spaces. We now know, for example, that a few of the meteorites collected on Earth actually came from Mars! No doubt some dust also escaped into space during the largest of those impacts.

Some of the dust continually created by collisions within the asteroid belt would, by the very Poynting-Robertson effect under discussion, gravitate to the inner solar system at about 2000 miles per year (Discover, Nov. 1994, page 31). That is, the radius of the dust particles' orbits would initially shrink at that rate. In less than 40,000 years, roughly speaking, some of that spiralling-in dust from the asteroid belt would reach the vicinity of Earth.

To summarize, new dust is constantly being added to the inner solar system. As it spirals in after leaving its initial source, much of it is trapped in various ways by gravity for perhaps millions of years or more or else kicked into new orbits which may greatly increase its time in space. The solar wind actually blows some of the finer dust away from the sun, should it get too close. It is hardly surprising that the inner solar system is still a dusty place after all these billions of years--despite the Poynting-Robertson effect. According to a recent estimate, comets contribute about 25% of the space dust found near Earth while 75% comes from the asteroid belt (Science News, May 8, 1998).

Young-earth "proof" #8: At the rate many star clusters are expanding, they could not have been traveling for more than a few thousand years.

8. Without more detail, I can only guess as to the nature of Dr. Hovind's argument! As it is worded above, it remains something of a mystery.

I believe that some creationists have argued that many of the stars in a typical globular star cluster are moving outward, thus limiting the cluster to a certain age before it dissolved. Such an argument would betray a gross ignorance of globular clusters. A given star moves away from the central area of a globular cluster for a time, slows down, reverses direction, and falls back through the central region of the cluster and out the other side. Thus, stars move back and forth through the center of the cluster. There is no net expansion.

There are some stellar associations, which are loose groups of stars whose members are moving fast enough to overcome their mutual attraction. However, there is no particular reason to believe that stellar associations have been together for long periods of time!

Star clusters do, however, present a fascinating proof of great age! To reasonably understand the details of this proof, you should read Dalrymple (1991, pp.365-375) or else consult a good astronomy text. I'll quote from Dr. Alan Hayward to sum up the central idea.

[Scientific] techniques have enabled astronomers to work out the life span of each particular kind of star. They have found, for example, that the hottest and brightest blue stars were endowed with only enough energy to keep them going for a few million years, whereas the coolest red stars have a life span of many billions of years.

With this background in mind, we must now take note of a most remarkable fact about the star clusters...

Some clusters contain stars of all life spans, from the shortest to the longest. Some contain all except the very shortest-lived types. Some contain all except very short-lived and fairly short-lived types. And so on, all the way to those clusters where only the long-lived types are present.

But never do we find a cluster without a selection of the long-lived types. The missing ones are always from the shorter end of the range. We can look at the data for each cluster and say, 'This particular cluster contains only those types of stars with life spans greater than x years', where x has a different value for each cluster.

(Hayward, 1985, p. 103)

The basic idea is quite simple. Originally, when each star cluster formed it was populated by a variety of star types as might reasonably be expected. As it aged, the first stars to disappear were the shortest-lived ones, the massive giants which spent their fuel prodigiously, and they were followed by the short-lived stars until, in the very oldest star clusters, only the very old red stars remained.

Other Links:
The Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram
A brief and easy explanation of H-R diagrams from Gene Smith's Astronomy Tutorial from the University of California, San Diego Center for Astrophysics & Space Sciences.
Hertzsprung Russell Diagram And Stellar Evolution
A more detailed explanation of H-R diagrams including a discussion of H-R diagrams of globular clusters.

On a more technical level, the above facts are reflected in the Hertzsprung-Russell (H-R) diagram. The vertical axis of an H-R diagram plots a star's true brightness while the horizontal axis plots its surface temperature, which determines the star's color. When stars are thus plotted the points are not randomly scattered about but fall into various meaningful groups. A surprising amount of information is present in the H-R diagram. "The existence of fundamentally different types of stars is the first important lesson to come from the H-R diagram. ... the H-R diagram [also] reflects an understanding of the life cycles of stars: how they were born and mature, and what happens when they die." (Kaufmann, 1994, p. 353). One would never guess that so much information was locked into something as simple as the H-R diagram! (If you feel lost, that's okay as this subject requires some study. I'm just trying to install the basic landscape.)

It turns out that the majority of stars plotted on the H-R diagram fall on a diagonal strip known as the main sequence. Main sequence stars are those stars that are burning their primary fuel, namely hydrogen. For a typical star that is a stable condition, and it accounts for most of that star's lifetime. Hence, the reason most randomly chosen stars plot on the main sequence. When a star exhausts its primary fuel, its plot on the H-R diagram drifts off the main sequence. Therein lies the key.

If we plot a random bunch of stars on the H-R diagram, we, of course, get all the patterns associated with the H-R diagram. However, if we plot just the stars in a cluster, it being very likely that they all formed at about the same time the cluster originated, we get something very different. The super-heavy, gas-guzzling stars, which burn up their primary fuel first, will be the first to leave the main sequence. If you plot the stars in a cluster that is fairly young (as clusters go) you would find that only the heaviest stars, which normally plot at one end of the main sequence, had left the main sequence. The heavy stars, which burn their fuel not quite as fast, are the next to run out of hydrogen gas. Consequently, if you plot the stars in a cluster that is a little older than the above, you would find that the heavy stars no longer plot on the main sequence. The next stars to leave the main sequence would be the moderately heavy ones, and so forth, until the lightest stars are all that remain on the main sequence. To make sense of all this you need a couple of more clues.

The more rapidly a star burns its fuel, the hotter it is, and the hotter it is the more its color is shifted to the blue end of the spectrum. The heavier a main sequence star is, the hotter it burns. Consequently, you can now see why the blue stars are the first to disappear from a cluster and the small, red ones the last to remain. It's a natural consequence of age. Let's now tie this fact to the H-R diagram.

The main sequence, a diagonal strip on the H-R diagram, not only represents stars burning their primary hydrogen fuel but also sorts them by weight. For various reasons, the heavier a star is the further it plots to one end of the main sequence strip. (I told you there was a lot of information hidden in the H-R diagram!) Consequently, starting at the small-red-star end of the main sequence of an H-R diagram, the older a cluster is the sooner its stars will turn off from the main sequence. At that point the star plots will start drifting to the right as they leave the main sequence. By noting where the turn-off point is, astronomers can estimate the age of a star cluster. Such a pattern in the star clusters, as revealed by the H-R diagram, has only one intelligent meaning. Those clusters of stars have aged! Amen, Brother Ben!

If all the star clusters had been created recently at the whim of God, any combination of stars would be just as reasonable as any other. Star clusters without the small, red end of the main sequence would be just as reasonable as clusters representing only the middle of the main sequence

or clusters with only the white and blue portions of the main sequence. The possible combinations are practically endless, and the creationist must explain how it is that God decided on the improbable, peculiar pattern we actually observe, which plainly suggests that the ages have been at work. Do they believe in a deceptive deity?

Since [the above] is based upon a great mass of experimental data it seems inescapable, unless we are prepared to write off the extraordinary distribution of star types in clusters as a mere coincidence. And the odds against that have been calculated to be countless millions to one.

(Hayward, 1985, p.104)

In summary, the odd distribution of stars in the star clusters is a result of great ages at work. Among the oldest star clusters are the globular clusters, some of which may be older than 10 billion years! (Chaisson and McMillan, 1993, p.411). Far from being an argument for a young universe, star clusters (especially globular clusters) are a showcase for an old universe.

Young-earth "proof" #9: Saturn's rings are unstable which indicates that they are less than millions of years old.

9. If Saturn's rings are less than millions of years old, then what of it? The planet could still be billions of years old if its rings formed later. Recent study suggests that the rings are not older than 100 million years (Discover, April 1994, pp.86-91).

In his fifth seminar video, "The Hovind Theory," Dr. Hovind briefly indicates the nature of the above instability. Incredibly, he states that Saturn's rings are still spreading out according to particle size in keeping with the Poynting-Robertson effect! However, the Poynting-Robertson effect applies to fine dust in orbit around the Sun, not to particles in orbit around Saturn! Furthermore, most of the particles making up the rings of Saturn are the size of large snowballs -- much too large for the Poynting-Robertson effect (Chaisson and McMillan, 1993, p.290).

Perhaps Hovind's argument is an evolved version of Slusher's argument made back in 1980 (ICR Technical Monograph #9, Age of the Cosmos).

He argues that astronomer Otto Struve in 1852 noted that observations of Saturn's rings over the period from 1657 to 1851 show an increase in the widths of the rings and in the width of the gap between the planet and the inner edge of the B ring. The changes are interpreted to mean that the ring system is rapidly evolving and has not yet reached an equilibrium. ... Steven I. Dutch has evaluated Slusher's arguments and questions the observations interpreted as changes in the ring widths and distance from Saturn [1982, pp.31-32]. Drawings by Huygens in 1659 and Cassini in 1676, according to Dutch, show the proportions of the rings essentially as they are known today. Considering the poor quality of the early telescopes and the crudity of the drawings, no significant change can be inferred with confidence. Dutch summarizes with the remark that "the present creationist position is based on faulty data and erroneous reasoning, and is simply irrelevant to the age of Saturn" (p.32).

(Strahler, 1987, pp.145-146)

Young-earth "proof" #10: Jupiter and Saturn are cooling off rather rapidly. Since they still give off internal heat, they cannot be billions of years old.

10. Jupiter is not cooling off that rapidly! Based on the fact that Jupiter is radiating twice as much energy as it receives from the Sun, and given its mass and other data, we can calculate the heat loss. "A simple calculation indicates that the average temperature of the interior of Jupiter falls by only about a millionth of a kelvin per year." (Chaisson and McMillan, 1993, p.269). (A drop of one kelvin is equal to a drop of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit.) In short, Jupiter is big enough that it could still be radiating heat trapped during its formation 4.5 billion years ago. Thus, there's no problem there.

Saturn, which radiates almost three times more energy than it receives from the Sun, is a more complicated case as it is not massive enough to retain its primeval heat of formation 4.5 billion years ago.

The explanation for this strange state of affairs, first suggested by Ed Salpeter of Cornell and David Stevenson of Caltech, also explains the mystery of Saturn's apparent helium deficit, all in one neat package. At the temperatures and high pressures found in Jupiter's interior, liquid helium dissolves in liquid hydrogen. In Saturn, where the internal temperature is lower, the helium doesn't dissolve so easily, and tends to form droplets instead. The phenomenon is familiar to cooks who know that it is generally much easier to dissolve ingredients in hot liquids than in cold ones. Saturn probably started out with a fairly uniform mix of hydrogen and helium, but the helium tended to condense out of the surrounding hydrogen, much as water vapor condenses out of Earth's atmosphere to form a mist. The amount of helium condensation was greatest in the planet's cool outer layers, where the mist turned to rain about 2 billion years ago. A light shower of liquid helium has been falling through Saturn's interior ever since. This helium precipitation is responsible for depleting the outer layers of their helium content. ...As the helium sinks toward the center, the planet's gravitational field compresses it and heats it up. [Saturn is a "gas giant," a planet without a surface. As the helium in the outer layers "rained" down into the lower levels it was squeezed into a smaller space due to gravity, which caused the helium atoms to bump into each other more often. That is, the helium heated up according to Boyle's law. - D.M.]

(Chaisson and McMillan, 1993, p.288)

You may object that the above is just a "theory," but this hypothesis comes with realistic, detailed mathematical and physical explanations -- something almost unheard of in creationist literature. We now have a plausible explanation for Saturn's heat output. Therefore, Saturn presents no problem with respect to the above creationist argument.

Young-earth "proof" #11: Since the earth's magnetic field is decaying at an exponential rate, its strength would have been unrealistically high 25,000 years ago. Thus, Earth is less than 25,000 years old.
Other Links:
On Creation Science and the Alleged Decay of the Earth's Magnetic Field
Detailed debunking of the late Thomas Barnes and other creationists' claims about the decay of Earth's magnetic field.

11. Dr. Hovind is almost certainly talking about Barnes's magnetic field argument (1973) or some echo of it. Henry Morris, himself, once praised it as one of the best arguments for a young earth.

In 1971 Barnes took about 25 measurements of the earth's magnetic field strength (originally assembled by Keith McDonald and Robert Gunst, 1967) and fitted them to an exponential decay curve. He drew upon Sir Horace Lamb's 1883 paper as theoretical justification for this. Following the curve backwards in time, Barnes showed that 20,000 years ago the earth's magnetic field would have been impossibly high. Thus, he concluded that the earth is much younger than 20,000 years.

There are several fatal errors in Thomas G. Barnes's work:

1. Barnes employs an obsolete model of the earth's interior. Today, no one doing serious work on the earth's magnetic field envisions its source as a free electrical current in a spherical conductor (the earth's core) undergoing simple decay. Elsasser's dynamo theory is the only theory today which has survived.

According to Barnes, "In 1883 Sir Horace Lamb proved theoretically that the earth's magnetic field could be due to an original event (creation) from which it has been decaying ever since" [1973, p.viii]. This is not a correct description of Lamb's 1883 paper, which dealt only with electric currents and did not mention geomagnetism at all...

(Brush, 1983, p.73)

Lamb's ideas on electric currents had simply been pressed into service to support Barnes's obsolete notions about the origin of the earth's magnetic field. In trying to discredit Elsasser's theory, Barnes quoted Cowling's theorem.

He cites Cowling's 1934 theorem that shows "that it is not possible for fluid motions to generate a magnetic field with axial symmetry (such as the dipole field of the earth)" (Barnes 1973, pp. 44-45). However, recent work shows that Cowling's theorem does not forbid a model with axially symmetric fluid motions generating a field with lower symmetry (Jacobs 1975, pp. 128-31), and, indeed, the earth's field does not have a pure dipole character, a fact that Barnes conveniently ignores.

(Brush, 1983, p.76)

The dynamo theory has gained near-universal acceptance because it is the only proposed mechanism that can explain all the observed features of the Earth's magnetic field. In contrast, Barnes' hypothesis of a freely decaying field cannot explain the existence, configuration, movement, or changes in the nondipole field, the fluctuations in the dipole moment, the reversals in field polarity, or the documentation in the geologic record of the continued existence of the field for more than three billion years.

(Dalrymple, 1992, p.17)

Point 1, all by itself, is fatal to Barnes's basic idea since it removes any serious reason for believing that the earth's magnetic field has been continuously decaying.

2. In using McDonald and Gunst's data, Barnes selects only the "dipole component" of the total magnetic field for analysis (Brush, 1983, p.73). The dipole field is not an accurate measurement of the overall strength of the earth's magnetic field. The dipole field can decay even as the overall strength of the magnetic field remains the same!

...McDonald and Gunst state explicitly that "the magnetic dipole field is being driven destructively to smaller values by fluid motions which transform its magnetic energy into that of the near neighboring modes rather than expend it more directly as Joule heat" (1968, p.2057). In other words, the energy is being transferred from the dipole field to the quadrupole field and to higher moments rather than being dissipated as heat. This implies that the value of the dipole field could not have been much greater in the past, since it is limited by the total magnetic energy, which does not change very rapidly.

(Brush, 1983, p.75)

Thus, we are not dealing with a simple decay. Energy is being shifted to other modes rather than being totally lost to the magnetic field. Might not a reverse shift in energy increase the dipole field at times?

There is some reason to believe that the dipole field reached a maximum around 1800 and that it was smaller in 1600 than in 1800 (Yukutake 1971, p.23). Other recent work also suggests that the dipole field has fluctuated on a fairly short time scale (Braginsky 1970; papers by J. C. Cain and others in Fisher et al. 1975).

(Brush, 1983, p.77)

It seems that the dipole field has gone uphill at times!

Studies of the magnetic field as recorded in dated rocks and pottery have shown that the dipole moment actually fluctuates over periods of a few thousand years and that decreases in field intensity are eventually followed by increases. For example, the archaeomagnetic data show that the dipole field was about 20% weaker than the present field 6,500 years ago and about 45% stronger than the present field about 3000 years ago (McElhinny and Senanayake, 1982).

(Dalrymple, 1992, p.16)

Quite clearly, the dipole field has increased at times!

Point 2, by itself, is fatal to Barnes's idea in that Barnes was not actually plotting a decline in total field strength. Evidence shows that the dipole field has increased in strength at times.

3. Based on his preconceptions of the earth's magnetic field, Barnes fits an exponential decay curve to the data. Barnes is doing some circular reasoning here. The use of an exponential decay curve is tantamount to assuming that the earth is young; one must show that the decay curve arises from the data -- not assume it! Otherwise, one is guilty of assuming that which must be proven, of arguing in circles.

If you actually plot the data, as Brush has done (1983, p.74), it becomes quite clear that the data does not justify an exponential decay curve. To be sure, the data doesn't actually rule out an exponential decay curve, but that's not particularly helpful since the data can be made to fit any number of radically different equations. We could fit it to some kind of sine function if we wanted to. For example: f(x) = A sin(Bx + C) would also fit the data for suitable values of A, B, and C. A scientific handling of the data requires that we don't play guessing games. We must use the simplest curve (usually favored by nature) that the data justifies. In this case, the data fits a linear curve (straight line) just as well. Thus, Barnes should have used a straight line. Even then, a careful scientist would not extrapolate very far beyond the limits of the data unless there was good justification for it.

Do the data actually fit this exponential formula? Barnes gives no evidence that they do; in fact, he does not even bother to present a plot showing the experimental points in relation to his theoretical curve. When one does construct such a plot (fig. 1) it becomes immediately obvious that the fit is not very good and that a straight line ... is equally good, considering the scatter of the observational points. Indeed, that is what McDonald and Gunst themselves stated: "Since the time of Gauss's measurements the earth's dipole moment has decreased, sensibly linearly, at approximately the rate of 5 percent per hundred years" (quoted by Barnes 1973, p.34).

(Brush, 1983, p.75)

Thus, instead of limiting the earth to less than 20,000 years of age, a more objective use of the data, a linear extrapolation, leads to 100 million years. However, both conclusions involve errors of procedure since there are no justifiable grounds for extending the curve great distances beyond the actual data. That amounts to pure speculation, which proves nothing.

Point 3, alone, deprives Barnes's idea of any force, turning it into wild speculation.

4. Barnes simply ignores the fact that the earth's magnetic polarity has reversed itself on numerous occasions. That fact, alone, is absolutely fatal to every fibre of Barnes's argument.

The theoretical basis for magnetic field reversals is Elsasser's dynamo theory, which is based on fluid motions in the earth's core (Elsasser 1946-1947; see Jacobs 1975, chap. 4, or Stacey 1977, chaps. 5 and 6). The dynamo theory assumes an energy source to keep the fluid moving; it is not yet established what the main source of energy is, but there are various possibilities such as radioactive heating, growth of the inner core, differential rotation of the core and mantle, etc. In any case, nothing justifies Barnes's assumption that there is no energy source.

(Brush, 1983, p.76)

Barnes, like most creationists, is not above quoting obsolete sources. In a 1981 paper he made extensive use of a 1962 book by A. Jacobs which cited difficulties with the magnetic reversal hypothesis (Brush, 1983, p.76). Funny, that Barnes should quote a 1962 source. It was in the mid-1960s when the great discoveries started rolling which forever made magnetic reversals a fact of life! Odd, don't you think, that Barnes missed all those more recent sources? I guess they were not particularly "helpful."

In the same section of the later edition of this book, Jacobs states that "the evidence seems compelling" that such reversals have occurred (1975, p. 140). Barnes, however, omits the date of publication of the text he quotes from and completely ignores the fact that Jacobs changed his position in the 1975 edition. In fact, the principal creationist "expert" on geomagnetism writes as if the "revolution in the earth sciences" of the last two decades had never happened; he quotes A. A. [Meyerhoff] and Howard Meyerhoff, two diehard opponents of plate tectonics, as if their "refutations" actually had been successful.

(Brush, 1983, p.76)

Considering that Barnes rejected modern relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and just about everything else this side of nineteenth-century physics, it's not too surprising that he also rejected the revolution in geology. Barnes was born at the wrong time; I do believe he would have been happier in the nineteenth century.

Two years later, despite criticism from Brush, we find that Barnes is still ignoring the fact that Jacobs had changed his views. If someone concluded that Barnes was less than honest, could you blame that person?

In the January 1982 issue of Journal of Geological Education, Stephen Brush cites, as well as criticizing Barnes' "theory", that Jacobs accepted reversals once the evidence was overwhelming. However, in his book Origin And Destiny Of The earth's Magnetic Field, Barnes (1983b) rejects Brush's criticisms citing again Jacobs' 1963 objections, but omits the date and ignores the 1975 revision! In fact, in 1984, Jacobs wrote a book entitled Reversals of the Earth's Magnetic Field.

(Wakefield, 1991, p.6)

Point 4, just by itself, is absolutely fatal to Barnes's idea in that it destroys the theoretical foundation for believing that the earth's magnetic field is continually decaying. In supporting the dynamo theory it also destroys any justification to read into the data a continual decline in field strength.

We can safely relegate Barnes's magnetic field argument to the junk heap of crackpot ideas. Barnes' work lacks the scientific integrity, competence, and judgment one expects from a scientific work.

Young-earth "proof" #12: The volume of lava on earth divided by its rate of efflux yields only a few million years. The earth is not billions of years old.

12. Presently, when mountain ranges are being actively built up, the output of magma is almost certainly much higher than usual. There may have been long, quiet periods when little happened in the way of mountain building and volcanic activity. Enormous amounts of crust have been recycled in the subduction of oceanic plates. Enormous amounts of continental crust have been eroded away, only to be recycled. Morris has not addressed these and other problems.

Morris and Parker [1982] list an age of 500 million years based on the "influx of magma from mantle to form crust." This calculation, which appears in Morris [1974], is based on the volume (0.2 cubic km/yr) of lava erupted by Paricutin Volcano in Mexico during the 1940s. Morris [1974] notes that intrusive rocks are much more common than lava flows:

... .so that it seems reasonable to assume that at least 10 cubic kilometers of new igneous rocks are formed each year by flows from the earth's mantle.

The total volume of the earth's crust is about 5 x 109 cubic kilometers. Thus, the entire crust could have been formed by volcanic activity at present rates in only 500 million years, which would only take us back into the Cambrian period. ... The uniformitarian model once again leads to a serious problem and contradiction. [Morris, 1974, p.157]

But the "uniformitarian model" of which Morris [1974] is so critical is a product of Morris [1974], not science. He has pulled the value of 10 km3/yr from thin air, assumed that this fictitious rate has been constant over time, and neglected erosion, sedimentation, crustal recycling, and the fact that the injection of magma into the crust is a highly nonuniform process about which little is known. Morris' (92) calculation is worthless.

(Dalrymple, 1984, p.111)

Thus, another young-earth argument bites the dust due to the use of a dubious rate. It's not good enough to find some rate; one must show that it is sound.

Young-earth "proof" #13: If we divide the amount of various minerals in the ocean by their influx rate we get only a few thousand years of accumulation. Therefore, the earth is young.
Other Links:
Accumulation of metals into the oceans
Section of The Age of the Earth FAQ that deals with this issue. Includes the table of residence times mentioned in the article.

13. In the case of aluminum we "get" only 100 years! In the case of sodium we "get" 260 million years. Where Dr. Hovind gets his "few thousand years," as though there were some kind of general agreement, is anyone's guess.

The table that one sees in a couple of Henry Morris' books was copied from a chapter by Goldberg (1965) that appears in Riley and Skirrow (1965).

Goldberg's [1965] Table I is a list of the abundances and residence times of the elements in sea water; it is these residence times that Morris [1974, 1977] and Morris and Parker [1982] give as indicated ages of the Earth. The residence time of an element, however is the average time that any small amount of an element remains in seawater before it is removed, not, as stated by Morris [1974], the time "to accumulate in ocean from river inflow," and has nothing to do with the ages of either the Earth or the ocean. Morris [1974, 1974a, 1977] and Morris and Parker [1982] have totally misrepresented the data listed in Goldberg's [1965] table.

(Dalrymple, 1984, 116)

Dalrymple concludes with:

The influx of chemicals to the ocean is an invalid and worthless method of determining the age of the Earth. Morris [1974, 1977] and Morris and Parker [1982] have misrepresented fundamental geochemical data and ignored virtually everything that is known about the geochemistry of seawater.

(Dalrymple, 1984, p.116)

It's all in a day's work for your typical creationist author! They are quite good at ignoring unfavorable facts. Never mind that the elements are in approximate equilibrium with the ocean; never mind that residence times are not the times for elements to accumulate from river inflow. Never mind that plankton concentrates these elements sometimes a thousand fold or more in their skeletons, and, when they die, they remove these elements from the sea waters (Glenn Morton). Press that banner high and march on! And that's exactly what a new generation of creationists are doing with this intellectually dishonest argument.

Young-earth "proof" #14: The amount of helium in the atmosphere divided by its formation rate on Earth gives only 175,000 years.

14. The age of 175,000 years is a little steep for creationist purposes, so Dr. Hovind informs us that "God must have started the earth with some." Heaven forbid that the earth should be older than about 7000 years!

Helium-4 is the product of radioactive alpha decay whereas Helium-3 is primordial. The rates of their "production" are simply the rates of their escape from within the earth to the atmosphere.

A fair amount of helium is lost from the earth's atmosphere by simply being heated up in the elevated temperature of the exosphere (Dalrymple, 1984, p.112). The exosphere is the outermost layer of our atmosphere, beginning after the ionosphere at about 300 miles above the earth. When a lightweight helium atom is heated up, especially Helium-3, which is even lighter than Helium-4, it can easily pick up enough speed to escape Earth's gravity altogether and head off into outer space. Heating gas is a little like swatting rubber balls with a paddle; the lighter balls travel a lot faster after being swatted. In this manner about half of the Helium-3 produced is lost to outer space. The amount of the heavier Helium-4 lost by this method appears to be far short of the amount produced. Hence, the point of Morris' argument which is based on calculations by Cook. However, there are other mechanisms of helium escape which Morris and Cook have overlooked. Creationist Larry Vardiman (ICR Impact series, No.143, May 1985) at least recognizes some of these other factors. However, he has not fully addressed the matter, let alone proven that the earth is young.

The most probable mechanism for helium loss is photoionization of helium by the polar wind and its escape along open lines of the Earth's magnetic field. Banks and Holzer [1969] have shown that the polar wind can account for an escape of 2 to 4 x 106 ions/cm2 sec of Helium-4, which is nearly identical to the estimated production flux of (2.5 ± 1.5) x 106 atoms/cm2 sec. Calculations for Helium-3 lead to similar results, i.e., a rate virtually identical to the production flux. Another possible escape mechanism is direct interaction of the solar wind with the upper atmosphere during the short periods of lower magnetic-field intensity while the field is reversing. Sheldon and Kern [1972] estimated that 20 geomagnetic-field reversals over the past 3.5 million years would have assured a balance between helium production and loss.

(Dalrymple, 1984, p.112)

Dr. Dalrymple goes on to explain that even though our understanding of the helium balance in the atmosphere is incomplete, the situation being very complicated because of various hard-to-calculate factors, we do know one thing. " is clear that helium can and does escape from the atmosphere in amounts sufficient to balance production." (1984, p.113)

Thus, the helium balance calculations provided by creationist Melvin Cook (which are used by Henry Morris) cannot provide a reliable minimum estimate of the earth's age. Their argument is a fatal oversimplification of a complex problem.

Young-earth "proof" #15: Continents are eroding at a rate which would bring them to sea level in less than 14 million years. Inasmuch as the continents are anything but flat, the earth cannot be billions of years old. (27.5 x 109 tons sediment/year are lost to the oceans by erosion; the present mass of the continents above sea level is 383 x 1015 tons.)

15. This argument, advanced by creationist Stuart E. Nevins [Pseudonym for Steve Austin -- editor] in the ICR Impact series (No.8) in 1973, simply ignores the impact of modern geology! Nevins overlooks the fact that the continents are dynamic and have grown appreciably over time, both by accretion of material at the margins and by addition of material from the mantle below (Dalrymple, 1984, p.114). Volcanic activity, the emplacement of gigantic masses of rising, molten rock, and the stupendous compressional forces of the earth's colliding plates have been building mountains off and on for billions of years. Mountain building is going on even now in many parts of the world.

I could also mention that the current rates of erosion are particularly high and that isostatic rebound would greatly increase the time for a continent to erode flat, but that's just icing on the cake. Any argument which pretends that continents are inert lumps of rock subject only to erosion is out of touch with reality. We need not consider it further.

Davis A. Young (1988, pp.128-131) treats Nevins' argument in more detail. Another point made by Nevins is that sediment is piling up on the ocean floor faster than it's being removed. Even if that's true, there is no reason to view it as being anything more than a temporary imbalance. is generally regarded by geologists that the rates of erosion at present are relatively high because of the topography of the continents. The continental land masses are believed to be much more rugged and mountainous than is usually the case, and mountainous topography speeds up rates of erosion. Thus at the present time we ought fully to expect that more sediment is being added to the oceans than is being removed. Paleogeography indicates that very often in the past the opposite was the case.

(Young, 1988, p.131)

Thus, we have no problem from that quarter either.


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