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Flaws in a Young-Earth Cooling Mechanism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Flaws in a Young-Earth Cooling Mechanism
Glenn Morton and George L Murphy
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Modern young-earth creationist theories invoke huge quantities of heat — enough to boil most of the oceans and melt the earth's rocks. For instance, John Baumgardner has suggested that rapid subduction of the oceanic plates caused the Flood and accomplished all the continental drift within a few years at most. But he calculates that this process would have generated 1028 joules of heat:
If released near the earth's surface, this amount of energy is sufficient to melt a layer of silicate rock 12 km thick or the boil away a layer of water 25 km deep over the entire earth. It is equivalent to the kinetic energy of 170 000 asteroids, each 10 km in diameter and traveling at 15 km/s. (Baumgardner 1990: 37)
Steve Austin and others (1994a: 612) endorsed this view several years later. In the question-and-answer session after that talk captured on videotape (Austin and others 1994b), Russell Humphreys noted:
We have always said that one of the major problems was the heat flow — what do we do with the excess heat?
Clearly, such quantities of heat are a huge problem for the young-earth creationist position.

But these processes are not the only source of huge quantities of heat invoked by modern creationist ideas. Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and Creation Research Society (CRS) members have become convinced that large quantities of radioactive decay have taken place on earth (Humphreys 2000: 335; Snelling and others 2000: 398, 455; Vardiman 2000: 3, 15). In 2000, the Radioactivity and the Age of The Earth (RATE) group published a book attempting to explain how the rates of radioactive decay could have increased significantly during the global flood in order to account for the millions-year-old ages given by radioisotope dating methods. But radioactivity gives off heat, and accounting for all the heat produced by the presumed increase in radioactive decay creates another huge heat problem. Larry Vardiman writes:
For example, if most of the radioactive decay implied by fission tracks or quantities of daughter products occurred over the year of the Flood, the amount of heat generated may have been sufficient to vaporize all the waters of the oceans and melt portions of the earth's crust, given present conditions. (Vardiman 2000: 8)
And Humphreys adds:
A simple calculation shows that crustal rocks with their present amount of radioactivity would melt many times over if decay rates were accelerated. However, I would like to emphasize here that all creationist Creation or Flood models I know of have serious problems with heat disposal. (Baumgardner 1986: 211, cited in Humphreys 2000: 369 –70)
Humphreys proposed a mechanism for absorbing the problem heat. Assuming that all particles in the universe are losing energy due to the cosmic expansion, the excess heat generated can be absorbed by these "cooled" particles.

Humphreys outlines his idea this way:
All relativists think that, while the expansion of space sweeps galaxies apart, the galaxies themselves (and smaller objects) do not change size with the expansion. One explanation (I know of no other) for why that should be so is that the force associated with the expansion is much smaller than the forces binding together stars in a galaxy (or particles in planets, people and atoms). The expansion is only strong enough to overcome the feeble gravitational forces between galaxies. By that view, the fabric of space between particles bound to each other, whether within stars or atoms, continues to expand, sliding past the particles essentially without friction. The calculations leading to equation (14) were for free particles, because that is easier to calculate ... but a simple gedanken experiment suggests the same effect applies to bound particles as well as free ones. Imagine a large box with perfectly reflecting sides. One particle, say a molecule, bounces around in the box in a vacuum. The box itself does not change size, for the reason I offered above, so the molecule does not lose energy to the walls of the box as it bounces off them.

Except for the tiny fraction of time the molecule spends bouncing off the walls, it is perfectly free; during the free part of its flight, it is just like the free particle in empty space, and the molecule imparts some of its energy to the fabric of space. The molecule is bound within the box, and yet it loses energy which does not go into the walls of the box. Now shrink the box to the size of a unit cell in the crystal. Again the molecule loses energy to the fabric of space. In a real crystal, the vibrating ions transfer energy back and forth with their neighboring ions, but as each ion moves, it will also lose some kinetic energy to the fabric of space within which it is moving. From our viewpoint, the energy does not go in any of the three directions we perceive; it simply disappears. (Humphreys 2000: 371 –2)
We would make several criticisms of this suggestion. First, one of us has developed a simple classical model for a harmonic oscillator (like a particle oscillating in a crystal), and in this model the particle does not lose energy to the cosmic expansion. While other force terms could be used in the equation of motion to give different results, the one used here seems to be the simplest and most natural generalization of the ordinary linear restoring force. The fact that energy is not lost here suggests that Humphreys's qualitative argument is incorrect. A mathematical model developed by George Murphy that calculates the magnitude of the forces involved is available on request from Glenn Morton.

Second, we would criticize this idea on the basis that it is too slow to be useful to the creationist agenda. Today the expansion of the universe is of the order of 1 part in 1010 each year. This is the percentage of expansion of the present size of the universe that occurs each year. As we have shown in calculations elsewhere, doubling the expansion rate, R (Humphreys 2000: 372 –3), would decrease the kinetic energy (mV2/2) of a free particle by a factor of 1⁄4. But even if this were true for a bound particle (and it is not), the 25% of the thermal energy that would remain would still wreak havoc during a global flood.

Our third criticism of the concept is that there would be visible effects in the spectra of light emitted during the Flood, including those from stars a few thousand light years away in our own galaxy. A change in the energy levels of atoms (which this idea would entail) would change the frequencies at which light is emitted in a fashion that would be observable. The lack of such observations rules out Humphreys's cooling mechanism as a reasonable possibility.

Fourth, we would criticize this concept on theological grounds. In Humphreys's article in the RATE book, he postulates that God performs lots of miracles in order to explain things. God is supposed to have changed the mass of the pion, changed the parameters of gauge bosons to accelerate beta decay, and changed the effective distance of the strong force to alter alpha decay. With all these miracles, why then does God switch to a naturalistic solution to the heat problem — albeit one that requires a rapid cosmic expansion of unexplained origin? All of this raises two serious theological questions. Why does God dance to Humphreys's whim, performing a miracle each time Humphreys requires one? Demanding miracles of God raises certain questions of who is the master and who the servant. And why does Humphreys insist on any naturalistic approach at all, given all the miracles he postulates? Why not simply remove the heat miraculously?

For these reasons, we reject Humphreys's cooling mechanism: because it is wrong, it is ineffective, it is falsified by observational data, and it is theologically flawed.


Austin SA, Baumgarther JR, Humphreys DR, Snelling AA, Vardiman L, Wise KP. 1994a. Catastrophic plate tectonics: A global flood model of earth history. In: Walsh RE, editor. The Third International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship. p 609 –22.

Austin SA. Humphreys DR, Vardiman L, Baumgardner JR, Snelling AA, Wise KP 1994b. Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: A Global Flood. Videotape available from Creation Science Fellowship, Inc, PO Box 99303, Pittsburgh PA 15233-4303.

Baumgardner JR. 1990. 3D finite element simulation of the global tectonic changes accompanying Noah's Flood. In: Walsh RE, Brooks CL, editors. Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Creationism, volume 2. Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, Inc. p 35 –45.

Humphreys DR. 2000. Accelerated nuclear decay: A viable hypothesis. In: Vardiman L, Snelling AA, Chafin E. editors. Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth. El Cajon (CA): Institute for Creation Research and Creation Research Society. p 333 –79.

Snelling AA. 2000. Radiohalos. In: Vardiman L, Snelling AA, Chafin E. editors. Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth. El Cajon (CA): Institute for Creation Research and Creation Research Society. p 381 –468.

Vardiman L. 2000. Introduction. In: Vardiman L, Snelling AA, Chafin E, editors. Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth. El Cajon (CA): Institute for Creation Research and Creation Research Society. p 1 –25.

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Morton
George L Murphy
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477