A Fatal Heat and Radiation Problem for the Young Earth

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

Appendix II

(A fatal heat and radiation problem for the young-earth idea)

An inescapable dilemma awaits anyone who would be so foolish as to compress the Earth's geologic history into 6000 years.

Look around. Unless you happen to be standing on a vast stretch of limestone or in a salt mine, almost everything in sight has probably been HOT at one time. The reason we are not roasting right now is that this heat has been dissipated over billions of years.

The most obvious case is that of solidified lava, found in great abundance throughout the geologic record. Huge deposits of lava, large enough to seriously affect the world's climate in their time, are known in India and Russia. Volcanoes have been active since the Earth began, laying down lava here and there throughout the geologic column. All of it was once red-hot and molten. Nor should we overlook the vast quantities of ash, which accompany major volcanic explosions. It is quite hot when it leaves the volcano. The geologic record is full of thick seams of volcanic ash.

The world's ocean floors, beneath all their accumulated sediment, are made of once-molten rock! At the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, we can see the process going on today as new ocean floor is created from molten intrusions. Think of all the heat released from this source alone. Do not neglect to count the past oceans as well, which no longer exist because they have been consumed by plate tectonics. There was an "Atlantic" ocean before the present one, not to mention the worldwide ocean during the time of the single super-continent, Pangaea. Indeed, we now know that there was a super-continent before Pangaea! It has been named "Rodinia." (See the January 1995 issue of Scientific American). All of these ancient ocean floors, long since compressed into mountains or consumed into the depths of the mantel, were, at various times and places, molten. The total amount of heat released from just the ocean floors, past and present, is staggering.

Shifting our attention to the continents, Every bit of granite, as well as the other forms of igneous rock, were once red-hot and molten. Consider the batholiths, which easily cover hundreds of square kilometers where exposed. Really large batholiths exist in the Sierra Nevada, Alaska, and British Columbia. They may cover thousands of square kilometers and are often composite -- showing multiple phases of emplacement. Huge plutons and immense layered complexes of igneous rock must also be accounted for. Vast amounts of heat must have been liberated as this material cooled to its present state.

Another tremendous source of heat is metamorphic rock. The roots of all the great mountain chains are a prime source of metamorphic rock. Every cubic inch of metamorphic rock, the world's supply of marble being but one example, once seethed in heat and, in the more extreme cases, was even molten. Metamorphosed rock often began as igneous rock or an earlier form of metamorphic rock, which means that a large percentage of today's metamorphic rock is responsible for several loads of heat during its lifetime!

Even the sedimentary rocks, with some exceptions, carry evidence of a once-hot past! Sandstone, which makes up a huge part of the geologic record, is composed of cemented sand grains, which, in turn, are usually made out of quartz or other igneous material. Each of those sand grains once glowed red-hot as part of newly forming igneous rock. All of the world's sandy beaches, except for sand made from shells or limestone, contain sand grains that were once extremely hot. A good deal of this sedimentary rock has also been converted into metamorphic rock, thus being the source of more than one load of heat. Even mud, minus the organic content, is often nothing more than extra-fine sand grains. Thus, much of the world's mud is made up of silicon or other igneous material, which once glowed red-hot when the parent rock was formed. (Deposits of silica mud in the ocean, however, are usually made up of tiny silica shells of certain plankton. )

Vast quantities of heat (and destruction) have been liberated by ancient asteroid impacts. Huge, fossil craters are found throughout the geologic record, and scientists now know that they are only the tip of the iceberg! (See pages 16 and 17). Based on studies of the Moon, Mars, and Mercury, all of which are much smaller targets than the Earth, statistics indicate that our planet has been struck about 5 times by asteroids large enough to boil away the world's oceans!! As far as we can tell, life began on Earth (and became successful enough to be detected) at about the time this heavy bombardment ended.

How long does it take a vaporized ocean to recondense and cool down to its present temperatures? How would a large vapor canopy affect this process?

There is yet another major source of heat! We have overlooked radioactivity. Whether or not you believe in radiometric dating (more than 40 different methods!), the fact remains that about half of the uranium-238 has decayed away since the Earth was formed. Almost all of our uranium-235 has expired. These lost elements have been used up in the radiation process! Keep in mind that nuclear reactors generate their energy by making use of the intense heat produced by radioactive decay. Elaborate systems have been devised to keep nuclear reactors from overheating. Without such controls, the nuclear fuel (and a lot more) would melt from the heat produced. Indeed, they would probably melt right through the concrete floor and into the earth!

Think of it. More than half of the world's supply of uranium-238 and almost all of its uranium-235 have already expired through radioactive decay! Now, that's a load of heat, and it's mostly released deep within the rocks where there is no quick escape. But, even that counts as little or nothing compared to the heat that was released by radioactive aluminum-26!

Ordinary aluminum is the most abundant metal in the Earth's crust, and we now know that its radioactive counterpart, aluminum-26, was also extremely abundant when the Earth's elements were first synthesized in one or more supernovas. The distinguished Dr. Wasserburg identified Al-26 as the main source of radioactive heat responsible, to a large degree, for melting the interior of the Earth and other bodies down to about 15 kilometers in diameter! Studies of certain crystals showed that a tremendous amount of the Al-26 was around. All of it (having a half-life of only 720,000 years) has long since decayed into magnesium-26, which is an isotope not naturally occurring on Earth.

In certain aluminum-rich inclusions in some meteorites we find a lot of this Mg-26, and the more aluminum present the greater the abundance of Mg-26. "...the conclusion seems inescapable that the Mg 26 has been produced in this manner [from the decay of Al-26]."1 That is, the radioactive aluminum-26 is gone now, but, because of its chemical similarity with ordinary aluminum, more of it should have been present wherever more ordinary aluminum is found today. And, when we find a proportional increase of magnesium-26 as well, that being the Al-26 decay product, it clinches the matter. The magnesium-26 we see today on Earth is, indeed, the daughter element of aluminum-26. Using modern methods, astronomers can now detect vast amounts of aluminum-26 throughout our galaxy. It is a routine product of supernovas.

In conclusion, the only reason we are not immediately roasted to a crisp is because the incredible amount of heat that has been generated on this planet has had billions of years to leak away. Gradually, and by little chunks, here and there, this vast amount of heat has leaked away. Small portions of the Earth were destroyed at any given time, here and there, even as occurred around Mt. St. Helens, but time soon healed those wounds. Larger disasters, such as that which exterminated the dinosaurs, also occurred. But in the vastness of time they have missed us! They, too, have been all but swallowed up in time. There is even good evidence that the Earth was destroyed by a Mars-sized collision during the earliest phases of its life. However, time can heal that also. The total amount of heat released on Earth (and the accompanying destruction) is just incredible, but incredible stretches of time have allowed it to be sensibly dissipated.

Trying to squeeze all that generated heat into a 6000-year slot is like trying to squeeze all the heat generated in your kitchen over a lifetime into one hour. Short of burning down the entire neighborhood with a ball of fire, there is just no way to do it. Even worse, if that is possible, is the idea of compressing a large chunk of the Earth's history into the year of Noah's flood. If 4.5 billion years of Earth's history can't be squeezed into 6000 years, then trying to squeeze the 700 million years of strata containing complex fossils into the one year of Noah's flood is even worse -- about 900 times worse!

The radiation delivered by all of those radioactive isotopes, which are now-extinct or partially depleted, is another insoluble problem for the young-earther.2 Trying to squeeze all that radiation into a 6000-year slot is like turning up the average rate of radioactivity 750,000 times! Only, it would have been far worse since the great bulk of radioactivity would have been concentrated at the time of creation. It is precisely then that all of the short-lived, radioactive isotopes would have been active, in addition to the rest. Adam and Eve would have fried! The whole Earth would have sizzled with radioactivity!

Young-earth creationists have spun a dense cocoon about themselves to keep reality out. The guardians of the faith continue to write their books, which reinterpret all of science, and exercise their oral skills in the public forums. They are fighting a war, not conducting a search for truth. They seek out ammunition, not objective facts. They ignore those data and reasoning that don't fit in with their biblical viewpoint.

A number of arguments in this book are absolutely fatal to their viewpoint, but you will never get anything like a careful, reasoned response, for these matters cannot be deeply probed without exposing the bankruptcy of their beliefs. When the superficial, canned arguments run out, they will switch the subject, declare that they have 101 other things to do, or even attack you for "wasting their time." You will get silence. After digging your way past the canned arguments, you will get silence. It's as predictable as gravity.

A leading creationist once bought several of my books for the express purpose of sending them to other noted creationists. (How unusual!) After that, silence! Not one peep did those recipients direct my way. They would rather write their books and ride the debate circuit, where plenty of smoke and canned arguments make life safe. In that respect they are very much like their flat-earth brothers, who are also fighting a war to protect their flat-earth Bible beliefs.

How strange! People, who have devoted their entire lives to fighting for the truth, never seem to have the time or inclination to see these important arguments through. If I were in their shoes, I would never rest until every serious challenge had either been eliminated or confirmed. You couldn't pry me loose from someone who was willing to devote his or her time freely in a serious exploration of such points! I would make the time, if need be, to see those matters through. But, then, creationists aren't really interested in the truth; they are fighting a war for their truth. As is true in real wars, truth is often the first casualty.

  1. Joseph Silk. 1980. The Big Bang: The Creation and Evolution of the Universe W H Freeman & Company, San Francisco, CA (p.271)
    See also:

    The New Solar System. 1981. edited by J. Kelly Beatty, Brian O'Leary and Andrew Chaikin Sky Publishing Corporation and Cambridge University Press

  2. One can always invoke God's power to "solve" the problem. However, this is just rank speculation having nothing to do with science. The skeptic's reply is, "How do you know what God has done? Is the Bible really God's book? Prove it." We can't teach theology of any kind in the science classroom, let alone personal theology based on rank speculation.

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