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The Moon is Still Young
(rebutting Tim Thompson’s “The Recession of the Moon” at Talk.Origins)

© 2000 Malcolm Bowden.  All Rights Reserved. 

In December 1999, Tim Thompson updated an article on the Talks Origins net in which he contended that the recession of the moon did not give it a young age. Despite calculations quoted by creationists and some secular authorities, he maintained that they had been replaced by more recent calculations that had shown that the moon could have existed for the necessary length of time to match the 4.5 billion years of the earth.

I will begin by quoting and numbering the key statements that Thompson makes in connection with obtaining a long age for the earth-moon system:  My comments are in [square brackets].

(1) The ocean runs into the continents and has to wash around them (so how they are distributed around the Earth makes a difference).

[The importance of the disposition of the continents above the sea level is emphasized in this quotation. Thompson is building up his case and the importance of this point is made early.]

(2) Jeffreys uses an estimate of tidal friction to derive a maximum age for the Earth-moon system of 4 billion years.

(3) Although they do not offer an age, Munk & McDonald (1960) said that Jeffreys had the oceanic dissipation wrong by a factor of 100. It soon became apparent that the pendulum had swung the other way, and that there was a fundamental problem. Slichter (1963) reanalyzed the Earth-moon torque by devising a new way to use the entire ellipsoid of Earth rather than treating it as a series of approximations. He decided that, depending on the specifics of the model, the moon would have started out very close to Earth anywhere from 1.4 billion to 2.3 billion years ago, rather than 4.5 billion years ago. Slichter remarked that if “for some unknown reason” the tidal torque was much less in the past than in the present (where “present” means roughly the last 100 million years), this would solve the problem. But he could not supply the reason, and concluded his paper by saying that the time scale of the Earth-moon system “still presents a major problem” I call this “Slichter’s dilemma”.

[Jeffrey’s (1924) high age was eventually challenged in 1960 and reduced to 40 million years - far too short for evolutionists to accept. Slichter’s 1963 paper gave an age far too low and as can be seen, this caused evolutionists a problem and it was some time before they got round this paper. How they tried to contrive this we will see.]

(4) ...for by this time it was well realized that tidal dissipation in shallow seas dominated the interaction between Earth and the moon.

[Again, the importance of the disposition of the continents is emphasized.]

(5) It is important to remember that by 1980, Lambeck had pointed out the essential solution to Slichter’s dilemma - moving continents have a strong effect on tidal dissipation in shallow seas, which in turn dominate the tidal relationship between Earth and the moon.

[Thompson is misleading here. It is not the actual movement of the continents due to plate tectonics that has an effect, but the positions that they are in on the earth’s surface that affects the tidal forces.]

(6) Hansen’s models assumed an Earth with one single continent, placed at the pole for one set of models, and at the equator for another (the location is chosen to simplify the computations, but the basic idea of a one-continent Earth may not be all that bad; Piper, 1982 suggests that our current multi-continent Earth is actually abnormal, and that one continent is the norm) [This is the vital sentence in Thompson’s article that is the weak point regarding which he is anxious to assert his readers that all is well. We deal with this later.] His continent doesn’t move around as a model of plate tectonics would do it, [Why not? why should his model have this exception? We will, again, answer this later.] but Hansen was the first to make a fully integrated model for oceanic tidal dissipation directly linked to the evolution of the lunar orbit. As Hansen says, his results are in “sharp contrast” with earlier models, putting the moon at quite a comfortable distance from Earth 4.5 billion years ago.

(7) Although it may seem to the casual reader that the Earth-moon system is fairly simple (after all, it’s just Earth and the moon), this is only an illusion. In fact, it is frightfully complicated, and it has taken over 100 years for physicists to generate the mathematical tools, and physical models, necessary to understand the problem. Slichter’s dilemma, as I called it, was a theoretical one. He lacked the mathematical tools, and the observational knowledge, to solve his problem. But those who came after got the job done. Slichter’s dilemma is today, essentially a solved problem. Once all of the details are included in the physical models of the Earth-moon system, we can see that there is no fundamental conflict between the basic physics and an evolutionary time scale for the Earth-moon system.

[Yes, the mathematics of the earth-moon relationship is very complicated, but I totally refute the claim that its solution had to await “100 years for physicists to generate the mathematical tools, and physical models, necessary to understand the problem.” and that Slichter “lacked the mathematical tools, and the observational knowledge, to solve his problem.”

Slichter wrote his paper in 1963 and Hansen’s paper was in 1982. Is Thompson trying to tell us that within the space of 19 years mathematical progress was such that Slichter problem could now be tackled and solved. Slichter has all the maths he needed. It was not the maths that were the problem; he used perfectly sound and adequate mathematical tools; the real problem was the short age results they gave.

Note how Thompson refers to “100 years” and then includes Slichter in the next breath as though he was one of those included in this category, when he was only 19 years before Hansen was able to provide an “acceptable” age for the moon! I consider that this whole sequence of sentences has been carefully crafted by Thompson to mislead the reader into dismissing Slichter as “outdated” when in fact he wrote not long before Hansen’s paper that Thompson praises so highly.]

These are the main quotes that I wish to refer to as they give the nub of his rebuttals of the creationist case of a young moon. There was another section in Thompson’s article on the dates obtained from fossil evidence and how they confirm these calculated dates, but the evidence is extremely flimsy and I have briefly examined this elsewhere [Bowden 1998 p. 245].

In Thompson’s criticisms of creationists, he examines several of their arguments and, as might be expected, is extremely dismissive and contemptuous of their scientific integrity etc. Barnes is one of the those first criticized and he is castigated for not referring to a paper by Hansen written in 1982, two years before Barnes wrote on the subject. Thompson refers to several papers that are generally working towards a long age and confidently claimed “Slichter’s dilemma is today, essentially a solved problem.”

I already had Slichter’s paper which gave an unacceptably low range of ages from 1.4 to 2.3 billion years, and had referred to it (Bowden 1998 p.206-209) in discussing some sixteen areas of science that gave a young age for the earth. I have not heard of the other papers Thompson refers to but I have been examining articles and papers in support of evolution for over thirty years and was absolutely confident that, even before I read any of the papers that he referred to, they would have one, or probably many, flaws in their arguments. These flaws would be more than sufficient to demolish all the confident and assertive dismissals that evolutionists reserve for creationist and their “outdated” and “flawed” arguments. Having obtained some of the papers he refers to, my prediction was fully confirmed.

I obtained three of the papers Thompson referred to as appearing to be the most important in his arguments. They were (1) Hansen, Kirk S. 1982, (2) Kagan, B.A. & Maslova, N.B. 1994 and (3) Ray R.D., Bills B.G., Chao B.F. 1999. Of these, Hansen’s is by far the more important and the most quoted by Thompson as he is one of the few who actually give a date for the age of the moon. It is thus sufficient to examine this paper alone.

In fact, there was sufficient information in Thompson’s article to have cast grave doubts on Hansen’s paper. This is noted in item 6 above where he says Hansen’s two models assumed one continent only at the pole and another at the equator—and that this is for “simplifying computations” and then adds the rider that the one continent idea “might not be all that bad”.

This is yet another deception. Placing one large continent at one pole and nowhere else is not just to make the maths easier, but is vital in getting the slower rate of retardation that is needed to obtain a long period of time that the moon has been receding from the earth. The reason is as follows.

If we imagine a smooth earth with no continents above the sea level, then the two tidal bulges would sweep around the earth with only a small degree of sea bed friction. This would give a long age for the moon as the retardation forces would be small.

Now allow one continent at one of the poles. The bulges would still be able to sweep around the earth and not meet any land barriers. So the resistance to them would be still be small and retardation would be small also—giving a long period before we reached the present situation.

Similarly, with one continent around the equator, the tidal bulges would still be free to sweep around the earth above and below this equatorial land mass, and again the retardation would be small. Thus, the position of the land mass, far from being for computational simplification, is a vital element in obtaining a long period of time.

Examination of Hansen’s paper exactly confirms this scenario that Thompson outlined. In his introductory synopsis he makes it abundantly clear that the present configuration of the continents is unacceptable because they did not give enough time.

He actually reverses the normal scientific methodology for he says “The calculations reported here show that, on the contrary, frictional coupling between the earth and moon was much weaker than at present throughout most of the orbital history...” They do not. All they can say is that using this very artificial and unprovable position of theoretical land masses, they allow the moon to be much older than previous, more realistic, calculations have shown. Thus, instead of using hard evidence (the present continent positions), he concocts a totally unrealistic position, and then has the temerity to effectively claim “Therefore, this paper PROVES that the moon is old.”

Note that Thompson then suggests that such configurations “might not be all that bad.” Certainly, they would be very good news indeed if it is essential to have a model that gives the minimum retardation!

At this point we would challenge our readers to ask themselves honestly whether this is “good” science—or even reasonable. Could there ever have been a time when the earth’s continents ever came anywhere near the ridiculous formations (polar and equatorial) that Hansen has to assume in order to get the results he must obtain? In addition, note that they must maintain this low drag position during all the movements of the plate tectonics, that Thompson appeals to as the forgotten factor in this subject, for almost all geological time—until the very recent period.

The present configuration presents an impassable problem, for the continents, particularly the Americas which are strung from north to south across the path of the tidal bulges, create a huge barrier to them, giving the high retardation and shortened life of the moon-earth system.

All these abnormal considerations and factors are hidden within Hansen’s paper which the uncritical reader may accept without being aware of what his model must assume to make it work. I will be blunt, and maintain that Hansen and Thompson were well aware of them all, but have so worded their papers to glide the reader past them and accept the confident conclusions that they finally present to their readers. If their papers are re-examined in this light, their “weasel words”, particularly when they know they are “skating on thin ice” become very obvious. We would recommend our readers to do this.

That such a paper as Hansen’s should have been published in a scientific journal and then quoted by Thompson and any others, as an acceptable scientific solution to “Slichter’s dilemma” ought to give any unbiased reader an insight into just how far evolutionists will “bend the facts” to defend their increasingly ramshackle theory wherever they realize that a serious weakness has been exposed. Yet it is they who claim that creationist evidence is “biased” and “seriously flawed” etc.

Indeed, I have examined many articles by evolutionists over some thirty years and I can state with some experience on this matter, that any paper by an evolutionist in defense of their theory will be shown to have flaws in it just exactly as I have exposed above.

In view of this, we would once again caution all creationists; never refer to any paper by an evolutionist as authoritatively contradicting any creationist paper that has been thoroughly supported by good scientific evidence. The whole purpose if such papers is to defend the indefensible theory of evolution, and as we have said, without exception, such papers can be shown to have one or more serious flaws that completely destroy their credibility—as we have demonstrated in just this one instance.

We emphasize this point for there is an increasing tendency for some creationists to loftily dismiss some creationist proposals when their main information is based almost entirely upon evolutionary papers. They fail to recognize the source from which they have come.

Malcolm Bowden
27 February 2000


Bowden, M. 1998 “True Science Agrees with the Bible” Sovereign Publications, Box 88 Bromley, Kent BR2 9PF, UK (USA—obtainable from The Berean Call, Box 7019, Bend, Oregon 97708. Tel: 800-937-6638.

Hansen, Kirk S. “Secular Effects of Oceanic Tidal Dissipation on the Moon’s Orbit and the Earth’s Rotation” Reviews of Geophysics and Space Physics 20(3): 457-480, August 1982 (journal title has since then changed to Reviews of Geophysics)

Kagan, B.A. & Maslova, N.B. “A stochastic model of the Earth-moon tidal evolution accounting for cyclic variations of resonant properties of the ocean: An asymptotic solution” Earth, Moon and Planets 66: 173-188, 1994

Ray R.D., Bills B.G., Chao B.F. “Lunar and solar torques on the oceanic tides” Journal of Geophysical Research - Solid Earth 104(B8): 17653-17659, August 10, 1999

Slichter, Louis B. “Secular Effects of Tidal Friction upon the Earth’s Rotation” Journal of Geophysical Research 68(14), July 15, 1963 (JGR has since broken into 5 separate journals published by the American Geophysical Union)

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