Meterorite Craters Refute Young-earthism

(DRAFT) © 2006-2014, Glen J. Kuban

Part of Kuban's Paluxy website

Abstract

Most strict "young earth" creationists (hereafter abbreviated YECs) hold that the earth and all life forms were created supernaturally during a literal creation week about six to ten thousand years ago. Conventional scientists have presented numerous lines of evidence against YECism, and in support of an earth approximately 4.6 billions years old. However, one argument not commonly dealt with concerns meteorite impacts and their implications for earth history. Evidence indicates that the earth, like other bodies in our solar system, has suffered massive numbers of impacts during its history, including many environmentally divesting ones, which cannot be reconciled with a YEC timetable and human survival.


Barringer Crater, AZ
Barringer Crater in AZ, approx. 1.2 km (4000 ft) wide.

YECism has a number of serious difficulties when it comes to astronomy and cosmology. One concerns distant starlight, and the fact that many stars are billions of light years away, implying that they are billions of years old. YEC proposals that God may have created starlight en route to earth are complicated by the fact that such light often contains events such as ancient supernova explosions embedded in them. Even many YECs are uncomfortable with the idea that God would create light showing events that never really took place, as it would seem to make God capricious at best, and deceptive at worst. At one time many YECs argued that the amount of meteoritic dust on the moon was evidence for a young solar system. However, the argument was shown to be seriously flawed (Dalrymple, 1984), and as has since been acknowledged by YEC workers (Snelling and Rush, 1993). In fact, when evidence of dust influx rates is examined closely, it actually provides further support for conventional geologic ages (Stear, 2005).

Another problem, which as received considerably less attention from YECs and critics alike, concerns meteorite cratering. All of the planets and moons of our solar system with a solid surfaces show extensive scarring from millions of meteorite impacts. Most of the bombardment evidently occurred during the "Late Heavy Bombardment" about 4 billion years ago, before life existed on earth (Whitehouse, 2004). However, regardless of the precise timing or numbers of impacts, the evidence from the heavily cratered bodies in our solar system provides compelling evidence that the earth has suffered similarly massive bombardments. There also geologic evidence (actual remnants of craters and or meteoritic material) for dozens of significant impacts during the Phanerozoic era (after life was established on earth). Some of these would have caused severe ecological devastation. The most renown is an impact at the end of the Cretaceous period (Sharpton, 1995), widely thought to have had a major role in the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs and many other animal groups. The Chicxulub crater in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico has been implicated in this regard. The crater is about 160 km wide, and calculated to have been made by a meteorite approximately 10 - 15 km wide.

Some scientists also believe bolide impacts may have caused or contributed to other mass extinctions, including a devastating one at the end of the Permian period, when over 90% of ocean species and about 70% of land vertebrates went extinct. Although other factors may have contributed to these extinction episodes, scientists are finding increasing evidence of correlation with large bolide impacts and their effects (Britt, 2006; Mory, 2000); Sellah, 2006).

This evidence of massive bombardment creates severe problems for the YEC viewpoint, as it must either be denied (which few have even tried to do) or somehow crammed it into a time frame of 10,000 years or less, without exterminating humans and most other creatures.

An early attempt to deal with the crater evidence was made by the "father of modern creationism," Henry M. Morris, who suggested that the craters seen on the moon and Mars might represent battle scars of a cosmic war between angels and Satan (Morris, 1972; Spears, 2006). Although not spelled out, perhaps Morris believed that God shielded the earth during this celestial conflagration. It was not also clear whether Morris envisioned the craters being made by the angels and demon's slamming each other into planets and moons (despite being spiritual beings), or because they used giant space rocks as their weapons.

In recent years most YECs have wisely distanced themselves from Morris' fanciful proposal, but largely ignored the bombardment problem itself. A few YECs who have broached the subject have suggested that most impacts occurred during one or two major bombardment episodes during the creation week and/or the "Flood year", However, this only exacerbates the problem, by allowing even less time for the bombardment. In the article, "A biblically-based cratering theory" on the "Answers in Genesis" website Danny Faulkner writes:

If this latest impact catastrophe is equated with the Biblical Flood, then it follows that 
the Flood on Earth was accompanied by large impacts. The time frame of the Flood constrains 
the period over which the impacts could have occurred to no more than a few months less 
than a year. Depending upon the model adopted, the impacts may have happened over just a 
few days (Faulkner, 2006). 

Lunar craters
Lunar craters

However, Faulkner seems to neglect the implications of such massive bombardment within the YEC time frame. Over 150 major craters have been documented in the geologic record. This is undoubtedly a small fraction of the actual number, since most would have been obliterated by tectonic movement and erosion, or hidden under sediments. Besides evidence of craters and meteorites in the geologic record, chemical evidence supporting a massive early bombardment has been documented (Whitehouse, 2002). We can also get a good idea for the number of meteorite impacts on earth by examining the planets in our solar system which largely lack such geologic activity, such as Mercury, Mars, and Venus, as well as earth's moon.

Despite having a surface area only about 1/10 that of earth, our moon is covered by millions of craters. About a half a million have diameters greater than 1 km. The largest is about 360 kilometers (200 miles) wide; dozens are over 150 km in width. On the moon, this evidently resulted in the formation of 1700 lunar craters 100 kilometers wide or larger, defacing about 80% of the moon's crust (Cohen, 2001). As Cohen notes: "The Earth would not have escaped a similar beating during this time." Indeed, factoring in the larger size of the earth and its greater gravitational field (which would more than offset atmospheric shielding for large meteoroids), computer models estimate that during the earth's history if would have experienced more than 22,000 craters over 12 miles across, 40 craters over 600 miles across, and several craters over 3100 miles across (Whitehouse, 2002).

Even if the earth received only as many impacts as the moon (less than one tenth the above figures, which is highly unlikely), if compressed into a "Flood year," that translates to dozens of major impacts per day. If further condensed into a "few days" as Faulkner suggests, the earth would have received several hundred major impacts each day, including many larger than the Chicxulub bolide. YECs must somehow explain how Noah and his cargo survived this incredible onslaught, despite the fact that even a tiny fraction of it would have wiped them out many times over, besides killing off most aquatic life as well. So far, none have offered any plausible scientific explanation.

It might be argued that impacts in deep water would be less destructive than those on land. However, even a few such impacts within a year or less would be devastating, as trillions of tons of debris (dust, gases and water vapor) would be thrown into the atmosphere when the object vaporized. This would likely result a prolonged period of darkened skies, significantly lower global temperatures, acid rain, and what has been called global "nuclear winter" conditions. The impact would also result in earthquakes, tremendously violent winds, and immense tidal waves, thoroughly engulfing and destroying any Ark. Even a single 10 km wide meteorite (roughly the size of the one which formed the Chicxulub crater), would create tsunamis several hundred meters high (Strobel, 2006). Imagine thousands of such impacts, plus even larger ones, all occurring within a year or less.

YECs already have difficulty explaining how millions of aquatic species--including many sensitive to specific ecological conditions, including narrow ranges of temperature, salinity, acidity, turbidity--survived a violent global Flood. Adding the implications of massive meteorite bombardment further undermines the plausibility of their model.

Perhaps realizing these difficulties, some YECs have proposed that virtually all of the impacts occurred during the "creation week." However, this entails other major problems, including:

1. The Biblical description of the garden of Eden and God's declaration that the creation was "very good" hardly seem consistent with the idea that massive bolide bombardment was taking place during this time.

2. One might propose that all the bombardment took place the same 24 hour day the moon was created (day 4), before life forms were created on days 5 and 6. However, not only does a lot of evidence indicates that the bombardment occurred over a far longer period of time, but conditions hardly have been favorable for life the next day--let alone compatible with the Bible's depiction of idyllic conditions. Indeed, the entire earth would be a barren and smoldering inferno for some time to come.

3. Evidence of large craters occurs in different parts of the geologic record on Earth, including Paleozoic and Cenozoic strata, which most creationists interpret these not as creation-week rocks, but as Flood or post-Flood deposits.

4. Many craters on the moon and other bodies in our solar system show evidence of impacts over a significant period of time; many are overlapped and subdued by volcanic activity (Herres and Hartmann, 2004). Radiometric dates on lunar samples support the great age of the impacts and their formation over millions of years--certainly not within a literal earth week.

Ironically, some creationists have tried to use meteorite evidence as an argument for a young earth, based on the supposed rarity of meteorites in the fossil record (Stevenson, 1975). However, the argument is entirely groundless, as it ignores the following:

1. The various physical processes (erosion, burial) which can reduce and obscure evidence of impacts in the geologic record (Thompson, 2005).

2. Despite these destructive processes, many craters, meteorites, and chemical remains of bolides have been documented in the geologic record (Matson, 1994; Thompson, 2006).

3. The abundant evidence from the moon, Mars, and other bodies in our solar system clearly indicates massive numbers of impacts.

Among the few YECs who have even tried to address some of these issues is Walter Brown, a mechanical engineer who has proposed a "hydroplate" Flood model. He argues that all comets, meteoroids, and asteroids (and even the material composing the moon itself) originated from the earth itself. when continental plates covering a large reservoir of subterranean waters collapsed, ejecting massive quantities of earthly rocks into outer space. However, even most creationists question or reject his model. It not only conflicts dramatically with other Flood models, but has been shown to be thoroughly untenable in regards to the mechanics involved, and the massive and lethal amounts of heat that would be generated. Like all YEC Flood models, it also severely contradicts extensive geologic and paleontological evidence (Jellison, 2009; Morton, 2003b, Kuban, 2012).

More recently, Danny Faulkner (2014) revisited the crater problem from a YEC perspective. Similar to his earlier writings on the subject, Faulkner acknowledged that many bodies in our solar system have been subjected to massive cratering. However, unlike his previous model that suggested this occurred during the Flood year and/or during the "Creation Week" or part of it, this time he suggests most took place on a single day ("Day Four" of creation), and that somehow Earth escaped similar bombardment --either through a special creative process, or unspecified protective miracles. Unfortunately, the new model still suffers from serious problems, including the lack of positive scientific evidence, and conflicts with observable evidence, such as the complex pattern of craters and overlapping volcanic flows on many bodies (requiring far more than a day's time), and the previously discussed geologic evidence that the earth has received scores of major impacts during its history.

Conclusion

Abundant evidence indicates that like other bodies in our solar system, the earth has been subjected to millions of meteorite impacts, including many environmentally devastating ones. YECs have been unable to explain how these impacts could be compressed into a YEC framework, except by evoking vague, ad-hoc miracles lacking in scientific or Biblical support.

Acknowledgements

I wish to thank Dr. Clyde Simpson of the Clevleand Museum of Natural History for his helpful comments and suggestions.

References

Britt, Robert Roy, 2006, Giant Crater Found: Tied to Worst Mass Extinction Ever. Space.com article at: http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060601_big_crater.html

Cohen, Barbara, 2001. Lunar Meteorites and the Lunar Cataclysm. University of Tennessee web article at: http://www.psrd.hawaii.edu/Jan01/lunarCataclysm.html

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Faulkner, Danny, 2006, web article at: http://www.answersingenesis.org/tj/v13/i1/crater.asp Originally published in the Technical Journal 13(1):100-104, April 1999

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Herres, Gregg, and William K. Hartmann, 2004. Web article at: http://www.psi.edu/projects/mgs/cratering.html

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* In so far as the age of the Woodleigh impact is constrained between the Early Permian and Early Jurassic, given the likely environmental consequences of an impact of this magnitude, it is possible that this event correlates with one of the two major extinctions during this time span, i.e., the end-Triassic (214 Ma) extinctions or the Permian-Triassic boundary (247 Ma) extinction. Arthur J. Mory et al, "Woodleigh, Carnarvon Basin, Western Australia: a New 120 Km Diameter Impact Structure," Earth and Planetary Science Letters 177(2000):119-128, p. 127