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Moon is receding at a rate too fast for an old universe (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Moon is receding at a rate too fast for an old universe (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CE110:

Because of tidal friction, the moon is receding, and the earth's rotation is slowing down, at rates too fast for the earth to be billions of years old.

Source: Barnes, Thomas G., 1982. Young age for the moon and earth. Impact 110 (Aug.).

CreationWiki response:

(Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. The moon is receding at about 3.8 cm per year. Since the moon is 3.85 × 1010 cm from the earth, this is already consistent, within an order of magnitude, with an earth-moon system billions of years old.

This is an over simplification of the problem., Two factors cause the moon's recession rate to be faster in the past.

  • A faster rotation rate for the Earth causes the tidal bulges' lead on the Moon to be larger, and this increases the net tidal force, which causes the moon to recede faster.
  • The inverse square law. Simply put, the force of gravity changes with the square of the distance, such that if the distance is reduced by 1/2 the force of gravity increased by a factor of four.

We start with a measured lunar recession rate of 3.82 cm/yr, and the measured slowing of the Earth's rotation rate of 8.812 milliseconds/year. If you plug these values into the laws of physics you get the following charts of the number of days in a year and Earth/Moon distance.


Note that it climbs sharply as it nears the 1.2 billion year mark. This is because if the moon is closer the tidal forces are greater and the slow down rate is greater.


When this projection is carried out for the moon's distance from the Earth it turns out that the moon's recession rate would have been much faster than its current 3.82 cm/yr, such that it would have been at the Earth's surface just over 1.2 billion years ago. That's about 3.3 billion years too recent for uniformitarian geology.

2. The magnitude of tidal friction depends on the arrangement of the continents. In the past, the continents were arranged such that tidal friction, and thus the rates of earth's slowing and the moon's recession, would have been less. The earth's rotation has slowed at a rate of two seconds every 100,000 years (Eicher 1976).

Talk Origins is accurate in pointing out that factors such as continental location affect tidal drag, but since the closer the Moon, the stronger its pull on the Earth, the rate of change tends to get very large. The result is that to save the old Earth model it becomes necessary to virtually eliminate the effect of the continents.


The alleged rate of change in the Earth’s rotation rate of only 0.02 milliseconds / years (2 seconds / 100,000 years) adds up to about one additional day per year over 4.6 billion years and paleontological evidence (see below) does not support such a low rate of change in the Earth rotation rate.

One problem with this continental movement idea is that the methods used by geologists to trace theoretical past continental movement do not yield results for the precambrian, so any attempt to use it to prove that the Earth – Moon system can be 4.5 billion years old is speculative at best.

Eugene Poliakow's paper “Numerical modelling of the paleotidal evolution of the Earth-Moon System” is an example of efforts to calculate the effect of continental movement based on actual estimates of past continental movement. Because of limitations of the methods used to estimate past continental movement, it only projects back 600 million years, but this is enough to evaluate the results.

The following chart shows the results.

Time before now in millions of years Lunar recession in cm/year Earth's rotation slowing in seconds/century
0 2.91 1.59
10 2.68 1.46
50 1.83 0.98
100 0.81 0.43
200 0.34 0.18
300 0.46 0.24
350 0.80 0.42
400 0.57 0.30
450 1.54 0.80
500 2.53 1.31
570 2.19 1.11

The way to judge the validity of a mathematical model is to see how well it reproduces known data. Poliakow’s calculations give (as seen in the above chart) a figure of 2.91 cm/yr as the Moon’s current recession rate and 1.59 seconds / century as the rate of slowing of Earth’s rotation. The problem with these figures is that they both differ significantly from the values actually observed. The Moon’s current recession rate has actually been measured at 3.82 cm/yr, which is nearly a 3rd larger than Poliakow’s model indicates. Furthermore the slowing of Earth’s rotation has been measured at 0.8812 seconds / century which is just 55% of what Poliakow’s model indicates.

At first glance the fact that Poliakow’s model overestimates the deceleration rate of Earth’s rotation would seem to be a plus for uniformitarianism. However, the limiting factor of the age of the Earth - Moon system is the position of the Moon, not the Earth rotation rate. Since the Moon’s recession rate is actually higher than in Poliakow’s model, the error would be a clear negative. The real problem is that discrepancies between the model and real world data show there to be fundamental flaw in the model. It means that Poliakow overlooked one or more major factors that could easily nullify his results.


The other flaw in this model is that it does not produce results consistent with paleontological evidence. Any old Earth model for evolution of the Earth – Moon system would have to agree with both present system data and paleontological evidence, but Poliakow’s model disagrees with both

3. The rate of earth's rotation in the distant past can be measured. Corals produce skeletons with both daily layers and yearly patterns, so we can count the number of days per year when the coral grew. Measurements of fossil corals from 180 to 400 million years ago show year lengths from 381 to 410 days, with older corals showing more days per year (Eicher 1976; Scrutton 1970; Wells 1963; 1970). Similarly, days per year can also be computed from growth patterns in mollusks (Pannella 1976; Scrutton 1978) and stromatolites (Mohr 1975; Pannella et al. 1968) and from sediment deposition patterns (Williams 1997). All such measurements are consistent with a gradual rate of earth's slowing for the last 650 million years.

There is no problem with the raw data, (number of growth rings) but the interpretation is flawed. Here is chart showing uniformitarian age verses number of days in a year based on growth rings.


Made from data at Impact origin of the moon

This chart has stromatolites (green), fossil tidal rhythmites (blue), and fossil bivalves and coral (red) At first glance they seem to show a steady increase in the number of days in a year. However when one looks more closely at the data, this interpretation is shown to be invalid.

The first clue is the degree of scattering in the data. It is not what would be expected if it were really the result of lunar recession. There should be a clear curve but there is not. Now scattering often occurs in data, but in this case there is no reason for the scattering, if it were a result of the slowing of the Earth rotation rate. This is because the rate of change would be too slow to cause scattering, if the data was actually a result of a change in the number of days per year. Furthermore when other studies are considered, they show the degree of scattering is actually higher than is shown here.


Stromatolites are produced by the activity of cyanobacteria and living colonies produce 365 layers in year. Fossil "colonies" have been found with 450-800 layers in apparent agreement with the slowing of the Earth rotation through the geologic ages.

The main problem is that fossil Stromatolites may not have formed from cyanobacteria. Some contain no evidence of the cyanobacteria and carbonate precipitation can result in some very stromatolite-like structures, rendering the number of layers meaningless, and making it consistent with a global flood.

The data shows four pairs of data points. The older three seem to be pre-Flood and may have been formed during the creation week. The fourth seems to be an early Flood deposit. The relationship in each pair shows no trend but there is a trend among the pairs, particularly among the three older pairs. This could simply represent a change in precipitation patterns.

Tidal rhythmites

Tidal rhythmites are produced by tidal action, and so called fossil tidal rhythmites are assumed to indicate the moon's position in the past. However, the same patterns occur in varves. So are they rhythmites or varves? Even experts have a hard time telling them apart in the geologic record. If they are varves then the patterns are meaningless for determining past lunar positions or the number of days in a year. Rhythmites and varves look similar and varves can form at the same time by hydrological sorting, just what one would expect during a global flood.

Bivalves and coral

Coral and bivalves normally produce one growth ring per day, therefore normally 365 per year. Due to the slowing of Earth's rotation, coral would have had more rings in the past on an old Earth . Fossil coral and bivalves have been found with 357-450 growth rings. The extra growth rings are assumed to indicated more days per year.

As with most such claims the effects of a global flood are not considered. Furthermore before the Flood there were probably smaller, if any, seasonal variations and his could have resulted in longer-lived specimens.Since longer lived specimens would be heavier, they would tend to be hydrologically sorted out early in the Flood. If this occurred one would expect to find a general trend with significant scattering as the data shows.

The above comparison between growth rings and alleged age shows significant variation outside the trend. One example even has only about 357 rings, so are we to assume that it is from the future?


When a statistical curve fit is graphed to this data; (the purple line) you see that some 6 bivalve/coral data points show more rings than those predicted by the curve, and 6 have fewer. Since a third of the bivalves/coral examples have more growth rings than alleged age indicates, they must have had more than one growth ring per day. Seeing that it is possible for coral and bivalves to have more one growth ring per day, all of the examples could have had more than one growth ring per day.


The purple line is just a statistical curve fitted to paleontological data and as such it is not based on actual tidal force data.

When this chart is compared to what a simple curve calculated says the number of days should be at a given time in the past (yellow curve) based on real tidal drag data, it shows that the paleontological data does not even come close to a fit. Most of the examples are above the curve.


The current rate of change in Earth rotation rate is often mistakenly projected back in a straight line, but the law of physics show that the rate would be higher when the moon was closer. Even if the current rate of change is projected back in time (light blue line), the statistical curve line (purple line) is still way off. The measured rate of slowing is about 8.836 milliseconds per year. (Based on data from the CRC Hand Book of Chemistry and Physics.)

The rate indicated by the statistical curve is 13.14 milliseconds / year. The result is that there is no correlation between paleontological data and projections based on direct observation of the changes in the Earth's rotation. This is further evidence against the accuracy of using paleontological data in estimating tidal effects on Earth's rotation rate. It indicates that the apparent trend in paleontological data has some other cause.

This data does not support the alleged rate of change in the Earth rotation rate of only 0.02 milliseconds per year (2 seconds in 100,000 years) from #2. This rate of change only adds up to about one additional day per year over 4.6 billion years.


When it is added to the chart it is essentially a flat line (orange line) and there is no indication of of such a flat line in the data. But according to the model needed to save uniformitarian time scales, it must be there. Yet it is not there.

4. The clocks based on the slowing of earth's rotation described above provide an independent method of dating geological layers over most of the fossil record. The data is inconsistent with a young earth.

Actually these "clocks" do not match actual data on the slowing of Earth's rotation rate. So in reality they are inconsistent with an old Earth model. This indicates that the apparent trend in paleontological data has some other cause. One such cause would be longer lived bivalves and coral; that would be consistent with a Young Earth and a Global Flood.




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