Walt Brown’s Hydropate Theory

This is a brief review of one aspect of the book “In the Beginning”, written by the young earth creationist Walt Brown.

Introduction

Walt Brown, of the Center for Scientific Creation in Phoenix, Arizona, has published over a number of years a book called “In the Beginning”, which claims to be a scientific explanation of a global Noah’s flood using his hydroplate theory.  The copy I recently had on loan is the 7th edition, dated 2001, see the references. It is larger than letter size, contains over 300 pages, including many attractive glossy pictures and diagrams, mathematical formulae, tables, and an index at the back, which is very useful for looking up material.  This is an improvement over much creationist material, which often omit such details.  The retail price is $24.99.

The book is attractively put together with plenty of scientific details and mathematics up to the freshman college level.  Walt Brown has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, so he should certainly be qualified to handle much of the mathematics and basic physics, however, I wonder if he is qualified to handle the geological and astronomical details.  Of the fifteen reviewers listed at the beginning of the book, only four are listed as scientists, or people engaged in science education, the others are mostly church pastors and a couple of engineers, so  it is puzzling why a book claiming to be scientific should be endorsed by people who are mostly non-scientists, and even non-engineers.

In Walt Brown’s hydroplate theory, a global Noah’s flood took place a few thousand years ago.  According to many young earth creationists this was fairly close to the Ussherite date of 2347BC.  According to the hydroplate theory, most of the flood water came from the fountains of the deep rather than directly from the atmosphere in the form of a vapor canopy.  Prior to the flood, the water in the fountains of the deep were trapped between an impervious upper layer of rock forming the earth’s upper crust, and lower layers of rock.  Of course rock is denser than water, so will not float, but if the rock completely blocks the water, then the water will be trapped.  No satisfactory explanation is given as to how so much water is can be trapped below the upper layer of rock, and how that upper layer of rock remained impervious until the flood, but let us grant him at least that starting miracle.

It is claimed that at the time of the flood, the fountains of the deep broke open ejecting superheated water into the atmosphere, which subsequently came down as rain and snow.  It is also claimed that the asteroids, meteoroids and comets in orbit around the sun were ejected from the earth at the time of the flood, as covered in his book on pages 219 through 225.  Let us look at the specific claim for the asteroids.  As Walt Brown claims to be doing science, it is legitimate to use science to examine this claim, in fact exactly the same as one of the branches of science he uses in his book, namely celestial mechanics, which anybody taking freshman physics or astronomy will learn.  Other than the miracle he is granted at the beginning, he will be held to the standard of freshman science.  The SI system will be used throughout, except where clarification is required.

Calculations and Results

The largest asteroid in the main asteroid belt is Ceres with a mass of 8.7x1020 Kg and orbits at a mean distance from the sun of 2.767 AU (astronomical units), between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and where 1AU is the mean distance of the earth from the sun, which is 1.496x1011m.  The mass of Ceres is approximately a third of the mass of all the asteroids together, of which there are probably millions, but most of this mass is concentrated in Ceres and a handful of the other large asteroids in the main belt, which orbit at approximately the same distance from the sun as Ceres.  We will neglect other objects beyond the main asteroid belt, including Kuiper belt objects beyond the orbit of Neptune.  There are asteroids inside Mars’s orbit, including some that can come very close to the earth, but they are small and make up a negligible mass relative to the main belt asteroids.  Consequently, we can calculate the energy required to move the amount of material corresponding to the asteroid Ceres from the earth’s surface to the orbit of Ceres, and the energy for all the asteroids will be approximately three times this.

The energy necessary to move an object from the earth’s surface to another orbit around the sun is given by the amount of energy required to lift this object from the earth’s surface to a point in space ahead or behind the earth, where it is stationary relative to the earth and far enough from the earth so that the earth’s gravity can be neglected in the calculations, then move the object out to the orbit of Ceres.  The first step in moving the object from the earth’s surface to an initial orbit around the sun is equivalent to moving it to infinity from the earth’s perspective.

The minimum energy required to lift a mass from the earth surface to infinity is given by 

U = GMem/re                                                                                                                       (1)

where G is the universal constant of gravitation, 6.673x1011m3Kg-1s-1, Me is the mass of the earth, 5.974x1024Kg, m is our test mass, in this case Ceres, and re is the radius of the earth at the equator, 6.378x106m.  The total orbital energy (kinetic plus potential) that an object has in orbit around the sun is given by

E = GMsm/2a                                                                                                                      (2)

where Ms is the mass of the sun, 1.989x1030Kg, and a is the mean orbital distance in meters.

The energy then required to move our test mass out to another orbit around the sun is given by the difference between the energy of the final orbit and the energy at the distance of the earth, i.e. 

ΔE = GMsm/2a - GMsm/2ao                                                                                                 (3)

where ao is the mean distance of the earth from the sun, 1.496x1011m.  Note that ΔE is negative if a < ao.

The total energy required to lift an object from the earth’s surface and move it out to an orbital distance a from the sun is given by 

Et = U + ΔE                                                                                                                        (4)

i.e.

Et = Gm[Me/re + Ms/2 (1/a – 1/ao)]                                                                                      (5)

where the symbols have the same meaning as above, m is the mass of Ceres, 8.7x1020Kg, and a is the mean orbital distance of Ceres from the sun, i.e. 2.767 AU, or 2.767x1.496x1011m.  On evaluating this, the total energy of 3.008x1029J, allowing for rounding errors and the uncertainty in the mass of Ceres, we can say that 3x1029J of energy is required to eject Ceres and put it in its present orbit.  Given that the total mass of the asteroids is about three times that, we can say that the total energy involved is about 9x1029J.  This is an enormous amount of energy.

To give an idea of how big this is, consider a small asteroid with a 10 Km radius impacting the earth with a typical velocity of 50 Km s-1.  This may be larger than the estimated size of the asteroid or comet that may have ultimately caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.  The mass of such an asteroid, if it is considered for simplicity to be spherical, is given by

m = 4πr3ρ/3                                                                                                                         (6)

where r is the radius in m and ρ is the density in Kg m-3.  If the asteroid is 10 Km in radius, then r is 104m, and for a typical rocky body the density is about 3000 Kg m-3.  The kinetic energy is given by 

KE = ˝ mv2                                                                                                                        (7)

So combining (6) by (7) and putting in the numerical values, we obtain an energy of 1.571x1025J, which itself is a great deal of energy.  Such an object alone is capable of causing a major catastrophe.

Dividing the energy obtained earlier for all the asteroids by the energy from (7), we obtain in round figures a number of about 60,000, i.e. the energy released during Noah’s flood to eject all the asteroids corresponded to about 60,000 asteroid impacts on the earth!  To put this in another perspective, a “decent” sized hydrogen bomb releasing an energy of 10 Megatons of TNT, releases 4.187x1016 J, so the energy released in ejecting all the asteroids corresponds to 9x1029/4.187x1016 = 2.1x1013 hydrogen bombs, i.e. the energy equivalent of about twenty trillion “decent” sized hydrogen bombs would have had to have been released during the flood year.  The mind completely boggles how Noah and his family, together with his menagerie of animals and plants could have possibly survived all this in a large wooden boat!  Not only that, but according to Walt Brown’s model, most of this energy would have been released in the first few weeks of the flood.  Without invoking miracles, explain: (1) where did this energy came from, (2) how did Noah and company survived, and (3) as this all supposedly happened only about 4500 years ago why is there no evidence for this?

These calculations are based on the assumption that the energy released during these catastrophes is converted with 100% efficiency to kinetic energy to eject the asteroids, with presumably most reaching escape velocity and not falling back to earth.  In practice the kinetic energy released to launch large projectiles into space will be a small fraction of the total energy released, as attested by any volcanic eruption.

Other Issues with Celestial Mechanics

An additional problem with his theory is to explain how the asteroids got to the orbits they have, even if the energy is available.  Any object ejected from the earth will follow an orbit that causes it to cross the earth’s orbit on each orbit around the sun, unless it is perturbed or deflected.  Dust particles and particles the size of pebbles are affected by solar radiation and moved into other orbits over timescales of many thousands or millions of years, depending on their size.  Large objects many kilometers in size will not be significantly deflected by radiation pressure even in billions of years, let alone a few thousand years after Noah’s flood.  Walt Brown proposes that both solar radiation pressure and drag from water vapor ejected into space during Noah’s flood could move the asteroids out to the main asteroid belt and cause the orbits to be more or less circular.  Even without doing the calculations, it is clear that this is completely impossible for the larger objects, particularly in a few thousand years.

Objects of all sizes are perturbed by the gravitation pull of the planets, and these can be calculated accurately.  If the asteroids were ejected from the earth a few thousand years ago, most of them would still be on orbits that cross the earth, but this is not observed, except for a small number relative to the total number of asteroids.  The origin of these can be explained by collisions and perturbations over long timescales.

We can calculate the motions of the asteroids back in time, and find no evidence at all that they originated from the earth, or the vicinity of the earth’s orbit, a few thousand years ago.  Indeed, their orbits correspond to them being in existence in many cases for billions of years, as determined from long term stability calculations taking account of the perturbations of the planets, in particular Jupiter, and to a lesser extent Saturn.

Conclusions

In granting Walt Brown one miracle to explain the initial conditions, on energy calculations alone, and using the same level of physics he has used in his book, we can see that his theory for the formation of the asteroids is totally untenable by many orders of magnitude, and no explanation of how Noah and company could have survived the equivalent of the detonation of about 20 trillion hydrogen bombs.  Of course if miracles are invoked as an explanation, including the theologically repugnant miracle of God covering up or otherwise concealing the evidence of such a huge amount of energy being released, then he can explain anything he likes, but it is not science.  Also the orbits of the asteroids do not at all correspond to any catastrophe taking place on the earth, let alone a few thousand years ago.

Walt Brown is an example of a so-called creation scientist who uses science when it suits him to make what he says sound plausible to the uninitiated, but his theories are refuted by the very same science he uses.  Although his book certainly looks attractive and well written, ultimately what matters is the truth behind what is written, and I am afraid to say that at least as far as asteroids are concerned, it falls down very badly on this.  In glancing casually through some of the other astronomy in the book, I am afraid to say that it is also riddled with errors; for example on pages 34 and 35 is the old creationist canard of the shrinking sun and the missing solar neutrinos to explain a young (about 6000 year old) sun.  These arguments have long been refuted, even by some young earth creationists themselves.  Consequently, because of these errors, I wonder how reliable is the material in parts of the book I have not looked at, or is outside my area of expertise.

People like Walt Brown do immense harm to the Christian faith by making absurd claims that anybody with a knowledge of freshman physics will know is wrong.  This has serious consequences to Christian witness on university and college campuses, and in general amongst people with at least some grasp of science.  Many Christians complain that their children leave Christianity after attending college.  If such children are fed on a diet like that published by Walt Brown before leaving for college, they will certainly have a serious problem if they attend classes in astronomy or geology.

As is usually the case with the claims of young earth creationists, they depart by many orders of magnitudes, often by factors of a million or more, in timescales, energies and other quantities from what is known with good confidence in science, so calculations are not necessary – a good analogy is that I know that the amount of money necessary to buy a hamburger combo is insufficient to buy a nice house in the foothills (here in Tucson, Arizona), without considering whether the combo should have a super-sized portion of fries, or the house has a heated outdoor Jacuzzi.  I just wanted to present some calculations to show the absurdity of his claims, and the damage he and his ilk are doing to the credibility of Christianity in the USA.

Details of Walt Brown’s asteroid theory can be found at http://www.creationscience.com/onlinebook/Asteroids.html.  I have more information on young earth creationism at http://csharp.com/creationism.html.

Christopher M. Sharp © 2005

Reference

“In the Beginning – Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood” 7th Edition (2001) by Walt Brown, Ph.D., ISBN 1-878026-08-9

Center for Scientific Creation
5612 N. 20th Place
Phoenix, AZ 85016
http://www.creationscience.com