DWISE1'S CREATION / EVOLUTION PAGE:
Earth's Rotation is Slowing


HARD HAT AREA

WATCH YOUR STEP


Table of Contents


Abstract

The rate at which the earth rotates is slowing down over time. Since the length of a mean solar day is now greater than the length of a standard day (ie, 86,400 standard seconds), this causes the standard clock, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), to fall out of sync with mean solar time. In order to correct that, we must periodically add a second called a "leap second" to UTC. That is analogous to leap years, in which we add a day to the calendar every fourth year because the astronomical year is about a quarter day longer than the calendar year.

In 1979, a creationist was reading about the upcoming NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS) and encountered leap seconds for the first time. Since he did not understand what leap seconds are nor how they work, he misinterpreted their use to refer directly on the rate at which the earth's rotation was slowing down, that the adding of a leap second meant that the earth had slowed down by one second per day. As a result, he arrived at a rate that is tens of thousands of times greater than the actual rate which we have determined empirically through direct observation and measurement. His grossly over-inflated rate led him to ridiculous conclusions upon which he based a young-earth claim (paraphrased):

"At the rate that the earth's rotation is slowing down, an old earth would have originally been spinning impossibly fast, drastically distorting its shape. Since an old earth is therefore impossible, that proves that the earth must be young."

In 1982, that claim was refuted so soundly that its earliest proponent and most likely originator, Dr. Walter Brown, appears to no longer use it. Yet the creationist community still uses it and many individual creationists will continue to use it even after learning that it is false.


The Claim

This is a rather popular and enduring creationist claim, even though it is one of the more blatantly false of their claims and it was completely refuted in 1982, a couple/few years after it was created. In fact, it reveals creationists' strong hatred for truthfulness and honesty, since creationists persist in using it even after they learn how undeniably false it is.

Here is the oldest form of the claim by Walter Brown, its apparent creator, as quoted in the claim's classic 1982 refutation (As the World Turns: Can Creationists Keep Time? by William M. Thwaites and Frank T. Awbrey, Creation/Evolution, Issue IX, Summer 1982, pp.18-22):

Atomic clocks, which have for the last twenty-two years measured the earth's spin rate to the nearest billionth of a second, have consistently found that the earth is slowing down at a rate of almost one second a year. If the earth were billions of years old, its initial spin rate would have been fantastically rapid—so rapid that major distortions in the shape of the earth would have occurred. (Evidence that Implies a Young Earth and Solar System by Walter Brown, Evidence for Creation Series, I.C.R. Midwest Center, 1979)

I can verify that quote since I have a PDF of a March 1981 creationist brochure which contains the same quote, except it contains a typographical error that replaces "the last twenty-two years" with "the last 2 years" -- 22 years would be correct. That 1981 brochure also verifies 1979 as the likely date of origin for this claim, because it includes Brown's bibliography for the claim, the most recent source having been a November 1977 article in Reader's Digest (Jack Fincher, “And Now, Atomic Clocks,” Readers’ Digest, Vol. III, November 1977, p. 34) -- don't you love how creationists' sources are most often from the popular press?

Immediately, other creationists adopted the claim and expanded upon it, mostly to describe those "major distortions in the shape of the earth" more graphically by describing that "ancient earth" as being flattened "to a flat pancake", or a pizza depending on your taste in flat food. Kent Hovind's version is both more colorful and highly popular for being copied a vast number of creationist web sites; from a transcript of his videos, http://www.wiseoldgoat.com/papers-creation/hovind-seminar_part1b_2007.html#rotationalspeed :

Slowing Earth

Another factor. The earth is spinning—we are turning around. How many knew that already? We are turning around. You know the earth is going a little over 1,000 miles an hour at the equator, but the earth is slowing down. It is actually slowing down 1000th of a second everyday. Pensacola News Journal, 1990, said on December 6, "Earth’s rotation is slowing down, June will be one second longer than normal. The earth is slowing down 1000th of a second every day." Astronomy magazine announced, 1992 in the June edition, "Earth’s rotation is slowing down, June is going to be one second longer than normal." We will have to have a "leap second." A leap second? Most people have heard of leap year, but lots of folks have never heard of leap second. Did you know we have a leap second about every year and a half now because the earth is slowing down? Now kids this is going to be kind of complicated so listen carefully. The earth is spinning but it is slowing down. So that means that it used to be going faster. How many can figure that out with no help? Okay several. Well, now if the earth is only 6,000 years old that is not a problem. It was probably spinning a little faster when Adam was here. Maybe they had 23 and 1/2 hours in a day. They would not notice, they did not have a watch anyway. Some of these folks want you to believe that the earth is billions of years old. Now that would make a problem. If you go back a few billion years, the earth was spinning real fast. Your days and nights would be pretty quick! Get up, go to bed! Get up, go to bed! Get up, go to bed! You would never get anything done. And a centrifugal force would have been enormous, would have flattened the earth like a pancake. The winds would have been 5,000 miles an hour from the Coriolis effect. You think the dinosaurs lived 70 million years ago? I know what happened to them? I know what happened to them... they got blown off! No they did not live 70 million years ago, folks; it simply cannot possibly be true.

Very colorful and funny. And completely wrong.


The short form of the refutation of this claim is that, while the earth's rotation is indeed slowing down, it is doing so at a rate that is very greatly less than what creationists claim. Creationists claim that it's slowing down by one second per day every 12 to 18 months; ie, that after 12 or 18 months, the day will be one second longer. That is false. Instead, the real rate is about 2 milliseconds per day per century; ie, after 100 years, the day will be a few milliseconds longer. The creationists' rate is 33,333 to 50,000 times too great, which leads them to ludicrously false conclusions!

To make that clearer, I'll use a very popular fundamentalist proselytizing training format, the imaginary conversation (usually in cartoon form; eg, a Chick Pubs tract) between you and your intended victim. But in this case, the goal is not to deceive the other person, but rather to present our answers to some basic questions. Actually, this is basically the conversation I've played out in my head for presenting this information to a creationist who is using this claim:

Is the earth's rotation slowing down?
The Creationist:
Yes.
Me:
Yes.

Would that mean the earth used to rotate faster in the past?
The Creationist:
Yes.
Me:
Yes.

What effect would that have on the length of the day and the length of the year?
The Creationist:
The days would have been shorter. I'm not sure about the length of the year.
Me:
The days would have been shorter, which would cause the year to have more days in it. The actual length of the year would not change, but since the days were shorter that would mean that there would be more of those shorter days in the year.

What other effects would a more rapidly spinning earth experience?
The Creationist:
If the earth were truly ancient, then even just a million years ago it would have been spinning impossibly fast. Going back billions of years ago, the earth's spin would have been so great that the centrifugal force would pull the land masses to the equatorial regions and draw them out to a present day height of over 40 miles. The oceans would have been pushed to the poles and the overall shape of the earth changed from a sphere to a flat pancake.
(taken from Wysong's description of the effects: The Creation-Evolution Controversy, R. L. Wysong, 1981, page 164)
Me:
Not much of an effect. A million years ago the day would have been about 20 seconds shorter, which is hardly noticeable.

400 million years ago in the Devonian, a day would have about 2 hours 13 minutes shorter, in which case the year would have had about 400 of those shorter days in it. This is interesting, because coral grows a new layer every day and also displays seasonal changes over the year. Fossil coral from the Devonian indicates that there were 400 days in the year when it grew.

If we go back about 4 billion years, then the day would have been about half as long as it is now, about 12 hours. How would that distort the shape of the earth? Well, look at Jupiter with a 10-hour day and see how much of a "flat pancake" it is.

Why such a great difference between your assessments of the consequences? You've been agreeing with each other so far. How fast do you think that the earth's rotation is slowing down?
The Creationist:
The earth is slowing down by one second per day every 18 months.
Me:
The earth is slowing down by about two milliseconds per day every 100 years. Closer to 1.7 milliseconds per day per century.

Creationist, your rate is over 30,000 times too great. No wonder you get such outrageously wrong results!

How did you come up with your rates of the slowing of the earth's rotation? What do you base them on?
The Creationist:
Well! Obviously the "evolutionist" got his rate from that Devonian coral and its false age from faulty radiometric dating methods, blah-blah-blah ... .

I got my rate from how we have to add a second to the clock every 18 months because the earth had slowed down by that much. That's called a leap second, which I'm sure you've never heard of, Evolutionist!

Me:
Oh, I have indeed heard of leap seconds before. And I have worked with them constantly for more than a decade, since the systems we design incorporate GPS receivers. We need to know how many leap seconds have been added since GPS time started on Sunday, 1980 Jan 06, so that we can convert GPS time, the straight count of seconds since 1980 Jan 06 started, into Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is what our clocks are set to. I'm afraid that it is you, Creationist, who does not understand what leap seconds are nor what they're used for.

No, I didn't get my rate from Devonian coral. Rather, that was simply independent confirmation of the actual rate.

Instead, I did get my rate from the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS -- they kept the initials of their old name, the International Earth Rotation Service). The IERS constantly monitors and measures the earth's daily rotation. Based on their empirical observations and measurements, they determine and announce when a leap second needs to be added to the clock, to UTC.

It is the IERS which has empirically measured the rate at which the earth's rotation is slowing down as being about 1.7 milliseconds per day per century. It's just a bit more convenient to round it up to 2 milliseconds.

So then, Creationist, my rate is based on direct empirical measurement of the earth's rotation, whereas yours is based on a misunderstanding of leap seconds.

Well then what are leap seconds and why do we have them?
The Creationist:
All I know is what I read from a famous scientist, Dr. Kent Hovind. We have to add leap seconds because the earth is slowing down. He even gave the rate as 1000th of a second per day.
Me:
Sorry, Kent Hovind is no scientist, but rather just a creationist hack whose claims cause even other creationists to roll their eyes. None of his degrees are from an accredited school and his masters and PhD are both from a diploma mill. And even out of all the legitimate PhDs, many if not most of them are not scientists. It all depends on what subject you earned that PhD in. What was Hovind's "PhD" in? Religious education, as was his Masters (his Bachelor degree was in Religion from an unaccredited Baptist college). He did teach science and math at private Christian high schools where teachers do not need to be qualified in any manner except to have the "right" religious beliefs. And he has demonstrated that he does not understand many scientific facts, such as simple physics.

Also, look at his source for that "1000th of a second per day" rate. His local newspaper, which said:

"Earth’s rotation is slowing down, June will be one second longer than normal. The earth is slowing down 1000th of a second every day."
(Pensacola News Journal, 06 Dec 1990)
And who knows where they had gotten that from. The newspaper archives are behind a pay-wall, but I found a dissertation where the student had obtained the article and verified that it did say what Hovind claims it did. So the newspaper reporter had gotten it wrong.

Now, as for the question put to us, we have leap seconds for the same reason we have leap years: because the time periods we are trying to measure are not a whole number of the units we are measuring them with. As a result, error accumulates in our timekeeping methods which eventually needs to be eliminated by correcting our timekeeping.

What error are you talking about?
The Creationist:
Yeah, Evolutionist! What are you talking about?
Me:
It's very simple. Let's start with leap years, since you are more familiar with them and the same problem and solution applies as with leap seconds.

A year is a little less than 365.25 days long. And we measure a year with a calendar, so that's our timekeeping method to measure the passage of one year. The problem is that a calendar's idea of a year is 365 whole days. It is unable to deal with that extra quarter of a day, so every year that goes by results in the calendar being off by a quarter of a day; it accrues an error of a quarter of a day. So after the first year, the calendar has an error of a quarter of a day. After the second year, the calendar has an error of half a day. After the third year, the calendar has an error of three quarters of a day. After the fourth year, the calendar has an error of an entire day, which we correct by adding an extra day, 29 Feb, to the calendar. That's a leap year.

The same thing applies to leap seconds. Our timekeeping method for a mean solar day is Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) which is measured with an atomic clock (actually, many atomic clocks) which defines a standard day as being 86,400 standard seconds. Since the standard second is defined according to how long a mean solar day was around 1900, that means that the earth has done a little over a century of slowing down since then. So the problem is that currently an actual day is between 1.7 and 2 milliseconds longer than a standard day. That means that every day that passes adds about 2 milliseconds of error to our UTC clock. There are about 548 days in an 18-month period, so in 548 days UTC can accumulate an error of about a full second. So the solution is that, when that much error will have accumulated, we correct UTC by adding a leap second. It is really that simple.

Please note that adding a leap second has nothing to do with correcting for how much the earth has slowed down during that 18-month period. If the earth were to suddenly stop slowing down and maintain a constant rate of rotation from now on, we would still need to add leap seconds periodically because an actual day would still be longer than a standard day. Consider that adding a day every leap year does not mean that the earth is slowing down in its orbit, which is a good thing since if that were happening then we would have de-orbited into the sun long ago.

But why is the standard second based on 1900?
The Creationist:
Huh?
Me:
Well, that's a bit of a long story, which I will shorten considerably here. Basically, it wasn't until the end of the 19th century that astronomers began to suspect that the earth's rotation was slowing down and then by the 1920's they had confirmed that it was indeed happening. That was a huge problem, since most calculations in physics and astronomy include the factor of time, so if the duration of a second was constantly changing, that would throw all their calculations off which would be disastrous; they needed a time standard that would remain constant!

So the astronomers went to work using astronomical observations and orbital mechanics to solve for time, thus establishing ephemeris time which was based on the ephemeris second. Even though ephemeris time was officially established in 1952, the calculations that created it were based on observations made in 1900, so the length of an ephemeris second was that of a mean solar second in 1900.

Then in the 1950's and 1960's physicists began experimenting with atomic clocks and they used the ephemeris second to calibrate their atomic clocks. Thus the atomic second, defined as a particular number of oscillations of a caesium-133 atom, was the same length as an ephemeris second. The atomic second led to the establishment of the International Second (SI Second) in 1967, which is the standard second used in UTC.

And that is why the standard second is based on what the mean solar second was in 1900.

So what do we conclude about this creationist claim?
The Creationist:
Uh .... .
Me:
That it is false and should not be used. Unfortunately, creationists will continue to use it. Look, it was created in 1979 and developed over the next few years. But then in the Summer of 1982 it was completely and utterly refuted (As the World Turns: Can Creationists Keep Time? by William M. Thwaites and Frank T. Awbrey, Creation/Evolution, Issue IX, Summer 1982, pp.18-22).

And yet creationists continue to use it unabated. Even when they know that it's false. In 2001 (nearly two decades after the claim was refuted), a Canadian organization, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, attempted to discuss the claim with creationists -- read their two-page article starting at An unsuccessful attempt to correct an error on young-earth creationist websites.. They found fifteen sites that used the claim and explained the situation to them. Most of the webmasters simply ignored them while others either refused to discuss it, insisted that the claim was correct, or else pretended to be reasonable in order to "smile you out the door." The end-result was that all of the websites continued to post the claim unchanged. That amounts to them deliberately lying.

The claim started out as an honest mistake. I've read the Popular Science article that Walter Brown lists in his bibliography and it didn't go into enough detail about leap seconds to explain them properly; it didn't confuse me because I already understood leap seconds but I can see how it could have confused a newbie like Brown. But once the claim had been found to be false, it should have been dropped. Actually, I think that Walter Brown did drop it, because I couldn't find it on his site nor in his book. But far too many other creationists do continue to use it. An author quoted in the Religious Tolerance article stated:

"I really don’t blame them for making this mistake initially. We are all entitled to a few mistakes. But this does not justify keeping this claim going for years and years. My question is, why is this claim still being made?"

The Creationist:
My head hurts!

There, I think that was a worthwhile exercise. And hopefully more clear than a few pages of prose explaining everything. Plus, if you happen to know a creationist who uses this claim, you could use it as a template for your own little tête-à-tête with him.

So to recapitulate: The creationists didn't understand what leap seconds are nor what they do, so they made the enormous mistake of assuming an extremely large rate for the earth's rotational deceleration, which in turn resulted in extremely ridiculous and utterly false conclusions. And they continue either to refuse to understand leap seconds or to lie about it in order to continue to use this false claim.


As I've said, this creationist claim was created around 1979, apparently by Walter Brown, and soundly refuted in 1982 by two biology professors at San Diego State University, William M. Thwaites and Frank T. Awbrey, in their article, As the World Turns: Can Creationists Keep Time? (Creation/Evolution, Issue IX, Summer 1982, pp.18-22). And yet, more than three decades later, this claim is not only still being used by creationists, but it is also still very popular.

In 2001, a Canadian group, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, attempted to open a series of honest dialogues with creationists, an endeavor which did not survive the very first attempt. For their first attempt, they chose this claim because it is so obviously wrong and impossible to defend. Thus, they reasoned, when confronted with the undeniable fact that this claim is wrong, creationists will have no choice but to stop using it, thus increasing their own credibility -- IOW, it would be in creationists' own interest to eliminate creationist claims that are so obviously wrong.

For the full story, read their two-page article starting at An unsuccessful attempt to correct an error on young-earth creationist websites..

So they did a web search and found fifteen sites that repeated the claim. They initiated contact with those sites' webmasters and explained the situation to them. Most of the webmasters simply ignored them while others either refused to discuss it, insisted that the claim was correct, or else pretended to be reasonable in order to "smile you out the door." The end-result was that all of the websites continued to post the claim unchanged. The conclusion in the article was:

None of the 15 websites has been changed. Persuading the webmasters of these creation science websites to correct their error appears to be quite impossible. In fact, dialog seems to be as hopeless as attempting to herd cats.

The conclusion also quoted another site about this situation:

One author, a supporter of an old earth, commented on the continuing use of the deceleration "proof" by creation scientists, even though their error has been pointed out to them many times. It seems applicable here:
"I really don’t blame them for making this mistake initially. We are all entitled to a few mistakes. But this does not justify keeping this claim going for years and years. My question is, why is this claim still being made?"

"Why?" indeed. I have been studying "creation science" since 1981 and discussing it with creationists since 1986. In all that time, what has impressed me most about creationists, especially the professionals and local crusaders, is their boundless dishonesty, abhorance of truthfulness, and their zeal for lying. All this does is to reinforce my low opinion of creationists.

Though it appears that Walter Brown, the most likely originator of this claim, no longer uses it. When I visited his web site, I could not find any mention of this claim. Apparently he realized his mistake and dropped the claim long ago. Not that that makes him honest, since he still uses his rattlesnake protein claim, which is a deliberate lie.


About Time


"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly ... timey-wimey ... stuff." -- The 10th Doctor in Blink


Discussing this claim leads us to several fascinating topics in observational astronomy and time-keeping that would keep us entertained and edified for hours. I have always been interested in astronomy and, since my work involves GPS receivers, I have been learning more about the bases for time-keeping.

And thus, as I started writing this section, it continued to grow until it started to take on a life of its own. Therefore rather than over-burden this page with such a large digression, I decided to split it off into its own page, which I'm still working on.

But I've already explained the pertinent facts in that "dialogue" above, so I'll not clutter this page with more iterations of the same facts.


Examples of the Claim

This claim is something of a rarity among creationist claims. Most creationist claims spread like urban legends, making it nearly impossible to trace their spread and development. Also, most creationists will just simply repeat the claim, including the claim's purported scientific source, which the creationist will claim to be his own source even though he had never seen that source 1. But in the case of this claim, most creationists cited their actual creationist source, making this claim traceable.


Footnote 1: For example, at a debate Dr. Henry Morris used a moon dust claim which he claimed was based on a "1976" NASA document, "written well into the space age". Indeed, his reason for citing that "1976" document was specifically to counter Dr. Roger Awbrey's point that creationists keep citing out-dated references. Morris had also included that same claim in his book, Scientific Creationism (2nd ed., page 152): Meteor Orbits and Dust (NASA SP-135, Smithsonian Contributions to Astrophysics Vol. 2).

When I pulled that NASA document off the library shelf, I immediately saw that it contained papers presented at a conference in 1965. Looking at the copyright page, I saw that it was printed in 1967, not in 1976 as claimed. Also, it was Volume 11 (eleven) of the series, not Volume 2. It turned out that Morris' source, Harold Slusher, had used Roman numerals, calling it "Volume II", even though the font on the front cover made it abundantly clear that it was Volume 11.

The point here is that if Morris had ever actually looked at that NASA document, then he would have known the document's date and volume number. Instead, he simply based his claim completely and solely on Slusher's claim and lied to his public by claiming the NASA document as being his source. In turn, I suspect that Harold Slusher himself had never actually seen that NASA document, but rather was merely repeating and expanding upon the claim of another creationist, possibly via a hand-written letter or notes, in which he mistook the eleven to be Roman numeral two. That is impossible to know for certain, since Slusher refuses to respond to requests for any information about his claims.

For the full story, see my page, MOON DUST.


The most common form of the claim that we see is Kent Hovind's version. The unfortunate thing about Kent Hovind is that he avoided writing his claims, but rather would present them in his seminar videos, which were commonly available on-line. Another unfortunate thing about that is that he would update his videos periodically, so that if you referenced a claim in a video, it could easily disappear (eg, a protein comparison claim that only appeared in earlier videos, but was removed in later ones) or else be moved to a different video or a different timemark. Yet another problem with those claims only being on a video is that they would lack a bibliography, which makes researching his claim more difficult.

Fortunately, someone transcribed a set of Hovind's videos several years ago and posted that transcript on-line. I found this example of Hovind's version of the claim in a transcript at http://www.wiseoldgoat.com/papers-creation/hovind-seminar_part1b_2007.html#rotationalspeed ):

Slowing Earth

Another factor. The earth is spinning—we are turning around. How many knew that already? We are turning around. You know the earth is going a little over 1,000 miles an hour at the equator, but the earth is slowing down. It is actually slowing down 1000th of a second everyday. Pensacola News Journal, 1990, said on December 6, "Earth’s rotation is slowing down, June will be one second longer than normal. The earth is slowing down 1000th of a second every day." Astronomy magazine announced, 1992 in the June edition, "Earth’s rotation is slowing down, June is going to be one second longer than normal." We will have to have a "leap second." A leap second? Most people have heard of leap year, but lots of folks have never heard of leap second. Did you know we have a leap second about every year and a half now because the earth is slowing down? Now kids this is going to be kind of complicated so listen carefully. The earth is spinning but it is slowing down. So that means that it used to be going faster. How many can figure that out with no help? Okay several. Well, now if the earth is only 6,000 years old that is not a problem. It was probably spinning a little faster when Adam was here. Maybe they had 23 and 1/2 hours in a day. They would not notice, they did not have a watch anyway. Some of these folks want you to believe that the earth is billions of years old. Now that would make a problem. If you go back a few billion years, the earth was spinning real fast. Your days and nights would be pretty quick! Get up, go to bed! Get up, go to bed! Get up, go to bed! You would never get anything done. And a centrifugal force would have been enormous, would have flattened the earth like a pancake. The winds would have been 5,000 miles an hour from the Coriolis effect. You think the dinosaurs lived 70 million years ago? I know what happened to them? I know what happened to them... they got blown off! No they did not live 70 million years ago, folks; it simply cannot possibly be true.

Very colorful and funny. And completely wrong as you now know.

Hovind wrote another very terse version of the claim which appeared on Hovind's website in his article, Universe Is Not "Billions of Years" Old (currently renamed to Evidence from Earth of a Young Earth) -- that article's list of "young earth evidences" is also popular re-post fodder on creationist websites:

The slowing spin of the earth limits its age to less than the "billions of years" called for by the theory of evolution. (3, p. 25; 7)

3. Huse, Scott M. The Collapse of Evolution. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1983.
7. Hovind, Kent E. Creation Seminar, Parts 1-7 (most items referenced onscreen—available from Creation Science Evangelism, 29 Cummings Road, Pensacola, Fla. 32503).

This version does not provide much information, but it did provide me with a lead for tracking down the history of the claim: Scott M. Huse's version of the claim, which I will present below. This was my first lead in tracking down one line of descent of this claim. And, needless to say, I was rather pleasantly surprised with Hovind's bibliography in that article, since he broke with common creationist practice by citing his actual creationist sources rather than try to claim those creationists' purported scientific sources as his own.


But I'd rather present the versions in the reverse order in which I discovered them through research, starting with its first appearance and bringing it towards the present so that we can see it develop over time.

The earliest form of the claim that I know of was from 1979. It was cited by William M. Thwaites and Frank T. Awbrey in their classic refutation, As the World Turns: Can Creationists Keep Time? (Creation/Evolution, Issue IX, Summer 1982, pp.18-22): Evidence that Implies a Young Earth and Solar System by Walter Brown (Evidence for Creation Series, I.C.R. Midwest Center, 1979):

Atomic clocks, which have for the last twenty-two years measured the earth's spin rate to the nearest billionth of a second, have consistently found that the earth is slowing down at a rate of almost one second a year. If the earth were billions of years old, its initial spin rate would have been fantastically rapid—so rapid that major distortions in the shape of the earth would have occurred.

Then later on-line I found a PDF of a brochure that was apparently put together for a youth rally and which is dated March 1981. That brochure contained a copy of Brown's EVIDENCE THAT IMPLIES A YOUNG EARTH AND SOLAR SYSTEM which stated:

1. Atomic clocks, which have for the last 2 years measured the earth’s spin rate to the nearest billionth of a second, have consistently found that the earth is slowing down at the rate of almost one second a year. (a- c) If the earth were billions of years old, its initial spin rate would have been fantastically rapid– so rapid that major distortions in the shape of the earth would have occurred.

...

March 1981

REFERENCES
1. a) Arthur Fisher, “The Riddle of the Leap Second,” Popular Science, Vol. 202, March, 1973, pp. 110- 113, 164- 166.
b) Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory, Earth motions and Their Effect on Air Force Systems, November 1975, p. 6.
c) Jack Fincher, “And Now, Atomic Clocks,” Readers’ Digest, Vol. III, November 1977, p. 34.

This 1981 reprint is identical except for saying "2 years" instead of "twenty-two years"; that is undoubtedly a typographical error, since 22 years prior to 1979 would place us in the late 1950's, which was indeed when time-keeping with atomic clocks started to be practiced. It also provides the bibliography that Thwaites and Awbrey discuss in their own article. That Air Force publication in his bibliography supports my opinion that Walter Brown had originated the claim. He was a military officer until he retired in 1980, so he would have had easy access to military periodicals.

The next version I found was made by R. L. Wysong in his book, The Creation-Evolution Controversy (1981). Scott Huse, my lead to Wysong, had cited page 455, but it is on page 164 that we find Wysong's statement of the claim along with his bibliography:

12 -- EARTH SPIN

The rotation of the earth is gradually slowing -- losing time. A recent edition of Popular Science alluded to this in an article entitled, "The Riddle of the Leap Second." 41 The causes for this slowing are many, including gravitational drag forces exerted on the earth by the moon and sun. If the earth is billions of years old, and it has been slowing down uniformly through that time, the earth's present spin should be zero! Extrapolating backwards, the earth's spin billions of years ago would have been so great that the centrifugal force would pull the land masses to the equatorial regions and draw them out to a present day height of over 40 miles. The oceans would have been pushed to the poles and the overall shape of the earth changed from a sphere to a flat pancake. 42 But the earth is still spinning, its shape is spherical, its continents are not crowded to the equitorial regions and the oceans are not centered at the poles. What do we conclude? The earth is not billions of years old.

41. A. FISHER: "THE RIDDLE OF THE LEAP SECOND," IN POPULAR SCIENCE, 202(1973):110; SEE ALSO "TOWARDS A LONGER DAY," IN TIME, 87(FEB. 25, 1966):102.
42. THIS INFORMATION,IN PART, WAS TAKEN FROM T. BARNES' SUMMARY OF LORD KELVIN'S ARGUMENTS AGAINST A VAST AGE OF THE EARTH IN T. G. BARNES: "PHYSICS: A CHALLENGE TO 'GEOLOGIC TIME'," IN ACTS AND FACTS, 3(JULY-AUGUST 1974).

While Wysong did not cite his actual creationist source, we can see that it had been Walter Brown, since he did follow common creationist practice and cited Brown's Popular Science source as his own.

We also see Wysong introduce the mental image of the ancient earth spinning so fast that centrifugal force would have flattened it "to a flat pancake." This is the earliest use of this imagery that I know of -- Brown himself only spoke of "major distortions in the shape of the earth". I believe that he is the source of that imagery, since he cites the ICR Impact article Physics: A Challenge to Geological Time (Impact No.16, July 1974) by Thomas G. Barnes, D.Sc. (honorary) (unfortunately, they no longer post the original article, but rather it's been redone as a web page minus the abstract and publication information):

Abstract

In contrast to the narrow specialization of present-day scientists some great physicists in the nineteenth century made significant contributions to numerous branches of science. England recognized this breadth and depth in Sir William Thomson and elevated his title to Lord Kelvin. It was Kelvin's brilliant thermodynamic analysis that gave us the absolute temperature scale that bears his name. When the Atlantic cable was laid it took the ingenious electromagnetic developments of Kelvin to make it a workable device. His best papers are to be found in a six volume set, Mathematical and Physical Papers, Lord Kelvin, (Cambridge University Press, 1911). Many of those papers employed physics to expose the errors inherent in the long-age concepts held by uniformitarian geologists.

Here is the section of that article that addresses the deceleration of the earth's rate of rotation:

III. Kelvin's First Physical Argument Against the Vast Earth-Age.

Kelvin investigated the deceleration of the earth's rate of rotation due to the energy lost through tidal currents. He showed that, if the earth had been here for 7.2 billion years, its initial rate of rotation would have been twice its present rate (the days being only 12 hours long). That would have yielded four times as much centrifugal force as at present. If, as historical geologists claim, the earth was molten in its initial state, the centrifugal force would have bulged out the mass in the equatorial region, making the earth's radius 86 kilometers greater at the equator than at the poles (the radius of the earth's sea level is presently only 21.5 kilometers greater at the equator due to the centrifugal force with its present rate of spin). Kelvin reasoned that if the earth had consolidated at that time, the land masses would have retained most of that greatly oblated shape, four times its present oblateness. As the years passed the centrifugal force would have been reduced and the oceans would have settled into two very deep basins, one at the north polar region and the other at the south polar region. The continents would in that case now be extremely high in the equatorial regions, 40 miles higher than they actually are!

Kelvin noted that, even if the earth had been molten and consolidated at some time appreciably less than a billion years ago, it would still have evidences of that centrifugal effect and its continents would run east and west around the equator rather than the present configuration of continents running more or less north and south. Today there is evidence that the earth's rate of rotation is slowing even more than the value used by Kelvin. Hence his physical argument is even stronger today. No one has ever really challenged his physics. Geologists just chose to ignore it. Nevertheless the actual configurations of the continents and seas refute "historical geology's" claim of a 4.6 billion year age for the earth. The continents stand as testimony to a recent creation of the earth, at the maximum of, not more than, say, about 500 million years old by this evidence alone.

Lord Kelvin lived and worked at the end of the 19th century, so he had to work with the knowledge and ideas of his time. For example, he used 7.2 billion years as an estimate for the age of the earth instead of our current 4.5 billion estimate which is based on radiometric dating, something that scientists of Lord Kelvin's time did not have knowledge of. And Lord Kelvin was aware that the earth's rotational rate is slowing down and he had a reasonable estimate of that deceleration rate, free of creationists' confusion about leap seconds. And he assumed that the earth's ancient shape and continental distribution would have been frozen in time (assuming that that wasn't Barnes putting words into his mouth) since he was not aware of plate tectonics nor that the earth's interior is molten.

So it was Wysong (or another unidentified creationist that Wysong got the idea from) who extended the idea of the earth's increased oblateness due to a more rapid rotation rate into the earth having been a "flat pancake" due to an impossibly high rotation rate.

In turn, Wysong was a source for Scott Huse in his book, The Collapse of Evolution (1983). On page 25:

The Rotation of the Earth

The rotation of the earth is gradually slowing due to the gravitational drag forces of the sun, moon and other factors. If the earth is billions of years old, as uniformitarian geologists insist, and it has been slowing down uniformly, then its present rotation should be zero! Furthermore, if we extrapolate backward for several billion years, the centrifugal force would have been so great that the continents would have been sent to the equatorial regions and the overall shape of the earth would have been more like a flat pancake. But, as is commonly known, the shape of the earth is spherical; its continents are not confined to the equatorial regions, and it continues to rotate on its axis at approximately 1,000 mph at the equator. The obvious conclusion is that the earth is not billions of years old.

I have the 1983 edition of Huse's book, which is where I got that quote from, but I haven't located the newer 1996 edition. However, I once found a page on the Chick Publications site that quoted from the 1996 edition. Their quotation of the "The Rotation of the Earth" section was identical to the 1983 edition, which indicates to me that this claim was not changed in the new edition. Unfortunately, the link for that quote is now broken and I could not find it in a search of the site.

In turn, the 1983 edition of Scott Huse's book was the source for Hovind's version of the claim, which was the first one that I listed. The 1996 edition of Huse's book is of no direct interest in this investigation, but rather only serves as evidence that in the intervening 13 years, Huse never corrected his use of a claim that had been proven conclusively to be false.

And now you know that history of the claim. Though I'm sure that there are other lines of descent that can be traced through other creationists' use of it.


Return to DWise1's Creation/Evolution Links Page
Return to DWise1's Creation/Evolution Home Page

Contact me.

First uploaded on 2015 September 25.
Last updated on 2017 February 02.