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Creation 42(1):48–51, January 2020

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Secular scientific problems with the Ice Age

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ice-age

The lawyer Charles Lyell published his three-volume book Principles of Geology from 1830 to 1833. In it he advocated that all past geological processes were the same as what we observe today, and rejected any geological impact of Noah’s Flood described in the Bible. His uniformitarian philosophy, summarized as ‘the present is the key to the past’, means that everything in geology is ‘slow and gradual’. It powerfully influenced most scientists. Soon after this, however, came the ‘discovery’ of the Ice Age, popularized by an 1840 book by the famous Swiss-American biologist/geologist Louis Agassiz.1

The Ice Age—an assault on uniformitarianism

The Ice Age came as a shock to advocates of the uniformitarian philosophy. There were no ice sheets that were covering portions of North America, Europe, and Asia, yet scientists began finding incontrovertible evidence for such ice sheets in the recent past. The Ice Age remained controversial for some 30 years after Agassiz’ book. Lyell never accepted it, even though research in many parts of the world was turning up abundant evidence of melted ice sheets.

Geologist and historian Martin Rudwick writes that Lyell found it “an unacceptably catastrophic deviation from the ‘uniformity’ of an earth in a steady state or at least in an extremely slow or long-wave cyclicity.”2 He further states (emphases his):

The most important point about the controversy over the Ice Age was that any such episode in the geologically recent past was totally unexpected by leading geologists of all stripes: by Buckland no less than by Lyell, to mention just two representative figures. It was drastic enough to count as a catastrophe, yet this particular catastrophe was the very last kind of event that might have been anticipated, on an earth that most geologists believed was cooling very slowly from its unimaginably remote origin as a fiery ball in space. On the other hand, it was too drastic, and in geological terms too sudden and catastrophic, to have been anticipated on an earth that a very few geologists (notably Lyell and his disciple Darwin) believed to be in an endless steady state of dynamic equilibrium, oscillating on a vast and stately cycle of gradual but directionless change.3

The Ice Age, of course, was eventually accepted because the evidence overwhelmingly confirmed its reality. By the late 1880s, geologists not only accepted there had been an Ice Age period, but they absorbed it into their uniformitarian philosophy by convincing themselves there was evidence for many ice ages.

Problem of the Ice Age’s cause

orbital-geometry
Figure 1. The three changes in the earth’s orbital geometry that cause slight changes in solar radiation on the earth: 1a. the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit (greatly exaggerated), 1b. the variation in the axial tilt, and 1c. the precession of the equinoxes.

Just because uniformitarian scientists accept there was an Ice Age, or many ice ages, does not mean they can explain its origin. They realize that an ice age requires much cooler summers, much more snow, and a climate change that persists for hundreds of years.4

What would cause these factors to come together? It has been repeatedly shown that the disruption caused by the global Flood would lead naturally to this confluence.4 However, those who reject the Flood continue to extrapolate present processes millions of years into the past, processes such as climate change and variations in Earth’s orbital geometry. Over the years more than 60 theories have been proposed. Secular Ice Age expert J.K. Charlesworth said about Ice Age theories: “Pleistocene [Ice Age] phenomena have produced an absolute riot of theories ranging ‘from the remotely possible to the mutually contradictory and the palpably inadequate.’”5

That was back in 1957, however, and many people believe we have made great progress since then. However, the cause of the Ice Age still is unknown, as ice age expert David Alt stated: “Although theories abound, no one really knows what causes ice ages.”6

One of the main challenges for the secular model is that colder air is also drier air. Even if they discover a cooling mechanism, the air would be too dry for enough snow to fall for an ice age. As an example, if the average summer temperature of Canada were to fall 120C (220F), the air would become 60% drier.7 But this is not a problem for the biblical model because the warm waters just after the Flood would lead to large amounts of evaporation and precipitation.4

The astronomical theory of ice ages

Areas-of-Siberia
Figure 2. Areas of Siberia, Alaska, and the Yukon Territory that were ice-free during the Ice Age.

Present-day factors known to impact our climate are El Niño,8 cycles in ocean currents, volcanic eruptions, and slight changes on the sun. None of these have produced an ice age.9 Yet, secular scientists say that slight changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun and its spin axis (see fig. 1) have affected the distribution of sunshine on the earth, producing over 50 ice ages of varying intensity over the past 2.6 million years.10 This is in spite of the fact that calculations indicate these changes would be only slight. This hypothesis, called the Milankovitch theory or the astronomical theory of the ice ages, has ice ages cycling every 40,000 or 100,000 years. However, its proponents cannot explain how the cycle started, or answer its numerous difficulties.

The amount of change of sunshine is small, and the 100,000-year cycle they propose has very little effect on the sunlight that reaches Earth.11 Scientists thought they had proved the astronomical theory in 1976 when they ‘matched’ cycles in deep-sea cores with Milankovitch cycles. But this good match depended upon dating the deep-sea core. The scientists later changed the date of an event in their uniformitarian scheme, and it threw off their earlier good match.12 Interestingly, even though the astronomical theory remains unproven, researchers continue to assume the truth of this theory in reporting their conclusions.

Secular ice-age ideas—three major difficulties

Laurentide-Ice-Sheet
Figure 3. Secular reconstruction of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, at glacial maximum, showing its domes. Drawn by Melanie Richard.

Besides not having a mechanism to produce the Ice Age, secular scientists have encountered several other problems with their ice age model. One is that the lowlands of Siberia, Alaska, and the northwest Yukon Territory of Canada were never glaciated—not even once, strangely, during any of those 50 ice ages they claim (see fig. 2). These lowlands are where woolly mammoths are found by the millions entombed in the permafrost.

When secular scientists run their computer models to explore the Ice Age, they find it difficult for any of their models to develop an ice age. But when they force their models to decrease the amount of sunshine by 6%, snow and ice begins to build up. However, the snow and ice sometimes grows over areas that have never been glaciated, such as Tibet and the lowlands of the far north: “We now have glaciation [in their climate model], but mainly outside the area where it existed during the last ice age.”13 In stark contrast, the biblical model easily explains the lack of glaciation in these lowlands. The oceans were warm at the beginning of the Ice Age, so the land near them was too warm for glaciation, except in the high mountains.14,15

Another problem that challenges the secular model is the ice dome west and northwest of Hudson Bay, Canada (see fig. 3) during the Ice Age. Ice domes are convex features that form on an ice sheet or ice cap in the zone where moisture precipitates out as snow resulting in an accumulation of ice. But this dome puzzles scientists because it is far from its moisture source well beyond the edge of the (Laurentide) ice sheet. The biblical model provides the solution. The moisture for this dome came from the Arctic and North Pacific Oceans which, in the centuries just after the Flood, were warm and ice-free.16

A third challenge is that glacial rock debris contains very few trees or vegetation. If a uniformitarian ice age occurred, it would have begun in the far north and slowly moved south at a (literal) glacial pace. The ice should have picked up innumerable trees and vast amounts of other vegetation on its way, if these were present. Charlesworth states: “The rarity of vegetation in the drift [glacial debris] suggests that the pre-glacial material was carried beyond the limits of glaciation.”17 But if the glaciers pushed the vegetation forward, why is there such paltry evidence of it? This lack of vegetation is strongly consistent with the rapid post-Flood Ice Age, since the land would have been barren immediately after the global Flood when the Ice Age began.

Conclusion

Because secular Ice Age models ignore the effects of Noah’s Flood, they have numerous difficulties, only some of which are mentioned here. These models are unable to explain either the distribution of large ice sheets or how they developed, demonstrating that their foundational assumptions—uniformitarianism and millions of years—are flawed. However, the biblical post-Flood model provides very plausible explanations and mechanisms for the various Ice Age phenomena.

References and notes

  1. Études sur les glaciers ( Studies on glaciers), in two volumes. Agassiz eventually became Professor of Zoology and Geology at Harvard University. Return to text.
  2. Rudwick, M.J.S., Worlds before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, p. 517, 2008. Return to text.
  3. Rudwick, Ref. 2, pp. 550–551. Return to text.
  4. Oard, M.J., What caused the Ice Age? Creation 36(3):52–55, 2014; creation.com/ice-age-cause. Return to text.
  5. Charlesworth, J.K., The Quaternary Era, Edward Arnold, London, UK, p. 1,532, 1957. Return to text.
  6. Alt, D., Glacial Lake Missoula and Its Humongous Floods, Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, MT, p. 180, 2001. Return to text.
  7. Byers, H.R., General Meteorology, third edition, McGraw-Hill Book company, New York, NY, 1959. Return to text.
  8. The warming phase of a cycle of warm and cold sea surface temperatures in the central/eastern Pacific Ocean that can exacerbate droughts and flooding on opposite sides of that ocean. Return to text.
  9. Oard, M.J., Wonders of Creation—The New Weather Book, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2015. Return to text.
  10. Walker, M. and Lowe, J., Quaternary science 2007: a 50-year retrospective, J. Ge.ological Society London 164:1073–1,092, 2007. Return to text.
  11. Oard, M.J. and Reed, J.K., Cyclostratigraphy, Part III: Critique of the Milankovitch mechanism, Creation Research Society Quarterly (in press). Return to text.
  12. Hebert, J., A broken climate pacemaker? part 1, J. Creation 31(1):88–98, 2017; part 2, J. Creation 31(1):104–110, 2017. Return to text.
  13. Phillips, P.J. and Held, I.M., The response to orbital perturbation in an atmospheric model coupled to a slab ocean, Journal of Climate 7:780, 1994. Return to text.
  14. Oard, M.J., Frozen in Time: Woolly Mammoths, the Ice Age, and the Biblical Key to Their Secrets, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2004. Return to text.
  15. Oard, M.J. (DVD),The Great Ice Age: Evidence from the Flood for Its Quick Formation and Melting, Awesome Science Media, Richfield, WA, 2013. Return to text.
  16. Oard, M.J., Did a lake exist under the north-western Laurentide Ice Sheet? J. Creation 29(3):6–8, 2015; creation.com/laurentide. Return to text.
  17. Charlesworth, ref. 5, p. 226. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

David P.
You say the earth was formed 4000 BC yet there have been at least five Ice Ages (see a simple web site here: [link deleted per feedback rules]).
So Question 1: when did Noah live?
Q 2: How do you fit them all in to this short period of our history?
Tas Walker
You need to appreciate that the biblical worldview is different from the secular evolutionary worldview. You must understand that they are different ways of thinking. You are mixing them up and so it does not make sense to you. You have to reinterpret all the stories told by the evolutionists into the biblical framework.
Noah's Flood ended about 4500 years ago at which time Noah was about 600 years old. Search this site to find explanations for these ages. The Creation Answers Book (which is available on this site) deals with this and many other questions.
Evolutionists commonly quote five ice ages (Huronian (2.4-2.1 billion years ago in their evolutionary dating philosophy), Cryogenian (850-635 million years ago), Andean-Saharan (460-430 mya), Karoo (360-260 mya) and Quaternary (2.6 mya-present). This article that you are commenting on is about the last one, the Quaternary. This was a major glaciation of the earth caused by the effects of Noah's Flood. The other four so-called ice ages are not ice ages. There was no glaciation, even though the evolutionists claim there was. These so-called ice ages are a misinterpretation of enormous volumes of rock debris, which was deposited during Noah's Flood. They are evidence of the catastrophic nature of the Noah's Flood cataclysm.
To make sense of the evolutionary stories use the geology transformation tool to reinterpret them.
Robin B.
The lack of vegetation in glacier material could be due to the height of the snow and ice sheets which built up during thousands of years in an environment similar to Antarctica and the Arctic which were not conducive for plants to grow. The last Ice age which peaked 20,000 years ago called the Late Glacial Maximum is understood to have been the most severe and the coldest period for the past 250,000,000 years. Where the city of Chicago is was covered by a kilometre of ice, Boston covered by two kilometres of ice and Montreal covered by three kilometres of ice.

Any vegetation at the bottom of such huge ice sheets would be insignificant as a proportion of the huge mass. You attribute this lack of vegetation in glaciers as proof of Noahs flood just prior to the last Ice Age. However in the story of Noah's flood, the dove brought back an olive branch, and because olive trees grow only a few inches their first year as seedlings, the branch must have come from a mature tree. Your argument that plants could not have survived Noah's flood holds no water.

If Noahs Flood was global, why are flora species not universally found on every continent? Instead most plants are native to specific continental regions and often unique to particular environments where climates and soils influence their survival. Had Noahs flood distributed seeds of all of every plant species around the globe, they would be found everywhere, like mangroves, which are found growing in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, carried around by ocean currents.

The lack of vegetation in glaciers is no proof of Noah's Flood, but more consistent with the thousands of years of build up of snow and ice as main stream science considers Ice Ages take to form, in an environment plants won't survive.
Michael Oard
Robin,
You bring up a number of challenges, but assume the uniformitarian explanation of the ice age, which is quite different from the biblical model. I can provide answers to many, if not all, of your challenges, which would take too much time. I will focus your challenges specifically on the lack of vegetation within glacial till.
In the uniformitarian model with multiple ice ages, plants and trees would have covered much of Canada before glaciation, similar to today's 'interglacial'. Taking the last ice age, the uniformitarian model would have ice starting in the north and spreading to the south. In the process, trees would have died and been picked up by the ice and transported south, which would be mixed with glacial till upon melting. This is what ice age expert J.K. Charlesworth expected, but the till did not meet expectations.
In the biblical Flood model, the land starts off as mostly barren as the Flood water drains. Vegetation will develop in a hurry for various reasons, such as beached log mats, accounting for the olive leaf after about 120 days of exposure at high altitudes, which would not have been cold as the Flood Water drained. It was an olive leaf not a branch, so it was not a mature tree. But the snow and ice would develop fairly quickly over Canada. There would be no time for trees to grow to any significant size. So, we would predict a lack of such vegetation, especially trees, in the glacial till, which is what we observe.
Mike Oard
Nichola W.
I have a question about the ice domes. How do scientists know where they had been? Are there any examples of them today?
Michael Oard
Nichola,
Scientists know where the ice domes were because of unique glacial debris spread radially from the two major domes. Striated bedrock shows the radial spread also, which could be a later feature after one dome in Hudson Bay melted. But the first piece of evidence is what counts: that there were two domes all through the ice age in Canada. There is no overlap of glacial debris front the two areas, except at the boundary. You can learn more from my book, "Oard, M.J., Frozen in Time: Woolly Mammoths, the Ice Age, and the Biblical Key to Their Secrets, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2004."
Mike Oard
Alonzo T.
We know that the continents where formed during the flood and if there was an Ice Age we should be calling that an ‘event’. Keep up the great work.
Tas Walker
You could call it an event. However, the Ice Age lasted for hundreds of years, so that may not be the best term to use.
Sheila P.
I have a question for you - If there's little vegetation in the glacial debris because the earth was barren after the flood, then how does that square with the presence of vegetation and mammoths and the like in the unglaciated lowlands? Those two things seem at odds to me. I think your model has a lot of merit, but this is bugging me a bit. Thanks in advance :)
Michael Oard
Sheila,
Since the lowlands of Alaska, Siberia, and the northwest Yukon Territory were not glaciated, copious vegetation would grow, starting with trees in the cool summers and mild winters with more precipitation. But as time went on, the areas would have dried and they would have become a grassland, supporting numerous mammals. The reason for the lack of vegetation, especially trees, in glaciated areas of the far north is because those areas became glaciated too quickly for trees to grow and/or become large.
Michael J. Oard
Paul R.
"In the beginning..." has a solid ,authentic ring to it : Leave the Author of Creation out of the "picture" and all sorts of weird and not so wonderful unprovable hypotheses are put forward by the darkness within the minds of men (and women) , which are propagated to the "common people". Wisdom is only found in those whose lives have been changed by God Himself,who have bent the knee and believed in their hearts of the salvation which comes only through the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Paul S.
Wouldn't lower air temperature force greater precipitation though? Psychrometry indicates that medium moist warm air when cooled forms precipitate.
Michael Oard
Paul,
The warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold. It can be precipitated out by several mechanisms, but mainly by forcing air to rise. In the ice age, winters would be mild but have heavy precipitation, especially because of heavy evaporation from a warm mid and high latitude oceans.
Mike Oard,
A M.
"But if the glaciers pushed the vegetation forward, why is there such paltry evidence of it? This lack of vegetation is strongly consistent with the rapid post-Flood Ice Age, since the land would have been barren immediately after the global Flood when the Ice Age began."
So how fast would the glacier happen? Or what sort of plants are not being found? Plants can grow back fast, like in a different article about Mt. Saint Helens, 90% of plants were regrowing within 3 years. Could you clarify what you mean about missing vegetation in the flood model glaciers please? Why is it missing?
Michael Oard
Dear mim,
The ice and snow would collect in favorable areas right after the Flood. These would be in high mountains and in areas far from the onshore flow of warm, moist air. With a general west to east air flow, central and southeast Canada would glaciate fast. That is why there was little time for vegetation, especially trees, to grow.
Mike Oard
Dan M.
The biblical ice age model makes perfect sense to me having lived in Alaska for 32 years from 1980-2012. I lived 8 years in Fairbanks which is in interior Alaska, (Tanana valley), and the rest in anchorage which is in the south-central region near the Gulf of Alaska. I noticed, (just as Mr. Oard stated) that it never snowed any appreciable amount when the winter days were very cold, (near zero). As a matter of fact, when Fairbanks got -30 or colder, there would form a temperature inversion where any moisture from car exhaust would form ice fog, (frozen ice crystals in the air) and hug the ground. Sometimes you couldn't see 150ft. On the other hand, when warm moist air from the gulf collided with the cold air from the north, (mostly early winter and early spring) it would snow a moderate, (6-12 inches) amount per snowfall. When I lived in south-central Alaska in Anchorage, we would get massive snowfalls, (+25 inch) due to the moist Gulf air hitting the cooler air on the mainland. I remember working in Valdes and Cordova Alaska during winter and the snow nearly reached the eves on single-story houses. I also manned the FAA station at Johnstone point on Hinchinbrook Island just south of the Valdes inlet one winter. Several times it snowed so much so fast that the Oshkosh snowplow wouldn't do the job so I had to clear the runway with a D-7 Cat. All said, yes, I can see warm, moist, ocean air meeting cooler continental air is the only thing that would produce the kind of massive snowfalls it would take to cause an ice age. Besides, I know God's word is the true history of the world. It explains this broken world perfectly and is unchanging, unlike the secular historical narrative which is always in need of revision. Let God be true and every man a liar (Rom 3:4). God bless.
Thomas R.
Very interesting stuff.
If they can’t explain what caused the Ice Age, they can’t explain what brought us out of it.
And if they can’t explain either of those, what makes them think they can explain modern day climate change?

I’m really curious about what can be found in the poles in the way of archeology / paleontology, and how long it will take to make the next important discoveries there.
Allen A.
Thank you for your Scientific, Bible-based, Christ-honoring minstry.
I often wish it were possible for me to "like" your articles with a simple click, as is done with Youtube videos.
Bill P.
All the material I've read or seen these past 11 yrs. about "Ice Ages" (I'm not a scientist w/a degree but I am able to comprehend what I read) tells me that what we see in the north and south pole areas came about because of The Flood of Noah's Day. Heated atmosphere from volcanic eruptions and the amount of moisture in the air dumped snow on on the pole areas in large amounts and so quickly that the weight of the snow layer upon layer crushed the snow underneath not giving it time to evaporate. I was born and raised in Buffalo N.Y. (a small area compared to the size of the whole earth). I've seen many many times what cold air out of Canada over a warm Lake Erie can do, dumping feet of snow in such a short period of time. Seeing what this does to a city like Buffalo N.Y. I can't begin to imagine what this would do world wide, but it would be huge for lack of a better word. I believe that the event in Noah's Day was so great that the earth is still recovering. Even the pole areas are still recovering, except the world calls it "Global Warming" while myself a believer in every Word of GOD in Scripture and the Gospel of Jesus Christ believe those areas are still recovering from what was dumped on it during the historical event of The World Wide Flood. Keep sharing your research as long as possible, I have a feeling w/what is taking place in the world today some will attempt to shut down your site. Keep up the good work.

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