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Creation 42(1):48–51, January 2020

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Secular scientific problems with the 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

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

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

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.


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.

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