May 7, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Snowball Earth Theory Not Set in Stone

Give an idea a name, and it can assume a reality in the imagination, even if there’s no evidence for it.

Tae Hamm, writing for Glacier Hub, asks, “Was the Earth ever frozen solid?” Hamm, a student in climate science at Columbia University, reveals that a popular theory for the early earth before the explosion of multicellular life is a subject of debate among old-earth evolutionists. The usual story goes, “many scientists are coming up with hypotheses about a global ice age during the Cryogenian, a geologic period that lasted from 720 to 635 million years ago.” But did it really happen? A version of her article was posted May 4 by Columbia’s Earth Institute.  Where did the idea come from?

NASA cartoon of “Snowball Earth” as featured in Tae Hamm’s article

Recent research on glacial refugia has been heating up the debate about this ice age, brewing a contention over the extent to which the glaciation covered the Earth. Two main hypotheses are on the table: “Snowball Earth” theory, which argues that ice covered the entire Earth, and “Slushball Earth” hypothesis, where the band of the sea near the equator stayed open, allowing the hydrologic cycle—the evaporation and precipitation of water— to persist.

The term Snowball Earth was first coined by Joe Kirschvink, a geobiologist at CalTech in the late 1980s. The theory was based on the early observation that glacial deposits from this time were widely distributed on nearly every continent, with some geologic evidence even suggesting glaciation at tropical latitudes.

Kirschvink believed he had theoretical support from two positive-feedback effects that would have accelerated and sustained the frozen earth. What he didn’t consider, though, was a negative feedback loop that would have counteracted the lowering temperatures. Critics of the Snowball Earth hypothesis also point to “glacial refugia,” places where life continued to flourish. Hamm writes,

Replica of the article’s use of an AOI image.

The debate of hard versus slushy Snowball Earth becomes more enigmatic at the end of the Cryogenic period and start of Cambrian, when the so-called “Cambrian explosion” of animal life occurs. The Cambrian explosion refers to a short interval during which many multicellular animals in diverse forms appeared on the surface of the Earth. Critics of Snowball Earth argue that such a dramatic increase in biodiversity within a short period of time would not have been able to happen in a hard Snowball Earth scenario, as many organisms prior to the explosion would have gone extinct. The supporters of Snowball Earth, on the other hand, argue that the biodiversity is simply the result of the robust micro-organisms that survived the Snowball Earth, evolving in size as well as anatomical complexity through time.

The article takes no final position, but relies on futureware. Better climate models are needed, he says, and more study of organisms to figure out what happened. Either way, “Neither of these hypotheses is set in stone, but rather are part of an ongoing debate that requires much clarification.” Hamm does not clarify how short the Cambrian Explosion was. At best, all the major animal phyla appeared in 40 million years. More realistically, the main pulse of the diversification occurred in 5 million Darwin Years, with many new phyla appearing suddenly without any ancestors at all.

Update 5/08/18: Shortly after this article went to press, Astrobiology Magazine posted another theory to explain Snowball Earth (which it assumes really occurred). The secret: plate tectonics.

In the new study, Stern and Miller provide new insights by suggesting that the onset of plate tectonics likely initiated the changes on Earth’s surface that led to Snowball Earth. They argue that plate tectonics is the event that can explain 22 theories that other scientists have advanced as triggers of the Neoproterozoic Snowball Earth.

Two things seem odd about this notion coming out of two universities in Texas. One is that 22 theories were required to explain what could be fake history, a figment of scientists’ need to make things old. The other is their frank admission that “Earth is the only body in our solar system known to currently have plate tectonics.…” Doesn’t that make the Earth stand out as exceptional? It also means that they have no other world to compare to Earth, to see whether or not the onset of plate tectonics triggers a snowball world. In science, explanations for one-off events—untestable and unobservable—should be treated with skepticism.

Few readers may notice that Tae Hamm borrowed the illustation “Explosion of Life” (shown above) from a creationist website, Alpha Omega Institute. It was lifted from a blog post, where Brian Mariani at AOI was showing both sides of Cambrian Explosion issue, first the naturalistic/evolutionary perspective (where the illustration was posted on 03 Dec 2003), and then the creationist answer (06 Dec 2003). The poster is apparently from an exhibit at the Denver Museum. Hamm credits the illustration with a link to AOI’s Discover Creation website, suggesting that Hamm (or the editor at GlacierHub) went hunting for an illustration of the Cambrian Explosion, found this one, and reprinted it without necessarily reading or agreeing with Mariani’s article. Interestingly, this image was omitted on Columbia University’s 04 May 2018 reprint of Hamm’s article the following week, suggesting that editors at Columbia noticed this and did not want to give publicity to creationists. It was also omitted on Phys.org‘s reprint. This is just speculation, but seems reasonable, given Darwinians’ policy of ignoring creationists when not lambasting them. We hope Tae Hamm did not get ousted from his degree program at Columbia for this ‘snafu’.

The important thing is that the Snowball Earth hypothesis, as he said, is not “set in stone.” Behind the stories told to the public are often vigorous debates hidden behind the scenes, as if the cooks in the kitchen have a knock-down, drag-out fight before serving their steaming dish of pottage with a big smile to the customers. “Snowball Earth” is a made-up phrase, like “Late Heavy Bombardment” or “Cryogenic Period,” that reifies a particular interpretation of the evidence, and conjures up visions of cartoon realities. Cartoon illustrations are models of figments in scientists’ imaginations about the unobservable past, not realities. Evidence for an Ice Age are strong, creationists agree, but when it occurred, and for how long, are matters of interpretation of the same evidence available to all. Creationists find suitable causes for a single ice age in the Flood, during which warm oceans from the fountains of the great deep (Genesis 7:11) would have led to massive amounts of precipitation; indeed, you can’t get low-latitude glaciation from a cold ocean. Creationists also explain the retreat of the glaciers after the Flood, because the climate oscillated back as the oceans cooled again after the heavy snowfall, reaching equilibrium. Evolutionary geophysicists cannot explain how a frozen Earth could ever recover. The reflective ice over a cold ocean would have lowered Earth temperatures further, locking it into a permanent snowball condition.

More ridiculous is the evolutionary notion that the end of a Precambrian ice age (whether Snowball or Slushball version) led to an “Explosion of Life!” as the poster teachers. Are visitors to the Denver Museum told this? Are they encouraged to hear both sides of the debate? Are they encouraged to read Stephen Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt? Does the museum loop the film Darwin’s Dilemma next to the poster? That will be the day. The curators at the museum probably don’t even quote Darwinians who find the Cambrian Explosion to be a huge, unanswered challenge, because Darwinism must be presented to the public as fact, about which scientists are all in perfect agreement.

One can only hope that viewers of this poster will think for themselves, “How could such an amazing diversity of body plans arise in a geological instant?” or “How could a rise in oxygen, or melting glaciers, create complex specified body plans like these?” Darwin envisioned slow, gradual accumulation of beneficial variations by natural selection. This poster shows the fossil reality. All these animal body plans, with articulating limbs, guts, eyes and behaviors, appear at the base of the Cambrian suddenly without ancestors. That’s creation, not evolution.

Denver Museum poster of the Cambrian Explosion

 

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