Geology and Cosmology: A Discussion

(Reprinted from the Journal of Scientific Exploration, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 134-138, Spring 2001)

  • Letter from Halton Arp
  • Reply by David Pratt

  • Are Plate Tectonics the Wrong Answer to the Right Question?

    The critique of plate tectonics by David Pratt in JSE (Vol. 14, No. 3) is very stimulating and contains impressive, detailed data. But it left me wishing for mention of the important possible role of fundamental physics in the evolution of the earth and its possible connection with cosmology.

        Pratt points out that when Wegener's inferred separation of the continents with time was finally accepted that plate tectonics then postulated continents skating aimlessly about on a soft upper layer of the mantle. But as long ago as 1958 S. W. Carey reported detailed geological data which contradicted this model, including evidence that no significant subduction of one continental plate under another had occurred. Carey and K. M. Creer (1965), among many others, showed how accurately the continents fitted together in the past and argued how the observed sea floor spreading in the mid-Atlantic ridge supported the expanding earth interpretation. The irony here is that the long refusal of conventional geology to accept Wegener's discovery was because of the belief that the continents should not float around. But the expanding earth interpretation kept them anchored in basaltic rock and explained their gradual separation with time. Pratt now brings more strong evidence to bear falsifying the hypothesis of drifting contintental plates. What explanation is left?

        The Olympia conference (1993) had a whole section of geologists arguing that the expanding earth was powered by a secular gain in mass. (I was there and I recommend reading it.) Ironically, further along in the same JSE issue as Pratt's article, is mentioned (p. 484) Tom Van Flandern's exploding planets hypothesis (the asteroid belt parent and the original Mars). That certainly makes one consider what would happen if a planet kept adding mass at its core.

        Then on p. 449 of JSE (Vol. 14, No. 3), the 18th century physicist Le Sage is cited as postulating gravity is pushing and caused by a sea of gravitons. If these much faster than light gravitons are absorbed in the process of furnishing gravity then they should add mass to fundamental particles as time goes on. It is suggested on p. 449 that this is the cause for the very controversial non-velocity redshift in quasars and galaxies which threatens to disrupt current cosmology. So perhaps this fundamental change in the assumptions of physics is connected with the observations which are being contested under the rubric of plate tectonics.

        It is appropriate to quote Creer from his 1965 article ". . . we should beware of rejecting the hypothesis of [earth] expansion out of hand on grounds that no known sources of energy are adequate" and "For an adequate explanation we may well have to await a satisfactory theory of the origin and development of the universe." Although Nature (the magazine) would never entertain such a suggestion today, the variable mass theory mentioned in JSE is a candidate to fulfill that prophecy.

    Halton Arp
    Max Planck Institut fuer Astrophysik
    85741 Garching, Germany


    Carey, S. W. (1958). Continental Drift. Symposium. University of Tasmania.

    Creer, K. M. (1965). Nature 205, 539.

    Olympia Meeting. (1993). Geophysics. In Barone, M., & Selleri, F. (Eds.), Frontiers of Fundamental Physics (pp. 241-335). New York: Plenum.


    Reply to Halton Arp

    Earth scientists hold widely diverging views on the changes in size that the earth has undergone in the course of geologic history. In contrast to earth-expansion theories, Jeffreys (1976) argued that the earth had cooled and contracted since its inception, while MacDonald (1959, 1963) argued that the earth had probably expanded slightly until about one billion years ago, when it began to gently contract. In plate tectonics, earth contraction is dismissed out of hand, whereas in surge tectonics it is considered to play a major role in geodynamics (Meyerhoff et al., 1996). Some geologists see evidence of a pulsating earth (e.g. Wezel, 1992; Dickins, 2000).

        Earth-expansion theories come in several competing varieties (e.g. fast/slow expansion, with/without subduction), but they generally accept the plate-tectonics timetable for the formation of the oceans. Plate tectonicists believe that in the early Mesozoic there was a single supercontinent (Pangaea) and a single ocean (Panthalassa), which was destroyed when Pangaea fragmented, leading to the creation of the oceans we know today. Many earth expanders believe that in the early Mesozoic there were no oceans at all and that Pangaea covered the entire surface of a smaller earth with about 55% of its current radius; the oceans have allegedly formed since then by seafloor spreading, caused by the earth expanding in a very specific, asymmetric manner. Both schools of thought therefore claim that the crust beneath the present oceans can be no older than about 200 million years.

        My article in JSE (Vol. 14, No. 3) summarizes a large body of evidence contradicting this hypothesis. Literally thousands of rocks of Paleozoic and Precambrian ages have been found in the world's oceans. Modern geological textbooks are absolutely silent on these "anomalies," while attempts are occasionally made in the technical literature to explain them away on an ad-hoc basis, e.g. ice-rafting, ship ballast, or the notion that "nonspreading blocks" can be left behind during rifting, and that spreading axes and transform faults can jump from place to place.

        My article presents a great deal of other evidence against seafloor spreading, drawn from the latest bathymetry, earthquake data, ocean drilling, and seismic research, and shows that pro-spreading interpretations of ocean-ridge magnetic stripes are highly suspect. There is growing evidence that there used to be large (now submerged) continental landmasses in the present oceans -- landmasses that are completely ignored in imaginative reassemblies of today's continents. Several geoscientists have called for a major effort to drill the ocean floor to much greater depths to see whether there are more ancient sediments beneath what is currently labeled "basement." The evidence already available indicates that this is a distinct possibility, and strongly suggests that any theories requiring the "oceanic" crust to be relatively young are a lost cause.

        At the 1993 Olympia Conference (to which Halton Arp refers), not one of the 12 earth-expansion papers made the slightest reference to any of the anomalous data on the age and structure of the seafloor (Barone and Selleri, 1994, pp. 241-337). Failure to address such data was one of the main criticisms leveled at earth-expansion theorists in a recent very lively debate on the subject in the New Concepts in Global Tectonics Newsletter (nos. 12 to 15, 1999/2000; available from:; 14 Bent Street, Turner, ACT 2612, Australia).

        Arp (1998) has presented a compelling case against the big-bang assumption that all redshifts are caused by recession velocities and are proportional to distance. He sees a correlation between redshift and the age of celestial bodies, which he explains on the hypothesis that particles gain mass as they age; the younger the electron making an orbital jump, the smaller its mass, and the weaker (more redshifted) the emitted photon. He has now suggested that this increase in mass results from the absorption of gravitons, and that this could cause a planet or star to expand.

        Arp invokes the 18th-century physicist Le Sage, who held that gravity was caused by very tiny, rapidly-moving particles ("ultramundane corpuscles") striking and rebounding off matter. Clerk Maxwell (1898) opposed this theory on the grounds that "the impact of the corpuscles would raise all bodies to an enormous temperature" (p. 47). Advocates of the impact theory reply simply that this heat must be re-radiated isotropically into space (Van Flandern, 1996). However, there is no clear evidence to support this in the case of the earth. Since Arp is now proposing that gravitons are entirely absorbed by matter, rather than rebounding and transferring only part of their energy, this would greatly exacerbate the problem.

        The impact theory of gravity fails to explain why all the planets orbit the sun in planes which form only small angles to the sun's equatorial plane, and why all the planets circle the sun in the same direction as the sun's sense of rotation. Pari Spolter (1993) supports Johannes Kepler's suggestion that it is the rotation of the sun on its axis that generates the gravitational force and causes the planets to revolve around it. She also takes issue with Van Flandern's claims about the speed of gravity: he argues that if the sun's force propagated at the speed of light, it would accelerate the earth's orbital speed by a noticeable amount. He calculates from binary-pulsar data that gravity must propagate at least 20 billion times faster than light (Van Flandern, 1997)! Spolter argues that since the sun's gravitational force is constantly spread in all directions, and since the angular velocities of the sun and planets remain constant for long periods of time, it is immaterial what the speed of gravity is. The lag period would be important only at the beginning and end of a planet's evolution (personal communication, 2001).

        In the course of a series of very sensitive experiments over a period of ten years, Q. Majorana (1930) found that placing a lead mass between a lead sphere and the earth reduced the earth's gravitational pull on the sphere very slightly, whereas placing the lead mass above the sphere did not. He concluded that this contradicted Le Sage's theory; it is also inconsistent with newtonian theory, which does not allow gravitational shielding.

        If the matter composing a planet were to gradually increase in mass, would this cause the planet to expand or to densify and contract? That would depend, among other things, on exactly what mass is, the mechanism by which it increases (and perhaps at some stage decreases), and any accompanying changes of state or phase. As far as a possible mechanism is concerned, the random absorption of gravitons -- even if it occurred -- would obviously not result in all matter particles gaining mass at the same rate. In his 1998 book, Arp explained the proposed increase in mass quite differently, in terms of the Machian principle that as a particle ages, its light-signal sphere expands so that it "communicates" with more and more particles -- but it is not clear exactly how this would bring about an increase in mass.

        Mainstream theories shed little light on the fundamental nature of matter. The standard model describes elementary matter and force particles as zero-dimensional point-particles, while string theory describes them as one-dimensional strings vibrating in 10-dimensional spacetime! In contrast to these mathematical fantasies, ether-physics theories try to present a more rational and concrete picture. For example, the subquantum kinetics model of Paul LaViolette (1994, 1995) postulates that matter particles, energy quanta, and force fields arise from wavelike concentration patterns and gradients in an underlying ether. His model can accommodate the electrogravity and antigravity effects found in some experiments, whereas the same cannot be said for the impact theory of gravity, standard quantum field theory, and general relativity theory.

        As Halton Arp wisely says, "We are certainly not at the end of science. Most probably we are just at the beginning!" (1998, p. 249).

    David Pratt


    Arp, H. (1998). Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science. Montreal: Apeiron.

    Barone, M. & Selleri, F. (Eds.) (1994). Frontiers of Fundamental Physics. New York: Plenum.

    Clerk Maxwell, J. (1898). Atoms. Encyclopaedia Britannica (9th ed.), 3, 36-49.

    Dickins, J. M. (2000). Major global changes in the development of the earth during the Phanerozoic. New Concepts in Global Tectonics Newsletter, 16, 2-4.

    Jeffreys, H. (1976). The Earth: Its Origin, History and Physical Constitution (6th ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    LaViolette, P. (1994). Subquantum Kinetics: The Alchemy of Creation. Schenectady, NY.

    LaViolette, P. (1995). Beyond the Big Bang: Ancient Myth and the Science of Continuous Creation. Rochester, VE: Park St Press.

    MacDonald, G. J. F. (1959). Calculations on the thermal history of the earth. Journal of Geophysical Research, 64, 1967-2000.

    MacDonald, G. J. F. (1963). The deep structure of continents. Reviews of Geophysics, 1, 587-665.

    Majorana, Q. (1930). Quelques recherches sur l'absorption de la gravitation par la matière. Journal de Physique et le Radium, I, 314-324.

    Meyerhoff, A. A., Taner, I., Morris, A. E. L., Agocs, W. B., Kaymen-Kaye, M., Bhat, M. I., Smoot, N. C., & Choi, D. R. (1996). Surge Tectonics: A New Hypothesis of Global Geodynamics (D. Meyerhoff Hull, Ed.). Dordrecht: Kluwer.

    Spolter, P. (1993). Gravitational Force of the Sun. Granada Hills, CA: Orb Publishing.

    Van Flandern, T. (1996). Possible new properties of gravity, part II. Meta Research Bulletin, 5, 38-50.

    Van Flandern, T. (1997). The speed of gravity -- What the experiments say. Meta Research Bulletin, 6, 49-62.

    Wezel, F.-C. (1992). Global change: shear-dominated geotectonics modulated by rhythmic earth pulsations. In Chatterjee, S., & Hotton, N., III (Eds.), New Concepts in Global Tectonics (pp. 421-439). Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press.

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