Expanding Earth Theory: A Critical Review, Part 1

PSI Blog 20200330 Expanding Earth Theory: A Critical Review, Part 1

[GB: Readers have been asking us to review the Expanding Earth Theory. Although that is a bit removed from our usual focus on regressive physics and cosmogony, PSI member Bill Howell, a professional geologist, has consented to do the job. His review consists of three parts.]

Bill Howell

Geologist, Retired

1)  Introduction

About 10 years ago I watched an interesting video by Neil Adams about the expanding Earth [1].  His video illustrates how all of the Earth’s continents can be fit together into one land mass by removing the ocean basins and shrinking the Earth’s radius.  I found Adams presentation both impressive and intriguing.  It was also a bit frustrating though.  The Earth’s rotation is too fast to be able to observe the details, the music is too loud (and cheezy) and over-rides some of the narration, and the Earth rotates in the wrong direction.  Overall, the video struck me as just a snazzy Hollywood entertainment piece.  It left me feeling like the expanding earth idea was not credible and I dismissed it out of hand.  When I recently looked into the concept again, however, I was surprised to discover that it has gained considerable attention, and that the initial YouTube video I had watched now has over two million views! 

I was even more surprised to discover that serious scientific research on what’s called the Expanding Earth Theory (EET) has actually been conducted, professional papers published, and presentations given at international conferences.  EET is a radical alternative interpretation of the accepted paradigm of Plate Tectonics Theory (PTT).  The fact that professional scientists would conduct serious research to investigate a theory that runs counter to an accepted paradigm speaks to a larger issue of the role of dissident science in our quest to understand the natural world.  That by itself warrants a more serious consideration of the concept than I had previously given it.

The expanding earth concept speaks to the issue of how we interpret the data science is so good at producing.  This, in turn, has sociological ramifications about how scientific information is communicated to the general public.  I suspect that the rise in conspiracy theories over the past few decades is just as much due to the general public misinterpreting data as it is from a lack of understanding about what the data mean.  The presence and proliferation of believers in a Flat Earth is one example of what I mean.  In my opinion, improving the way that scientific information is communicated to the general public is part of the solution for countering the irrational beliefs and superstitions that perpetuate debunked conspiracy theories, and which also continue to plague our civilization (and species).

So, I looked more closely into the arguments supporting EET to assess and compare them objectively with PTT.  I have only a B.S. degree in Earth Sciences but have been a student of the natural sciences and of Nature for over 50 years.  I suspect that most supporters of an expanding earth do not have a background in the physical sciences and so I’m writing this essay in a casual style that provides explanations for some of the concepts involved.  I have kept the technical jargon to a minimum and included some illustrations, links, and references to help the interested reader.  In addition, I’ve included a hyperlink to some references.  With the exception of the first link (below) to that Neil Adams video, none of these hyperlinks are necessary to activate before continuing to read this essay.  They are there for the curious who want to know more about a statement that was just made and/or for the skeptic who needs to validate something that was just written before they can move on. 

My goal is to make this essay understandable and interesting to both the general public as well as to those who have studied the physical sciences.  My ultimate reason for writing, however, is that in the process of investigating the EET-PTT controversy, I developed some ideas that synthesize elements from both models which might build upon our current understanding of the Earth.  This idea incorporates a concept developed by Dr. Glenn Borchardt regarding a univironmental analytical approach to the interactions between a microcosm and its macrocosm [2] [3].  To better understand the ETT-PTT controversy and the concept of univironmental analysis, I ask that you begin by watching the initial video Adams created at: http://nealadams.com/science-videos/.  This one is free, it’s entertaining, and it will help get everyone on the same page.  Thanks... 

2)  Dissident Science

I think you will agree that the video makes an intriguing and persuasive argument.  Although it’s a cartoon and fudges the details, it does do an impressive job of fitting the continents back together.  I suspect it is this singular feature that accounts for most of the support among its believers.  The Wikipedia entry on Expanding Earth [4] provides a short but good summary of the idea, and states that a consensus of the scientific community rejects the idea that significant expansion or contraction of the Earth has occurred.  The leading proponent of EET is Dr. James Maxlow, a retired professional geologist who has researched and written about this concept for many years.  I think it is impressive that a professional geologist will research, publish, and give presentations about a concept that the scientific community has evaluated and rejected.  Dr. Maxlow’s work is a testament to the ideals of dissident science. 

The value of dissident science is that it can help us think about ideas from a different perspective.  It can reignite our curiosity, shake our dogmatic slumbers, motivate further investigation, and sometimes even result in a paradigm shift in our beliefs.  Viewed in this way, dissident science can be seen as essential to the scientific process and to scientific progress.  History provides numerous examples where dissident science has confronted dogmatic belief and (eventually) produced a paradigm shift in our thinking:

                  In the 1500s, Copernicus questioned the geocentric model of Ptolemy, whose system of epicycles had been the accepted paradigm for centuries.  By using more precise data, he developed an alternative (and controversial) heliocentric model which was subsequently deemed heretical by the Catholic Church. 

                  In the 1600s, Galileo improved on the design of the telescope and conducted astronomical observations that led him to support the heliocentric model.  The Catholic Church forced him to recant his claim and placed him under house arrest for the rest of his life.  But Galileo’s heresy prevailed and in 1992 (only 359 years later), Pope John Paul II expressed regret for how the Galileo affair was handled and acknowledged that the Church had erred in condemning him for asserting that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

                  In the 1910s, Alfred Wegner published his hypothesis on continental drift.  Despite a large amount of observational evidence to support it, his concept was met with skepticism from geologists for decades.  The American Association of Petroleum Geologists specifically organized a symposium to oppose Wegner’s idea, but his concept subsequently evolved into the Plate Tectonic Theory that we have today.

                  In the 1920’s, geologist Harlen Bretz suggested that the Columbia River Plateau of eastern Washington state had been sculpted by a series of cataclysmic floods.  He was ridiculed by the American geologic community for his “outrageous” hypothesis because it resembled accounts of the Biblical flood and implied support for Catastrophism, which contradicted the current paradigm of Uniformitarianism.  Bretz defended his theories for over 40 years before it was acknowledged as being accurate by the Geological Society of America.

So, given the role that dissident science has played in our quest to understand the natural world, I sincerely do respect the efforts of Dr. Maxlow to look at Earth’s geologic history from a different perspective.  Of course, simply having a different perspective does not mean it is correct.  A relevant example is that in 200 BCE, Aristarchus of Samos proposed the first heliocentric model.  It was not adopted because a geocentric model was the accepted paradigm at that time.  The Ptolemaic system was developed 350 years later and was simply a refinement of previous Greek geocentric models, but it was accepted because it was more accurate in explaining the motions of heavenly bodies.  It worked so well that it became the accepted paradigm for over 1,400 years! 

The reason this system endured was because, as more precise data revealed discrepancies in the existing model, additional epicycles could be added to restore its accuracy.   Although Ptolemy’s system of building epicycles upon epicycles worked well for over 14 centuries, it was always wrong (theoretical mathematicians take heed), and it never would have been replaced until dissident scientists investigated.   

So, while dissident science may be essential to scientific progress, we must also be cautious about accepting its assertions.  This same caution applies of course to accepted paradigms like the Big Bang and Quantum Physics.  In applying this caution, the best advice we have was given by Dr. Carl Sagan who quipped: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".  This aphorism will help in assessing the expanding earth concept. 

Dr. Maxlow presents his research supporting the theory of an expanding Earth in an extensive, carefully constructed, and impressive 320-page book that was published in 2017 titled: TECTONICS: The Road Not Taken - A scientific argument for an alternate tectonic understanding of our physical world [5].  My assessment of EET is primarily based on a review of some specific chapters and sections in Dr. Maxlow’s book.  I have not extensively studied the EET concept very much beyond this book.  This may seem unfair to ‘EET-ers’, but in accordance with Dr. Sagan’s advice, I am looking for some very specific evidence that Dr. Maxlow needs to provide to support his extraordinary claim that PTT is not the correct solution and that a significant expansion of the Earth’s radius is responsible for the existence of ocean basins and the current shapes of the continents. 

3)  Synopsis of the Expanding Earth and Plate Tectonic Theories

Dr. Maxlow identifies a spectrum of four possible models to explain the Earth’s geologic history.  These models are: 1) Increasing Earth Radius (new crustal material is created at mid-oceanic ridges and is not subducted into the Earth but occupies the space created by the expansion of Earth’s radius); 2) Pulsating Earth Radius (crustal material is compressed to form mountains during times of expansion and is subducted during times of contraction); 3) Partial Increase in Earth Radius (some crustal material is subducted into the Earth’s mantle but only during limited and non-continuous times when the radius is increasing); and, 4) Constant Earth Radius (the current plate tectonics model where crustal material is subducted into the mantle to compensate for the creation of new crustal material at the mid-oceanic ridges, and Earth’s radius does not expand).

These models basically range from one extreme to the other.  One end of the spectrum involves a significant expansion of the Earth’s radius such that no subduction of crustal material occurs (the Increasing Earth Radius model), and the other end of the spectrum involves no significant change in Earth’s radius and crustal material is subducted (the Constant Earth Radius model).  The two other models are basically a hybrid of these extremes.  Dr. Maxlow himself states that the Pulsating Earth model is not supported by any evidence, and so only the Increasing Earth Radius and Partial Increase in Earth Radius models warrant further discussion.

Both of the two remaining EET models state that the Earth was only about half its current size 200 million years ago.  As illustrated in Figure 1 (below), continental landmasses encapsulated the entire planet, and it was the Earth’s expansion that created the ocean basins.  The PTT model assumes the planet has always been essentially the same size as it is now, and that continental landmasses were once joined together in the geologic past but have since split apart and rafted to their current positions as a result of mantle convection and crustal subduction. 

The controversy between the two EET models and PTT is the result of three fundamental facts:

1. The shapes of the continents look like a global jig-saw puzzle which can be fit back together into one piece (as the Neil Simon video illustrates).

2. Although continental crust over 3 billion years old has been found, no oceanic crust has been found that is older than 170 million years.

3. New crustal material is created at, and extends away from, the mid-oceanic ridges. 

Both the EET and the PTT models accept these three facts.  The controversy is about the interpretation of what these facts mean.  The key feature that differentiates the EET and PTT models is subduction.  Accordingly, evidence for or against subduction is the key critical component to evaluate in assessing the validity of Dr. Maxlow’s extraordinary claims about the Earth having expanded. 


Figure 1 From: Tectonics: The Road Not Taken, Dr. James Maxlow, Terrella Press, 2017 (p. 38) Figure 7.3 Atlantic Ocean small Earth sequential spreading history, extending from the present-day back to the early-Jurassic.

End of Part 1

With the background material presented above, I can now move onto presenting some of the evidence that Dr. Maxlow provides to support the Expanding Earth alternative interpretation.  In Part 2, I will describe the Increasing Earth Radius and the Partial Increase in Earth Radius models in more detail, and compare the evidence for them with the interpretation that’s offered by Plate Tectonic Theory.  Part 2 also includes some cool graphics and some neat hyperlinks too!  I hope you found Part 1 enjoyable, or at the least, interesting.  Part 2 is even more interesting!  See you next week :-)

Author’s Note:

This is the first of a 3-Part Blog series evaluates the data that resulted in an alternative scientific interpretation of Earth’s history called the Expanding Earth Theory, and then compares this concept with the currently accepted paradigm called Plate Tectonics Theory. 



[1] Neil Adams Expanding Earth video: http://nealadams.com/science-videos/

[2] The Scientific Worldview - Beyond Newton and Einstein, Glenn Borchardt, iUniverse, Inc., 2007

[3] Infinite Universe Theory, Glenn Borchardt, Progressive Science Institute, 2017

[5] Tectonics: The Road Not Taken, Dr. James Maxlow, Terrella Press, 2017

1 comment:

Doogie said...

I confess. I was one of those readers who asked Glenn Borchardt to use his knowledge in geography to explain his take on the Expanding Earth Theory. I'm happy to read Bill's part one and can't wait to read the other parts. Bill gives such a precision review of the material we are looking at. Very good job. Thanks, Bill. Keep up the good work.