Posted by: Barry Bickmore | April 29, 2017

Facepalm: The Universal Model and Radioactive Lava


This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

In the Universal Model, Vol. 1, Dean Sessions says that if current scientific theories about the interior of the Earth (i.e., that it’s hotter down there) are correct, then we should see highly radioactive lava erupting from volcanoes.  However, that’s beyond wrong–it’s ludicrous.  Let me explain.

As noted in the UM, the standard theory is that the interior of the Earth was originally hot because of heat generated when the planet formed from the solar nebula (a cloud of space debris coalescing by gravity) around 4.5 billion years ago.  Things smashing together, friction creating heat–you get the idea.  The problem is that geologists figured out quite a while ago that if this “residual heat” were the only source, then the Earth should have completely cooled off a long time ago.  An apparent solution was found when scientists discovered radioactivity.  Certain elements (most notably uranium, thorium, and potassium) include isotopes (atoms of that element with different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei) whose nuclei can decay over time, creating atoms of different elements, releasing fractured nuclei and/or subatomic particles, and releasing heat.  So here’s the logic.

“Hey, we need another source of heat to explain why the Earth’s interior is still hot!”

“Oh, look!  We found out that some elements in the Earth are radioactive, and they produce heat!  Maybe that’s it!”

Not too complicated, right?  But Dean Sessions wants the core of the Earth to be a giant ice ball, so he tries to dismiss the idea that radioactivity could provide an explanation.

However, naturally occurring radioactive rocks are weak and generate very little heat. The most abundant, naturally occurring radioactive rock is uranium, which is found only near the surface of the Earth.  Moreover, there are no known radioactive lava flows.  (p. 97)

Let’s take that apart.

First, ALL rocks are radioactive.  ALL OF THEM.  All it takes to make a radioactive rock is a single radioactive atom, and with modern mass spectrometers, we can measure small amounts of radioactive atoms.  And if a little heat is generated by every single radioactive decay event that occurs, then that heat can add up to quite a lot throughout the entire Earth.

Second, uranium is an element, not a “rock”.  (Seriously, it’s like Sessions is trying to give rage aneurysms to geochemists.)

Third, it’s true that the most abundant radioactive isotopes tend to concentrate most in the crust of the Earth, but that really doesn’t matter.  Suppose you have a sphere with heat sources spread throughout, but especially near the surface.  Heat energy is generated, and spreads out.  Some of it flows toward the surface and is radiated out into space, and some of it flows toward the center, because heat tends to flow, on average, in the direction of colder temperatures.  When the heat energy gets to the center, where does it go?  The only way to flow is toward the surface, but if the temperature is still warmer on the outside of the sphere, the net heat flow will still be toward the center.  Therefore, the center will keep heating up until it is hotter than the outside of the sphere and heat can flow back the other way.

(Think about this, UMers.  If the Earth is actually colder in the center, then there must be some kind of black hole sucking heat out of there.)

Fourth, geologists don’t think magma is generated in places where it is way hotter than other parts of the interior.  Rather, magma is mostly generated in places where the local pressure, temperature, and composition favor melting.  For example, in subduction zones, waterlogged oceanic crust gets shoved down into the mantle.  Since water is KNOWN to lower the melting temperatures of many minerals (yes, this has been experimentally verified), the mantle rocks above the subducted crust will be more likely to melt when exposed to more water, and that’s how geologists explain the fact that lots of volcanoes occur above subduction zones.  When the crust (lithosphere, actually) cracks open at a divergent plate boundary (mid-ocean ridges, mainly) that drops the pressure on the mantle rocks just below the crack.  Since lowering the pressure is KNOWN to lower the melting temperatures of rocks, that’s how geologists explain the fact that there are lots of volcanoes at mid-ocean ridges.

So basically, the idea that lava should be more radioactive than other Earth materials if geologists are right about the interior of the Earth is nonsensical.






  1. The killer question for him is “Why is it still so cold in there, then?” 4.5 billion years of sunlight should warm it up. And when it coalesced, where did the heat go when it was forming? Or does this universal model say that the earth was formed entire and whole and has been slowly ablating ever since?

    And why is Jupiter warmer than the radiation from the sun would make it because of the energy of the compressing centre?

    Last, was it ice to begin with, solid and unformed, or did it condense? If the latter, where did the latent heat go when it condensed? If the former, where did it form (and how big) originally, since the sun’s radiation will melt ice quite nicely, see comets for an example of what happens to ice when it’s within the orbit of Jupiter.

    Like Scott Adam’s “idea” (probably from someone else, even if he’s not remembering where, memory is a patchy thing) that gravity could be the result of everything expanding in size, he only considers the questions of “how does it work if it were that way?”, not “How do I tell it doesn’t work that way?” or even “What are the awkward questions about how it works that I can’t answer?” so they can be worked out and answered (or the hypothesis dropped).

    It’s armchair science. Plato thought this good enough, but he was so massively smart and so he was far more often right than this half-assed way of theorising would otherwise have been. He only got several things wrong with this “method” rather than almost (or actually) everything. He was a VERY smart chappie. Just about everyone else needs some way to weed out the dumb ideas. It’s called the scientific method.

  2. “Or does this universal model say that the earth was formed entire and whole and has been slowly ablating ever since?”

    That is probably the assumption. The author appears to be trying to interpret Earth from a particularly strict, somewhat unusual application of Mormonism blended with born again Christianity and New Age mysticism.

    Since the bible says the Sun was created on the third day, everything created before the third day is going to be cold, like absolute zero cold. Of course God could have created everything at room temperature (or any other temperature).

    One of the weirder theories in Brigham Young’s day was that the Earth already existed in some other solar system and was brought here entire, wiped clean (leaving only dinosaur bones) and started fresh. After all, Genesis starts with the Earth already here, just “void”. I allow for the possibility that 65 million years ago it was “time” for mammals to rise; so kaboom, goodbye dinosaurs. Whether it is purely accident or helped along there’s no way to tell, but as a consequence, here we are having this conversation.

  3. […] an internal heat source, or sources, to keep the outer core from solidifying.  As I explained in another post, radioactive decay of some elements is the most likely candidate.  Japanese scientists recently […]

  4. […] I explained in another article, “Facepalm:  The Universal Model and Radioactive Lava“, geologists do not, in fact, think that there are local concentrations of radioactivity in […]

  5. […] the earthquake faults melts the surrounding rock, which can then be ejected out of volcanoes.  In another post (see Facepalm:  the UM and Radioactive Lava), I explained why, even if the source of heat in the […]

  6. […] is that he believes it supports his idea that the Earth is cooler in the center.  I explained in another article that if a spherical body had heat generated in an outer layer, heat would still build up in the […]

  7. […] one of the arguments listed above is complete bullpucky, as I’ve shown before in detail.  1) Just because a certain thing is a heat source, it doesn’t follow that the source has to be pre…. 2) Quartz demonstrably DOES grow from molten rock. 3) Quartz regains its piezoelectric properties […]

  8. Barry–Do you believe that there was a universal flood such as Sessions describes in chapter 8 of the Universal Model (pp. 476-698)?

  9. You never addressed the fundamental question: How could lava that’s formed from radioactive materials not be radioactive?

    • Travis, you didn’t read the article carefully. Magma IS radioactive.

      • Haha okay, a very political answer. Let’s get more specific. Why is there not a SIGNIFICANT amount of radioactivity found in lava if it was melted due to highly concentrated radioactive material? Uranium has to be highly concentrated, enriched, and refined in order to produce enough heat to boil water (100 C). But rock doesn’t melt until around 1300-1700 C. The radioactive material that caused that rock to melt should be observable at SIGNIFICANT levels. Why don’t we observe that?

        • Seriously, Travis–that’s what the entire article is about. Maybe read it again a little more slowly.

  10. Barry, I’m going to hold your feet to the lava on this one.

    Nowhere in your article do you answer the question why LAVA ISN’T HIGHLY radioactive.

    You make 4 points.
    1. All rocks are radioactive.
    2. Uranium is an element not a rock (insert ad hominen on Dean Sessions).
    3. Heat flows out from the earth’s center. “The center will keep heating up until it is hotter than the outside of the sphere and heat can flow back the other way.”
    4. Groundwater in subduction zones lowers the melting point, and that’s why lots of volcanoes occur there and near oceanic ridges.

    None of these answer the question.

    1. Yes, all rocks are radioactive. But why isn’t lava HIGHLY radioactive?
    2. Uranium ore is mined. And ore is in the form of a rock. If you show a picture of uranium ore to a geochemist, even they would call it a rock.
    3. Yes, heat energy spreads out. But what energy is keeping lava in a liquid state on the earth’s surface?
    4. The melting point could be lower in certain areas, but it would still take an immense amount of radioactive energy to melt rock. Highly radioactive energy that should be observable when lava reaches the surface. If that radioactivity faded, then the rock would turn back into a solid, never reaching the surface as a liquid.

    So, let’s put it this way. You and I are standing near an active lava flow. We can feel the heat it produces.

    Q. Why is the lava so hot that it remains in a liquid state even on the earth’s surface?

    A. Radioactive elements generated enough heat to melt rock.

    Q. Why don’t we observe high levels of radioactivity in the lava? Why aren’t there signs warning us not to be near the lava due to high levels of radioactivity?

    A. “Magma is radioactive”

    Q. That’s not what I asked. Why isn’t LAVA (not magma) HIGHLY radioactive?

    A. Heat spreads out from the earth’s center and even into outer space. Since the surface is cool, the radiation goes back to the center of the earth.

    Q. Okay, but why isn’t the lava right in front of us not highly radioactive? It’s clearly still hot enough to be in a liquid state. Shouldn’t it take a lot of radioactivity to generate that much heat right here on the surface? Shouldn’t we observe high levels of radioactivity from the lava?

    A. The melting point is lower near subduction zones, so it would probably take less radioactivity to melt rock.

    Q. Okay, but this lava is right here in front of us, still melted. Even if it took less radioactive energy to melt rock, shouldn’t that radioactivity still be observable at high levels near this lava?

    What am I missing, Barry? What part of your article did I not understand?

    From what I read and reread, I do not find an answer to the question: Why isn’t LAVA HIGHLY radioactive?

    • Hi Travis,

      Here’s your answer:

      “Lava isn’t highly radioactive because it doesn’t have a high concentration of radioactive elements.”

      As for what you are missing, here is a partial list.

      1. Molten rock is hot because it contains a lot of heat energy.

      2. That heat energy comes from within the Earth, but there are several sources of heat from within the Earth. These include residual heat from the initial formation of the Earth, radioactive decay, and chemical reactions that release heat.

      3. Once heat energy exists, it MOVES AROUND. It spreads in ALL DIRECTIONS from its source, but since cooler areas aren’t emitting as much heat, the NET heat flow will be from hotter areas to cooler areas.

      4. As that heat energy MOVES AROUND, some of it might encounter areas in the interior of the Earth where the rocks are easier to melt. Sometimes that’s because of the presence of water coming off dehydrating subducted rocks. Sometimes that’s because lowered pressure underneath mid-ocean ridges reduces melting temperatures. Note that the radioactive elements (or chemical reactions, or whatever) that initially generated the heat don’t have to be in the same place as the rock that happens to melt. The heat just had to be generated SOMEWHERE, and then spread out to where it could be used to melt some rocks.

      5. Once rock is melted, it becomes LESS DENSE than the surrounding rock. Therefore, it tends to rise relatively rapidly toward the surface of the Earth through fissures, and by melting some of the surrounding rock along the way. That’s how molten rock can come out of the ground, AND NOT BE PARTICULARLY RADIOACTIVE.

      6. Let’s just pause and ruminate about this last point. Do you now see how idiotic Dean Sessions’ argument is? He is essentially claiming that heat energy has to stay where it was generated. Why else would lava have to be radioactive to contain heat energy that originated with radioactive elements? You know that’s not the case, because you have experienced such things as touching a hot stove, standing nearby a fire, or feeling the warmth of the Sun on your face. “What? You mean that my car gets hot because of nuclear fusion happening 96 million miles away, inside the Sun, and yet there’s no nuclear fusion happening in my hot car?” Hopefully you get the point. It’s a moronic argument, made by someone who could have disabused himself of his fever dreams by taking a year of college physics.

      7. You summarized one of my arguments as, “Heat spreads out from the earth’s center and even into outer space. Since the surface is cool, the radiation goes back to the center of the earth.” What are you even talking about? That is NOT what I said. I said that, supposing radioactive elements are more concentrated in the crust (which they are), and that the Earth’s center is actually cooler than its outside (which it isn’t, but Dean Sessions thinks so), heat generated in the crust would move BOTH out into space and inward toward the core. Once some heat reaches the core, it would keep building up until it was hotter than the crust, so that the net heat flow would then be toward the outside of the planet. So even if Sessions is right (he isn’t) that the Earth’s center started out cooler than the outside, it wouldn’t remain that way very long.

      Honestly, you need to drop Dean Sessions and his cult like a chunk of barely solidified, not-very-radioactive lava. This stuff is incredibly basic physics, but being a crackpot false prophet, he cannot wrap his head around any criticisms of his ideas. And so he just keeps on building and building the house of cards. The whole purpose of Dean Sessions’ work is to create a basis for Young-Earth Creationism. But even if that’s your thing, I promise you that the only thing Sessions is accomplishing is to give a bad name to the YE Creationists. That’s how incredibly bad his arguments are.

      • Barry,

        Thanks for elaborating and taking the time to respond.

        1. I get the idea that heat spreads out from whatever is the source of the heat, and I can see how that can work as an explanation as to why lava isn’t radioactive. But with the examples you gave, such as heat from the sun, a stove, or a fireplace — we can directly observe the source of the heat. As you’re well aware, that’s NOT the case with the extreme-heat-producing radioactive elements in the earth’s interior. (To be clear, I don’t need a lecture about how inferring is not a sin… I know Sessions occasionally does it to)

        2. You brought up how heat energy flows, and how eventually lava flows to the earth’s surface because it is less dense than the surrounding rock. You’ve also stressed the importance of magma convection in your other articles. In your words, “In convection currents, hot material flows upward in certain places because it is less dense than the overlying cooler stuff. When it reaches the top it spreads out to the sides and cools, while the cooler stuff at the top sinks down to the bottom and heats up. This goes on over and over…”

        3. Why have NONE of these highly radioactive, heat-producing materials ever hitched a ride to the earth’s surface for us to observe?

        With all that circular movement, shouldn’t SOME of those elements get pulled into the flow upwards? Shouldn’t we observe SOME of them at oceanic ridges, where the upflow and heat is the greatest?

        How could these elements NOT EVER come to the surface?

        Or even close to it?

        When scientists have drilled down miles and found magma chambers, such as in 2005 in Hawaii, they never mentioned any evidence of highly radioactive lava.

        4. Addressing your 7th point. You said, “once some heat reaches the core, it would keep building up until it was hotter than the crust, so that the net heat flow would then be toward the outside of the planet.”

        I don’t follow your logic on this statement. Why would the core become hotter than the crust?
        If the crust were the main source of heat, then the residual heat flow reaching the center would be far less than the continual heat production occurring at the surface.

        Regardless, Sessions model of the Earth’s interior never claims that the core is cold. Of course, it’s far colder than what the typical theory claims it to be, but Sessions claims the inner core is water ice due to pressure, not temperature. If the center were cold, then the outer core would be ice too, but seismic evidence shows it’s a liquid.

        As an example (Sessions’s prime example of a hydroplanet), Enceladus has a liquid water mantle. Why it’s a liquid is still a mystery to scientists today. Most scientists believe it remains in a liquid state due mainly to tidal heating and perhaps radioactive heating and chemical factors.

        According to Wikipedia the estimated tidal heating (1.1 gigawatts) is greater than the supposed radioactive heating (0.3 gigawatts).

        So Enceladus should be experiencing this heat build up at the core that you described… but it’s not. There’s more heat generated at the surface than at the core. Why is this?

        • Hi Travis,

          1. After you drive a car for a while, you can put your hand on the hood and feel how hot it is. The engine is the source of the heat, but you can’t directly observe it (unless you open the hood). How is that any different from the situation with molten rock? There is a source of heat, and the heat moves outward from there. You don’t have to observe the heat source to infer that there WAS ONE, and that it probably wasn’t the car hood or the magma themselves.

          2-3. They have hitched a ride to the surface. That’s why the Crust is more enriched in Uranium than the Mantle, for instance. To get significant concentrations of Uranium (i.e., concentrated enough to want to mine), Uranium has to get dissolved in water and then encounter a reducing environment as it travels along (maybe from a bunch of organic matter), whereupon it precipitates out and forms minerals like Uraninite. None of this has anything to do with the topic at hand, however. Whether radioactive elements are more concentrated deeper in the Earth or near the surface, they still generate heat, and that heat travels both toward the surface and deeper into the interior.

          4. Even if the heat is being generated near the surface, lots of that heat is lost by radiating out into space. The more it heats up, the more heat gets radiated out into space, so it can only heat up to the point where the rate of heat generation equals the rate of heat loss. But any heat that travels into the interior of the Earth can’t radiate out into space, so the heat content of the interior would build up until there is a net flow of heat outward. There would only be a net flow of heat outward when the interior is hotter than the surface. Therefore, eventually the interior would HAVE TO heat up more than the surface. Remember, however, that radioactivity is NOT the only source of heat in the Earth.

          Good point about pressure affecting the melting temperature of ice. It still doesn’t save Sessions’s model, however, because seismic evidence also shows that the Core is MUCH more dense than the Crust, based on the speed of wave propagation in that region. No form of ice could be that dense, under any conditions. The measured mass of the Earth is consistent with the conclusion that the interior is more dense, as well. You should read the articles here about the mass of the Earth–Sessions and his people thought they had an answer to that (some experiment they did in Sessions’s garage), but had to admit to me that their experiment was botched. (I think that’s the only time I’ve ever seen them actually admit a mistake. They seemed SURE, however, that their next attempt at the experiment would support their conclusions, which they went ahead and published, anyway.)

          I don’t really see how Enceladus supports your case. The interior is obviously hotter than the outside of the moon, because the outside is ice, and apparently there is heated water in the interior that escapes via geysers.

          Note this sentence in the Wiki article. “The existence of Enceladus’ subsurface ocean has since been mathematically modelled and replicated.” Here is what is buried in that statement. a) They can use spectroscopic analyses by Cassini to figure out what the stuff on the surface and the geyser material is. b) They can use the measured mass of Enceladus (from observation of its gravitational attraction to Saturn) to infer what kinds of materials might make up the interior. c) They can then use that information to make a model of Enceladus, calculate tidal forces and such, and show that it’s physically reasonable to have a subsurface ocean there. d) This gives them more confidence that their model of what the interior is like is probably not too far off.

          The thing is, scientists do the same thing with the Earth, except here we have FAR more information to go on, such as seismic surveys, detailed analyses of rocks, drill cores, and so on.

          Do you see what is going on, here? Sessions doesn’t like scientists’ model of the Earth’s interior, because he wants the Earth to be a “hydroplanet.” So he points to a “hydroplanet” that scientists actually say exists as evidence that the Earth might be one, too. However, he ignores the fact that the methods the scientists used to infer that Enceladus is made mostly of water have also been used on the Earth, and they don’t come to the same conclusion about the Earth. In other words, Sessions’s brain can only process information that he wants to see. Everything else gets ignored.

          • Wait, wait, wait…

            So these highly radioactive, heat-producing materials DO travel to the Earth’s surface?

            Then we must revisit the original question.


            • What do you mean by “highly” radioactive? Generally, lava is more radioactive than the rocks in the mantle. If, by “highly radioactive” you mean lava that has so much Uranium in it that it melts itself, then you haven’t understood a single thing I’ve said this whole time.

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