The topic of radiometric dating and other dating methods has received some of the most vicious attacks by young earth creation science theorists.
However, none of the criticisms of young earth creationists have any scientific merit. Radiometric dating remains a reliable scientific method. To broaden your learning experience, we provide links to resources on other old earth websites, noted below by this graphic - Article Submission Policy. Are Dating Techniques Accurate? Isochron Dating , by Chris Stassen. Radiometric Dating, Paleosols and the Geologic Column: Three strikes against Young Earth Creationism, by J.
Geochronology - Radiometric Dating Reappraised. Students, particularly Young-Earth Creationists, may come in with misconceptions about how the age of the Earth and of various parts of the fossil record were determined. Explore Teaching Examples Provide Feedback. Teaching about Radiometric Dating Students, particularly Young-Earth Creationists, may come in with misconceptions about how the age of the Earth and of various parts of the fossil record were determined. For example, they may assume that the whole geologic timeline is based on radiocarbon dating, which only gives reliable results for dates back to 40, years before present Low, personal communication.
Others will argue that decay rates could have changed Wise, , or that God could have changed them, which might result in too-old dates. The former argument is flawed because many radiometric dates are broadly supported by other estimates of change, such as tree rings and varved sediments for radiocarbon with some discrepancies, but still leaving the Earth far more than 6, years old.
The second is not a scientific argument. In other cases, as we shall see, we can use present rock compositions to infer the value of D 0. Obviously, there are two major assumptions involved in the use of radiometric dating. Scientists have to estimate D 0 and they have to rule out the possibility that additional quantities of the daughter element have been added since the time the rock was formed.
Actually, the computation of the age would be affected if some of the daughter element originally present had been lost. For if extra daughter element were added, then we should arrive at too large a figure for the amount of the parent element that has decayed, and thus produce too high a value for the age of the rock. Geologists are not unaware of these assumptions, and they take great pains to construct ways of cross-checking them. Consider first the ways of computing D 0. Argon is an inert gas, so that it does not occur in chemical compounds in original rocks.
In some crystalline structures it can be trapped mechanically, but for other naturally occurring minerals it can be shown that this does not occur. A second common method of radiometric dating involves the decay of uranium into lead. Here it is possible to use two decay processes, the decay of uranium into lead and the decay of uranium into lead Furthermore, the amount of lead originally present can be computed by considering another isotope of lead.
Hence, by measuring the amount of lead in a rock, geologists can estimate the amount of lead originally present. Given this value of D 0 it is then possible to use either decay process to calculate the age of the rock.
Teaching about Radiometric Dating
If the results agree, they are said to be concordant, and geologists are usually confident that concordant ages are the true ages of the rocks under consideration. The second worry is that extra amounts of the daughter element may enter the system after the original formation of the rock, thus giving the impression that more of the parent element has undergone radioactive decay than has actually been the case.
In both the examples I have described, there are ways of checking that such intrusions have not occurred. Minerals can be tested for their capacity to absorb extra argon under experimental conditions designed to resemble their natural environment, and geologists can screen out, in this way, minerals that are liable to give erroneous results. In the second case, the existence of two separate decay processes provides a check on the assumption that the system has not been contaminated.
If extra lead were to have been absorbed in the rock after the original formation, the new lead would have caused the calculated ages of the rock to diverge unless it contained the right proportion of lead to lead If the ratio of lead to lead in the newly introduced rock were greater than the ratio of lead to lead found in an uncontaminated system, the method of dating based on the decay of uranium to lead would give a relatively higher value than the method of dating based on the decay of uranium to lead Obviously just the opposite holds when the ratio of lead to lead is too small.
Hence someone who supposes that concordant ages are inflated must believe that the contaminating lead contained just the right proportion of the two isotopes. I want to emphasize that I have only dealt with two of the commonly used radiometric methods, and I have only outlined the most elementary of the checks that geologists use in applying them. More details can be found in Eicher , chapter 6; and Faul From what I have said it might seem that the assignment of ages to rocks is still a bit uncertain. However, I hope that it will help to quell anxieties when I point out that a large number of independent methods have been applied to a vast array of different rocks.
The result of this enormous array of tests is a consensus. The ages assigned to various rock strata bearing distinctive types of fossils show extraordinary agreement. The many independent computations of the age of the earth during the last three decades almost invariably yield a figure between 4.
Of course, there are occasional puzzling discrepancies. But geologists take these as signs that unanticipated factors have affected the system from which the result was obtained.
They know that geological clocks, like other clocks, can go wrong. Frequently, further investigation dissolves the anomaly by showing what the interfering factor has been.
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Let us now take up some of the Creationists' attempts to criticize radiometric dating. The main lines of attack are laid down by Morris. He begins by identifying three assumptions of the use of radiometric techniques: The system must have been a closed system.
Creationists Blind Dates
The process rate must always have been the same " Morris a, We have already discussed statements akin to Morris's first and second assumptions. As will become clear shortly, the status of the third is a little different. Unsurprisingly, Morris believes that he can provide good reasons for doubting each of these assumptions in the case of every application of every method.
He claims that none of the assumptions is "provable, testable, or even reasonable" Morris a, Here are the reasons: There is no such thing in nature as a closed system.
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The concept of a closed system is an ideal concept, convenient for analysis but non-existent in the real world. The idea of a system remaining closed for millions of years becomes an absurdity. It i s impossible to ever know the initial components of a system formed in prehistoric times. Obviously no one was present when such a system was first formed. Since creation is at least a viable possibility, it is clearly possible that some of the "daughter" component may have been initially created along with the "parent" component.
Even apart from this possibility, there are numerous other ways by which daughter products could be incorporated into the systems when first formed. No process rate is unchangeable. Every process in nature operates at a rate which is influenced by a number of different factors.
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If any of these factors change, the process rate changes.