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The Radiometric Dating Deception

David A. Plaisted

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Also See   Scientific Facts in The Bible       &     The Case For Christianity


This article came under fire by Dr. Kevin R. Henke (Research Scientist II, University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research ) and have been replied to by Mr: Plaisted. Several of the exchanges can be read HERE under Radiometric Dating towards the end of the page.


According to the Bible, the creation week lasted seven literal days and occurred a few thousand years ago. However, many Christians today accept the teaching of science that life has existed on earth for millions, even billions, of years. This millions of years time scale is based on radiometric dating of fossil-bearing layers of rock. This teaching of long ages for life on earth has led some Christians to question and even abandon their belief in the Bible, since a literal reading of Scripture is not consistent with the belief that life has existed on earth for millions of years. I believe that many educated Christians are especially doubting the Bible because of the supposed evidence from radiometric dating that life has existed on earth for very long periods of time.

In fact, I believe that the question of how long life has existed on earth is even more important than the question of whether life was created or evolved. You see, the theory of evolution has so many problems that most people find evolution hard to accept, and I don't think many people are led to question their faith because of it. It just doesn't seem reasonable that life could develop on its own by chance, and the evidence that this actually happened is missing. It's also not a problem that geologists say that the sedimentary layers of rock took millions of years to form, since there are many evidences that the great geological formations on earth were formed rapidly and catastrophically, as in the Biblical flood or subsequent catastrophic events. For example, there is too little erosion between the geological layers for them to have taken millions of years to form. But it is a serious problem when geologists say that they can measure the ages of these rocks by reliable methods, and that these ages turn out to be in the millions and billions of years range. So I believe that this question of radiometric, or isotopic dating, is one of the most important questions in the creation-evolution controversy, and one which Christians have to respond to.

In fact, I believe that the evidence does not permit the long ages given by radiometric dates, so there must be a problem with them somewhere, even on scientific grounds. The geological column has too little erosion to allow for such long time periods. Also, there is too little sediment on the sea floor for the oceans to have existed for hundreds of millions of years, and the continents would have worn away many times in this time period at current rates of erosion. Just the fact that there are so many fossils shows that the great sedimentary deposits on earth had to have formed rapidly, because well-preserved fossils do not form under conditions of gradual sedimentation. So what exactly is wrong with radiometric dating? How can we explain the fact that these dating methods do, in fact, yield dates in the hundreds of millions of years? Why is it that so many museums and textbooks confidently give ages for fossils in the hundreds of millions of years?

This conflict has at times been difficult for me personally. It has been a struggle for me to try to understand the evidences and to learn enough about them to find the answers to these questions.

I was initially involved in some internet discussions where the subject of radiometric dating was brought up, and the arguments in favor of life existing for millions of years seemed almost overpowering. It was claimed that many different dating methods all agree to within a few percent on the ages of the fossils, and that there is no way to explain this except that these methods are giving the true ages. Otherwise, why would they all agree? These different dating methods involve different decay processes, and it is not reasonable to assume that chance or some other process would make them all speed up or slow down by the same amount.

At the time I could find few answers to these questions. There were some creation web pages and books that discussed radiometric dating, but most of them could not really answer the questions of the evolutionists. I ordered one book by John Woodmorappe which did contain some material that was helpful to me.

As a result of these discussions and a considerable amount of research that I did, I wrote a couple of fairly long articles on radiometric dating and put them on my creation web page. One of them was copied to another frequently-visited creation web page. Now many people have seen and read these articles on the web and have been strengthened in their faith in the Bible as a result. From time to time I receive messages from them expressing their appreciation for these articles. Also, these articles are among the most frequently visited articles on my web site.

Here are some of the books I have studied in order to learn more about this subject: This book by Faure, written in 1986, is one of the main textbooks on radiometric dating. This book, by Dickin, written in 1995, is another popular textbook. Here is a book by Harland and others which gives the geological time scale, telling how many millions of years each period is believed to have lasted, and the evidence for this. This book by Dalrymple uses data from radiometric dating to attempt to argue that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. This book is the proceedings of a conference in which geologists and others attempt to refute creationist teaching. I also have some creationist books. This is a book by Slusher in which he criticizes radiometric dating. This is a new book by John Woodmorappe, published this year, with many quotations from geologists themselves about problems with radiometric dating.

What I want to do today is to present what I have learned about this subject. This may seem like an area that is too technical for a sermon, but I think that the importance of the area justifies it. I don't have all the answers, but I think that you will be strengthened and reassured in your faith in the Bible as a result of what I have learned. We need to pray that the Lord will give spirit-led scientists the knowledge they need to deal with this subject, so that the truth will be revealed, because the conflict is beyond human wisdom. This area is a key support for the theory of evolution, which is undermining Christian values all over the world.

First I want to make a few comments about the geological time scale, then consider several methods in detail, and then discuss some other issues.

The geological time scale, described in this book by Harland and others, is based on less than 800 dates obtained by various methods on rocks from different geological layers. These dates tend to agree with each other, but there are hundreds of thousands of other dates that have been measured and were not listed. Many of these other dates disagree with one another, so it is not clear what the significance of these 800 dates is.

The great majority of the dates on which the geological time scale is based, are measured using one method, the potassium-argon (K-Ar) method. In order to explain the fact that older dates tend to be found deeper down (if this is true), we really only need to explain why this should be true for K-Ar dating, and then we have explained much of the geological time scale.

K-Ar dating is based on the decay of potassium 40 to argon 40. When lava is hot, argon escapes from it, so it starts out with potassium but no argon. Over time, potassium gradually decays to argon, and the rate at which this occurs can be measured in the laboratory. By measuring how much potassium and argon is in a rock, and knowing how fast potassium decays, one can compute how old the rock is. The more argon, the older the rock is. The more potassium, the younger the rock is, since a larger amount of potassium would produce argon faster.

However, the reality is much more complicated than this. The argon does not always escape when the lava is hot. The potassium can be removed later on, invalidating the calculation. Also, rocks absorb argon very easily from the environment. In fact, geologists have to take considerable precautions to get rid of the argon that accumulates on their lab equipment so that they can accurately measure K-Ar ages. Rocks can absorb a considerable amount of argon in this way, so all of the argon in a rock did not necessarily come from the potassium it contains. Atmospheric argon absorbed in this way can be corrected for, because it has a certain amount of argon 36 which can be measured. However, argon also comes up from the interior of the earth, and this argon has very little argon 36 in it, and cannot be detected. So we can explain the old K-Ar dates just by the fact that rocks absorb so much argon that comes up from the interior of the earth. Older rocks would have more time to absorb argon, and there was probably more argon coming through the earth at the time of the Flood and shortly thereafter than there is today. In fact, a number of geologists themselves now say that K-Ar dating is not very reliable, or mainly of historical importance. This is quite an admission, since most of the geological time scale is based on K-Ar dating.

Another problem with K-Ar dating is that many volcanoes that we know erupted in the past several hundred years give K-Ar dates in the hundreds of thousands or millions of years.

A large number of K-Ar dates on which the geological time scale is based, are dates from a mineral called glaucony. However, many geologists say that this mineral is highly unreliable for dating. So here we have a large part of the geological time scale based on a mineral which geologists themselves say is highly unreliable.

So I guess we'll have to discard K-Ar dating as a reliable dating method.

Uranium-lead (U-Pb) Dating

 Now let's consider another method that some textbooks say is reliable. This is the dating of zircons by uranium-lead (U-Pb) dating and some other related methods. Zircon is a gemstone, a mineral that can have a considerable amount of uranium in it. However, when zircons form, they exclude lead. Over time, uranium decays to lead. By measuring the amount of uranium and lead in a zircon and knowing the rate of decay, we can measure the age of the zircon. Lead is somewhat mobile, however, as is uranium, and so other methods have been devised that can date zircons even if some lead leaves the rock.

The problem with this method is that zircons can include lead when they form, throwing off the date. They can also lose uranium. In addition, they can travel through lava without melting, so the date computed for a zircon may be measuring a much older event than the lava flow itself. Even geologists recognize that ages given by zircons are often much too old, even for them. Furthermore, a batch of zircons from the same place will often yield widely different ages.

So I guess we'll have to discard zircons as a reliable dating method.

Fission Track Dating

The next candidate dating method is fission track dating. Some minerals contain uranium 238 which decays by fission. It splits in two, and the pieces fly apart through the mineral, creating fission tracks. These tracks can be made visible by etching with an acid solution, and then counted. By knowing how much uranium 238 there is in a rock and by counting the number of fission tracks, one can measure the age of the rock.

There are a number of problems with this method, and even geologists have had intense disagreements about its reliability. The ages often do not agree with what geologists expect. One problem is that certain constants involved in this method are not known or are hard to estimate, so they are calibrated based on the "known" ages of other rocks. If these other "known" ages are in error, then fission track dates are in error by the same amount.

Another problem is that fission tracks fade at high temperatures. So if there are too few tracks, the geologist can always say that most of them faded away. To get a fission track date, one has to know something about the temperature history of a rock.

Another problem is that uranium 238 can be removed from a rock by water. If a sample loses 99 percent of its uranium, then the fission track date will be 100 times too old. In fact, if a rock loses only about 1/350 of its uranium each year, then in 4000 years only one part in one hundred thousand of the uranium will remain, meaning that the date can approach a hundred thousand times too old. Now, 1/350 of the uranium each year is not much, especially when you consider that water occurs practically everywhere in the earth below a few hundred feet, and rocks shallower than this also become wet due to rainfall filtering down through the soil.

Another problem is knowing what is a fission track and what is just an imperfection in the rock. Geologists themselves suggest that imperfections are at times mistaken for fission tracks, and admit that fission tracks are not always easy to recognize. Textbooks have beautiful, clean pictures of fission tracks, but I doubt that these illustrations correspond to reality.

Along this line, it is interesting to note that for every fission of uranium 238, there are over a million decays by a process called alpha decay, in which a helium nucleus is ejected from the nucleus of uranium. The alpha particle creates a long, thin trail of damage, and the former uranium nucleus recoils in the other direction, creating a short, wide track about one thousandth as long as a fission track. Not only this, but what's left of the uranium nucleus (having lost the helium nucleus) decays by thirteen more steps until it becomes lead, so there are over fourteen million other decays for every fission track. Over four million of these occur within a few days. All of these decays emit particles that damage the crystal structure. Some of these decays emit alpha particles, and some emit beta particles, which are energetic electrons. In addition, many millions of gamma rays are emitted, which are high-energy electromagnetic radiation like X rays, and also damage the crystal structure. Perhaps the damage created by all this radiation can be increased by chemical action and be etched by acid to appear like fission tracks. Or if two alpha particle trails are close enough together, perhaps they can damage the crystal enough so that their combined trail will be etched away by acid like a fission track.

Minerals are also subject to alteration by water, which may contain chemicals that react with the rock. Over long periods of time, all of these processes can damage the crystal structure, and it may be that when the mineral is etched with acid, track-like formations appear as a result.

Another problem is that fission tracks in some minerals, like zircons, can survive in lava, so the fission track date can be measuring an older event than the lava flow. Thus we cannot necessarily use this method to date the age of the fossils.

I think fission track dating has more potential than the other methods, but in view of all of these problems, I think we'll have to discard fission track dating as a reliable method.

Rubidium-strontium Dating

There are still other methods, such as rubidium-strontium dating, which are based on the decay of a parent substance (in this case rubidium) to its daughter product (strontium). These methods all depend on knowing how much daughter product was initially present, which we cannot know. So we'll have to discard rubidium-strontium dating and similar methods as reliable dating methods


There is also the so-called "isochron" method, which is a clever way to estimate the amount of daughter product present initially, so that one can then use rubidium-strontium dating and other methods to get reliable dates. Unfortunately, isochrons can also be caused by mixing processes that have nothing to do with true dates. One study indicated that nearly all published isochrons have properties suggesting that they result from mixings, and thus are not giving true dates. Another study indicated that nearly all isochrons published have poor statistical quality. Geologists often make excuses to reject isochrons, anyway, when they don't like the dates.

So I guess we'll have to discard the isochron method as a reliable dating method.

The problem is that now there is nothing left! It's also interesting that geologists frequently admit that these different methods usually don't agree with one another. So the next time you see a museum exhibit with a sign saying that some fossil is so many tens or hundreds of millions of years old, I hope you'll take that with a large grain of salt.

If there is real evidence that these fossils are hundreds of millions of years old, then I want to know about it. But so far I haven't found it.

Could it be that all the old K-Ar dates for fossil bearing layers of rock are due to argon added to the rock and not to the decay of potassium? Could it be that all the old zircon dates are due to inherited lead or inherited zircons, and not to decay of uranium over long time periods? Could it be that all the old fission track dates can be explained by the leaching of most of the uranium out of a rock, or by a mistaken calibration, or by radiation damage, and do not give a true age? Could it be that all of these fossil-bearing rocks are very young?

From all the study I've done so far, nothing would exclude this possibility.

In addition to the fact that these methods all have problems, there are additional problems with radiometric dating. For example, there may be choices of methods to use for dating a rock, and choices of which minerals to date, and geologists choose methods and rocks that give dates that tend to agree with one another. They may treat a rock with an acid, or purify it using a magnetic separator, to get the dates to agree. Then they use this agreement between methods as evidence that radiometric dating is correct.

I've also been bewildered by contradictory statements by different geologists. One source says that low uranium zircons always give dates that agree with one another, while another source says that the amount of uranium has no effect on the frequency with which the dates agree. One source says that zircons have little inherited lead, and another source says that this is a common problem. One source says that historic lava flows rarely give old K-Ar ages, and another source says that they often do. Often I've tried to figure out how some evidence could be true, only later to find out that it's not so.

Now, there are some cases where radiometric dating does appear to be measuring a true age, where many methods agree, such as dating of meteorites, and certain very old rocks on the earth. If these dates are correct, then this material would have to originate from before the creation week. However, radiometric dating is based on the assumption that decay rates are constant. If decay rates have varied, then all methods can be in error, even when they agree.

Along this line, it is interesting that a number of scientists recently have suggested that the speed of light was much faster in the past. Now, the speed of light is a constant, so if this constant can change, maybe other constants, such as decay constants, which measure the rate of decay, can change as well. Here is the article:

    Source: University Of Toronto (http://www.utoronto.ca)
    Contact: Steven De Sousa , News Services Officer
    Phone: (416) 978-6949; Email: steven.desousa@utoronto.ca
    Date: Posted 10/6/99

    Speed Of Light May Not Be Constant, Physicist Suggests

    A University of Toronto professor believes that one of the most sacrosanct rules of 20th-century science -- that the speed of light has always been the same - is wrong. Ever since Einstein proposed his special theory of relativity in 1905, physicists have accepted as fundamental principle that the speed of light -- 300 million metres per second -- is a constant and that nothing has, or can, travel faster. John Moffat of the physics department disagrees - light once travelled much faster than it does today, he believes.

    Recent theory and observations about the origins of the universe would appear to back up his belief. For instance, theories of the origin of the universe -- the "Big Bang"- suggest that very early in the universe's development, its edges were farther apart than light, moving at a constant speed, could possibly have travelled in that time. To explain this, scientists have focused on strange, unknown and as-yet-undiscovered forms of matter that produce gravity that repulses objects.

    Moffat's theory - that the speed of light at the beginning of time was much faster than it is now - provides an answer to some of these cosmology problems. "It is easier for me to question Einstein's theory than it is to assume there is some kind of strange, exotic matter around me in my kitchen." His theory could also help explain astronomers' discovery last year that the universe's expansion is accelerating. Moffat's paper, co-authored with former U of T researcher Michael Clayton, appeared in a recent edition of the journal Physics Letters.

    Copyright (c) 1995-99 ScienceDaily Magazine | Email: editor@sciencedaily.com

Another possibility is that decay rates were increased by some astronomical catastrophe about the time of the flood. It is believed that a huge supernova exploded recently about 1000 light years away from the earth. This produced the Gum Nebula, which covers about 40 degrees in the southern hemisphere, a huge formation. The estimated time for this is 11,000 years ago, but this could be in error, and it could be 5,000 years ago or less, or about the time of the flood. Such a supernova would have showered the earth with many different kinds of radiation that could have excited the nucleii of atoms and led them to decay much faster. This could have even caused the flood, by generating terrific quantities of heat and causing volcanoes to erupt and water to spurt out of the earth. These excited nucleii may have taken a while to go back to their normal states, so decay rates may have been elevated for some time after the flood. I can imagine the terror the antediluvians felt as they saw this huge light erupt in the southern sky, followed by a shower of radiation, the shaking of the earth, and terrific quantities of water gushing out of the earth.

There is a lesson for us in these past events. The Bible says that just as the earth was destroyed by a flood in ancient times, it will be destroyed again when Jesus returns. Then the refuge of lies will be swept away, and the truth will be known, that God is the creator and man owes his allegiance to Him alone. And just as the Lord provided an escape then for those who were willing to obey Him, so He provides salvation for His people today. See End of The Age

Human reason is imperfect, and limited. All these books about radiometric dating were written by men who did their best to understand nature using the scientific method. Their conclusions are subject to change as new evidence is found. But the Bible was inspired by One who is infinite in wisdom, power, and love, who created all things in the beginning by His Word of power. He knows the answers to the questions that we cannot answer, and gives us enough evidence to believe in Him. Even more, the Bible tells us of the love of God, and how we can live better lives here and find salvation in eternity. This book shows us how we can come to know Jesus as our friend and Savior.

Yes, Jesus created life on this earth not too long ago. Man fell into sin, and Jesus came to die on the cross and redeem us from our sins. To all who are willing to believe in Him and repent and confess their sins, He offers forgiveness and eternal life. Soon he is coming again to take us to a better home. Fast fulfilling prophecies show that this event cannot be far distant. Let's not give up our hope because of the uncertain conclusions of radiometric dating, especially when it has so many problems. Now more than ever we have reason to question the long ages of radiometric dating on fossil-bearing rocks. Errors will abound in the last days, but we can have confidence in the Word of God. Soon we will see the Lord face to face, and all uncertainties will be swept away. Let's hold fast our confidence, and be ready to meet our Lord with joy when He returns. May this be the choice of each one here, is my prayer. Amen.


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