The Radiometric Dating Game
Does radiometric dating prove rocks are millions or billions of years old? After all, textbooks, media, and museums glibly present ages of millions of years as fact. Yet few people . March 5, from Answers Research Journal. There is. Radiometric dating (often called radioactive dating) is a way to find out how old something is. The method compares the amount of a naturally. Thus radiometric dating methods appear to give evidence that the earth and meteorites are old, if one accepts the fact that decay rates have.
Scientists inferred from their rocks dated to millions of years old how fast the plates were moving in the past and into the present.
This has allowed geologists to directly test the rates predicted by radiometric dating of millions of years-old rocks. What does this mean? It means that current plate motions are the same, or nearly the same, as plate motions from10, or 1 million years ago.
This data allows us to be as confident as one can be that tectonic plates have been slowly moving for vast periods of time. This is smoking gun evidence that the same geological processes have been occurring continually and at roughly the same speed for millions of years.
How does this fit into a young earth model of the earth? The evidence against the young-earth model, based on this data alone, is very compelling. Please think about this for a minute and let the significance set in. Young earth creationists YECs have long railed against the validity of radiometric dating.
They have argued that the method is unreliable and will provide incorrect dates because of erroneous assumptions including the assumption that radioactive decay has been constant over time. In fact, the more problems they claim exist with radiometric dating methods, the worse their problem becomes. In fact most young earth models include a versions of highly accelerated plate motions in the past, following by a rapid slowly of plate motion resulting in current plate motion rates only having existed for the past several thousand years.
The correlation of GPS and radiometric dating measurements of plate motion falsify the accelerated plate tectonics model of flood geology. Labels indicate names of places where rates have been estimated using both methods.
Figure from AlRaheji et al. Back to the figure from AlRaheji et alI want to highlight just one of the data points on this graph as an example. Nonetheless, what you can see is that the GPS and geological estimates overlap for all the sites included in this study, including the Dead Sea fault. But they do match and so we know beyond reasonable doubt that the Arabian plate on the east side of the Dead Sea valley has been slowly moving north for millions of years.
Lets widen our view a bit. Rates of plate motions based on GPS and laser methods vs radiometric dating methods for all of the plates of the world. Figure modified from Robbins et al. Many years later, direct laser-based methods were used to measure the current rate of motion. The fact that point A falls nearly on the line means that modern-day plate movement is nearly identical to the motions estimated to have occurred for millions of years.
Radiometric dating: Science or Guesswork?
Plates running into each other at a particular speed, measured in negative values, are moving toward each other at the same rates today. I risk being redundant, but this point is important to emphasize. These values should NOT be the same if the worlds tectonic plates are only years old as predicted by flood geology. So to date those, geologists look for layers like volcanic ash that might be sandwiched between the sedimentary layers, and that tend to have radioactive elements.
You might have noticed that many of the oldest age dates come from a mineral called zircon. Each radioactive isotope works best for particular applications. The half-life of carbon 14, for example, is 5, years. On the other hand, the half-life of the isotope potassium 40 as it decays to argon is 1. Chart of a few different isotope half lifes: If a rock has been partially melted, or otherwise metamorphosed, that causes complications for radiometric absolute age dating as well.
Good overview as relates to the Grand Canyon: Which are the youngest?
I also like this simple exercise, a spin-off from an activity described on the USGS site above. Take students on a neighborhood walk and see what you can observe about age dates around you. For example, which is older, the bricks in a building or the building itself?
Are there repairs or cracks in the sidewalk that came after the sidewalk was built? Have students work alone or in pairs to find an article or paper that uses radiometric age dating. What materials were dated?
Furthermore, some elements in the earth are too abundant to be explained by radioactive decay in 4. Some are too scarce such as helium. So it's not clear to me how one can be sure of the 4. Back to top In general, potassium-argon dates appear to be older the deeper one goes in the crust of the earth. We now consider possible explanations for this. There are at least a couple of mechanisms to account for this.
In volcano eruptions, a considerable amount of gas is released with the lava. This gas undoubtedly contains a significant amount of argon Volcanos typically have magma chambers under them, from which the eruptions occur. It seems reasonable that gas would collect at the top of these chambers, causing artificially high K-Ar radiometric ages there. In addition, with each successive eruption, some gas would escape, reducing the pressure of the gas and reducing the apparent K-Ar radiometric age.
Thus the decreasing K-Ar ages would represent the passage of time, but not necessarily related to their absolute radiometric ages. As a result, lava found in deeper layers, having erupted earlier, would generally appear much older and lava found in higher layers, having erupted later, would appear much younger. This could account for the observed distribution of potassium-argon dates, even if the great sedimantary layers were laid down very recently.
In addition, lava emerging later will tend to be hotter, coming from deeper in the earth and through channels that have already been warmed up. This lava will take longer to cool down, giving more opportunity for enclosed argon to escape and leading to younger radiometric ages. A discussion of these mechanisms may be found at the Geoscience Research Institute site.
Another factor is that rocks absorb argon from the air. It is true that this can be accounted for by the fact that argon in the air has Ar36 and Ar40, whereas only Ar40 is produced by K-Ar decay.
But for rocks deep in the earth, the mixture of argon in their environment is probably much higher in Ar40, since only Ar40 is produced by radioactive decay. As these rocks absorb argon, their radiometric ages would increase. This would probably have a larger effect lower down, where the pressure of argon would be higher. Or it could be that such a distribution of argon pressures in the rocks occurred at some time in the past. This would also make deeper rocks tend to have older radiometric ages.
Recent lava flows often yield K-Ar ages of aboutyears. This shous that they contain some excess argon, and not all of it is escaping. If they contained a hundred times more excess argon, their K-Ar ages would be a hundred times greater, I suppose.
And faster cooling could increase the ages by further large factors. I also read of a case where a rock was K-Ar dated at 50 million years, and still susceptible to absorbing argon from the air. This shows that one might get radiometric ages of at least 50 million years in this way by absorbing Ar40 deep in the earth without much Ar36 or Ar38 present.
If the pressure of Ar40 were greater, one could obtain even greater ages. Yet another mechanism that can lead to decreasing K-Ar ages with time is the following, in a flood model: One can assume that at the beginning of the flood, many volcanoes erupted and the waters became enriched in Ar Then any lava under water would appear older because its enclosed Ar40 would have more trouble escaping.
As time passed, this Ar40 would gradually pass into the atmosphere, reducing this effect and making rocks appear younger. In addition, this would cause a gradient of Ar40 concentrations in the air, with higher concentrations near the ground.
This also could make flows on the land appear older than they are, since their Ar40 would also have a harder time escaping. Back to top Let us consider the question of how much different dating methods agree on the geologic column, and how many measurements are anomalous, since these points are often mentioned as evidences of the reliability of radiometric dating. It takes a long time to penetrate the confusion and find out what is the hard evidence in this area.
In the first place, I am not primarily concerned with dating meteorites, or precambrian rocks. What I am more interested in is the fossil-bearing geologic column of Cambrian and later age.
Now, several factors need to be considered when evaluating how often methods give expected ages on the geologic column. Some of these are taken from John Woodmoreappe's article on the subject, but only when I have reason to believe the statements are also generally believed.
First, many igneous formations span many periods, and so have little constraint on what period they could belong to. The same applies to intrusions.
In addition, some kinds of rocks are not considered as suitable for radiometric dating, so these are typically not considered. Furthermore, it is at least possible that anomalies are under-reported in the literature. Finally, the overwhelming majority of measurements on the fossil bearing geologic column are all done using one method, the K-Ar method. And let me recall that both potassium and argon are water soluble, and argon is mobile in rock. Thus the agreement found between many dates does not necessarily reflect an agreement between different methods, but rather the agreement of the K-Ar method with itself.
For example, if 80 percent of the measurements were done using K-Ar dating, and the other 20 percent gave random results, we still might be able to say that most of the measurements on a given strata agree with one another reasonably well.
So to me it seems quite conceivable that there is no correlation at all between the results of different methods on the geologic column, and that they have a purely random relationship to each other.
Let us consider again the claim that radiometric dates for a given geologic period agree with each other. I would like to know what is the exact or approximate information content of this assertion, and whether it could be or has been tested statistically. It's not as easy as it might sound. Let's suppose that we have geologic periods G Let's only include rocks whose membership in the geologic period can be discerned independent of radiometric dating methods.
Let's also only include rocks which are considered datable by at least one method, since some rocks I believe limestone are considered not to hold argon, for example. Now, we can take a random rock from Gi. We will have to restrict ourselves to places where Gi is exposed, to avoid having to dig deep within the earth. Let's apply all known dating methods to Gi that are thought to apply to this kind of rock, and obtain ages from each one.
Then we can average them to get an average age for this rock. We can also compute how much they differ from one another. Now we have to be careful about lava flows -- which geologic period do they belong to? What about rocks that are thought not to have their clock reset, or to have undergone later heating episodes?
Just to make the test unbiased, we will assign altitude limits to each geologic period at each point on the earth's surface at least in principle and include all rocks within these altitude limits within Gi, subject to the condition that they are datable. The measurements should be done in a double-blind manner to insure lack of unconscious bias. For each geologic period and each dating method, we will get a distribution of values.
We will also get a distribution of averaged values for samples in each period. Now, some claim is being made about these distributions. It is undoubtedly being claimed that the mean values ascend as one goes up the geologic column.
It is also being claimed that the standard deviations are not too large. It is also being claimed that the different methods have distributions that are similar to one another on a given geologic period. The only correlation I know about that has been studied is between K-Ar and Rb-Sr dating on precambrian rock. And even for this one, the results were not very good. This was a reference by Hurley and Rand, cited in Woodmorappe's paper.
As far as I know, no study has been done to determine how different methods correlate on the geologic column excluding precambrian rock. The reason for my request is that a correlation is not implied by the fact that there are only 10 percent anomalies, or whatever.
I showed that the fact that the great majority of dates come from one method K-Ar and the fact that many igneous bodies have very wide biostratigraphic limits, where many dates are acceptable, makes the percentage of anomalies irrelevant to the question I am asking.
And since this agreement is the strongest argument for the reliability of radiometric dating, such an assumption of agreement appears to be without support so far. The question of whether different methods correlate on the geologic column is not an easy one to answer for additional reasons. Since the bulk of K-Ar dates are generally accepted as correct, one may say that certain minerals are reliable if they tend to give similar dates, and unreliable otherwise.Potassium-argon (K-Ar) dating - Cosmology & Astronomy - Khan Academy
We can also say that certain formations tend to give reliable dates and others do not, depending on whether the dates agree with K-Ar dates. Thus we can get an apparent correlation of different methods without much of a real correlation in nature. It's also possible for other matter to be incorporated into lava as it rises, without being thoroughly melted, and this matter may inherit all of its old correlated radiometric dates.
Coffin mentions that fission tracks can survive transport through lava, for example. It may also be that lava is produced by melting the bottom of continents and successively different layers are melted with time, or there could be a tendency for lighter isotopes to come to the top of magma chambers, making the lava there appear older.
But anyway, I think it is important really to know what patterns appear in the data to try to understand if there is a correlation and what could be causing it. Not knowing if anomalies are always published makes this harder. It is often mentioned that different methods agree on the K-T boundary, dated at about 65 million years ago.
This is when the dinosaurs are assumed to have become extinct. This agreement of different methods is taken as evidence for a correlation between methods on the geologic column. One study found some correlated dates from bentonite that are used to estimate the date of the K-T boundary. I looked up some information on bentonite. It is composed of little glass beads that come from volcanic ash. This is formed when lava is sticky and bubbles of gas in it explode.
So these small particles of lava cool very fast. The rapid cooling might mean that any enclosed argon is retained, but if not, the fact that this cooling occurs near the volcano, with a lot of argon coming out, should guarantee that these beads would have excess argon. As the gas bubble explodes, its enclosed argon will be rushing outward along with these tiny bubbles as they cool. This will cause them to retain argon and appear too old. In addition, the rapid cooling and the process of formation means that these beads would have Rb, Sr, U, and Pb concentrations the same as the lava they came from, since there is no chance for crystals to form with such rapid cooling.
So to assume that the K-Ar dates, Rb-Sr dates, and U-Pb dates all reflect the age of the lava, one would have to assume that this lava had no Sr, no Pb, and that all the argon escaped when the beads formed. Since the magma generally has old radiometric ages, I don't see how we could have magma without Pb or Sr. So to me it seems to be certain that these ages must be in error. Furthermore, the question arises whether bentonite always gives correlated ages, and whether these ages always agree with the accepted ages for their geologic period.
I believe that bentonite occurs in a number of formations of different geologic periods, so this could be checked. If bentonite does not always give correlate and correct ages, this calls into question its use for dating the K-T boundary.
Back to top Note that if there are small pockets in crystals where both parent and daughter product can accumulate from the lava, then one can inherit correlated ages from the lava into minerals. Thus even the existence of correlations is not conclusive evidence that a date is correct. Back to top If a date does not agree with the expected age of its geologic period, and no plausible explanation can be found, then the date is called anomalous.
But if we really understand what is going on, then we should be able to detect discrepant dates as they are being measured, and not just due to their divergence from other dates. Geologists often say that the percentage of anomalies is low.
But there are quite a number of rather outstanding anomalies in radiometric dating that creationists have collected.
How does radiometric dating work?
These anomalies are reported in the scientific literature. For example, one isochron yielded a date of 10 billion years. A Rb-Sr isochron yielded a date of 34 billion years. K-Ar dates of 7 to 15 billion years have been recorded. It's also not uncommon for two methods to agree and for the date to be discarded anyway.
Samples with flat plateaus which should mean no added argon can give wrong dates.