Perhaps a good place to start this article would be to affirm that radiometric dating is not inaccurate. It is certainly incorrect, and it is certainly. Many people think that radiometric dating has proved the Earth is Would he have concluded that the fossil date for the sediments was wrong?. Once you understand the basic science of radiometric dating, you can see how wrong assumptions lead to incorrect dates.
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No one has measured the decay rates directly; we only know them from inference. If more excess argon were present, then we could get much older ages. Dickin Radiogenic Isotope Geology, , p.
Why radioactive dating is wrong -
Since a neutron has no charge, it must become positively charged after emitting an electron. In fact, it becomes a proton. This changes the chemical identity of the atom. It is no longer Rb; it is strontium Sr Sr is not radioactive, so the change is permanent. We know how long it takes Rb to turn into Sr, so in principle, if we analyze the amount of Rb and Sr in a rock, we should be able to tell how long the decay has been occurring. Of course, there are all sorts of uncertainties involved.
How much Sr was in the rock when it first formed? Was Rb or Sr added to the rock by some unknown process? Was one of them removed from the rock by some unknown process? The isochron is supposed to take care of such issues. Essentially, rather than looking at the amounts of Rb and Sr, we look at their ratios compared to Sr The ratio of Sr to Sr is graphed versus the ratio of Rb to Sr for several different parts of the rock.
How does that help? Thus, it provides an independent analysis of the rock that does not depend on the radioactive decay that is being studied. The amount of Sr that was already in the rock when it formed, for example, should be proportional to the amount of Sr that is currently there. Since the data are divided by the amount of Sr, the initial amount of Sr is cancelled out in the analysis. He says that there is one process that has been overlooked in all these isochron analyses: Atoms and molecules naturally move around, and they do so in such as way as to even out their concentrations.
A helium balloon, for example, will deflate over time, because the helium atoms diffuse through the balloon and into the surrounding air. Well, diffusion depends on the mass of the thing that is diffusing. Sr diffuses more quickly than Sr, and that has never been taken into account when isochrons are analyzed. Hayes has brought it up, we can take it into account, right?
If the effects of diffusion can be taken into account, it will require an elaborate model that will most certainly require elaborate assumptions. Hayes suggests a couple of other approaches that might work, but its not clear how well.
So what does this mean? If you believe the earth is very old, then most likely, all of the radioactive dates based on isochrons are probably overestimates. Such failures may be due to laboratory errors mistakes happen , unrecognized geologic factors nature sometimes fools us , or misapplication of the techniques no one is perfect. We scientists who measure isotope ages do not rely entirely on the error estimates and the self-checking features of age diagnostic diagrams to evaluate the accuracy of radiometric ages.
Whenever possible we design an age study to take advantage of other ways of checking the reliability of the age measurements. The simplest means is to repeat the analytical measurements in order to check for laboratory errors. Another method is to make age measurements on several samples from the same rock unit. This technique helps identify post-formation geologic disturbances because different minerals respond differently to heating and chemical changes.
The isochron techniques are partly based on this principle. The use of different dating methods on the same rock is an excellent way to check the accuracy of age results. If two or more radiometric clocks based on different elements and running at different rates give the same age, that's powerful evidence that the ages are probably correct.
Along this line, Roger Wiens, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, asks those who are skeptical of radiometric dating to consider the following quoted in several cases from [ Wiens ]: There are well over forty different radiometric dating methods, and scores of other methods such as tree rings and ice cores. All of the different dating methods agree--they agree a great majority of the time over millions of years of time. Some [skeptics] make it sound like there is a lot of disagreement, but this is not the case.
The disagreement in values needed to support the position of young-Earth proponents would require differences in age measured by orders of magnitude e. The differences actually found in the scientific literature are usually close to the margin of error, usually a few percent, not orders of magnitude!
Vast amounts of data overwhelmingly favor an old Earth. Several hundred laboratories around the world are active in radiometric dating. Their results consistently agree with an old Earth. Over a thousand papers on radiometric dating were published in scientifically recognized journals in the last year, and hundreds of thousands of dates have been published in the last 50 years.
Essentially all of these strongly favor an old Earth. Radioactive decay rates have been measured for over sixty years now for many of the decay clocks without any observed changes. And it has been close to a hundred years since the uranium decay rate was first determined.
A recent survey of the rubidium-strontium method found only about 30 cases, out of tens of thousands of published results, where a date determined using the proper procedures was subsequently found to be in error. Both long-range and short-range dating methods have been successfully verified by dating lavas of historically known ages over a range of several thousand years.
The mathematics for determining the ages from the observations is relatively simple. Rates of radioactivity One question that sometimes arises here is how can scientists assume that rates of radioactivity have been constant over the great time spans involved. Creationist Henry Morris, for example, criticizes this type of "uniformitarian" assumption [ Morris , pg.
But numerous experiments have been conducted to detect any change in radioactivity as a result of chemical activity, exceedingly high heat, pressure, or magnetic field. None of these experiments has detected any significant deviation for any isotope used in geologic dating [ Dalrymple , pg. Scientists have also performed very exacting experiments to detect any change in the constants or laws of physics over time, but various lines of evidence indicate that these laws have been in force, essentially the same as we observe them today, over the multi-billion-year age of the universe.
Note, for instance, that light coming to earth from distant stars which in some cases emanated billions of years ago reflects the same patterns of atomic spectra, based in the laws of quantum mechanics, that we see today. What's more, in observed supernova events that we observe in telescopes today, most of which occurred many millions of years ago, the patterns of light and radiation are completely consistent with the half-lives of radioactive isotopes that we measure today [ Isaak , pg.
As another item of evidence, researchers studying a natural nuclear reactor in Africa have concluded that a certain key physical constant "alpha" has not changed measurably in hundreds of millions of years [ Barrow , pg. Finally, researchers have just completed a study of the proton-electron mass ratio approximately Thus scientists are on very solid ground in asserting that rates of radioactivity have been constant over geologic time.
The issue of the "uniformitarian" assumption is discussed in significantly greater detail at Uniformitarian. Responses to specific creationist claims Wiens' online article, mentioned above, is an excellent resource for countering claims of creationists on the reliability of geologic dating. In an appendix to this article, Wiens addresses and responds to a number of specific creationist criticisms.
Here is a condensed summary of these items, quoted from Wiens' article [ Wiens ]: Radiometric dating is based on index fossils whose dates were assigned long before radioactivity was discovered. This is not at all true, though it is implied by some young-Earth literature.
Radiometric dating is based on the half-lives of the radioactive isotopes. These half-lives have been measured over the last years. They are not calibrated by fossils. No one has measured the decay rates directly; we only know them from inference.
Decay rates have been directly measured over the last years. In some cases a batch of the pure parent material is weighed and then set aside for a long time and then the resulting daughter material is weighed. In many cases it is easier to detect radioactive decays by the energy burst that each decay gives off. For this a batch of the pure parent material is carefully weighed and then put in front of a Geiger counter or gamma-ray detector.
These instruments count the number of decays over a long time. If the half-lives are billions of years, it is impossible to determine them from measuring over just a few years or decades. The example given in the section [in Wiens' article] titled, "The Radiometric Clocks" shows that an accurate determination of the half-life is easily achieved by direct counting of decays over a decade or shorter.
Additionally, lavas of historically known ages have been correctly dated even using methods with long half-lives. The decay rates are poorly known, so the dates are inaccurate. Most of the decay rates used for dating rocks are known to within two percent. Such small uncertainties are no reason to dismiss radiometric dating. Whether a rock is million years or million years old does not make a great deal of difference.
To date a rock one must know the original amount of the parent element. But there is no way to measure how much parent element was originally there. It is very easy to calculate the original parent abundance, but that information is not needed to date the rock. All of the dating schemes work from knowing the present abundances of the parent and daughter isotopes.
There is little or no way to tell how much of the decay product, that is, the daughter isotope, was originally in the rock, leading to anomalously old ages. A good part of [Wiens' article] is devoted to explaining how one can tell how much of a given element or isotope was originally present.
Usually it involves using more than one sample from a given rock.