A currently held paradigm of modern science is the old age of our universe and, specifically, our planet, Earth. About 4.6 billion years ago, our planet began to form. After Earth cooled significantly over millions of years, life began to arise spontaneously. From that point on, evolution took place and continents moved until Earth and life is as we know it today.
These ideas of billions of years and long ages arose strongly just a few hundred years ago. Now, via many methods of radioisotope dating and other dating methods, the idea of long ages has been deemed fact.
What is Radioisotope Dating?
I have spoken previously about Radioisotope dating in the article, The Formation of the Grand Canyon, however I hope to dive deeper into this topic.
Isotopes are different forms of an element due to differing numbers of neutrons in the nucleus of atoms. Some of these isotopes are highly radioactive and will decay by emitting particles until a stable atom has formed. The rate of decay for these isotopes is called the Half-life, or the time it takes for one half of the sample to decay from the original element to the product element. These are often called “Parent” and “Daughter” elements or isotopes. By knowing the decay rate, and measuring the ratio of parent to daughter isotopes, an age can be determined for an object that contains these isotopes. Most rocks contain many different radioisotopes and therefore, via this method, can be dated. Many times, the half-lives of some isotopes are millions of years or sometimes even billions. This data is used to validate the paradigm of an old universe and Earth.
This form of dating is believed to be extremely accurate due to the lack of change within decay rates regardless of physical, chemical, or environmental circumstances. Tests have been conducted to measure any possible rate of decay variances due to changes in pressure, temperature, introduction of chemicals, etc. I was always taught that, regardless of any change, decay rates are constant. Therefore, radioisotope dating must be accurate. However, there have been several occurrences where rates of decay have been measured to change under specific circumstances.
One occurrence of a change in decay rate is due to neutrinos, neutral subatomic particles. They have been shown to increase the rates of decay of both alpha and beta paths. A large source of these particles has been found in abundance from the sun. In fact, a seasonal trend has been found in decay rates for some isotopes. The rates change from winter to summer. Solar flares have also been found to cause a change in decay rate for certain isotopes.
Neutrinos have also been found to come in large abundance from supernovae, however this has not been measured to a great extent. They have been measured emanating from the Earth, however. This could possibly be from fission that naturally takes place within the planet. If this were the case, with neutrinos affecting decay rates from both solar and planetary activity, rates could have significantly been altered over time.
Continuing, there are some isotopes whose chemical environment alters its decay rate. For example, three different chemical forms of Beryllium-7 decayed at three different rates.
So, although these changes to decay rates may be considered small, over time it could cause big changes. Also, regardless of a big or small change, it proves the assumption of constant decay rates is incorrect.
Before rocks or minerals can be dated, geologists must interpret the surrounding geology first to decide a relative age. This makes sense, however, this is normally done under the assumptions of long time and uniformitarianism (that is, what we see happening today is the key to the past). So, a geologist or geochronologist will already assume that a rock is millions of years old and that the surrounding geology took millions of years to form.
The rock will then be dated using radioisotope dating methods that have a half-life that best fits the relative age range estimated. When an age of millions of years is reported, the date fits the estimate and is accepted as the absolute and correct age.
Honestly, this method sounds fairly accurate since it is meeting the geologist’s predictions. According to the scientific method, your hypothesis would be correct or accurate. So, this method, when applied to rocks that have formed within historical times and thus have a known age, would be expected to show a very young age or even no age for isotopes whose half-lives are very large. Some studies have completed such tests.
RATE -Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth
From 1997 to 2005, an 8 year-long project on radioisotopes was completed to study and learn about radioactivity and dating methods using radioisotopes. In fact, the project completed the largest study on radiohalos at that time. (I won’t go into that in this post).
The RATE team tested several rocks using several different dating methods. The rocks were from three different lava flows from Mt. Nugaruhoe with known dates of formation from 1949, 1954, and 1975. Here is their data:
(K-Ar) Potassium-Argon Dating: <.27 Ma (Million Years) to 3.5 Ma.
(Rb-Sr) Rubidium-Strontium Dating: 133 Ma (+/- 87 Ma)
(Sm-Nd) Samarium-Neodymium dating: 197 Ma (+/- 160 Ma)
(Pb-Pb) Lead-Lead Dating: 3,908 Ma (+/- 390 Ma)
These rocks, all known to be younger than 100 years of age, all dated in at least hundreds of thousands of years old to even hundred of millions. Obviously, this isn’t correct. Even more so, the different methods all came up with differing dates. They didn’t match up or even come close each other. So what does this mean for the accuracy of these dating methods? If old ages can be determined for rocks of known young age, how can an old age be assumed for other rocks and minerals?
Some have responded by saying that the dating methods used by the RATE team were the wrong radioisotopes to use due to the lack of time since the rocks have cooled. Not enough time would have passed for the isotopes to decay and result in detectable amounts of the parent/daughter ratios; The half-lives are simply too large for the young sample.
This argument makes sense, however, it does not matter. Extensive amounts of radioactivity were measured to have occurred, despite the young age. Old ages were determined for witnessed, young rocks. How can you be sure old rocks are actually old then? Some of the ages determined could place the Mt. Nagaruhoe flows during the reign of the dinosaurs, yet, obviously no dinosaurs walked the earth fifty or sixty years ago. I could merely state that supposed “old rocks” are just young and are dated old due to faulty and discordant dating methods.
Let’s go back to the topic of the interpretation of the geology. A relative age of millions of years was based on the assumptions of long ages discussed earlier. However, the rock could actually be young and merely without a witness or historical record of its forming. This information would never be known since both the assumption and dating method show it to be millions of years old.
Let me give an example to illustrate my point. Let’s say that a volcano on an island had several eruptions and lava flows approximately 1000 years ago. There were no witnesses for this flow. Fast forward to modern-day and geologists want to know how old the lava flows are. The flows have had plenty of time to be weathered and eroded and been deposited on top of. The geologists interpret the volcano erupting 85 million years ago. They find fossils in rock strata under the flows that also assert this conclusion. (Again based on long ages). Next, they use radioisotope methods to date the flows. Maybe a date of 90 Mya (+/- 8 Mya). This seems to fit their assumptions and is therefore accepted as the absolute age. The true young age of the rock, about 1000, will go unknown.
Surtsey, an Old Soul
There is also a real world example for the analogy I used. The island of Surtsey, off the coast of Iceland, began to form from a volcanic eruption in 1963. Within months, the island had formed to an impressive size. When researchers set foot on Surtsey, they found that insects and flowers had already taken up residence. A few years later, birds showed up. A cycle of new vegetation, more insects, and thus an attraction of more birds occurred. A full ecosystem developed in a decade or two. More than that, the geological features that formed surprised geologists. Gullies, canyons, scarps, nearly rounded basaltic boulders, etc. all formed within the early years that Surtsey first formed. A general amazement has been seen in biologists and geologists alike since evolutionary history considers islands such as Surtsey to take millions of years to form.
I wonder what the absolute age would be if Surtsey was radiometrically dated. If several methods were used, based on geologic interpretation and visual evidence (The fact that it looks old: rounded boulders, gullies, small canyons, vast ecosystem), not the known age of less than a century, I am sure radiometric dating would determine an old age.
Dating Recent Rocks – Circular Reasoning
Recently, a study using the radioisotope method Ar-40 to Ar-39 dated the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and it’s ash flows. The dates of the flows matched the historical and witnessed account for the eruption. This was very interesting to me that a radioisotope method was used accurately to date young rocks. Upon reviewing the article and researching the dating method, however, I wanted to point something out. The Ar 40/39 method uses a step-wise heating method to release argon gas from minerals. The gas is then measured. The age derived from the total amount of gas was determined to be “3300 +/- 500” years. This was determined to be in error due to “extraneous” gas since the measured age did not match up with the correct historical known age. After more steps were taken to minimize the “error” the actual age was determined to be “1927 +/- .” Since this matched the known age, it was accepted as accurate.
This instance is no different from rocks dated at millions of years old. For the Mt. Vesuvius study, instead of the starting assumption of millions of years, the assumption was just under 2000 years due to historical and archaeological evidences (witness accounts, Pompeii, human bodies). The study deemed all dates incorrect that did not match this assumption. Once an age matched this assumption, it was declared correct and the dating method accurate. Would the total gas age of 3300 years have been accepted if there were not witness accounts to deem it incorrect? Or, would another method, which has been shown to give old ages to young rocks, possibly have been used?
So, we begin with an assumption, millions or thousands of years, and follow-up with an interpretation based on that assumption. Dating methods are then used and only accepted when they meet that interpretation. Other data is labeled as “extraneous” or an “error” and explained away. This is circular reasoning. Not accuracy. When an example such as Surtsey arises (literally rose out of the ocean), we are dumbfounded by how old it looks. Is it possible that our infallible dating methods are in fact fallible?
(Side Note: I understand that there can be times where extraneous amounts of gases or radioactive material are within the rock due to outside sources or circumstances. However, I don’t think that this explanation should be used every single time a date does not match the desired age. I doubt there is any evidence of this many times when the explanation of extraneous parent or daughter material is used. Quite often, it us just used to retrieve desired data.)
With the evidence of radioisotope methods giving very old ages to already known young rocks, the validity of currently held beliefs of millions of years based on such dating methods seems questionable, especially when the so-called “constant rates” can and do change, based on many factors. How can we hold any certainty that rocks radiometrically dated to vast ages of millions and up to billions of years old are truly accurate, when rocks of known young age have also been dated to similar ages? Only determined ages that match the original assumptions are kept and considered accurate. All others are explained away due to complications or “excess” due to many different possible problems. Accuracy, or is it just circular reasoning to fit a presupposition?
Aside from discordance and inaccuracies in radiometric dating, there is also “objective” evidence in landforms where it is obvious long ages is false and interpretation falls flat. This will be discussed in Part 2.