Radiometric-something and its reliability.

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Maxos Goober's picture
Radiometric-something and its reliability.

Hello folks.

I recently had a conversation with a close friend and, being who I am, I lead our conversation to God, atheism, that stuff. I told her I was currently studying about the origins issue, whether or not we evolved, were supernaturally created, or anything in-between.

There is one thing she mentioned to me that stuck in my memory, namely, that in her lifetime, FOUR TIMES did the scientific community readjusted their age-measuring methods and FOUR TIMES did they change the numbers about the age of the earth.

Is this true? If so, what if the billions-of-years theory of the origins of the earth is false?

I wanted to bring up this issue because I don't quite friggin' know what to believe anymore. Even Christians are divided with this issue and it really really frustrates me.

Your thoughts are appreciated. Thanks...

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Cognostic's picture
Maxos Goober

Maxos Goober
FIRST: The whole evolution thing has nothing at all to do with the God thing. Many Christians have no problem at all with the idea of evolution.

Evolution is a red herring fallacy. Even if you proved evolution to be 100% true, it says nothing at all about the origin of life. Even if it was 100% false, it says nothing at all about the existence of God or gods.

Evolution is a fact. Observable, documented and validated with all known data. It is currently the best model we have for the diversity of species on the planet.

"There is one thing she mentioned to me that stuck in my memory, namely, that in her lifetime, FOUR TIMES did the scientific community readjusted their age-measuring methods and FOUR TIMES did they change the numbers about the age of the earth."

Do you not understand how science works? Science builds models. Models are tested. When the models are challenged with new and better facts, the models change. Science, unlike religion, does not make blind inane assertions without FACTS, EVIDENCE, OR SUPPORT FOR THE CLAIMS BEING MADE.

If billions of years of the origins of earth were false, it would mean NOTHING AT ALL. You still have no evidence supporting a God. You do not get to explain the unknown (Not knowing how the universe got here.) with a greater unknown. That is just STUPID!

God exists when there is evidence commensurate to his, her, its, existence and not before. One million inane assertions do not add up to Evidence. The default position is to not believe an assertion until such time as there is a good reason to believe in the assertion.

boomer47's picture
@Maxos Goober

@Maxos Goober

Why one are you asking us about the age of the earth? Perhaps let your fingers do some walking and look up expert opinion. I think you really need the opinion of some geologists.

Below is my opinion as a lay person. I am not speaking 'as an atheist'. In that position I can only speak on one topic: The existence of god(s). I do not believe due to a lack of proof.

Are you trying to start a debate about evolution by the back door?

Questioning the age of the earth is a straw man.

As far as I'm aware the apparent difference** is irrelevant to evolution or to the existence of god(s)

There is no debate about evolution any more than there is about the theory of gravity or that the earth is a sphere.

There is no significant difference of opinion in Christendom as far as I'm aware. Some Christians, noticeably the idiot literalists reject evolution. Such people have seldom if ever actually read Darwin. They are also anti intellectual, anti reason and anti science. Further, they suffer from Olympic standard cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. Nobody capable of abstract thought takes those idiots seriously.

Both you and your friends seem ignorant of the nature and role of science. The discipline of science is about an approach to our reality. Scientists do not deal in absolutes nor statements of truth. Nor does science claim to have an answer very many questions at all. Nor is the existence of god a question with which science concerns itself. Because such questions are unfalsifiable, and a waste if time for scientists


I'm unaware of any schism or significant differences of opinion among scientists about the age of the earth. You've claimed there is..Please provide your evidence for that claim. I do understand I could be mistaken. I often am.

Tin-Man's picture
(Before reading any other

(Before reading any other responses...)

Oh, look, everybody! Biggus Dickus has returned! Hooray... *waving colorful pennant*.... Hmmmm.... Let's see what he has for us today...

Ah... Carbon dating and scientists actually changing their views whenever new evidence appears that gives them a clearer and more accurate understanding of a particular subject. (Damn those indecisive scientists!... *shaking fist in anger*....) Geeeee..... Whatsoever shall we do about this disturbing crisis???.... *pacing room while contemplating*..... AHA!.... *lightbulb flickering above head*.... I've GOT it! We the average people of the world could start DEMANDING scientists of all disciplines across the globe start treating their scientific studies like religion! YES! A super-fantastic idea! To be more specific, once the particular research produces some sort of result and the scientist puts forth his/her theory, then THAT IS IT! No further research on the subject allowed ever again. That theory must be written in stone and NEVER EVER be challenged again for all of history. Yes, sir! PERFECT! That will certainly teach those nerdy wishy-washy indecisive scientists to get their shit together and stop changing their minds every time some new type of evidence or development comes along. PROBLEM SOLVED!.... (Now, where's my Nobel Prize?)

Mutorc S'yriah's picture
@ Maxos Goober

@ Maxos Goober

Radiometric-something and its reliability. . . .

Hello folks.

There is one thing she mentioned to me that stuck in my memory, namely, that in her lifetime, FOUR TIMES did the scientific community readjusted their age-measuring methods and FOUR TIMES did they change the numbers about the age of the earth.

Is this true? If so, what if the billions-of-years theory of the origins of the earth is false?

Your thoughts are appreciated. Thanks...

And what if the scientific calculation of the earth's age is getting more and more accurate? You'd expect that, if new and improved methods are used to do the calculation. And if so, the age which is determined ought to be homing in on the actual real age of the earth. And almost certainly it would not be in error by the margin it would be if YEC were true. I mean it's about 14.5 billion years old, but YEC claims it to be about 10,000 years old.

And how do YECers calculate that age? Why, they use a genealogy in an old book, counting up the ages of charters in the book, some of which characters were supposed to have lived for 900 years or so. Now that sure seems like bunkum, and highly likely to be an extremely poor way to get the earth's age. It also occurs to me, what do these YECers think existed before the earth? After all science has an age for the universe of about 13.8 billion years, so earth was formed some 9.3 billion years after the universe began as a recognisable entity.

I'd say YEC has pretty much zero chance of being correct.



Whitefire13's picture


I’ve always understood “accuracy” concerns and limitations (look it up)...

“An age of 4.55 ± 0.07 billion years, very close to today's accepted age, was determined by Clair Cameron Patterson using uranium-lead isotope dating (specifically lead-lead dating) on several meteorites including the Canyon Diablo meteorite and published in 1956.“

And apparently “ Potassium-Argon Dating
Potassium-Argon (K-Ar) dating is the most widely applied technique of radiometric dating. Potassium is a component in many common minerals and can be used to determine the ages of igneous and metamorphic rocks.”

Re: “ FOUR TIMES did the scientific community readjusted their age-measuring methods and FOUR TIMES did they change the numbers about the age of the earth.”

Depends on the “method” I guess used - should get more specific info. Does it mean “just the radio-metric” part (like the link provided) or methods used (ie previous geological before Radiometric?). And was there a “big” or “little” difference in the ages?

algebe's picture


Probably the first person to scientifically calculate the age of the Earth was Lord Kelvin in 1862. Based on the time it would take for a molten ball of rock and metal to form a crust, he estimated the age to be around 20 million years. Kelvin didn't know about radioactive decay, so his estimate was a tiny fraction of the real figure, yet even that is vastly longer than the ludicrous figure dreamed up by creationists.

This is an example of how science corrects itself. Somebody puts forward a hypothesis based on the best knowledge available at the time. Others discover new knowledge, and the hypothesis is corrected or discarded. Always we come closer and closer to the truth. Creationists openly state that they will reject scientific knowledge that contradicts the Bible. It must be really uncomfortable to live with their heads up their specious fundaments.

Nyarlathotep's picture
If we take the value

If we take the value Whitefire13 cited from Wikipedia from 1950's: 4.55 ± 0.07 billion years.

And compare it to current value listed on Wikipedia: 4.54 ± 0.05 billion years.

Informally speaking: those are very close.

Formally speaking: those values are completely consistent with each other. If you notice, they each contain a margin of error. So if you were to shade a region on the number line corresponding to the values from the 1950s, then try to do the same for the current values: you will find the current values fit inside the shaded region. To be consistent they would only need to overlap at one point. Instead they overlap at every single point contained within the modern value.

That is like ~60 years, not sure how old the author of the statement in the OP is; but it seems like they are being incredibly dishonest in their description of the situation.

My question to the OP: the next time a whopper of this size comes out of that person's mouth, are you going to take them seriously?

Cognostic's picture
@Maxos: Imagine a science

@Maxos: Imagine a science that worked like religion. We would still be rubbing sticks together to create fire. Wheels would be made of wood. The journey to the next town would take all day by cart and donkey. People would be dying from infected teeth and finger cuts. We would all be blessed by the Virgin Mary, Jesus would be our savior, the stink and suffering of the world would not matter and there would be no reason for scientific advancements because, what the fuck, this world does not matter, it's just a stopping ground before our reward in heaven. ANYONE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE SCIENCE AROUND THEM WHILE BASHING IT AND GLORIFYING NONSENSE IS A FUCKING DELUSIONAL HYPOCRITE.

Tin-Man's picture


...*chuckle*... Yeah, funny, ain't it? The very idiots who come here bashing science and criticizing the scientific method somehow fail to realize they are having to use highly advanced scientific tools and technology to post their ignorant nonsense. In other words, if it weren't for the sciences they so blithely dismiss, they would never have been able to be here to voice their criticism in the first place. The irony level on that is laughably immeasurable.... *shaking head in amusement*...

Sheldon's picture
"I was currently studying

"I was currently studying about the origins issue, whether or not we evolved, were supernaturally created, or anything in-between."

What origins issue? Evolution explains and evidences the origins of species, not the origins of life, and it is a globally accepted objective scientific fact, that is supported by all the evidence. There is no objective evidence for anything supernatural, or to support any creation myth, none.

"There is one thing she mentioned to me that stuck in my memory, namely, that in her lifetime, FOUR TIMES did the scientific community readjusted their age-measuring methods and FOUR TIMES did they change the numbers about the age of the earth."

"Before so-called radiometric dating, Earth's age was anybody's guess. Our planet was pegged at a youthful few thousand years old by Bible readers (by counting all the "begats" since Adam) as late as the end of the 19th century, with physicist Lord Kelvin providing another nascent estimate of 100 million years. Kelvin defended this calculation throughout his life, even disputing Darwin's explanations of evolution as impossible in that time period.

In 1898, Marie Curie discovered the phenomenon of radioactivity, in which unstable atoms lose energy, or decay, by emitting radiation in the form of particles or electromagnetic waves. By 1904 physicist Ernest Rutherford showed how this decay process could act as a clock for dating old rocks.

Meanwhile, Arthur Holmes (1890-1964) was finishing up a geology degree at the Imperial College of Science in London where he developed the technique of dating rocks using the uranium-lead method. By applying the technique to his oldest rock, Holmes proposed that the Earth was at least 1.6 billion years old.

In a report of his findings published in 1913 in the journal Nature, Holmes expressed the less-than-ecstatic reception his findings received: "The geologist who ten years ago was embarrassed by the shortness of time allowed to him for the evolution of the Earth’s crust , is still more embarrassed with the superabundance with which he is now confronted."

The Earth's age continued to be hotly debated for decades afterward.

Since then, several revisions have been made. In the 1920s, Earth's age crept up toward 3 billion years, making it for a time even older than the universe, which was then estimated to be about 1.8 billion years old.

The best estimate for Earth's age is based on radiometric dating of fragments from the Canyon Diablo iron meteorite. From the fragments, scientists calculated the relative abundances of elements that formed as radioactive uranium decayed over billions of years.

"It was not until the 1950s that the age of the universe was finally revised and put safely beyond the age of the Earth, which had at last reached its true age of 4.56 billion years," Lewis said. "Physicists suddenly gained a new respect for geologists."

For the record, the universe is now thought to have debuted, at least in its latest incarnation, about 13.7 billion ago."

It took about ten seconds to Google that?

" what if the billions-of-years theory of the origins of the earth is false?"

There is no such scientific theory.

"I wanted to bring up this issue because I don't quite friggin' know what to believe anymore. Even Christians are divided with this issue and it really really frustrates me."

Young earth creationism is unevidenced superstition, and is contradicted by objective facts like evolution and the age of the universe. In the astronomically unlikely even both evolution and the age of the earth were completely wrong, creationism would remain an unevidenced superstition.

It is not a choice between science and religion.

That's a false dichotomy fallacy. Science makes its assertions based on the best objective evidence at the time, and we learn more all the time. Religion asserts their beliefs are immutable truths from an infallible deity, so they had one shot and got it hopelessly wrong.

Grinseed's picture
Boom! 1,000 agrees to Sheldon

Boom! 1,000 agrees to Sheldon.

David Killens's picture
@ Maxos Goober

@ Maxos Goober

I am going to define and explain "science", to clarify things.

"Science" is a process that attempts to offer the best explanation based on available data".

"Science" is a process, not a thing, or cabal or conspiracy, it is just a process. This process has proven effective, so that is why it is applied and still used.

"Science" does NOT make proclamations, it only attempts to offer the best explanation.

In 240 BC Eratosthenes of Cyrene measured the Earth's diameter, and arrived at a calculated circumference between about 24,000 miles and about 29,000 miles. With more modern tools and methods, that number has been narrowed down to about 24,900 miles around the equator.

I can state thousands of examples where estimates and ratios have been adjusted as new information and better measurements come in. That is how science works. That is how the real world works where things are observed and explained, not invented.

Calilasseia's picture
Since one of the perennial

Since one of the perennial canards that defenders of valid science have to endure on these forums, a canard that is practically a masturbatory obsession with creationists, is the "radionuclide dating is based upon assumptions" canard, I thought it apposite to produce this post, for the specific purpose of destroying this canard once and for all. This post was, needless to say, inspired by another individual's post on the rigour of the Earth sciences, and I owe him a debt for inspiring me to get off my backside and post this.

Given the nature of the material being covered, this will be a long post. Consequently, it will probably be spread over more than one post. However, I promise that persevering with it will be worth the effort.

SPECIAL NOTE: since the original post elsewhere was posted on a forum that supported superscript and subscript tags, which this forum doesn't, I've had to abridge the post accordingly. In particular, ALL logarithms are to the base e unless otherwise stated, and the exponential function is represented as exp(x). Likewise, element isotopes are represented this: "U-238".

Radionuclide Dating Is Rigorous

In order to address this topic at the proper level of detail, something that creationists prefer to avoid at all costs, I shall first begin with a discourse on the underlying physics of radionuclide decay, the precise mathematical law that this process obeys, and how that law is derived, both empirically and theoretically. Note that the decay law was first derived empirically, courtesy of a large body of work by scientists such as Henri Becquerel, Marie Curie, Ernest Rutherford and others. Indeed, the SI unit of activity was named the Becquerel in recognition of that scientist's contribution to the early days of the study of radionuclide decay, and 1 Bq equals one transformation (decay) per second within a sample of radionuclide. However, the underlying physics had to wait until the advent of detailed and rigorous quantum theories before it could be elucidated, and is based upon the fact that the nuclei of radionuclides are in an excited state with respect to the sum total of the quantum energy states of the constituent particles (which, being fermions, obey Fermi-Dirac statistics, and consequently, Pauli's exclusion principle applies).

In order for the system to move to a lower energy state, and settle upon a stable set of quantum numbers, various transformations need to take place, and these transformations result in the nucleus undergoing specific and well-defined structural changes, involving the emission of one or more particles. As well as the most familiar modes of decay, namely &#945 and &#946- decay, other decay modes exist, and a full treatment of the various decay modes possible, along with the underlying quantum physics, is beyond the scope of this exposition, as it requires a detailed understanding of the behaviour of the appropriate quantum operators, and as a corollary, a detailed understanding of the behaviour of Hilbert spaces, a level of knowledge that is, sadly, not widespread. With this limitation in mind, however, it is still possible to deduce a number of salient facts about radionuclide decay, which I shall now present.

Empirical Determination Of The Decay Law

Initially, the determination of the decay law was performed empirically, by observing the decay of various radionuclides in the laboratory, taking measurements of the number of decay events, and plotting these graphically, with time along the x-axis, and counts along the y-axis. Upon performing this task, the data for many radionuclides is seen to lie upon a curve, and determination of the nature of that curve requires a little mathematical understanding.

To determine the nature of a curve, various transformations can be performed upon the data. The result of each of these transformations is as follows:

[1] Plot log(y) against x - if the result is a straight line, then the relationship is of the form:

log(y) = kx + C (where C is some constant, in particular, the y-intercept of the straight line)

which can be rewritten:

log(y) - log(C(0)) = kx (where C = log(C(0))

which rearranges to:

y = C(0 )exp(kx)

where C(0) is derived from the y-intercept of the straight line produced by the transformed plotting, and k is the gradient of the transformed line.

[2] Plot y against log(x) - if the result is a straight line, then the relationship is of the form:

y = k (x) + C, where k is the gradient of the line, and C is the y-intercept of the straight line.

[3] Plot log(y) against log(x) - if the result is a straight line, then the relationship is of the form:

log(y) = k log(x) + C (where C is the y-intercept of the straight line thus produced)

This rearranges to:

log(y) - log(C(0)) = k log(x) (where C = log(C(0))

Which in turn rearranges to:

log](y/C(0) = log(x^k)

Which finally gives us the relationship:

y = C(0)x^k, where k is the gradient of the straight line produced by the transformed data, and C(0) is derived from the y-intercept of the straight line produced by the transformed data.

The above procedures allow us to determine the nature of the mathematical relationships governing large bodies of real world data, when those bodies of real world data yield curves as raw plots of y against x. By applying the relevant transformations to radonuclide decay data, it was found that transformation [1] transformed the data into a straight line plot (within the limits of experimental error, of course), and consequently, this informed the scientists examining the data that the decay law was of the form:

N = C(0) exp(kt[)

where C(0) and k were constants to be determined from the plot, and which were regarded as being dependent upon the particular radionuclide in question.

Now, if we are start with a known amount of radionuclide, and observe it decaying, then each decay event we detect with a Geiger counter represents one nucleus undergoing the requisite decay transformation. Since the process is random, over a long period of time, decaying nuclei will emit α or β particles in all directions with equal frequency, so we don't need to surround the material with Geiger counters in order to obtain measurements allowing a good first approximation to the decay rate. Obviously if we're engaged in precise work, we do set up our experiments to do this, especially with long-lived nuclei, because the decay events for long-lived nuclei are infrequent, and we need to be able to capture as many of them as possible in order to determine the decay rate with precision.

Let's assume that we're dealing with a relatively short-lived radionuclide which produces a steady stream of decay events at a reasonably fast rate, in which case we can simply point a single Geiger counter at it, and work out what proportion of these events we are actually capturing, because that proportion will be the ratio of the solid angle subtended by your Geiger counter, divided by the solid angle of an entire sphere (this latter value being 4π). When we have computed this ratio (let's call it R), which will necessarily be a number less than 1 unless we have surrounded your sample with a spherical shell of Geiger counters, we then start collecting count data, say once per second, and plotting that data. In a modern setup we'd use a computer to collect this mass of data (a facility that wasn't available to the likes of Henri Becquerel, Röntgen and the Curies when they were engaged in their work), in order to have as large a body of data as possible to work with. Before working with the raw data, we transform it by taking each of the data points and dividing it by R to obtain the true count.

Once the data has been collected, transformed and plotted, the end result should be a nice curve. At this point, we're interested in knowing what sort of curve we have, and there are two ways we can determine this. One way is to take the transformed data set, comprising count values c(1), c(2), c(3), ... , c(n), where n is the number of data points collected, compute the following values:

r(1) = c(2) - c(1)
r(2) = c(3) - c(2)
r(3) = c(4) - c(3)
r(n-1) = c(n) - c(n-1)

and then plot a graph with r(k) on the vertical axis, and c(k) on the horizontal axis. This should give a reasonable approximation to a straight line, and the slope of that straight line, obtained via regression analysis, will give the first approximation to the decay constant k. At this point, we know we are dealing with a relationship of the form dN/dt = -kN, and you can then apply the integral calculus to that equation (see below). Technically, what we are doing here is approximating the derivative by computing first differences.

However, as a double check, we can also perform a logarithmic regression on the data, plotting log(c(k)) against time, which should also reveal a straight line, and again, the slope of that line will give you the value of k, which should be in good agreement with the value obtained earlier using the more laborious plot of r(k) against c(k). In other words, applying the transformation [1] above to the data set, and extracting an exponential relationship from the data. Since we now know that the data is of the form:

log(N) = -kt

we can then derive the exponential form and check that it tallies with the integral calculus result.

Once we have that function coupling the decay rate to time, we can then work backwards, and feed in the values of the known starting mass and the experimentally obtained decay constant k, and see if the function obtained reproduces the transformed data points. If the result agrees with observation to a very good fit, we're home and dry.

This is, essentially, how the process was done when the decay law was first derived - lots of data points were collected from observation of real radionuclide decay, and the above processes applied to that data, to derive the exponential decay law. When this was done for multiple radionuclides, it was found that they all obeyed the same basic law, namely:

N = N(0) exp(-kt)

where N(0) is your initial amount of radionuclide, N is the amount remaining after time t, and k is the decay constant for the specific radionuclide.

Now, having determined this decay law empirically, it's time to fire up some calculus, and develop a theoretical derivation of the decay law. Which I shall now proceed to do.

Theoretical Derivation Of The Decay Law And Comparison With The Above Empirical Result

Upon noting, using the calculation of first differences in the empirical determination above, that the rate of change of material with time, plotted against the material remaining, is constant, this immediately leads us to conclude that the decay law is governed by a differential equation. An appropriate differential equation is therefore:

dN/dt = -kN

which states that the amount of material undergoing decay is a linear function of the amount of material present (and furthermore, the minus sign indicates that the process results in a reduction of material remaining). Rearranging this differential equation, we have:

dN/N = -k dt

Integrating this, we have:

∫ dN/N = - ∫ k dt

Our limits of integration are, for the left hand integral, the initial amount at t=0, which we call N(0), and the amount remaining after time t, which we call N(t). Our limits of integration for the right hand integral are t=0 and t=t(p), the present time.

Thus, we end up with:

log(N) -log(N(0)) = -kt(p)

By an elementary theorem of logarithms, this becomes:

log(N/N(0)) = -kt(p)

Therefore, exponentiating both sides, we have:

N/N(0) = exp(-kt)

or, the final form:

N = N(0) exp(-kt)

The half-life of a radionuclide is defined as the amount of time required for half the initial amount of material to decay, and is called T(½). Therefore, feeding this into the equation for the decay law,

½N(0) = N(0) exp(-kt)

Cancelling N(0) on both sides, we have:

½ = exp(-kt)

log(½) = -kt

By an elementary theorem of logarithms, we have:

log(2) = kt

Therefore T(½) = log(2)/k

Alternatively, if the half-life is known, but the decay constant k is unknown, then k can be computed by rearranging the above to give:

k = log(2)/T(½)

Which allows us to move seamlessly from one system of constants (half-lives) to another (decay constants) and back again.

If the initial amount of substance N(0) is known (e.g., we have a fresh sample of radionuclide prepared from a nuclear reactor), and we observe the decay over a time period t, then measure the amount of substance remaining, we can determine the decay constant empirically as follows:

N = N(0) exp(-kt)

N/N(0) = exp(-kt)

log(N/N)0)) = -kt


(1/t) log(N(0)/N) = k

On the left hand side, the initial amount N(0), the remaining amount N and the elapsed time t are all known, therefore k can be computed using the empirically observed data.

Once again, this agrees with the empirical data from which the law was derived in the earlier exposition above, and consequently, we can be confident that we have alighted upon a correct result.

Once we have the decay law in place, it simply remains for appropriate values of k to be determined, which will be unique to each radionuclide. This work has been performed by scientists, and as a result of decades of intense labour in this vein in physics laboratories around the world, vast bodies of radionuclide data are now available.

Kaye & Laby's Tables of Physical & Chemical Constants, devised and maintained by the National Physical Laboratory in the UK, contains among the voluminous sets of data produced by the precise laboratory work of various scientists a complete table of the nuclides, which due to its huge size, is split into sections to make it more manageable, in which data such as half-life, major emissions, emission energies and other useful data are included. The sections are:

[1] Hydrogen to Flourine (H-1 to F-24)

[2] Neon to Potassium (Ne-17 to K-54)

[3] Calcium to Copper (Ca-35 to Cu-75)

[4] Zinc to Yttrium (Zn-57 to Y-101)

[5] Zirconium to Indium (Zr-81 to In-133)

[6] Tin to Praesodymium] (Sn-103 to Pr-154)

[7] Neodymium to Thulium (Nd-129 to Tm-177)

[8] Ytterbium to gold (Yb[sup]151[/sup] to Au[sup]204[/sup])

[9] Mercury to Actinium (Hg-175 to Ac-233)

[10] Thorium to Einsteinium (Th-212 to Es-256)

[11] Fermium to Oganesson (names for elements 112 onwards not officially recognised by IUPAC at the time of publication) (Fm-242 to Og-294)

Now, the above exhaustively compiled data gives rise to yet more data, in the form of the tables covering the major decay series. These arise from the observation of which radionuclides decay into which other radionuclides (or in the case of certain radionuclides, which stable elements are formed after decay), and all of these decay events follow specific rules, according to whether α decay, &#946- decay, or one of the other possible decay modes for certain interesting radionuclides, takes place. Again, data is supplied in the above tables with respect to all of this.

Now, we come to the question of how this data is pressed into service. Since the above work couples radionuclide decay to time, via a precise mathematical law, we can use this data to provide information on the age of any material that contains radionuclides. This can be performed by performing precise quantitative measurements of parent radionuclides and daughter products, all of which is well within the remit of inorganic chemists (since the chemistry of the relevant elements has been studied in detail, in some cases for over 200 years) and of course, modern gas chromatograph mass spectrometry can be brought to bear upon the process, yielding results with an accuracy that past chemists reliant upon earlier techniques could only dream of. Consequently, it is now time to cover the business of dating itself.

Radionuclide Dating - The Basics

With the data obtained above, it becomes possible to trace the decay of suitably long-lived elements in geological strata, locate specific isotopes, determine by precise quantitative analysis the amounts present in a given sample, and compare these with calculations for known decay observations in the laboratory, whence the time taken for the observed isotope composition of the sample can be determined.

Given that several isotopes have extremely long half-lives, for example, U-238 has a half-life of 4,500,000,000 years, and Th-232 has a half-life of 14,050,000,000 years, and several of the daughter isotopes also have usefully long half-lives, one can determine the age of a rock sample, where multiple isotopes are present, by relating them to the correct decay series and utilising the observed empirically determined half-lives of laboratory samples to determine the age of a particular rock sample, cross correlating using multiple isotopes where these are present and enable such cross correlation to be performed. Thus, errors can be eliminated in age determinations by the use of multiple decay series and the presence of multiple long-lived isotopes - any errors arising in one series will yield a figure different from that in another series, and the calculations can thus be cross-checked to ensure that they are consilient.

Referring to the data tables above, I have selected a number of isotopes of interest. These are isotopes whose half-lives have been determined to lie within a specific range, and which moreover are not known to be produced in the Earth's crust by any major synthesis processes (except for the various Technetium isotopes, which can arise if Molybdenum isotopes are coincident with Uranium isotopes in certain rocks, but this exception is rare and well documented). The isotopes in question, in increasing atomic mass order, are:

Al-26 : 740,000 years
Cl-36 : 301,000 years
Ca-41 : 103,000 years
Mn-53 : 3,740,000 years
Fe-60 : 1,500,000 years
Kr-81 : 213,000 years
Zr-93 : 1,530,000 years
Nb-92 : 34,700,000 years
Tc-97 : 2,600,000 years
Tc-98 : 4,200,000 years
Tc-99 : 211,000 years
Pd-107 : 6,500,000 years
Sn-126 : 100,000 years
I-129 : 15,700,000 years
Cs-135 : 2,300,000 years
Sm-146 : 103,000,000 years
Gd-150 : 1,790,000 years
Dy-154 : 3,000,000 years
Hf-182: 9,000,000 years
Re-186m : 200,000 years
Pb-205 : 15,200,000 years
Bi-208 : 368,000 years
Bi-210m : 3,040,000 years
Np-236 : 154,000 years
Np-237 : 2,140,000 years
Pu-242 : 373,300 years
Pu-244 : 81,700,000 years
Cm-247 : 15,600,000 years
Cm-248 : 340,000 years

The reason I have chosen these isotopes is very simple. Namely, that they would all be present in measurable quantities in the Earth's crust, and detectable by modern mass spectrometry among other techniques, if the planet was, say, only 6,000 years old, as various enthusiasts for mythology continue to assert. This is because because the half-lives of all these radionuclides are a good deal longer than 6,000 years. So, what do we find when we search for these isotopes in Earth rocks?

NONE of them are present in measurable quantities.

Now, one can safely assume that at the end of 20 half-lives, any measurable amount of a particular radionuclide has effectively vanished - the amount left is (½)^20, or just 0.000095367% of the original mass that was present originally. So even for isotopes of common elements, this fraction represents a vanishingly small amount of material that would test even the world's best mass spectrometer labs to detect in a sample. So, what does the observation of no measurable quantity of the above isotopes mean? It means that at least 20 half-lives of the requisite isotopes must have elapsed for those isotopes to disappear. Taking each isotope in turn, this means that:

[1] Sn-126, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 100,000 years = 2,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 2,000,000 years old for all the Sn-126 to have disappeared.

[2] Ca-41, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 103,000 years = 2,060,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 2,060,000 years old for all the Ca-41 to have disappeared.

[3] Np-236, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 154,000 years = 3,080,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 3,080,000 years old for all the Np-236 to have disappeared.

[4] Re-186m, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 200,000 years = 4,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 4,000,000 years old for all the Re-186m to have disappeared.

[5] Tc-99, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 211,000 years = 4,220,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 4,220,000 years old for all the Tc-99 to have disappeared.

[6] Kr-81, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 213,000 years = 4,260,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 4,260,000 years old for all the Kr-81 to have disappeared.

[7] Cl-36, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 301,000 years = 6,020,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 6,020,000 years old for all the Cl-36 to have disappeared.

[8] Cm-248, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 340,000 years = 6,800,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 6,800,000 years old for all the Cm-248 to have disappeared.

[9] Bi-208, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 368,000 years = 7,360,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 7,360,000 years old for all the Bi-208 to have disappeared.

[10] Pu-242, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 373,000 years = 7,460,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 7,460,000 years old for all the Pu-242 to have disappeared.

[11] Al-26, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 740,000 years = 14,800,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 14,800,000 years old for all the Al-26 to have disappeared.

[12] Fe-60, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 1,500,000 years = 30,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 30,000,000 years old for all the Fe-60 to have disappeared.

[13] Zr-93, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 1,530,000 years = 30,600,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 30,600,000 years old for all the Zr-93 to have disappeared.

[14] Gd-150, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 1,790,000 years = 35,800,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 35,800,000 years old for all the Gd-150 to have disappeared.

[15] Np-237, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 2,140,000 years = 42,400,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 42,400,000 years old for all the Np-237 to have disappeared.

[16] Cs-135, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 2,300,000 years = 46,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 46,000,000 years old for all the Cs-135 to have disappeared.

[17] Tc-97, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 2,600,000 years = 52,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 52,000,000 years old for all the Tc-97 to have disappeared.

[18] Dy-154, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 3,000,000 years = 60,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 60,000,000 years old for all the Dy-154 to have disappeared.

[19] Bi-210m, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 3,040,000 years = 60,800,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 60,800,000 years old for all the Bi-210m to have disappeared.

[20] Mn-53, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 3,740,000 years = 74,800,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 74,800,000 years old for all the Mn-53 to have disappeared.

[21] Tc-98, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 4,200,000 years = 84,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 84,000,000 years old for all the Tc-98 to have disappeared.

[22] Pd-107, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 6,500,000 years = 130,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 130,000,000 years old for all the Pd-107 to have disappeared.

[23] Hf-182, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 9,000,000 years = 180,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 180,000,000 years old for all the Hf-182 to have disappeared.

[24] Pb-205, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 15,200,000 years = 304,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 304,000,000 years old for all the Pb-205 to have disappeared.

[25] Cm-247, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 15,600,000 years = 312,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 312,000,000 years old for all the Cm-247 to have disappeared.

[26] I-129, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 15,700,000 years = 314,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 314,000,000 years old for all the I-129 to have disappeared.

[27] Nb-92, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 34,700,000 years = 694,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 694,000,000 years old for all the Nb-92 to have disappeared.

[28] Pu-244, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 81,700,000 years = 1,634,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 1,634,000,000 years old for all the Pu-244 to have disappeared.

[29] Sm-146, being absent, must have disappeared over a period of 20 half lives = 20 × 103,000,000 years = 2,060,000,000 years. Therefore the Earth must be at least 2,060,000,000 years old for all the Sm-146 to have disappeared.

This is an inescapable conclusion from observational reality, given that these isotopes are not found in measurable quantities in the Earth and would be found in measurable quantities if the Earth was only 6,000 years old, indeed, hardly any of the Sm-146 would have disappeared in just 6,000 years, and it would form a significant measurable percentage of the naturally occurring Samarium that is present in crustal rocks. The fact that NO Sm[sup]146[/sup] is found places a minimum limit on the age of the earth of 2,060,000,000 years - over two billion years - and of course, dating using other isotopes with longer half lives that can be measured precisely has established that the age of the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years.

Now since the decay of these isotopes obeys a precise mathematical law as derived above, and this law has been established through decades of observation of material of known starting composition originating from nuclear reactors specifically for the purpose of determining precise half-lives, which is one of the tasks that the UK National Physical Laboratory (whose data I cited above) performs on a continuous basis in order to maintain scientific databases, the provenance of all of this is beyond question. The tables I have linked to above are the result of something like half a century of continuous work establishing half-lives for hundreds upon hundreds of radionuclides, and not ONE of them has EVER been observed to violate that precise mathematical law which I opened this post with under the kind of conditions in which those materials would exist on Earth if they were present. The majority of those isotopes are nowadays ONLY obtained by synthesis within nuclear reactors, and observation of known samples of these materials confirms again and again that not only does the precise mathematical law governing radionuclide decay apply universally to all of these isotopes, but that the half-lives obtained are valid as a consequence.

The laws of nuclear physics would have to be rewritten wholesale for any other scenario to be even remotely valid, and that rewriting of the laws of nuclear physics would impact upon the very existence of stable isotopes including stable isotopes of the elements that make up each and every one of us, none of which would exist if the various wacky scenarios vomited forth on creationist websites to try and escape this were ever a reality.

Now, having covered this, it's time to deal with a topic of importance, and one that constitutes another of those epistemological bones creationists love to chew upon, without realising that the questions surrounding this topic have already been answered. That question is ...

Transport - And How Scientists Deal With It

Even in the very early days of the development of radionuclide dating techniques, scientists were aware that chemical elements in rock samples might be subject to various chemical processes resulting in the transport of material in or out of a given rock sample. After all, inorganic chemists had been performing detailed investigations of the aqueous chemistry of geologically significant elements for the best part of a century before the development of radionuclide dating. Scientists interested in utilising radionuclides for dating purposes, therefore had a vast body of knowledge from inorganic chemistry to draw upon, in order to determine whether or not transport was likely to take place in a given rock stratum, and given the known behaviour of the relevant elements and their various salts in aqueous conditions, they were able to devise means of testing whether transport was likely to be a significant factor in a given rock stratum of interest. Which they promptly set about doing. For example, a geologist can reasonably conclude that virtually zero transport has taken place in a sample where the radionuclides are found as sulphide salts, because the only sulphides that are soluble in water are those of the alkali metals - ALL other sulphides are insoluble, with solubility constants that are extremely low. Lead (II) sulphide, for example (known geologically as the mineral galena), has a K(sp) of 3.4 × 10^-28, mercury (II) sulphide (cinnabar) has a K(sp) of around 4 × 10^-53, and silver sulphide (acanthite or argentite) has a K(sp) of 1.6 × 10^-49.

Indeed, thanks to the large body of knowledge bestowed upon geologist by inorganic chemists, all manner of tests can be performed in order to determine if transport is likely to be a problem before a sample is submitted for dating analysis, so that this can be taken into account and proper corrections applied to the material in question. Indeed, scientists have spent time devising a technique, known as isochron dating, whose purpose is specifically that of checking whether the isotopes used for dating have been subject to transport, and developing appropriate corrections to the dates that would have been obtained without such checking. This technique takes advantage of the fact that many radionuclides produce a stable decay product that is isotopically different from a typical sample of the daughter element arising non-radiogenically, and appropriate comparisons of the amounts of non-radiogenic daughter element with that of the radiogenic daughter element can be used to determine if transport took place.

Let's see how isochron dating works, shall we?

When an igneous stratum is formed (and dating techniques tend to focus upon igneous strata, because the deep mantle of the Earth is the primary source of the radionuclides required), molten material solidifies, and as it does so, the chemical compounds of various elements crystallise out of the melt differentially, resulting in the formation of well-defined mineral species. Moreover, some melts possess a greater chemical affinity for some elements than others, and consequently, there will be further differentiation, based upon those chemical affinities. Zircons, for example, have a chemical affinity for uranium, and incorporate uranium salts into their crystals far more readily than, say, lead salts. Likewise, some other crystalline formations will incorporate other elements preferentially, including elements that are of utility value in dating. A typical element that is of use is rubidium, with the Rb-87 isotope having a half-life of 4.75 × 10^10 years. This decays via β- decay into Sr-87, an isotope of strontium, and this decay product is stable. However, a non-radiogenic isotope of strontium, namely Sr-86, also exists in geological strata. The utility of this will become apparent shortly.

Now, any melt starting off with a quantity of Rb-87 will, after sufficient time has elapsed, start to acquire quantities of Sr-87. This will take time, given the long half-life of Rb-87, and indeed, detectable quantities of Sr-87- amenable to mass spectrometry will only start to appear after 0.001 half-lives have elapsed. In the case of Rb-87, this is 45 million years, so a sample that has an Rb-87] age that is indistinguishable from zero could be as much as 40 million years old, which means that this is no indication of an allegedly "young" Earth. The moment any detectable traces of Sr-87 appear in a sample, however, then we're dealing with a rock that is at least 45 million years old, which flushes blind assertions about the Earth being only 6,000 years old down the toilet to begin with. But, this isn't the point: the point is, that any mineral that acquires quantities of strontium upon formation will acquire a specific ratio of the two isotopes Sr-86 and Sr-87, and that ratio can be used to determine the initial amount of Rb-87- that was acquired during formation as well. Which means that no "assumptions" about initial material present are needed.

Now, since all the minerals that acquire strontium will acquire the same ratio of Sr-86 to Sr-87 at the start, we can use that ratio as the y-axis for a plot. However, different minerals within the sample will acquire different quantities of Rb-87, and we can use the ratio of Rb-87 to Sr-86 to form the x-axis of the plot. If our initial values are:

P = amount of Rb-87 at the time of stratum formation
D(1) = amount of Sr-86 at the time of stratum formation
D(2) = amount of Sr(87) at the time of stratum formation

then we plot an x-y plot consisting of:

x = P/D(1), y = D(2)/D(1)

the axes therefore correspond to:

x = increasing enrichment of Rb(87) in the sample with increasing value
y = increasing enrichment of Sr(87) in the sample with increasing value

Now, the global composition of the melt, from which the stratum eventually forms, will have a given point value on this plot. As the melt cools, and minerals crystallise out, different minerals will migrate along a straight line in this plot, as all the minerals will inherit the same value of y (= D(2)/D(1)), but inherit different values of x (=P/D(1)). The result will be, at zero age, a horizontal line connecting the points for those minerals in the plot.

Now, as the Rb-87 decays in each mineral, it will produce Sr-87. Therefore, over geological time, the data points will move upwards and to the left.

Now, because decay occurs in a proportional manner, courtesy of the decay law derived above, when 20% of the Rb-87 has decayed in one mineral, then 20% of the Rb-87 will have decayed in all the minerals present in the stratum. This means that all the points will move upwards and to the left of the plot. This means that those points corresponding to the minerals with the greatest initial Rb-87 concentration will move the farthest, and the movement will be such that all of the points will remain on a straight line. Indeed, those familiar with Monte Carlo simulation methods can produce a computer simulation that reproduces this exact result. As a consequence, any stratum containing the appropriate minerals will yield, for a given age, a line of points whose slope increases with time, and the slope of that line can be used to determine the age of the sample.

Note that we don't need to know the initial amounts of any of the elements present in the sample in order for this to work. All we need to know is the present-day ratios of those elements. And, from that data, we can reconstruct the original composition of the melt.

Now, here is the fun part. If the sample suffered any transport, then this will become immediately apparent because the points will deviate significantly from a straight line plot. This is because the minerals containing the various elements will undergo transport differentially. For example, if the minerals lost Rb-87 due to various processes of aqueous chemistry, then this would shift all of the points to the left, but because different minerals are involved in the process, each with a different chemistry, and a different response to the aqueous processes that could remove Rb-87 from them, the amount of x-shift will be different for each mineral, and as a consequence, straight line correlation will be destroyed. Immediately scientists see this, they know that something unusual has happened to the sample after formation, and that dates obtained from it are unlikely to be reliable.

Indeed, if the Earth were only 6,000 years old, not only would ALL isochron plots involving minerals with long half-lives be flat, horizontal lines, but random loss or gain of the parent nuclide would not affect those results. If the Earth were only 6,000 years old, any "contamination" that creationists assert would be present that would render radionuclide dating methods invalid, would not even be noticeable on a purported "young Earth". Contamination would only ever be noticeable if the Earth was old. Which means that far from "invalidating" radionuclide dating, detectable contamination in a sample via the isochron method actually reinforces an old age for the Earth.

Worse still, from the creationist standpoint, the known possibilities for systematic alteration of an isochron plot, that results in modification of the data points such that they remain collinear, result in an underestimate of the age of the sample - in other words, the isochron plot records them as being younger than they actually are, not older. Complete homogenisation of the stratum with respect to the content of Sr-87 will reset the isochron 'clock' to zero, and partial homogenisation will result in a line of lower slope than previously, causing the technique to underestimate the true age.

Once such a plot is complete, any strong correlation to a straight line (as yielded by regression analysis, which will give us an indication how much we can trust a date from the plot, and what value of error to apply to the plot), will yield the following values:

[1] the y-intercept of the line is the value of D(2)/D(1) at solidification;

[2] the slope of the line is equal to ΔP/(P - ΔP), where ΔP is the amount of Rb-87 lost to decay, and thus allows us to determine the age of the sample, given the known half-life of Rb-87 (we can back-calculate using the decay law to determine what value of P was initially present to produce the observed result).

There is a body of technical literature on the subject of isochron dating, and, needless to say, it requires a fair amount of work to plough through, but for those who have acquired the relevant scientific and mathematical background, it is well worth exerting this effort, not least in order to prepare oneself for the inevitable quote mining of the scientific papers that will arise in creationist circles.

And now, I'd like to turn attention to this:

Purported "Exceptions" To The Decay Law

One of the more interesting findings of recent years was that rhenium-187, a radionuclide that undergoes decay by electron capture, can have its half-life altered under laboratory conditions. However, the mechanism of alteration offers no hope to anyone entertaining fantasies about a 6,000 year old Earth, for the following reasons:

[1] The mechanism only applies to isotopes that decay via electron capture, and both α decaying and &#946- decaying isotopes are unaffected by this mechanism;

[2] The mechanism only has a small effect upon the half-life of Re-187 unless extreme conditions are applied (and the scientists had to resort to extreme measures to determine this);

[3] The conditions required to produce this mechanism in Re-187 atoms on Earth are physically unreal.

What the relevant scientists did, was to take Re-187 atoms, and subject them to ever more extreme levels of ionisation. In order to do this, they had to resort to a particle accelerator, and use large amounts of energy to ionise the Re-187 atoms to the required amount. As any student of basic physical chemistry understands, it takes a certain amount of energy to remove one electron from a neutral atom, but, once that electron is removed, it requires more energy to remove a second electron, because that electron is now being removed from a positively charged ion, and more energy is needed to overcome the additional electrostatic attraction now present. Consequently, as one removes yet more electrons, more energy is needed for each subsequent electron. In order to speed up the decay process of Re-187, scientists stripped all of the electrons from the Re-187 atoms, making them extremely highly ionised.

Extreme states of ionisation of this sort only occur in nature within the confines of extremely hot incandescent plasmas, with temperatures well beyond that required to turn elements such as rhenium into gases, and rhenium has the highest boiling point of all the elements, at a whopping 5,600°C (courtesy of Kaye & Laby again). Even this temperature isn't enough to strip 75 electrons off a rhenium atom, and the temperature required is more likely to be of the order of 65,000 Kelvins or beyond, which means that trying to invoke this mechanism as a means of "accelerating" nuclear decay involves heating the Earth's crust to temperatures more normally associated with the chromospheres of supergiant O class stars.

Apart from the fact that this mechanism requires ludicrously absurd conditions to have occurred in the Earth's crust in order for it to happen, and apart from the fact that this mechanism is useless for U-238 and several other important isotopes used in radionuclide dating, because they do not decay via electron capture, it's actually a waste of time trying to argue against the constancy of the decay law under normal conditions, because this one exception requires such extreme conditions that the Earth would not have remained a solid planet if they had been present. Plus, the mere fact that the half-life for Re-187 is of the order of 4.16 × 10^10 years, means that the presence of any detectable Re-187 in the Earth's crust means that the planet is ancient. If by some bizarre freak of physics, Re-187 decay had been sped up by this mechanism without vaporising the Earth's crust, the anomaly would have been so immediately detectable alongside the other radionuclides, that scientists would have noticed something was amiss long ago. That word 'consilience' is back to haunt those who prefer mythology to reality.

I think this covers relevant bases for now.

I'll simply add a postscript here, to the effect that I conducted experimental work of this very sort, during my physics classes at 15 years of age (yes, the teaching staff allowed me to handle real live plutonium in the laboratory at that age!), compiling the requisite data, and running the aforementioned regression and calculus techniques upon the gathered data.

Cognostic's picture
@Calilasseia: You do realize

@Calilasseia: You do realize that people are unable to read when they have their heads up their butts, right? As for myself and the rest us who frequent AR, I found the post completely enjoyable, well written and elucidating as always. While it is too much detail for me to digest in a single sitting, I have copied and pasted it onto my desktop for future reference. While I trust radiometric dating and the science behind it, outside of watching a few videos and a bit of light reading, I have never seen it explained as succinctly. You time and effort are appreciated.

Whitefire13's picture
Cali - in all seriousness -

Cali - in all seriousness - your posts are very much appreciated. I copy and print. I save them for “science” in a binder with a butterfly on the front ;)

My kids think I’m weird ...what the fuck does a butterfly and science have to do with each other?!?!?!!!

LogicFTW's picture
@Maxos Goober

@Maxos Goober

I do not know how old this person is you talked to, but I am going to "guess" a nice round number of 50 years.

1970 to 2020.

I would not be surprised at all if the general scientific consensus of the age of the earth has changed 4 times in the last 50 years. Probably has changed more than that. I don't even care to look, it hardly matters.

However, percentage wise, these numbers have not changed much. I would be very surprised if these numbers changed much more then maybe 20-30% (my guess, less than 5%) as better tools came along to even more precisely determine the age of the earth in the last 50 years.

In the scientific community general consensus that the planet was around 4-5 billion years old has been agreed upon and well supported by data for quite some time. Also, due to the difficulty of "picking" a starting point, (at what point does a "cloud" of floating material from the creation of our solar system equal a planet?) further accuracy is not really necessary for anything I am aware of.

Further accuracy is difficult due to an almost completely subjective starting point, also further accuracy is not really needed, little useful information figuring out the age of the earth beyond 2 or maybe 3 signficant figures. And quite often the earth's age is stated as thus: 4.5 billion years or 4.54 billion years.

Imagine you have a large trash bag stuffed with one dollar bills. It all adds up to roughly 4,500 dollars ,(after spending hours counting it all.). You think might have miscounted by a dollar or two. Do you immediately stop everything and spend several hours counting every dollar in that large trash bag knowing its might be off by a dollar or 2? Or do you instead go back to work, earning far more than just a dollar or two working instead of counting money for several hours incase it is missing or has an extra dollar or 2? Do you suddenly decide that the 4500 dollars you had is still probably roughly 4500 dollars?

From a religious point of view, the age of earth is actually fairly irrelevant for the creation story. The real question is how old is "all of creation?"

Well that number is at least 13.7 billion years. (That is just the visible universe age, limited by the speed of light.) And those kind of numbers create some pretty large questions for an all powerful being that supposedly has special interest in humans. (Like creating all of the universe ultimately for humans but waiting at least 13.699 billion years before doing anything of note to humans.) Not to mention the pointless incredible vastness of the known universe if was all supposed to be for humans.

One thing is clear: a 6000 year old earth, or even 600,000 year old earth is comically wrong. About on par with saying the "sun" is about the size of a a coin, (by holding up a coin an arms length away from the eyes to measure the sun.)

Sheldon's picture
The age of the earth is never

The age of the earth is never going to be revised to support archaic creation myths, that assert the immutable word of an omniscient deity made the irrefutable claim it was the same age as the universe, and therefore just a few thousand years old. That religious claim is demonstrably false, unless they can explain how light is visible to us with the naked eye from stars that are more than 6k (or in fact billions of) light years away?

One assumes they think their deity created the light, enroute 6k ish years ago?

ablebaker's picture
Four times in 50 years? That

Four times in 50 years? That may be right, but it could be low. Going back 300 years, I couldn't count the numbers of times the age of the Earth was changed, and usually, with a lot of debate. Some guy way back when put the age at 75,000 years, and everyone was stunned. Some were angry, just as they would be today.

The farther back in the evolution of scientific knowledge you go, the younger the estimated age of the Earth was, but it was never right, because scientists would discover something in the Earth that would be older than the Earth, and another fight would ensue eventually ending up settling on a date for the Earth that was even older than the last one. Over and over again, the age had to be adjusted, not because someone thought they had a better guess, but because a new discovery proved the older date wrong.

Scientific knowledge changes all the time. This is not a flaw. It is what makes science such a powerful tool. It changes when it becomes obvious there is an error, and it must correct the error. This is not how creationists work. Creationists deal in absolute truths. Such truths probably do exist, but anyone who says they know what they are is operating at the highest level of Christian hubris.

Science arrives at answers by experimentation, fieldwork, observation, and investigation. New discoveries often demand change. Creationists base their knowledge on none of this. It's all done from a living room chair, seldeom scooping up so much as a handful of dirt. Answers are found in a book written by ancient men who could not light a fire with a match, and who thought the sky was a dome with holes poked in it, and even then, the Bible is twisted to fit individual needs.

I'll put my money on a methodology that involves research, testing, and observing, rather than pontificated by so called Bible scholars.

Tin-Man's picture
Hey there, Able. Great post.

Hey there, Able. Great post. However, this area has become a ghost town because the AR powers-that-be were nice enough to give us a brand new site in which to play. Go back to the "Forums" page here and click on the link to the new site. Much, much better over there. See you soon!

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