Genesis and the Limits of Science

The Limitations of Radiometric Dating of the Age of the Earth

Session 3

By Ron Jones, D.D. ©Titus Institute

Scripture quotations are from the ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), ©2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

Introduction:

We are in a series entitled Genesis and the Limits of Science. In Genesis 1 and 2, God tells us through his prophet Moses exactly how he created the universe and all of its parts and living creatures. And in Genesis 6 he tells us about a world-wide flood God sent to judge the earth for mankind's sin and wipe everyone out except Noah and his family.

Up until the 19th century, the view of the church of Jesus Christ and the majority of people, including scientists, was that the earth and universe was created by God in six 24 hour days and was around 6000 years old based on Genesis. They also accepted the account of Genesis 6-8, that there was a world-wide flood and the physical structure of the earth was dramatically affected by that flood.

That was eventually overturned through the efforts of James Hutton, Charles Lyell, and Charles Darwin. Today the picture is much different. Scientists have redefined science to exclude any supernatural reality including God. To them there is no Creator God, no literal six days, and no world-wide flood.

The majority of Old Testament scholars in seminaries and Bible colleges have re-interpreted the six days of creation as figurative, a literary framework with which Moses tells the story of creation. They have re-interpreted the flood of Noah to be a regional flood that did not encompass the whole earth and they have accepted the view of scientists that the earth is billions of years old. The influence of science has had a powerful effect on Christians and their interpretation of Genesis 1 and 6-8.

MY GOAL IN THIS SERIES: My goal is to demonstrate that science cannot prove that God did not create the universe and that science cannot prove that the earth and universe are billions of years old. The supernatural cannot be disproven by scientific inquiry and the age of the earth, either young or old cannot be proven by scientific inquiry. Whether you are old earth or young earth, do not base your interpretation of Genesis 1 and Genesis 6-8 on the theories of natural science, but on careful interpretation of the Scriptures and then embrace them by faith.

I have divided this series into four sessions.

Session 1 - The Limitations of Scientific Inquiry in Discovering the Age of the Earth

Session 2 - The Limitations of Stratigraphy in Discovering the Age of the Earth

Session 3 - The Limitations of Radiometric Dating in Discovering the Age of the Earth

Session 4 - The Limitations of Discovering the Origins of the Universe and Organic Life

Today we are in Session 3.

Let's review what we have already studied as each session is based on the section before it.

Last time we looked at two points:

1. Science is limited by its foundation upon inferences (theories) not just observation which cannot be proved.

2. Science is limited because of its refusal to consider any supernatural explanation for the natural phenomena that is observed.

Last time, we saw that Science is a combination of observations (facts) and inferences (explanations or interpretations) of those facts. Observations are descriptions of what we see, hear, taste, smell, or touch with our senses. Inferences are possible explanations of how nature operates drawn from observation of natural phenomena. Inferences are not always true. There may be another equally valid inference (theory) that the evidence supports as well.

Why is this important to understand?

Observations of the present universe are made by scientists, those who are naturalistic scientists infer

Scientific/Natural Inferences = Big Bang Theory & Theory of Evolution

Supernatural Inferences = Genesis 1 God created the universe & Genesis 6-8 God brought a world-wide flood upon the earth.

Both inferences/theories explain the evidences of the current universe.

Week 1 was our establishing our base that science has both observations and inferences. Last week and this week we are looking at how science has supposedly discovered the age of the earth (and the universe). Our goal is to determine what are observations and what are inferences. We are seeing that the age of the earth is based upon inferences and therefore, cannot actually be proved.

In dating the age of the earth, geologists use two methods of dating. Relative dating of rocks (how old a rock is compared to surrounding rocks) which is determined by geological principles and absolute dating of rocks (the number of years since the rock formed) which is determined by radiometric dating.

Last week we looked at relative dating of rocks.

1. Relative dating of rocks is limited because it is based upon the inference that the sedimentary layers of rock were formed by erosion over millions of years.

Uniformitarianism teaches that geologic processes we see today (wind and water erosion, sedimentation, flooding, volcanic eruptions) are constant now and have been in the past. These processes take place over millions and billions of years). This is the foundation of the "Old Earth View."

Last week we also saw that there is a supernatural inference/explanation based on the Biblical revelation in Genesis 6-8. It is a world-wide flood.

2. Relative Dating is limited because of its refusal to consider any supernatural explanation for the geologic layers of strata that are observed.

Genesis 6-8

The Noahic Flood was worldwide catastrophic event that involved not only flooding, but volcanic activity, earthquakes, and plate tectonic upheavals. The Noahic Flood is a supernatural explanation for the sedimentary layers of rock deposited rapidly over months not over billions of years.

Henry Morris, founder of Institute of Christian Research, writes, "The Scriptures clearly and emphatically teach that there was such a global and cataclysmic flood. This can only mean that the Flood and its after-effects must explain most of the stratigraphic and fossil evidences that are commonly found in the earth's crust." (Morris, Henry, "Global Flood, Global Impact: The Legacy of The Genesis Flood", http://www.icr.org/article/5869)

This morning we come to our third session:

Today, we come to absolute dating which refers to radiometric dating and the age of the earth

Session 3 - The Limitations of Absolute/Radiometric Dating of the Age of the Earth

We will look at two points: 1. Radiometric Dating is limited because the process is based upon the uniformitarian inference that the radioactive rate of decay has always been constant.

2. Radiometric Dating is limited because of its refusal to consider any supernatural explanation for the radioactive decay rate being accelerated in the past.

Let's look at the first point.

1. Radiometric Dating is limited because the process is based upon the uniformitarian inference that the radioactive rate of decay has always been constant.

Determining the age of a rock through Radioisotope dating is dependent upon assumptions.

Before we look at assumptions, let's first understand how radiometric dating is done.

1.1 Radiometric dating can only measure certain kinds of rocks.

There are three kinds of rock. Igneous Rocks form when molten lava (magma) cools and turns to solid rock. Metamorphic rocks are rocks that have been changed from heat and pressure. Sedimentary rocks form when small pieces of rock are pressed together over time. Only igneous and metamorphic rocks can be dated NOT sedimentary rocks (which contain fossils).

Let's watch a video that explains how fossils are dated using both relative and absolute dating of rocks. This is the big picture before we look at radiometric dating specifically.

Video: How Do We Know How Old Fossils Are? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2GNJ6tfbY0

Geologists can't date sedimentary rocks that have the fossils so they date igneous rock layers above and below the sedimentary rock layers to give approximate dates.

So, how do they actually get the dates of the igneous rocks?

1.2 Radiometric dating involves measuring the amount of a designated radioisotope and the stable isotope it decays into in a spectrometer and then plugging those amounts into a mathematical equation to solve for the age of the rock.

Radioisotope dating does not directly measure the actual age of the sample. Radiometric dating is a much-misunderstood phenomenon. People often assume RM dating gives a definite age for tested samples. There is no such thing as an "age measuring meter" that you can plug into a rock and get an immediate read-out of the rock's age. We need to understand what exactly is being measured during a radiometric dating test. One thing that is not being directly measured is the actual age of the sample. There is no way to tell the age of a rock or meteor by looking at it, by examining it.

Video: Absolute Dating of Rocks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wwtbkrKULs

So, RM Dating is a three-part process: 1. Find an igneous, metamorphic, or meteoric rock that can be dated. 2. Take a rock to the laboratory to have it crushed and put into a spectrometer to determine the amounts of parent and daughter isotopes in the rocks or minerals. 3. Take those amounts and put them into a mathematical formula to determine the age of the minerals in the rock or the rock itself.

1.3 Radiometric Dating is based on a central inference.

A half-life is established by the rate of decay of radioactive isotopes which is assumed to be constant. Each radioactive element decays at a constant rate. Uniformitarian Inference/Assumption: The rate of radioactive decay has been constant since the rock formed.

"Scientific knowledge of Earth's geologic history has advanced significantly since the development of radiometric dating, a method of age determination based on the principle that radioactive atoms in geologic materials decay at constant, known rates to daughter atoms. Radiometric dating has provided not only a means of numerically quantifying geologic time but also a tool for determining the age of various rocks that predate the appearance of life-forms." (Mallory, V. Standish, Olson, Edwin A., Johnson, Gary Dean, Geochronology, Earth Science, https://www.britannica.com/science/geochronology#ref586344)

Let's look at what it says in a standard geology college level textbook. In the textbook, Essentials of Geology, it states constant rate of decay as a fact.

"Like the ticktock of a clock, radioactive decay proceeds at a known rate and thus provides a basis for telling time. In other words, because an element's half-life is a constant, we can calculate the age of a mineral by measuring the ratio of parent to daughter isotopes in the mineral." (Marshak, Stephen, Essentials of Geology 3rd Edition, University of Illinois, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2009)

The statement "half-life is a constant..." is stating it as a fact. But it's not a fact.

Let's look at a quote by a working geologist in the field who is more careful in his statement about this issue.

Jon Erickson writes, "Radioactive decay also appears to be constant with time and is unaffected by chemical reactions, temperature, pressure, or any other know conditions or processes that could change the decay rate throughout geologic history." (Erickson, Jon, Coates, Donald Robert, Erickson, Helen Phoebe, An Introduction to Fossils and Minerals: Seeking Clues to the Earth's Past, Infobase Publishing, 2014)

Notice, he says "Radioactive decay also appears to be constant..." He properly states it as an inference. Erickson recognizes that it is an inference/assumption.

Answers in Genesis states, "The major problem with the first assumption is that there is no way to prove that the decay rate was not different at some point in the past. The claimed 'fact' that decay rates have always been constant is actually an inference based on a uniformitarian assumption. It is true that radioisotope decay rates are stable today and are not largely affected by external conditions like change in temperature and pressure, but that does not mean that the rate has always been constant."

https://answersingenesis.org/age-of-the-earth/dating-methods

Uniformitarianism is the assumption that the same processes that operate on the earth now have always operated on the earth in the past.

The original inference of uniformitarianism has now become an assumption which has given birth to another inference (constant decay rate) which is the basis for the absolute dating of rocks by radioactive decay. These inferences cannot be proved. They may be true, but they cannot be proved.

Is there any evidence that secular scientists have seen that radioactive decay rates could vary/speed up? Yes

In 2006, an article appeared in the Register entitled "Astrophysicist speeds up radioactive decay." It stated, "Claus Rolfs, chair of experimental physics at Ruhr University, and his team suggest that embedding an alpha emitter [radioactive material] in metal and cooling it to just a few degrees Kelvin could reduce its half life to perhaps just tens of years, instead of thousands." https://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/08/01/faster_decay/

In 2009, an article appeared in the CERN Courier, the International Journal of High Energy Physics, entitled, "Ultrasonic cavitation of water speeds up thorium decay." It stated, "Is it possible to speed up radioactive decay by squeezing atoms? In the last few months, Fabio Cardone, at the Institute of Nanostructured Materials, in Rome, Italy, and a few pals have posted....a growing body of evidence that it is...the team reported that cavitation-the generation and collapse of tiny bubbles in a liquid using pressure waves-causes the rate of decay of thorium-228 in solution to increase 1,000 times." https://www.technologyreview.com/s/414258/can-pressure-waves-speed-up-nuclear-decay/5

In 2008, an article appeared in Physics World, entitled "The Mystery of the Varying Nuclear Decay." It stated, "Ephraim Fischbach and Jere Jenkins of Purdue University in Indiana are claiming that, far from being fixed, certain decay constants are influenced by the Sun. It is a claim that is drawing mixed reactions from others in the physics community, not least because it implies that decades of established science is flawed." https://physicsworld.com/a/the-mystery-of-the-varying-nuclear-decay/

These articles show that the uniformitarian assumption that the radioactive decay rate has always been constant is not certain.

So, what happens if the radioactive decay rate sped up in the past?

It would then be possible that the radiometric decay rates show millions and billions of years when in actuality only thousands of years had actually gone by.

3 half lives at the accelerated rate = thousands of years

3 half lives at the constant rate = millions/billion of years

The decay from 0 to 3 half lives in far less time.

If the radioactive decay rate was accelerated, then radiometric dating could not indicate the age of the earth.

Is there a possible explanation for accelerated decay rates under a young earth hypothesis?

Yes, and this brings us to our second point.

2. Radiometric Dating is limited because of its refusal to consider any supernatural explanation for the radioactive decay rate being accelerated in the past.

If God created the world in six days approximately 6000 years ago, could science discover that based on their refusal to consider any supernatural explanation? No.

I don't have a problem with the refusal of natural scientists to consider the supernatural, but I do have a problem with them basing their conclusions on inferences and then stating that the Bible could not possibly be true when it gives a supernatural explanation for the same natural phenomena we all observe.

This is the situation with radiometric dating.

If the earth were only 6000 years old and the radioactive decay rate accelerated dramatically in the past for a temporary time period or more, it would give the same results as it is today even though the age would be only 6000 years old.

Constant Decay Rate ? Same Amount of Radioactive Decay? Old Ages

Accelerated Decay Rate ? Same Amount of Radioactive Decay? Young Age

Remember a spectrometer can only measure amounts and ratios of isotopes. The ages are determined by mathematical equations based on a constant decay rate. There is a supernatural explanation for accelerated radioactive decay in the past.

Let's look at it.

Inference (based on Genesis 1&6): There were two possible times of accelerated nuclear decay in the past, one during creation week and one during the Flood.

1. On the 1st day of the creation week as the earth's core was formed and covered with water before life was present on the earth.

Genesis 1:1-2 1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

2. During the Noahic Flood of catastrophic upheaval of the earth's surface

Genesis 6:11

"On that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened."

The acceleration of radioactive decay is a supernatural act of God using natural or supernatural means. They were done by a combination of natural means and direct supernatural acts by God and therefore, cannot be explained through natural means alone. The physical mechanism that caused the accelerated decay may have been a natural result of the world-wide catastrophic flood and we may be able to discover what it is or it may have been a supernatural act by God in preserving the earth and the ark from the natural devastating effects of a world-wide flood in which case we will not be able to discover it.

Is there any evidence that there was an accelerated rate of decay in the past?

One answer is helium diffusion (leaking) out of zircon crystals.

Video: Helium is a problem for the radiometric dating of rocks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKAfqZ0eD8g

Explanation of Video:

Zircon Crystals have uranium in them. Uranium decays into lead. As uranium decays into lead, it produces helium atoms. So, an abundance of lead and an abundance of helium atoms would indicate a very old age (millions or billions of years). However, Helium leaks out of the zircon crystals like helium leaks out of a balloon.

By this time, if the zircon crystals were millions or billions of years old, all the helium should be gone, but it is not. So, an abundance of helium atoms would indicate a very old age (1.5 billion years in one sample) and at the same time indicate a very young age (4000-8000 years in the same sample). This is a huge discrepancy and anomaly. Unless the decay rate was sped up.

Possible inference/explanation = accelerated decay rate

If the decay rate was sped up, there would be both an abundance of lead atoms and an abundance of helium atoms. All the helium atoms would not have diffused. Radiometric dating would show very old ages and helium dating would show young ages. This is exactly what was found in rocks taken from deep in the earth where the oldest rocks are.

Joe Spears writes, "For high amounts of helium and lead to exist in the crystal at the same time, Accelerated Nuclear Decay of the uranium must have occurred, and it must have occurred within the last several thousand years. ACCND explains seeming discrepancies between biblical dates and conventional radiometric dates." (Spears, Joe, "Accelerated Nuclear Decay Difficulties Solved?", September 2015, http://www.tasc-creationscience.org/article/accelerated-nuclear-decay-difficulties-solved Triangle Association for the Science of Creation)

This is an inference that explains the amount of helium in the crystal.

Conclusion:

Scientific (Natural) Theory Based on Inferences If the radioactive decay rate is constant, then radiometric dating accurately indicates that the earth is billions of years old.

Supernatural Theory Based on Inferences and Bible If the radioactive decay rate was accelerated, then radiometric dating could not indicate the age of the earth.