Shop Now Most people today think that geologists have proven the earth and its rocks to be billions of years old by their use of the radioactive dating methods.
Ages of many millions of years for rocks and fossils are glibly presented as fact in many textbooks, the popular media, and museums.
One has only to wait: No one even bothers to ask what assumptions drive the conclusions. Atoms—Basics We Observe Today Each chemical element, such as carbon and oxygen, consists of atoms unique to it. Each atom is understood to be made up of three basic parts. The nucleus contains protons tiny particles each with a single positive electric charge and neutrons particles without any electric charge.
Orbiting around the nucleus are electrons tiny particles each with a single electric charge. The atoms in each chemical element may vary slightly in the numbers of neutrons within their nuclei. These slightly different atoms of the same chemical element are called isotopes of that element. However, while the number of neutrons varies, every atom of any chemical element always has the same number of protons and electrons. So, for example, every carbon atom contains six protons and six electrons, but the number of neutrons in each nucleus can be six, seven, or even eight.
Therefore, carbon has three isotopes, which are specified as carbon, carbon and carbon figure 1. Comparison of stable and unstable atoms of the element carbon. They have six protons in their nuclei and six electrons orbiting their nuclei, which gives carbon its chemical properties.
It is the number of neutrons in their nuclei that varies, but too many neutrons make the nuclei unstable, as in carbon Radioactive Decay Some isotopes of some elements are radioactive; that is, they are unstable because their nuclei are too large.
To achieve stability, these atoms must make adjustments, particularly in their nuclei. In some cases, the isotopes eject particles, primarily neutrons and protons. These are the moving particles which constitute the radioactivity measured by Geiger counters and the like. The end result is stable atoms, but of a different chemical element not carbon because these changes have resulted in the atoms having different numbers of protons and electrons.
This process of changing the isotope of one element designated as the parent into the isotope of another element referred to as the daughter is called radioactive decay. Thus, the parent isotopes that decay are called radioisotopes. The daughter atoms are not lesser in quality than the parent atoms from which they were produced. Both are complete atoms in every sense of the word.
Rather, it is a transmutation process of changing one element into another. Geologists regularly use five parent isotopes as the basis for the radioactive methods to date rocks: These parent radioisotopes change into daughter lead, lead, argon, strontium, and neodymium isotopes, respectively. Thus, geologists refer to uranium-lead two versions , potassium-argon, rubidium-strontium, or samarium-neodymium dates for rocks. Note that the carbon or radiocarbon method is not used to date rocks, because most rocks do not contain carbon.
Unlike radiocarbon 14C , the other radioactive elements used to date rocks—uranium U , potassium 40K , rubidium 87Rb , and samarium Sm —are not being formed today within the earth, as far as we know. Thus it appears that God probably created those elements when He made the original earth. Chemical Analyses of Rocks Today Geologists must first choose a suitable rock unit for dating.
They must find rocks that contain these parent radioisotopes, even if they are only present in minute amounts. Most often, this is a rock body, or unit, which has formed from the cooling of molten rock material called magma. The next step is to measure the amounts of the parent and daughter isotopes in a sample of the rock unit.
This is done by chemical analyses in specially equipped laboratories with sophisticated instruments capable of very good accuracy and precision.
So, in general, few people quarrel with the resulting chemical analyses. However, it is the interpretation of these chemical analyses of the parent and daughter isotopes that raises potential problems with these radioactive dating methods. At time zero, the hourglass is turned upside-down so that all the sand starts in the top bowl. After one hour, all the sand has fallen into the bottom glass bowl. So, after only half an hour, half the sand should be in the top bowl and the other half should be in the bottom glass bowl.
Suppose now that a person, who did not observe when the hourglass was turned upside-down i. The sand grains in the top glass bowl figure 2 represent atoms of the parent radioisotope uranium, potassium, etc. The falling of the sand grains equates to radioactive decay, while the sand grains at the bottom represent the daughter isotope lead, argon, etc. When a geologist today collects a rock sample to be dated, he has it analyzed for the parent and daughter isotopes it contains—for example, potassium and argon He then assumes all the daughter argon atoms have been produced by radioactive decay of parent potassium atoms in the rock since the rock formed.
So if he knows the rate at which potassium decays radioactively to argon i. Since the rock supposedly started with no argon in it when it formed, then this calculated time span back to no argon must be the date when the rock formed i. The radioactive methods for dating rocks are thus simple to understand. But what if the assumptions are wrong? For example, what if radioactive material was added to the rock to the top bowl or if the decay rates have changed since the rock formed?
After all, the reliability of an hourglass can be tested, for example, by turning the hourglass upside-down to start the clock, and by then watching the sand grains fall and timing it with a trustworthy clock. In contrast, no geologist was present when the rock unit to be dated was formed, to see and measure its initial contents.
The conditions at time zero when the rock formed are, or can be, known. The radioactive decay rates of the parent radioisotopes must have remained constant through all the supposed millions of years since the rock formed, at the same slow rates we have measured today. Conditions at Time Zero No geologists were present when most rocks formed, so they cannot test whether the original rocks already contained daughter isotopes alongside their parent radioisotopes.
In the case of argon, for example, it is simply assumed that none was in the rocks, such as volcanic lavas, when they erupted, flowed, and cooled. Yet many lava flows that have occurred in the present have been tested soon after they erupted, and they invariably contained much more argon than expected. In the western Grand Canyon area are former volcanoes on the North Rim that erupted after the canyon itself was formed, sending lavas cascading over the walls and down into the canyon.
Obviously, these eruptions took place recently, after all the layers now exposed in the walls of the canyon were deposited. These basalts yield ages of up to 1 million years based on the amounts of potassium and argon isotopes in these rocks. But when the same rocks are dated using the rubidium and strontium isotopes, an age of 1, million years is obtained. This is the same as the rubidium-strontium age obtained for ancient basalt layers deep below the walls of the eastern Grand Canyon.
This source already had both rubidium and strontium. To make matters even worse for the claimed reliability of these radiometric dating methods, these same young basalts that flowed from the top of the canyon yield a samarium-neodymium age of about million years, 6 and a uranium-lead age of about 2. No Contamination by Disturbances or Interferences The problems with contamination, as with inheritances, are already well documented in the textbooks on radioactive dating of rocks.
Similarly, as molten lava rises through a conduit from deep inside the earth to be erupted through a volcano, pieces of the conduit wallrocks and their isotopes can mix into the lava and contaminate it.
Because of such contamination, the less-thanyear-old lava flows at Mt. Constant Decay Rates Physicists have carefully measured the radioactive decay rates of parent radioisotopes in laboratories over the last or so years and have found them to be essentially constant within the measurement error margins. Furthermore, they have not been able to significantly change these decay rates by heat, pressure, or electrical and magnetic fields. So geologists have assumed these radioactive decay rates have been constant for billions of years.
However, this is an enormous extrapolation of seven orders of magnitude back through immense spans of unobserved time without any concrete proof that such an extrapolation is credible. New evidence, however, has recently been discovered that can only be explained by the radioactive decay rates not having been constant in the past. This helium leakage is definitely more accurate as a dating method, because it is based on well-known physical laws.
So this means that the uranium must have decayed very rapidly over the same 6, years that the helium was leaking. No geologists were there to test these clocks in the past, but they have been demonstrated, even by secular geologists, to be plagued with problems. Rocks may have inherited parent and daughter isotopes from their sources, or they may have been contaminated when they moved through other rocks to their current locations. Or inflowing water may have mixed isotopes into the rocks.
In addition, the radioactive decay rates have not been constant. So we have seen that even though the general principles of using radioisotopes to date rocks, and the chemical analyses involved, seem sound, anomalous and conflicting results are frequently obtained, as documented in the secular literature. Surprisingly, they are useful! While the clocks cannot yield absolute dates for rocks, they can provide relative ages that allow us to compare any two rock units and know which one formed first.
They also allow us to compare rock units in different areas of the world to find which ones formed at the same time. Furthermore, if physicists examine why the same rocks yield different dates, they may discover new clues about the unusual behavior of radioactive elements during the past.
Different Dates for the Same Rocks Usually geologists do not use all four main radioactive clocks to date a rock unit. This is considered an unnecessary waste of time and money. After all, if these clocks really do work, then they should all yield the same age for a given rock unit. Sometimes though, using different parent radioisotopes to date different samples or minerals from the same rock unit does yield different ages, hinting that something is amiss. These were as follows: Cardenas Basalt lava flows deep in the east canyon sequence Bass Rapids diabase sill where basalt magma squeezed between layers and cooled Brahma amphibolites basalt lava flows deep in the canyon sequence that later metamorphosed Elves Chasm Granodiorite a granite regarded as the oldest canyon rock unit Figure 3.
A geologic diagram to schematically show the rock layers exposed in the walls and inner gorge of the Grand Canyon and their relationships to one another.
The deeper rocks were formed first, and the rock layers higher in the walls were deposited on top of them. The named rock units mentioned in the text are indicated. Table 1 lists the dates obtained. Figure 4 graphically illustrates the ranges in the supposed ages of these rock units, obtained by utilizing all four radioactive clocks.
Radioactive ages yielded by four Grand Canyon rock units. The error margins are shown in parentheses.