Old Earth? Young Earth?

radiometric dating 1

Q. Science tells us the earth is 4.5 billion years old, but the Bible says it’s only a few thousand years. The Bible is just old wife’s tales and can’t be trusted.

A. Yesterday we discussed why creation scientists believe the earth to be young based on the chronology in the biblical genealogies. Today we continue with why they don’t believe the earth to be 4.5 billion years old based on radiometric dating.

When scientists claim the earth to be 4.5 billion years old, invariably they base their calculations on radiometric dating. This is a method of dating geological or archeological specimens by determining the relative proportions of particular radioactive elements in a sample e.g. potassium-argon, rubidium-strontium, uranium-lead etc. Before I comment on their validity, let me give you an analogy to illustrate the principles behind the method.

Suppose you entered a room and saw an oil lamp burning brightly. You knew by the markings on the oil can that there was still half a can or 500 cc of oil. An hour later you looked again, and this time there was only 440 cc of oil left. Now if I were to ask you, how long has the lamp been burning since it was lit, would you be able to give me an accurate answer? Well, it depends. Depends on what? At least three things:

1. How much oil was in the can initially? 1,000 cc i.e. full? 500 cc i.e. the lamp was lit just before you walked in? Anywhere in between?
2. The rate of combustion i.e. how fast was the oil burning away. In the hour you observed, 60 cc was burned off, or 1 cc per minute. However, had it always burned at this rate? Before you walked in, had there been the same level of oxygen such that the combustion rate was constant? Was there enriched oxygen so that it burned faster, or low oxygen so that it burned slower?
3. Did someone disturbed the initial volume of oil by adding or removing some before you entered the room? If he added oil, the lamp could have been burning longer than the initial amount would sustain it. If he removed oil, it would have been burning for a shorter period of time.

You can see from this simple illustration the key assumptions behind radiometric dating. Regardless of how sophisticated the technology is, all radiometric dating depend on 3 assumptions:

1. The initial condition – how much was the initial amount of parent and daughter elements in the sample? No one was there when the rocks were formed, except God. So you just have to assume the initial composition. The assumption may be close to actual, or totally off, but the further it deviates from the truth, the greater will be the error.
2. The rate of decay – typically it is assumed that the decay rate is constant, and tests have been conducted over varying conditions of heat and pressure to show that the decay rates don’t change. But if we play along and the calculated result happens to be billions of years, during which the rocks could be under extreme seismic conditions over long periods many times over, are you still so sure of your assumption? It’s not the same as testing it for a few days or even months in a lab, you know.
3. Contamination and disturbances – again over supposedly billions of years, a lot of disturbances could take place by water leaching, magma mixing, or heat contamination, which could add or remove the parent and/or daughter elements disproportionately.

One famous example of radiometric dating producing erroneous results is that of rock samples from Hualalai Volcano, Hawaii. Radiometric dating using the potassium-argon method estimated the rock’s age to be between 160 million to 2.96 billion years. The actual age from historical record of the volcano eruption was 200 years. You draw your own conclusions as to the dating’s accuracy.

Is the Bible old wife’s tales? Read it for yourself to find out. Millions have, and became the better for it. Don’t short change yourself.

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