Dealing With Dating Methods

When studying the controversy surrounding the ‘evolution/creation’ debate, one thing that quickly emerges are the VAST, irreconcilable differences concerning the age of the universe, of the earth, and of fossils. While evolutionists explain things in light of billions, millions and hundreds of thousands of years, creationists traditionally explain things in light of just 6,000-10,000 years. Indeed, such a large chunk of the debate is dependent on the questions of age and time.

Christians begin with the Bible. We read in Genesis 1:1 that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The creation account in Genesis 1-2 coupled with the records of the Old Testament make a compelling case for a recent creation.

However, evolutionists reject the biblical record, instead relying upon scientific dating methods. This would appear to be another classic example of “superstition vs. science,” but as we shall see, there is much more to this debate than one might initially think.

Dating Fossils

  • Daniel J. Peppe & Alan L Deino wrote in a 2013 Nature article: “Using a variety of methods, geologists are able to determine the age of geological materials to answer the question: ‘how old is this fossil?’” (7)
  • Michael Benton, a vertebrate pathologist, writes, “Dating in geology may be relative or absolute. Relative dating is done by observing fossils, as described above, and recording which fossil is younger, which is older. The discovery of means for absolute dating in the early 1900s was a huge advance. The methods are all based on radioactive decay.” (8)
  • According to an online article, “How Fossils are Dated” by Glen Kuban, fossils are dated as follows:
    • Relative dating:
      • Superposition: strata are dated based on their position (lower = older)
      • Correlation: strata are compared to others based on mineral composition, etc.
      • Index fossils: fossils with a limited age range, used to date the strata
    • Absolute dating: radiometric dating methods
    • “Absolute dating of fossils requires other dating methods such as thepotassium-argon or rubidium-strontium methods, which involve isotopes with slower decay rates (longer “half-lives”). Such isotopes are rare in fossils themselves, but may occur in surrounding or adjoining rock layers, yielding an approximate age for the fossil-bearing unit.” (9)
  • Are these methods reliable? Evolutionists think so!
    • “Independent measurements, using different and independent radiometric techniques, give consistent results…Such results cannot be explained either by chance or by a systematic error in decay rate assumptions.” –TalkOrigins (1)
    • Tim Thompson wrote on his website in August of 2005, “The real heart of the age-of-the-earth debate (if ‘debate’ is the right word) is always radiometric dating…Radiometric dating actually allows the measurement of absolute ages, and so it is deadly to the argument that the earth cannot be more than 10,000 years old.” (2) Thompson goes on to boldly assert, “So the natural response from a young-Earth perspective is to claim that radiometric dating is inaccurate or untrustworthy. Unfortunately, while the young-Earthers are long on criticism, they are short on support. It’s easy to assert that radiometric methods don’t work, but it’s quite another thing to prove it. This, the young-Earth creationist regularly fails to do.” (2)

The Unreliability of Radiometric Dating

  • David Plaisted earned his PhD in computer science from Stanford in 1976 and is current professor of computer science at UNC Chapel Hill. Here are a few quotes from him:
    • Regarding K-Ar dating: “Potassium is found to be very mobile under leaching conditions. As much as 80% of the potassium in a small sample of an iron meteorite was removed by running distilled water over it for 4 and 1/2 hours. This could move the “ages” to tremendously high values. Ground-water and erosional water movements could produce this effect naturally.” (3)
    • “So we have a number of mechanisms that can introduce errors in radiometric dates. Heating can cause argon to leave a rock and make it look younger. In general, if lava was heated after the initial flow, it can yield an age that is too young. If the minerals in the lava did not melt with the lava, one can obtain an age that is too old. Leaching can also occur; this involves water circulating in rock that can cause parent and daughter elements to enter or leave the rock and change the radiometric age. Thus it is easy to rationalize any date that is obtained. If a date is too old, one can say that the mineral did not melt with the lava. (Maybe it got included from surrounding rock as the lava flowed upward.) If the date is too young, one can say that there was a later heating event. One can also hypothesize that leaching occurred.” (3)
  • From “All of the parent and daughter atoms can move through the rocks. Heating and deformation of rocks can cause these atoms to migrate, and water percolating through the rocks can transport these substances and redeposit them. These processes correspond to changing the setting of the clock hands. Not infrequently, such resetting of the radiometric clocks is assumed in order to explain disagreements between different measurements of rock ages. The assumed resettings are referred to as ‘metamorphic events’ or ‘second’ or ‘third events.’” (4)
  • A summary of unknowns (assumptions) that may invalidate a system of reliable dating:
    • Were any daughter isotopes present in the original sample?
    • Has the decay rate remained constant? How do you know?
      • Has any water seeped into the sample over time? K and Ar are both water soluble.
      • Have any gases escaped? Argon is mobile in rocks.
      • Have the rocks been heated by localized heating events?
      • Have the atmospheric conditions remained the same?
      • Have catastrophic events been taken into account, or is a uniformitarian model assumed?
    • Have any daughter or parent isotopes been added over time?
  • The potential influence of the flood:
    • From David Plaisted: “Here is another way that K-Ar dates can be too old: If we assume the earth went through a catastrophe recently, then the crustal plates might have been agitated, permitting lava and argon to escape from the magma. Thus a lot of argon would be filtering up through the crust. As intrusive flows of lava cooled inside the crust, they would have been in an environment highly enriched in argon, and thus would not have gotten rid of much of their argon. Thus they would have hardened with a lot of argon inside. This would make them appear old. The same goes for extrusive flows on the surface, since argon would be filtering up through the earth and through the lava as it cooled.” (3)

Dating Discrepancies

  • “Since the bulk of K-Ar dates are generally accepted as correct, one may say that certain minerals are reliable if they tend to give similar dates, and unreliable otherwise. We can also say that certain formations tend to give reliable dates and others do not, depending on whether the dates agree with K-Ar dates. Thus we can get an apparent correlation of different methods without much of a real correlation in nature.” (3)
  • From a gentleman named Martin Beckett in an online forum:
    • “The creation rate of C14 (and so the proportion in the atmosphere) depends on the sun’s activity – so a lot of dates which assumed a constant rate are known to be wrong. We can now calibrate this out by looking at C14 in tree rings of a known age – but the charge of ‘C14 dates are wrong’ is used by nutters (sorry creationists) either deliberately or in ignorance.” (5)
    • “We also assume that the sample died with the same ratio of C12/C14 as in the atmosphere, this may not be true if they got the carbon in their diet from geological sources, e.g. by eating a lot of deep sea fish. This led to bodies of monks being discovered in Europe with new world diseases being dated to before Columbus.” (5)
  • From Steven Dutch (Natural and Applied Sciences) of the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay:
    • “Radiometric dating generally requires that a system beclosed – in other words, has not had material added or removed. Crystallization of a mineral is a good way to close a system. In a closed system, daughter products are trapped. Any disturbance of the system effectively resets the clock to zero by allowing decay products to escape or reshuffling the abundances of elements. Weathering and metamorphism are the two most common ways to disturb a system.” (6)
    • “If there is daughter isotope in the sample to begin with, then obviously the sample will give an age that is too old. This can happen through contamination of the sample or because the daughter isotope is present in nature and is naturally incorporated into the sample. This is actually a very common situation, and the solution is to graph the parent and daughter isotopes on anisochron plot. Isochron plots are used for a number of dating methods, especially rubidium-strontium.” (6)
  • Specific examples:
    • Concerning K-Ar anomalies, John Woodmorappe’s has said, “K-Ar ages much greater than inferred earth age are also common. Gerling et al called attention to some chlorites yielding K-Ar dates of 7 to 15 b.y. It had been noted that some minerals which yield such dates (as beryl, cordierite, etc.) can be claimed to have trapped excess argon in their channel structures or to have fractioned the Ar isotopes, but none of this can apply to the simple mica-like structures of chlorite. They also pointed out that for the anomalies to be accounted for by excess argon, unreasonably high partial pressures of Ar during crystallization would have to be required. They concluded by suggesting some unknown nuclear process which no longer operates to have generated the Ar.” (3)
    • Richard Leakey’s discovery of KNM-ER 1470 (a ‘modern’ human skull) in 1967. (10)
      • He estimated the skull to be 2.9 million years old.
      • His associate, Kay Behrensmeyer, discovered a layer of volcanic ash (tuff). This became known as the Kay Behrensmeyer Site (KBS Tuff).
      • Using KA-AR dating, they dated the tuff at 212-230 million years. This didn’t match the expected 2.9 million years assigned to the skull. “From this results it was clear that an extraneous argon age discrepancy was present.” (F.J. Fitch and J.A. Miller, ‘Radioisotopic Age Determinations of Lake Rudolf Artifact Site’, Nature226, April 18, 1970, p. 226.)
      • New samples were requested. They used the pumice lumps and feldspar crystals to determine that the tuff was actually 2.61 milion years. (ibid., p. 228).
      • Another study by the University of CA at Berkeley tested the age and determined an age of 1.6. million years for one tuff and 1.92 for the other (where the skull was found).
      • On March 20, 1980, two more dating studies in Nature claimed that the tuff was 1.87 or 1.89 million years.
      • The fossils are often found first. The supposed age of the fossil is then used to predate the rock. This allows the paleoanthropologist to reject dates that do not fit the evolutionary scenario.
    • On the Dorset coast of southern England, fossilized wood was discovered in the Marlstone Rock Bed: (14)
      • The top three meters of the Marlstone Rock Bed represent the Tenuicostatum Zone, which is the basal zone of the Toarcian Stage, the last stage of the Early Jurassic. Due to the presence of ammonite and belemnite index fossils, the bed is dated at 189 million years.
      • Three samples of the wood were collected and sent to both the Geochron Laboratorie in Boston and the Antares Mass Spectrometry Laboratory in Sydney Australia. Using ‘accelerator mass spectrometry’ (AMS) dating method, the labs determined an age between 23,000-23,500 years.
      • This age is drastically short of the 189 million years assigned by the index fossils.
      • NOTE: the fossilized wood had a woody internal structure and therefore could not have been the roots of trees that had grown on the present land surface.
    • The Mount Saint Helens Lava Dome: (12)
      • It originally erupted on May 18, 1980. There were two subsequent eruptions. The current lava dome is the result of 17 dome-building eruptions that took place from October 18, 1980 – October 26, 1985.
      • In June 1992, a 15 lb. block of dacite was taken and dated. The results ranged from 340,000-2.8 million years old even though the dacite was only 10 years old.
    • Mount Ngauruhoe on New Zealand’s North Island erupted from May 13, 1954 to March 10, 1955. More eruptions took place in 1974-1975:
      • 11 samples were collected in 1996. These samples were from various deposits spanning from 1949-1975. The samples were sent to Geochron Laboratories in Cambridge, Boston to undergo K-Ar dating.
      • The received ages ranged from .27 to 3.5 (+- 0.2) million years for rocks which were observed to have cooled 25-50 years ago.
      • “Because these rocks are known to be less than 50 years old, it is apparent from the analytical data that these K-Ar ‘ages’ are due to ‘excess’ argon inherited from the magma source area deep in the earth.” –Andrew Snelling
    • On August 13-17, 2012, a team of researchers gave a presentation at the Western Pacific Geophysics meeting in Singapore. They had carbon-dated dinosaur bone samples, receiving dates ranging from 22,000-39,000 years. (15)(16)
      • Not only does carbon-dating not work beyond 50,000 years, the very fact that there was measurable C14 in the bone samples proves that the bones were not millions of years old!
      • Two of the researchers were Dr. Robert Bennet and Dr. Jean de Pontcharra, are urging their colleagues to do their own carbon-dating of dinosaur bones.
    • “In his well-known textbook on isotope geology, Gunter Faure explains the various radioactive dating methods, including the so-called isochron method…He gives an example of volcanic lava along the border of Uganda, Zaire and Rwanda, East Africa. That lava is known to be relatively young, possibly erupted within historical times,4yet a rubidium-strontium straight-line isochron gave an age of 773 million years.” –Tas Walker (25)
    • There are right-handed and left-handed amino acids. The right-handed amino acids (nucleotides) are used to build DNA and the left-handed ones are used to build proteins. In living things, all of the amino acids are left-handed. However, at death, the amino acids (left-handed) begin the process of heading back towards a 50:50 mix of left-handed and right-handed forms. This process is called racemization and has been used as a ‘clock’ to determine the amount of time that has passed since the specimen died. (18)
      • A group of researchers has determined that total racemization is achieved in 100,000-1,000,000 years. (19)
      • “Dr. Larry S. Helmick, the professor of chemistry at Cedarville College in Ohio calculates a reasonable and generous upper limit of some 20 million years.” (18)
      • This means that anything alleged to be older than this should have reached racemization.
      • Examples where total racemization hasn’t been achieved in samples ‘older’ than 20 million years:
        • The Fig Tree Chert in South Africa is allegedly 3 billion years old, and yet it only contains left-handed amino acids. (20)
        • Oil shale in Green River, Wyoming, estimated to be 60 million years old has not been completely racemized yet. (20)
        • A paper published in a Royal Society biology journal says regarding T. rex specimens obtained from UCB that, “in the dinosaur eggshells…all of the detected amino acids have low D:L ratios.” They explain this away by assuming the specimens were contaminated. (19)
  • John Woodmorappe, in his book Studies in Flood Geology, lists over 350 radiometric dating discrepancies, and that was in 1979!

How Do Evolutionists Respond To These Criticisms?

  • Many assert that we cannot overlook the overwhelming accuracy of radiometric dating on the basis that there are occasional flaws.
    • From TalkOrigins: “The creationist claim that radiometric dates are inconsistent rest on a relatively few examples. Creationists ignore the vast majority of radiometric dates showing consistent results.” (21) Evolutionists typically acknowledge these flaws, by the way.
    • First of all, there are more than just occasional
    • Like it or not, this does raise questions about the accuracy of the methods.
  • Then there is the claim that the methods are reliable because they are cross-checked:
    • Quotes along these lines:
      • From TalkOrigins: “Different radioisotopes decay in different ways. It is unlikely that a variable rate would affect all the different mechanisms in the same way and to the same extent. Yet different radiometric dating techniques give consistent dates. Furthermore, radiometric dating techniques are consistent with other dating techniques, such as dendrochronology, ice core dating, and historical records.” (22)
      • Jonathon Woolf wrote An Essay on Radiometric Dating in which he said, “We have several methods completely unrelated to radioactivity which serve as independent checks on the radiometric dating techniques.” (23)
    • Examples of error in cross-checking:
      • In western New South Wales, Australia in 1969,the crushed and burnt skeletal fragments of a woman were discovered. She came to be called “Mungo Woman” because her remains were found near ancient Lake Mungo. (11)
        • Carbon-14 dating of the bone apatite yielded an age of 19,000 years. The collagen yielded an age of 24,700 years. This made Mungo Woman the oldest human burial ‘down under.’
        • But nearby charcoal was carbon-dated at 26,500 years. Because the skeleton was buried slightly lower than the charcoal, the age of the charcoal was the “most reliable” estimate. (Brown, P., Lake Mungo 1,, 21 February 2003.)
        • In 1974, “Mingo Man” was discovered just 450 meters away in the same sand bed.
          • In 1998, it was reported that sand from the Mungo 3 site was dated at 42,000 years (using thermoluminescence dating).
          • In 1999, other scientists from the Australian National University published a new study on the age of Mungo Man. They used electron-spin resonance (ESR), optically-stimulated luminescence (OSL), thorium-uranium, and protactinium-uranium dating methods. The result? Mungo Man was now 62,000 years old.
          • This new date meant that the history of the Australian population would have to be rewritten. It also affected the model of human evolution in other parts of the world.
          • One of the scientists, Bowler, wrote to the Journal of Human Evolution, saying, “For this complex, laboratory-based dating to be successful, the data must be compatible with the external field evidence.” (Bowler, J.M. and Magee, J.W., Redating Australia’s oldest human remains: a sceptic’s view, Journal of Human Evolution 38:719–726, 2000)
        • “Okudairaet al. measured isochron ages of a rock called amphibolite sampled from south-east India. With the rubidium-strontium method they obtained an age of 481 million years but with samarium-neodymium the age was almost double at 824 million years.” –Tas Walker (25)
        • “Another example involves a volcanic region in Southern India, a pluton.6Using the lead-lead method, a whole-rock sample gave an age of 508 million years. With the potassium-argon method, samples of mica gave an age of 450 million years. Zircons using the uranium-lead method gave an age of 572 million years. Three different samples; three different methods; three different results. Did this cause the researchers to doubt the radioactive dating methods? No. They just applied some creative interpretation. They said the different ages are because the huge pluton cooled slowly over millions of years and the different minerals were affected in different ways.” –Tas Walker (25)
        • Harold Coffin, in Origin by Design [pg. 400], writes: “Situations for which we have both the carbon-14 and potassium-argon ages for the same event usually indicate that the potassium-argon `clock’ did not get set back to zero. Trees buried in an eruption of Mount Rangotito in the Auckland Bay area of New Zealand provide a prime example. The carbon-14 age of the buried trees is only 225 years, but some of the overlying volcanic material has a 465,000-year potassium-argon age.”

Summary Points

  • Radiometric dating (and other methods) are used to assign old ages to fossils, but this is a problem for the following reasons:
    • These dating methods are based on critical assumptions that cannot be known.
    • There are hundreds of documented cases of discrepancies and contradictions between dating methods and/or samples.
    • “Cross-checking” does seem to make a stronger case for the assigned old ages, but there is sufficient evidence for me that such correlations are overstated. There are examples of contradictions between dating methods here as well.
    • Because evolutionists reject the Bible as a valid historical record, they ignore four critical facts that would help explain the apparent old ages:
      • God created a mature earth.
      • The pre-flood world had a drastically different atmosphere than today.
      • The catastrophic flood of Noah’s day would have drastically altered the earth and thus affected apparent ages and decay rates.
      • The atmosphere and geography of the earth would have undergone changes in the post-flood world as well.
    • This is a difficult issue for Creationists, but there is enough reason for us to be very skeptical of the old ages typically assigned to fossils and rocks. Personally, I think it is the height of arrogance to claim that methods used to measure and gauge the past (esp. to the degree of millions or billions of years) are totally reliable.



















(18) Carl Wieland,


(20) L. Helmick, ‘Origins and Maintenance of Optical Activity’, Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 12, December 1975, pp. 156–164.







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