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Dinosaurs for Dummies                                  Richard Dawkins                                                   More To Life

Built on Rock ! Exploring Answers to Questions about Life, The Universe & Everything
Blind Dating

Q. Doesn't Radiometric dating prove long ages and make Genesis and the Creationist 6000 years since creation a total nonsense? This is a vital subject and probably the best argument evolutionists have left in their rapidly dwindling arsenal.

Most people think that radiometric dating has proved the earth is billions of years old and that the process is a reliable measure of time. This is how it is done according to Richard Dawkins:

a radioactive isotope is a kind of atom which decays into a different kind of atom: for example. one called uranium-238 turns into one called lead-206. Because we know how long this takes to happen, we can think of the isotope as a radioactive clock.”

Just because scientists observe unstable isotopes changing into stable atoms at a certain rate in the present does not necessarily mean that the rate of decay has always remained the same. Scientists, like any one of us, can run into big problems when they make assumptions about what might have happened in the unobserved past, in this case deep into an assumed but not proven pre-history. These methods may be reliable, but who can say for sure? They depend on so many factors, some of which are unknowable. Most crucially, what were the initial states governing radiometric decay when the process began? Under what conditions did it begin, and have these remained constant? Has the clock ever stopped and been restarted, has contamination or leeching ever occurred and so on? And suppose, for the sake of argument, something astonishing happened. Something on the scale of a global tectonic, volcanic upheaval, accompanied by a collapse of the then existing environment, a worldwide flood and a following Ice Age; then what? These small matters could be overlooked if the radiometric dating method, which always seems to turn up dates that make the Bible look stupid, didn't conflict with another dating method known to be relatively reliable: Carbon 14 which often turns up dates which make the Bible chronology seem reasonable.


To be fair, this issue is extremely complex. There is however reason to be sceptical about any process that claims near infallibility when looking back at ages which we cannot even properly comprehend. What does it mean when a date of 130 million years, give or take a few million either side, is published? It is meaningless in the sense that no-one can either contradict or confirm the data. These dating methods are given over-arching authority, but given the doubts re reliability and accuracy, the questions that arise can never be fully settled. If this form of establishing a fact was comparable to say DNA profiling then evolutionists would have a point. But there is no likeness between the two. There are ways of testing whether a DNA sample proves or disproves something with mathematical certainty. There is no way this can be done with radiometric dating methods. A paleontologist looks at a range of possible dates from a number of dating processes and either rejects the lot or accepts the one closet to the required date. The required date may have been specified by the rock layer in which a fossil has been found. Or alternatively the fossil could decide the matter of the age of the rock. Hence it is not necessarily the rock that is being been dated. The paleontologist, if he or she knows the fossil is a sabre toothed cat already knows the probable date of the rock within certain parameters; it is established by the fossil and of course the long age dating assumptions that underpin evolutionary theory. Any date that contradicts the known date of the fossil will just be rejected. Is this good science?

The long age model has never been proved, it has just been assumed. Any evidence by way of fossils that are discordant will be explained away. As will missing rock layers, and mountain ranges being moved by forces that leave no trace on the ground. No evidence seriously questions the theory, it will be made to conform; and having been interpreted according to the current orthodoxy, serve to bolster the underlying assumptions of the theory. And that, at least in part, is the dating game.

But there is more! The following is from The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins.

‘ Radioactive clocks are rather like the water clocks and candle clocks that people used in the days before pendulum clocks were invented. A tank of water with a hole in the bottom will drain at a measurable rate. If the tank was filled at dawn, you can tell how much of the day has passed by measuring the present level of water. Same with a candle clock. The candle burns at a fixed rate, so you can tell how long it has been burning by measuring how much candle is left. In the case of a uranium-238 clock, we know that it takes 4.5 billion years for half the uranium-238 to decay to lead-206. This is called the 'half-life' of uranium-238. So, by measuring how much lead-206 there is in a rock, compared with the amount of uranium-238, you can calculate how long it is since there was no lead-206 and only uranium-238: how long, in other words, since the clock was 'zeroed.'

If you were looking for reliable and accurate measurements over millions or billions of years would you seriously be looking at candle and water clocks? Candles when used for time-keeping were placed for protection inside wooden cases. Methods like these were used in medieval churches and earlier, famously by King Alfred the Great of England, first by counting the number of candles of a specific size burnt, and later by use of a graduated candle. They were protected from outside influences, like a draught which could put the flame out or slow the rate of burning. And without this protective measure, and the obvious constraint that these measurements of time must of been of comparatively short duration, they are obviously diametrically opposite to those of long ages open to the various forms of contamination. Interruptions of unknown length that would interfere with the accuracy of radio-metric dating. There is no idea at all about the initial state conditions before the start of radio-metric decay rates. So to use the candle analogy, how big was the candle when it began burning, and has it ever been blown out and if so when was it relit.

The problems are truly mountainous if the process is not being measured and checked at regular intervals as would have happened at the time of Alfred the Great. The same difficulties apply with water clocks. Has the hole in the tank been widened or become clogged by debris? Has water been added or subtracted from the tank and so on? Richard Dawkins with his characteristic desire to illustrate complex issues with easily accessible imagery has helped enormously to clarify the issues for creationists and muddy the waters for evolutionists.