Radioisotope dating has been put on a pedestal far higher than it deserves by those who claim it proves the earth is billions of years old. Many have been intimidated into questioning the clear Scriptural doctrine of recent creation, relegating God's interaction to "long ago and far away." But how accurate is radioisotope dating?
For decades ICR and its associates have demonstrated that the method is based on three questionable assumptions: 1) a constant decay rate of radioactive atoms into daughter products; 2) a specimen that is closed to the environment so that contamination is impossible; and 3) the initial concentrations of isotopes can be known. Since assumptions 2) and 3) are easily critiqued, with many examples of faulty results, we have tended to grant that assumption 1) was reasonable. But now even that one is being questioned by researchers in all camps.
Now is the time to launch a frontal assault on this faulty concept which has done so much damage. Now may be the time to forever replace it with a better concept, one which handles all the data, and interprets it in a God-honoring and scientifically-satisfying fashion. True to its mission, ICR has stepped into the fray.
For the past three years, ICR has been hosting and facilitating a consortium of professional scientists jointly addressing the topic of Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth (RATE). This RATE group met in San Diego on June 5-6 for its fourth annual meeting to complete the final draft of its new book, "Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: A Young-Earth Creationist Research Initiative." Each of the seven members of RATE wrote one or more chapters in the book, and all chapters have been reviewed by technical specialists. The recent RATE meeting permitted final revisions to all chapters by the authors.
Numerous changes were suggested to make the book more readable and to emphasize issues which need to be addressed in proposed research projects over the next five years. These editorial changes will be added during June and July and the book printed by the end of September. The hardbound book will contain a complete glossary and 700 pages of discussion on Radioisotope Dating, Radioactive Isotopes in the Earth, the Mineral Isochron Method, Geochemical Processes, Accelerated Radioactive Decay, and Radiohalos. Technical research proposals from each scientist comprise the appendix, and outline work yet to be accomplished. It should become a major source document for both the creationist and evolutionist communities.
The last afternoon of the meeting was spent discussing research findings and plans. Total donations of about $135,000 had been allocated to the research projects at the January meeting of the executive committee of RATE and the expenditures made so far were reviewed. The helium diffusion experiment was once again recognized as the highest priority experiment in RATE and is designed to measure the diffusion rate of helium in the mineral biotite found in granite. Helium is produced by alpha decay episodes in radioactive atoms. If the measured diffusion rate agrees even roughly with the rate we estimate from published argon diffusion rates in biotite, then helium retention in Precambrian age biotite crystals should be dramatically smaller than is actually observed —if the earth is 4.6 billion years old. By contrast, the observed helium concentration in these minerals in granite minerals would be about right for a young earth.
Several other research projects have begun, including the study of theoretical mechanisms for accelerated decay and the study of polonium halos in granites. It was concluded during the discussions that we need to put more emphasis on meteorites. The primary method used to estimate the age of the earth comes from radioisotopic analysis of chondritic meteorites. If a large amount of accelerated decay and mixing have affected the earth, how do meteorites fit into this story? Do they reveal information about accelerated decay with no mixing processes? The RATE group decided to procure chondritic meteorite material and conduct its own laboratory analyses.
One of the current RATE working models for the history of nuclear decay suggests that a vast amount of apparent nuclear "decay" occurred during the first 2-3 days of Creation Week and then lesser pulses of accelerated decay took place in connection with the curse and Genesis Flood. Therefore, rocks created during Creation Week should show evidence of this vast amount of early Creation Week nuclear decay. Thus, the evolutionist, who insists on using present-day processes and present-day rates (uniformitarianism) to interpret the past, incorrectly infers that the evidence for a large amount of nuclear decay must imply billions of years ages for such rocks.
Another working model in RATE is that the signature of the Creation Week nuclear decay in the earth was significantly changed by the tectonic and geological upheavals of the Genesis Flood. That is, the intimate association of daughter elements such as lead, helium, strontium, and argon with their corresponding parent elements uranium, thorium, rubidium, and potassium was progressively lost as rocks experienced melting, metamorphism, and interaction with fluids in the Flood catastrophe. This original, prominent, primordial signature was blurred, but not entirely lost. The inheritance of the primordial parent-daughter correlations therefore commonly yields apparent ages in the range of hundreds of millions of years for rocks affected by the Flood.
The inheritance of even a modest amount of the large Creation-Week signature can readily produce the ages the evolutionist expects, and then selects, for Phanerozoic rocks, while the blurring no doubt accounts for the many unusable apparent ages which are currently discarded by old-earth scientists.
The concepts of accelerated decay and inheritance are both beginning to show real promise in explaining why there seems to be an apparent conflict between the age of the earth stated in Scripture and simplistic (and selective) inferences based on measurements of radioisotope concentrations. It is too early yet to reach any firm conclusions, but key pieces of the puzzle seem to be fitting into place.
We believe that God is working through the RATE group to bring glory to His name in understanding His works in the earth. For the next five years we will be concentrating on research. In 2005 we plan to write a final report answering the questions raised by radioactive decay which have bothered so many for so long. The RATE group continues to solicit your prayers and donations toward this effort.