Dating Fossils

Discussion in 'Creation vs. Evolution' started by Administrator2, Jul 16, 2002.

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    BAVARIAN RAIN

    I would like for someone to explain, in simple terms, how scientists
    date fossils and why the method isn't accurate.
    Also, is there a good reason why any fossils should/do date back
    further than humans?
     
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    MARGARET

    Bavarian Rain: "I would like for someone to explain, in
    simple terms, how scientists date fossils and why the
    method isn't accurate. Also, is there a good reason why
    any fossils should/do date back further than humans?"


    In simple terms, radioactive atoms serve as clocks
    because they decay at known rates. For example, half
    of a batch of Carbon-14 atoms will decay away in
    about 5,000 years. Another example is Uranium-238
    which undergo a 50 percent reduction in the number
    of atoms in about 4.5 billion years. There are
    many independent dating methods that use this principle
    to give estimates of the age of various things.

    Creationists sometimes object to these methods, pointing
    out various alleged flaws in the methods. But mainstream
    scientists are not convinced that the objections are valid,
    citing among other things, the fact that often several
    independent methods will agree on the age of certain
    objects. For example, at least three independent dating
    methods agree on the age of certain rocks from the moon.

    As to your last question, there is no particular scientific
    reason why human fossils should be the same age as animal
    fossils. Dinosaurs are believed to have died out 65
    million years ago, and in contrast, there is not a single
    bit of evidence of humans having lived 10 million years
    ago or longer. Modern humans date to only the past
    100,000 years, with human fossils earlier than that being
    subtantially different from us, although some of them are
    recognizable as human. The fossil evidence shows that
    many variants of humans have lived over time. We have lots
    of cousins that did not make it into the present age.
     
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    HELEN

    Carbon dating is generally used on those remains considered to be only a few thousand years old. Carbon dating is fraught with problems, however, and most of the researchers who date fossils date them according to the strata they are found in, or, more precisely, the layers they are found between, since sedimentary materials are not amenable to radiometric dating.

    There are a certain percentage of radiometric dates which are considered anomalous, or simply wrong for one reason or another. However, even by the most conservative estimate, there are at least half of them that are consistent with one another per sample and strata and must be accounted for by young earth creationists apart from any claims of dating error.

    My husband, Barry Setterfield (www.setterfield.org) has been working for about 25 years on the speed of light issues, as both measurements and theory indicate that the speed of light is not a constant. This has to do with radiometric dating because the speed of light is effectively in the numerator of every radio decay rate equation. If the speed of light were higher in the past, then the rate of radio decay would have been faster. If faster, then the dating needs to be corrected. That’s an extremely short summary.

    If the rate of decay has stayed constant, then we are indeed stuck with science and the Bible in apparent sharp disagreement. If, however, the rate of decay has slowed with time, then we may be living in a very young universe and we would need to recalibrate our ages for the fossils.
     
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    FROM THE ADMINISTRATOR

    Several posts were submitted regarding Setterfield's work. Helen did not try to present a defense of it. She mentioned it as one reason the current dating of fossils might be wrong. The topic of this post is in regard to dating fossils and responses on that topic will be posted here. Responses regarding the accuracy of Setterfield's work belong in any of the threads in the following pages regarding his work. There are also threads discussing carbon dating and other forms of dating. These discussions will not be rehashed in this thread. Please keep responses on topic. Thank you.
     
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    BAVARIAN RAIN

    Thank you for your replies thus far. Perhaps I should have been more
    specific in my first post. I (I am a Christian) was having a
    discussion with
    an atheist who believes in evolution, and we were discussing evidence
    for the
    belief of a young earth. He had brought up dinosaurs and said that
    all
    carbon dating on them showed them to be *billions* of years older
    than the
    first human found.
    So I suppose what I'm looking for is how to answer that. I am not
    knowledgable in that area, but would like to become so at least in a
    small
    degree in order to be able to hold my own in discussions that turn to
    this.
    So, to summarize, I was cheating and looking for a quick answer to
    him, and
    will be using the answer as a start to my further learning. [​IMG]
     
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    JOE MEERT

    Helen Writes:
    JM: Carbon dating is not 'fraught' with problems. Carbon dating must be done with care and the results scrutinized, but this is normal procedure in radiometric dating. Sedimentary rocks ARE amenable to dating in many circumstances and these methods are gaining in popularity. Be careful in painting broad brush strokes. These methods and techniques are getting better and easier. More importantly, they are yielding consistent ages. However, if your evolutionist friend claims that dinosaurs are dated by C-14 dating, then he is just wrong. C-14 is useful for organic material younger than ~50000 years

    JM: There are more than 'a certain percentage', there is a clear preponderance of concordant and consistent ages. This is why the methods are still used by geologists.

    JM: The speed of light issue remains invisible to the scientific world and there is not any strong evidential support in the published literature for this model. What is needed is
    a substantive body of published evidence for changing c-values.

    JM: Indeed, the rates and evidence for constancy of decay are pretty robust. That requires some backtracking on the part of ye-creationism to explain this consistency. However, other than Setterfield's unpublished reports, there is no evidence for changing speed of light affecting radiometric decay rates in the published scientific literature.
     
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    PAUL OF EUGENE
    For Bavarian:

    I am one of those that earlier submitted a post that was rejected by the administraters, according to their note above.
    I suppose that, for you, it is just as well, since it was complicated and maybe even a bit long.
    Let me just correct one thing: Your friend spoke of "carbon dating" for dinosaurs. "Carbon dating" doesn't work that far back - 65 million years back - it stops being reliable after something like 20,000 years more or less. Other radioactive elements such as Uranium are used for that date range. That's just a minor quibble. The point still stands.

    Now there is another aspect of the conversation you are having with your atheist friend that is troubling to me. It seems that you are both operating under the impression that one cannot believe in an "old earth" of millions and millions of years and still be a Christian. Many people on both sides seem to make that assumption.

    Let me take this chance to point out that there are many Christians who trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior and still accept the findings of modern science. I am personally very concerned that people like you will come to doubt their relationship with God just because they start to learn the truth about the age of the earth! Unfortunately, that is the dillema we sometimes put on those who, like yourself, are just starting to learn about these things. May the Lord guide you into paths of Faith and Wisdom both.

    [ July 30, 2002, 01:40 PM: Message edited by: Administrator ]
     
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    JOHN PAUL

    I don’t believe fossils can be dated directly using radioisotope methods. Carbon dating can only extend back about 60Ky and therefore cannot date dino fossils to 65+ million years ago (in the evolutionary dinos didn’t exist on earth billions of years ago).

    For a basic on dating fossils:

    http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/dinosaurs/dinofossils/Fossildating.html

    or you can go to http://www.google.com/ and enter fossil dating for more results.

    Some sites on fossilization:

    http://www.dinosauria.com/jdp/fossil/fossil.htm

    http://www.colostate.edu/Depts/Entomology/courses/en570/papers_1998/spriggs.htm


    As for the age of the Earth the evidence for a young Earth 6,000 – 12,000 years old is inferred from Biblical genealogies. Also AiG has a list of articles:

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/faq/young.asp/ and

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/faq/geology.asp/

    Hope that helps…
     
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    BAVARIAN RAIN

    Reply to PAUL of EUGENE:
    It is another topic, so I won't go into detail on why I do not
    believe in the
    gap theory or whatever reason others may have for believing the earth
    was
    created before, but rest assured that it does not prevent me from
    looking at
    those Christians that do as brothers and sisters in Christ. If I was
    to find
    that I was wrong, it would be because I was wrong, not God. [​IMG]
    You stated that carbon dating isn't used for dinosaurs. What is?
    From the
    links John Paul gave, it states that they use it to date the
    surroundings of
    the fossil, just not the fossil itself. Is that what you meant?

    Reply to HELEN
    Helen, I found what you said about the rate of decay and the speed of
    light
    quite interesting. I've just starting reading the section "On the
    constancy
    of the velocity of light". Is there other work on this that you
    would
    recommend reading?
     
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    PAUL OF EUGENE

    For Bavarian Rain:

    The only problem with the phrase "carbon dating" is that, strictly speaking, it is talking about measuring radioactive decay results for the carbon atom. There are lots of other radioactive atoms that can be used! So if you just use the generic term "radioactive decay measurement" you will be good enough. Joe Meert addressed this issue up above. Joe isn't just a guy who reads about these things like I am, he goes out in the field and digs up rocks, has them analyzed; he's a real geologist.

    Now the easiest kind of rocks to measure are the ones that were melted once. While melted, all the gases in the rock bubble out. Then the rock solidifies and you can assume that any gases that accumulate accumulated only from the the radioactive decay of whatever the uranium and thorium and such may have created. So you check the rock in a vacuum chamber and see what comes out when you heat it. There might be some argon, some helium, things like that. Checking your charts of what elements are produced when what decays - you carefully measure what is really in there to decay and compare it with what came out and you get a figure for the age of the rock. Works great! Accurate results! But if they ARE accurate, then the world is definately millions, even billions, of years old. Well, I think they are accurate.

    Joe points out that the scientists really, really work hard to find other ways of dating besides just checking rocks that melted once. He says they're starting to find ways to do that. I leave it to Joe how much he wants to share the details with us.

    If you check out the thread titled "Setterfield Discussion Continued" you will find a lot of posts I wrote there on this subject. Naturally, I think my logic was irrefutable! Somehow, others disagree, don't ask me how they manage to do that. Barry Setterfield himself wrote some things there you might find interesting. Let me know if you have any other questions.
     
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    JOE MEERT

    Dinosaurs are dated largely by the volcanic ash layers found
    interbedded
    with many of the fossils or via a method called magnetostratigraphy.
    Basically, a calibrated fingerprint (similar to barcoding) of the
    Earth's
    magnetic field provides a time scale for dating sedimentary strata.
    As I
    mentioned above, dating sedimentary strata (particularly limestone) is
    improving all the time.
     
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    HELEN

    Hi Bavarian Rain,

    A couple of months ago Chuck Missler asked me to do an article on the history of the speed of light work. It is on the net here:
    http://www.khouse.org/articles/technical/20020701-423.html

    That might help you understand what has gone on before.

    There is a lot of misunderstanding about Barry's work and what it implies, and you will see a lot of that misunderstanding and some of Barry's responses in the various "Setterfield" threads here on this forum.

    Some basic theoretical stuff is here:
    http://www.setterfield.org/scipubl.html

    "A Simplified Explanation" was written by me under my name pre-marriage and was intended for high school students and interested laymen.

    "The Vacuum, Light, and the Redshift" is also a theoretical summary of some recent material, written for a slightly higher level.

    "A Brief Earth History" and "A Brief Stellar History" are papers following through on the researched material. "Chronology" was written some time ago to show how the time frame correlates with biblical history.

    If you want other material on the possibility of the speed of light changing, here are some published papers by others:

    http://arXiv.org/PS_cache/astro-ph/pdf/0007/0007108.pdf
    -- Charge Conservation and time varying speed of light

    http://www.ldolphin.org/dethrone.html
    Maguiejo interview

    http://www.newscientist.com/ns/19990724/isnothings.html
    John Barrow New Scientist Article, “Is Nothing Sacred?”

    http://www.varsity.utoronto.ca/archives/120/oct07/scitech/faster.html -- John Moffat’s take

    http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/astro-ph/9811018 -- A&M paper, Physics Review D

    http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/astro-ph/9811022 -- Barrow paper from Physics Review D

    http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/astro-ph/9907340
    Astrophysical Probes of the Constancy of the Velocity of Light

    I haven't updated that list in some time, so I know there are a number of others, even on the net. It is a field that is opening up again but I am only aware of two other creationists who are pursuing the subject to any degree.

    Feel free to email me, since this really isn't the thread for this topic. So I have tried to simply give you extra reference URL's and not any sort of explanation.

    Have fun reading!

    Helen Setterfield
    [email protected]
     
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    JHAPPEL

    I'm very skeptical that you can get the decay rates as high you need for a 6,000 year old universe but continue to persue as far as you can.
    However, by basically saying the accuracy of the Bible hangs on your success in this I find very inappropriate. Just because we may not have an answer doesn't mean there isn't one. God is omnipotent and there is things he can do that we can't even imagine. If the laws of physics were radically differnet before God's rest on day 6 then we can not know for sure what effect that
    had on radiation that is now reaching us. Also at the end of times the Bible says the heavens will dissolve rapidly so it will not take billions of years for us to see the completion of this. Let's not limit God to our current understanding of science.
     
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    HELEN

    JHappel: I did not mean to presume that the Biblical truth hangs of radiometric rates having been faster in the past. I apologize if it seemed that way. One of my main arguments against evolutionists is exactly as you stated, "let's not limit God to our current understanding of science."

    To take your post bit by bit, though, the speed of light as determined by Barry (in accord with the redshift curve, which is standard) would have been about 10^11 times faster than now at the moment of creation with an initial extremely rapid drop, tapering off with time. So the decay rates initially would have been enormously rapid, dropping down sharply even the first week of creation. Thus the radioactive decay measurements should often go back to that first week. I recommend a couple of his recent essays to explain this a bit more fully:

    http://www.setterfield.org/scipubl.html -- the first two essays there should shed some light (pardon the pun) on this for you. Others in the question and answer section and the 'implications' link might also help significantly.

    Regarding the changed laws of physics from creation week, perhaps that week was when they were being established? Although the set up of something generally is different from its actual running, the laws established in the first part end up governing the second part, so the idea of an actual change in the laws doesn't make sense to me, but then, again, as you stated, God can certainly do anything.

    Still, it seems to me He has invited us to look into all this and we, as mankind, so seem to have an 'insatiable curiosity' to borrow from Kipling's "Elephant Child". Still, it is a good reminder that we just can't dig to the bottom of it all here in this existence.

    Hand me the shovel, please... :D

    [ August 02, 2002, 01:14 PM: Message edited by: Administrator ]
     
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    PASTOR LARRY

    On the topic of radiometric dating, consider (and answer) the following: Any "constant rate" (i.e. rate of decay) is a statistically non-existent portion of the total age. For instance, it was said that uranium-238 decays 50% in 4.5 billion years (Margaret). How do we know this? Because we have measured for period of time under precise consistent conditions.
    Let's say for the sake of argument that we have measured Uranium 238 decay rates for the past century (100 years). That would be according to my calculator 2.2222222222222e-8. This is a statisical and practical non-entity. I can't even think of a good analogy of something so infinitesimally small in terms of comparison.

    My question is, does that percent of time give us a reasonable basis on which to extrapolate an age? Are we not assuming (1) the amount of uranium
    began with; (2) that decay was constant; (3) that the decay rate was not affected by external conditions not a part of the test sample pressure, moisture, air conditions, etc.)? Aren't these assumptions too big a bridge to cross? Would we accept such a gap in any other field or endeavor?

    This sounds like a huge jump in logic to say that because we know what happens in controlled conditions for a few years we can say with authority what has happened for billions of years. You suggest that creationists are operating by faith rather than science. Is is not the essence of faith to suggest that because we have tested a few things for few years, we can say what happened billions of years ago?
     
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    JOE MEERT

    This is a rather simplistic view of things. Rather than look at the percentage of time we have been measuring, it is more useful to look at the number of decay events measured through time. Statistically, the half-life measured is much more significant than what you are proposing. There are many other methods of estimating half-life in the past (such as the studies of natural reactors at Oklo). Further, more rapid decay (the only way to get a young earth) releases tremendous volumes of heat. For example in
    http://www.gondwanaresearch.com/hp/adam.htm, I show just how hot the earth would get in order to fit past decay into a young earth time frame!
    If you are willing to admit that rates varied in the past, it must also be possible that they were LONGER in the past making our estimates for the age of the earth too young! In short, there is not any evidence amassed for changing decay rates. If you think they can change willy-nilly, then you should be VERY concerned about the safety of nuclear reactors and the storage facilities.
     
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    MARGARET

    There are various ways in which the constancy of radioactive
    decay (half-lives) can be checked way back in time. All indications
    are that the half-lives have been constant. And the way that
    these half-lives are measured today involve billions of atoms,
    so the fact that we have not been doing the checking for more
    than 100 years, does not really weaken the case. We can get good
    statistics when counting the radiation from billions of atoms.

    The nucleus itself is extremely dense, millions of tons per
    cubic inch, so ordinary pressure changes are not expected to
    influence the half-life. We can have just as much confidence
    in nuclear decay being unchanging with time, as we can with
    ordinary chemical reactions. There is evidence that iron rusted
    billions of years ago, as it does now, that life needed food
    billions of years ago, just as it does now. You might as well
    suppose that life could live on water alone, without food, billions
    of years ago, as to suppose that nuclear decay was different then
    compared to now.
     
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    PAUL OF EUGENE

    in reply to Pastor Larry:

    We have calibration of radioactive decay rates from earlier epochs by several means. Tree ring chronology, for example, counts years absolutely backwards for some tens of thousands of years by matching older trees with younger trees. (They use climate change driven variations in tree ring width to make the matches.) Then they can directly compare the carbon dating method with the tree ring count method. Sure enough, they match.

    In Japan, Lake Suigetsu has been extensively investigated because it has annually accumulating material in the lake bottom going back over 40,000 years. The twigs and leaves that accumulated there as well are also dated by the carbon dating method with good agreement. Sure enough, they match.

    Here's a link to one of the scientific reports from such investigations: http://www.cio.phys.rug.nl/HTML-docs/Verslag/97/PE-04.htm

    If one ignores the assertions of some that light speed has vastly changed in the past few thousand years, then astronomical observations also establish that nuclear reactions proceded at the same rate millions of years ago as they do now. Reasons for believing that the speed of light has been constant are debated extensively below. In particular, the theories of Barry setterfield require, in addition to giving up the constancy of the speed of light, giving up on the first law of thermodynamics (conservation of energy) and giving up Einstein's relativity assertion, that there is no specially preferred inertial frame of reference for the laws of physics.
     
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    HELEN

    Joe, I think you are throwing a few red herrings across the path of the discussion. The time we have had to measure half-lives IS significant in that it is so short in relation to the claimed ages of the materials being tested, and the consideration of that statistically is important.

    As far as the heat thing goes, I’ve got this little book of strange facts that one of the kids picked up somewhere along the way. Did you know, at least according to this unreferenced source, that the “daily heat output of the average man would boil 30 quarts of freezing water”? And yet we see people even in baths not heating up the water, but the water cooling down. Of course the average man does not stay in the bath all day, either! But if someone did, I would bet that water would be cold when he got out, not hot.

    In other words, there is probably more to consider than simple heat ‘manufacture’ isn’t there?

    Now, COULD the rate of decay have been slower and not faster? What is your mechanism? Things don’t happen by themselves. We have a mechanism for a faster rate. I would be very curious about your mechanism for a postulated slower rate, or was that just another red herring?

    So was the comment about ‘changing willy-nilly’ and thus the advice to be ‘VERY concerned’ about the safety of nuclear reactors etc.

    In other words, your post really answered nothing that I could see but just threw out some rather silly ideas. You are a professional geologist. Surely you would not be taking yourself seriously for a good part of that post; why expect us to?

    From Barry: Mark Kluge himself pointed out before that the Oklo reactor would not go critical if and when the speed of light was higher in my model. In addition, the action of the ground water there is essential since slow moving neutrons are required. A faster speed of light in the past would not have provided those.

    Pastor Larry, by the way, makes a very good point.
     
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    BAVARIAN RAIN

    Helen: Thank you for all of the info. I have a feeling that much of this week will be spent reading. [​IMG]

    Jhappel and Joe Meert: Just a thought, but do you think it would be possible that natural events could have speeded up the rate of decay? Like Noah's flood. It seems that a major change like that in how the earth worked (it hadn't rained like we know it today before that, (right? ) could have effected everything. I hope that doesn't sound silly, this is why you guys are the experts and I'm asking you!
     

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