Radiometric dating breakthroughs

Discussion in 'Science' started by Gup20, May 21, 2005.

  1. Gup20

    Gup20
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    http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v26/i2/radiometric.asp

    Radiometric dating breakthroughs
    by Carl Wieland, Australia

    A few years ago, some leading creationist geologists and physicists began a detailed research project into Radioactivity and the Age of The Earth (RATE). This RATE project began as a cooperative venture between the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), the Creation Research Society of USA (CRS) and Answers in Genesis (AiG).1

    With the release of key peer-reviewed papers at the 2003 ICC (International Conference on Creationism), it is clear that RATE has made some fantastic progress, with real breakthroughs in this area.

    A young age for ‘ancient’ granites
    When physicist Dr Russell Humphreys was still at Sandia National Laboratories (he now works full-time for ICR), he and Dr John Baumgardner (still with Los Alamos National Laboratory) were both convinced that they knew the direction in which to look for a definitive answer to the puzzle of why radiometric dating consistently gives ages of millions and billions of years.

    Others had tried to find an answer in geological processes—e.g. the pattern was caused by the way the magma was emplaced or how it crystallized. This is indeed the answer in some cases.2,3 But Drs Humphreys and Baumgardner realized that in other cases there were many independent lines of evidence that suggested that huge amounts of radioactive decay had indeed taken place. (These include the variety of elements used in ‘standard’ radioisotope dating, mature uranium radiohalos and fission track dating.) It would be hard to imagine that geologic processes alone could explain all these. Rather, there was likely to be an answer that concerned the nuclear decay processes themselves.

    From the eyewitness testimony of God’s Word, the billions of years that such vast amounts of radioactive processes would normally suggest had not taken place. So it was clear that the assumption of a constant, slow decay process was wrong. There must have been speeded-up decay, perhaps in a huge burst associated with Creation Week and/or a separate burst at the time of the Flood.

    There is now powerful confirmatory evidence that at least one episode of drastically accelerated decay has indeed been the case, building on the work of Dr Robert Gentry on helium retention in zircons. The landmark RATE paper,4 though technical, can be summarized as follows:

    When uranium decays to lead, a by-product of this process is the formation of helium, a very light, inert gas, which readily escapes from rock.

    Certain crystals called zircons, obtained from drilling into very deep granites, contain uranium which has partly decayed into lead.

    By measuring the amount of uranium and ‘radiogenic lead’ in these crystals, one can calculate that, if the decay rate has been constant, about 1.5 billion years must have passed. (This is consistent with the geologic ‘age’ assigned to the granites in which these zircons are found.)

    However, there is a significant proportion of helium from that ‘1.5 billion years of decay’ still inside the zircons. This is, at first glance, surprising for long-agers, because of the ease with which one would expect helium (with its tiny, light, unreactive atoms) to escape from the spaces within the crystal structure. There should surely be hardly any left, because with such a slow buildup, it should be seeping out continually and not accumulating.

    Drawing any conclusions from the above depends, of course, on actually measuring the rate at which helium leaks out of zircons. This is what one of the RATE papers reports on. The samples were sent (without any hint that it was a creationist project) to a world-class expert on helium diffusion from minerals to measure these rates. The consistent answer: the helium does indeed seep out quickly over a wide range of temperatures. In fact, the results show that because of all the helium still in the zircons, these crystals (and since this is Precambrian basement granite, by implication the whole earth) could not be older than 14,000 years. In other words, in only a few thousand years, 1.5 billion years’ worth (at today’s rates) of radioactive decay has taken place. Interestingly, the data have since been refined and updated to give a date of 5,680 (± 2,000) years.

    The paper looks at the various avenues a long-ager might take by which to wriggle out of these powerful implications, but there seems to be little hope for them unless they can show that the techniques used to obtain the results were seriously flawed.

    More surprises on radiocarbon
    Another dramatic breakthrough concerns radiocarbon. It’s long been known that radiocarbon (i.e. carbon-14, or 14C) keeps popping up reliably in samples (of coal, oil, gas, etc.) which are supposed to be ‘millions of years’ old. However, with the short half-life of 14C it should decay to zero in only some tens of thousands of years at the most.5 For instance, AiG has, over the years, commissioned and funded the radiocarbon testing of a number of wood samples from ‘old’ sites (e.g. samples with Jurassic fossils, samples inside Triassic sandstone, and samples burnt by Tertiary basalt) and these were published (by then staff geologist Dr Andrew Snelling) in Creation magazine and TJ—the in-depth journal of creation. In each case, with contamination eliminated, the result has been in the thousands of years, i.e. 14C was present when it ‘shouldn’t have been’. These results encouraged the rest of the RATE team to investigate 14C further, building on the literature reviews of creationist physician Dr Paul Giem.

    In another very important paper, scientists from the RATE group summarized the pertinent facts and presented further experimental data.6 The bottom line is that virtually all biological specimens, no matter how ‘old’ they are supposed to be, show measurable 14C levels. This effectively limits the age of all buried biota to less than (at most) 250,000 years. (When one takes into account the probability that before the Flood the ratio of radioactive to ‘normal’ carbon was much lower,7 the calculated age comes right down into the biblical ‘ballpark’.)

    Interestingly, specimens which appear to definitely be pre-Flood seem to have 14C present, too, and importantly, these cluster around a lower relative amount of 14C. This suggests that some 14C was primordial (existing from the very beginning), and not produced by cosmic rays—thus limiting the age of the entire earth to only a few thousand years.

    This appears to have been somewhat spectacularly supported when Dr Baumgardner sent five diamonds to be analyzed for 14C. It was the first time this had been attempted, and the answer came back positive—14C was present. The diamonds, formed deep inside the earth, are assumed by evolutionists to be over a billion years old. Nevertheless they contained radioactive carbon, even though, if the billion-year age were correct, they ‘shouldn’t have’.

    This is exceptionally striking evidence, because a diamond has remarkably strong lattice bonds (that’s why it’s the hardest substance known), so subsequent atmospheric or biological contamination should not find its way into the interior.

    The diamonds’ carbon-dated ‘age’ of about 58,000 years is thus an upper limit for the age of the whole earth. Again, this is entirely consistent with helium diffusion results reported above, which indicate the upper limit is in fact substantially less.8,9

    14C workers have no real answer to this problem, namely that all the ‘vast-age’ specimens they measure still have 14C. Labelling this detectable 14C with such words as ‘contamination’ and ‘background’ is completely unhelpful in explaining its source, as the RATE group’s careful analyses and discussions have shown. But it is no problem or mystery at all if the uniformitarian/long-age assumptions are laid to one side and the real history of the world, given in Scripture, is taken seriously. The 14C is there, quite simply, because it hasn’t had time to decay yet. The world just isn’t that old!

    The 14C results are an independent but powerful confirmation of the stunning helium-diffusion results. It looks like 2003 was a bad year for megachronophiles (lovers of long ages), but a good year for lovers of the Word of God.
     
  2. Mercury

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    I'm no expert on the science side of this debate, but even I know that 50,000 years is the upward bound of C14-dating. Anything that dates around 50,000 years or more is simply off the edge of the scale, because the actual carbon is no longer statistically significant compared to the carbon present from background radiation. (Fortunately, there are other dating methods based on isotopes with longer half-lives so that older items can be dated.) The article makes the half-hearted claim of "strong lattice bonds" preventing contamination, so they obviously know that their date is outside the effective range of this dating method. Why didn't they instead date it with a method that works for older items? Because, of course, that would not give them the result they want!

    Another peculiar but relatively inconsequential error is the bit about this being the "upper limit for the age of the whole earth." This, in spite of the fact that the diamonds are "assumed by evolutionists to be over a billion years old", which would be about a quarter of the age of the earth. Why would dating something assumed to have only been around for 1/4 of the earth's history give an upper bound for the age of the earth?
     
  3. Paul of Eugene

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    Gup20 and the sources he frequently posts from hope to find evidence to show that radioactivity after all doesn't show great age for the earth. They look for anything they can find anywhere to cast doubt on the results of radioacivity decay accumulation.

    Their search is made more difficult by the stubborn facts coming from the real world. One of those stubborn facts is that in certain crystal formations, the radioactive decay leaves actual tracks visible within the rock. It is a simple matter to analyze the rock and figure out just what is in it that is radioactive; then the number of tracks in the rocks is a direct count of how much time the radioactive decay has been going on since the crystals formed.

    No need to worry about extra or missing decay results at all! Just count the tracks!


    http://www.cartage.org.lb/en/themes/Sciences/Chemistry/NuclearChemistry/NuclearReactions/Radiometricdating/RadiometricDating%20.html

    The need to make sure one has accounted for all the appropriate decay products is why so often in key determinations the results are compared over several different radioactive decay paths from various source radioactive elements.
     
  4. Gup20

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    I think you missed the point merc- they are stating that because there are strong lattice bonds, contamination is unlikely, however Carbon 14 is indeed found - telling us that these diamonds couldn't be older than 50k years. Yet according to the evolutionary timescale, these diamonds are millions of years old - more than enough time for the 14c to decay and be completely gone. However the 14c isn't completely gone... therefore the diamond (which evolutionists say are millions of years old) cannot be more than 50k.

    The Bible implicitly states that the earth is only ~ 6000 years old. Did you know that many dating techniques are 'not applicable' "unless the rock is at least 1.5million years old"? If the Bible is true and all rocks are 6000 years old, then any dates derrived from this dating will be incorrect (because the interpretive assumptions would be incorrect, not the data collection).

    Moreover, we have observed billion fold accelerated decay in the laboratory, so we know it's possible. For any radiometric dating method to be accurate, it must assume that this acceleration of decay never happened. The longer the time, the less likely this becomes. For example, we might consider this having never happened in a few hundred years, but to consider that this never happened in millions or billions of years is a pretty lofty assumption. Especially, when we have observational evidence to suggest that indeed it may have happen at some time - the carbon 14 and helium diffusion.

    Yeah, why observe something when you can just make YET ANOTHER assumption about it. You know... I think you applied this same logic to your missing links in the fossil record. You can based everything on assumption, but that's not science.

    Moreover, the most important consideration is that everything agrees with scripture. If you get dates over 6000 years, you have to be seriously concerned as to the validity of the assumptions that lead you to that belief. (after all there are no observations or historical records from a million years ago - it's all assumptions and extrapolations based on assumptions)
     
  5. Mercury

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    Gup, scientists say that C14-dating only works to a certain age. Do you know what that age is? You certainly won't find it in the article you copy-and-pasted, because they were very careful to hide that information.

    The limit is about 50,000-55,000 years. Older than that, and the background radiation overwhelms whatever is left (or isn't left) in the sample. So, if a proper sample dates well above 50,000 years, it just means that the sample is older than 50,000 years. C14-dating can't tell us how much older.

    Now, perhaps the RATE group made some sort of breakthrough to extend the range of C14-dating so that a result of 58,000 years is no longer off the edge of the scale. If so, they should definitely let the rest of the scientific establishment know of their technique.

    However, since they don't mention that it is a breakthrough, and they don't even mention that they managed to surpass the normal limits of C14-dating (nor even state what the limits are), maybe that's not the case. Mabye they just tested something they knew would be too old for a dating method, got a result that was off the edge of the scale, and published it anyway.
     
  6. Gup20

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    I think you are missing the point, Merc. These diamonds are supposedly millions of years old. After millions of years, you would have expected ALL the 14c to have decayed (at least to the point where it is unmeasurable) - but there are still measurable levels. They contend that because the lattice is so dense, outside contamination would be very unlikely - therefore the sample could not be millions of years old as scientists suppose BECAUSE there is measurable 14c. Therefore, with the top age of measurable 14c being 50k years, we can say with plausibility that the diamonds which were previously supposed to have taken millions of years to form are in fact much younger - at least younger than 50k years.
     
  7. Mercury

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    Gup, if all the c14 had decayed, one would expect a result off the edge of the graph -- something around 55,000 to 60,000 years. That's exactly what they got.

    This is like having a thermometer that is only designed to show temperatures down to -20, taking it outside on a day when the weather forecast says it's -40, and because the thermometer only reads slightly past the -20 line, claiming that the weather forecast is wrong.

    So because of the dense lattice, they think they've found a way to extend C14 dating so it can date older objects? Why, then, don't they state the normal cutoff for useful results (50,000-55,000 years) and make it clear that they think they've made a breakthrough in increasing the method's usefulness?

    Also, looking into this a bit further, I discovered that C14 dating doesn't work on diamonds in any case. C14 dating only works on once-living organisms that absorbed c14 from the atmosphere. Diamonds do not get their c14 from the atmosphere. C14-dating diamonds will not produce meaningful results.

    Gup, that's laughable. So, if the lower limit of a thermometer is -20 degrees and it reads -20 on a really cold day, that must mean that the temperature is warmer than -20?

    To summarize, there's at least three problems with their dating of these diamonds:
    </font>
    1. Because diamonds are not organic and do not get their c14 from the atmosphere, they cannot be reliably C14-dated.</font>
    2. The result they obtained was outside of the range of reliable values.</font>
    3. Even if the result of 58,000 was properly obtained, it would be the minimum age, not the maximum age.</font>
     
  8. Gup20

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    Your analogy is severly flawed. It's not like a thermometer. A thermometer measures temperature - something that is always there. This test is more like a dipstick - measure how much is 'left'. There should be none left, but it tested positive for 14c where there should have been none - the test should have read negative - no 14c. It's like saying your car has absolutely no oil - it's dry as a desert, and pulling the dipstick out and seeing a small level indicated.

    "This appears to have been somewhat spectacularly supported when Dr Baumgardner sent five diamonds to be analyzed for 14C. It was the first time this had been attempted, and the answer came back positive—14C was present. The diamonds, formed deep inside the earth, are assumed by evolutionists to be over a billion years old. Nevertheless they contained radioactive carbon, even though, if the billion-year age were correct, they ‘shouldn’t have’. "

    No... because the lattice is dense, the 14c that was present would not have been from outside contamination, but was the original 14c. The fact that there IS 14c where there shouldn't be ANY 14c is the point. It was positive for 14c, when it should have been negative.

    I only ever encounter this particular argument when the person arguing has no actual valid point.

    Again, the analogy is flawed because you can't "run out" of temperature... even if it's absolute 0 K that is still a temperature. You can, however, run out of 14c as every trace of it in an object decays.

    1. They were once organic, were they not?
    2. The range extends to 60,000 years - isn't 58,000 within that range?
    3. Should any 14c remain in an object with no contamination that is ... say... 1 billion years old? Unless you think that the rate of decay changed - I'd like to know if you are willing to entertain that possibility.
     
  9. Mercury

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    C14 dating is not nearly as simple as a dipstick. When the quantities of c14 in a sample are minute, they are indistinguishable from background radiation. This means that when you get to the edge of the scale, a result only tells you the minimum age of the sample, not necessarily it's actual age. It could be older, but it's blurred into the background radiation and, at least using this method of dating, it's not possible to tell. Fortunately there are other methods that allow dating of older samples.

    Also, there are natural processes known to replenish small amounts of carbon even deep underground. Another problem is that C14 dating is designed for testing organic material that took in its carbon from the atmosphere. It is not designed to test pure carbon, especially when the carbon did not originate from a known source. So, not only is the result off the edge of the graph, but it's also a bad object to use as a sample.

    This is an assertion without proof. They may as well say that it had a forcefield around it to keep out contamination. Also, the background radiation is not just in the sample, but in the lab. There's no way to get a perfect, uncontaminated result. The method has inherent limitations, but fortunately these limitations are well known and have been carefully measured. The fact that your article didn't even state the normal limitations of C14 dating makes me suspect they aren't interested in showing how they managed to overcome these hurdles, but rather don't want people to realize how their experiment was outside of the normal bounds of C14 dating -- both in their choice of sample and in the result.

    If a sample had completely "run out" of c14, it would still date as 50,000-70,000 years old using C14 dating, because at that point background radiation would overwhelm the c14 in the sample. Of course, labs have indeed measured such samples in order to document the limitations of their equipment and the dating technique.

    Generally, the range is given as up to 50,000-55,000 years. I have seen some sites that are more generous and say 60,000. In any case, the closer to the maximum, the harder it is to distinguish between the normal limits of the method and the age of the sample. Here's a chart (from [this site]) that shows the decay curve for c14:

    [​IMG]

    As you can see, as the age passes 50,000 years, the amount of c14 to be measured is miniscule. Quoting the site, "If the sample approaches D14C = -1000 per mille within 2 standard deviations, it is considered to be indistinguishable from the laboratory background, ie, not able to be separated with confidence from the laboratory countrates which result from a sample which contains no radionuclide. In this instance, a minimum age is calculated. An example of a minimum age is &gt;55,000 yr or &gt;50,000 yr (Gupta and Polach, 1985)."

    In other words, even if the diamonds were a valid sample for c14 dating (which they are not), the most we could say based on these results is that they were &gt;58,000 years old.

    The "no contamination" bit assumes the impossible.

    Radioactive decay has been shown to be a fixed process by observing decay rates in distant galaxes where the reactions we see happened long ago. Also, if it fluctuated significantly, it would cause the finely-tuned laws of physics to no longer be finely-tuned, potentially causing elements to no longer bond and atoms to fly apart.

    However, the ratio of carbon isotopes in the atmosphere has changed over time. The change has been measured by calibrating C14 dating with tree ring data as well as other dating methods. The result is that uncalibrated ages slightly underestimate ages. So, this does not help those looking to squish all the data into 6,000 years.
     
  10. UTEOTW

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    Ahhhh, the RATE group. Make an assumption and then cook the numbers until you find what you what. What a way to do scince.

    Let's hold off on the zircons until last.

    [snip discussion of young wood in old sandstones]

    Let's see. Geologists know that you can form iron concretions in such formations. These cannot be dated. The lab that Snelling sent the material to him told him that it was not wood, was likely such a concretion and would not date properly. He said to date it any way. And will not let anyone examine the sample. And still claims that it really is wood. Yeah, right.

    "The bottom line is that virtually all biological specimens, no matter how ‘old’ they are supposed to be, show measurable 14C levels."

    Yes, due to known factors. We'll examine those factor when we look at the diamond claims.

    "This appears to have been somewhat spectacularly supported when Dr Baumgardner sent five diamonds to be analyzed for 14C. It was the first time this had been attempted, and the answer came back positive—14C was present."

    First off, who in their right mind would carbon data a diamond. C14 is produced in the atmosphere which is then fixed into living systems while they are alive. After they die, the level starts to decline due to decay. You date them by measuring how much of the C14 has decayed. Since the carbon in diamonds IS NOT biological in origin, it should not even be expected to have C14 from organic sources that would allow for an accurate date.

    Next, they make sure and tell you about those strong bonds in a diamond that will not allow contamination. What they do not tell you is that those strong bonds have no bearing on whether energetic particles from natural radioactive decay in the background can penetrate the diamond and convert some of the carbon to C14. A very low rate of such activity will give you a detecable level of C14 in your sample. This is one reason that there is a limit on how far back you can date things with C14. Eventually that signal gets lost in the noise.

    Which leads to the third problem. More noise. There is a limit to the detectable C14 level because of the background radiation at the lab. Even a sample with truely no C14 would be expected to show some small amount in testing due to error caused by the background radiation during the testing.

    Now, I must apologize. The zircon material is fairly technical and I have chosen to respond with a link. I really doubt that our brother Gup will bother to read it. One cannot allow a little knowledge to get in the way, after all. But I have one question before the link. If all that decay happened in such a short period, as they claim, then where did all the heat go?

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/helium/zircons.html

    also

    http://www.answersincreation.org/helium.htm
     

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