A Radiometric Dating Resource List
updated & links checked, 23 August 2005
The real heart of the age-of-the-earth debate (if "debate" is the right word) is
always radiometric dating. There are lots of ways to guesstimate ages, and
geologists knew the earth was old a long time ago (and I might add that they
were mostly Christian creationist geologists). But they didn't know how old.
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.
Radiometric methods measure the time elapsed since the particular radiometric
clock was reset. Radiocarbon dating, which is probably best known in the
general public, works only on things that were once alive and are now dead.
It measures the time elapsed since death, but is limited in scale to no more
than about 50,000 years ago. Other methods, such as Uranium/Lead, Potassium/Argon,
Argon/Argon and others, are able to measure much longer time periods, and are
not restricted to things that were once alive. Generally applied to igneous
rocks (those of volcanic origin), they measure the time since the molten
rock solidified. If that happens to be longer than 10,000 years, then the
idea of a young-Earth is called into question. If that happens to be
billions of years, then the young-Earth is in big trouble.
As of January, 1999, The oldest rocks found on earth are 4.031 ± 0.003
billion years old (meaning it has been that long since the molten rocks
solidified and thus reset their internal clocks). This is reported in the
paper Priscoan (4.00-4.03 Ga) orthogneisses from northwestern Canada
Samuel A. Bowring
& Ian S. Williams;
Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology 134(1): 3-16, January 1999.
The previous record was 3.96 billion years, set in 1989.
The putative age of the Earth, about 4,500,000,000 years is based on the
radiometrically measured age of meteorites, and is also about 500,000,000
years older than the oldest rocks. But regardless of the accuracy of this
age for the earth, the existence of rocks circa 4,000,000,000 years old
puts the squeeze on a 10,000 year old Earth.
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.
I am not going to try to write a web-treatise on radiometric dating myself,
simply because much better qualified writers have already done a much better
job than I could. This is a list of resources, some on the web, some not,
which can be consulted by anyone interested in learning more about how
radiometric dating is done, or in responding to arguments criticising
radiometric dating. My purpose is to show, through these resources that
young-Earth creationist criticisms of radiometric dating are inadequate at
best. So long as radiometric dating stands as scientifically valid, then
the assertion of a young-Earth is falsified by direct observation. The argument
from radiometriic dating is the strongest scientific argument that can be
brought to bear on this issue, in my opinion.
There may be some sense of repetition, as there are a number of one-page, introductory
type entries. But I put them all in anyway, figuring some readers would understand
one more easily than the other.
Direct responses to specific creationist sources
Responses to general creationist arguments
Reliability of radiometric dating
Responding to Creationists - Part 1
Direct responses to specific creationist sources
- Comments on "The Radiometric Dating Game" - Part 1
- Comments on "The Radiometric Dating Game" - Part 2
- Comments on "The Radiometric Dating Game" - Part 3
Parts 1 & 2 By Dr. Kevin R Henke, Part 3 by Dr. David Plaisted
Dr. Kevin Henke
was at the time a post doctoral fellow in the
Department of Chemistry at the
University of Kentucky. He is now (August 2005)
a researcher for
The Tracy Farmer Center for the Environment
at the same school.
Dr. David Plaisted earned his
PhD in computer science from
Stanford University in 1976, and is currently
Computer Science at the
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
A Creation Perspective is the title of
Dr. Plaisted's creation page. It is an extensive collection of pro-creationist material
that extends well beyond radiometric dating. So far as I know all of the material was
written by Dr. Plaisted. One of those articles,
"The Radiometric Dating Game",
which also appears
in the True Origins Archive, was
the focus of Dr. Henke's Criticism. Part 1 is a critique
posted by Dr. Henke on the talk.origins newsgroup in early December 1998.
Part 2 and Part 3 constitute
the text of a discussion between Henke & Plaisted, that followed the posting of Henke's original
critique; they date from late December 1998. Part 2 was provided by Henke; it is Plaisted's
response to the critique with Henke's posted comments. Part 3 was provided by Plaisted, and
are his remarks in further response to Henke.
A Reply to Dr. Henke and Others is a new
page by David Plaisted, in direct response to Henke's criticism's posted here, and in response to
this Radiometric Dating Resource List as well. Look for this page to change, or for new responses
to appear, as Dr. Plaisted continues his own research. There is also another copy of this page,
though perhaps not as current as his own, on
the true origins archive as well.
Responding to Creationists - Part 2
Responses to general creationst arguments
- Age of the Earth
by Robert Williams
This is a general response to several young-Earth arguments. The majority of material
is on radiometric dating, although some other faulty young-Earth age arguments are
addressed as well. Data, results, and faulty methodologies are all addressed. Of
particular interest is some tabulated data from Dalrymple's Age of the Earth
(see below). These data well illustrate the internal consistencies of radiometric
dating methods. A well written article worth reading.
Were Adam & Eve Toast?
By Geophysicist Joe Meert
A common creationist argument is that radiometric dating must be unreliable,
because decay rates are variable, and were higher in the past. In the reliability
section below, there is a discussion of how rates might be made to vary. But
here Joe Meert explains the consequences we would expect today, if in fact decay
rates were variable in the past. The consequent very high rate of energy release
brings to mind the title question, Were Adam & Eve Toast?
Reliability of Radiometric Dating
The Formation of the Hawaiian Islands
Hosted by The Hawaii Center for Volcanology.
The page inculdes a chart of radiometric ages of the volcanoes in the Hawaiian chain. But
the plot of age versus distance from Kilauea
is significant. It shows a clear linear slope, a strong, direct correlation between the tectonic
motion of the Pacific Plate over the
and the age of the Hawaiian Island chain. Once more, a clear correlation
between radiometric dates, and independent date indicators.
- Comparing Luminescence Dating and Radiometric Dating
By Tim Thompson
I wrote this originally as a discussion board post, and decided to add it to this
collection. The Hilgen et al. paper above shows a convincing comparison between
radiometric dating and astronomical dating. Here, I reference a paper that is a
good example of concordance between radiometric dating and luminescence dating,
a technique that takes advantage of electrons trapped in crystal lattice defects.
The continued concordance between radiometric and other dating schemes just makes
things bleaker and bleaker for the concept of a "young" Earth.
How to Change Nuclear Decay Rates
By Bill Johnson, updated by Scott Chase.
It is a common creationist ploy to argue that radioactive decay rates either are, or can be,
variable; since radiometric dating always assumes a constant decay rate, it is therefore
unreliable. But in this item from the
usenet physics FAQ, we see how and why decay rates can and do vary. We also see that the
variable decay rate argument is a dead argument. Not only does the variability not apply at all
to most radiometric isotopes, but even in those cases where it does apply, the affect is at the
less than one percent level, under conditions that are unrealistically extreme for any practical
application to radiometric dating.
Introductory General Articles on Radiometric Dating
- An Essay on radiometric Dating
By Jonathon Woolf
An essay on the basic principles. Woolf describes himself as an enthusiastic amateur.
But if you are looking for radiometric dating for dummies, or some such explanation,
aimed at the general reader, this may be the one that does it for you.
Advanced General Articles on Radiometric Dating
These items presume some advanced understanding of physics & mathematics
- Radiocarbon Web
Established jointly by the radiocarbon laboratories at the
University of Waikato in New Zealand, and
Oxford University in England, the Radiocarbon Web is a storehouse of
information on radiocarbon dating. Here you will find a complete description of the basic principles,
the applied techniques, and how dates are corrected for the known variations in atmospheric
carbon abundances (the use of tree ring calibration is important).
Absolute Chronology for Early Civilizations in Central Europe using 14C Dating
and Accelerator Mass Spectrometry
By Herwig Friesinger et al.
This proposal is an interdisciplinary initiative of archaeologists and nuclear physicists to
substantially improve the absolute chronology of archaeologically interesting cultures in Austria and
Central Europe by using 14C dating with Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS). An improved absolute
chronology based on precise 14C dating would lead to a better understanding of the interactions
between early cultures and would help to deepen our insight into the rich diversity of pre-historic
life in Austria and adjacent countries. The 14C dating will be performed at the
Research Accelerator (VERA), a new centre for AMS at the
Institut for Radiumforschung und Kernphysik
University of Vienna,
which came into operation in 1996.
The project description is in English and in considerable detail. This is a good example
for those who want to see a detailed account of how it is all really done. Includes 14C
dating general principles & methodology, absolute calibration, mass spectrometry, and archaeological
methods such as sample selection and preperation.
Indirectly related to radiometric dating
- Webelements -
periodic table of the elements
Webelements, hosted by the University of Sheffield, England, is the most complete
online periodic table I know of. Complete physical, chemical, thermodynamic, and even
historic information on elements and isotopes. Not as much nuclear specific information
as the table of nuclides listed below, but lots of additional stuff.
- Table of the Nuclides -
[Home Site] Nuclear Data Evaluation Lab at the
Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute
- Table of the Nuclides -
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, England
- Exploring the Table of Isotopes,
hosted by the
Isotopes Project at
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Not as detailed as
the previous two, but perhaps easier for novices to navigate and/or understand
These all mirror the same or similar functionality, but the Korean interface is actually a
tad easier to use. This is where you look up things like decay modes, half life,
decay energy, and so forth. It's easier to work your way through an entire
decay chain using these tables, but if you want lots of info on one element,
the Webelements page is better.
You remember - what we used to read before computers
I have included here only such books as I know of, or are recommended. Some I am
aware of I have left off because they are out of print and I don't know much
about them. There are no "young-Earth" books here, because of course there are
no young-Earth radiometric dating methods established (no big surprise there).
Books included are both advanced and general, but all bear either directly or
indirectly on the radiometric dating problem. For each book, the title is
linked to an Amazon.Com entry if there is one
(so far we are batting 100%). Authors are linked to their own homepages, or the
functional equivalent, wherever I could find one.
- The Age of the Earth
By G. Brent Dalrymple
Dalrymple earned his PhD in Geology from the
University of California, Berkeley in 1963.
A long time veteran of the
U.S. Geological Survey, he was Dean of the
College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences
Oregan State University, but is now retired,
and an Emeritus Professor. Dalrymple is a well recognized authority
in the field of radiometric dating. His book, published by the
Stanford University Press in 1991,
is the only book I know of which deals directly and in detail with the age of the Earth. It is
written for non-technical readers, but it is not lacking in content. 474 Pages long, the book
covers all aspects of dating the Earth, talks about the radiometric methods, and talks about
the history of attempts to determine the age of the Earth, including Biblical chronologies.
This book is a must-read for anyone interested in knowing how we know the age of the Earth.
It presents perhaps the strongest case against the idea of a 10,000 year old Earth.
Principles of Isotope Geology
Faure was and still is a Professor in the
Department of Geological Sciences at Ohio State University;
he earned his PhD at M.I.T. in 1961.
This book is not for general audiences, it is a technical book aimed at students of physics and
geophysics. The book goes beyond an explication of the basic principles, and
delves into the applications of radiometric dating. An excellent & detailed reference on the
geology & physics of radiometric dating, but Dickin's book (see below) is now in fair competition
for the top spot.
Nuclear Methods of Dating
By Etienne Roth et al., editors
Graham & Trotman, July 1990
Review - Booknews, Inc., May 1, 1990
Describes all the methods of dating terrestrial events using direct or indirect measurements of natural
nuclear disintegrations. The work doesn't treat the matter of isotopic geochemistry in general, but rather
concentrates on a more complete and practical guide to dating methods. The first chapter collates general
data and principles common to all methods. The following chapters present the possibilities and limitations
of the different dating methods, along with the relevant analytical techniques and the preferred range of
application. Includes two glossaries, isotope tables, a scale of geological times, and a chapter on
radioactivity. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.
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