Sunday, January 10, 2010

Answering Creationist Claims (Part 9a – Deny The Age of the Earth and You Deny Science Itself)

The sudden expansion of space-time from a singularity of infinite mass + temperature around 13.73 billion years ago marked the beginning of the universe. Soon, it would cool down, and allow the formation of galaxies. Around 4.56 billion years ago, a part of a massive molecular cloud, giving to the Sun and planets of the Solar System, including Earth itself. Then, a Mars-sized planet called Theia smashed into the Earth, and the part of the enormous amount of debris collapsed and formed the Moon. Finally, around 4 billion years ago, the first life appeared on Earth, most likely through abiogenesis, and life have evolved and came into their present form now.

No, I take that back. In order to foster “religious tolerance”, I propose the theory that a sky daddy created us around 6000 years ago (or any other time), and that he done in about 6 days (or ages). Alright, that was complete sarcasm, but when people believe in such bullshit instead of science, we have a thing to worry about. Creationists keep on spending their time convincing children and the uninformed that the {add any religion here} view is literally true to undermine science education, and so is Bible Life Ministries. Proving them wrong is absolutely necessary.

Radiometric Dating

The most famous dating method is obviously radiometric dating, and since it shows that the Earth is billions of years old, it has been the target of creationist attacks. However, radiometric dating is one of the most established dating methods ever. Let me explain how it works.

Radioactive Decay

As we all know, all atoms consist of protons and neutrons as the nucleus, with electrons in orbit around the nucleus. Quite some elements has their own isotopes, which means same atomic number, different neutron count. A nuclide is an atom characterized by its atomic and neutron number. The difference is that an isotope is a member of an element of same atomic number with differing neutron count; while a nuclide refers to only one type of atom (not a member of any element group). It’s just a difference in semantics, anyway.

There are many types of decay, including alpha decay, which ejects an alpha particle (2 protons and 2 neutrons bound together) from the nucleus; Beta-Negative (β) decay, in which the weak nuclear force causes a neutron to be converted into a proton, and ejects an electron and an antineutrino; gamma decay, which happens when the nucleus is still left in an excited state after alpha/beta particles have been emitted, and by emitting a gamma ray, it can turn back to its ground state.

Alpha Decay

Alpha Decay - Nucleus Emits Alpha Particle

Beta-negative Decay

Beta Negative Decay - One neutron turns into a proton, while a electron(e) and antineutrino(νe) is ejected.

Gamma Decay

Gamma Decay


Some nuclides are unstable. That is, they decay spontaneously into a different atom over time. We call that atom a daughter nuclide. How does this happen? Well, at subatomic levels, the interactions between matter are governed by the strong nuclear force, which is the most powerful force over subatomic distances; electrostatic force, which plays a big role as well; and in the case of beta decay, the weak nuclear force is involved.

These forces create many interactions which can alter the state of particles, and cause them to release energy. While excited particles can maintain their form when undisturbed, this is never the case. As the Second Law of Thermodynamics states, overall entropy is always increasing, and thus when certain excited particles are disturbed (by quantum vacuum fluctuations), their arrangement are changed, and they release energy and become a less-excited particle (aka their ground state).

The Half-life

Radioactive decay is a stochastic process, as it is virtually impossible to predict when a particular nuclide will decay. Nevertheless, we are able to predict general trends when a certain number of the same nuclide are present. We call this trend as the half-life, which is the time taken for half of the nuclides in a group of atoms to decay.

Let’s take a piece of wood as an example. To date the wood, we use Carbon-14, which decays into Nitrogen-14. Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5730 years, which means that within 5730 years, about half of the Carbon-14 nuclides would’ve decayed into Nitrogen-14. So that’s 1:1 ratio of nuclides. In another 5730 years, half of the remaining 50% Carbon-14 nuclides will decay again, leaving 25% of the atoms in the wood as Carbon-14, and 75% as Nitrogen-14. And so on, until we reach a point when there is virtually no Carbon-14 left, and we are unable to determine its age any further. For Carbon-14, that’s about 60,000 years.

There many other nuclides that can be used, such as Potassium-40, which decays into Argon-40, and has a half-life of 1.3 billion years. Because of this, we are able to use it determine the age of the oldest rocks. Then we have the Uranium-Lead dating method, which one of the most refined dating methods ever, with an error margin of 2-5%. As the time taken for Uranium-235 to decay into Lead-207 is 700 million years, while Uranium-238’s decay into Lead-206 is 4.3 billion years, we can collaborate the data taken from both sources, and thus get an very accurate example.


Radiometric dating requires that no nuclide may enter or leave the object for its whole lifetime. As it is possible that a particular object may be contaminated, it is absolutely necessary that checks be made to ensure that it is not altered.

For radiometric dating to be accurate, the object being dated should have enough numbers of parent nuclides. There must be a measurable ratio between parent and daughter nuclides. This is highly dependent on the half-life of the nuclide being measured. For example, Carbon-14 is useless beyond 60,000 years, as there would be to little Carbon-14 left to make accurate measurements. Potassium-40, on the other hand, will still be accurate even after billions of years.

Closure temperature

The closure temperature of a system is the temperature in which the system have cooled down enough to form a state where exchange of nuclides with the environment is impossible. Radiometric dating can only be used to start dating from the point the system reaches its closure temperature, as contamination would be highly unlikely after that. The closure temperature varies from mineral to mineral. In the case of of Carbon-14 though, renewal of the nuclide stops when the organism dies, instead of when reaching a closure temperature.

How Reliable is Radiometric Dating?

Couple of experiments have shown that radioactive decay is virtually unaffected by environmental factors: chemical reactions, heat, pressure, electromagnetic & gravitational fields, etc. These experiments include those done in the lab, studies of the Oklo natural nuclear reactor, and astrophysical observations of the luminosity decays of distant supernovae (which occurred long ago as the light has taken a great deal of time to reach us). All of them strongly point to the fact that decay rates have been constant throughout history (ignoring human errors and variation, that is).

But what about the so-called errors in of radiometric dating as claimed by creationists? Most of their claims are usually about instances when radiometric dating gave unexpected results, and they hail it as proof that it is not valid. Yet the problem is that even if radiometric dating fails in one instance because of some problem, it doesn’t invalidate radiometric as a whole. In fact, multiple radiometric dating methods and even non-radiometric dating methods can be used in conjunction to get the best answer, and so far, it works virtually every single time.

The last creationist method would be contamination. Yes, it is admitted that Carbon-14 is susceptible to contamination, and thus shouldn’t be treated too confidently. However, most other nuclides can be checked for contamination and they are extremely accurate. So far, contamination or not, all of the results points to a billion years old Earth. There literally 0 cases in which a different result was obtained. Don’t ignore that, creationists.


In my post, I have explained that the age of the Earth is an established fact, and is confirmed through radiometric dating, which is the best dating method ever. All of them point to a 4.54 billion year old Earth, and none contradicts that. However, we have yet to see a scientific paper that shows that the Earth is only 6000 or millions of years old. Let’s wait.

Previous: Answering Creationist Claims (Part 8 - The Fluid Nature of Chromosomal Count)

Next: Answering Creationist Claims (Part 9b - Evidence for a 4.54 billion year old Earth through Radiometric Dating)


Punk Chopsticks said...

Yes! Thannk you for this post and goodbye creationist theories.

Yeah, sure, an allegedly perfect man decides to create a universe and humans to torture and amuse. Sounds way more depressing that way.

BTW. have you heard of string theory?

Lone Wolf said...

Very informative. A good answer to creationist crap.
Unfortunately some creationists will reality no matter how many times you point it out.

My the way, you used "8" twice.

Darren Wong said...

Thanks, Clarissa! Yes, the sky CCTV will send us to heaven if we believe in him but killed thousands, but he would not if we helped millions, but did not believe in him. He would send us to hell for eternal torture! But, he still loves us.

Darren Wong said...

Thanks as well, Lone Wolf! I've sent an email to Bible Life Ministries as well. I've just got their email. It's like: lol! Christians are so unlike their Jesus (The perfect, sugar-coated version)!

PS: Fixed. Thanks

Darren Wong said...

And Clarissa, I've heard of string theory, which attempts to merge quantum physics and relativity in one unified theory. I don't know the details, though, and I have "The Elegant Universe" on my wishlist.