Fallacious Refutations

by Dr. Andrew Snelling on August 27, 2010

Dr. Andrew Snelling, AiG–U.S., explains how to deal with refutations of creationist material

I was wondering if there is any way that one of your staff members could do an article on exactly why radiometric dating is definitely unreliable. I read the articles here that I found, but all their claims appear to be refuted on TalkOrigins.com's [sic] listing of creationist claims (as are pretty much everything on your site that I have seen.) It is making me desperate for answers, as I am a Christian and do not believe in evolution, but your research and articles do not refute the very claims that creation science is bogus because the research does not line up with the current scientific evidence. Help!
– N. H., USA

I am not sure which articles on radiometric dating you have read, or which ones have been supposedly refuted on TalkOrigins.org. So we will have to go back to basics.

Before I do, let me point out something that is very important for you to recognize. Anything that AiG publishes, in its print publications or on its website, is always reviewed and checked thoroughly before being published. This is not so with websites such as TalkOrigins.org. Therefore, I would question the cogency of any refutations that have appeared on TalkOrigins.org. I know from experience that some claimed refutations have not measured up under thorough peer review, so they are hardly refutations!

The basic information you need to have is in a series of three articles I wrote for Answers magazine (links supplied in the latest). In article number 1 of that series I pointed out very clearly the three main assumptions involved in all radiometric or radioisotope dating methods. No matter what any opponent claims, these three assumptions remain as being always needed to make the methods appear to work. It doesn’t matter whether for a particular rock unit there appears to be agreement between the different dating methods. All of the methods are based on those fundamental assumptions. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

These three basic assumptions are:

  1. All the daughter atoms had to be derived by radioactive decay from the parent atoms since the rock unit formed.
  2. There were no additions or subtractions of parent or daughter atoms since the rock unit formed.
  3. The rate of decay had to remain constant since the rock unit formed.

None of these three assumptions can be proven because there were no scientists there when the rock units formed, nor in the vast majority of time since, to make sure that the daughter atoms we measure today (1) have only come from radioactive decay of parent atoms, (2) have not been contaminated, and (3) the parent atoms had a constant decay rate through all the millions of years.

Even worse is that these three assumptions are fatally flawed, and we have impeccable evidence to show that. There are numerous examples, documented in the secular geological literature, of inherited daughter atoms when a rock unit formed and of contamination. And now because of the RATE (Radioisotopes and Age of the Earth) project, results from numerous lines of investigations have shown that the radioactive decay rates have not been constant.

What is not readily acknowledged by our opponents is that these same lines of evidence highlighted in the RATE research have also been documented in secular geological literature, although they have not recognized there that this confirms decay rates have not been constant. For example, in the literature it has been documented that different methods used on the same rock units give different results.1 Also, polonium radiohalos remain an unsolved mystery that the secular geological community has ignored.

I recommend that you read in detail the results of the RATE research which are provided in the informed layman’s book Thousand … Not Billions, and in the technical volume Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: Results of a Young-Earth Creationist Research Initiative (free download available on ICR website). I would also recommend that you read several chapters in the technical first volume of the RATE project, namely, Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: A Young-Earth Creationist Research Initiative (free download available on ICR website).

I would again point out to you that in spite of the claims made on TalkOrigins.org, none of the results of the RATE project have been refuted by the secular geological community. By and large they have totally ignored the RATE research, knowing full well that they cannot respond to it and instead are hoping that, by ignoring it, it will go away! Those claimed refutations I have seen have either been adequately responded to by creationists, such as Dr. Russell Humphreys regarding the helium diffusion results and conclusions, or are totally inane. Often these so-called refutations hinge on claiming we didn’t know how to collect samples or do field work, or that we didn’t know how to use the different methods correctly on our rock samples! Such claims are absolute nonsense and easily refuted.

Furthermore, in the case of the helium diffusion studies, what is not recognized is that the same laboratory that processed the RATE samples at the same time processed its own samples and obtained the same results!2 Similarly, with respect to the radiocarbon found in the diamonds, researchers at a California university did their own studies and also found radiocarbon in their diamond samples.3 Note also that the results of the RATE research were published in peer-reviewed creationist publications, such as the Proceedings of the Fifth and Sixth International Conferences on Creationism. Many of those papers have been reprinted on our AiG website in our Answers in Depth publications.

The research begun during the RATE project is continuing, and further results have been published. For example, I have produced further papers on results from the radiohalos research (see Implications of Polonium Radiohalos in Nested Plutons of the Tuolumne Intrusive Suite, Yosemite, California and Testing the Hydrothermal Fluid Transport Model for Polonium Radiohalo Formation: The Thunderhead Sandstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee–North Carolina), which have been published in our Answers Research Journal. Also, further results of the radiocarbon dating of fossils have been published in our Answers Research Journal (see Radiocarbon Ages for Fossil Ammonites and Wood in Cretaceous Strata near Redding, California). Research is ongoing which confirms all the results obtained by the RATE project, and the results of this research will be published in due course.

So, my counsel to you is not to be desperate or to feel overwhelmed by the claims of our opponents that they have refuted the findings against radiometric dating by creationists through the RATE research and other research projects. Indeed, in the first RATE volume published in 2000, in my chapter on geochemical processes in the crust and mantle, all the examples I used documenting the flaws in these assumptions came from the two textbooks and the documentation therein used in geochronology courses in all the world’s major universities. So, the problems with these radiometric dating methods are already well documented in the secular geologic literature.

And don’t let anyone on TalkOrigins.org or any other opponent website fool you into thinking otherwise. These same problems documented in that RATE book chapter have also been summarized in my chapter in the recently published Rock Solid Answers book from Master Books, and in my own book Earth’s Catastrophic Past: Geology, Creation and the Flood published by ICR. At last year’s Creation College 3, I made two presentations that are now available as DVDs that would be well worth viewing, one on radioisotope and radiocarbon dating and the other on radiohalos.

Thanks again for your enquiry. I hope these brief comments will help you. I would encourage you to make full use of the voluminous resources we have provided on this topic and to not be persuaded by the claims made on opponent websites, because such claims have not been peer-reviewed and are often based on technical snowballing and arm-waving to overwhelm and thus convince the uninitiated.

Let me close by reminding you that ultimately all evidence is subject to man’s interpretation and opinion. Looking at the history of science, we see that ideas come and go, because man is finite and fallible and doesn’t know everything. On the other hand, we at Answers in Genesis base all that we do on the authority of God’s Word, because God’s Word never changes due to the Author knowing everything, being all powerful, never changing, and never telling lies. It’s on the basis of God’s Word that we know He created the universe and everything in it in six literal days only 6,000 or so years ago. That’s why we never have to feel desperate or barraged by our opponents, because God’s Word is true from the beginning, and Jesus Christ our Savior (and Creator) declared that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!


  1. Two examples and the references from the conventional literature are detailed in Steve Austin’s chapter in the RATE 2000 volume (Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: A Young-Earth Creationist Research Initiative).
  2. Reiners, P. W., K. A. Farley, and H. J. Hickes. 2002. He diffusion and (U-Th)/He thermochronometry of zircon: Initial results from Fish Canyon Tuff and Gold Butte, Nevada. Tectonophysics 349(1–4):297–308.
  3. Details are discussed in my Answers in Depth article entitled Radiocarbon in Diamonds Confirmed already on our website in reference to R. E. Taylor and J. Southon. 2007. Use of natural diamonds to monitor 14C AMS instrument backgrounds. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research B 259:282–287.

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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.