Radiometric Dating and Proof

Isn’t radiometric dating irrefutable proof that the earth is approximately four billion year old? Dr. Andrew Snelling, AiG—U.S., responds.

I read through your article concerning the existence and life of dinosaurs. Have you ever heard of radiometric dating? Different radioactive isotopes can be used to date material from bone fragments to rocks so in fact, yes there is a great amount of proof that the Earth is billions of years old and that dinosaurs lived millions of year ago. We don't need to be there to know is the window to the past, present, and future. Also, I believe creation scientist is an oxymoron.

You can't take the Bible literally yet conform to the techniques and values of science. If you did, you'd know about radiometric dating and how it is used as irrefutable proof that the Earth by itself is approximately four billion years old.

– Y.M.

Dear Y.M.,

Thanks for stopping by at our website to read our article concerning the existence and life of dinosaurs. It is a pity that you didn’t keep browsing through our website, as you would have found lots of information about radiometric dating. Yes, we are well aware that there are different radioactive isotopes and that they can be used via the technique of radiometric dating to date materials from bone fragments to rocks.

But first, what do you mean by “proof”? From the way you are using the word, it does not seem that you understand its meaning. In a courtroom, the “proof” that is sought by the judge and the jury is corroborated testimonies from eyewitnesses who were present at the scene of the crime and who saw the accused perpetrate the crime. On the other hand, the court testimonies of forensic scientists are subjected to intense scrutiny, because they do not constitute proof. Rather, the evidence of scientists who were not there to witness the event is open to alternate interpretations. In order to link the evidence to the accused, the scientists make assumptions, and then they build their interpretations on those assumptions. You can find many other articles on our website that discuss these issues.

In our three article series on radiometric dating, we discuss in depth the assumptions that scientists must make. For example, it has to be assumed that all the daughter isotopes found in rocks today have been derived by radioactive decay of the parent isotopes. It also has to be assumed that the rate of decay of the parent isotopes in the past has occurred constantly at the same rates measured today. There is absolutely no way any scientist can know whether these two assumptions are correct, because the evidence only exists today in the present, and we can’t go back to test the past millions of years and check that the rates of radioactive decay were the same then as they are now.

Thus science is not the “window to the past”! This notion is based on a complete misunderstanding of the nature of evidence. What we observe and measure today exists in the present. We can repeat our observations tomorrow, but we can’t go back to last week to repeat them. The only way we know our observations were the same last week as they are today is if we have an eyewitness testimony from someone who made the same observations last week.

In the Bible, we have the eyewitness testimony of someone who has been present throughout all of history and who has told us what happened. And what we read in the Bible is confirmed by the observations we make in the world around us. In fact, we can only “do science” because that someone is the Creator God, who built the universe. He created laws that operate regularly through time and space, so we can depend on the sun rising tomorrow just as it rose this morning.

Christians were at the forefront of developing what we call science today. Those who didn’t believe in the Creator God of the Bible had no way of being sure that the operation of the universe was dependable from one day to the next, and therefore they couldn’t be sure that any measurements they made today would be the same tomorrow. On the other hand, because the Creator God of the Bible is who He says He is, as revealed in the Bible, we can make observations today and be absolutely confident that they will be the same tomorrow when we do them again. Since you clearly do not accept the Creator God of the Bible, then with respect, you have no basis for doing science and knowing whether any observations you make are reliable.

The term “creation scientist” is hardly an oxymoron, because the scientific method can only be consistently used by those who accept that the Creator God of the Bible does not change. He is not capricious but has put order and regularity into His creation, and He is a reliable eyewitness of what happened in the past as recorded in the Bible. Indeed, the early chapters of the Bible provide a sober historical narrative of the events that shaped the earth’s history. The evidence seen around us in the rocks and fossils confirm the literal or face value reading of that narrative. As explained above, the very techniques of science were established by those who had a Christian view of the world rooted in the historical narrative of the Bible and the trustworthiness of both its author and the text itself.

Now let’s deal with some more of your specific statements. To begin with, is the earth approximately 4 billion years old? Actually, the latest estimates suggest a date of 4.57 billion years. But this figure wasn’t established by radiometric dating of the earth itself. Most people are not aware of this. The truth is that the age of the earth has been established by dating meteorites, which are not earth rocks. They have come from somewhere else in the solar system, and their source is assumed to have formed at the same time as the earth. Therefore, the age they supply is an interpretation based on that assumption and is emphatically not “irrefutable proof.” How do we know for sure that the meteorites came from another body in the solar system that was formed at the same time as the earth? That’s an assumption, not “irrefutable proof.”

As for the idea that “there is a great amount of proof…that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago,” you should check out the dating of dinosaur bone fragments. As you yourself have said, radioactive isotopes can be used to date bone fragments. In this case, radiocarbon has been used, and sure enough, radiocarbon dating reveals that fossilized dinosaur bones are only thousands of years old! If, as you claim, dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, then because radiocarbon decays so rapidly there should be no radiocarbon left in dinosaur bones. You can read all about radiocarbon dating in the series of three articles on our website.

The best laboratories in the world, using the best equipment under the cleanest conditions over the last three decades, have been routinely finding measurable radiocarbon in coal, oil, natural gas, limestone, fossil bones, fossil shells, and even diamonds! If these were all millions of years old, then there should be no radiocarbon left in them. The fact is that all these materials yield radiocarbon dates of only thousands of years. And all of this is documented in scientific literature, such as in the journal Radiocarbon. So there is a great amount of evidence that the Bible is right after all about the earth’s age.

In conclusion, let me point out some major weaknesses in your comments. First, you have not defined the key terms you used, such as “proof” and “science.” Furthermore, your logic is illogical. In other words, your comments are full of logical fallacies, such as non-sequiturs, which means that your claim (A) does not follow from your statement (B). Besides, without the Creator God of the Bible, the laws of logic could not even exist!

Thanks again for your comments. We invite you to spend more time browsing our website and reading our many articles. They will inform you that what we see in the world around us is consistent with the Creator God’s eyewitness testimony recorded in the Bible. The question is, are you willing and open in your mind to be convinced by the evidence? Let me challenge you not to “worship” the “science” of finite, fallible scientists who were not eyewitnesses of earth’s distant past.

Yours sincerely in Christ,
Dr. Andrew A. Snelling, AiG–U.S.


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