Creation 'Scientists' have published many papers covering a wide range of
topics. One of their oft-repeated complaints is that they can only get them
published in Creationist Journals and that the Mainstream Scientific Press (MSP)
refuse to publish their work.
This page considers some examples of their work to determine whether the MSP is justified in this refusal or only expressing its prejudice.
In other words, is Creationism real Science or merely a Pseudoscience?
Andrew Snelling, an Answers in
Genesis" stalwart, has recently published on the AiG page an article entitled:
RADIOACTIVE 'DATING' FAILURE in which 13 attempts to date 11 samples of recent
lava flows from an active volcano in New Zealand by the Potassium - Argon
method yielded results ranging from less than 270,000 years to 3,500,000 years.
These are, of course, quite wrong as well as being highly variable.
Dr. Snelling attributes this to a failure of the method itself due to unknown and variable levels of radiogenic argon that had not been expelled from the lava while it was molten. But this is only one of several contributing factors, as will become quite clear when we consider the actual analytical procedures.
This page is not in any way a complete account of potassium - argon
dating. If you want to learn more, (and you probably will) please check out
the links listed at the bottom of this page.
The idea here is to discuss the nuts, bolts and especially the limitations of the
determination of argon as this is performed at
a commercial radiodating laboratory often used by Creationist "researchers".
And then, in this light, we can consider the Dr. Snelling's conclusions.
Potassium (K), the eighth most abundant (2%+) element in the earth's
crust, has three major isotopes (differing only in the number of neutrons
in the nucleus, and hence atomic mass). These are 39K, 40K and
are five other isotopes, but these are all highly radioactive, with half-lives
ranging from 22.4 hours down to 1.2 seconds
and do not occur naturally).
39K makes up about 93.3% of naturally occurring potassium; 41K is the next commonest at about 6.7%. These are both stable isotopes. 40K, a very small (0.0117%) proportion of naturally occurring potassium, is radioactive, and has a half-life of about 1250 million years.
About 89% of the 40K decays into 40Ca, the commonest isotope of Calcium, while about 11% decays to 40Ar, the commonest isotope of the inert gas Argon.
Argon (Ar), which comprises about 1% of the earth's atmosphere, exists mainly in three isotopic forms:
40Ar(99.6%), 36Ar(0.34%) and 38Ar (0.06%).
Most1 of the 40Ar is considered to have come from the decay of 40K, while the other two are considered to be primordial; i.e. that they have been present since the earth's formation.
When rock or lava is in a molten state any gases in it, including argon, can escape; when it cools down to a solid state it becomes, apart from the surface, essentially impermeable to gases and any argon generated subsequently is retained in the rock, trapped in the crystal lattice. What is measured as the 'age' of the rock then is the length of time that has passed since it was last molten.
METHOD OF ARGON ANALYSIS
In Geochron's procedure (Ref.1A) for 40Ar determinations, the sample is prepared
by crushing, sizing and cleaning to a fine granular form of mesh range about
80-200. A known weight (normally about 1g) is placed in a crucible which
in turn is put into the extraction system. The system is sealed up and evacuated
by pumping to as good a vacuum as can be obtained after which the system is
isolated from the pump. The crucible is heated to melt/fuse the sample
which releases the radiogenic (i.e. formed by radioactivity) argon in the rock.
At the same time a known amount of 38Ar (tracer gas) is injected into the
system. After the gases have been allowed to mix thoroughly, a sample is
injected into a mass spectrometer which then shows the relative amounts of
the three argon isotopes present as three separate peaks.
From amount of 38Ar injected, the amounts of 40Ar and 36Ar present can be calculated. The 36Ar comes from atmospheric contamination, not from radioactive decay, and the atmospheric ratio of 40Ar:36Ar is known to be 295.5, so now the amount of atmospheric 40Ar that has contaminated the measurement can be calculated and subtracted from the total 40Ar measured et voila! the remaining 40Ar is the radiogenic argon released from the sample. From this and the amount of 40K, the age of the sample can be calculated.
Atmospheric contamination is unavoidable. The sample was in contact with the
atmosphere and the preparation, which hugely increases the surface area of the
sample, can cause more surface adsorption of atmospheric argon. The system, which
has an approximate volume of 2 litres, has to be opened to allow insertion of
the sample and this will allow some some 20ml(1%) of atmospheric argon to enter.
The subsequent evacuation of the system removes most of this contamination,
but not all, because one cannot get a perfect vacuum. There is always a bit left behind,
as gas and adsorbed on the system walls; and carrying through the procedure even without a
sample present will show measureable amounts of argon on the mass spectrometer charts.
In fact this blank test is done regularly and the result is used as a correction.
The amount of atmospheric argon can be calculated from the amount of 36Ar found, but this peak is relatively small, always less than 1/300 of the 40Ar peak, and in good samples it can be much less. The peak is small enough that the accuracy in measuring it is degraded by the normal electrical noise in the measuring system which can lead to errors of as much as 1% in measuring the amount of 36Ar and hence to an error in the estimate of atmospheric 40Ar.
Another possible problem relates to the system evacuation. 36Ar weighs 10% less than 40Ar, but has the same amount of energy, so it is slightly more kinetically active than 40Ar. Furthermore, when the gases are adsorbed on the system walls the adsorption of 40Ar may be slightly preferential to 36Ar. Thus the composition of the atmospheric contamination entering the mass spectrometer may not be exactly the same as normal. There is no way of checking this. The model atmospheric ratio of 295.5 for 40Ar:36Ar has to be assumed.
For samples of older rocks which produce relatively large (10% or more) amounts
of radiogenic 40Ar in the total 40Ar this uncertainty is not too
but with very young samples that have produced very little
radiogenic Ar (maybe as little as one billionth of a cc) and the gas sample
is, say, 99% atmospheric 40Ar, then the errors in determining the 36Ar
become all-important. An error, one way or the other, of 1% in the 36Ar
determination, could result in determinations of 0% or 2% in the radiogenic
component of 40Ar.
In a much longer, more detailed version of this paper, Cause of Anomalous Potassium-Argon "Ages"...., published by The Institute for Creation Research (ICR), Dr. Snelling gave us the measured amounts of K, 36Ar, 40Ar and the calculated amounts of atmospheric Ar and radiogenic Ar in the samples.
If you introduce variations into the measured amounts of 36Ar of +/- 1%, you will find variations in the calculated amounts of radiogenic 40Ar of between +/-19% and +/-34%.
Geochron is, of course, fully aware of all this as well as much, much more. On their K-Ar page they tell us that they cannot analyze samples expected to be younger than 2,000,000 years. Geochron's system has been doing a great job on the analysis of older rocks for 30 years but it is simply not designed to date young rocks. The only part of the system they can heat is the crucible itself.
There are other labs who specialise in dating younger rocks and have bakable systems in which the whole system can be heated to remove much more of the atmospheric argon, and, with it, much of the uncertainty discussed above to obtain more reliable results.
Presumably Dr. Snelling is aware of this, yet he continues to patronise Geochron. "Why?" is a very good question.
Xenoliths are generally small foreign stony inclusions, or contaminants; they are obviously
older than the lava (which, in terms of K-Ar dating is at zero age). They are
very common in volcanic rocks and, because the lava cools rapidly, may not be completely
(Dalrymple (Ref. 1B) reports analysing a granitic xenolith in a basalt flow approximately 60,000 years old and obtaining an apparent age of 2 million years. The xenolith had come from a 90 million-year-old pluton and so had retained about 2% of its radiogenic 40Ar in spite of a probable eruption temperature of about 1100 Celsius).
This is a well-known problem and can be tackled by removing the offending fragments.
In the longer version, Dr. Snelling discussed the xenoliths in his samples but only in reference to their types and appearence, making no mention of the dating problems they could introduce. When the samples were sent to Geochron, only whole-rock analyses were requested; there was no request that the xenoliths were to be removed.
The anomalously great and highly variable calculated ages of the lava samples can therefor be ascribed to variable levels of much older xenoliths in them.
In short, the poor results are not, as Dr. Snelling would have us believe, due to the dating method in principle, but only to his (intentionally?) faulty application of it.
There are other problems inherent in the K-Ar method, such as excess argon,
argon loss, potassium gain or loss, and these are well known, and have been
widely dealt with in the literature as well as on other web pages. Brent
Dalrymple and Marvin Lamphere wrote the 250-page book on
"Potassium-Argon Dating" (published by W.H.Freeman & Co., San Francisco)
back in 1969. It is now out of print, but the problems that the Creationists
continue to harp on today were all well known back then.
Chapter 8 is 24 pages concerned with "Extraneous Argon"; Chapter 9 has 18
pages on "Argon Loss" while Chapter 10 is entitled "What can be Dated?" and
concludes that not everything can or should be. Pyroxenes, for example, are
notorious for low levels of potassium and high levels of excess argon,
making them pretty well useless for this method of dating.
Young volcanic rocks are also notorious for problems with excess argon.
Getting back to Dr. Snelling's paper, there are some points that
can now be made:
One must presume that Dr. S. was aware of Geochron's inability to provide
reliable K-Ar dates on materials less than 2 million years old.
Nevertheless he sent them samples that are less than 60 years old. And there
is no mention in his paper of Geochron's limitations in this respect.
Furthermore he asked for whole-rock analyses without regard for the problems
arising from the presence of xenoliths.
In short, Dr. Snelling 'evaluated' the K-Ar test using samples that he, not to mention everybody else in the business, would have known would produce bad results and then, on this basis alone, gave a failing grade to the K-Ar Method as a whole. But all he has really done is to generate another piece of evidence to the effect that Geochron cannot do what they explicitly say they cannot do.
Dr. S. claims that the method as a whole is a failure and should be discarded, but this claim ignores large numbers of successful determinations on really old rocks that are in close agreement with other radiodating methods.
From these considerations it is clear that Dr Snelling's "evaluation" is nothing more than the sheerest self-serving drivel.
The Ar-Ar method, a more precise off-shoot of the K-Ar method, recently came surprisingly close to the correct date of the Vesuvius Eruption of AD79, 1,920 years ago. This has been hailed as a triumph for the method. As indeed it was.
Dr. Snelling's opus, on the other hand, is nothing more than a piece of propaganda, written not to inform scientists, but only to mislead the unknowledgeable.
Which is why any reputable scientific journal would have consigned it to the nearest circular filing receptacle.
Which is why he didn't submit it to one.
DATING DILEMMA: FOSSIL WOOD IN 'ANCIENT' SANDSTONE.
This, also by Dr. Snelling of AiG, is another example of creationist "research".
Here it is claimed that a finger-sized piece of fossilized wood, found in a slab of sandstone cut from a quarry in the Hawkesbury Sandstone (Middle Triassic, 225-230 Million years ago) formation near Sydney, Australia, was radiocarbon dated by Geochron Laboratories as being just under 34,000 years old. Dr Snelling concludes that the fossil is not millions of years old and that therefore the Hawkesbury formation is not millions of years old either.
More discussion can be found in a 'feedback' piece, which consists mainly of an email by Dr. Reesman, of Geochron, with interjected comments by Dr. Tas Walker of AiG, at:
DATING DILEMMA DEEPENS
There are a number of points/questions that can be raised:
"....the applicability of C14 dating toward high ages is limited by unavoidable contamination rather than by instrumental capabilities..."In the paper it is assumed that all contamination has been removed by the washes while, in the 'feedback', other contamination is declared to have been impossible, according to some un-named 'authorities'.
This again is no scientific paper, but only another piece of propaganda, pure
and simple. The Creationist drumbeat starts in the
description of the Hawkesbury Sandstone formation when the author writes about
the different rock types showing "internal features that indicate deposition
in fast-flowing currents, such as in a violent flood." Not just a river mind you,
has to be a "violent flood"! (For a more disinterested interpretation see:
And then there are the "huge sandwaves" mentioned previously.
But it is in his conclusions that the drumbeat drowns out all else. Here Dr. S. abandons all pretensions to science and, without presenting the slightest justification, he reduces the "age" of the fossil so that it accords with his Young-Earth Creationist beliefs - which would make it at about 6,000 - 10,000 years old!(5)
His final conclusion is:
"Correctly understood, this radiocarbon analysis is totally consistent with the biblical account of a young Earth and a recent global Flood, as recorded in Genesis by the Creator Himself."
* * *
And some dare call this charade Science?
They MUST be JOKING!
* * *
In their zeal to force science to fit their dogma, Creationists, stretching the truth here, cutting facts off at their knees there, resemble that legendary old Greek, Procrustes who would adjust the heights of his guests until they fitted on to his bed. I can just imagine old P. muttering to himself as he performs his alterations,
"Correctly understood, all men are the same height."
* * *
Geological conflict: Young radiocarbon date for ancient fossil wood challenges fossil
Here, Dr. Snelling discusses some fossilised wood found in a quarry in the English midlands. He writes:
"During two visits to the Hornton Quarries, it was established that fossil wood occurs alongside ammonite and belemnite index fossils (see box) in the ‘Hornton Stone’, the oxidized silty top of the Marlstone Rock Bed."
Three samples of this fossil wood
was sent for radiocarbon dating by two different laboratories and 14C 'ages' in the
22,000 to 29,000 year range were obtained. Then he goes into a big song and dance about this
because the Marlstone rock is considered to be 189 million years old.
But he has broken a cardinal rule of sampling for radiocarbon dating:
"Second, great care must be taken in collecting and packing samples to avoid contamination by more recent carbon.......Also, the stratigraphy should be carefully examined to determine that a carbon sample location was not contaminated by carbon from a later or an earlier period."
Quoted from: Chronological Methods 8: Radiocarbon Dating A University of California
in Santa Barbara course.
Thus, when he writes, in Note 9. "The radiocarbon (14C) dating method, although demonstrating that the fossil wood samples cannot be millions of years old......" he is quite wrong. The method demonstrated only that the organic carbon cannot be millions of years old. The stone and fossils are still millions of years old, but the organic carbon is clearly contamination from the "oxidised silty top" that he mentioned as being the fossil's environment. This is 'in situ' contamination, a source of problems well known to those working in the field, but that somehow escaped Dr. Snelling's consideration.
Maybe he should have taken the course.
Finally, in the end box, "Index fossils and geologic dating", Dr. Snelling, in the 'References and Notes', writes:
"The millions of years interpretation needs to be separated from the reality of the sequence of rock layers (containing the fossils) which are stacked on top of one another. Creationist geologists do not deny that there is a genuine geological record. They recognise that the rocks and fossils are usually found in a particular order but reject the millions of years imposed on that order. Instead, catastrophic geological processes during the global Genesis Flood can adequately account for this geological record."
But, when you get right down to details, it becomes quite evident that, the Flood hypothesis
cannot come close to accounting for the record. See:
Oysters and Trilobites for a
little look at some of the problems.
* * *
(1) The nuclear physics of supernovae as well as the composition of the Solar Wind indicate that at least some of the Ar40 is primordial. Best guess is a primordial Ar40/Ar36 ratio of 1.0. (Personal communication: Prof. G. B. Dalrymple)
(1A) Personal Communication: Dr. Reesman, Mgr. Geochron Potassium-Argon Dating Laboratory.
(1B) Dalrymple, G. Brent; Lanphere, Marvin A., "Potassium-Argon Dating: Principles, Techniques and Applications to Geochronology", W.H.Freeman & Co., San Francisco, 1969, p.143
(2) Radiocarbon determinations, luminescence dating and Australian archaeology
(4)Wagner, Gunther A. "Age Determination of Young Rocks and Artifacts: Physical and Chemical Clocks in Quaternary Geology and Archeology", Springer.
(5)Dr. Snelling bases this on a pet cornerstone of Young-Earth Creationist mythology: that a supposedly stronger magnetic field in the times of the Noachian Flood shielded the earth from cosmic rays resulting in a lower concentrations of C14 and that measured C14 ages are thus much greater than the 'true' age.
But this is simply not borne out by the facts. Radiocarbon dates have been calibrated(4) by carbon dating old tree rings. This shows that conventional C14 age values tend actually to be a bit low and that this tendency increases with the age of the sample. For wood 12,000 years old, conventional C14 determinations yield an age value of only 10,000 years! These findings are quite the opposite of the Creationist notion and extend to times long before the supposed Flood.
DATING RESOURCE LIST
Links and Articles on Radioactive Dating with special reference to Creationist criticisms.
New Mexico Geochronology Research Lab
Page under construction. 'Methodology' contains brief accounts of K-Ar and Ar-Ar methods.
Chronological Methods 9 - Potassium-Argon Dating.
Part of a course from University of California. Includes movies.
ISOTOPE GEOCHEMISTRY MODULE 5
Argon Isotope Geology. Includes info on Argon loss in various minerals.
From the Australian National University. How the test is being used.
RADIO DATING AND THE CREATION SCIENTISTS
Lenny Flank's 1995 Essay
K-Ar DATING SERVICES
Offered by The University of Queensland. Some reproducibility data on standards.
A short discussion of radiodating from the USGS
TUTORIAL ON Ar40/Ar39 DATING
History and Literature Refs. This method is useful for Low-K samples.
A short run-through from the U. of Michigan.
EVALUATION OF ICR GRAND CANYON PROJECT
A 1992 Critique by Chris Stassen of Steve Austin's dating of Grand Canyon lava flows.
Ar-Ar DATING AND NOBLE GAS STUDIES
Short account of an ongoing research project on the Ar-Ar method.
Discussion of the K-Ar method based, as usual, on results obtained on young samples.
MYTHOLOGY OF MODERN DATING METHODS
A summary of John Woodmorappe's 1999 book.
RADIOMETRIC DATING GAME
Plaisted's Creationist article on a variety of dating topics.
CRITIQUE OF PLAISTED'S ESSAY
By Kevin Henke PhD.
HOW ACCURATE IS K-Ar DATING
More examples of young rocks giving bad dates.
RADIOCARBON WEB INFO
THE site for information on radiocarbon dating - including calibration by tree rings.
THIS DIED HOW LONG AGO?
Science News report from ABCNews.com.
Layers of dead white algae, separated by clay sediments, have been acumulating on the bottom of Lake Suigetsu, Japan for the past 43,000 years! These layers can be Radiocarbon dated.
[No disturbances, of the kind that might be expected from all those "raging waters" sloshing around 4,500 years ago, are reported :-( ]
[NOTE: Unfortunately, this was a news item and has since gone the way of all news itens. But....]
Quotes the above report in its entirety. And......
PE-04. A 45,000 YEAR VARVE CHRONOLOGY FROM JAPAN
Reports on calibration of C14 back 45,000 years ago, using these same sediments! Not supposed to have happened according to YEC theology.
FREQUENTLY ASKED (OR SOMETIMES ASKED) QUESTIONS ABOUT YEC GEOLOGY
Also addresses Snelling's "Dating Dilemma" Paper to good effect (as well as some other questions.)
And the calibration with Bristlecone Pine tree rings for a range of 11,000 years.
(These trees, and others too, seem to have survived death by drowning 4500 years ago remarkably well!)
Accuracy of Radiocarbon Dating
Richard Harter's essay with literature references.
Creation Science & Earth's Magnetic Field
From the Talk.Origins Archive; debunking the Creationist exponential decay hypothesis.
Earth's Magnetic Field
Magnetism Theories explained.
Earth's Magnetic Field is Young!
The ICR (Institute for Creation Research) position.
Radioactive isotopes listed in order of half-life. Classified as to whether they are found naturally. Apart from the few, such as C-14, that are being continually produced by natural reactions, no isotope with a half life of less than 3,000,000 years is known to exist in nature.
ANSWERS IN SCIENCE
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