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Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth

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By Larry Vardiman, Andrew Snelling, and Eugene Chaffin
Published jointly by the Institute for Creation Research and Creation Research Society
675 page hardcover
ISBN 0932766196

Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth is a status report on the RATE group research. The book discusses isochron dating and other experimental results within a creationist young earth time frame. Models for accelerated decay during creation week, the fall of man, or during the Genesis flood are prime hypotheses for explaining radioisotope data. The geophysical and geological histories of rocks and magma sources of igneous rocks must also be considered.

Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, Volume II contains the published results of the RATE groups work.


External Reviews

  1. The RATE Book Review by Margaret Helder. Creation Dialogue Vol 28, no.2 June, 2001
  2. Rating radiodating by Michael Oard. TJ 15(2):31–32 August 2001.

Internal Review

By User Temlakos 19:26, 25 December 2006 (EST)

The RATE Group first published its plan of action, Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, in 2000. The data they have gathered since that date has more than vindicated the bold vision they set forth in this work. Even those who have read Volume II ought to read Volume I to understand how real science gets done.

The Background

(Main article: Non-correlating and inconsistent dates)

Creationism as a science necessarily faces a number of obstacles to popular acceptance. Chief among these, apart from the very idea of the supernatural, is the successful sale, by the community of evolutionists, of the notion that the heavens and the earth are far older than the Bible says, and by several orders of magnitude. Various chronologies have placed the age of the earth at 6,000 +/- 300 years, on the basis of two detailed patriarchal genealogies, equally detailed king lists, and several definite time-interval declarations that the Bible makes. On the other hand, evolutionary geologists and astronomers insist that the earth is 4.6 billion years old, and the rest of the cosmos 15 billion years old.

Until 1993, all that the creation community had to assert was an absence of hard proof, other than a mere inference from observed radioactive decay, that various rocks were so incredibly old. But Andrew Snelling's study of a fossilized tree buried in basalt in the Crinum Coal Mine in Queensland, Australia, changed all that. How, in short, did a tree apparently only 37,000 years old (give or take 8,000) come to be buried in lava that apparently had flowed as much as forty-two million years earlier? The actual situation was even more puzzling, in that various laboratories reported multiple apparent ages for the tree and the rock, and these differences far exceeded even the highest rated tolerance for any of the measurements of the same object.

Snelling hadn't even published his result when Steven Austin published a result that was even more striking. Why did dacite from Mount St. Helens have five apparent ages, varying from 350,000 to 2,800,000 years--when in fact the dacite came from lava that had flowed and cooled ten years ago?

Findings like these raised a number of questions. Far more than a simple failure of quality control was involved. Snelling and Austin hypothesized that the basic premises of radiometric dating were flawed and urgently needed re-examination. They shared their concerns with a number of their colleagues at the Institute for Creation Research--and thus the RATE Group was born.

New Models for Rock Formation

RATE, of course, stands for Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth. The RATE scientists sought to answer a key question: Why do most rocks look far older than the Bible says that the earth is--and why do many rocks look demonstrably older than they really are? Given the spectacular failures they had observed, the RATE participants sensibly took nothing for granted.

The use of radioisotopes and radioactive decay chains to date a given geological formation rests on three assumptions, all of which the RATE Group declared open to challenge:

  • 1. That each radioactive substance decays at a set rate that is never subject to change.
  • 2. That the relative concentration of parent and daughter isotope has never been subject to any alteration other than decay of the one into the other--in other words, no process has washed any daughter (or parent) isotope in or out in the history of the rock.
  • 3. That whenever any rock forms, the proportion of daughter isotope is a known quantity, usually (but not always) undetectable or otherwise statistically insignificant.

Very sensibly, the RATE scientists did not stop at trying to discredit a conventional model. So they constructed new models, each based on a variety of assumptions, and carefully determined the sort of findings that each model would predict.

Nor did the RATE group neglect the implications of each of their models, not merely physical but also biological (would the tremendous levels of ionizing radiation have been consistent with reported lifespans measured in centuries rather than decades?) and even theological (how is a world "very good" if accelerated decay is taking place within it?). Where their model required definite supernatural intervention, they sought Scriptural authority for such intervention taking place at the time in question. At every step in their deliberations, they made sure that their models would be:

  • A. Plausible,
  • B. Consistent with Scripture, and
  • C. Testable.

Over the course of several meetings, the RATE group made definite plans for a research program to test their new models. This volume, which they intended as an aid in grant proposing and an invitation to interested investigators, has a clear and concise catalog of those plans and of desired areas of research.

Reviews of the Prior Art

The first several chapters of this volume (past Larry Vardiman's excellent introduction) discuss radiometric methods in detail, the distribution of radioisotopes in the ground, and various geochemical processes that can affect radioisotope distribution (and form certain kinds of rocks). The purposes of these chapters is simple: to remind people that radiometric dating is not an exact science, and never has been. But those chapters also serve the valuable purpose of providing a background against which one can evaluate any scientist's claims concerning the age, or youth, of a particular sample.

The RATE scientists carefully describe every radiometric dating technique presently known, including isochron dating (in which one examines multiple samples that are assumed to be the same age but have different parent/daughter isotope ratios, and plots one isotope ratio as a function of the other, hoping to obtain a linear relationship that can give the age). Isochron dating seems very impressive--but the RATE scientists describe many limitations of the technique of which even many professional geologists might not be aware.

Eventually the RATE scientists introduce their most radical proposal: that radioactive decay was subject to one or more discrete episodes of acceleration. They discuss specifically how acceleration of decay could easily skew the results of any dating method, to account for rocks appearing far older than historical records say that they should be.

Is accelerated decay possible?

The RATE scientists do more than speculate on how accelerated decay would affect radiometric measurements. They also describe how accelerated decay might work, and what specific signs accelerated decay might leave. Most strikingly, the RATE authors reveal that much evidence for accelerated decay already exists at the time of this volume, in the form of zircons retaining excess helium (the classic by-product of alpha rays), and as radiohalos (discolored regions that were subject to alpha and beta ray bombardment from their retention of radioactive materials).

Ease of reading

Though this volume is necessarily technical, it is surprisingly easy to read. The authors set forth the theory behind radiometric dating, and their own models, in an easy-to-follow, straightforward manner. Moreover, they follow a careful logical plan: introduce their subject, review the prior art, and then discuss the most important hypothesis which, if they could show it clearly and convincingly, would most severely weaken the conventional "old earth" hypothesis.


Even without the subsequent evidence of the RATE group's findings, this volume is a valuable and even engrossing illustration of how to design a research program. These men (as it happens, they are all men) know that they have a difficult challenge--and if they show nothing else in this volume, they show that they are prepared to meet that challenge.

Now that Volume II is available for sale, every school library ought to have both volumes. Together they go far to dispel the conventional notions of an old earth that remain popular today, despite an increasing body of evidence to the contrary. In addition, Volume I should be required reading by any scientist wishing to challenge a prevailing paradigm--for it illustrates well the necessary work of creating a model, making predictions from it, and from those predictions, crafting a research plan.

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