Theistic Evolution vs. Six-Day Creation: Reply to Robert Sungenis

earth DOB: 4.5 billion years agoReply to Sungenis on Science Issues: Age of the Earth (Part 2)

Evidence for an Old Earth: Case of the Missing Nuclides
The Reliability of Radiometric Dating Methods
Evidence for an Old Earth: Archean, Moon Rocks, Meteorites
Responses to Young-Earthers Woody, Gentry, Austin, Berthault

This article is a reply to "six-day creationist" Catholic Robert Sungenis and his article "Dialogue on Evolution vs. Creationism" in response to me (P), a "theistic evolutionist" Catholic. The primary purpose is to present once again the scientific data for the age of the earth and evolution, especially where these have been misunderstood or ignored by Bob. I don't claim to know a whole lot about radiometric dating, but I do read the sources (Dalrymple) carefully and enjoy learning what geology and biology I can. Just so you know my background, I am not a geologist or biologist but have a mere B.S. in Computer Science. Please check and verify any information below with the recognized authoritative scientific sources and knowledgeable experts in the pertinent fields.

And note I still appreciate and recommend Bob's apologetics and theology books Not By Faith Alone, Not By Scripture Alone, and Not By Bread Alone (minus the young-earth stuff near the end of the latter book). This is not meant to take anything away from these still excellent books. But when it comes to "not by science alone" we have our strong disagreements. The following is divided into several sections.

also Reply to Sungenis on Theological Issues (Part 1)
also Reply to Sungenis on Science Issues: Evolution (Part 3)

The Evidence for an Old Earth

The Age of the Earth by G. Brent Dalrymple (Stanford University Press, 1991)There are various scientific evidences for an ancient earth and/or solar system and universe (distance from the stars, speed of light, evidence from astronomy and physics, etc), but I will concentrate on the direct geological evidence: the material and rocks of the earth, the moon, and meteorites, and the various methods of radiometric dating that geochronologists use to determine their ages. This is considered the most powerful evidence for an ancient earth (c. 4.5 billion years old) and I will give a brief summary of the authoritative work on the subject: The Age of the Earth (Stanford Univ Press, 1991) by G. Brent Dalrymple which covers this material in much detail.



Evidence for an Old Earth: Case of the Missing Nuclides

Nuclide Half-Life Found in Nature?
..... 40K 1.25 x 109 yes....
235U 7.04 x 108 yes
244Pu 8.2 x 107 yes
146Sm 7.0 x 107 no
205Pb 3.0 x 107 no
..... 247Cm 1.6 x 107 no.....

P.: As seen above, every nuclide with a half-life less than 80 million years (8.0 x 107) is missing from our region of the solar system, and every nuclide with a half-life greater than 80 million years is present. That means the solar system is much older than 80 million years, since the shorter-lived nuclides have simply decayed themselves out of existence. Since a nuclide becomes undetectable after about 10 to 20 half-lives (Dalrymple, page 378), multiplying 80 million times 10 (or 20) gives us about 800 million years (or 1.6 billion years). The earth must be at least that old since these nuclides have disappeared from nature.

Sungenis: Not provable. The only thing we can safely say that the above numbers tell us is the half-life of the nuclides is in the 10^15 to 10^6 range and that some appear in our solar system and some do not. From a Creationist standpoint, God simply made the elements and designed them with the half lives we still see today. Some He included in our vicinity, some He didn't. The only thing we CAN say based on the half lives is that, if the Earth were to last 10^15 billion years, than half of the present Hafnium, for example, would still be present in 10^15 billion years. Any other conclusions are just speculation.

Proof, as the saying goes, is only found in mathematics and alcohol. We're not talking about whether something is "provable" since science isn't about proof. Science is about evidence, and weighing the evidence in favor of one or another particular scientific theory or hypothesis. So let's consider the scientific evidence (not proof) for an old earth.

Now the Sungenis response above completely ignores the fact that the exact nuclides that are missing have half-lives that are all less than 80 million years. The ones present have half-lives that are all greater than 80 million years. Does Sungenis deny this? This "some appear, some do not" (as if a random order) is not in my chart. Look at the whole chart here again. This needs to be explained from a six-day, young-earth creationist viewpoint, and not ignored. If the earth really were 10,000 to 15,000 years old (as Sungenis believes, see Not By Bread Alone, appendix 4, page 331, or the CAI online science articles here) then all of these elements should be with us today and found in nature. Their half-lives are just too great. None of them would have decayed away. But alas, the ones (all of them) precisely less than 80 million years old are gone. Sungenis has not explained this coherently. He is not looking at the data. This means not only that the earth has a finite age (or else all of them would have decayed away) but that age is much greater than 80 million years (and at least 800 million or 1.6 billion since it takes 10 to 20 half-lives for a radioactive element to decay away and thus become undetectable in nature). There is no way out of this from a young-earth standpoint other than to deny, distort, or ignore the data as Sungenis has done.

The excuse "God made them that way a short time ago" does not explain anything scientifically. It would simply be a religious "blind faith" position. Nor does "God made the earth look very old" (appearance of age) "even though it is very young" explain anything. Yes, God being omnipotent, can do anything. But he would also not deceive us or contradict our God-given reason since He is the God of truth (Isaiah 65:16; Isaiah 1:18; 1 Peter 3:15). He created both His world and His Word (Romans 1:19-20; Psalm 19; Genesis 1). If you're going to invoke a "miracle" of deception here ("miraculous" half-lives created "just so" to give us the "appearance" of long ages), then we can't discuss the scientific evidence. All of science (geology, geochronology, astronomy, physics, etc) effectively goes out the window. More on this "appearance of age" argument after I'm done carefully presenting the details (once again) on the age of the earth.

The Reliability of the Radiometric Dating Methods

The development of radiometric dating used to determine the age of the earth has progressed with the following historical scientific discoveries:

  • the suggestion and first demonstration by Rutherford in 1904 that radioactivity might be used as a geological timekeeper
  • the development of the first mass analyser and the discovery of isotopes by J.J. Thompson in 1914
  • the idea by Russell in 1921 that the age of a planetary reservoir like the Earth's crust might be measured from the relative abundances of a radioactive parent element (uranium) and its daughter product (lead)
  • the development of the idea by Gerling in 1942 that the age of the Earth could be calculated from the isotopic composition of a lead ore of known age
  • the ideas of Houtermans and Brown in 1947 that the isotopic composition of primordial lead might be found in iron meteorites
  • the first calculation by Patterson in 1953 of a valid age for the Earth of 4.55 Ga (billion) using the primordial meteoritic lead composition and samples representing the composition of modern Earth lead

Source: Dalrymple, from "The Age of the Earth in the Twentieth Century: A Problem (Mostly) Solved" in The Age of the Earth From 4004 BC to AD 2002 edited by Lewis/Knell (Geological Society, 2001), page 205.

See also Changing Views of the History of the Earth which covers the highlights from 1600 AD to the present, and chapter 2 titled "Early Attempts: A Variety of Approaches" in Dalrymple [1991].

There are several reasons why the radiometric methods and dates received from them are reliable and can be trusted:

  • (1) half-life decay rates have been shown to be constant
  • (2) the isochron and/or "concordia-discordia" methods completely removes the unknown initial daughter problem, and especially
  • (3) the vast numbers of samples measured over the last 50 years, and the consistency in the dates using two or more radiometric methods with different "clocks" demonstrates these dates are reliable

I presented the data for (3) in great detail in my previous article from the oldest rocks of earth, moon rocks, and meteorites. However (1) and (2) now need to be elaborated upon and defended. This gets a little technical but is necessary for a thorough answer. I strictly follow Dalrymple here who is the expert on the radiometric dating techniques.

(1) half-life decay rates have been shown to be constant

The assumption is that the rate at which decay proceeds in any given nuclide is either unalterable or that variations are quite negligible over a wide variety of physical and chemical conditions and for millions or billions of years of time. How reliable is this assumption? Unless there has been some undiscovered change in the fundamental nature of matter and energy since the universe formed, the presumption of constancy for radioactive decay is eminently reasonable (Dalrymple [1991], page 86-87). There are two basic reasons for this:

  • the nuclei of atoms are extremely small and well insulated by their cloud of orbiting electrons; these electrons separate nuclei and thus cannot interact; they also provide a "shield" that prevents ordinary chemical or physical factors from affecting the nucleus. Chemical activity in an atom occurs almost entirely among the outermost electrons and does not involve the nucleus at all.
  • the energies involved in nuclear changes are 106 times greater than those involved in chemical activity, and 104 to 105 times greater than energies that bind the electrons to the nucleus. This is why nuclear reactors and powerful particle accelerators are required to penetrate and make changes in atomic nuclei. Except in nuclear reactions, such energies are generally not available in natural processes such as those that form, change, or destroy rocks on the Earth and Solar System (Dalrymple [1991], page 87).

Several experiments have been conducted attempting to seriously change radioactive decay rates, those of  Rutherford / Petavel in 1907 on 220Rn radon using a steel-encased cordite bomb -- they observed no change in the activity of the sample even though the explosion generated an estimated temperature of 2,500 degrees Celsius and a pressure of 1,013 bars; and that of Madame Curie / M. Kamerlingh Onnes in 1913 who lowered the temperature of a radium compound to -252.8 degrees Celsius (the boiling point of liquid hydrogen) and observed no change in the radium activity by more than 0.05% (Emery 1972; Hopke 1974). Other experiments involved varying gravity by measuring the rates on mountain-tops, in the depths of mines, by whirling in a centrifuge, or subjecting to magnetic fields as much as 8.3 Teslas. These early experiments and subsequent ones involving extremes of temperature, pressure, chemical state, electrical and magnetic fields have uniformly failed to induce any changes in the decay rates of a wide variety of alpha and beta emitters involved in radiometric dating (Dalrymple [1991], page 87-88).

However, tiny changes in decay rates are theoretically possible. Example: The maximum difference in activity yet found between any two beryllium Be compounds is 0.18%. Although chemically induced changes in the electron capture (e.c.) decay rates of zirconium 89Zr (0.08%) and strontium 85Sr (0.005%) have been reported (Emery 1972), 7Be is the only isotope for which changes have been observed by more than one investigator (Hopke 1974).

In summary, both theory and experiment have shown that changes in alpha, beta, and e.c. rates (the three main types of radioactive decay) are not only rare but exceedingly small. Even the largest observed change of 0.18% in beryllium 7Be would have a negligible effect on a calculated radiometric age. Also important is the fact that no changes have ever been detected in any of the isotopes used for dating and none of significance are theoretically expected. Of the physical and chemical processes that affect meteorites and rocks from the Earth and Moon, including pressure, temperature, gravity, magnetic and electric fields, none should affect radioactive decay to any significant degree. The assumption of constant decay rates is further strengthened by the consistency of the dating results received using the various radiometric methods (all "ticking" at different "clock" rates) from the past and present (Dalrymple [1991], page 89-90).

see also the Usenet Physics FAQ at the Mathematics Dept of the Univ of California (Riverside)

Emery, G. T. 1972. "Perturbation of nuclear decay rates." Annual Reviews of Nuclear Science, vol 22, pages 165-202.
Hopke, P.K. 1974. "Extranuclear effects on nuclear decay rates." Journal of Chemical Education, vol 51, pages 517-519.

(2) the isochron and concordia-discordia methods completely removes the unknown initial daughter problem

In radiometric dating, the nearly ubiquitous presence of an unknown amount of initial daughter element generally prevents the use of the simple accumulation methods (see my original article describing some of these). The exceptions are the parent-daughter pair 40K and 40Ar (Potassium-Argon) and special but rare cases of other decay schemes. However, this "initial daughter" problem is easily solved by the application of isochron or concordia-discordia diagrams, and similar methods. As mentioned, the simple accumulation methods are based on two assumptions: (1) the amount of the initial daughter must be known, and (2) the rock being dated has remained a closed system (e.g. not being disturbed or reset by re-heating) since formation.

The following graph is the decay of a radioactive parent isotope ( Pt ) and the corresponding accumulation of its daughter isotope ( Dt ). In a closed system, the sum of the parent and daughter isotopes ( Pt + Dt ) at any time equals the original amount of the parent isotope. The number of atoms represents the y-axis, and the elapsed time in half-lives represents the x-axis (Dalrymple [1991], page 85).

Graph of the decay of a radioactive parent to daughter isotope

The problem of the unknown quantity of the initial daughter and whether the system is open or closed are solved by using age-diagnostic diagrams. These diagrams and their mathematical equivalents not only provide an age, but some provide an exact measure of the initial daughter, and some provide an age for systems that have not remained closed, and all are self-checking.

An isochron is a line of equal time. It is obtained by analyzing several minerals from the same rock, or several rocks that formed from the same source at the same time but with differing amounts of the parent and daughter elements. On a simple graph, the amount of the parent isotope is plotted on the x-axis and the amount of the daughter isotope is plotted on the y-axis, both values being divided (or normalized) by the amount of a non-radiogenic isotope of the same element as the daughter. If the samples have been closed systems since they formed, the points will fall on a line (an isochron) whose slope is a function of the age of the rock. The intercept of the line on the x-axis gives a measure of the initial daughter.

The isochron diagram, or "correlation diagram," or "isotope-evolution diagram" is a device of magnificent power and simplicity. The most common form of the isochron diagram was conceived in 1961 by L.O. Nicolaysen of the Bernard Price Institute of Geophysical Research, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, who applied it to Rb-Sr (Rubidium-Strontium) data and suggested that it could be used for U-Pb (Uranium-Lead) data as well (Nicolaysen 1961). It is now a widely used geochronological tool, applicable in one form or another to all of the decay schemes used for radiometric dating (see Dalrymple [1991], pages 90, 102-115).

Nicolaysen, L.O. 1961. Graphic interpretation of discordant age measurements on metamorphic rocks. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol 91, pages 198-206.

Isochron rubidium-strontium diagram of the meteorite Tieschitz, dated at 4.518 Ga (billion)

The diagram above represents a mineral and whole-rock Rubidium-Strontium isochron for the chondrite meteorite Tieschitz (after Minster and Allegre 1979, see Dalrymple [1991], page 110). Notice how the various elements taken from the rock (chondrule 1 and 2, pyroxene, olivine, whole rock A, B, C) all fall on a line. The slope of the line is the age of the rock (4.518 +/- 0.052 Ga = billions of years old). Points that fall on an isochron can confidently be interpreted as indicating the time of last isotopic homogenization, i.e. formation or re-formation of the rock. Thus, the isochron method is self-checking, providing not only the prospect of an age but also a statement on its validity.

The concordia-discordia method works similarly and can be used on both open as well as closed systems, a feature of special value for dating old rocks with complex histories, and also is self-checking. The U-Pb (Uranium-Lead) concordia-discordia method differs from the simple isochron in the way it utilizes simultaneous decay and accumulation of two parent-daughter pairs, 238U to 206Pb and 235U to 207Pb. Disturbance of a sample due to partial Pb loss produces a "discordia" and permits the determination of the age of the rock. This method is especially resistant to heating and metamorphism and thus is extremely useful in rocks with complex histories, and is quite often used in conjunction with the K-Ar and Rb-Sr isochron methods to unravel the history of metamorphic rocks. Each of these methods responds differently to metamorphism and heating so the methods are also cross-checking (Dalrymple [1991], pages 115-119).

Again, here is what I said:

P.: If the rock incorporated some of the daughter isotope when it formed, then this initial amount of the daughter must be subtracted from the total amount measured. However, for the principal methods, the value of the initial daughter is either zero, negligible or not required (Dalrymple, page 84-86).

This important point -- "for the principal methods, the value of the initial daughter is either zero, negligible, or not required" -- was ignored or misunderstood, and Sungenis goes on to describe some of the dating methods and half-lives.

Sungenis: Potassium 40 breaks down into 88.8% Calcium 40 and 11.2% Argon 40. Although one could date rocks by calculating the Calcium 40 method, scientists realize that they do not know how much Calcium 40 was originally present. Instead, they date according to Argon 40, assuming that, when igneous rock melts and then hardens, the Potassium 40 decay to Argon 40 begins again. But the problem with this is that: (1) there is no way to know that all of the Argon 40 escaped when the rock melted; (2) there is always an amount of air-Argon remaining in the rock when it hardens, especially since air contains 1% Argon.

Sungenis: Knowing these anomalies in the Potassium-Argon method, scientists tried to solve the problem by the Argon-Argon method. This method subjects the rock against a nuclear reactor for several hours. The nuclear reactor emits a large number of neutrons, which stimulates Potassium 39 to decay into Argon 39. The rock is then heated to release both Argon 40 and Argon 39 (representing the Potassium). The ratio of these are measured to determine the amount of Potassium 40 originally present. But the problem with this method is that if the rock has experienced high temperatures during any part of its formation, this will give a null result to the dating. As it stands, Potassium-Argon and Argon-Argon are thought to be the best dating methods, since it is believed that one can determine the original amount of daughter element in the sample, but as we have seen, the anomalies remain.

Sungenis: All the other dating methods, e.g., Rubidium-Strontium; Samarium-Neodymium; Lutetium-Hafnium, etc, are all less accurate since, by their own admission, scientists realize that there is always some undetermined amount of the daughter element in the original sample.

Not true, and solved with the use of isochron and other methods. See above. Again, here is what I said in my original article that again was missed:

P.: The K-Ar method is of limited use for the dating of meteorites, lunar rocks, or the oldest rocks from the earth due to its susceptibility to resetting by later heating. The 40Ar / 39Ar variant of the method overcomes many of these problems (Dalrymple, page 90-94).

P.: Because of its relative resistance to post-formation events, the Rb-Sr dating (by the isochron method) is used extensively to determine the ages of the oldest rocks in the solar system (Dalrymple, page 94-95).

P.: Because of the problems of initial Pb and Pb loss the U-Th-Pb methods of dating are most often applied with the use of "isochron" or "concordia-discordia" diagrams which circumvent the initial daughter problems mentioned earlier (Dalrymple, page 99-102).

Therefore, the "anomalies" are well known and well accounted for during the dating process. Use of the isochron and/or concordia-discordia methods completely removes the initial daughter problem and implements self-checking techniques. The plot of the data and slope of the line displays graphically the age of the rock and reveals any anomalies in the dating. If the points fall on a line, the date can be trusted. If not, the rock system was not closed and/or re-heated or some other disturbance occurred since the rock's formation. The thousands of consistent radiometric dates published in the scientific literature is a test and confirmation, year after year, of the reliability of the radiometric dating methods.

Sungenis: One of the more popular radioactive methods is the measurement of the decay of Uranium into Lead. Evolutionary theory holds that the half-life of Uranium 238 is 4.5 billion years, which, since they estimate the earth to be the same age, serves as a coincidental dating device. Other elemental pairs used in radiometric dating are: Samarium 147 to Deodymium 143 (half-life of 106 billion years); Rubidium 87 to Strontium 87 (half-life of 48.8 billion years); Rhenium 187 to Osmium 187 (half-life of 42 billion years); Lutetium 176 to Hafnium 176 (half-life of 38 billion years); Thorium 232 to Lead 208 (half-life of 14 billion years); Potassium 40 to Argon 40 (half-life of 1.26 billion years); Uranium 235 to Lead 207 (half-life of .7 billion years); Beryllium 10 to Boron 10 (half-life of 1.52 million years); Chlorine 36 to Argon 36 (half-life of 300,000 years); Carbon 14 to Nitrogen 14 (half-life of 5715 years). Data taken from N. E. Holden's Pure Appl. Chem. 62 (1990): 941-958. Whether these decay rates are correct or not remains to be seen. Decay rates measured within the last 50-80 years depend on a pure parent sample which is set aside for a length of time to produce the daughter element, but this assumes that the present decay rate has always been the same, which cannot be proven.

Again, the notion of "proven." Proof is only to be found in mathematics and alcohol, not science in general which is based on evidence. Second, "evolutionary theory" is a separate question from dating rocks using the radiometric methods and the half-lives of elements. Geologists and physicists are generally not biologists, and they knew the earth was very old well before Darwin. See again Changing Views of the History of the Earth.

Let's consider the evidence. I'm sure some of this same information is in Holden's Chemistry book. Dalrymple makes several points on the accuracy and precision of the dating. 

  • As for the decay constants listed in my original article, these have been determined by direct laboratory counting experiments and with the possible exception of 187Re, are known to within an accuracy of about 2%. The decay constants of 87Rb, 147Sm, 176Lu, and 187Re are known to 2% accuracy, while the decay constants of 40K, 232Th, 235U, and 238U are known to an accuracy of better than 1%. These small uncertainties do not significantly affect the values for the ages of the Earth, Moon, or meteorites.
  • Virtually all investigators worldwide use the same decay constants and isotopic compositions for their calculations, and updating them occurs every decade or so.
  • Modern analytical instruments especially the mass spectrometers used for isotopic measurements have been refined to the point where the precision of the laboratory measurements usually far exceeds the errors introduced by geological factors. Most isotope ratios can now be measured to an accuracy of a few tenths of a percent or better.
  • Isochron slopes, concordia-discordia intercepts, and other relevant quantities are not determined graphically but are calculated by appropriate formulae and statistical methods. The numbers themselves are still the most rigorous way to determine how well a set of data fit or do not fit an isochron.
  • The uncertainty in a radiometric age is usually an estimate of the precision of the age measurement at the "two-thirds confidence" level. Sometimes, the 95% confidence level will be used instead of two-thirds. The main point is that the errors, although expertly determined, highly useful, and generally realistic, are statistically-based approximations and do not define precise limits within which the "real age" must fall.
  • Geochronologists do not rely entirely on error estimates and the self-checking features of age-diagnostic diagrams to evaluate accuracy. Whenever possible, they repeat the analytical measurements to minimize analytical errors. Another strategy is to make age measurements on several samples (minerals or rocks) from the same rock unit. This technique helps to identify post-formation geological disturbances (re-heating or chemical changes, etc).
  • The use of different decay schemes on the same rock is an excellent way to check the accuracy of age results. If two or more radiometric clocks running at different rates give the same age, this is powerful evidence that the ages are correct. This approach is similar to checking the time in your house by comparing various clocks (wristwatch, pendulum, electric, battery, etc). If all agree within a few minutes, then we are confident we know the time of day. In the same way, different radiometric methods may be compared. If all agree on the same age, our confidence in the accuracy of the results is greatly increased (Dalrymple [1991], pages 122-124).

Sungenis: Taking the known decay rate of Uranium from laboratory experiments, these results can then be compared to the remaining Uranium in the rock specimen, along with the amount of Lead in the rock, and it can be estimated how long it has taken for the Lead to form from the original Uranium. Although this sounds quite logical, it is only so in theory. The reason is that such a method depends on three unprovable assumptions:

Sungenis: (1) all the Lead found in the specimen must be assumed to be originally from Uranium, but there is no way to know this for certain. There may have been some Lead already in the rock when it was formed, before the Uranium in the rock began to decay. Since it is known that natural Lead appears in rock, it is quite presumptuous to attribute all of it to Uranium decay. Of course, if the amount of Lead in the rock pre-existed the decay of Uranium, then the age of the rock will turn out to be much less than if all the Lead in the rock was due to Uranium decay.

All answered above. U-Pb dating is done with either the isochron, or concordia-discordia, or both methods. And these are all self-checking and eliminates the "initial daughter" problem (see Dalrymple [1991], page 99ff, 115ff).

Sungenis: (2) Due to the process of leaching, Uranium, as well as other radioactive elements, are quite capable of dissolving in water. Hence, if the rock was subjected to water for any length of time (of which there is an abundant supply on earth), this would directly effect the amount of Uranium the rock would contain at any given time. In this scenario, if one were to measure the age of the rock unaware that Uranium had leached out, the estimation of age would be much too great. Biblical scientists, who hold to a world-wide deluge as recorded in Genesis 6-9, assert that these flood waters would disrupt all such isotope dating in which the parent element was subject to leaching.

Water, "leaching," "dissolving in water," or Noah's Ark has nothing to do with the age of the earth or decay rates. Nice try, but the Flood of Noah (the "Noachian Deluge"), whether it was worldwide or local, and the text of Genesis 6-9 has nothing whatsoever to do with radiometric dating. I will not allow any biblical discussion here. We are discussing the scientific evidence, not the Genesis text. You're going to have to deal with Dalrymple without quoting the Bible. I know, not easy to do.

Sungenis: (3) Current radiometric dating assumes the rate of decay has remained constant for millions of years, without any appreciable deviation due to outside forces. This is commonly known as uniformitarianism. Although it is true that radioactive atoms have been subjected to temperature, pressure and chemical changes in the laboratory without changing their decay rate, still, natural forces, such as neutrinos from cosmic radiation disturb the decay process. The decay rates of ions are known to differ from neutral atoms. Decay rate is also based on the speed of light, which, as of this past decade, numerous laboratory experiments and astronomical anomalies show that it is not constant. In addition, such things as the reversal of the earth's magnetic field, which has been documented as occurring in both the past and near present, as well as any galactic event, such as a supernovae explosion, could cause alterations to the decay rate of radioactive elements.

"Uniformitarianism" is an old terminology that no longer accurately describes all modern geology. Most geologists as I understand it would accept a combination of (minor) catastrophes and well-tested and well-established uniformitarian principles (e.g. constant decay rates) to describe earth's history and geological events. See also Radiometric Dating and the Geological Time Scale.

Let's examine some of these statements from Sungenis:

"it is true that radioactive atoms have been subjected to temperature, pressure and chemical changes in the laboratory without changing their decay rate"

Thanks for the admission. See the details from Dalrymple above on why the decay rates are considered constant. They have not changed, the results are numerous and consistent, thus the dates are reliable. Therefore, we can be confident the earth is very old: 4.5 to 4.6 billion to be exact.

"neutrinos from cosmic radiation disturb the decay process"

They do not. Morris, Slusher, and Rybka (creationists from the 1970s and 80s) were all answered by Dalrymple on this 20 years ago. From Dalrymple, "How Old is the Earth? A Reply to Scientific Creationism" Proceedings of the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Pacific Division, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Volume 1, Part 3, edited by Frank Awbrey and William Thwaites, April 30, 1984, pages 66-131

"Morris [1974] also suggests that neutrinos might change decay rates, citing a column by Jueneman (72) in 'Industrial Research.' The subtitle of Jueneman's columns, which appear regularly, is, appropriately, 'Scientific Speculation.' He speculates that neutrinos released in a supernova explosion might have 'reset' all the radiometric clocks. Jueneman describes a highly speculative hypothesis that would account for radioactive decay by interaction with neutrinos rather than by spontaneous decay, and he notes that an event that temporarily increased the neutrino flux might 'reset' the clocks. Jueneman, however, does not propose that decay rates would be changed, nor does he state how the clocks would be reset; in addition, there is no evidence to support his speculation." (Dalrymple [1984], page 89)

"Slusher (117) and Rybka (110) also propose that neutrinos can change decay rates, citing an hypothesis by Dudley (40) that decay is triggered by neutrinos in a 'neutrino sea' and that changes in the neutrino flux might affect decay rates. This argument has been refuted by Brush (20), who points out that Dudley's hypothesis not only requires rejection of both relativity and quantum mechanics, two of the most spectacularly successful theories in modern science, but is disproved by recent experiments. Dudley himself rejects the conclusions drawn from his hypothesis by Slusher (117) and Rybka (110), noting that the observed changes in decay rates are insufficient to change the age of the Earth by more than a few percent (Dudley, personal communication, 1981, quoted in 20, p. 51). Thus, even if Slusher and Rybka were correct -- which they are not -- the measured age of the Earth would still exceed 4 billion years." (Dalrymple [1984], page 89)

Summary: The "neutrinos released in a supernova" hypothesis was in a column called "scientific speculation." The hypothesis was highly speculative, the author does not say decay rates would change, nor how the radiometric clocks would be reset, and he provides no evidence in support. The argument by Dudley was refuted by Brush who points out both relativity and quantum mechanics must be rejected if his hypothesis were true. Dudley rejects the young-earth conclusions drawn by the creationists noting that the age of the earth would only be effected by a few percent. The earth would still be older than 4 billion years. So much for the "neutrinos" speculation.

see also Cosmic Rays and Radiometric Decay Rates
also Solar Neutrinos and other Oddities
also How Old is the Earth the 1984 reply to creationism by Dalrymple

"decay rates of ions are known to differ from neutral atoms"

If Sungenis means by "neutral atoms" those that do not have any electrical charge, that point is irrelevant. The question is whether the decay rates of the specific long-lived radioisotopes used in the various dating methods mentioned above do decay at the constant rates specified above. Dalrymple has given the reasons why they remain constant (see above). The elements or nuclides that are not radioactive do not decay, and they are not used in dating. For more see the Usenet Physics FAQ at the Mathematics Dept of the Univ of California (Riverside). "The existence of changes in radioactive decay rates due to the environment of the decaying nuclei is on solid grounds both experimentally and theoretically. But the magnitude of the changes is nothing to get very excited about." Reference: The best review article on this subject is (now 30 years old) : G. T. Emery, "Perturbation of Nuclear Decay Rates," Annual Reviews of Nuclear Science, vol 22, page 165 (1972), which Dalrymple also refers to above.

"numerous laboratory experiments and astronomical anomalies show that the speed of light is not constant"

What are they? Setterfield? And what are the astronomical anomalies changing light speed or nuclear decay rates?

Answered briefly at the following links:

see The Decay of C-Decay
also Speed of Light Slowing?
also Physicists Say Light was Faster?

"reversal of the earth's magnetic field or any galactic event, such as a supernovae explosion, could cause alterations to the decay rate of radioactive elements"

Where is your evidence that change in the magnetic fields, supernovae explosions, or other such events would affect decay rates? All of these are answered above or at the following links.

see Cosmic Rays and Radiometric Decay Rates
also the Usenet Physics FAQ

Sungenis: Although other elements are often used to measure radioactive decay, such as Potassium, Thorium, Strontium, and a half dozen others, they are all subject to the same above caveats as Uranium. In fact, some of these elements are even more soluble in water than Uranium salts.

Again, the irrelevant reference to water and (this time) "Uranium salts." Yes, salt does dissolve in water. That's nice to know. However, water, solubility, salt, and the Noachian Deluge has nothing whatsoever to do with radiometric dating. These don't affect the decay rates in the slightest. Produce your scientific evidence for a young earth once and for all, and annihilate Dalrymple's explanations of the radiometric dating methods as totally unreliable, or accept the ancient age of the earth (4.5 to 4.6 billion give or take a few million).

see How Old is the Earth the 1984 reply to creationism by Dalrymple
also Radiometric Dating and the Geological Time Scale
also Radiometric Dating, a Christian Perspective by Ken Wiens

Next we present again the data received from the reliable and consistent radiometric dating of the oldest earth rocks, ancient lunar rocks and meteorites.

Evidence for an Old Earth: Archean Rocks, Moon Rocks, and Meteorites (up to ~4.6 billion years old)

The following is a summary of the data from the oldest (Archean) earth rocks (see my previous article)

  • the North Atlantic Craton, unit/locality of West Greenland, Godthaab, Isau, Labrador, we have rocks in the age range of 2.5 - 3.7 billion years old
  • the Superior Province of North America, unit/locality of Morton, MN, rocks in the age range of 2.3 - 3.7 billion years old
  • the Pilbara Block of Western Australia, unit/locality of Duffer Formation, North Star Basalt, etc rocks in the range of 2.6 - 3.6 billion years old
  • the Barberton Mountain Land of Southern Africa, unit/locality Swaziland Supergroup, Komati and Theespruit, etc rocks in the range of 3.3 - 3.5 billion years old

These dates were arrived at using the various radiometric accumulation clocks and methods. Therefore, based on the reliability of these methods explained in detail above, we can be sure these dates are accurate. The oldest rocks on earth approach 3.7 - 3.8 billion years old.

A summary of the data from the oldest moon rocks from the various Apollo lunar missions (see my previous article)

  • Apollo 11 -- whole rock, plagioclase, ilmenite, pyroxene, and isochron -- rocks age range 3.49 - 3.58 billion years old
  • Apollo 12 -- whole rock and isochron -- rocks age range 3.09 - 3.25 billion years old
  • Apollo 15 -- whole rock, plagioclase, pyroxene, isochron -- rocks age range 3.19 - 3.29 billion years old
  • Apollo 17 -- whole rock, plagioclase, isochron -- rocks age range 3.9 - 4.5 billion years old

These dates were arrived at using the various radiometric accumulation clocks and methods. Therefore, based on the reliability of these methods explained in detail above, we can be sure these dates are accurate. The oldest moon rocks approach 4.5 billion years old. The case doesn't look good for a "young earth" some 10,000 to 15,000 years old.

Sungenis: Moon rocks don't add anything to the discussion, since the same unproven presuppositions are used to date moon rocks as earth rocks.

Ignore the data, that's all a young-earther can do. The numerous dates are clearly consistent, with various radiometric clocks, on various and numerous minerals and rocks. Therefore, the dates can be trusted. What about meteorites?

  • Meteorites -- Chondrites, Eucrites, Iron -- age ranges all approach 4.5 billion years old (see my previous article)

Again, using different radiometric clocks and methods, consistent dates are achieved. The case for a "young earth" doesn't look good. In fact, it looks terrible. Where are the young dates in the thousands of years? Why all the old dates approaching 4.5 billion years old, if the earth is not -- surprise -- 4.5 billion years old, since the earth almost certainly was formed with the moon and rest of the solar system. I didn't cover chapter 7 of Dalrymple [1991] which narrows down the precise age of the earth using the growth of lead isotopes in the "Holmes-Houtermans" system; the Gerling, Holmes, Houtermans model and age of the earth's crust; C.C. Patterson and the meteoritic lead isochron; the Pb-Pb ages of meteorites, etc. Dalrymple concludes the piece de resistance of chapter 7 "Isotopes of Lead: The Hourglass of the Solar System" :

"The best value for the age of the earth, 4.54 Ga [billion years], is based on a single-stage model for the evolution of lead isotopes in the Earth using data from a few ancient lead ores and from one special iron meteorite, Canyon Diablo. Thus, the 'age of the earth' is really the age of the meteorite-Earth system and probably represents the last time that the isotopic composition of lead was uniform throughout the Solar System, i.e. the time when solid bodies first formed from the Solar Nebula." (Dalrymple [1991], page 355)

Sungenis: This data doesn't prove anything for the evolutionist. As I stated at the beginning of this critique, the only thing it shows is that these elements presently have the half-lives listed above, but whether this is proof that they existed billions of years ago is simply conjecture. The Creationist simply insists that, as God created DNA, cellular mechanisms, nucleons, and many other processes whole and functional, they would each carry with them the characteristics with which they were created. With radioactive elements, their half-lives were instilled in them at their ex nihilo creation. God chose these extended half-lives at that time because He wanted these radioactive elements to remain in mostly in their original state with little decay.

This makes no sense. So God chose to deceive us? Again, another reference to the "appearance of age" argument. Science gets thrown out the window. The data is ignored. I repeat this scientific fact: the radioactive elements that remain ALL have half-lives greater than 80 million years old; the radioactive elements that are missing ALL have half-lives less than 80 million years old. Why is that? This points to one scientific conclusion: the earth is much older than 80 million years (and at least 800 million or 1.6 billion since it takes 10 to 20 half-lives for a radioactive element to become undetectable in nature). It doesn't point to the scientific conclusion "God made them look old" since that isn't science, that is a blind and misguided religious faith.

Sure, God can do anything. But would He deceive us by the old-earth evidence He left on this supposedly very-young planet earth? What kind of Creator is that? "....For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse...." (Romans 1:20) How can that be -- "...have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made..." -- if we can't trust our scientific observation of nature, if God's creation is one giant deception? "The heavens declare the glory of God..." (Psalm 19) ? Apparently not, since the heavens (according to Sungenis) constantly lie and mislead us about the nature and age of God's creation. They appear very old, but are quite young? The heavens declare the deceptions of the Creator?

Sungenis: As we have seen, radiometric evidence is not only an uncertain science, but for years evolutionists have been presupposing that a half-life of billions of years means that the element existed billions of years ago. At best this interpretation is unprovable, at worst, it is a fallacious and underhanded interpretation of the scientific data. The same goes for the geologic column. For years we have been told that the geologic column is a multi-million year chronology of Earth's history, since it has been assumed that strata were formed horizontally over extended periods of time. This simply is not provable, and there are not only viable alternatives that state that the geologic column formed vertically, but this hypothesis is also testable in the laboratory.

Again, more talk about "proof." As we have seen, the scientific evidence is clear, consistent, and compelling, that's what matters. The earth is 4.5 billion years old, and this precise figure has been known by geologists and geochronologists since the 1950s. Evolution is a separate topic which I cover in Part 3. An approximately old age of the earth was known well before Darwin, so it has nothing to do with evolution. See again Changing Views of the History of the Earth.

Sungenis: The only absolute certainty we have in this world is what comes from the mouth of God. In His word it states that He created the universe in six days, not six billion years or sixteen billion years. As for science, the facts are plain: we have found no irrefutable scientific evidence to deny this divine revelation, including that from Brent Dalrymple. -- Robert A. Sungenis, M.A. Catholic Apologetics International 12-2004

That's nice, but there are many exegetes who disagree on the meaning and interpretation of Genesis 1 and "days." That is not a scientific basis for an age of the earth. I quote again how the Catechism of the Catholic Church interprets the "six days" :

337. God himself created the visible world in all its richness, diversity, and order. Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine "work," concluded by the "rest" of the seventh day. On the subject of creation, the sacred text teaches the truths revealed by God for our salvation, permitting us to "recognize the inner nature, the value, and the ordering of the whole of creation to the praise of God." [Vatican II LG 36] (see also paragraphs 339, 342, 345 which refer to the "six days")

I will end with what professional scientists think of this "appearance of age" argument that Sungenis and young-earth creationists must resort to and finally, blame God for in their arguments repudiating modern science.

Biologist Kenneth Miller writes:

"In order to defend God against the challenge they see from evolution, they have had to make Him into a schemer, a trickster, even a charlatan. Their version of God is one who intentionally plants misleading clues beneath our feet and in the heavens themselves. Their version of God is one who has filled the universe with so much bogus evidence that the tools of science can give us nothing more than a phony version of reality. In other words, their God has negated science by rigging the universe with fiction and deception. To embrace that God, we must reject science and worship deception itself.....One can, of course, imagine a Creator who could have produced all of the illusions that the creationists claim to find in nature. In order to do so, we must simultaneously conclude that science can tell us nothing about nature, and that the Creator to whom many of us pray is inherently deceitful. Such so-called creation science, thoroughly analyzed, corrupts both science and religion, and it deserves a place in the intellectual wastebasket." (Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin's God, page 80)

The Orthodox Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky concurs:

"One can suppose that the Creator saw fit to play deceitful tricks on geologists and biologists. He carefully arranged to have various rocks provided with isotope ratios just right to mislead us into thinking that certain rocks are 2 billion years old, others 2 million, which in fact they are only some 6,000 years old. This kind of pseudo-explanation is not very new. One of the early antievolutionists, P. H. Gosse, published a book entitled Omphalos ('the Navel'). The gist of this amazing book is that Adam, though he had no mother, was created with a navel, and that fossils were placed by the Creator where we find them now -- a deliberate act on His part, to give the appearance of great antiquity and geologic upheaveals. It is easy to see the fatal flaw in all such notions. They are blasphemies, accusing God of absurd deceitfulness. This is as revolting as it is uncalled for....Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology. Only if symbols are construed to mean what they are not intended to mean can there arise imaginary, insoluble conflicts. As pointed out above, the blunder leads to blasphemy: the Creator is accused of systematic deceitfulness." (Dobzhansky, "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution")

In short, the "appearance of age" argument is blasphemous and "scientific" nonsense. It basically accuses God of great deception and makes all scientific study and observation of God's creation useless and superfluous, at least as it pertains to the age of the earth. Sungenis can keep his literal young-earth interpretation of Genesis if he wants but please don't suggest it fits what we know from modern science today. It does not. There is no scientific evidence for it. The young-earth interpretation of the 17th century has clearly been falsified by modern science and no Christian or Catholic should promote it in the 21st century.

see also Radiometric Dating, a Christian Perspective by Ken Wiens
also How Old is the Earth the 1984 reply to creationism by Dalrymple

Responses to Young-Earth Creationists

Rather than provide a detailed rebuttal of young-earth creationist mistaken claims, I will simply provide links below.

Sungenis: In his very technical book, The Mythology of Modern Dating Methods (1999), John Woodmorappe investigated 494 geological dating tests written in various journals. Within those tests he found an assortment of fallacious claims and reasonings

Sungenis: Directly related to the anomalies of radiometric dating is the case of Polonium halos. Dr. Robert Gentry, who tested over one hundred thousand samples of granite from a variety of places on the earth, found that each contained micaurbiatite, which in turn contained rings of Polonium.

Responses to Woodmorappe and Gentry

Henke many articles on Woodmorappe
Schimmrich on Woodmorappe's Geochronology
TalkOrigins Polonium Halo FAQs
also How Old is the Earth the 1984 reply to creationism by Dalrymple

Sungenis: In the 1994 publication, Grand Canyon, by geologist Stephen Austin, Ph.D.

Sungenis: Evolutionists believe that the Tonto Group of the Grand Canyon occurred during the Cambrian period, since it contains many fossils associated with the “Cambrian explosion.” The Cambrian period is said to have lasted 70 million years. Obviously, if the above data from Austin and Berthault is correct, it would categorically deny such a long time period to the Tonto Group. In fact, the experiments show that the Tonto group would have been formed in as little as days or weeks. Since the assumptions of stratification used by evolutionists had never been verified experimentally, just assumed, then there remains little objection they can raise.

Grand Canyon Geology by Beus/Morales (Oxford University Press, 2002, 2nd edition)Responses to Austin and Berthault

Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona
Geology of the Grand Canyon by Jon Woolf
ICR's Grand Canyon Dating Project by Chris Stassen
Steve Austin's Grand Canyon Erosion Argument by Glenn Morton
A Young Grand Canyon? Review of Steve Austin's book by Timothy Heaton

TalkOrigins short answer to Berthault
Henke responds to Berthault
Berthault responds to Henke

Radiometric Dating and the Geological Time Scale
The Entire Geologic Column in North Dakota by Glenn Morton

Book: Grand Canyon Geology by Beus/Morales published by Oxford University Press (2002, 2nd ed)
Book: Grand Canyon Geology by Beus/Morales listing

next Reply to Sungenis on Science Issues: Evolution (Part 3)
also Reply to Sungenis on Theological Issues (Part 1)


Back to Philosophy Articles

Back to Home Page

About | Apologetics | Philosophy | Spirituality | Books | Audio | Links