Teaching Creation Thursdays ~ How Dating Methods Work

This week, for Teaching Creation Thursdays, we are sharing information on how dating methods work. This information is from Tas Walker. I must say, I have always been fascinated about some of the dates that some scientists come up with. It just amazes me that some think that the earth and anything on it can be millions of years old. How do they come up with these numbers? It all comes down to one thing. Man! Scientists have to make several assumptions in order to calculate the numbers they come up with. Can these assumptions be wrong? Of course they can! Read on as Dr. Tas Walker explains the flaws in dating methods.

Tas Walker gives a great example of how the dating methods work.  

Addressing the students, I used a measuring cylinder to illustrate how scientific dating works. My picture showed a water tap dripping into the cylinder. It was clearly marked so my audience could see that it held exactly 300 ml of water. The diagram also showed that the water was dripping at a rate of 50 ml per hour.

I asked, ‘How long has the water been dripping into the cylinder?’

Immediately someone called out, “Six hours.”

“Good. How did you work that out?”

“By dividing the amount of water in the cylinder (300 ml) by the rate (50 ml per hour).”

“Excellent,” I said. “See how easy it is to calculate the age of something scientifically? Every dating method that scientists use works exactly the same way. It involves measuring something that is changing with time.”

People began to relax once they understood that the science of dating is not so difficult. Then I surprised them, “The problem is that six hours is the wrong answer.”

They look puzzled and disbelieving.

Image from stockxpert


“I set this experiment up and I can tell you that the water has only been dripping for one hour. Can you tell me what happened?”

After they had composed themselves, someone called out, “The tap was dripping faster in the past?”

“Perhaps,” I said.

“The cylinder was nearly full when you started?”

“Maybe. But can you see what you are doing?” I asked. “In order to calculate an age you made assumptions about the past. You assumed the rate had always been 50 ml per hour and that the cylinder was empty when it started. Based on those assumptions you calculated the time of 6 hours.”

They nodded.

“You were perfectly happy with that answer. Not one of you challenged it.” They agreed.

“Then, when I told you the correct answer, do you realize what you did? You quickly changed your assumptions about the past in order to agree with the age I told you.”

Scientific dating is not a way of measuring but a way of thinking.

Every scientist must first make assumptions about the past before he can calculate an age. If the result seems okay then he will happily accept it. But if it does not agree with other information then he will change his assumptions so that his answer does agree.

It does not matter if the calculated age is too old or too young. There are always many assumptions a scientist can make to get a consistent answer.

Suddenly the lights went on. My audience saw, in a nutshell, the way dating methods work.1 Scientific dating is not a way of measuring but a way of thinking.

How it works in practice


Replica of skull KNM-ER 1470

A layer of volcanic ash in East Africa, called the KBS tuff, became famous through the human fossils found nearby.1

Using the potassium-argon method, Fitch and Miller were the first to measure the age of the tuff. Their result of 212–230 million years did not agree with the age of the fossils (elephant, pig, ape and tools) so they rejected the date. They said the sample was contaminated with excess argon.2

Using new samples of feldspar and pumice they ‘reliably dated’ the tuff at 2.61 million years, which agreed nicely.

Later, this date was confirmed by two other dating methods (paleomagnetism and fission tracks), and was widely accepted.

Then Richard Leakey found a skull (called KNM-ER 1470) below the KBS tuff, a skull that looked far too modern to be 3 million years old.

So Curtis and others redated the KBS tuff using selected pumice and feldspar samples, and obtained an age of 1.82 million years. This new date agreed with the appearance of the new skull.3

Tests by other scientists using paleomagnetism and fission tracks confirmed the lower date.

So by 1980 there was a new, remarkably concordant date for the KBS tuff, and this became the one that was widely accepted.

Which illustrates that, contrary to popular belief, the dating methods are not the primary way that ages are decided. The dating methods do not lead but follow. Their results are always ‘interpreted’ to agree with other factors, such as the evolutionary interpretation of geology and fossils.

References and notes

  1. For more information see Lubenow, M.L., The pigs took it allCreation 17(3):36–38, 1995; <creation.com/pigstook>.
  2. Fitch, F.J. and Miller, J.A., Radioisotopic age determinations of Lake Rudolf artifact site, Nature226(5242):226–228, 1970.
  3. Curtis, G.H., et al., Age of KBS Tuff in Koobi Fora Formation, East Rudolf, Kenya, Nature 258:395–398, 4 December 1975.

About Tas Walker

Tas Walker holds a B.Sc. (Earth Science with first class honours), a B.Eng (hons) and a doctorate in mechanical engineering, all from the University of Queensland.

He has been involved in the planning, design and operation of power stations for over 20 years with the electricity industry in Queensland, Australia. He has conducted geological assessments of new fuel supplies for power stations across Queensland and has been involved with new mining proposals, including the effects of geological factors on the cost, reliability and quality of the coal produced.

Tas has also been involved in the planning of a large hydro-electric development which required evaluation of geological conditions and their effect on dams, water reservoirs and underground power station structures.
Using his varied experience, Tas has developed a biblical geological model to connect geological structures in the field with biblical history. He has applied this geological model to the Great Artesian Basin in Australia, /span>http://www.creation.com/article/3599> the basement rocks in Brisbane and the Banks Peninsula in New Zealand. He and other creationist geologists are now applying the model to other areas of the world.

Tas now works full-time for Creation Ministries International (CMI) in Brisbane, where he is employed as a researcher, writer and speaker. He has authored many articles in both Creation magazine and the Journal of Creation (formerly TJ).

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Comment by Dr. Derek P. Blake on February 2, 2013 at 8:33am

Hi All, here’s one in the eye for those who rely upon radiometric dating systems, The Daily Telegraph published this account today about the possibility of unusually high levels of the isotope carbon-14 in ancient rings of Japanese cedar trees and a corresponding spike in beryllium-10 in Antarctic ice. Caused by a collision between two Black Holes. C14 being the principle isotope whose half-life is used to date geology, so can we expect a revision in the 4-billion year age for the Earth?


In Him

Comment by Carolyn Reeves on February 1, 2013 at 11:49am

Dr. Blake, 

Thanks for your comments. 

The dripping tap is a great example of how radiometric works, and it is something that parents and teachers can use to show students that radiometric dating provides uncertain results. 

Comment by Dr. Derek P. Blake on February 1, 2013 at 9:29am

The real problem with radiometric dating and other systems is the lack of calibration, these methods may work quite well but because their metering is so long (hundreds to thousands, to millions of years) it is quite impossible to prove the calibration is correct, which it obviously isn't.  Until we invent a time machine and either shoot forward or backwards in time,  and then test the substances, we are shooting arrows into the fog.  Most radiometric systems use the principle of isotope half-life timing, but as the article points out so ably, we do not know for certain how much of any particular isotope the substance contained when it was fresh.  We assume that molten rock, for instance, contains a constant level of argon or C14 etc, it doesn't!  Tests made at various volcanoes show that the solidified lava varies in it's content.  This also varies for different substances, both diamond and coal show C14 content to only be in the thousands of years, and C14 is not measurable over periods of more than 60,000 years (according to secular dating methods).

I love the example of the dripping tap though, I would have loved to have used that when I was speaking on the subject of creation.

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