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Facts and Fallacies of the Fossil Record:
Re-Evaluating the Supposed Evidences for Human Evolution

By Brett A. Rutherford

Lesson Three

How do Paleontologists and Paleoanthropologists Arrive at Their Dates?

 

Have you ever wondered how evolutionists arrive at their numbers for the age of the earth and the beginning of life on it? The evolutionist may present you with these numbers as if those figures have been arrived at by sound, unshakable scientific means. In truth, these incredible dates are for the most part arbitrary. Evolutionists emphatically state that the world originated from a cosmic explosion 4.6 billion years ago. They will also say that a clearly distinct ancestor of man appeared on the evolutionary scale about 4.5 million years ago. In fact, there are no scientific measures, equations, or accurate dating methods that can tell one how old the earth really is, or when man first appeared.

This chapter reveals the various means employed by paleontologists and paleoanthropologists (those who study ancient fossils) in dating fossil remains. The latter half of this chapter will analyze these methods in order to determine their reliability. One will see from this analysis that he can dismiss any thoughts that the study of evolution is an exact science by looking no further than their dating methods.

Radiocarbon Dating (Carbon 14)

Willard F. Libby, a physical chemist, developed this technique in 1949. Radiocarbon dating was formulated upon the understanding that neutrons are produced by cosmic radiation. These neutrons enter the earth's atmosphere and react with nitrogen. This reaction results in carbon 14. Carbon 14 is a "heavy" carbon isotope because it contains fourteen neutrons in its nucleus instead of the more common load of twelve. The two additional neutrons make carbon 14 unstable and causes it to decay at a gradual rate. As the carbon 14 decays, neutrons leave the nucleus and emit a radioactive particle which theoretically can be measured to determine the rate of decay.

How does one apply this to an artifact he wishes to date? Plants and animals digest carbon (CO2) while they are living. When plants and animals die they no longer take in carbon. The carbon that is present begins to decay supposedly at a steady rate when an animal or plant dies. By measuring the rate of carbon decay through neutron emissions, one can theoretically determine how long ago death occurred.16

How Reliable is Radiocarbon Dating for Determining the Age of Ancient Fossils?

Radiocarbon dating was developed on the basis of two assumptions (not established facts). In the first place, Libby assumed that the carbon 14 content is consistent in the carbon dioxide which is absorbed by the organism while it is living. In the second place, Libby believed that cosmic rays which produce carbon 14 have remained constant in our atmosphere. Dr. David Hurst Thomas of the American Museum of Natural History addressed the problems of these assumptions when he wrote:

Radiocarbon dating relies on a number of key assumptions, perhaps the most important being that the radiocarbon level -- that is, the ratio between carbon 12 and carbon 14 -- has remained constant in the earth's atmosphere. Libby assumed this when developing the method, but we now know that this assumption is not valid. That is, levels of atmospheric carbon 14 have shifted somewhat over the past millennia.17

Shortly after Libby developed his carbon 14 dating method, Egyptologists, who applied his method to well-established historical material, said that "his dates did not square with the historically derived dynastic chronology."18 Dr. Stuart Piggott, a British archaeologist, excavating near Durington Walls in England, received a radiocarbon date for his site. The radiocarbon test on a piece of charcoal suggested that Piggott's site was 1000 years older than it actually was. Conclusive data from the site proved that the radiocarbon test was grossly in error. Piggott said of radiocarbon dating that it was "archaeologically unacceptable."19

In June of 1985 the Twelfth International Radiocarbon Conference met in Trondheim, Norway to discuss the flaws in radiocarbon dating. From this conference a correction curve was developed for carbon 14 dates based upon the fairly exact dating method of dendrochronology (tree ring dating). Unfortunately, there are a limited number of tree types that are suitable for providing an accurate correction curve for carbon 14 dates. The ideal tree is the Bristle Cone Pine which is only found in the buildings of ancient North American Indian sites. The oldest of the Bristle Cone Pines found are only 4600 years old. Using living samples and ancient trunks, scientists were able to develop a correction curve for radiocarbon dates going back 8200 years.20 In other words, radiocarbon dates can only be corrected as far back as 6200 B.C. Any samples that date further back than 6200 B.C. cannot be corrected, and therefore their age cannot be accurately determined.

One might wonder why corrected carbon 14 dates only go back as far as 6200 B.C. One might also question the reason there are no Bristle Cone Pines older than 4600 years. The reason may simply be that the flood occurred approximately 4600 years ago. Why can carbon 14 dates only be corrected as far back as 8200 years ago? Is it because the earth did not exist much more than 8200 years ago?

Paleontologists are reluctantly beginning to realize the limitations of radiocarbon dating. David Hurst Thomas grudgingly proclaims that radiocarbon dating is accurate when it reveals a date for an object which is within a range of just over 75,000 years ago.21 Unfortunately, he is still in denial of the facts. However, he at least recognizes that radiocarbon dating cannot be used to prove that ancient "primitive man" goes back 4 million, or even 100,000 years ago.

Potassium-Argon Dating

Potassium-Argon dating is similar to radiocarbon dating in principle. Instead of measuring radioactive emissions, this method measures the decay of potassium (K-40) into argon gas (A-40). The K-40 method determines the ratio of potassium to argon in rocks. Theoretically, argon remains fairly constant through time, but potassium decays. Therefore, the level of potassium to argon determines the age. Theoretically, older samples will have lower potassium levels. Older samples will also have higher argon levels.22 Even paleontologists admit that potassium-argon dating is only useful for dating a limited variety of minerals.

How Reliable is Potassium-Argon Dating?

First of all, the rate at which potassium decays in rock samples has never been accurately determined. Another difficulty is that argon is often more unstable than potassium. Geologist G.W. Wetherill admits "the two principal problems have been the uncertainties in the radioactive decay constants of potassium and in the ability of minerals to retain the argon produced by this decay."23

On occasion, even the paleoanthropologist has to undermine the accuracy of a potassium-argon dated artifact when the date for that item does not coincide with what he believes to be true about human evolution. For example, paleoanthropologist Alberto Angela, made the following statement when a potassium-argon date for an artifact did not support his previously held notion: "Of course, there may be uncertainties about the dating and interpretation of fossils (and, in fact, there are divergences)".24 In this statement, Angela has made some incredible and profound admissions. In the first place, he is saying that potassium-argon dating is an unreliable or an "uncertain" dating method. In the second place, in a display of honesty not often found among evolutionists, Angela admits that his, as well as any other paleoanthropologist's, interpretation of the fossil record can be often uncertain.

That is not the kind of honesty you will find among anthropologists in the university classroom. They present their interpretation of the fossil record as if it were irrefutable and undeniable evidence for evolution. In truth, the evolutionists know their interpretation of the fossil record may not be the correct one. This will be dealt with more in subsequent chapters.

Uranium Dating

Uranium in rocks decays, forming helium and lead. Theoretically, the age of a rock can be determined by measuring its lead content.25 If there is a significant amount of lead within a rock, it supposedly implies that a great deal of uranium decay has taken place and the rock is very old. The evolutionists used this method to determine an extreme age for the earth (4.6 billion years old). It is also the reason paleoanthropologists believe that certain fossils, essential to evolution theory, are millions of years old.

What are the problems with uranium dating and all radioactive dating methods? All of the radioactive dating methods are unreliable in determining the age of the earth, fossils, and the strata in which fossils are found. Radiocarbon, potassium-argon, and the even less-proven uranium and radio-calcium methods depend too much on nonfluctuating radioactive conditions through time. (It has already been noted that radioactive conditions have fluctuated through time.) Additionally, Doctors John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris have suggested that a world-wide flood would cause rapid decay in radioactive elements causing those elements to appear older than their actual age.26

 

Review Questions

1. Who developed the radiocarbon dating method?

2. Does carbon leave the dead organism at a steady measurable rate?

3. How did Dr. Stuart Piggott describe the radiocarbon dating method?

4. What dating method is used by archaeologists in an attempt to correct Carbon 14 dates?

5. Radiocarbon dates can only be corrected going back as far as...?

6. Why is potassium-argon dating an unreliable method?

7. Evolutionist Alberto Angela describes potassium-argon dating as...?

8. Which dating method is used by evolutionists in determining that the earth is 4.6 billion years old?

9. According to John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris, what event would cause rapid decay in radioactive elements causing those elements to appear older than their actual age?


       



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