PART 1: Back to Basics PART 2: Problems with the Assumptions PART 3: Making Sense of the Patterns This three-part series will help you properly understand radiometric dating, the assumptions that lead to inaccurate dates, and the clues about what really happened in the past.Most people think that radioactive dating has proven the earth is billions of years old.
Part 2 explains how scientists run into problems when they make assumptions about what happened .
An hourglass is a helpful analogy to explain how geologists calculate the ages of rocks.
When we look at sand in an hourglass, we can estimate how much time has passed based on the amount of sand that has fallen to the bottom.
Radioactive rocks offer a similar “clock.” Radioactive atoms, such as uranium (the parent isotopes), decay into stable atoms, such as lead (the daughter isotopes), at a measurable rate.
To date a radioactive rock, geologists first measure the “sand grains” in the top glass bowl (the parent radioisotope, such as uranium-238 or potassium-40).
They also measure the sand grains in the bottom bowl (the daughter isotope, such as lead-206 or argon-40, respectively).
Based on these observations and the known rate of radioactive decay, they estimate the time it has taken for the daughter isotope to accumulate in the rock.
However, unlike the hourglass whose accuracy can be tested by turning it upside down and comparing it to trustworthy clocks, the reliability of the radioactive “clock” is subject to three unprovable assumptions.
No geologist was present when the rocks were formed to see their contents, and no geologist was present to measure how fast the radioactive “clock” has been running through the millions of years that supposedly passed after the rock was formed.
No geologists were present when most rocks formed, so they cannot test whether the original rocks already contained daughter isotopes alongside their parent radioisotopes.
For example, with regard to the volcanic lavas that erupted, flowed, and cooled to form rocks in the unobserved past, evolutionary geologists simply assume that none of the daughter argon-40 atoms was in the lava rocks.