RATE group reveals exciting breakthroughs!
Cooperation (and quality control) brings results
21 August 2003
A few years ago an initiative was undertaken to research thoroughly the whole area of Radioactivity and the Age of The Earth. The RATE project began as a cooperative venture between the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), the Creation Research Society (CRS) and Creation Ministries International (CMI). (Our contribution was mostly providing the expertise of geologist Dr Andrew Snelling; however, when he commenced work with ICR, the project rightly reverted to a joint project of ICR/CRS.)
With the release of several key peer-reviewed papers at the recent ICC (International Conference on Creationism), it is clear that RATE has made some fantastic progress, with real breakthroughs in this area.
The main ones of these will be described and summarized in this paper, but first I want to give congratulations and credit to ICR. Even though a substantial proportion of the scientists working on this project have not been actual ICR staff, ICR’s initiative and perseverance, and in particular the patient skilful coordination of their Dr Larry Vardiman had the major role in getting things to this point this quickly.
Exciting news on ‘ancient’ granites
When physicist Dr Russell Humphreys was still at Sandia National Laboratories (he now works full-time for ICR), he and Dr John Baumgardner (still with Los Alamos National Laboratory) were both convinced that they knew the direction in which to look for the definitive answer to the radiometric dating puzzle.
Others had tried—and for some, the search went on for a while in the early RATE days—to find the answer in geological processes. But Drs Humphreys and Baumgardner realized that there were too many independent lines of evidence (the variety of elements used in ‘standard’ radioisotope dating, mature uranium radiohalos, fission track dating and more) that indicated that huge amounts of radioactive decay had actually taken place. It would be hard to imagine that geologic processes could explain all these. Rather, there was likely to be a single, unifying answer that concerned the nuclear decay processes themselves.
Since, from the eyewitness testimony of God’s Word, the billions of years that such vast amounts of radioactive processes would normally suggest had not taken place, it was clear that the assumption of a constant slow decay process was wrong. There must have been speeded-up decay, perhaps in a huge burst associated with Creation Week and/or a separate burst at the time of the Flood.
There is now powerful independent confirmatory evidence that at least one episode of drastically accelerated decay has indeed been the case, building on the work of Dr Robert Gentry on helium retention in zircons. The landmark RATE paper1, though technical, can be summarized as follows:
- When uranium decays to lead, a by-product of this process is the formation of helium, a very light, inert gas which readily escapes from rock.
- Certain crystals called zircons, obtained from drilling into very deep granites, contain uranium which has partly decayed into lead.
- By measuring the amount of uranium and ‘radiogenic lead’ in these crystals, one can calculate that, if the decay rate has been constant, about 1.5 billion years must have passed. (This is consistent with the geologic ‘age’ assigned to the granites in which these zircons are found.)
- There is a significant amount of helium from that ‘1.5 billion years of decay’ still inside the zircons. This is at first glance surprising for long-agers, because of the ease with which one would expect helium (with its tiny, light, unreactive atoms) to escape from the spaces within the crystal structure. There should surely be hardly any left, because with such a slow buildup, it should be seeping out continually and not accumulating.
- Drawing any conclusions from the above depends, of course, on actually measuring the rate at which helium leaks out of zircons. This is what one of the RATE papers reports on. The samples were sent (without any hint that it was a creationist project) to a world-class expert to measure these rates. The consistent answer: the helium does indeed seep out quickly over a wide range of temperatures. In fact, the results show that because of all the helium still in the zircons, these crystals (and since this is Precambrian basement granite, by implication the whole earth) could not be older than between 4,000 and 14,000 years. In other words, in only a few thousand years, 1.5 billion years’ worth (at today’s rates) of radioactive decay has taken place. Interestingly, the data have since been refined and updated to give a date of 5680 (+/- 2000) years.
The paper looks at the various avenues a long-ager might take by which to wriggle out of these powerful implications, but there seems to be little hope for them unless they can show that the techniques used to obtain the results were seriously (and mysteriously, having been performed by a world-class non-creationist expert) flawed.
More great news on radiocarbon
It’s long been known that radiocarbon (which should disappear in only a few tens of thousands of years at the most2) keeps popping up reliably in samples (like coal, oil, gas, etc.) which are supposed to be ‘millions of years’ old. For instance, CMI has over the years commissioned and funded the radiocarbon testing of a number of wood samples from ‘old’ sites (e.g. with Jurassic fossils, inside Triassic sandstone, burnt by Tertiary basalt) and these were published (by then staff geologist Dr Andrew Snelling) in Creation magazine and Journal of Creation. In each case, with contamination eliminated, the result has been in the thousands of years, i.e. C-14 was present when it ‘shouldn’t have been’. These results encouraged the rest of the RATE team to investigate C-14 further, building on the literature reviews of creationist M.D. Dr Paul Giem.
In another very important paper presented at this year’s ICC, scientists from the RATE group summarized the pertinent facts and presented further experimental data. The bottom line is that virtually all biological specimens, no matter how ‘old’ they are supposed to be, show measurable C-14 levels.3 This effectively limits the age of all buried biota to less than (at most) 250,000 years. (When one takes into account the likely much lower ratio of radioactive to ‘normal’ carbon pre-Flood4, it brings it right down to within the biblical ‘ballpark’.)
Interestingly, specimens which appear to definitely be pre-Flood seem to have C-14 present, too, and importantly, these cluster around a lower relative amount of C-14. This suggests that some C-14 was primordial, and not produced by cosmic rays—thus limiting the age of the entire earth to only a few thousand years.
This latter suggestion about primordial C-14 appears to have been somewhat spectacularly supported when Dr Baumgardner sent a diamond for C-14 dating. It was the first time this had been attempted, and the answer came back positive—i.e. the diamond, formed deep inside the earth in a ‘Precambrian’ layer, nevertheless contained radioactive carbon, even though it ‘shouldn’t have’.
This is exceptionally striking evidence, because a diamond has remarkably powerful lattice bonds, so there is no way that subsequent biological contamination can be expected to find its way into the interior.
The diamond’s carbon-dated ‘age’ of <58,000 years is thus an upper limit for the age of the whole earth. And this age is brought down still further now that the helium diffusion results have so strongly affirmed dramatic past acceleration of radioactive decay.5
C-14 labs have no real answer to this problem, namely that all the ‘vast-age’ specimens they measure still have C-14. Labelling this detectable C-14 with such words as ‘contamination’ and ‘background’ is completely unhelpful in explaining its source, as the RATE group’s careful analyses and discussions have shown. But it is no problem or mystery at all if the uniformitarian/long-age assumptions are laid to one side and the real history of the world, given in Scripture, is taken seriously. The C-14 is there, quite simply, because it hasn’t had time to decay yet. The world just isn’t that old!
The C-14 results are an independent but powerful confirmation of the stunning helium-diffusion results. 2003 looks like going down as a bad year for megachronophiles (lovers of long ages), but a good year for lovers of the Word of God.
Postscript: In addition to the book expected in 2005 reporting the final results of the RATE project, the project expects to publish a book for laymen summarizing the project shortly thereafter. Dr Don DeYoung will be the author. He has written several popular books on creation science and has been on the RATE since its inception. His grasp of the details of the project and his excellent writing skills should combine to produce a highly readable book for creationist laymen.
References and notes
- Humphreys, D. et al., Helium diffusion rates support accelerated nuclear decay, www.icr.org/pdf/research/Helium_ICC_7-22-03.pdf.
- Even with the most sensitive AMS techniques used today, nary an atom of C-14 should be present after 250,000 years.
- Baumgardner, J. et al., Measurable 14C in fossilized organic materials: confirming the young earth creation-flood model, www.icr.org/pdf/research/RATE_ICC_Baumgardner.pdf.
- Factors which would lower the ratio: (1) More C-12 in the biosphere (more land area, higher CO2), (2) less C-14 production due to stronger magnetic field deflecting cosmic rays better, (3) C-14 starts building up at creation, so it would only have had 1,600 years to build up, nowhere near equilibrium.
- This burst of accelerated decay would be expected to have a greater effect, proportionately, the longer the half-life. Compared to the effect on a uranium isotope with a half-life of billions of years, the effect of speeded-up decay on C-14, with its half-life of the order of 5,000 years, would be much less, which would explain why there is still some of this primordial C-14 left. Other papers by RATE scientists at this ICC dealt with theoretical grounds for this (by Dr Eugene Chaffin, ref. 6) and also gave further supportive evidence from isochron dates for this varying effect (by Dr Steve Austin, Dr Andrew Snelling and Bill Hoesch, ref. 7). (‘Good’ isochrons obtained for different decay chains within the same rock sample, which should have all registered the same ‘date’, varied from one another in a manner consistent with this.)
- Chaffin, E., Accelerated decay: theoretical models, www.icr.org/pdf/research/RATE_ICC_Chaffin.pdf.
- Snelling, A., Hoesch, W. and Austin, S., Radioisotopes in the diabase sill (Upper Precambrian) at Bass Rapids, Grand Canyon, Arizona: an application and test of the isochron dating method, www.icr.org/pdf/research/ICCBassRapidsSill_2-%20AAS_SA_and_WH.pdf.