Calling out dating method bluffs

I was speaking with a friend regarding different absolute and relative dating methods. Eventually, after wading through the commons, he mentioned paleolimnology, or the dating of mud-rings? I’m not too familiar with this, and to be honest, I’ve never read a thing about it until today. My question may have been subliminally-evident, but in the case it wasn’t, how does this correlate with Biblical Geology, and a age of 6,000 years? I am without a doubt, and without hesitation, a bonified, unashamed, Biblical-Creationist (YEC). I appreciate your time and wish that you only respond when convenient.

In Christ,
Jonathan S.

Hi Jonathan,

Paleolimnology is not a dating method as such but the study of past freshwater, saline and brackish environments. The aim is to understand the environment’s ecological history. Investigations usually involve taking cores of sediments and applying dating methods, such as varves or carbon-14. You can find out more by searching the web.

Whenever someone springs a big word or a new dating method on you in a discussion like this, its important to understand some simple principles about historical science, and dating methods in particular.

Remember one irrefutable fact of life: it is impossible to measure the age of something directly. There are many dating methods but every one depends on assumptions about the past—assumptions that cannot be proved. In other words, the person using the method has to assume the history of the material in the method that he is using.

Once you understand that fact, you are in a position to discuss any dating method with a person, even if you have never heard of it before.

In this particular instance, it seems your friend has bluffed you by using a big word that you have not heard of. You needed to call his bluff. For example, you could have asked ‘That’s an interesting method. Tell me, how does it work?’ Don’t fall for generalities or bluff. Ask him for specifics.

You are looking to find out what the method actually measures (i.e. what process is changing with time). You need to explore what they assume the initial value was in the past, and how they assume it changed with time. Then you need only think of what could make those assumptions invalid.

The article ‘The dating game’ shows how dating works in practice and how geologists do not believe the result if it contradicts what they already believe the age should be. That article describes a number of dating methods, explaining the assumptions behind each one. As you understand the principles and the reasons why they are not reliable, you will be able to extend the ideas to other methods. Remember too that by asking probing questions of your friend you will soon expose whether he is bluffing and does not understand himself what is behind the method.

All the best,
Dr Tas Walker, CMI–Australia

Published: 3 February 2006