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Creation 37(1):26–28, January 2014

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Radiometric backflip

Bird footprints overturn ‘dating certainty’



Using well-known radioisotope technology, scientists dated the Santo Domingo rock formation in Argentina at 212 million years old. This happened to agree well with a nearby geologic formation that was also radiometrically dated.1 The radiometric date of the Santo Domingo formation also agreed with the dating based on fossil wood found entombed in the rock. This wood came from an extinct species of tree conventionally believed to have existed around 200 million years ago.

Well-preserved and abundant tracks were also found in the rock, similar in appearance to bird tracks. The scientists, who assert that the earth is billions of years old, concluded that the footprints must have been made by an unknown species of a small bird-like dinosaur, because according to Darwinian theory birds weren’t supposed to be around 212 million years ago. The results were accepted and published by the science journal Nature in 2002.

Dating discrepancy

But recently, a different group of long-age-believing scientists took a fresh look at the bird-like dinosaur footprints and concluded that they were indeed made by birds after all—actually, by the familiar sandpiper of today, a small bird common to wetlands, grasslands and coastal habitats around the world.2 Many people alive today have seen identical tracks in the sand along a river bank, or at the beach. Realising that something was very much amiss, the new group asked for further radiometric dating. The new radioisotope date they received gave an age of 37 million years—a massive 175 million years younger than the original date.2 The scientists were unperturbed, and the results were again accepted for publication.

The first dating attempt used the Argon/Argon method, and the second used the Lead/Uranium method.3 In both dating attempts, the date received was very close to what was expected. In the first, the geologists already believed the formation to be around 200 million years old on the basis of an extinct fossil tree—and they received a date very close to this from the laboratory. In the second, it was already believed, due to the presence of sandpiper tracks, that the formation had to fit within the neo-Darwinian timeline for bird evolution—and the geologists again received the date they were expecting.

An episode of geologic thrust-faulting in the past was invoked as a ‘just-so’ story in an attempt to explain the 175-million- year difference in dates. Such faulting can result in older strata being pushed on top of younger strata, and older rocks, it was said, were mistaken for younger rocks when the first dating was done.4 However, the explanation is based on circular reasoning, and the scientists admit that the evidence for such faulting is “subtle”.5 This shows how excuses can always be found by geologists who try to avoid the conclusion that long-age radioisotope dating techniques6 are questionable. Although not widely known, many bird fossils have been found in ‘dinosaur era’ rocks.7

Not an isolated case

The 175-million-year dating discrepancy for the Santo Domingo formation is not an isolated case, but adds to the growing list of evidence that long-age radioisotope dating does not give real dates at all. For instance, there is also the case of the hominid8 fossil KNM–ER 1470,9 found in East Africa beneath a layer of volcanic rock that was first radiometrically ‘dated’ at 212–230 million years old.10

The date was rejected by paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey. He already believed that the rocks underneath the volcanic layer had to be between 2 and 5 million years old, because the australopithecine and mammal fossils found in them indicated such an age to him according to his pre-conceived evolutionary ‘model’ or timeline. So he requested new radioisotope dating for the rock layers above and below the fossils, and received ‘dates’ that fitted perfectly within the range of his already-formed opinion on the age of the rock.

The overlying volcanic layer of rock was given a new ‘date’ of 2.61 million years—despite the first radioisotope date being more than 200 million years older. Because it was found below this volcanic layer, Leakey estimated his newly-discovered and soon-to-be-famous fossil KNM–ER 1470 was 2.9 million years old. This date was popular for a while, but was eventually challenged by other paleontologists using further radioisotope dating. Today KNM–ER 1470 is generally believed by long-agers to be around 1.9 million years old—a million years younger than Leakey’s official ‘date’.11

Like the sandpiper track discovery in the Santo Domingo formation, Leakey’s hominid fossil discovery resulted in a massive change in the radiometric date for the rock formation. Which of these ‘dates’ are real? All of them are based on man’s shifting opinions.

The veracity of long-age radioisotope dating

A lot of people, including many scientists who are not geologists, believe that long-age radioisotope dating provides a reliable and empirical measurement of real age. However, the reality is that such ‘dating’ is based on the types of fossils in the rock. Long-age-believing scientists decide on the age of rock formations according to their naturalistic, secular philosophy, using pre-conceived fossil ages that fit evolutionary assumptions and which trump all other considerations. What if a rabbit fossil was found in ‘Precambrian’ rock? The evidence would either be rejected, or explained-away, or the radioisotope ‘date’ for that rock formation would simply be altered.12

The argument that fossils date rocks and rocks date fossils is circular. The fossils are already slotted into an orthodox version or ‘model’ called the geologic column, that describes an alleged history which is a philosophical construction of fallible man.13 Before any radioisotope dating is done, laboratories routinely ask geologists (or paleontologists, as the case may be) for their opinion on the age of the rocks. Rocks that have been observed forming in recent times have been radioisotope dated, and the resultant ‘dates’ were greatly inflated when the laboratory wasn’t first informed of the known age of the rock.14

Sometimes long-age-believing scientists admit that radioisotope dating has significant problems and weaknesses. In their view this is mainly to do with the great difficulty in finding rock or crystal samples that have not been weathered, altered, or derived from older rock. But as Marvin Lubenow put it, “the practical matter of selecting rock samples that can be proved pure and uncontaminated requires an omniscience beyond humans”.15 The bottom line is that long-age radioisotope ‘dates’ are demonstrably unreliable and ever-changing. They aren’t real.

The biblical view

If radioisotope dating is empirical science, it must be able to stand or fall on its own consistency of results. Long-age radioisotope ‘dating’ can’t change wildly by hundreds of millions of years, according to geologist’s changing opinions, and still be considered a true, empirical method of dating.

The Santo Domingo formation is consistent with large volumes of sediments having been rapidly deposited by massive water currents whilst volcanic eruptions were intermittently occurring.16

If the secular radiometric ‘dates’ can be dismissed because they do not fit with evolutionary ideas, they can also be dismissed because they do not fit with what the Bible teaches about the age of the earth.17 The Bible preserves the historical account of a year-long watery catastrophe that affected the whole world about 4,500 years ago. The physical characteristics of the Santo Domingo formation are completely consistent with this.

Posted on homepage: 18 April 2016

References and Notes

  1. The “well-dated” Los Colorados formation, to quote the scientists. They say this rock formation is more than 200 million years old. See Melchor, R.N., de Valais, S., and Genise, J.F., Bird-like fossil footprints from the Late Triassic, Nature 417(6892):936–938, 27 June 2002. Return to text
  2. Melchor, R.N., Buchwaldt, R., and Bowring, S., A late Eocene date for Late Triassic bird tracks, Nature 495(7441):E1–E2, 21 March 2013. Return to text
  3. In the first dating, basalt (a volcanic rock) interbedded within the sedimentary rock formation was dated using the 40Ar/39Ar method and yielded an ‘age’ of 212.5 ± 7.0 million years. In the second, zircon crystals derived from tuff rock (another type of volcanic rock), also interbedded within the sedimentary rock, were dated using the weighted mean 206Pb/238U method, and yielded an ‘age’ of 37 million years old. See Ref. 2 and Ref. 4. Return to text
  4. Vizan, H. et al., Geological setting and paleomagnetism of the Eocene red beds of Laguna Brava Formation (Quebrada Santo Domingo, northwestern Argentina), Tectonophysics 583:105–123, 2013. The Santo Domingo formation has been redesignated as two formations in recent years. Part of it is now called the Laguna Brava formation. Return to text
  5. Circular, because they would say that the difference in the two radioisotope dates shows the evidence for the faulting … yet the veracity of both the radioisotope ‘dates’ is unproven, and rests on many assumptions, one of which is that faulting must have occurred for there to be two such discrepant dates. And in any case, the field evidence is inconclusive. Return to text
  6. In contrast to long-age dating techniques that assume ages of millions and billions of years, the carbon-14 dating technique has some merits in certain applications. Carbon-14 has a very short half-life, so its presence in a sample means it can’t even be a million years old. However, even carbon-14 dating can rest on incorrect assumptions—resulting in dates close to the Flood being over-estimated. See chapter 4, “What about carbon dating?” of The Creation Answers Book, Creation Book Publishers; creation.com/cab4. Return to text
  7. Batten, D., Modern birds found with dinosaurs, Creation 34(3):48–50, 2012; creation.com/modbirds-dinos. Return to text
  8. For more on alleged ‘hominid’ fossil finds, see Wieland, C., Making sense of ‘apeman’ claims, Creation 36(3):38–41, 2014. Return to text
  9. This is the museum accession number for the fossil. It stands for ‘Kenya National Museum–East Rudolf’, field specimen 1470. Return to text
  10. Lubenow, M.L., The pigs took it all, Creation 17(3):36–38, 1995; creation.com/pigstook. Return to text
  11. Two of the newer ‘dates’ (challenging Leakey’s) were significantly younger: one was 520,000 years, and another was 1.6 million years. It is interesting to note, also, that Leakey’s ‘date’ of 2.9 million years was supported by five different dating techniques, all in very close agreement, before it eventually fell out of fashion. Return to text
  12. For long-age believers, localised erosion followed by re-deposition of sediments could explain seemingly out-of-place fossils, as could many other factors; see also Doyle, S., Precambrian rabbits—death knell for evolution? J.Creation 28(1):10–12, 2014. Return to text
  13. Reed, J.K., Rocks Aren’t Clocks—A Critique of the Geologic Timescale, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, 2013. Return to text
  14. Swenson, K., Radio-dating in rubble, Creation 23(3):23–25, June 2001; creation.com/rubble; and also creation.com/rubble2. Return to text
  15. Lubenow, M.L., ref. 10. Return to text
  16. Bird tracks preserved in the rock formation are explainable in the context of the global Flood. See Oard, M.J., Dinosaur Challenges and Mysteries, Creation Book Publishers, USA, p. 127, 2011. Return to text
  17. Cosner, L., How does the Bible teach 6,000 years? Creation 35(1):54–55, 2013; creation.com/6000-years. Return to text

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