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RATE group reveals exciting breakthroughs!

Cooperation (and quality control) brings results

by , CMI–Australia

A few years ago an initiative was undertaken to research thoroughly the whole areaof Radioactivity and the Age of The Earth. TheRATE 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 projectrightly reverted to a joint project of ICR/CRS.)

With the release of several key peer-reviewed papers at the recent ICC (InternationalConference 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 firstI want to give congratulations and credit to ICR. Even though a substantial proportionof the scientists working on this project have not been actual ICR staff, ICR’sinitiative and perseverance, and in particular the patient skilful coordinationof their Dr Larry Vardiman had the major role in getting things to this point thisquickly.

Exciting news on ‘ancient’ granites

When physicist Dr Russell Humphreys was still at SandiaNational Laboratories (he now works full-time for ICR), he and Dr John Baumgardner (still with Los Alamos National Laboratory) were bothconvinced that they knew the direction in which to look for the definitive answerto the radiometric dating puzzle.

Others had tried—and for some, the search went on for a while in the earlyRATE days—to find the answer in geological processes. But Drs Humphreys andBaumgardner realized that there were too many independent lines of evidence (thevariety of elements used in ‘standard’ radioisotope dating, mature uraniumradiohalos, fission track dating and more) that indicated that huge amounts of radioactivedecay had actually taken place. It would be hard to imagine that geologic processescould explain all these. Rather, there was likely to be a single, unifying answerthat concerned the nuclear decay processes themselves.

Since, from the eyewitness testimony of God’s Word, the billions of yearsthat such vast amounts of radioactive processes would normally suggest had not takenplace, 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 CreationWeek and/or a separate burst at the time of the Flood.

There is now powerful independent confirmatory evidence that at least one episodeof drastically accelerated decay has indeed been the case, building on the workof 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 yearsmust have passed. (This is consistent with the geologic ‘age’ assignedto 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, becauseof the ease with which one would expect helium (with its tiny, light, unreactiveatoms) to escape from the spaces within the crystal structure. There should surelybe hardly any left, because with such a slow buildup, it should be seeping out continuallyand not accumulating.
  • Drawing any conclusions from the above depends, of course, on actually measuringthe rate at which helium leaks out of zircons. This is what one of the RATE papersreports 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 heliumdoes indeed seep out quickly over a wide range of temperatures. In fact, the resultsshow that because of all the helium still in the zircons, these crystals (and sincethis is Precambrian basement granite, by implication the whole earth) could notbe older than between 4,000 and 14,000 years. In other words, in only a few thousandyears, 1.5 billion years’ worth (at today’s rates) of radioactive decayhas taken place. Interestingly, the data have since been refined and updated togive a date of 5680 (+/- 2000) years.

The paper looks at the various avenues a long-ager might take by which to wriggleout of these powerful implications, but there seems to be little hope for them unlessthey can show that the techniques used to obtain the results were seriously (andmysteriously, 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 fewtens of thousands of years at the most2) keepspopping up reliably in samples (like coal, oil, gas, etc.) which are supposed tobe ‘millions of years’ old. For instance, CMI has over the years commissionedand funded the radiocarbon testing of a number of wood samples from ‘old’sites (e.g. with Jurassic fossils, inside Triassic sandstone, burnt by Tertiarybasalt) and these were published (by then staff geologist Dr Andrew Snelling) inCreation magazine and Journalof Creation. In each case, with contamination eliminated, the resulthas been in the thousands of years, i.e. C-14 was present when it ‘shouldn’thave been’. These results encouraged the rest of the RATE team to investigateC-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 fromthe RATE group summarized the pertinent facts and presented further experimentaldata. The bottom line is that virtually all biological specimens, no matter how‘old’ they are supposed to be, show measurable C-14 levels.3This effectively limits the age of all buried biota to less than (at most) 250,000years. (When one takes into account the likely much lower ratio of radioactive to‘normal’ carbon pre-Flood4, it bringsit right down to within the biblical ‘ballpark’.)

Interestingly, specimens which appear to definitely be pre-Flood seem to have C-14present, 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—thuslimiting the age of the entire earth to only a few thousand years.

This latter suggestion about primordial C-14 appears to have been somewhat spectacularlysupported when Dr Baumgardner sent a diamond for C-14 dating. It was the first timethis had been attempted, and the answer came back positive—i.e. the diamond,formed deep inside the earth in a ‘Precambrian’ layer, neverthelesscontained radioactive carbon, even though it ‘shouldn’t have’.

This is exceptionally striking evidence, because a diamond has remarkably powerfullattice bonds, so there is no way that subsequent biological contamination can beexpected to find its way into the interior.

The diamond’s carbon-dated ‘age’ of <58,000 years is thus anupper limit for the age of the whole earth. And this age is brought down still furthernow that the helium diffusion results have so strongly affirmed dramatic past accelerationof 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 suchwords as ‘contamination’ and ‘background’ is completelyunhelpful in explaining its source, as the RATE group’s careful analyses anddiscussions have shown. But it is no problem or mystery at all if the uniformitarian/long-ageassumptions 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 hadtime to decay yet. The world just isn’t that old!

The C-14 results are an independent but powerful confirmation of the stunning helium-diffusionresults. 2003 looks like going down as a bad year for megachronophiles (lovers oflong ages), but a good year for lovers of the Word of God.

Postscript: In addition to the book expected in 2005 reporting the finalresults of the RATE project, the project expects to publish a book for laymen summarizingthe project shortly thereafter. Dr Don DeYoung will bethe 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 andhis excellent writing skills should combine to produce a highly readable book forcreationist laymen.

Published: 6 February 2006

References and notes

  1. Humphreys, D. et al., Helium diffusion ratessupport accelerated nuclear decay, www.icr.org/pdf/research/Helium_ICC_7-22-03.pdf.
  2. Even with the most sensitive AMS techniques used today, naryan atom of C-14 should be present after 250,000 years.
  3. Baumgardner, J. et al., Measurable 14Cin fossilized organic materials: confirming the young earth creation-flood model,www.icr.org/pdf/research/RATE_ICC_Baumgardner.pdf.
  4. 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 fielddeflecting cosmic rays better, (3) C-14 starts building up at creation, so it wouldonly have had 1,600 years to build up, nowhere near equilibrium.
  5. 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-lifeof billions of years, the effect of speeded-up decay on C-14, with its half-lifeof the order of 5,000 years, would be much less, which would explain why there isstill some of this primordial C-14 left. Other papers by RATE scientists at thisICC dealt with theoretical grounds for this (by Dr Eugene Chaffin, ref. 6) and alsogave further supportive evidence from isochron dates for this varying effect (byDr Steve Austin, Dr Andrew Snellingand Bill Hoesch, ref. 7). (‘Good’ isochrons obtained for different decaychains within the same rock sample, which should have all registered the same ‘date’,varied from one another in a manner consistent with this.)
  6. Chaffin, E., Accelerated decay: theoretical models, www.icr.org/pdf/research/RATE_ICC_Chaffin.pdf.
  7. Snelling, A., Hoesch, W. and Austin, S., Radioisotopesin the diabase sill (Upper Precambrian) at Bass Rapids, Grand Canyon, Arizona: anapplication and test of the isochron dating method, www.icr.org/pdf/research/ICCBassRapidsSill_2-%20AAS_SA_and_WH.pdf.

Helpful Resources

Thousands ... Not Billions
by Dr Don DeYoung
US $14.00
Soft cover