How Do We Know the Earth is Old? (Infographic)

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July 15, 2012 Tags: Earth, Universe & Time

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: The BioLogos Forum is pleased to present this infographic about the tools scientists use to determine the age of the Earth. The graphic, titled "How Do We Know the Earth is Old?" uses data from the National Center for Science Education, Tufts University, Tulane University, and numerous other sources, and was compiled and summarized by Dr. Gregg Davidson, Professor in the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the University of Mississippi. We are extremely grateful for Dr. Davidson's help. For details on the source material go here. We encourage you to share the graphic with anyone and everyone, but please be sure to link back to this post as its source!

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Francis - #71122

July 15th 2012

Testing the results of radioactive dating methods against known events in recorded human history such as the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. is a good thing.

Unfortunately, no similar historical confirmation is possible on the Bigs (i.e. the Billions of years, or millions).

Interesting, too, that the scientists often find measurable traces of Carbon-14 in coal and in diamonds. Coal is usually dated in the hundreds of millions of years, diamonds in the billions of years. Carbon-14 should no longer be detectable after 55K years. How could this be, that Carbon-14 shows up in coal and diamonds?

Old folks (i.e. the old-earthers) shout “CONTAMINATION!” That is, Carbon-14 contamination of the coal or diamonds or instruments measuring them. I’d think the researchers would take great precautions to prevent such instrumental Carbon-14 contamination. And I think they’ve demonstrated they have. Also, the old folks’ protesting responses don’t seem as voluminous, in terms of print/web articles, as on other dating and evolution controversies.

The instruments should be OK.

Then, I wonder how could a diamond, perhaps the hardest and least permeable substance on/in the earth, fall victim to Carbon-14 contamination by seepage or whatever.

I wonder.


Mike Beidler - #71127

July 15th 2012

Perhaps this will assist:  http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/rate-critique.html

From the article: 

************

Diamond is difficult to combust. The RATE samples apparently required modifications to the normal procedure [1], presumably higher combustion temperatures and longer combustion times, likely increasing the sample chemistry contamination. The samples were reportedly pitted and may have been subjected to previous analyses and to unknown contamination. Nevertheless, RATE’s five deep-mine diamond samples had radiocarbon levels only slightly above background (0.01 to 0.07 pMC after background subtraction), while the seven alluvial samples ranged from 0.03 to 0.31 pMC after background subtraction.

Subsequently, the RATE team inserted diamond directly into an ion source, eliminating the sample chemistry, and measured much lower radiocarbon values, “between 0.008 and 0.022 pMC, with a mean value of 0.014 pMC,” apparently with no background subtraction [6]. This much lower value for unprocessed diamond provides strong evidence that their processed diamond samples had been contaminated, most likely by the modified sample chemistry.

Taylor and Southon have also measured unprocessed diamond, finding a similar range of 0.005 to 0.03 pMC without background subtraction. They interpret this result as their instrument background, primarily due to ion source memory. Their ion source current varied, unintentionally, over about a factor of two, perhaps due to crystal face orientation or to conductivity differences between samples. “The oldest 14C age equivalents were measured on natural diamonds which exhibited the highest current yields” [4]. This important observation provides evidence about the source of the radiocarbon.

If the radiocarbon were intrinsic to the sample, there would be no change in the radiocarbon ratio with sample current. The 14C, 13C, and 12C would change in unison. However, if the radiocarbon were coming from ion source memory or elsewhere in the accelerator, it should give a count rate independent of ion source current. Normalizing the radiocarbon count rate to the ion source current, which is predominantly 12C, would result in higher radiocarbon content for lower source currents, as observed. This data provides clear evidence that at least a significant fraction of the radiocarbon detected by Taylor and Southon in diamond measurements did not come from the diamonds themselves and thus could not be “intrinsic radiocarbon.”

The lower values for unprocessed diamond and the current-dependent behavior find no explanation in Baumgardner’s “intrinsic radiocarbon” model. But these results fit well with the Taylor and Southon evidence that instrument background (specifically ion source memory) is material-dependent, with diamond exhibiting significantly less ion source memory than graphite. The radiocarbon detected in natural, unprocessed diamond measurements seems to be nothing more than instrument background.


Gregory - #71129

July 16th 2012

Whoever thought of these ‘Infographics’ came up with a pretty good idea. Easy to spread by e-mail or listserve, compact and focussed.

Noticing the new phrase: “Harmonizing Science and Conservative Christian Faith.”

Wondering what Logical connection is or should be drawn between ‘evangelical’ and ‘conservative,’ one being a religious category, the other usually (or often) reserved for the political realm. Will BioLogos Foundation offer an entry aiming to help to define these terms?

 


George Bernard Murphy - #71130

July 16th 2012

This is a very good aricle.

 I am so glad to see you get off the evoution thing.


Pavel Label - #73092

September 26th 2012

The lower values for unprocessed diamond and the current-dependent behavior find no explanation in Baumgardner’s intrinsic radiocarbon” model. But these results fit well with the Taylor and Southon evidence that instrument background (specifically ion source memory) is material-dependent, with diamond exhibiting significantly less ion source memory than graphite. The radiocarbon detected in natural, unprocessed diamond measurements seems to be nothing more than instrument background. 


Jon Garvey - #71131

July 16th 2012

Gregory - I too raised an eyebrow at the new emphasis on “conservative Christianity”. It actually has a distinctive theological meaning, particularly within Evangelical Christianity (ie it is not merely a synonym, as I came to appreciate in my University days). Here’s a useful quotation from Jim Packer in the “New Dictionary of Theology” article on Liberalism and conservatism in theology:

‘Conservatism’, when used, signifies a rejection of the liberal outlook as a provincial aberration, neither objective nor scientific nor rational in any significant sense, and with this a conservationist purpose of handing on the doctrines and disciplines of historic Christianity intact and undiluted. There are conservative Protestants, Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics; there are conservative biblical scholars and theologians, congregations and denominations, para-church agencies and teaching institutions. There is a conservative Christian literature and a conservative missiology, in which evangelism comes first. Conservatism in this sense implies no particular political stance or eschatological expectation, though the contrary is often alleged. Self-styled fundamentalism is a militant form of conservatism. Protestant conservatism has gained strength during the past forty years, though it is still a minority position in the older Protestant churches.


Mazzeratti - #71143

July 16th 2012

Mike,

Thanks for responding to Francis’ claim so succintly and accurately.

Francis, my brother in Christ, the earth and the universe are very, very OLD. Do you think billions of years to the Infinite, ALL-powerful, ALL-knowing, and ALL-loving Creator of the universe is a long time?


Francis - #71154

July 16th 2012

Jon Garvey,

I raised the question about “conservative Christianity” on July 13 in the blog for “The Vision Lives On … and On”. No response from Darrel yet.

The quotation you supplied to help define “conservative Christianity” said in part “…a conservationist purpose of handing on the doctrines and disciplines of historic Christianity intact and undiluted. There are conservative Protestants, Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics …”

I think I’d agree with that.

However, by that definition, how could Protestants be conservative, if they haven’t held to and handed on the “doctrines and disciplines” held by Christians and the Church for the 1500 years prior to the Reformation (and continuing today)?


Jon Garvey - #71179

July 18th 2012

Well Francis, as far as I understand it the definition has always included

(a) Making explicit what wsa alpready implicit (eg the doctrine of the Trinity) and

(b) Correcting doctrine that has become corrupted even by large or influential portions of the Church (eg the Arian and Pelagian contoversies).


Jon Garvey - #71180

July 18th 2012

I should add to that the obvious truth that not all that has been assumed by Christians is considered to constitute “doctrines and disciplines” - eg the Roman  Catholic Church’s refusal to pronounce definitively on the age of the earth, and its cautious assent to deep-time chronology.


Francis - #71155

July 16th 2012

Mazzeratti,

You asked me “Do you think billions of years to the Infinite, ALL-powerful, ALL-knowing, and ALL-loving Creator of the universe is a long time?”

No, I don’t think it would be a long time for God. I think God is “in” time but also above and beyond it.

I also think that the amount of “time”, if I may call it that, preceeding a point 6,000 years ago or a point 14 billion years ago is effectively the same, considering the span of infinity going backwards.


Francis - #71156

July 16th 2012

Mike Beidler,

Here’s a retort to the article you linked:

 http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2007/11/30/feedback-rate-contamination

 

Just for fun, I started playing with the Carbon-14 half-life of 5,730 years using a calculator.

 - After 57,300 years, only 0.1% of the Carbon-14 remains.

 - After only 200,000 years only 0.000000003% remains. That’s 3 parts out of 100 billion!  (Could any instrument on earth today detect such an amount?)

 - After 3 billion years, … my calculator blew up.


Klasie Kraalogies - #71184

July 18th 2012

Francis, instruments can detect very low concentrations - we have been measuring parts per billion for some time already. 

 

However, C-14 is used only for younger objects. There are lots of other tests - 

 

Ar-Ar, U-Pb, Pb-Pb, Sm-Nd, Rb-Sr, U-Th, Re-Os, Lu-Hf etc etc.

187Re has a half-life well in excess for the calculated age of the earth. 

Sm has 3 long-lived isotopes, with half-lifes ranging between 1.06 x 1011 years, and greater than 2 x 1015 years.


Francis - #71181

July 18th 2012

Jon Garvey,

The pronouncement of the Trinity and the resolution of the Arian and Pelagian heresies. That’s a mighty parsimonious view of “conservative” Christianity.

 

“the Roman Catholic Church’s refusal to pronounce definitively on the age of the earth, and its cautious assent to deep-time chronology.”

As I understand it, the RCC is not in the business of being scientific timekeeper. However, regarding human history, the RCC has definitively stated that all humans who have ever lived trace their origin to one particular historical man, Adam.


Francis - #71192

July 18th 2012

Klasie Kraalogies,

That’s one Krazy name! Thanks for the info.

What did you think of the article refuting claims of Carbon-14 contamination (below)? http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2007/11/30/feedback-rate-contamination


Klasie Kraalogies - #71196

July 18th 2012

Francis, I don’t think much of it at all. I’ve nver done C-14 dating, but I have done 100’s of Ar-Ar analyses, and written dozens of reports on these. His screed rings a bit hollow - and makes even more assumptions than his opponent does. He wants intrinsic C-14 in diamonds, therefore that is his preferred explanation. I did not seem him mention that neutrons from U-decay can produce C-14 from Nitrogen, which is a very common impurity in diamonds (one of several possibilities).

Typically though, dating material depends on several samples, many measurements, and with repeatable results. If more than one method can be used, it is done - nowadays, archeological and other recent fossil evidence is commonly dated by cosmogenic isotope dating (as well). The picture doesn’t change at all. 

Interestingly enough, even in their own publication, the Rate folks admit that they cannot account for the istope record, and thus suggest that somehow, accelerated radioactive decay took place, sometime or other. Of course, since radioactive decay releases heat, they have a serious heat problem - the kind of accelerated decay they require would have fried this planet. Thus they don’t have an answer….


Francis - #71207

July 19th 2012

Klasie Kraalogies,

I just Googled “carbon-14 contamination+diamond” and the second hit contained a blog comment that sides with you. I read it with some interest because the author avoided getting too technical and losing my unscientific brain, but also because of the author’s admission of uncertainty and ambiguity on this matter. Here are some excerpts (with my EMPHASES and notes) from these comments:

“I’ve spent the last hour reading about a dozen websites and published papers on this, and I can’t even handle the amount of pure junk science going on. It’s completely absurd to even try to address these “discoveries”, because the papers and findings are not presented in a serious scientific manner. I’ll lay out the various problems I’ve found so far…

“They say for example, that the amount of C14 isotope in various carbon deposits make them in the range of hundreds of thousands of years old instead of billions… The problem lies in the fact that the C14 data they’ve found says that the carbon is over 50,000 years old, up to hundreds of thousands of years old… If it’s so inaccurate that it seems to be 100,000 years old when it’s really only 6,000 years old, then it’s worthless data. [My note: RATE’s main point, I think, is not that the data definitely says the earth is 6,000 years old, but that the standard/consensus dating may be hugely off, by billions of years. “Fine-tuning” the dating methods to be even more accurate will be an on-going thing.]

“The real scientific community has studied the C14 anomalies and SUGGESTED some conclusions which MIGHT actually make sense…They POSTULATED that the radioactive decay of the surrounding minerals MIGHT account for the odd C14 data.

“… the sloppy science that the Creation Scientists have been using…Beyond that, it’s already established that C14 dating is not very accurate. [My note: Why then is it used at all?]


“There are many POSSIBLE reasons C14 dating could be off…

“… diamonds being formed much more recently (just because some diamonds were formed 10,000 years ago, it doesn’t mean the entire earth is only that old…)” [My note: Is he admitting to the possibility that some diamonds WERE formed only 10k years ago? I don’t know.]

http://askville.amazon.com/old-earth-explanation-Carbon-14-detected-diamonds/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=3962248

End of excerpts

 

Then I re-read your comment, and noticed much the same thing:

“His screed rings a bit hollow - and makes even MORE ASSUMPTIONS than his opponent does.”

So, you agree that your side is likewise relying on assumptions.

“…a very common impurity in diamonds (one of several POSSIBILITIES).”

 

Reliance on possibilities, assumptions, possible reasons. I sure hope none of the old-earthers are picked for jury duty for a dicey first degree murder trial. God help the defendant.

Speaking of which, did you ever see the film “12 Angry Men”? I’m going to watch it again this week. I think a lot of people would do well to do likewise.


Klasie Kraalogies - #71209

July 19th 2012

Francis - which is the honest side here? And would you want an honest jury, or one with a priori assumptions?

 

Think about that…..


Francis - #71210

July 19th 2012

Klasie Kraalogies,

I didn’t have to think long.

I think that if you’re going to sentence a man to life in prison or death row, it better be for something a lot better than possibilities and assumptions. You better be doing so because of undeniable proof or at least evidence that’s beyond the shadow of a doubt.

I think also that if you’re going to upend the constant and 5,000 year old understanding and teaching of the word of God, you sure as hell better KNOW what you’re doing.

 

And since when did scientists corner the market on honesty?

 


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