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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Young earth creationism and radioactivity

The current print issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith has a review of a study by two of the most prominent young-earth creation organizations, on radioisotope dating. (Articles in Perspectives are placed on-line within two years of publication.) The study, which I have not seen, is published as Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, in two volumes, edited by Larry Vardiman and others.

The review, by Randy Isaac, currently executive director of the American Scientific Affiliation, which publishes Perspectives, appears to be a thorough examination of the results of the RATE (Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth) project, carried out by the Institute of Creation Research and the Creation Research Society.*

Isaac says that the study is remarkable in that it concedes plainly that current scientific evidence from radioactive decay is that the earth is much more than a few thousand years old. He explains the findings of the RATE project in some detail. The approach of the RATE project, he says, is to propose that the rates of radioactive decay were much greater during the flood, thus making the decay evidence indicate that the earth is much younger than it seems to be.

Isaac writes that "The authors report that faced with this evidence, a young-earth advocate must address at least two key scientific problems resulting from a one-year period of accelerated decay rates during the Flood." These problems are the heat that would have been produced by so much decay, and the amount of dangerous radioactivity which would have been produced.

For some (perhaps legitimate) reason, Isaac doesn't mention another serious question, namely why should decay rates have accelerated during the Flood?

Isaac commends the study for its admission (seldom made by advocates of young-earth creationism) that the evidence is in favor of an old earth, but criticizes it for its conclusion, which is that the two problems have been nearly solved. He says that they haven't.

The American Scientific Affiliation neither endorses or denies young-earth creationism. It allows members to believe any scheme for origins which is compatible with its statement of beliefs.

Thanks for reading.

* * * * *

On June 7, 2007, I posted again on this topic, this time with a link to part of the original RATE report.

*On July 25, 2007, I discovered than Answers in Genesis, a third important young-earth creationism organization, was also initially involved in this project, and has reported favorably on the results. (See here)


Randy Isaac said...

You rightly commented that in my RATE review I didn't mention the question of why the decay constants changed. That was one of many grandiose claims that I didn't address due to space constraints and the rather obvious problematic nature of the claims. The RATE II report does include a chapter that discusses the nuclear potential energy, the strong force coupling constants, etc. The statement is made that only a 15% change is needed in the height of the potential barrier to enable a change of many orders of magnitude in the decay constant. Presumably, this makes it more credible that such a change occurred or perhaps easier for God to have changed.

The argument is further complicated by claims that some isotopes experience accelerated decay while others didn't. Specifically, C-14 and Po atoms are cited as having no change in their decay rates. This is required to account for the data related to those isotopes in a young-earth scenario. No explanation is given except that the accelerated decay is assumed to depend on the decay rate itself. The justification is only that this is necessary to explain the data. Isotopes with longer half-lives apparently had a much bigger effect. No one addressed the obvious concern that by this reasoning, the biggest effect would have been on the 'stable' isotopes.

There are many more items in the RATE report that could be addressed but serious geochronologists seldom have the time to bother reading them.

Martin LaBar said...


I haven't read all of the Rate I volume, and almost certainly won't, for some of the reasons you allude to. So some isotopes decayed at accelerated rates, and some didn't? Wow.