Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jim Mason, Radiometric Dating and Scientific Methodology

A recent article in the Creation magazine sees Jonathan Sarfati interviewing nuclear physicist Dr. Jim Mason. As his speciality is in nuclear physics, Dr. Mason commented on the field of radiometric dating and its fallacy.

Probably the strongest ‘evidence’ for the long ages required by evolution is right in Dr Mason’s field of expertise: radiometric dating. But he explained that it doesn’t actually measure age at all. Rather, it measures the ratio of the radioactive ‘parent’ element to the stable ‘daughter’ element in, say, a sample of rock today. And the age must be inferred by using these measurements in a calculation, and this relies on several unverifiable assumptions; e.g.:

“ … that there was no daughter element present when the rock was formed—i.e. the daughter element is entirely due to decay of the parent in the sample; that no amount of either parent or daughter has leached into or out of the rock since its formation; and that decay rate has not changed over time. If any of these assumptions are incorrect, it can dramatically change the calculation of the age. Since it is impossible to know for sure whether any of these have happened, it is not reasonable to trust the calculated age as accurate.”

Dr Mason points out:

“In cases where the actual age of the rock is known, radiometric dating techniques typically give wildly erroneous ages. For example, rock formed in a lava flow from Mt. St. Helens in 1986 was radiometrically dated as 2.6 million years old! If, every time you read a newspaper report concerning an incident about which you had first-hand knowledge, you found that the newspaper report was totally wrong, how many of these would you read before you began to suspect that all the reporting was wrong?”

Furthermore, he shows that the long-agers’ favourite dating method, carbon dating, supports a much younger age. That’s because radioactive carbon is so short-lived it should not be present in anything over 100,000 years old, yet it is found in coal and diamonds allegedly many millions of years old ... .

Further evidence for a young age from nuclear physics comes from large amounts of helium found in tiny zircon crystals extracted from rocks that are allegedly 1.5 billion years old. The amount of uranium and lead present in the crystals indicated that the helium was the result of radioactive decay of the uranium. However, in the supposed 1.5 billion years of the rock’s existence, essentially all the helium that would have been produced by this decay should have diffused out of the crystals. Using the amount of helium actually present in the crystals and the rate of diffusion of helium through these crystals as measured by an independent laboratory, the age of the crystals, and therefore the rock from which they came was only about 5,700±2,000 years! This implies that the decay rate was much faster in the past—undermining a key assumption of radiometric dating.


In all experiments, we have three variables to keep in mind:

  1. Initial conditions
  2. Process(es)
  3. Final conditions

Science works through the evaluation of one variable while knowing or presupposing the other two. In operational science, science while logically fallacious gives working knowledge that serves to help us understand how to rule and govern the world for the common good. We can observe and manipulate the initial and final conditions and come up with suitable laws which approximate the real laws governing the process(es) involved in scientific experimentation and industrial technological application.

Such however is not the case when it comes to historical science (e.g. radiometric dating), which either assumes the initial conditions, the process(es) involved or both. Some of such assumptions in radiometric dating are exposed by Dr Mason in this interview as follows:

Initial Conditions:

  • No daughter element(s) present initially in the rock specimen(s)
  • No amount of either daughter or parent element has leeched out of said specimen


  • Decay rate has not changed over time

Such are the main problems with science especially when it deals with historical enquiries. Historical science is fraught with all manner of unspoken and unthought of assumptions which may or may not be correct, and which are supplied by the paradigm(s) of science that scientists work in - in this case a certain naturalistic paradigm.

It is not of course the case that scientists are trying to delude everyone with what they consider falsehood, or that scientists are all atheists conspiring and explicitly deciding the results they are trying to achieve. But scientists are still men. The learning of science in any of its disciplines will cause one to subconsciously absorb the prevailing paradigm, and thus it is not surprising that scientists tend to think similarly, regardless of how hard they try to be innovative and think outside the box. Scientists seldom attempt to find out the assumptions behind their methodology and thinking, but instead build their research on the shoulders and success of others. There is of course nothing wrong with such an approach per se, but it blinds one to the existence of a shared paradigm providing assumptions that are not even known to have been assumed.

As we have seen, such assumptions have the most importance and significance in historical science, where controls cannot be made. For example, no one can go back millions of years in time to put a rock containing 50% U-238 and 50% U-235 in the same spot as a target rock specimen and then come back to check if the decay rate has historically been constant (assuming that no erosion has happened to the rocks in said period of time). Such handicaps in historical science research causes the role of paradigms to take on a role that borders on the creation and maintenance of elements in a (scientific) meta-narrative, which is why historical science is always subjective and scientists in those fields can see the same facts yet disagree with their interpretation.

So is evolution science? It is just as scientific as creationism, which is to say that both are scientific meta-narratives that seek to interpret the facts we perceive. The rhetoric of scientists who believe in evolution, especially those in the BioLogos Foundation, should not trouble us. It is not surprising that evolutionists think that evolution is fact, given their adopted paradigms. An apologetic method against them is to expose their blind spots due to their paradigms. Their interpretation of facts stems from a positivist philosophy of science, and the methodological naturalism they embrace while helpful in certain areas blinds them to the possibilities of supernaturalism acting in history. We are of course not saying that supernaturalism should be taken into account methodologically, but since what they are attempting is a historical enquiry, therefore such must be taken as a possibility historically.

In conclusion, we do not have to be afraid of evolutionists. Their theory is not a fact but a meta-narrative, a meta-narrative that depends on elements found in their adopted scientific paradigm(s). We can continue to do science without adopting their evolutionary meta-narrative, while recognizing the legitimacy of the shared paradigm in normal operational research to give us working knowledge of the world.

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