Absolute dating techniques associated with radioisotope decay are perhaps the greatest challenge to a cogent and scientifically sustainable young-earth creationist model. How are Christians to respond to claims that the earth is billions of years old?
Typically, most Christians and/or creationists will respond with some kind of anti-evolutionary rhetoric that categorically undermines the veracity of radioisotope dating—“it’s all bogus.” This is a mistake. Geochronology based on radioisotope models of decay is a scientifically robust discipline. A knee-jerk reaction that condemns the entire discipline is borne out of fear, not fact. Most creationist scientists are now quite convinced that millions of years’ worth of isotope decay has occurred and is displayed in rocks. The best evidence for this is the presence of uranium radio-halos (see small, round black smudges on image. The large roundish object is a zircon crystal from which the Uranium came. Image from Wikipedia).
When the element uranium decays, small pieces of it shoot away from its center at high speeds in all directions. As each piece moves through solid rock, it cuts a path into the rock. This would be like shooting a bullet into ice: The bullet would cut through the ice and leave a path that you could see. Since these pieces shoot away from the uranium in all directions, all the little paths together etch a perfect sphere into the rock. Hence a uranium halo. Since it takes at least 100 million years for uranium to etch a mature halo into rock, then lots of radioisotope decay has occurred. Answers in Genesis geologist Andrew Snelling says this, “The presence of 238U radiohalos in granitic rocks at many levels throughout the Paleozoic-Mesocoic geologic record…is consistent with hundreds of millions of years’ worth of radioisotope decay having occurred.” (Snelling 2005 p. 400).
Notice, these halos have nothing to do with complicated mathematics, charts, graphs, or interpretations. The halo is the product of a very well-known and simple “mechanical” process. It is true, we can’t get a close approximation as to how much radioisotope decay has occurred, but a mature halo allows us to approximate a minimum of about a hundred million years’ worth.
The Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth (RATE) group have proposed a possible solution. They conducted several experiments and collated data that suggests a change in the fundamental rate at which radioisotopes decay. In their model, accelerated radioisotope decay would have occurred during Creation Week with a possible second bout occurring during Noah’s Flood. Christians should not think this strange.
God does not require billions of years to make a mature planet. He could have made the earth instantly, or He could have fashioned it using supernaturally accelerated rates of change. The result of such a strategy would have important implications for humans. Vast processes are currently at work maturing our planet. Extrapolating the “current” rates of change backwards in time would lead to an erroneous “age” for the earth. Since God’s creative strategy was extraordinary, He graciously provided an account of it in His word—Genesis 1. What remains is for humans to “believe” this account. Without the aid of special revelation, humans could never know when or how God created anything because they would be relying on their own methods of interpretation. Since humans interpret process in terms of time, and since God created a mature planet stamped with vast amounts of process, then humans will interpret those processes in terms of billions of years. But remember, there are no “dates” in the rock. They are geochemical reactions that humans interpret as time. This is why we need God’s historical account—to help us interpret process.
Snelling, Andrew. 2005. “Radiohalos in Granites: Evidence for Accelerated Nuclear Decay.” In Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: Results of a Young-Earth Creationist Research Initiative, edited by L. Vardiman, A.A. Snelling and E.F. Chaffin. El Cajon, California: Institute for Creation Research and Chino Valley, Arizona: Creation Research Society