he question of the ages of the Earth and its rock formations and features has fascinated philosophers, theologians, and scientists for centuries, primarily because the answers put our lives in temporal perspective.

Until the 18th century, this question was principally in the hands of theologians, who based their calculations on biblical chronology.

The discovery of radioactivity in 1896 by Henri Becquerel, the isolation of radium by Marie Curie shortly thereafter, the discovery of the radioactive decay laws in 1902 by Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy, the discovery of isotopes in 1910 by Soddy, and the development of the quantitative mass spectrograph in 1914 by J. Thomson all formed the foundation of modern isotopic dating methods.

radiometric dating equation-79radiometric dating equation-76

These are also the methods most commonly criticized by creation “scientists.” For additional information on these methods or on methods not covered here, the reader is referred to the books by Faul (47), Dalrymple and Lanphere (35), Doe (38), York and Farquhar (136), Faure and Powell (50), Faure (49), and Jager and Hunziker (70), as well as the article by Dalrymple (32).

The K-Ar method is probably the most widely used radiometric dating technique available to geologists.

For example, a method based on a parent isotope with a very long half-life, such as C method can only be used to determine the ages of certain types of young organic material and is useless on old granites.

Some methods work only on closed systems, whereas others work on open systems.

The point is that not all methods are applicable to all rocks of all ages.

One of the primary functions of the dating specialist (sometimes called a geochronologist) is to select the applicable method for the particular problem to be solved, and to design the experiment in such a way that there will be checks on the reliability of the results.

Second, the rock or mineral must not lose or gain either potassium or argon from the time of its formation to the time of analysis.

By many experiments over the past three decades, geologists have learned which types of rocks and minerals meet these requirements and which do not.

James Hutton, a physician-farmer and one of the founders of the science of geology, wrote in 1788, “The result, therefore, of our present inquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning, — no prospect of an end.” Although this may now sound like an overstatement, it nicely expresses the tremendous intellectual leap required when geologic time was finally and forever severed from the artificial limits imposed by the length of the human lifetime.

By the mid- to late 1800s, geologists, physicists, and chemists were searching for ways to quantify the age of the Earth.

My purpose here is not to review and discuss all of the dating methods in use.