When Crystals Are High on Helium
More Evidence for a Young Earth
If there is any one thing that secular scientists have achieved within the Christian community, it is to convince many that the universe is billions of years old. Some believers imagine that this long history passed before God created living creatures. Others suppose that countless generations of organisms lived and died in God's good creation before man appeared. Often Christians are reluctant to adopt these positions, but they feel they must. After all, they believe science has "proved" that the earth is billions of years old. This, however, is far from the case.
A Burst of Radiation?
While creation based scientists have traditionally pointed out errors and inaccuracies in dating studies, many observers have nevertheless felt that the weight of the evidence was on the secular side. Conclusions about age of rocks are based on measurable processes that turn a radioactive parent element into a stable (non-radioactive) daughter element. It is a fact that basement rocks contain a lot of stable daughter elements. Where did these come from? Were they present when the rock first formed or did they later appear through radioactive decay processes?
After years of reviewing the data, a number of creation based scientists including physicists Dr. Russell Humphreys, Dr. John Baumgardner and paleontologist Kurt Wise realized that there were too many independent lines of evidence to conclude anything other than that huge amounts of radioactive decay have actually taken place. This had not been their initial expectation. The situation obviously called for some intensive and expensive research to find out how these data fit the young earth model. Several hypotheses were proposed, one of which was that an early burst of radiation, much faster than we presently observe, had led to the accumulation of all these daughter products. This hypothesis is all very nice, but how might we test this idea? Obviously we cannot rerun history
Too Much Helium
One ingenious idea was to look for the presence of a decay by-product in rocks which contain radioactive elements.
It so happened that Dr. Robert Gentry, while he was on the staff of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, had published a report concerning surprisingly high amounts of the nuclear-decay by-product helium in tiny radioactive crystals recovered from Precambrian granite (dated at 1.5 billion years). The crystals, called zircons, made of zirconium silicate, typically contain significant quantities of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium. Theory tells us that the complete decay of one atom of uranium involves the release, on average, of 7.7 atoms of helium. This latter material is a gas which does not react with anything and which tends to escape relatively quickly from most containers. We have all seen what happens to helium filled balloons after a few days. Secular scientists expected that the interior of the zircon crystals would contain very little helium since helium's slow generation over long periods of time and its relatively rapid escape, should yield very little there at any one time. When Dr. Gentry calculated, based on the amount of the daughter product (lead), how much helium must have been released in total, he discovered that some crystals still contained as much as 58% of the by-product. Naturally at greater depths with higher temperatures, the retained helium was less. A gas, after all, moves faster when it is warmer.
No Time to Escape
Thus it was that scientists from the Institute for Creation Research and the Creation Research Society, set out to research questions related to radiometric dating. To do this, these agencies raised several hundred thousand dollars to pay for rock samples, laboratory equipment and technical analyses from specialized laboratories. They reported on the results of this research at the fifth international creationist congress in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in August 2003. These technical papers are published on the Internet for all to read.
The question concerning helium as a by-product of radioactive decay, proved to be very interesting. If billions of years of radioactive decay have really occurred, then there should be substantial helium in the atmosphere. Apparently however, most of the expected helium is not there. One scientist calculated that only 0.04% of the expected helium is actually present in the atmosphere. Long age sympathizers have suggested that perhaps the helium has escaped from our atmosphere into outer space. Young earth scientists suggest that most of the helium has not had time to escape from minerals and that it is still trapped in the rocks.
To research the specific issue of the crystals which Dr. Gentry studied ( since there is already published data on these), the creation based RATE team (short for Radioactivity and the Age of The Earth) in the year 2000, obtained a rock sample from the same bore hole as the sample from which Dr. Gentry conducted his studies . The owner of the rock core, Los Alamos National Laboratory, kindly provided core samples from a depth of 750 m (similar to the depth of the samples on which Dr. Gentry worked). After initial separation of constituents, the RATE team sent a sample to an Ontario laboratory for radiometric dating and to a California Institute of Technology laboratory for measurements of the rate of helium diffusion (movement) through the zircon crystals and the surrounding rock (called biotite). It was the RATE team's expectation that the zircon crystals provide little impediment to the escape of the helium, but that the surrounding rock might slow escape down somewhat.
When the data arrived from the laboratories, the RATE team discovered that the helium escape from zircon crystals was somewhat slower than they had anticipated. They next compared what the rate of diffusion from a zircon would have to be to yield the observed quantities of helium in the crystals after 1.5 billion years. These values they then compared with similar calculations based on the rate of diffusion needed to yield the observed quantities after only 6000 years. Interestingly diffusion rates calculated for the 1.5 billion year interval, were five orders of magnitude (100,000 times) too low compared to the actual diffusion rates. On the other hand they found reasonably good agreement between calculations based on 6000 years and the actual observations for rate of diffusion. These results implied that in the recent past, there was one or more episodes of very rapid radioactive decay sometime after the rocks were formed. Based on this study, the RATE team calculated that the zircon crystals could not be older than between 4000 and 14000 years. In other words vast amounts of radioactive decay actually proceeded quickly and recently. It is evident that radiometric dating techniques do not necessarily yield long ages.
Felt Your Friends
Most scientists would reply that one study cannot topple a reigning scientific paradigm such as the idea that the earth is billions of years old. Perhaps not, but the RATE team has also published very interesting reports on other aspects of earth science. Research never ends however. There are always more questions to ask. Nevertheless the message for today is that nature indeed bears testimony to its own recent past. The evidence is there for all to read, right in the rocks if man is only willing to consider it. In lieu of conducting our own expensive studies, we can begin by reading the RATE team reports. Our fellow Christians need to hear that the supposed evidences for long ages require serious reconsideration. Of course they should have known that anyway, but somehow they didn't.