"Particle decay could have happened at a different rate in the past"

I was on another forum a while back and someone was claiming that radiocarbon dating was B.S. because we don’t know if decay happened at the same rate in the past. The thread was locked and you aren’t supposed to discuss religion or politics there anyway, but my refutation was going to be because particle decay is unweighted and truly random. If it is, it follows that it will decay according to the standard pattern of a half life. There is no evidence to support that radioactive decay for any isotope is anything other than unweighted and random and quite a lot of observational evidence to show that it is, therefore we can determine the age of something from the past with good accuracy.

Is this argument correct?


Radiocarbon dating is not the only way to date something. Other methods confirm the process is accurate, at least within a narrow error range.

I presume in this argument the laws of physics changed somewhere around 6000 years ago, which I think would rule out anything that could independently verified in the historical record.

Also, if it’s required to be the case for a Bible story to be true, it must be thus, even in the face of all logic and evidence to the contrary.

Fundamentally similar is the idea of c-decay, or the notion that the speed of light in a vacuum is slowing because otherwise the light from all those distant stars wouldn’t have had time to reach us in 6,000 years. It gets more complicated, and a number of creationists think this stuff is simply nuts, but spending time on this likely isn’t worthwhile unless you find it amusing.

And this gets down to the very nature of science: All science is connected. Trying to remove pieces of it leads you to logical contradiction, often in unexpected ways.

Well, carbon could have had a different half-life, and thus, decay faster (or slower). Of course, as Derleth says, this messes up all sorts of other things, but as a logical counterfactual, it’s possible.

If radioactive decay rates varied, then results from different methods of dating would not be consistent. Also, we would see evidence of varying decay rates in astronomical data (light from distant galaxies gives us a window into the past).

Some researchers have claimed to see a (very small) seasonal effect on some decay rates, due to the movement of the earth through the galaxy (during part of the year we move with the direction of the sun, and during another part we move against it). The claims are not confirmed - there is also some evidence against such an effect. Other researchers claim to have found very small changes in the Fine Structure Constant in astronomical data - this is revealed in spectral lines from stars and has some small effect on nuclear processes. Terrestrial evidence from theOklo natural fission reactor indicates that the Fine Structure Constant has been constant over the last 2 billion years.

However, there are external factors that impact on radiometric dating. For example, RadioCarbon dating is sensitive to rates of production of C[sup]14[/sup] in the upper atmosphere due to solar radiation. Excess production of C[sup]14[/sup] during nuclear tests in the 1950 has required corrective tables. We also can only estimate historic rates of production. It has been relatively simple to calibrate Carbon dating using material of known age (dendrochronology uses tree ring data to date wood, ice core and mud core data from lakes). This gives dating accurate for the values obtainable from radiocarbon dating (~60000 years).

Radiometric dating is also sensitive to context - for example, Potassium-Argon dating uses the (v. slow) decay of Potassium to Argon to provide a clock. The initial condition assumption is that the rock contains no Argon when it is laid down as lava (Argon outgasses from molten rock, but cannot from solid rock). This initial condition can be tested (ever wonder why volcanologists try to get fresh lava samples - sometimes they want to study outgassing from fresh lava). However, if the lava solidifies under water (pillow lava), the rock solidifies too fast for outgassing, and Potassium-Argon dating is not suitable. Later processes also impact dating - later heating of rock can release the Argon, resetting the clock. It is usually easy to identify the formation and later processes involved, and this informs the dating techniques (multiple techniques are used where possible for accuracy) used.

Another example impacts Radiocarbon dating - the oceans exchange carbon very slowly with the atmosphere, so C[sup]14[/sup] levels in the ocean are very low. This leads to a situation where Radiocarbon dating a living sea creature gives a very old age. So radiocarbon dating is only valid for living material that exchanges carbon with the atmosphere - trees and plants, and people who mostly live on terrestrial food sources. Those that live out on the shore and rely primarily on seafood have to be dated particularly carefully, and usually dating relies on external datable material.


AFAIK, dendrochronology (“simple” tree-ring dating that any moron can understand) can already go back more than 10,000 years (which is probably longer than the age of the earth according to the people arguing this sort of nonsense).

Arguing with people who are trying to win an argument, instead of with people who are actually trying to find the truth, is a waste of time.

For that matter, I think arguing on the internet at all is pretty much a waste of time. I try to keep my internet arguments fairly short, because nobody reads long posts, and, hell, most people don’t even read the SHORT posts.

Apparent contradictions have led to some of the most important advances.

Not that that has anything to do with carbon dating.

And confirmations have led to some of the most significant advances. Mercury’s transit of the Sun conforming to Einstein’s theories comes to mind.


(sorry, I had to do it)

Eh, you got rocks in your stomach.


That’s like saying gold could have been a gas in the past and carbon had electrons that spelled out Chinese characters

Have to look it up but I think the OP is talking about research if one of the fundamental contants (alpha?) regarding radioactive decay has changed over the life oft he universe. I believe the answer is not as far as we know.

Thought got past the vodka. Fine structure constant,
Recent research shows it hasn’t changed.

If stuff decayed faster back then, wouldn’t the environment our ancestors lived be higly radioactive?

Look, the simplest way to argue that the earth is 6000 years old is to maintain that 6000 years ago, god created the earth with all the tree rings and all the fossils and all the geology we find already in place. That argument is irrefutable, so there is no point in trying. There is no way to refute the assertion that god created the universe 1 second ago and implanted all our “memories” at the same time.

In fact, since the entropy 1 second ago is higher than that of the purported big bang, it is even more probable to assume that the universe spontaneously arose out of nothing 1 second ago. There is nothing to be gained by arguing with a biblical literalist. It is a losing battle since his position cannot be refuted.

This particular position invalidates the “Creation Science” position that says that the available evidence (when interpreted correctly) shows that true age of the earth is 6-10 thousand years old. The problem for biblical literalists is that they often try to hold both positions (falling back to the “it was created old” position when defeated on the “provable young earth” position), which is a logical impossibility. It is a nice trap to force them into.


In my experience it is more of an intellectual exercise to confront biblical literalists with contradictory evidence than an actual attempt at debate. I have never met, online or off, a single biblical literalist with an open enough mind to really discuss the matter. The more you explain, the more ‘locked-down’ the other’s mind becomes. I have actually had a person spit on me when I calmly explained that the Genesis account was completely contrary to the known laws of physics.

If this were any other subject, the term ‘brain-washing’ would be used.

I think the OP’s wants technically correct arguments against young earth creationism for people who may be open to such evidence.

I think that helping people move from young earth to Let There Be Light = The Big Bang is a worthy and important goal. I don’t care if people believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster created humanity, as long as they believe the mechanism includes DNA, and the effect of micro-environments on the thermodynamics of biomolecules.