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This paper describes in relatively simple terms how a number of the dating techniques work, how accurately the half-lives of the radioactive elements and the rock dates themselves are known, and how dates are checked with one another.In the process the paper refutes a number of misconceptions prevalent among Christians today.The stocker works for awhile and then breaks for lunch.A store manager inspects the work after the stocker has left and wishes to know how long the stocker had worked...[T]he manager finds that there are 100 cans stacked on the shelf, but only 8 empty cartons in the waste bin. Karen Bartelt of Eureka College seems to have had the same impression; she wrote a response to this article in a subsequent issue.Can she draw a reasonable conclusion concerning how long the stocker had worked? Now imagine another case, in which the manager counts the 100 cans of corn on the shelf, but she does not bother to count how many empty cartains are in the waste bin. Howard is a current faculty member at my old alma mater, I feel a certain obligation to respond, heh. Howard's paper, and it does appear to me that he's trying to use a journal devoted to pedagogy to get around the peer review process in expressing his skepticism to radiometric dating. There are links at the bottom of the page to Howard's response, as well as that of the two reviewers.She concludes the stocker must have worked for 10 minutes. ""Just as the manager must count cans of corn and discarded cartons in order to judge how long the stocker had been working, so must the chemist identify and quantify all products from a reaction in order to deter-mine how long the reaction has been going."Howard says that since we do not know know the details of the 40K - 40Ar reaction, including all products, it's impossible to know that we receive an accurate radiometric dating, because it's impossible to know if there are any other factors (like, perhaps, some other non-radiogenic sources of 40Ar in the mineral) that cloud our measurements. The reviewers comments are interesting: one doesn't care whether or not Howard is a secret creationist -- he appears to think that the exercise is a good one for teaching critical thinking.He also states that this applies to other methods of radiometric dating, so even independent verification by other radiometric dating methods does not validate the accuracy of any of them. The other seems to have the same misunderstanding of radiometric dating that Howard does.
The stocker removes 10 cans of corn from each carton, places the can on the shelf, and discards the empty carton in a nearby waste bin.
Progress in human affairs has come mainly through the bold readiness of human beings not to confine themselves to seeking piecemeal improvements in the way things are done, but to present fundamental challenges in the name of reason to the current way of doing things and to the avowed or hidden assumptions on which it rests. Method: It is known that some kinds of atoms decay into other kinds of atoms at a particular rate. Assumption: Any errors you find can just be discarded.
Therefore the amount of one or the other atom in a substance can tell you how old that substance is Method: Extracting some portion of that substance and analyzing it for the amount of either or both atoms Assumption: Whatever portion you are able to get and analyze should tell you about the age of the whole Assumption: How much of either atom was already present at the origin of the substance Assumption: What exactly the origin of a substance is supposed to be. What exactly is an error anyway and how would you know?
Curiously this is an abysmal representation of the scientific method and how the use of empirical evidence informs us of the validity of hypothesis and theory in general, and the science of radiometric dating in particular.
For information on how the various radiometric methods work and their accuracy I recommend ...
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Conclusion: Carbon 14 dating may be somewhat reliable for events within a few thousand years involving organic material, especially where the age of the material is already known so you have a witness to test the dating method itself by, but there are lots of errors possible there too.