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Continue reading The most widely used tool to measure the age of the Earth is radioactive decay.The great scientist Ernest Rutherford was the first to define the concept of “half-life,” that is, the time it takes for one half of the atoms in a given quantity of a radioactive element (such as plutonium) to decay into another element (such as uranium), or for one isotope of an element (such as carbon-14) to decay into another isotope of that same element (such as carbon-12).Moreover, Rutherford and all scientists since him have declared that the radioactive decay of a given element or isotope occurs “at a specific, universal, immutable rate” (Castelvecchi 2008: 21).Based on this assumption, scientists use the decay rate of certain substances to date the age of rock formations, fossils, and the Earth itself.So when fossils are found in sedimentary rock layers, they are identified within the context of where they fit in the evolutionary ‘tree of life’, and a millions-of-years ‘age’ is therefore assigned to the fossil and the rock accordingly.2 In recent years a variety of techniques have been developed to ‘date’ some rocks and minerals using the decay of radioactive elements in them.These methods include potassium-argon, rubidium-strontium, uranium-thorium-lead and samarium-neodymium dating.

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Even with these weird––and challenging from an old-earth perspective––results, radiocarbon (or, carbon-14) dating remains one of the best tools for determining the ages of things that lived from 500 to 50,000 years ago. Carbon-14 (C) is a naturally occurring radioisotope of carbon and is found in trace amounts on Earth.The Carbon-14 “dating” method was introduced by Dr. Libby (1908-1980) at the University of Chicago in 1949. Carbon-12 is the normal stable isotope of Carbon (99% of all Carbon), which is the basic building block of organic life forms.He claimed that it was capable of dating animal, plant and human remains of fairly “recent’ origin. As they say on Star Trek, we are all carbon based units.The only radioactive dating method that could be directly applied to many fossils is radiocarbon or carbon-14 (C) dating.However, because radiocarbon decays relatively rapidly, it is only useful in practice up to about 50,000 years.3 Thus most fossils, being regarded as millions of years old, are never tested for radiocarbon, because they are not supposed to have any left.

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