Ar 40 is used for several reasons. First of all, Argon is inert. It does not chemically react with other elements at all. So Argon does not attach itself to the rock or any minerals in the rock. Secondly, Argon is usually a gas. These features are thought to allow any naturally occurring Argon from contaminating our measurements of the Argon 40 that is being produced from the radioactive decay of K 40.
When volcanic material flows over the land, the naturally occurring Argon gas is driven off by the excess heat. When the rock is molten hot, it is more liquid in texture, allowing the Argon gas to escape. If all the gas is driven off, then there should be no Argon left in the rock.
Once the rock cools and hardens, it is considered to be a closed system, because any new Ar 40 that is produced by the breakdown of K40 is trapped inside the rock crystal and cannot get out. So the scientist assumes that he or she is able to measure only that Ar 40 which is produced from K 40 since the rock has cooled. All the other Ar 40 was forced out of the rock by the heat.
By forcing out the naturally occurring Ar 40, the clock of the dating mechanism is reset or set to zero. Later, when we start discussing the K-Ar dating technique from a Creationary perspective, we will see that this reseting of the clock is a major issue. The clock might not always be reset by the heat in the Rock. There are other factors which might not allow the Argon to coming out of the rock as well.
An interesting point to make is that the Potassium-Argon process does not date the age of the rock. What it does, is to tell you how long ago the rock was reset, or set to zero. In addition, some rocks may have been reheated so that the clock was partially reset or fully reset at a later date. So if there are multiple heatings of the rock, the K-Ar dating process may give the researcher a number that is not what the researcher expects to find.
Another issue is atmospheric Argon 40. However, this contamination can easily be accounted for in the calculations. Since Argon 40 exists in the atmosphere, there is a possibility that rock samples could be contaminated with atmospheric Argon. Because the atmospheric Argon is a mix of three different isotopes of Argon: Ar-36 (0.337%), Ar-38 (0.063%), and Ar-40 (99.6%); Any contamination from the atmosphere would induce not only Ar-40, but also induce both Ar-36 and Ar-38 into the rock. Since there is more Ar-36 than Ar-38, the amount of Ar-36 is measured to determine the amount of atmospheric Argon that is inserted in the rock. The ratio of Ar-40 / Ar-36 = 295.5: So this factor can be used to estimate the amount of Argon 40 that has come into the rock via Atmospheric contamination.
In any kind of a historical science, assumptions have to be made in the assessing of historical dates. Because it is assumed that man, for example, has ascended over a long period of time, researchers would automatically want to lengthen the amount of time indicated by the artifacts uncovered in archeological digs. They are looking for answers that would fit their present model. I am not trying to say that they are falsifying their data. On the contrary they wouldn't need to falsify anything. Historical data can be so inconclusive that a host of positions is possible from almost any set of data that is collected.
Man is thought to have progressed through a long period of prehistory (cave man's experience) before some sort of civilization is started. Only after civilization begins can we begin to gather some sort of data from the discovery of the artifacts that are found (Pieces of pottery, etc.). The artifacts according to today's traditional thinking should be slowly progressing in complexity as it is thought that man is progressing in his abilities and ideas that he uses.
If man is thought to have progressed over long periods of time, even within the later civilization phase of his existence, than surely as the artifacts are recovered from archaeological sites, the theories and ideas developed will reflect the scientist's own original thinking. This is how science normally works. They normally work within a fairly well defined set of theories that have become a paradigm. A paradigm is a theory that is so well accepted that no one seriously questions it. This way of doing science is most prominent when the evidence is fragmentary at best.
Assumptions throughout the scientific process are extremely important because they must hold the facts together. Only when specific data comes that either substantiates or falsifies the previously held assumption, can it be known if the thinking was originally correct. Unfortunately, with fragmentary data, the artifact that might falsify a theory is extremely hard in coming or it could easily be overlooked. So the problem must be solved by a host of assumptions that will probably never be tested.
There is also the danger that good data could be thrown out because it doesn't fit with established thinking. For instance, I am told that there are sometimes found in the same level both "early" forms and "modern" forms of man. Because of what is considered to be an impossibility, the modern forms are assumed to have been examples of intrusions. The modern form is considered to have been buried much later in spite of the fact that the specimens are found in the same level.
The areas of science, which are the most successful, which the public notices, are the amazing discoveries in medicine, biology, space exploration, and the like. These are the areas that deal with the here and now. If an experiment is conducted and the information needed to answer the problem is not forthcoming, then another experiment can be designed to answer the problem. The process can continue until some answer to the problem is understood. The problem is only limited by money, ingenuity, and the technical difficulties that have to be surmounted.
In addition to the above limitations of science, historical science is limited by the fragmentary nature of the artifacts it is able to find. In effect, the accuracy of ideas is limited by the assumptions chosen by the researchers.
K-Ar dating is not based on irrefutable data alone. It has as its basis of understanding, various assumptions which concern the conditions of the Earth for hundreds of millions of years. These assumptions were originated within an atmosphere of long age preexisting ideas. Scientists almost never look for indicators in nature that might speak of a very young age for the world's history. Why would they? Most scientists do not believe that the short chronology of the Bible has any validity at all and most would consider it counterproductive to pursue such a course of investigation. If in fact such an answer were found, it would be quickly dismissed. It would be assumed that there was something wrong with the idea or the data, and a new scenario would be sought.
Some papers give evidence of presenting filtered data. What is meant by filtered data, is that they only present the data that agrees with evolutionary thinking. The other data is eliminated. A very good example of this kind of filtering is a paper by Evernden JF, Savage DE, Curtis GH, James GT: Potassium-argon dating and the Cenozoic mammalian chronology of North America. Am J Sci 1964;22:145-98. This paper is now considered to be a classic paper.
On pages 171-174 they discuss why all but one potassium/argon date for the Rusinga Island bioites was discarded. Yet they use biotite in an uncritical manor in other areas where the dates they obtained matched their expectations. On Page 174, we can also note: "Unfortunately many of the samples that passed field inspection for suitability and were laboriously collected, later proved unsuitable for dating. . . . Thus, of some 65 samples collected by M. Skinner, only 10 could be used." Other creationists such as Paul Giem (in his book, Scientific Theology see references below), have thought: "It might have been interesting to know why such samples proved unsuitable for dating, and what their potassium/argon dates were."
The degree at which the data was filtered may be even greater than just reporting 1/6 of the data they collected. Sometimes the whole rock basalt date is reported, but sometimes only a mineral fraction is reported from the basalt, like biotite or sanidine. Why is it that one type of date is used one time and not at another time, is not discussed in the paper. As Paul Giem notes: "If there are three mineral fractions per basalt sample, there are four different possible dates for that sample. Thus one could pick the dates that fit one's expectations and create a very impressive list of dates with close agreement without there being more than a general correlation of most dates with one's expectations."
It is amazing that a paper that only reports 1/6 of the data, is also considered to be a classic paper. Paul notes: "It is interesting to speculate what would happen if an article in chemistry or medicine were submitted with perhaps 1/6 of the data reported."
It should be remembered that these researchers are not being dishonest in their actions. They think of the long age scenario of evolution as being fact. They do not believe that there is any alternative way to look at history. Period! So when the data does not come out right, it is only natural that they assume that there is something wrong with the dates that do not fit the long age viewpoint.
However, when they turn around and say that the data supports the evolutionary viewpoint and not the Creationary viewpoint. This is not right! The data does not support long ages. So, many people try to say something like: the weight of evidence proves evolution; or, all the data supports evolution. But this is not true either, the weight of evidence does not prove anything. We do not have an issue of weight of evidence. Rather, what we have is weight of interpretation!
This controversy is not over data. The data can go either way. Very intelligent people believe in the long history of the earth and they have good data to support them. There is no question about it. However, I look at that same data and I come to very different conclusions. This process is legitimate! There is such a thing as multiple interpretation to the data base. There is no proof for either position.
On this web page I want to discuss a possible scenario that would allow K-Ar dates to indicate a short age chronology. Such a discussion might never be allowed in normal scientific circles because of the assumptions they choose to believe as being true. There is such a strong consensus of opinion on K-Ar dating and other similar topics that deal with the history of the Earth that alternative viewpoints are probably viewed as being counterproductive.
Before we start, lets look at the specific K-Ar dating assumptions.
The seventh assumption is one that scientists are doing their best to fulfill. We should also be able to safely make this assumption.
The sixth assumption is also fairly secure. When the concentrations of the various K isotopes are measured, the results are always the same.
The fifth assumption is fairly safe. There are some cases where K has been gained or lost; However, the mineral itself has been noticeably altered.
The fourth assumption is probably satisfied for most samples. However, this is an assumption that could be challenged. If the rock was heated in the presence of Argon from the earth's mantle, or perhaps in some primordial Argon which might have had a higher concentration of Ar 36; we might have problems making this assumption.
According to most texts on Potassium-Argon dating, the third assumption is fairly commonly violated. Metamorphism, weathering, and reheating are some of the processes that are mentioned to cause a loss of Argon in the crystal of a rock. Most sedimentary rocks are thought to lose Argon because the crystal structure leaks Argon. A loss of Argon would cause the rock to date younger than it should according to evolutionary thought. This is probably the assumption that scientists make when they choose to present filtered data in a scientific paper. They see the young dates as those samples that have lost Argon. It is an assumption that they probably view as having no alternatives, yet if this same issue was ever pursued, it might uncover other possibilities suggesting a short age time scenario.
Another possibility is that the second assumption is being violated rather than the third. Some samples will not be fully reset, initially. Thus these rocks give a date which is older than what normally would happen if the rocks were fully reset. These older dating rocks give the kind of dates as expected by the scientific community. On the other hand, those rocks that date younger, would not need to have had Argon leak from the crystal after the time when the reseting process occurs. Instead, the rock was probably more completely reset when it was molten. This means that there was less Argon in the rocks to begin with, because the younger dating rocks were more fully set to zero in the reseting process.
The second assumption sounds logical at first. Many text books say it is self-evident. Dalrymple states: (Dalrymple GB: The Age of the Earth. Stanford University Press, 1991 p. 91) "The K-Ar method is the only decay scheme that can be used with little or no concern for the initial presence of the daughter isotope. This is because Ar 40 is an inert gas that does not combine chemically with any other element and so escapes easily from rocks when they are heated. Thus, while a rock is molten the Ar 40 formed by the decay of K 40 escapes from the liquid."
There are reasons and evidences for challenging the second assumption. you can be sure that we will discuss this topic some more later.
The first assumption is often challenged by some creationists. They think that the radioactivity could have speeded up during the flood producing dates with long ages. But there is no known mechanism to explain or predict the increased rate of radioactivity. However there may be a new development in the field of nuclear reactions that could change this situation. People around the world are working on active "Cold Fusion" reactions. There is another group that has been conducting experiments for the express purpose of speeding up the transmutation process thus changing the half-life characteristics of radioactive materials.
Some of these reactions occur under admittedly extremely mild conditions, However, it is another question to suppose that these newly discovered processes can occur or did occur in natural conditions, in the history of our world. Dating mechanisms such as Carbon-14, work within the creationary paradigm without the need of having a change in half-lives. So since the time of the flood, there is no evidence that there has been any change in half-lives of radioactive materials.
On the other hand, It is possible that the creation event could have caused changes in the half-lives of nuclides. For more on Cold Fusion and the creation event click on Extinct Nuclides.
The majority of the fossils are found in the phanerozoic (from Cambrian up to the Pleistocene) layers of the Geologic column. This includes the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic layers. These are considered by most Creationists to have been laid down during the time of the flood. It is possible that the sedimentary layers in the upper Precambrian are also flood deposits (See my Geology page). So the volcanic rock and ash within these layers would have been been produced during the flood event. Only the rocks in the precambrian layers could have been affected by the creation event. Everything else would have been redeposited or re-melted in the global flood.
Is all the Argon lost when the rock is molten?
When a scientist needs to measure the amount of Argon that is trapped in a rock, the first step in the process is to get the Argon out of the rock. That is done by heating the rock in a vacuum. In a vacuum, virtually all the Argon comes out of the heated rock.
What conditions could have been present when igneous and volcanic rock was formed? Were the rock layers laid down in a vacuum? Or might we suggest that molten rock was intruded at very high levels of pressure. Within the Creationary flood model, we also might expect layers to be made underwater. Would all the Argon come out of the heated rock under these high pressure conditions?
Since K-Ar dating is so widely used, we might expect that many experiments would have been done to see how well Argon is released under various heated conditions. We might also expect that hornblende and biotite, the most reliable types of rocks from an evolutionary perspective, would have been tested. But this kind of work has not been published.
One has to wonder why these kinds of experiments were not originally done. It is always possible that these kinds of experiments were done, but the results never worked out, thus it was never published. I do not know.
I do know that there have not been too many experiments to determine what really happens to the Argon in various conditions; But there are a few. Dr Giem (see references below) has been able to find only two published papers.
In the first published paper (Karpinskaya TB, Ostrovshiy IA, Shanin LL: Synthetic introduction of argon into mica at high pressures and temperatures. Isv Akad Nauk S. S. S. R Geol Ser 1961; 8:87-9) muscovite was heated to high temperatures (740 to 860 C) under high Argon pressures (2,800 to 5000 atmospheres) for 3 to 10.5 hours. What they found was that the muscovite absorbed large quantities of Argon. When these muscovite samples were then dated via normal K-Ar dating techniques, they were measured to have an age of up to 5 billion years since the clock was reset, or set to zero. In the experiment, the Argon that was absorbed into the rock looked just like the normal radiogenic Argon that comes from K 40!
This is very interesting! From this experiment it sounds like the Argon can go either way. If Argon pressure outside the rock is high, then when the rock is heated up, Argon will flow into the rock rather than flowing out of the rock. On the other hand, if the Argon has a place to go, as in a vacuum, then the Argon will escape out of the rock. So in both cases the Argon flows down the concentration gradient. If the Argon pressure is greater in the rock, then Argon will flow out of the rock. But if the Argon pressure is greater outside the rock, then the Argon will flow into the rock.
In the second published paper (Karpinskaya TB: Synthesis of Argon muscovite. Internat Geol Rev 1967;9:1493-5) muscovite was made in a synthesis from a colloidal gel under similar Argon pressures and temperatures as the first paper. The resulting muscovite that they made had so much Argon that it was literally 0.5% Argon by weight! This concentration of Argon is 2,500 times higher than what is naturally found in the usual muscovite! Doing simple calculations it is easy to see that if the experiment was done again, but with only 2 atmospheres of Argon, that normal amounts of Argon would be forced into the rock.
These two papers should make us uncomfortable accepting assumption 2, because we can see that under certain conditions, Argon can be forced into rocks; And yet we are told to accept the assumption that all the Argon is naturally excluded!
Another way to check the reseting process is to date modern lava flows that have a known date of formation. If we know when a lava flow was made because it happened recently, and we then check to see how much Argon is in the rock; That measurement will tell us how well the Argon actually came out of the rock. This is because there is no time for any new Argon to form, the only Argon present in the rock would be that which failed to get out of the rock when it was molten.
Dalrymple (Dalrymple GB: Ar-40/Ar-36 analysis of historic lava flows. Earth Planet Sci Lett 1969;6:47-55) has dated several lava flows which are known to have erupted in modern times. As it turns out, 4/5 of the lava flows had essentially zero K/Ar ages. So in these flows, essentially all of the Argon came out of the rocks.
The other 1/5 of the flows had an excess age. So, something inhibited Argon from coming out of these rocks. These flows had something that the other flows did not have. Foreign material, composed of small rocks and crystals (xenoliths and xenocrysts) were mixed into the lava. Dalrymple thought that the foreign objects must have caused these lava flows to date with older ages. The foreign material itself could date over 1 billion years old!
This is very interesting. We have indications that the very same thing happened here as we saw earlier in the muscovite experiments. Rather than reseting the clock to zero, we see that Argon probably migrated from other rocks into the molten lava, or at the very least it slowed the loss of Argon in these lava flows until the rock cooled stopping the process.
These flows are on the surface of the earth, where the Argon is able to escape into the atmosphere. It has a place to go. I wonder, what about granitic intrusions, or Plutonic rocks? Plutonic rocks are rocks are rocks that have solidified below the ground. So the cooling and crystallization of molten rock occurs below the surface of the ground. Another name for plutonic rocks is intrusive igneous rocks.
Below the surface of the earth, where would the Argon go? If there is no place for the Argon to go as the rock is cooling, the rock will probably retain its Argon. Also, if there is a partial pressure of Argon surrounding the rock, then, as experiments indicate, Argon might even enter the rock during its cooling to increase its content of Argon.
Now, what happens when volcanic lava flows go underwater into the sea? Two different papers (Dalrymple GB, Moore JG: Science 1968;161:1132-5) (Noble CS, Naughton JJ: Science 1968;162:265-7) show that lava flows in the ocean, show excess ages. The deeper the lava goes in depth into the ocean, the older the K/Ar date.
In the Creationary Flood Model, essentially all layers were deposited under water. So the idea that the Argon does not come out of the rocks very well, when water pressure is surrounding the rock, is extremely interesting!
Your Questions Answered
The point I was making in citing the two articles using Argon gas pressure in both mica and muscovite was to suggest that when the rock heated up, the Argon gas will follow its concentration gradient. If the rock is in the lab in a vacuum, the Argon gas will flow out of the rock. Or if the rock is subject to atmospheric conditions, the Argon gas will mostly flow out of the rock and one can account for the presence of Atmospheric Argon gas in the rock.
However, if heated rock allows Argon gas to flow out, following the concentration gradient, thus allowing the Argon gas to reach equilibrium with its surrounding medium, one could postulate that the reverse could also happen. If the surrounding medium contained high Argon pressure, the molten rock would then accept Argon gas by allowing the Argon gas to reach equilibrium with its surrounding medium.
I think that the two papers suggest that Argon gas can flow in or out of the rock, depending on the surrounding pressure of Argon. The heating only allows the Argon gas to reach equilibrium with its surroundings.
Research in Hawaii shows that the lava flows on the surface of the ground are able to loose essentially all of the Argon. However, when the volcanic lava flow, goes underwater, into the sea; It shows progressively excess ages. The deeper the lava goes in depth into the ocean, the older the K/Ar date.
This suggests to me that the rock is unable to degas because of the surrounding pressure.
So, it does not matter that the laboratory experiment uses an Argon gas pressure far beyond anything found in the atmosphere. There are other conditions outside of atmospheric conditions that this laboratory experiment can explore.
You must realize that the creationary flood model has virtually all layers being deposited under water. The idea that the Argon does not come out of the rocks, when water pressure is surrounding the rock, is extremely interesting to me! I am also interested in the fact that pillow lava structures are found in these rocks which is an indication that the volcanic flow was formed underwater!
If you read further in my second potassium-argon dating page: K-Ar-dating page 2 You will see that I discuss a couple of historical examples where this inability to degas is exactly what is postulated.
Scientific Theology by Paul A. L. Giem, Pub. 1997 by La Sierra University Press Riverside, Ca 92515: ISBN 0-944450-25-3: Library of Congress Cat. Card No. 96-070866
Kennedy, E. G., Notes taken from a Creationary talk she presented at Walla Walla College in College Place Washington, circa 1994; It covered K/Ar dating and mineral trace elements of volcanic flows.
Coffin, H. G., Kennedy, E. G. Catastrophism in the Pacific Northwest: A Geoscience Research Institute Field Guide Geoscience Reports - Summer 1997, No. 24.
Origin By Design by Harold G. Coffin with Robert H. Brown, Pub. 1983 by Review and Herald Publishing Association
Creation - Accident or Design? by Harold G. Coffin (Chapters on dating by Robert H. Brown), Pub. 1969 by Review and Herald Publishing Association
Brown, R. H., Radioisotope Age Modified from Geoscience Reports - Spring 1996, No. 20:1-3.
Brown, R. H., How Solid is a Radioisotope Age of a Rock? Origins 10(2):93-95, 1983
Brown, R. H., Radiometric Age and the Traditional Hebrew-Christian View of Time Origins 4(2):68-75, 1977
Brown, R. H., Radioisotope Age, Part I: Geoscience Reports - Spring 1996, No. 20:1-3.
Webster, C. L. Jr., Radioisotope Age, Part II: Genesis and Time: What Radiometric Dating Tells Us Geoscience Reports - Fall 1996, No. 21:1-6.
Clausen, B. L., Radioisotope Age, Part III: Time in Science and the Bible Geoscience Reports - Spring 1997, No. 22:1-5.