Millions and billions of years of fossils

I have or observed many articles about fossils that assume that millions and millions of years have taken place after the fossils were laid to rest so to speak. Yet, there is rarely or never any documentation or record of when or how these fossils records were measured against a standard of dating, which dating process was used, where it was done and what assumptions were made in regard to the fossil records.

There are so many examples of this that it would be hard to qualify how often this happens. Even while reading blog posts in this site, I discover claims of fossil records that are exactly a million years old, without any scientific or mathematical probability associated with the claim.

This is not scientific or mathematically accurate, for the simple reason that’s it’s not mathematically possible to know that any fossil is exactly 400 or 300 or 200 million years old. Any time the date is mentioned, mostly as an anecdote, it essentially presents false and questionable data.

The problem with this kind of science and reasoning is that is similar to a declaration by fiat, similar to how parents name their children or a nation declares that a currency this is worth less than a penny is of extraordinary value. But this is simply not scientific. It’s not mathematical. We know that none of use lived 400 million years ago. That’s obvious, it seems, to most. But some scientists and scientific populists, act as though they really did live 400 years ago, and really did see these fossils when they were alive.

Some of the worst perpetrators of this kind of fallacy are publications like the National Geographic, who use their power of naming dates as though they had the power to declare any piece of paper worth hundreds of dollars. It would be nice or worth a lot of “money” if it were true. But it’s nothing more than people who think they are kind making a supposed scientific claim from their relative throne that claims to be real science. It’s not.

Whenever someone throws out millions or even billions of years in regard to a fossil record, without anything regarding how that date was arrived at, it’s best to just let it pass as something that is akin to wishful thinking, or someone who hopes that they are not found out. Most people who spout millions and billions of years probably don’t know where the figure came from or the mathematical probability or certainty that is attached to the figure.

Let’s hope that we can all come to our senses in regard to carbon dating and spouting off about our millions of years so that our fantastical carbon dating figures don’t outpace our carbon footprint at out most favorite fast food joint.

Here is a primer on radiometric dating, including the potential flaws associated with the dating method:

Radiometric dating is based on the fact that radioactive isotopes decay to form isotopes of different elements. The starting isotope is called the parent and the end-product is called the daughter. The time it takes for one half of the parent atoms to decay to the daughter atoms is called the half-life. If certain things are known, it is possible to calculate the amount of time since the parent isotope began to decay.

For example, if you began with 1 gram of carbon-14, after 5,730 years you would be left with 0.50 g and only 0.25 g after 11,460 years. So far so good. If that were the only factors involved in radiometric dating, it would not be worth discussing whether or not it’s accurate.

The problem is that radiometric may not give us a true age, even though it is commonly called an absolute age, is that it is based on several crucial assumptions:

Here they are:

First, the rate of radioactive decay is known and has been constant since the rock formed.

Second, there has been no loss or gain of the parent or daughter isotopes from the rock.

And third, the amounts of parent and daughter isotopes present when the rock formed are known.

The problem with the first assumption is that since we can’t test rocks or meteors in outer space, there is not way to prove that the decay rate was not different at some point in the past. Scientists who claim a constant rate might as well also claim to be able to test each rock or meteor when it was formed in outer space. It’s simply an inference that may or may not be accurate. What about today? Are the decay rates stable today? Yes, they are. They are not largely affected by external conditions like change in temperature or air pressure. But unfortunately, that does not always mean that the rate has always been constant. On the other hand, if you think that you are God or are actually a tree or a rock, you might be able add some insight to the argument.

Why might we think that the rate of decay might not be the same? An accelerated rate is found in zircon crystals, found in granite that contains radioactive uranium-238, which decays into lead over time. As the uranium decays, helium is produced in the crystals. Helium escapes from the crystals at a known, measurable rate. If those rocks were over a billion years old, as evolutionists claim, the helium should have leaked out of the rock. The presence of lots of helium in the crystals is evidence in support of a young earth.

Has there been any loss or gain of the isotopes in rocks? The problem is that this assumption does not take into account the impact of weathering by surface and ground waters and the diffusion of gases. It is impossible to know to what degree the parent and daughter products have been added to or removed from the rocks over the alleged millions or billions of years.

The third assumption does not take into account the fact that isotopes can be inherited from the source areas of magmas and/or from surrounding rocks as the magmas pass through the mantle and crust of the earth. Many geologists make efforts to eliminate errors, but the fact that rocks of known recent age give dates of millions, and even billions, of years supports the claim that radiometric dating cannot provide accurate “absolute” dates. Also, samples taken a few feet apart can give ages that differ by many hundreds of millions of years.

An example of this is that rock samples taken below the layer of other rocks in the Grand Canyon (Cardenas Basalt) have been tested using radiometric dating that shows they are younger, or not as old as the rocks that are in the layer above. Volcanic rocks near the top of the canyon showed a radiometric date of 1.34 billion years. Rocks in the lower layer showed a date of 1.07 billion years. Isochrons from rocks were used for the dating the rocks using the radiometric dating process. There is an obvious problem with this dating mechanism. The problem is not with radiometric dating. The problem is with scientists who claim that there is no discordant data when using the method, when there obviously is. Why would scientists do that? Because they have a vested interest in believing in an old earth, despite evidence to the contrary.

I would be commenting any further on this conversation thread. Hope everyone learned something.

@Joel_Duff, this sounds like a question for you.

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@LarryI, what are your thoughts on this:

  1. GPS, Radiodating, and Plate Tectonics

  2. Lake Varves, Volcanic Ash, and the Great Isaiah Scroll

These are just a few reasons we think the earth is old. How do you engage with this evidence?

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Well for starters read the actual paper and not the popular press article. The actual paper will always describe how they arrived at a certain date. Why would NatGeo explain how a date was arrived at when the general public wouldn’t understand?


I think @T.j_Runyon had hit the most important point, National Geographic and other popular press articles aren’t expected to detail the evidence that supports everything that they report. There is a massive body of original scientific literature that supports those reports. I think of the recent dating of the Homo naledi remains in South Africa or the Homo florensiensis material in Indonesia. Years of work involving multiple methods of dating the rocks, the sediments and the bones were involved. Hundreds of pages of scientific literature detail these results but National Geographic is not going to spell all that out they are just going to report the consensus ages from that work.
The evidence is out there if anyone wants to see it. No one states that a fossil is exactly 400 million years old. Shorthand–and yes I do which popular writers were more careful–statements like “this fossil was dated to be 400 million years old” are not presenting “false or questionable data.” They could have said that x method yielded a date of 394.65 million years but even that would have error bars so they would need to give the range. Taking the space to give the ranges and explain then would be a waste of words and is not necessary. If the point of the writer is to communicate that this fossil is much older than another one then saying 400 miliion and comparing to others that are 250 million is just fine. Even the biblical authors rounded times off for their audience. Rarely is some one exactly 10 years old when we say they are 10 years old.



Professionals are steeped in the background knowledge it takes to create a chronological sequence.

Middle Eastern chrinology has now become so nuanced, historians can now dispute dating to a granularity of 50 to 100 years (plus or minus).

You dismiss these datings because you are ignorant of the field. Your suggestion that the National Geographic is “the worst” might be seen as a trophy for an organization willing to share the insights of professionals with the public.

Critics like you, who think people accept liw pay and terrible work conditions just so they can lie to the general public make me gasp at your hostile attitude to what can only be described as ‘knowledge’.


What makes you believe that scientists are simply “declaring” that something is a certain age? You are right if they are doing so, it is poor science, but this is not what they are doing.

Why would you say this? What makes you believe that scientists are acting as though they were alive when the animals who became fossilized were alive? Why do you think they would need to have been alive contemporaneously with the living version of the animal and see them? If you met a friend from Dubai at Reagan National in Washington DC, but you did not see the plane land, would you question that the person actually travelled by plane from Dubai to DC? No, seeing them in DC, knowing that they were in Dubai the prior day, you could extrapolate that they had actually travelled in some sort of vehicle that must have moved at or near 600 mph. You would not call your friend a liar because you did not ever see the plane.

There are many, many things in life that we do not experience first hand. But through circumstantial evidence and deductive reasoning, we can determine plausible stories around what may have occurred. Think about crimes like murder. There are very often no witnesses. We don’t question that the murder happened, nor do we proclaim that we cannot solve the crime. We look for evidence, apply it with reasoning, and do our best.

You should read this summary of information gathered about radiometric dating. It will answer many questions that you have about how the process works, how it is tested and calibrated, and how accurate it can be.

@LarryI, you are correct that we cannot say exactly how old a given lay of rock may be; what we have are estimates that have some part of uncertainty. It’s always better it the description of the uncertainty is presented along with the estimate, but that information is often disregarded in popular science articles.

What I mean is, just like political polls where results are accurate to within plus/minus 3% (for example), estimate of geological age also have these same type of error bars or confidence limits.

How accurate are geologic ages? I couldn’t answer that without a deep dive into the literature (is there a Geologist in the house?). I know that not all layers can be directly dated, and some estimates are interpolated between layers than can be dated above and below the layer sampled.
My educated guess is that ages are accurate to within about 10-15%, but that will vary with the type of sample, methods used, and position of the sample between layers that can be directly dated.


The dates are not assumptions. They are empirical measurements based on known physical processes.

There are plenty of resources online to explain the details, such as

Radiometric Dating A Christian Perspective

Fossil themselves are not dated directly by radiometric means. Rather the strata they are found in is dated, often both above and below the find to provide an upper and lower limit to the age.

Dating Rocks and Fossils Using Geologic Methods

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I would recommend the book The Privileged Planet. It is an “ID book” but it’s arguments depend on an old earth and it explains how the dates are arrived at.

Now, I have encountered people who accept an old earth and an old universe but who claim that life itself is “young.” Young Life Creationists. So perhaps the author of the OP accepts that the earth is old and just denies that the fossils themselves are old.

@gbrooks9, could you explain why you think accusing other people of being ignorant advances the goals of the site to encourage dialog rather than conflict?

The Hell Creek formation in the north and western part of the US is famous for its dinosaur fossils. It is also one of the most heavily studied formations because of this. If people want to get an idea of the work that goes into dating the geologic layers of the formation I stumbled across this paper:

It lists all of the correlations and radiometric dating that has gone into measuring the ages of the sediments where dinosaurs and other fossils are found.

Long story short, scientists aren’t just making this stuff up. A lot of hard work goes into figuring out the ages of fossils.


Welcome to the forum, Larryl. I appreciate your describing your position in detail.

I’ve done a lot of reading on this topic over the years and I can’t recall even one instance of a scientist (or even a journalist) claiming that some fossil is exactly 400 million years old—or any other age. Could you please cite some specific examples of this? Can you post a date and issue number of National Geographic so I can look it up? (If they claimed that some fossil was dated “exactly”, I would think that they would have gotten a lot of letters from readers, and perhaps even the scientists they interviewed if they misquoted them.)

Better yet, can you cite an example of an “exact” date from a scientific journal?

The science of dating requires careful measurements and analysis. Other than some strange editing error, I can’t imagine any scientist—and certainly no careful peer-reviewed journal editor—allowing the word “exactly” to intrude when error bars are routinely published.

Of course, I could also ask what would constitute an “exact” age. Would 400 million years be “exact”? How about 400.2 million years? Or 400,192,000 years?

I also wonder if the Bible’s statement about humans living to “three score and ten” is an exact statement.

I reread that post by @gbrooks9 – the one you are criticizing. And, after rereading, I gave it a like.


(1) Do you believe the many born-again Christians who teach the science behind carbon dating at major universities and who are involved in publishing journal articles on their own research projects involving carbon dating are intentionally misleading their students and readers? Are they in a state of unrepentance for lying?

(2) I realize that you were probably making a joke but I didn’t follow the connection between carbon dating and the carbon footprint of fast food. Am I missing something or is this an inside joke shared by a popular speaker perhaps?

By “spout”, I assume that you mean the non-scientists who casually recall what they’ve read about the ages of various fossils. Yes, people who don’t specialize in a given field of science may be hard pressed to explain how various figures were determined—but is it reasonable to expect otherwise? As long as the specialists who publish such detailed information know where it comes from, why would it be essential for laypersons to be able to reproduce and explain the measurements and calculations?

The problem with your analogy is that the two are not “similar” at all! You simply chose an arbitrary, unrelated phenomenon and declared the two to be similar. In other words, you are guilty of the error of “declaration by fiat” that you are denouncing!


I noticed that this “declaration by fiat” claim also appeared in the September thread where you introduced yourself to us:

I left the science academy long ago (to take a seminary post) but I can’t recall ever witnessing what you describe. Can you cite textbook examples (besides alleged carbon-dating examples) which you believe are nothing more than simple “declaration by fiat”?

Have you read Darwin’s books? I did (long ago) and I can’t recall Darwin ever claiming that “he would know how life began.” Can you cite a page in one of his books where you found this?

I can’t recall a single academic conference of any sort (either scientific or theological) where there wasn’t plenty of disagreement. What examples have you personally witnessed? (You implied in your OP post that personal observation is an important standard for knowing that something is true. So have you personally observed this “no disagreement allowed” at a scientific conference or within a science department faculty?

In your intro thread you cited Ben Carson as an example of a dissenting voice. I agree with Ben Carson on many matters of a theological and biblical nature—but I am sad to say that his flagrant denials of basic science and history of science and history gaffes makes him an unlikely candidate for a university commencement setting. For example, I once confronted him about an interview appearing on the Seventh Day Adventist website [and no longer there] where he claimed that the earth was the “perfect” distance from the sun: one million miles more distant from the sun and “we’d all freeze to death” and one million miles closer and “we’d all burn up.” He was clueless to the fact that the earth annually moves several million miles closer and further from the sun without such catastrophes. Carson also claims—by “declaration of fiat” because he has no evidence— that the pyramids of Egypt were built by Joseph to store grain. That defies all common sense. (Not only do we know how grain was stored in ancient Egypt, nobody would waste many years of labor and resources to build such inefficient grain silos.) Sadly, Carson seems to ignore scientific and historical evidence (and in my opinion, scriptural evidence.) Thus, I can understand why many academics would consider Carson strangely out of place for a graduation commencement.

Of course he didn’t. That was about a century and a half ago. Why would his ignorance of today’s science matter----especially when his publications are only of historical interest today?


You have presented a false example or analogy. We do know that Dubai exists and airports exist since people have visited. Carbon dating or radiometric dating is clearly not the same thing as whether a plane lands at Reagan National in Washington, D.C. Yes there are many things that we don’t experience first hand. That’s why we have history and archeology to know what happened.
What you are saying is to just trust radiometric dating. In regard to the article that you wrote, there is no dating method associated with the paper from 1999. This is a great example of what I am talking about. How much carbon did the meteorites have? If no carbon was found, what dating method was used?
The dating method used for meteors is highly suspect for the simple reason that 4.5 billion years has been the go to date for the age of the earth for decades. It was first postulated in 1955. The problem is with the assumptions associated with this number, 4.5 billion, which it seems has not changed for upwards of 50 years.
The method that was are used then was based on uranium/thorium/lead radiometric dating methods.
What assumptions are made in regard to this? First that we have a closed system, in that we know the exact time from which the rock was formed so that we can accurately determine the age of the rock. We don’t know this because there are no closed systems on the earth or the universe. And we can’t go out into outer space and find out where or when the meteor was formed.
Further, radiometric dating is based on extrapolation. What this means is that there is no mathematical certainty that the earth is exactly 4.5 billion years old. It was a number that was arrived at based on extrapolation. But even thinking about this number as a certainty would seem to require a lot of faith. What are the chances that the earth or the universe is exactly rounded off to half a billion years?
There are many problems with radiometric dating. Radioactive decay constants of some isotopes are known to be easily altered, meaning that even if the isotope is matched exactly, it still may not be accurate to use it to date something that long ago.
Also, the lead isotope ratios that were used in 1955 are not the same isotopes that are commonly found in meteorites. Most meteorites have lead isotopes that are the same as common lead today. Why wasn’t this used as a dating method?
If you research the isotopes of all chemicals, what you find is that there is no one accurate method of dating at all for the simple reason that they decay at different rates, in layman’s terms.
In general, any information or scientific data, presentations by various scientists regarding dating methods, isotopes, decay rates, etc., that don’t match generally accepted assumptions regarding the age of the earth (4.5 billion years) are discounted.

Larryl did you read the tutorial about radiometric dating I provided above? It was written by a devout Christian geologist so you can’t dismiss it as anti-religious propaganda. The article addresses most of the supposed problems you seem to have copied from some YEC site. An impressive Gish Gallop I must admit. :slightly_smiling_face:

Did you read the second article about how fossils are actually dated? There’s a lot of good information at your fingertips if you just look.


This is exactly the point I am making. It’s assumed that it’s 400 million because it’s stated as 400 million without any qualification. Go and read a National Geographic in regard to anything about the age of the earth and see if anything is qualified by how it’s dated. What makes you think that National Geographic would have to add some kind of qualifier for how old anything is? Ironically, three score and ten comes to 70 years old, which is about how long most men today live, if your anecdote is correct.

Where in the world did you hear the Earth was dated 4.5 billion years exactly? The accepted figure as of 2014 is 4.54 billion years +/- 50 million years.

How Old Is Earth?

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