What Did The RATE Project Reveal About YEC?

Continuing the discussion from Sal Cordova's Path to Young Earth Creationism:

For references, this is the RATE project:

The RATE project (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth) was a research project conducted by the Creation Research Society and the Institute for Creation Research between 1997 and 2005 to assess the validity of radiometric dating and other dating techniques in the light of the doctrine of a recent creation. It was funded by $250,000 from the Institute for Creation Research and over $1 million in donations.[1] The RATE team was chaired by Larry Vardiman (meteorology) and included Steven A. Austin (soft rock geology), John Baumgardner (geophysics), Steven W. Boyd (Hebrew), Eugene F. Chaffin (physics), Donald B. DeYoung (physics), Russell Humphreys (physics) and Andrew Snelling (hard rock geology).[2]

The project’s findings were published in 2005, and while they acknowledged evidence for over 500 million years of radiometric decay at today’s rates, they also claimed to have discovered other evidences that pointed to a young earth. They therefore hypothesised that nuclear decay rates were accelerated by a factor of approximately one billion on the first two days of the Creation week and during the Flood.

The key findings are all laid out here:

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I have one YEC friend who, when I told him about the RATE project and its admission of a 22,000°C heat problem, said he thought it must be some kind of hoax to “discredit creationism.”


Great! Now you and @AllenWitmerMiller can gossip about your respective YEC and flat-earther friends! :smile:

Precisely. The number one problem with the RATE project is shoddy methodology and cutting corners. This could plausibly have been ascribed to under-funding in 1988, and for that reason when I was at university my own attitude towards YEC was more one of “wait and see” than anything else. But it’s not a plausible excuse in 2018: when we know that the RATE budget alone was $1.25 million and the Ark Encounter cost over $100 million to build, a lack of money is clearly not a problem.

I’ve no objection to them introducing religious presuppositions into science. But I have every objection to them introducing hand-waving and sloppy methodology into science. And when they then denounce anyone who calls them on it as “anticreationists” or “speaking with the voice of the serpent” or somesuch, I’m sorry, but that’s not honest science and it’s not Biblical Christianity. It is a cult.


I really do not think this is a fair assessment. I read the RATE study when I was a YEC. It was helpful. The fact that at the end they end up with such an impossible to resolve problem, requiring a massive miracle to resolve, was very helpful to me. It clarified that the evidence wasn’t for YEC, not without unfathomable miracles unattested by Scripture. They were rigorous and honest enough to make this clear. Though it isn’t clear to the very last few pages.

I really disagree with this. It seems that they were grasping at straws with zircons. It is complex enough that they very well may have confused themselves. More importantly, they were rigorous enough to arrive at:

Exactly, because it does discredit YEC. They were honest enough to be upfront about this (on the last few pages).

In my view, RATE is an extremely important work. It was one of the key things that clarified to me the nature of my YEC beliefs. It was on admission allowed me to see that all the claims that “the evidence shows a young earth and a global flood” were just relying on unattested miracles. By relying on unattested miracles, perhaps they were logically possible, but it was absurd to say that this was what the evidence indicated.

So, I would suggest a more charitable approach here. If they were dishonest, wouldn’t they have found a way to lie about this? They hit a brick wall. And they acknowledged it.


Hmmm. I suppose I had the dates wrong. Some how I distinctly remember seeing some of these results earlier than this. I will have to untangle the biographical piece of this later. The point, however, does still stand (I think).

Now…I suppose everyone will now jump on me for this one.

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And that is basically what I said, Joshua! The lexicon definition for the word frank is as follows:

“honest, sincere, and direct in writing or speech, especially in difficult, surprising, or unpalatable matters”

That is why I chose the word frank to sum up the disappointing conclusions the R.A.T.E. participants described in the final pages of their very long and rigorous report.


Personally I think that the RATE team does deserve credit for being as honest as they were about the problems with their hypotheses. Certainly, they moved the YECist position away from claiming that “evolutionists” were just throwing out results that didn’t fit their “uniformitarian presuppositions” (in effect, portraying radiometric dating as a fraudulent exercise in cherry-picking random numbers) and actually admitted that vast amounts of radioactive decay have taken place since Creation.

However, the fact remains that there are still several gaps and very questionable data handling practices in the RATE zircon study. To give just a few examples:

  • They failed to take pressure into account; their measurements of helium diffusion rates were made in a vacuum. They should have conducted additional studies to determine helium diffusion rates under pressures of ~ 200 bar to establish exactly how much pressure would have affected the results.
  • They prepared the biotite samples (biotite is the mineral in which the zircons were embedded) for analysis by crushing rather than by cutting. This would have resulted in significant helium loss, which would have inflated the rate at which they would have expected helium to diffuse out of the zircons and into the surrounding biotite, further biasing their results towards a young earth.
  • They adjusted some data taken twenty years earlier by Robert V Gentry, which they were using as a part of their analysis, by a factor of ten to account for “typographic errors.” However, they were unable to produce any laboratory notes or similar evidence to demonstrate that the data contained typographic errors in the first place. If they had any doubts about the integrity of the data, and the original lab notes had been lost, they should have discarded it and the experiments concerned should have been re-done. “Correcting” data without providing firm evidence that such “corrections” were actually warranted is fudging.
  • They misidentified the rock samples concerned because they only identified them by means of a visual inspection. Other scientific literature indicates that the samples they described as “Jemez granodiorite” were in fact gneisses; if they believed this to have been in error, they should have conducted chemical and X-ray diffraction studies to establish that this was indeed the case. Granodiorites are igneous rocks similar to granites; gneisses are metamorphic rocks that only form under much higher temperatures and pressures, indicating that the samples must have spent a significant part of their history at least 15-22 km below the surface before being subsequently uplifted. This too would have significantly affected helium retention rates.

(For more information, see the review by Kevin Henke on Talk Origins.)

Now to be fair, these problems were not necessarily intentional deception; they may have just been inadvertent mistakes or the result of budgetary constraints. However, they were picked up by reviewers and do need to be adequately addressed before they can legitimately claim to have a case. These are serious flaws in their methodology that totally undermine the validity and credibility of their research.

The RATE team’s responses to critique have been far from satisfactory as far as I can see. They dismissed the critiques of their study as “a mountain of minutiae” claiming that they would only affect the results by “a factor of two or so” or “an order of magnitude or so.” However, to the best of my knowledge they have provided no calculations or other evidence whatsoever to demonstrate that the objections really were as trivial as they were making them out to be, nor that the errors would indeed cancel each other out as they supposed. In any case, “a factor of two or so” and “an order of magnitude or so” are already significantly larger than the error bars in the stated result of 6,000±2,000 years, so the stated error in their final conclusion is already wrong even if they did.


That’s worth repeating.


Some credit may be due for acknowledging that mainstream science is not just fraudulently cherry-picking radiometric data, and that the RATE model requires “miraculous” periods of accelerated decay to fit into a YEC timeframe.

Nevertheless, the project has been trumpeted as “incredible physical evidence that supports what the Bible says about the young age of the earth”. This is misleading, because its the lack of physical evidence which means their model requires miracles.

Also, RATE argued that residual C14 means objects conventionally thought to be very old are in fact very young. Isn’t this completely contradicted by the idea of accelerated decay, which should mean we find no residual C14?


We should just read the report carefully and quote it to people when they claim this.

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The levels of carbon-14 are consistent with known, measured, and well-studied levels of contamination. I covered that here:


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