"RATE" Report—Helium Retention in Zircons
At the 2003 International Conference on Creationism, Russell Humphreys delivered a report that is sure to have evolutionists calling in their “spin doctors.” Dr. Humphreys, a physicist at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), Dr. John Baumgardner, a geophysicist currently working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, along with Dr. Steven Austin and Dr. Andrew Snelling, both geologists at ICR, are all members of a collective effort known as the Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth (RATE) group [see Vardiman, 1999]. The RATE project is a collaborative venture composed of professional scientists primarily from ICR and the Creation Research Society. In 2000, the group met and delineated a five-year plan of research to explain the apparent disparity between conventional and biblical dates. The basic question the RATE group wants to address with these research projects is: How did large amounts of radioactive products get in the rocks and minerals? Both old Earth and young Earth views find anomalously high levels of radioactive daughter material. Thus, every year the RATE group convenes to analyze data, progress, and future projects.
The report Dr. Humphreys delivered was just one of many updates delivered by the RATE group over the past couple of years. He and Dr. Baumgardner built on the work of Dr. Robert Gentry, investigating helium retention in zircons. While the technical aspects of the research can be quite overwhelming, the conclusion is rather straightforward and simple: When uranium decays to lead, one of the by-products is helium. If creationists are correct, and the Earth is young, this helium (with its extremely small, lightweight, and unreactive atoms) would be expected to still be trapped in rocks. An old-Earth scenario, however, would result in minimal helium being held in the rocks, since the tiny helium atoms would be expected to have already escaped. Also, one would expect that the more deeply collected samples would be “older” and thus, contain less helium.
Humphreys and Baumgardner set out to measure the amount of helium still inside zircons. (Zircons are crystals that contain uranium—some of which has decayed to lead, giving off helium—that are found deep within granite.) After obtaining samples from specified depths, they sent the zircon samples to independent laboratories to allow world-class experts to measure helium amounts and rates of escape. Carl Wieland summarized the project as follows:
When uranium decays to lead, a by-product of this process is the formation of helium, a very light, inert gas, which readily escapes from rock.
Certain crystals called zircons, obtained from drilling into very deep granites, contain uranium, which has partly decayed into lead.
By measuring the amount of uranium and “radiogenic lead” in these crystals, one can calculate that, if the decay rate has been constant, about 1.5 billion years must have passed. (This is consistent with the geologic “age” assigned to the granites in which these zircons are found.)
There is a significant amount of helium from that “1.5 billion years of decay” still inside the zircons. This is at first glance surprising for long-agers, because of the ease with which one would expect helium (with its tiny, light, unreactive atoms) to escape from the spaces within the crystal structure. There should surely be hardly any left, because with such a slow buildup, it should be seeping out continually and not accumulating.
Drawing any conclusions from the above depends, of course, on actually measuring the rate at which helium leaks out of zircons. This is what one of the RATE papers reports on. The samples were sent (without any hint that it was a creationist project) to a world-class expert to measure these rates. The consistent answer: the helium does indeed seep out quickly over a wide range of temperatures. In fact, the results show that because of all the helium still in the zircons, these crystals (and since this is Precambrian basement granite, by implication the whole Earth) could not be older than between 4,000 and 14,000 years. In other words, in only a few thousand years, 1.5 billion years’ worth (at today’s rates) of radioactive decay has taken place. Interestingly, the data have since been refined and updated to give a date of 5,680 (+/- 2000) years (Wieland, 2003).
The Earth-shaking (pardon the pun) news is that since “non-creationist” laboratories performed the helium analyses, evolutionists have some heavy explaining to do. The results document that there is too much helium in the zircons for them to be millions (let alone billions) of years old! Since evolutionists cannot question the data (measured in their own laboratories), and they cannot reinterpret the results to fit an old Earth scenario, the only avenue left for evolutionists is to attack the researchers, or argue that their collection methods were seriously flawed—neither of which will alter the truth. Not enough helium escaped the zircon crystals to support a 4.5 billion year old Earth.
Humphreys, Russell et al., (2003), “Helium Diffusion Rates Support Accelerated Nuclear Decay,” Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, ed. John Ivey Jr. (Creation Science Fellowship: Pittsburgh, PA). This article can be accessed on-line at: www.icr.org/research/icc03/pdf/Helium_ICC_7-22-03.pdf.
Vardiman, Larry (1999), “Rate Group Prepares Status Report,” [On-line], URL: http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-314.htm.
Wieland, Carl (2003), “RATE Group Reveals Exciting Breakthroughs!,” Answers in Genesis, [On-line], URL: http://aig.gospelcom.net/docs2003/0821rate.asp.