Scientific dating

New discoveries have filled in the gaps, and shown us in unimaginable detail the shape of the great ‘tree of life’.

Darwin and his contemporaries could never have imagined the improvements in resolution of stratigraphy that have come since 1859, nor guessed what fossils were to be found in the southern continents, nor predicted the huge increase in the number of amateur and professional paleontologists worldwide.

Our understanding of the shape and pattern of the history of life depends on the accuracy of fossils and dating methods.

Some critics, particularly religious fundamentalists, argue that neither fossils nor dating can be trusted, and that their interpretations are better.

Using the potassium-argon method, Fitch and Miller were the first to measure the age of the tuff.

So by 1980 there was a new, remarkably concordant date for the KBS tuff, and this became the one that was widely accepted.

Which illustrates that, contrary to popular belief, the dating methods are not the primary way that ages are decided. Their results are always ‘interpreted’ to agree with other factors, such as the evolutionary interpretation of geology and fossils.

Current understanding of the history of life is probably close to the truth because it is based on repeated and careful testing and consideration of data.

The rejection of the validity of fossils and of dating by religious fundamentalists creates a problem for them: Fossil sequences were recognized and established in their broad outlines long before Charles Darwin had even thought of evolution.

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A key point is that it is no longer necessary simply to accept one chemical determination of a rock’s age.

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