The Instigator
Relax
Pro (for)
Winning
19 Points
The Contender
ReformedArsenal
Con (against)
Losing
3 Points

Radiometric dating is reliable

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/14/2011 Category: Science
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 3,431 times Debate No: 17517
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (32)
Votes (5)

 

Relax

Pro

I saw one of your comments and thought this would be an interesting debate topic. Short one though, 3 rounds. 1st for accepting and clarifying if you have anything to add, 2 & 3 is for arguments and rebuttals.
ReformedArsenal

Con

I would like to thank my opponent for issuing this challenege and accept the terms given. I would ask that my opponent include a definition of Radio-Metric dating in his opening argument as well as a brief explanation of how it functions (as this is probably not common knowledge for some readers).
Debate Round No. 1
Relax

Pro

Definition: a method of dating geological specimens by determining the relative proportions of particular radioactive isotopes present in a sample.
http://oxforddictionaries.com...

Radiometric dating: How does it work?
Some atoms are unstable, which causes them to emit rays which can be both alpha, beta or gamma rays. This makes them change depending on the ray they emit, they change accordingly. But different atoms have different rates in which they decay, these decay rates are called "half-lives". For example, the common radiocarbon dating method has a half-life of around 5730 years, meaning, thats the time it takes for the amount of carbon-14 to decay half of it away, for example 1 kg to 500gr. After another 5730 that 500 gr. becomes 250 gr and so on.

With this knowledge of a certain half life, we can measure the amount of isotopes, and see their relative amount to each other, and then look at its half-life to calculate the age of the given thing you date.

Of course, different methods have different places in which it will yield good results and bad results. For example, the Argon method gets reset when the given material gets reheated to a molten state, for one. Besides, when you do measurements you want to pick the correct radioactive isotopes compared to the age that is most likely for the given thing. Meaning, radiocarbon should not be used on some dinosaur bone which has no radiocarbon left. Or an isotope with extremely long half-life shouldn't be used on small ages, because the relative difference would either not exist, or be too small for measurement.

Radiometric dating: Should we trust it?
Yes, because it gives consistent dates when used correctly. For example, a lot of different datings upon meteorites all shows that the solar system is around 4.5 billion years old. What more could you ask for than consistent results across different radiometric datings?
http://www.talkorigins.org...
ReformedArsenal

Con

I would like to thank my opponent for his argument and for providing definitions and an explanation of how radiometric dating works.

I would like structure my opening argument in the following manner. First, I would like to address my opponent's statement of "Radiometric dating: Should we trust it?" After I have done this, I shall move on to make what might be considered an affirmative argument.

Radiometric dating: Should we trust it?
My opponent makes one basic point: It works and works consistently. He argues that since we have attempted to date meteorites, and consistently come up with a date of aproximately 4.5 bllion years. This is known as Pragmatism. To simply put it, pragmatism teaches that if it works, it is true. In my refutation I will demonstrate why philosophically this is faulty way to glean epistemological knowledge.

Imagine you bring your children to a new school. This school is isolated from the rest of the world, and does not have access to the information. You walk into a math class to observe and you notice that the students all believe that 2+2 is 5. They consistently come to this same conclusion, and the school has even developed its own advanced mathematic theories that incorporate the fact that 2+2 is 5. It is consistent, no matter what you do, according to the mathematic schema the school employs, 2+2 is 5. You question this, but the answer you get is "No matter what we do, when we add 2 and 2 we get 5." You may ask, how does this relate to radiometric dating. Well, here we go. Pragmatically, the school has a system of mathematics that works. It is able to provide consistent, predictable results. What's the problem? The school has no objective way to verify if their results match reality.

Now, radiometric dating suffers from the same problem. We can predictably date things, but how can we know that we are not getting 5 when we add 2 and 2? How can we know that our tests are not consistently providing the wrong answer? There is no objective means to prove that our tests that revel a solar system of 4.5 billion years old is correct.

Allow me to provide another example, perhaps one that is a little more pallatable. The year is 1300 BCE, and the prevailing scientific notion about the nature of the universe is that the world is a flat disc that rests upon four columns. There a dome that covers the world and prevents the water that is outside that dome from crashing in. The sun, moon, and stars are lights that travel along the surface of that dome. Now, flash forward to the year 1540. Copernicus is utilizing a newish invention called a telescope. With this telescope he is able to objectively see that there is no water, there is no dome, and humans knew from their travels that the world is not a disk. Flash forward to today, we now objectively know that the 1300 BCE cosmology was incorrect. However, according to pragmatism, it was correct until proven incorrect. The ancients could reliably predict when the sun would rise, the relative track it would take across the sky. It worked. So according to pragmatism, it was true. Just as 2+2 is 5 for the isolated school.

However, we know that 2+2 is not 5.

This leads me to my affirmative argument.

Skepticism: Epistemological Limitations.





Now, I am not going to argue that radiometric dating is NOT reliable. Rather, I am going to argue for the fact that we cannot definitively know at this point if it is or is not reliable.

Much of what I am going to say has already been alluded to in my rebuttal to my opponent, so I will be brief. One of the oldest philosophical questions is "How can we know?" This is a basic question of epistemology. Now, for those of you who do not know, epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge. There are two basic ideas that permeate epistemological study. The first is empiricism. Empiricism is the theory that we can know what we can experince. Empiricism underlies the aforementioned pragmatism. However, a competing theory is that of skepticism. Skepticism, simply defined, argues that we cannot truly know anything, or that our abiity to know is severely limited.

Quite simply put, we cannot know that radiometric dating is accurate, because we cannot know anything for sure. This is often called Radical Skepticism. While I understand that this is a difficult concept to truly grasp. I would like to submit the linked videos for your consideration. They are both views from the first Matrix movie. In both these clips, Neo is confronted with the fact that everything he thoght he knew to be real and true was actually an elaborate illusion. Isn't it possible that the universe we live in is actually an elaborate illusion? Perhaps we are a part of some alien video game. Maybe it is all a figment of your imagination. Couldn't we all be simply subjective thoughts in the mind of God? The second is the famous first fight between Neo and Morpheus. Now, on one level I include this because it is my favorite fight scene of all times. However, on a more serious matter I have included this because I want to ask the same question that Morpheus asks Neo at 3:03 in the video.

Can you know objectively that this universe exists? Can you know that the universe is actually as old as our tests tell us it is? What objective means do we have to verify this? In short... Do you think that's air your breathing?
Debate Round No. 2
Relax

Pro

I will thank my opponent for presenting his argument as clear as he does, with comprehendable explanations and elaborations. It is greatly appreciated.

I will take it backwards.

Epistemological limitations: We cannot know anything
Con seems to contradict himself in his argument. First he seems to argue that we cannot know it because we got nothing to correlate it with, and uses the example of how we thought the earth was flat and then tells how we today know it objectively.

Later he writes:"I am going to argue for the fact that we cannot definitively know at this point if it is or is not reliable." implying that we will be able to know it later, just like in the flat earth example.

However, later he contradicts himself when he writes: "Quite simply put, we cannot know that radiometric dating is accurate, because we cannot know anything for sure."

While I agree with him that we will never be able to confirm whether or not something is "capital T-Truth" this doesn't counter radiometric dating. However this last statement stands in odd with his former statement that we objectively know the shape of the earth, or that we would be able to obtain the knowledge of the reliability of radiometric dating.

I also want to add, that something does not have to be true, to be reliable. As an example, we know newtons law of universal gravitation is wrong, however in high-schools his calculations are still used to calculate basic drop rates for something you can throw. This is because his law and calculations are reliable enough on small scales like this, which leads me to my next point. Reliability is accepted relative to the situation, as example was the newtonian law, it's reliable when it comes to these relatively small calculations in small scales in highschool, but not as reliable when it becomes stellar, ie. his calculations had some problems with mercury's orbit, this is where einsteins theory of relativity was more reliable and that is used instead.

Radiometric dating: Should we trust it?
Con seemed to imply we had nothing to compare it to, or correlate the dates with, however this is false. First of all, radiometric dating has been done with such isotopes as carbon-14 on material with known ages, meaning, we alraedy had some dates which had been calculated by other methods, which was then correlated to see how well it fitted with carbon-14 and how reliable it was[1].

Besides that, we have tested radioactive isotopes in extreme "enviroments" and experiments where they have been exposed to very rough chemical reactions, high pressures, extreme temperatures and so on, and none of the radioactive isotopes used for dating, showed any sign of change in half-lives, suggesting that half-lives are reliable in the various enviroments they might encounter.[2]

Besides that, there is no reason why different isotopes with different half-lives and atomic structure should show the same age, if they were unreliable. However, as we can see when we cross correlate the different dating methods with each other, they seem to support each others, for no reason, and give a consistent date.[3]

Another way there has been different techniques used to test each others was when the rotation of the earth was tested. According to measurements, the earths rotation was slowing down slowly. This meant that as we go back in time, the earth should rotate faster, however this is only 0.005 seconds per year it is slowing, so we need to go quite a long time back in time before we can start to see any noticeable difference. But how could we know? Well, the thing is that it can be read on corals and their ridges, and then calculated how long a day is, to confirm whether or not this was correct. But the ages of the corals was measured with radiometric datings and predictions had been made as to how long the day should be back then. If either radiometric dating, the measurements of the slowing of the earth, or our knowledge upon corals was wrong, then there would be no reason as to why the prediction should be confirmed. However, it did, and I think this testifies to our fundemental knowledge being good enough to say that radiometric dating is a reliable tool for dating, when used under the right circumstances.[4][5]

admittedly, you can get bad results from it, but the same goes for using a microscope to study the moon.


I thank my opponent for accepting this debate, even though he has his doubts in the beginning. His thoughts has been interesting and I look forward to his last response :]

References:
[1]http://static.nobelprize.org...
[2]http://www.asa3.org...
[3]http://www.talkorigins.org...
[4]Scrutton, C. T., 1964. Periodicity in Devonian coral growth. Palaeontology 7(4): 552-558.
[5]Wells, J. W., 1963. Coral growth and geochronometry. Nature 197: 948-950.
ReformedArsenal

Con

Objective or not objective
My opponent rightly points out a flaw in my typing, but not my argument. When I pointed out that we objectively know that the world is round, I meant to enclose objectively in quotation marks to denote that I was using it somewhat capriciously. I would like to highlight a few statement in my opponent's response.

"I agree with him that we will never be able to confirm whether or not something is "capital T-Truth"" - My opponent has admitted that objective truth is inaccessible.

"Something does not have to be true, to be reliable." - But if something is not objectively true, how do we know it will not change? Also, how do we know when the scale becomes "unreliable." If we know that newton's law of universal gravitation is wrong, then our measurements are not correct... they are simply not precise enough to show us the error. If the equation doesn't work, it doesn't work. At what point does radiometric dating become incorrect? 10,000 years? 100,000 years? 1,000,000 years? How do we know? And if we don't know when it becomes unreliable, how can we trust its reliablility? What if we think it is reliable at a given point but we are wrong about that?

"Radiometric dating has been done with such isotopes as carbon-14 on material with known ages" - If we cannot know anything objectively (which my opponent has conceeded to above), how can we say it is a known age? What if all of our memories of the past are part of the computer simulation we are a part of? What if the alien fell asleep 5 minutes ago, but his dream includes an entire history?

I could go on, but I think my point has been made. The simple fact, and a fact my opponent has conceded, is that we cannot know anything objectively. Allow me to close with a syllogism that I think will be helpful.

A) In order for something to be reliable, we must be able to rely on it.
B) In order to rely on something, we must objectively know it is reliable.
C) We cannot know anything objectively
D) We cannot know a thing is reliable objectively
E) We cannot rely on anything
F) Radiometric dating is a thing
G) We cannot rely on radiometric dating
H) Therefore: Radiometric dating is not reliable.

Thank you.
Debate Round No. 3
32 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by ReformedArsenal 5 years ago
ReformedArsenal
It has worked in the past and isn't a bad idea. I've used it in real judged policy debates and when someone who truly understand burden of proof sees it usually works.
Posted by RoyLatham 5 years ago
RoyLatham
It certainly can work in philosophical debates. However, arguing "the resolution cannot be affirmed because there is no objective truth." is not going to work in general.
Posted by ReformedArsenal 5 years ago
ReformedArsenal
Roy,

There are multiple ways to undermine someones argument. Philosophically doing so is perfectly valid, it just didn't work in this debate. Such is life.
Posted by RoyLatham 5 years ago
RoyLatham
RA, No, "reliable" does not mean "beyond any possibility of error." It means the possibility of error is low enough that a reasonable person would act upon it. Is gravity reliable? Yes. Is it possible that it might change to a repulsive force overnight? That happening doesn't conform to any known law of nature, but it exists as some theoretical possibility. A reasonable person does not act as if that could happen. Less theoretically, "My car is reliable." means I trust it will go whenever I need it, not that here is no possibility it won't.

Debate about science are set in the realm of the practical. A statement that thermometers are a reliable way to measure temperature is not a philosophical statement about objective truth. It is assertion of what works in practice. As soon as you attempted to turn the debate from science to philosophy, you lost.
Posted by kohai 5 years ago
kohai
But why can't we rely on something unless it is objective?
Posted by ReformedArsenal 5 years ago
ReformedArsenal
"While I agree with him that we will never be able to confirm whether or not something is "capital T-Truth" this doesn't counter radiometric dating."

My opponent conceded that we cannot know anything objectively. I don't need to defend a premise my opponent conceded.
Posted by kohai 5 years ago
kohai
it fails at point c. In order for conclusion to be true, all the premises must be true. That means you need to defend all premises.
Posted by ReformedArsenal 5 years ago
ReformedArsenal
Kohai,

How does my syllogism fail?
Posted by kohai 5 years ago
kohai
Great job, relax. This isn't a good site to debate evolution, unfortunately. RA, your syllogism fails.
Posted by Relax 5 years ago
Relax
Gileandos, I wasn't saying evidence for a closed system, I meant there was no evidence presented for this statement: "There is massive evidence showing that half-lifes could have been altered by outside phenomena."
5 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Vote Placed by Man-is-good 5 years ago
Man-is-good
RelaxReformedArsenalTied
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Total points awarded:60 
Reasons for voting decision: Con's Epistemological argument is flawed not only in the context of a debate but in that its general application can extend to anything, even the validity of his own statements. In addition, Con's attack on pragmatism also eliminates any chance of certainty since he did not either indicate a better source of validity. I apologize if RA does not agree with this voting reason, but I do feel that he was not suited for this strictly scientific debate.
Vote Placed by kohai 5 years ago
kohai
RelaxReformedArsenalTied
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Reasons for voting decision: RA's syllogism fails. In addition, Pro had more reliable sources because con hardly had any. Also, Pro's arguments did not go sufficantly unrefuted by con.
Vote Placed by RoyLatham 5 years ago
RoyLatham
RelaxReformedArsenalTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Con claims that something is not "reliable" if it cannot be known with absolute certainty beyond all conceivable doubt. That argument works for the con position in any debate, and It's hogwash. Pro presented the case for scientific reliability, which Con dd not refute.
Vote Placed by Gileandos 5 years ago
Gileandos
RelaxReformedArsenalTied
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Reasons for voting decision: see comments, powerful argument from Con that went unrefuted by Pro
Vote Placed by baggins 5 years ago
baggins
RelaxReformedArsenalTied
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Based on our experience till date, radiometric dating is reliable. As far as I am concerned it is good enough for voting Pro. On other hand Con cannot say that I voted against him. Epistemological considerations limit him from ever concluding with certainty, whether I voted for him or against him.