The Instigator
Pro (for)
The Contender
Con (against)

Nuclear decay rates are not constant

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/22/2017 Category: Science
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 842 times Debate No: 99210
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (3)
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We have only known about radioactivity for a relatively short amount of time, but regardless, we seem to insist that the decay rates of elements are constant beyond a shadow of a doubt, under any circumstances. For example, the half life of polonium-218 will always remain 3.05 minutes, no matter the circumstances surrounding the element (f.ex., atmospheric pressure, temperature, magnetic field intensity).

I am here to say that this doctrine of constancy is demonstrably false, and I will provide evidence for my statement, in the form of a scientific report. I believe that this report clearly demonstrates that the idea of a constant decay rate is false.

Kappeler, F., Beer, H., and K., Wisshak, S-process nucleosynthesis"nuclear physics and the classical model, Reports on Progress in Physics 52:1006"1008, 1989. This paper reports that at high temperatures, the 176Lu/176Hf decay bypasses the usual route (slow), and moves to an isomeric state (half life = 3.68 hours). Compare normal 176Lu decay (t" = 41 Ga).


Thank you Abeceda for the debate. In an attempt to be fair, I will only debate PROs R1 comments so that we can conclude the debate properly; without additional arguments in the concluding round. (In an attempt to be neutral I am referring to my gracious host as PRO in place of he or she - I don't know your gender).

PRO will argue the affirmative that

"Nuclear decay rates are not constant"

and consequently has the BoP (Burden of Proof). CON will argue that they are constant. Pro also has the BoP because he is challenging the status quo.

Since PRO has provided no definitions I will.
Nuclear Decay: known academically as Radioactive decay is the emission of energy in the form of ionizing radiation. The ionizing radiation that is emitted can include alpha particles, beta particles and/or gamma rays. Radioactive decay occurs in unbalanced atoms called radionuclides [1].
According to Merriam Webster
Constant: 1 : invariable, uniform
Procedural note: PRO is welcome to cite the reference mentioned in this round. However, the proposed argument is "NUCLEAR DECAY RATES ARE NOT CONSTANT" and PRO must prove this proposition to be true. It should go without saying that one study does not constitute proof or even Science in the technical sense.

My opponent states "I will provide evidence for my statement, in the form of a scientific report. I believe that this report clearly demonstrates that the idea of a constant decay rate is false." Again, this can and should be used as evidence for the Proposition, but it is not the focus of the debate as suggested by the debater.

REBUTTAL: PROs source is not about nuclear decay rate constancy.

This is not a study on the variability of radioactive decay. It is, as clearly stated, a study on "S-process nucleosynthesis. Nuclear Physics and the Classical Model", an introduction to s-process, nuclear physics and the classical model. It says "the slow neutron capture process (s-process) is distinguished by the fact that it involves mostly stable isotopes. With this rather reliable data basis " the status of this classical approach is reviewed with emphasis on the implications for various stellar models of the s-process and in the light of results obtained by stellar spectroscopy. A brief account of the potential s-process chronometers is also presented."

In other words: this study reviews various star formation models and the associated s-process - addition of a neutron to a nucleus in low density/intermediate temperature stars to create a heavier nuclei [2] - based on spectroscopy. Furthermore, nucleosynthesis is dependent on constant decay rates. All current beta-decay timescales would fall apart mathematically with variable rates along with nuclear and particle physics as a whole [3].

Consider further that had these scientists discovered proof that decay rates are variable, there would have been an exodus from the status quo. The scientific community at large would have to re-write the entire Standard Model. No such exodus has occurred.

A summary of the Lu/Hf decay process is beyond the scope of this debate (not to mention a dry read). However, there is debate on the blogosphere that has to do with Lu (typically criticized by young earth creationists) who misinterpret the process (as I believe PRO has done). The real problem with Lutetium is that there are inconsistent measurements of the decay rates based on internal isochron rocks younger than 2.7x109 years old [4]. This is an engineering problem, not a constancy one. The dating method is new enough that the science on its reliability is controversial because our measuring tools need improvement not because the half-life changes.
The controversy then, is not whether decay rates change, it is over the accuracy of the measurements and the subsequent use of those measurements to determine age. Lets look at a simple example. Try to determine how much time it will take for an ice cube to melt in your living room. If you use a handheld glass thermometer, your sister uses an electric thermometer and I use an outside thermometer, we will likely come up with different temperatures and consequently different values in our math and in turn, different melting times. Until we all use a more precise thermometer we will not be able to generate similar melt times. *That* is the controversy*

So. what have we seen so far? PRO uses a source as gospel that
1)is only ONE source out of thousands
2)DOES NOT study decay rate variance
3)DOES explain a process (s-process/nucleosynthesis) that ABSOLUTELY relies on decay rate constancy

PRO needs to demonstrate incontrovertibly that decay rates change while committing the fallacy of False Attribution by using a source that demonstrates research for (A) while claiming it as evidence for (B).

Without additional resources/evidence of decay rate variance, the affirmative cannot win. PRO must demonstrate indisputable proof of variance. I look forward to PROs additional arguments

[2] Carron, N.J. (2007). An Introduction to the Passage of Energetic Particles Through Matter. p. 308
Debate Round No. 1


I have decided to focus on a study performed by the Institute for Creation Research (young earth creationists) and built upon previous observations of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. I have decided to dismiss the original study that I have mentioned, because I find this one to be of greater significance and impact. Before I begin, I would like to state that you will have absolutely no issues when it comes to finding rebuttals to the study that I am about to present - there are countless of them on the internet, but I believe all of them to be bogus and I will be ready to counter each and every one of them.

Let's begin with the bakground.
In the 1980s a team of researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, while doing nuclear waste contamination research, noticed that there is a significant amount of helium in zircon crystals and they rightly found it suspicious as the decay rate of uranium-238 from which the helium came from, is incredibly slow & the time since the formation of the crystal is 1.5 billion years. This concern was published here as Gentry, R.V. et al. 1982b. "Differential Helium Retention in Zircons: Implications for Nuclear Waste Containment." Geophysical Research Letters 9, 1129.

On to the relevant part. Two decades later, the Institute for Creation Research assembled a group of scientists to investigate radiometric dating methods for several years and write a report, this project was called RATE. During their investigations into radiometric dating, they came across the report that the scientists at the Los Alamost National Laboratory had published in the 1980s and realized that they could use the data in that report to prove that there was a period of accelerated nuclear decay using calculations. However, something was missing: there was no study in all of scientific literature that had measured the "leak rate" of helium in zircon crystals, a piece of information that is necessary in order to perform such a calculation.

Quickly, they anonymously tasked a world class laboratory with measuring the rate at which helium leaks from zircon crystals at various temperatures. Before the results came in, they made a model based upon a 6,000 year old earth and a model based upon the commonly stated age of zircon crystals, which is 1,500,000,000 years. When the results came in, they almost perfectly fit with the 6,000 year model and there was a large discrepancy of a factor of 100,000 when it came to the standard model of 1.5 billion years. From the data they managed to conclude that the decay rates definitely had to have been a billion fold faster than they are today. You can read the report here:

If I could make a request: for the sake of clarity, please summarize rebuttals as points instead of only having blocks of text.


Please remember what Pro needs to prove here: NUCLEAR DECAY RATES ARE NOT CONSTANT. I am worried this debate is becoming a disagreement on sources and not one on the issue.
Pro writes, “I have decided to dismiss the original study that I have mentioned because I find this one to be of greater significance and impact”. Please disregard the first source as evidence until used formerly since Pro did not respond to any of my arguments.


(R1) Pro’s “Lets begin with background”

The study can be summarized as follows “deep granite burial should be a very safe corrosion—resistant containment procedure for long—term waste encapsulation.”. After introducing the methodology the researchers move on to review their findings and discuss/conclude the study (as nearly all studies do). In it, they make a number of assumptions:
1. Column four of the table “assumes negligible diffusion loss”, when referencing “the ratio of the amount of He actually measured in zircons from any particular depth to the estimated amount of He which should have accumulated” - How do they know this?
2. They “assume this ratio was one because the specimens we used were small fragments from the interior of larger zircons” – how do they know this?
3. They “made the assumption that the radiogenic Pb concentration […] was, on the average, the same as that measured” – why did they make this assumption?
Assumptions in science, while sometimes necessary, are problematic and borrow for the evidence. It is exactly why research needs to be repeated, as in the scientific method.
Nowhere in the citation provided does it even reference uranium-238 (please feel free to use the link Pro provided and Ctrl + F to search it). The conclusion clearly states that “deep-granite storage should be a very safe corrosion-resistant waste containment procedure [1]. It DOES NOT address decay rates AT ALL. So, the study below (see pro: “On to the relevant part”) is based on a study that was not repeated or validated and has its own internal problems.

(R2) Pro’s “On to the relevant part”

This “study” was done on behalf of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). There are several problems with this.
1. Science subsidized by partisan entities creates a conflict of interest. The Director of the ICR makes it clear they are biased, “Christians must diligently proceed to correlate the facts of science so with the bible” [2]. He is essentially saying that science HAS TO fit with the bible or it is wrong. How are we supposed to take this study seriously if the researchers aren’t permitted to disagree with the bible in the first place?
2. The ICR is not an accredited research journal. These studies have not been reviewed by the scientific community (despite creationist claims that it is peer reviewed). Why don’t these “scientists” post their research in academic or revered journals; see Nature, Science, AAAS? Surely a quantum shift in the Radiometric Dating (RMD) field deserves attention? Heck, it deserves the Nobel Prize [3]. Somehow the ICR scientists do not even seem interested in scientific review.

So we have seen that this “research” demonstrates a clear conflict of interest and is not accredited. Here's what you don't know.
The studies contention, that "the rock formation is radiometrically dated at about 1.5 billion years of age. The zircons contain uranium and thorium which have decayed to their daughter products including helium. Most of the radiogenic helium is still present in the zircon crystals. If the crystals were really 1.5 billion years old the helium should have all diffused out into the surrounding mineral formations. Thus, the crystals cannot really be 1.5 billion years old rather they are only a few thousand years old. Otherwise the helium would be gone” [3].
First of all, the are “some serious questions as to how RATE [radioisotopes and the age of the earth] calculated the ratios of theoretical to actual helium contents in the zircons (their Q/Qzero values)” [3]. Recall (R1) where I comment on “making assumptions” - that is what RATE has done here. There seems to be a double standard as well. It is a regular claim by creationists that geochronology must account for potential error due to external forces they do), ie. outside temp, weathering etc. but this study blatantly overlooks this claim. They do not account for helium that may have diffused [my emphasis] into the zircon from external sources, which is known to happen in obsidian dating techniques and is accounted for. Further, they do not consider the very complex thermal and geologic history of a site so close to a volcano [4]. Additionally, they did not examine the possibility that their preparation may have accelerated the diffusion measurements and they never repeated (again, the scientific method people) the lower temp measurements to generate reproducible results. Why on earth do prevent other scientists from performing the experiment? Science must be duplicated to prove its validity. Dr. Henke states “RATE certainly has no grounds to declare the entire science of radiometric dating to be invalid based on a study that apparently involved only two published diffusion tests” [3] and does not allow for reproducibility.

-My Contentions-

(1)Radiometric dating (RMD) is verifiable using alternative methods not dependent on decay rates.

(a)Dendrochronology - Dendrochronology uses tree rings that are deposited annually to cross examine carbon dating results. “These rings provide the exact calendar year the tree ring was formed. If a sample has the same proportion of radiocarbon as that of the tree ring, it is safe to conclude they are the same age” [5]. So we have independent means by which to measure a RMD process to verify its validity.

(b)Ice-core dating – each year ice deposits accumulate. These deposits contain a statistically constant amount of Carbon-14 and can be calibrated using ice core samples. “These correlations could, in principle, allow layer-counted ice-core chronologies to be transferred to radiocarbonated paleoclimate archives, thus providing a (super 14) C calibration” (accurate up to 40,000 years) [6].

(c)Thermoluminescence (TL) - uses the fact that radioactive decays cause some electrons in a material to end up stuck in higher-energy orbits. The number of electrons in higher-energy orbits accumulates as a material experiences more natural radioactivity over time [7]. By comparing TL (~ 1 million years) to radiometric results we have yet another method for calibrating the accuracy of RMD.

(d)Varves – sediments vary in character and strength through the seasons in rivers and lakes to produce annual patterns of deposition. Again, this method, when calibrated with RMD, helps validate RMD reliability [7].

(e)Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) – changes in electron orbits and spin caused by radioactivity over time, can be used up to 2 million years and, once again, allows for calibration to verify RMD techniques [7].

I have shown that Pro’s SINGLE reference is based on “assumptive” research, non-verifiable/non-repeatable experimentation and conspicuous/biased methodologies that have been repudiated in the scientific community at large. It does not even pretend to circulate in academia and is subsidized by publicly outspoken prejudiced parties.
For Pro to prove the proposition, Pro must prove NUCLEAR DECAY RATES ARE NOT CONSTANT and answer each of my rebuttals and contentions. he has, thus far, proposed NO ARGUMENT AT ALL.
If this is not done, vote CON.

[4] The Fenton Hill site lies only a short distance from the Valle's Caldera, the remnants of one of the most massive volcanic systems in North America.
[7] 18
Debate Round No. 2


To answer your first three questions regarding the research paper of scientists from Los Alamost National Laboratory (R1): it seems to me that you have misunderstood the place of the papers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in this debate. It is not these papers that I have chosen as my argument. The whole reason these papers are vague and have assumptions, is that their whole purpose was not to present a complete study of helium in zircon crystals, but rather to put on record a possibly suspicious observation for other scientists who have the time and resources to look into it. The papers from the ICR is what you should be focusing on, not the papers that merely served as an inspiration for the research that the ICR has conducted.

Then on to R2. Both of your questions can be answered as one in the following way: the ICR is an organization that is biased towards certain views, and an organization that is not considered legitimate by the scientific community, entirely correct. I do not argue with any of that, I am in complete agreement. However, from a scientific perspective, the argument from majority opinion is not an argument (Galileo would have been wrong if that were the case). What you should do, is focus on their research instead of trying to criticize them for who they are and what they stand for. Other than that, such a controversial paper would never have been accepted into an accredited scientific journal, there is strict control on such. If you doubt any of that, send an email to dr. Richard Sternberg (from the Smithsonian), who suffered terrible consequences for publishing a biology paper on intelligent design after it passed peer review. The Office of Special Counsel confirmed his claims, and he is far from the only one to find himself in such a situation.

Then you question how the RATE team has arrived at the Q/Q-zero values and assert that they might have made assumptions in this regard: I have to make a correction here. The rate of diffusion is not an assumption, but has been measured in the laboratory and reported in several studies which have been used as a reference and cross check for the independent measurements of the ICR in the very first section of the paper, the abstract section. Magmomedov (1970), Humphreys (2000), Lippolt & Weigel (1988)... Reiners, Farley & Hickes (2002). There are no assumptions when it comes to the conclusion of this study, it is a definitive, not speculative, study.

And then you state that external helium might have entered the zircon crystals: not possible, minerals surrounding the zircons have significantly less helium and uranium. This rebuttal was originally written by Hugh Ross (another person you would consider unscientific) and he seems satisfied with the response, his only excuse being that he has not been informed enough about the nature fo zircon crystals when he made the rebuttal to the study of the ICR.

You raise an issue about the temperature and how it affects the diffusion: this is completely irrelevant, as the team has calculated the diffusion for temperatures lower than the Los Alamos Ice Age heat flow models, which would be the best case scenario for uniformitarians. Other temperature ranges were also calculated and all of this is included in the study, which you seem not to have read as you are writing such a rebuttal?

Regarding your contentions, there are five different areas that you have included, this is clearly too large for this debate. I have only included one area for my case (the RATE study) and I asked that you do the same in my opening statement for the current discussion. If you could, that would be much more systematic and equal - that is to say, choose one study at a time, f.ex., dendochronology.


R1: regarding Los Alamos (all italics/emboldened and underlined letters are my emphasis)

(1) I mentioned “assumptions” intentionally. Not only do they present formulaic issues when doing research, but because Humphrey’s study utilizes data from Gentrys 1982 study as a basis for his own (mentioned in Round 2), it possibly invalidates the whole thing. Dr. Henke, a geochemist, writes:

First of all, Gentry et al. (1982a) assumed that the radiogenic lead concentrations […] of the zircons from each of the six samples averaged 80 parts per million (ppm).

And continues through the actual calculations - provided in Appendix A [1] - to conclude, along with Loecelt that

the assumptions in Gentry et al. (1982a) would yield a Q0 of about 40 ncc […]. This value is more than twice as large as the Q0 value of approximately 15 ncc […] endorsed by Humphreys et al. (2004, p. 9).

Henke goes on to say

Rather than accepting that the assumptions in Gentry et al. (1982a) do not support a Q0 value of 15 ncc […], Humphreys (2005a) attempts to salvage his high Q/Q0 values by claiming that there are additional "misstated" numbers in Gentry et al. (1982a) related to the alpha ejection percentages.”

In other words, he assumes that Gentry’s 15 ncc are accurate without having calculated them himself. Now this study is highly technical but its critics reference certain data in Gentry’s paper - noted by Humphrey – that are inaccurate. And then, even after stating this, Humphreys uses that very data to support his study.

(2) So why am I commenting on assumptions? Because Humphreys claims we should accept certain of Gentry’s assumptions despite admitting “that almost every other datum in this paper is a “typo” or “misstated number” [1]. Why is Humphrey’s willing to support ANY assumptions at all after making such a claim?

(3) To clarify for the reader; the calculations should be 40 ncc in this example, but are somehow 15! Humphreys and Gentry both, do not provide calculations on how Gentry obtained a Q0 value of only 15ncc […] [1]. And so, Humphreys uses inaccurate math as a basis for his research.

R2: regarding bias

(1) Why is it important that the ICR funds the study and “is not considered legitimate by the scientific community” as you concede? Because the ICR, AIG and other Young Earth Creationists flat out state as AIG does in Section 4, #6 of their Statement of Faith:

"By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record." [6]

(2) What if I told you that the “Sky is green and I have the research with an institute to back me up - who paid for it - and it is proof that all the science we have for “the sky is blue” is wrong?” How would you respond? What if I then I told you that no matter what your evidence says, I am right? (That is what these institutions have said).

(3) This bias is important because it raises ethical questions? A common example comes to us from the drug industry. Company ABC says we have a drug that cures cancer. It costs $1000 per pill. AND IT WORKS! We ask for proof and they give us a study from a source they paid to perform the study. Furthermore, they don’t provide any details so that other companies can reproduce the results and finally, do not explain the process by which it works.

Would you trust this research? How do we know that the research isn’t manipulated? How can we be sure that the researchers weren’t paid off? These are questions should and DO ask, all of the time with companies like this. Why would ICR and Humphreys be exempt from this scrutiny?

(4) I do not use the “Argument from Majority” as Pro claims. My refutation was based on the idea that for science to work it must allow for falsification by experimentation and requires multiple sources to confirm the research. Humphreys will not publish his research in a credible journal and it cannot be reproduced or reviewed by additional geochemists, geochronologists and physicists because – as mentioned above [see R1 (1)] – the calculations for identifying certain of the data points are not given. It therefore cannot be reproduced and fails as a hypothesis until it allows for experimentation.

(5) At no point do I criticize the researchers “for who they are and what they stand for”. I am criticizing their research. My opponent concedes “such a controversial paper would never have been accepted into an accredited scientific journal”. Why not? If the research is sound, the study reproducible, the evidence and data correct, it would be reviewed and possibly published. My opponent cannot claim the article would be dismissed outright. Besides, making such a claim does nothing to further the argument that decay rates are not constant.

R3: regarding diffusion

(1) Humphreys “assumes” isotrophy for his zircons and biotites would only lengthen the helium diffusion time by no more than 30% (Humphreys et al., 2003a, p. 9) [1]. He does not provide any calculations for this. What is his evidence?

(2) Why should I “assume” the Q/Qzero value of sample one is 0.58, when the analyses in the Gentry study indicate the value may be as low as 0.011? [1]. Humphreys uses data from the initial study that fits his model and changes data that does not [see R1 (1)].

(3) There are well established anisotrophic diffusion rates [2]. How then does Humphreys claim that anisotrophy only alters his results by “less than a factor of two” (Humphreys et al. (2004, p. 15). Why didn’t he use the accepted geochemical rates [1]? He is a physicist, not a geochemist, so manipulating these rates are not within his scope of practice. He would need to perform his own experiments to change the values. Again, he keeps what fits the model and changes what does not; i.e. manipulates the data to fit the young earth conclusion.

R4: regarding external helium

(1) Dr. Henke writes “extraneous helium could still be in the relatively impermeable zircons” [1]. Please provide evidence that external helium cannot enter the zircon.

(2) All Humphreys has to do is “look for 3He in his zircons and 4He in surrounding low uranium/thorium quartz grains” [1], in order to identify extraneous diffusion methods. He could do this to silence critics but has not. What is stopping him?

R5: regarding temperature

(1) Not irrelevant! Please provide evidence that temperature does not affect diffusion. How can Dr. Humphreys “assume” that temperatures have been constant over time? This idea has been refuted [3] [4] [5].

R6: my contentions

(1) Again, my opponent DID NOT indicate that I should limit my evidence anywhere so my contentions must be refuted.

(2) Pro DID NOT respond to ANY of my contentions. This should constitute a forfeiture in itself.

(3) I have repeatedly reminded Pro of the motion and he/she has continually referred to ONE study.

(4) In an attempt to be fair however (since we have miscommunicated) I will not provide additional evidence so Pro may refute my contentions in Round 4 before the concluding round 5. Wouldn’t you like to know HOW decay rates change, as stated by Pro?

(5) To the reader: ask yourself. “What have I learned about the evidence affirming the motion? Do you know HOW decay rates change? Do you know WHY decay rates change? Do you know WHAT causes decay rate change? If you are unable to answer these questions, then Pro has not provided you adequate evidence affirming the motion.

(6) What Pro has given us is not even a hypothesis because it does not present us with a method whereby decay rates changes. Moreover, Pro has not shown that it is verified, testable or valid.

Vote CON.







Debate Round No. 3
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Debate Round No. 4
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Debate Round No. 5
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by Ernold 2 years ago
Abeceda, what happened?
Posted by Ernold 2 years ago
Correction 2:
I say "PRO needs to demonstrate incontrovertibly that decay rates change while committing the fallacy of False Attribution by using a source that demonstrates research for (A) while claiming it as evidence for (B)."

These are two separate points. 1) PRO needs to demonstrate incontrovertibly that decay rates change.
2) and *avoid* committing the fallacy of False Attribution by using a source that demonstrates research for (A) while claiming it as evidence for (B).
Posted by Ernold 2 years ago
my Word copy did not transfer perfectly. "2.7x109 years old" should read "2.7x10^9 years old"
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