Radiometric dating is based on the decay of long-lived radioactive isotopes that occur naturally in rocks and minerals.These parent isotopes decay to stable daughter isotopes at rates that can be measured experimentally and are effectively constant over time regardless of physical or chemical conditions.The K-Ar clock works primarily on igneous rocks, i.e., those that form from a rock liquid (such as lava and granite) and have simple post-formation histories.
There were other estimates but the calculations were hotly disputed because they all were obviously flawed by uncertainties in both the initial assumptions and the data.
Unbeknownst to the scientists engaged in this controversy, however, geology was about to be profoundly affected by the same discoveries that revolutionized physics at the turn of the 20th century.
Bishop James Ussher, a 17th-century Irish cleric, for example, calculated that creation occurred in 4004 B. There were many other such estimates, but they invariably resulted in an Earth only a few thousand years old.
By the late 18th century, some naturalists had begun to look closely at the ancient rocks of the Earth.
The discovery of radioactivity in 1896 by Henri Becquerel, the isolation of radium by Marie Curie shortly thereafter, the discovery of the radioactive decay laws in 1902 by Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy, the discovery of isotopes in 1910 by Soddy, and the development of the quantitative mass spectrograph in 1914 by J. Thomson all formed the foundation of modern isotopic dating methods.
But it was not until the late 1950s that all the pieces were in place; by then the phenomenon of radioactivity was understood, most of the naturally occurring isotopes had been identified and their abundance determined, instrumentation of the necessary sensitivity had been developed, isotopic tracers were available in the required quantities and purity, and the half-lives of the long-lived radioactive isotopes were reasonably well known.
The point is that not all methods are applicable to all rocks of all ages.
One of the primary functions of the dating specialist (sometimes called a geochronologist) is to select the applicable method for the particular problem to be solved, and to design the experiment in such a way that there will be checks on the reliability of the results.
These are also the methods most commonly criticized by creation “scientists.” For additional information on these methods or on methods not covered here, the reader is referred to the books by Faul (47), Dalrymple and Lanphere (35), Doe (38), York and Farquhar (136), Faure and Powell (50), Faure (49), and Jager and Hunziker (70), as well as the article by Dalrymple (32).
The K-Ar method is probably the most widely used radiometric dating technique available to geologists.
For example, a method based on a parent isotope with a very long half-life, such as C method can only be used to determine the ages of certain types of young organic material and is useless on old granites.