Radioactive dating age of earth


Florian Cajori, author of the 1908 article “The Age of the Sun and the Earth,” was a historian of science and, especially, of mathematics, and Ray Lankester, whom he quotes, was a zoologist. The first act consists in a direct attack, led by Lord Kelvin, on the extreme uniformitarianism of those such as Charles Lyell, who regarded the earth as indefinitely old and who, with great foresight (or great naivety, depending on your point of view: see the third installment of the 1900 “The Age of the Earth” article by W. Sollas), assumed that physical processes would eventually be discovered to power the great engine of erosion and uplift.The second act of the drama sees a prolonged attempt by a new generation of geologists to estimate the age of the earth from observational evidence, to come up with an answer that would satisfy the demands of newly dominant evolutionary thinking, and to reconcile this answer with the constraints imposed by thermodynamics.One referred to the depth of the sediments and the time they would have taken to accumulate; the other referred to the salinity of the oceans, compared with the rate at which rivers are supplying them with sodium salts.In hindsight, both theories were deeply misguided, for similar reasons.



Harlow Shapley, who wrote an article in 1919 on the subject, was an astronomer, responsible for the detection of the redshift in distant nebulae and hence, indirectly, for our present concept of an expanding universe. Russell, author of the 1921 article on radioactive dating, was familiar to me for his part in developing the Hetzsprung-Russell diagram for stars, but I was surprised to discover that he was also the Russell of Russell-Saunders coupling, important in atomic structure theory. The prologue to the drama is the mid-19th century recognition of the relation between heat and other kinds of energy (see the 1857 article “Source of the Sun’s Heat”). Roman poet Lucretius, intellectual heir to the Greek atomists, believed its formation must have been relatively recent, given that there were no records going back beyond the Trojan War.The Talmudic rabbis, Martin Luther and others used the biblical account to extrapolate back from known history and came up with rather similar estimates for when the earth came into being.He inferred that where the layers are not horizontal, they must have been tilted since their deposition and noted that different strata contain different kinds of fossil.



Radioactive dating age of earth comments


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