What information is obtained from radioactive dating
Because it's a statistical measurement, there's always a margin of error in the age figure, but if the procedure is done properly, the margin is very small. We must know the original quantity of the parent isotope in order to date our sample radiometrically. In order to do so, we need an isotope that's part of a mineral compound. Because there's a basic law of chemistry that says "Chemical processes like those that form minerals can't distinguish between different isotopes of the same element." This is because an element's chemical behavior depends only on the number of electrons it has, which is the same as its number of protons.Obviously, the major question here is "how much of the isotope was originally present in our sample? So to a chemical process, U235 and U238 are identical.I found several good sources, but none that seemed both complete enough to stand alone and simple enough for a nongeologist to understand them.
The story of radiocarbon dating shows science at its finest.If an element has more than one isotope present, and a mineral forms in a magma melt that includes that element, the element's different isotopes will appear in the mineral in precisely the same ratio that they occurred in the environment where and when the mineral was formed. The third and final axiom is that when an atom undergoes radioactive decay, its internal structure and also its chemical behavior change.Losing or gaining atomic number puts the atom in a different row of the periodic table, and elements in different rows behave in different ways. Well, an atom's chemical activity pattern is a result of its electron shell structure.So the dates derived from C14 decay had to be revised.One reference on radiometric dating lists an entire array of corrective factors for the change in atmospheric C14 over time.
When I first got involved in the creationism/evolution controversy, back in early 1995, I looked around for an article or book that explained radiometric dating in a way that nonscientists could understand. Young-Earth creationists -- that is, creationists who believe that Earth is no more than 10,000 years old -- are fond of attacking radiometric dating methods as being full of inaccuracies and riddled with sources of error.