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Some of the atoms eventually change from one element to another by a process called radioactive decay.
If there are a lot of atoms of the original element, called the parent element, the atoms decay to another element, called the daughter element, at a predictable rate.
You cannot predict exactly when any one particular grain will get to the bottom, but you can predict from one time to the next how long the whole pile of sand takes to fall.
Once all of the sand has fallen out of the top, the hourglass will no longer keep time unless it is turned over again.
For example, most people don't realize that carbon dating is only rarely used on rocks. A disagreement over the age of the Earth is relatively minor in the whole scope of Christianity; it is more important to agree on the Rock of Ages than on the age of rocks.
Wiens has a Ph D in Physics, with a minor in Geology.
His Ph D thesis was on isotope ratios in meteorites, including surface exposure dating.
But because God has also called us to wisdom, this issue is worthy of study.
Rocks are made up of many individual crystals, and each crystal is usually made up of at least several different chemical elements such as iron, magnesium, silicon, etc.