In short, the assumption that decay rates are immune to outside influences isn't as solid as it once appeared to be.
However, if one does assume a constant decay rate, and if one starts with an originally pure sample of “parent element,” then the proportion of parent to daughter tells us the number of half-lives, which has been used to find the supposed age of igneous rocks. The conclusions of Renne and his team read as follows: Ar can be identified in volcanic sanidine, and while perhaps negligible in pre-Holocene rocks, it has important consequences for sample at the limit of the method’s applicability.
Interweaving the relative time scale with the atomic time scale poses certain problems because only certain types of rocks, chiefly the igneous variety, can be dated directly by radiometric methods; but these rocks do not ordinarily contain fossils.
Some, like Robert Gentry, have even argued that Radio-halos from rapidly decaying radioactive isotopes in granite seem to indicate that the granites were formed almost instantly.
These first “geochronology studies” yielded the first “absolute ages” from geologic material, which seemed to indicate that parts of the Earth's crust were hundreds of millions of years old. There is, of course, one radiometric dating method that appears to overcome the vital "zero date problem".