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.
The passage of time can be charted by the reduction in the number of parent atoms, and the increase in the number of daughter atoms.
Arguments over the age of the Earth have sometimes been divisive for people who regard the Bible as God's word.
Even though the Earth's age is never mentioned in the Bible, it is an issue because those who take a strictly literal view of the early chapters of Genesis can calculate an approximate date for the creation by adding up the life-spans of the people mentioned in the genealogies.
However, some elements are not completely stable in their natural state.