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Carbon-14 Dating: all viewpoints

Current status; acceptance
by some; rejection by others

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Current status:

According to EvoWiki -- a project inspired by Wikipedia and Talk.Origins:

"Correlation by use of annual growth layers in coral, sediment layers, and speleothems extend the calibration back 26,000 years. In addition recent studies of correlation of dated ocean sediment cores with Greenland ice cores, varves (layering in lake sediments) from Japan and a detailed study of speleothems from a submerged cave in the Bahamas will add confidence and perhaps extend the calibration back to about 45,000 years. Research and fine-tuning continues." 1

A speleothem is a mineral formation that grows in a limestone cave by the gradual building up of calcite precipitated from water solutions dripping in a cave or flowing down the wall of a cave. Stalactites and stalagmites are typical speleothems.

The age of objects as small as 100 mg can be measured with modern instrumental techniques. However, flukes can occur. It is important to measure multiple samples when possible to confirm the accuracy of the data. In the case of the Shroud of Turin, 12 samples were distributed among three labs to assure accuracy.

Acceptance and rejection of the C-14 dating method:

bulletScientists generally accept C-14 dating: With the exception of a small minority of scientists who are conservative Christians, essentially all researchers involved in C-14 dating have concluded that careful C-14 dating is a reliable method of accurately estimating the age of carbon-bearing objects.

Radiocarbon Web-info suggests that:

"The radiocarbon dating method remains arguably the most dependable and widely applied dating technique for the late Pleistocene and Holocene periods." 2

The Pleistocene period extends from two million to about 11 thousand years ago.  The Holocene period extends from about 11 thousand years ago to the present time.

British pre-historian Desmond Clark has said that without Carbon-14 dating:

"we would still be foundering in a sea of imprecisions sometime bred of inspired guesswork but more often of imaginative speculation." 3

bulletA minority of fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians are "old-Earth creationists." They interpret the creation story/stories in the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) as compatible with the belief that the  earth is over four billion years old. They generally accept C-14 and other radiometric dating methods as accurate. Most progressive Christians, other religious liberals, Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, some members of mainline denominations, etc. also accept an old Earth.
 
bulletMost conservative Protestants are "new-Earth creationists" who interpret the book of Genesis and the rest of the Bible literally.

The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) contain lists of the descendents of Adam and Eve from the time of creation down to events whose time is known, such as about 1020 BCE when Saul became King of Israel. Bishop James Ussher, a 17th century Irish archbishop from Armagh, Ireland, computed backwards from this event using ages specified in the Bible to estimate the time of creation. Bishop Ussher assumed that every descendent was listed, and estimated that the Garden of Eden, the rest of the Earth, Adam, and Eve were created circa 4004 BCE. Most new-Earth creationists believe that the Bible many have skipped many generations of Adam and Eve's descendents. They conclude that God created the Earth and the rest of the universe at some unknown time between 8000 and 4000 BCE. Most of them believe that the acts of creation took six days, each day being 24 hours long.

Faced with a conflict between:

bulletThe text of the Bible, whose authors they believe were inspired by God to write text without error, and
bulletA scientific method of measuring the age of objects that gives ages in excess of 10 millennia,

most young-Earth creationists conclude that C-14 dating is hopelessly unreliable, at least for objects which the method dates more than 10,000 years ago. 4

Thus, dating of the well known Venus of Willendorf figurine at 24,000 years BP must be in error by a factor of at least 2.4 times. 5 The use of radiometric methods other than Carbon-14 based which date rocks circa 4.5 billion years BP must be in error by a factor of almost a half million times! More details

References used:

  1. Living snails were C14 dated at 2,300 and 27,000 years old," EvoWiki.org, at: http://wiki.cotch.net/
  2. Radiocarbon WEBinfo site, at: http://www.c14dating.com/
  3. "Jim", "How does carbon dating work?", Ask Yahoo at: http://ask.yahoo.com/
  4. "How accurate are Carbon 14 and other radioactive dating methods?," ChristianAnswers.net at: http://christiananswers.net/
  5. Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, "Women in Prehistory : The Venus of Willendorf," Sweet Briar College, at: http://witcombe.sbc.edu/

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Copyright © 2005 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-FEB-08
Latest update: 2009-JAN-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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