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Carbon-14 Dating: all viewpoints

Why most religious conservatives
reject the C-14 dating system

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Quotations:

bullet"There are many lines of evidence that the radiometric dates are not the objective evidence for an old earth that many claim, and that the world is really only thousands of years old. We don't have all the answers, but we do have the sure testimony of the Word of God to the true history of the world." Christian Answers web site, referring to the book of Genesis in the Bible. 1

bullet"The radiocarbon dating method remains arguably the most dependable and widely applied dating technique for the late Pleistocene and Holocene periods." Radiocarbon Web-info web site. 2

Beliefs of new-earth creationists about origins:

Most individual creation scientists and creation science organizations are called "new-earth creationists." They believe in a literal interpretation of the creation story/stories in Genesis -- the first book in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):

bulletFrom internal biblical information, they have concluded that the earth, its life forms, and the rest of the universe were created by God, less than 10,000 years ago; i.e. sometime after 8000 BCE. Many believe in the creation estimate of 4004 BCE by Bishop James Ussher, a 17th century Irish archbishop from Armagh, Ireland. Most of them believe that creation took only six days or a total of 144 hours.

bulletThey further believe that only very minor changes within various biological species have happened since creation. No new species have evolved or been created since.

bullet They believe that the world-wide flood of Noah happened circa 2349 BCE as described in the Bible. 3 It covered the entire earth and created many of the geological features that we see today, including rock layers with their embedded fossils..

bullet They believe that people gathered in Babel with the intent of building a tower that would reach Heaven. God confounded the speech of the people in that city so that they could not understand each other's language. They then left Babel and radiated in all directions, forming new civilizations around the world.

New-Earth creationism is mainly promoted by people who believe that the Bible authors were inspired by God to write text that is inerrant -- free of error.

Rejection of the C-14 dating method:

New-earth creationists obviously cannot accept the accuracy of the C-14 dating method. For example:

bulletScientists have dated a female figurine commonly called the Venus of Willendorf or the Woman of Willendorf to 24,000 to 22,000 BCE. They were unable to date the object directly since it is made from oolitic limestone. However, they were able to date many personal objects found with the object in the same archaeological layer of the Willendorf deposit. 4

bulletThey have dated wooden residue from the remains of bonfires at up to the limit of the C-14 dating method, which is about 50,000 BCE.

Creation scientists cannot accept these dates as accurate since they believe that the world was created sometime between 4000 and 8000 BCE. Since the accuracy of the Bible cannot be questioned, C-14 dating must contain massive errors -- by as much as a factor of five. Similarly, other radiometric measurements which do not use carbon, have dated rocks in northern Quebec, Canada, at almost four billion years old. 5 They must be in error by a factor of at least 400,000 times. More details.

Reasons for rejection of C-14 dating, with rebuttals:

It is our policy to accurately portray both (or all) sides to each belief whenever multiple viewpoints exist. If you feel that we are not fairly describing one side, please use the "Contact Us" button at the bottom of this page to send us a complaint. Please be sure to include the name of this file (c14datc.htm) and your specific concerns.

Some direct criticisms of the C-14 dating technique are:

bulletChristianAnswers.net states: "Outside the range of recorded history, calibration of the 14C clock is not possible.

This was true back in the 1950s. A team of researchers, headed by Willard F. Libby calibrated the C-14 measuring technique by comparing the measured age of samples from ancient Egypt with their known date. For example, they tested a piece of wood from Pharaoh Zoser's tomb with the known tomb date, which was known to be circa 2700 to 2600 BCE. The agreement was excellent. Since then, extended calibration checks have been made using  U.S. bristlecone pine, German and Irish oak, and other species of trees. That work pushed the calibration back well beyond recorded history to 10,000 BP (years before the present.) Other correlations have extended that to 26,000 years BP. It may eventually go back as far as 45,000 years, which is the approximate limit of the C-14 technique. 6
 
bulletThe Earth's magnetic field has been decreasing. This will increase the level of cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere, generate more C-14, and upset the C-14 dating process.

The Earth's magnetic field has been decreasing for many decades. However, it is cyclical in nature. Any affect that the Earth's field may have on the level of C-14 in the atmosphere -- and thus on the dating method -- would be corrected by the calibration procedure.
 
bulletThe flood of Noah, as described in Genesis, Chapter 6 to 8, would have upset the carbon balance on earth by burying large amounts of carbon containing plants which became coal, and gas. This would lower the total C-12 in the atmosphere at that time and upset the C-14 dating process.

The Genesis flood is described in Genesis as occurring circa 2349 BCE. Samples from Egypt before, during and after the flood whose dates are precisely known have been C-14 dated without any difficulty. Either the worldwide flood of Noah did not happen, or it did not create any significant disturbance in the C-12/C-14 balance at the time. Again, if it did have an effect, it would be corrected by the calibration process.
 
bulletVolcanoes emit a great deal of carbon dioxide which contains very little C-14. Since a massive degree of volcanism occurred during the the flood of Noah, objects which died shortly after the flood would give inaccurate C-14 dating results.

Again, C-14 dating results on Egyptian samples before, during and after the flood were found to be accurate when the data was compared with the actual dates as independently obtained. If there were a great deal of volcanism in the 23rd century BCE, it does not show up in the C-14 data.
 
bulletRadiocarbon dating laboratories often ask what is the expected age of the samples submitted to them. If C-14 dating is really precise, such information would not be needed. ChristianAnswers.net comments: "Presumably, the laboratories know that anomalous dates are common, so they need some check on whether they have obtained a "good" date."

Lab personnel often ask for the approximate age of a specimen in advance of testing, so they can optimize their instruments in order to maximize the accuracy of the results. They do not ask in order to "cook" the results.

Other criticisms are based on unusual C-14 test results which were obtained from samples who lived in very unusual environments:

bulletC-14 testing of a Lake Bonney seal estimated its age as 615 years ± 100. Yet, it had been killed only a few weeks previous to the measurement. A recently killed seal at McMurdo Sound gave an age of 1,300 years. C-14 results are totally unreliable.

This is caused by the well known "reservoir effect." These particular seals fed:
"...off of animals that live in a nutrient-rich upwelling zone. The water that is upwelling has been traveling along the bottom [of the ocean] for a few thousand years before surfacing. The carbon dioxide in it came from the atmosphere before the water sank...Thus the carbon in the sea water is a couple of thousand years "old" from when it was in the atmosphere." 7
Its C-14 would have decayed significantly. The plants picked up this "old" carbon; animals eat the plants and pick up "old" carbon; the seals eat the animals and incorporate this "old" carbon in themselves. The seal is killed. The sample taken for C-14 measurement contains partly "old" carbon and partly recent carbon. The instrument reads an apparent year that the seal died, which is older than the actual year.
 
bulletA sample of oil, which evolutionists believe was derived from plants that were living millions of years ago, was C-14 tested and found to be only 50,000 old. C-14 results are totally unreliable.

Fifty millennia is at the absolute limit of the capacity of the C-14 test. The difference in C-14 content between two carbon-containing samples -- one of which is 50 millennia old and the other is many millions of years old -- is minimal. The sample of oil did indeed come from plants that were alive millions of years ago. By now, essentially all of the C-14 atoms would have decayed so that none could be detected. However, very small amount of contamination could generate an apparent age of 50,000 years for the sample. Oil is typically "found within a matrix of sand or shale." The rocks will have some radioactivity which could have created new C-14, contaminated the sample, and produced the results indicated. 8
 
bulletShells of just-killed snails from Nevada were C-14 tested and found to be 27,000 years old. Again, C-14 results cannot be trusted.

This is another example of the reservoir effect. These particular snails lived in artesian springs which were "fed by carbonate aquifers. As this water percolated through the enclosing carbonates, it dissolved limestone and dolomite hundreds of millions of years old." 9 Essentially all of its C-14 had decayed; there would be little left. Again, the "old" carbon dissolved into the water, and was picked up by the snails when they made their shells. The shells were thus deficient in C-14 and appeared to be millennia old.
"The problem caused by the reservoir effect is well known by archaeologists, geologists, and anybody else, who use radiocarbon dates; they test for it and take it into account when interpreting radiocarbon data." 9


bulletFossilized wood from the Hawkesbury Sandstone in Australia, believed to have been hundreds of millions of years old, was dated by C-14 as 33,720 ± 430 years BP.

One wonders why a sample which most geologists would date to the middle Triassic (225 to 230 millions of years ago) would be tested using C-14. At that age, any C-14 that the wood originally had would have decayed to unmeasurable levels millions of years ago. This particular sample was porous. It would probably have absorbed groundwater containing modern carbon. This slight degree of contamination could have provided sufficient C-14 to give a 33 millennia age. Alternatively, there could have been radioactivity in the surrounding rocks which created some C-14 in the sample. 10

Finally, unusual readings sometimes appear:

bulletCreation Science organizations have found carbon dating results which give anomalous results. For example, different samples from the same frozen musk ox in Alaska gave age estimates of 24 and 17 thousand years BP. 1

No instrumental technique is perfect. The odd flyer value will sometimes be produced, due to improper sample preparation, contamination, etc. That is why researchers try to test multiple samples. If you search for flyers, you will find them.

References used:

  1. "How accurate are Carbon 14 and other radioactive dating methods?," ChristianAnswers.net at: http://christiananswers.net/
  2. Radiocarbon WEBinfo site, at: http://www.c14dating.com/
  3. From the Scofield Reference Edition of the King James Version of the Bible. This date is accepted by many Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians.
  4. Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, "Women in Prehistory : The Venus of Willendorf,"  Sweet Briar College, at: http://witcombe.sbc.edu/
  5. "World's 'oldest' volcanic rocks," BBC News, 2002-DEC-05, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/
  6. "Carbon dating," EvoWiki.org, at: http://wiki.cotch.net/
  7. "A freshly killed seal was C14 dated at 1300 years old," EvoWiki.org, at: http://wiki.cotch.net/
  8. "Ancient oil is C14 dated as only 50,000 years old," EvoWiki.org, at: http://wiki.cotch.net/
  9. "Living snails were C14 dated at 2,300 and 27,000 years old," EvoWiki.org, at: http://wiki.cotch.net/
  10. "Triassic wood from Australia was dated at 33K years old," EvoWiki.org, at: http://wiki.cotch.net/

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Copyright © 2005 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-FEB-08
Latest update: 2010-DEC-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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