– by Mike Snavely
A question I am often asked at seminars relates to the radiocarbon method of dating old things. People have been told that carbon-14 is a good indicator of an old earth and therefore supports the evolutionary idea. Not true.
The assumption that carbon dating supports a very old earth is outdated. The concept is fairly simple, and while the premise is sound, the assumptions are not. Here’s basically how it works: The atmosphere contains many stable carbon atoms. However, cosmic radiation is constantly colliding with atoms in the upper atmosphere. One of the results of these collisions is the changing of some atoms into carbon-14 atoms. These are also known as radiocarbon atoms, and they are unstable because they decay (which means they are radioactive) into a different type of atom–nitrogen. There are many more stable carbon atoms in the atmosphere than unstable ones. There is about one carbon-14 atom for every one trillion carbon-12 atoms. This ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 atoms in the atmosphere remains fairly uniform at any given time. Though carbon-14 atoms decay, more are produced, so the earth will never run out of them.
Plants acquire their carbon atoms from the atmosphere, and so the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 atoms in the plants is the same as the surrounding atmosphere at any given time. As plants are eaten by animals and people, these carbon atoms are absorbed into whatever is eating them, and so the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 atoms in their bodies will be the same, too. This ratio is the same for all living things around the earth at any given time.
When a plant or animal dies, it no longer takes in any carbon atoms. But, because the carbon-14 atoms are unstable (radioactive), the ratio between the two types starts changing because the carbon-14 atoms decay, so their numbers will decrease. In about 50,000 years, there is so little carbon-14 left that it becomes impractical to measure it for the purpose of trying to date anything.
Therefore, a specimen can be dated by knowing the starting ratio, then precisely measuring the current ratio between these two types of carbon atoms. Since it is known how long it takes for carbon-14 to decay, the age of a specimen can be fairly accurately measured.
The Limitations of Carbon Dating
At best, this method is only accurate back 50,000 years, or so. That, of course, is a drop in the bucket compared to the “millions and billions” of years being thrown about by evolutionists.
This method can only be used on organic substances—that is, things that used to be alive.
Furthermore, as in all radiometric dating methods, there are assumptions. Here’s the main one: The starting ratio in the atmosphere was the same long ago as it is today. This is purely assumptive, and there are several reasons why it probably is not the case at all.
1. First, the atmosphere is not in “equilibrium.” What does that mean? Well, consider this analogy. Imagine filling a barrel with water. You pour water in at a steady rate. But, the barrel has holes in the side. So, as you pour water into the barrel, it is also leaking out of the barrel. Eventually you’ll reach a point where the water entering the barrel is leaking out just as fast. This stage is called equilibrium. Unless you decrease the amount of water leaking from the barrel, or increase the amount going in, the barrel will reach equilibrium. This is true for the earth’s atmosphere, which will reach equilibrium in 30,000 years (trueauthority.com).
Obviously, if it takes that long to reach equilibrium (and if carbon-14 is still out of equilibrium), then the assumptions of the starting ratio are wrong!
2. There is also the issue of the earth’s decaying magnetic field. This field has been much stronger in the past and therefore would have shielded the upper atmosphere from cosmic rays more than it can today. That means that in the past, fewer carbon-14 atoms would have been formed, so the ratio between carbon-14 and carbon-12 would have been very different. If that’s true, then there was less carbon-14 in the specimen to begin with, and by measuring the ratio now, it would seem that the specimen is older than it really is―the assumption being that more carbon-14 had decayed out of it than what has actually occurred.
3. Third, if there was a global flood as described in the Bible, it buried huge amounts of living organisms which became our fossil fuels. This represents a vast amount of buried carbon, and a significant change in the biosphere. Some scientists think that because of all of the implications of a global flood on the atmosphere, specimens being dated that would have lived before the flood are assigned dates that are perhaps ten times their true age.
NOTE: Significant levels of carbon-14 have been consistently detected in fossilized wood, coal, and even diamonds―all of which have been “dated” at many millions (or even billions) of years!
No carbon-14 should be there! This is a major problem, but it is merely sidestepped by the Darwinists. Many simply say that the specimens must have been contaminated. (This is a claim that most scientists say is impossible. They, in turn, look for alternate explanations―but none has been found.) The evidence points to only one conclusion: things just aren’t that old!
Former homeschool dad, Mike Snavely, founded Mission:Imperative, a ministry that presents seminars on a wide variety of subjects related to the biblical view of origins. Look him up at www.natureofcreation.org.