Carbon dating vs creationism

Radiocarbon dating can easily establish that humans have been on the earth for over twenty thousand years, at least twice as long as creationists are willing to allow. Therefore it should come as no surprise that creationists at the Institute for Creation Research ICR have been trying desperately to discredit this method for years. They have their work cut out for them, however, because radiocarbon C dating is one of the most reliable of all the radiometric dating methods.

This article will answer several of the most common creationist attacks on carbon dating, using the question-answer format that has proved so useful to lecturers and debaters. Cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere are constantly converting the isotope nitrogen N into carbon C or radiocarbon. Living organisms are constantly incorporating this C into their bodies along with other carbon isotopes. When the organisms die, they stop incorporating new C, and the old C starts to decay back into N by emitting beta particles.

The older an organism's remains are, the less beta radiation it emits because its C is steadily dwindling at a predictable rate. So, if we measure the rate of beta decay in an organic sample, we can calculate how old the sample is. C decays with a half-life of 5, years. Kieth and Anderson radiocarbon-dated the shell of a living freshwater mussel and obtained an age of over two thousand years.

ICR creationists claim that this discredits C dating. How do you reply?

Why do creationists keep saying carbon dating is debunked. : atheism

It does discredit the C dating of freshwater mussels, but that's about all. Kieth and Anderson show considerable evidence that the mussels acquired much of their carbon from the limestone of the waters they lived in and from some very old humus as well. Carbon from these sources is very low in C because these sources are so old and have not been mixed with fresh carbon from. Thus, a freshly killed mussel has far less C than a freshly killed something else, which is why the C dating method makes freshwater mussels seem older than they really are. When dating wood there is no such problem because wood gets its carbon straight from the air, complete with a full dose of C The creationists who quote Kieth and Anderson never tell you this, however.

A sample that is more than fifty thousand years old shouldn't have any measurable C Coal, oil, and natural gas are supposed to be millions of years old; yet creationists say that some of them contain measurable amounts of C, enough to give them C ages in the tens of thousands of years.

Answers to Creationist Attacks on Carbon-14 Dating

How do you explain this? Radiocarbon dating doesn't work well on objects much older than twenty thousand years, because such objects have so little C left that their beta radiation is swamped out by the background radiation of cosmic rays and potassium K decay. Younger objects can easily be dated, because they still emit plenty of beta radiation, enough to be measured after the background radiation has been subtracted out of the total beta radiation.

However, in either case, the background beta radiation has to be compensated for, and, in the older objects, the amount of C they have left is less than the margin of error in measuring background radiation. As Hurley points out:. Without rather special developmental work, it is not generally practicable to measure ages in excess of about twenty thousand years, because the radioactivity of the carbon becomes so slight that it is difficult to get an accurate measurement above background radiation. Cosmic rays form beta radiation all the time; this is the radiation that turns N to C in the first place.

K decay also forms plenty of beta radiation. Stearns, Carroll, and Clark point out that ". This radiation cannot be totally eliminated from the laboratory, so one could probably get a "radiocarbon" date of fifty thousand years from a pure carbon-free piece of tin.

However, you now know why this fact doesn't at all invalidate radiocarbon dates of objects younger than twenty thousand years and is certainly no evidence for the notion that coals and oils might be no older than fifty thousand years. Creationists such as Cook claim that cosmic radiation is now forming C in the atmosphere about one and one-third times faster than it is decaying.

If we extrapolate backwards in time with the proper equations, we find that the earlier the historical period, the less C the atmosphere had. If they are right, this means all C ages greater than two or three thousand years need to be lowered drastically and that the earth can be no older than ten thousand years. Yes, Cook is right that C is forming today faster than it's decaying.

However, the amount of C has not been rising steadily as Cook maintains; instead, it has fluctuated up and down over the past ten thousand years. How do we know this? From radiocarbon dates taken from bristlecone pines. There are two ways of dating wood from bristlecone pines: Since the tree ring counts have reliably dated some specimens of wood all the way back to BC, one can check out the C dates against the tree-ring-count dates.

Admittedly, this old wood comes from trees that have been dead for hundreds of years, but you don't have to have an 8,year-old bristlecone pine tree alive today to validly determine that sort of date. It is easy to correlate the inner rings of a younger living tree with the outer rings of an older dead tree. The correlation is possible because, in the Southwest region of the United States, the widths of tree rings vary from year to year with the rainfall, and trees all over the Southwest have the same pattern of variations.

When experts compare the tree-ring dates with the C dates, they find that radiocarbon ages before BC are really too young—not too old as Cook maintains.


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For example, pieces of wood that date at about BC by tree-ring counts date at only BC by regular C dating and BC by Cook's creationist revision of C dating as we see in the article, "Dating, Relative and Absolute," in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. So, despite creationist claims, C before three thousand years ago was decaying faster than it was being formed and C dating errs on the side of making objects from before BC look too young , not too old. But don't trees sometimes produce more than one growth ring per year? Child logic basically, and that is where a lot of our frustration comes from, it is like dealing with uneducated children, and the older they are, the more frustrating it can be.

Then we take a fossil that is supposed to be millions of years old, and the test comes back that it's only 50, years old. Obviously, this whole thing is fake.

On their face, their claims indicate a failure to understand what C dating is and what sort of information it reveals. C can not be used to date "fossils". Fossils are rock in the shape of something that was once living.


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  • The original material has been replaced by minerals. C dating can only be used to date the remains of living material wood, bone, etc. So, when they claim that they "dated a fossil" or that they got an answer of "a million years" you know they are not actually talking about C Though they are claiming that these tests were all carbon dating, in fact if you read their source material, what the tests are all radiometric dating.

    Carbon dating is one form of radiometric dating, but there are many others. A Creationist website wants to trick people who don't have enough information to understand what is happening so they take two objects and do specific radiometric tests on them. Object one is a piece of wood from a tree that died in Object two is a bit of lava from an eruption that took place a million years ago.

    K-Ar dating can't determine the age of anything less than , years old. The decay rate is too slow. So, if you test something which is , years old you get ", years" as a date. However, if you test something that is from , you still get ", years" as a date. This is why we don't use K-Ar dating for objects we suspect are younger than , years. So, when they test the piece of wood, they get ", years" as the date. Radiometric dating gave a date that is too old! Then they take Object Two which is a great candidate for K-Ar dating and they doing C dating on it.

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    That's a huge red flag for any reputable scientist, but they turn around and tell their readers: This object is supposed to be millions of years old but this says it's 65, years old! C Dating is debunked! If I asked you to measure the length of a road using a 12 inch ruler, the maximum length you would get is 12 inches which is clearly wrong. If I asked you to measure someone's height using an odometer, you would either get 0 or.

    The Creationist websites know exactly what they are doing.

    They are deliberately using the wrong tool in an attempt to confuse their readers. The real question is: That is actually true. Radiometric dating uses the different amounts of radioactive substances in a material to estimate that material's age.


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    To date something that contains carbon, you can measure the ratio of stable Carbon to radioactive Carbon in the object. Because we know how fast Carbon decays and roughly how much should have been present in the first place, we can determine the age of the material. Once all of the Carbon is gone, which happens on the order of 10's of thousands of years, we can't use this method to date materials. We then have to pick a different pair of atoms with known radioactive properties. Obviously, we need to obtain many pieces of information to use this technique, AND they all have to agree.

    If they didn't, we couldn't calibrate the method and the technique would be useless. However, when we take everything we know about ages and combine it, we get a remarkably consistent picture. There is, like most popular bullshit, a tiny kernel of truth. The margin of error of carbon dating depends on certain assumptions about the levels of carbon deposit being relatively uniform over time.

    If it's true that a period underwent a higher or lower rate of deposit, then those assumptions may be off by some fraction. Something dated at 12, years old could be anywhere from 8, to 16, years maybe? Not to mention that the general scale -- the magnitude -- of RCD is pretty much backed up by other radiometric methods, which are themselves more or less backed up by cosmological dating methods age of Type 1A supernovae, for example , makes the whole debate over dating methods I believe the technical term is "moot as fuck".

    If they're off by an order of magnitude , the universe is still at least 1. Two orders of magnitude? OK, million years old. Making the claim that RCD is merely off by some margin of error makes an unspoken argument a fortiori that the universe is at least many many millions of years old, in the worst possible case scenario.

    And seriously, a factor of 2 orders of magnitude would have already shown up as error somewhere else. Because if all the dating techniques other than literal timestamps weren't debunked, it would challenge creationism. Ergo, they're debunked because it says something the bible disagrees with.

    How about the massive global carbon and coal deposits which render carbon dating inaccurate? My dad has been using this dumb ass argument for years now. I love my father but this is just embarrassing.

    Primate's Progress

    I guess his lack of knowledge is one of the reasons he has fallen for the Christianity lie. Best resource I've found on it Essentially, some intentionally misinterpret scientific studies and use it to say for our example carbon dating isn't reliable. This quickly gets spread to others who aren't informed on the matter and it snowballs into a "legitimate" debate.

    In reality we see that carbon dating, while not having the desired accuracy that scientists and historians would like, is still well within the tolerances to be viable for other theories. A brief overview of how radiocarbon dating works is in this How Stuff Works article. But if you don't want to read that essentially: You can determine the rate constant by taking a known amount of parent, and counting the number of decays per second, as measured with a Geiger counter or a more reliable and up-to-date instrument such as fluorescence counter.

    In the case of radiocarbon dating, the parent is carbon and the daughter is nitrogen, which is lost from the sample. This seems like a dead end, until we remember where carbon comes from.

    Carbon is formed in the upper atmosphere by the effects of cosmic ray bombardment on nitrogen, is rapidly converted to carbon dioxide, and then mingles with the rest of the CO2 in the atmosphere see Figure. If we assume a steady rate of bombardment, that means we will have a steady rate of production of carbon, and a steady state abundance of carbon in the atmosphere, where the amount decaying each year is equal to the amount being formed. Now consider what happens during the life of an organism, and after its death.

    As long as it is alive and metabolising, it will exchange carbon with its environment, taking it in directly as carbon dioxide by photosynthesis for a plant or indirectly as food for an animal. At this stage, the proportion of carbon present as carbon will be directly dependent on that in the atmosphere. But as soon as it stops metabolising, it stops exchanging, and the proportion present starts decaying according to the radioactive decay law, with a halflife of years.

    So it looks as if we can just use the proportion present in the atmosphere right now as a measure of the initial proportion, and compare it with the proportion remaining. But this is unrealistic, since the intensity of cosmic ray bombardment is known to change over time.

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    Moreover, it could have been associated with an increase in the rate of carbon production, making pre-flood specimens look much older than they really are. With the exception of the first and last, all these objections have some degree of plausibility, but unfortunately for the creationists they have all long since been answered, many of the answers being set out by Willard F. Libby, inventor of the method, in his book on the subject. If any of these had been different, we would not have had the same kind of physics and chemistry that we have today.

    But we know from their structure that ancient rocks were formed under the same rules as we have today, because they contain the same kinds of elements combined to make the same kinds of minerals. The creationists have published theoretical curves for changes in decay constants, but these have no basis in science, and are generated merely to make observations fit the biblical timeline. This method works because all but the outermost layers of a tree are metabolically inert, and out of circulation. The most recent calibration comes from organic debris in varves annual layers of sediment deposited in a lake Lake Suigetsu, in Japan that happens to be free of turbulent inflows.

    Near doubling of atmospheric C14 in the Southern hemisphere, as the result of nuclear testing. One of the lies you were probably told at school is that all isotopes of the same element have precisely the same chemical properties. This is not true, and generally speaking, heavier isotopes are slightly more sluggish in their chemical reactions.

    These North Ronaldsay sheep, which feed on seaweed, will show different isotopic fraction from sheep fed on grass. This effect has been measured for photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide in plants is, as expected, slightly depleted in carbon relative to carbon, and the effect is far from trivial; around 27 thousands of carbon abundance for most kinds of plant. We expect the effect to be twice as large for carbon, which, using the known year halflife of carbon, corresponds to years; not trivial when dating historical artefacts.

    However, exactly the same effect will apply to the material used to set up the calibration, and the errors will systematically cancel out. Ideally, the fractional abundance of carbon should be measured, as well as that of carbon, to calibrate out any minor fractionation effects, and this is less arduous than it sounds because nowadays carbon abundance is measured by direct counting in a mass spectrometer rather than, as in the original studies, indirectly inferred from sample radioactivity.

    For plants, it is straightforward to match like with like. Not so for material derived from animals, where the total amount of isotopic fractionation will depend on their diets, and also on what they have been eating. However, as already explained, we now have direct calibration back to 52, years before present, beyond which the amount of remaining carbon is so small that using current techniques the method becomes useless.