Skip to main content. Many global warming studies may be wrong as carbon dating found to be highly unreliable for organic matter over 30, years old. Wednesday, 09 September, , 7: Thursday, 08 March, , 6: Before that, all traces of radiocarbon would be too small to detect. You are signed up. We think you'd also like. Thank you You are on the list.
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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.
Is Carbon Dating Accurate?
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? 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. 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 ".
Is Carbon Dating Accurate?
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.
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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.
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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. 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? Wouldn't that spoil the tree-ring count?
Research illuminates inaccuracies in radiocarbon dating
If anything, the tree-ring sequence suffers far more from missing rings than from double rings. This means that the tree-ring dates would be slightly too young, not too old. Of course, some species of tree tend to produce two or more growth rings per year.
But other species produce scarcely any extra rings. Most of the tree-ring sequence is based on the bristlecone pine. This tree rarely produces even a trace of an extra ring; on the contrary, a typical bristlecone pine has up to 5 percent of its rings missing. Concerning the sequence of rings derived from the bristlecone pine, Ferguson says:. In certain species of conifers, especially those at lower elevations or in southern latitudes, one season's growth increment may be composed of two or more flushes of growth, each of which may strongly resemble an annual ring.
In the growth-ring analyses of approximately one thousand trees in the White Mountains, we have, in fact, found no more than three or four occurrences of even incipient multiple growth layers.
In years of severe drought, a bristlecone pine may fail to grow a complete ring all the way around its perimeter; we may find the ring if we bore into the tree from one angle, but not from another. Hence at least some of the missing rings can be found. Even so, the missing rings are a far more serious problem than any double rings. Other species of trees corroborate the work that Ferguson did with bristlecone pines.
Before his work, the tree-ring sequence of the sequoias had been worked out back to BC. The archaeological ring sequence had been worked out back to 59 BC. The limber pine sequence had been worked out back to 25 BC. The radiocarbon dates and tree-ring dates of these other trees agree with those Ferguson got from the bristlecone pine. But even if he had had no other trees with which to work except the bristlecone pines, that evidence alone would have allowed him to determine the tree-ring chronology back to BC.
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See Renfrew for more details. So, creationists who complain about double rings in their attempts to disprove C dating are actually grasping at straws. If the Flood of Noah occurred around BC, as some creationists claim, then all the bristlecone pines would have to be less than five thousand years old. This would mean that eighty-two hundred years worth of tree rings had to form in five thousand years, which would mean that one-third of all the bristlecone pine rings would have to be extra rings.
Creationists are forced into accepting such outlandish conclusions as these in order to jam the facts of nature into the time frame upon which their "scientific" creation model is based. Barnes has claimed that the earth's magnetic field is decaying exponentially with a half-life of fourteen hundred years.