Creationism explain carbon dating

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  3. Carbon dating

Plants take up atmospheric 14 C for as long as they live, through the process of photosynthesis. Animals take up atmospheric 14 C indirectly, by eating plants or by eating other animals that eat plants. Measuring the proportion of 14 C as opposed to 12 C remaining in a sample then tells us how long ago the sample stopped taking up 14 C — in other words, how long ago the thing died.

Carbon dating has a certain margin of error, usually depending on the age and material of the sample used.


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  5. Answers to Creationist Attacks on Carbon Dating | NCSE!

Carbon has a half-life of about years, so researchers use the process to date biological samples up to about 60, years in the past. Beyond that timespan, the amount of the original 14 C remaining is so small that it cannot be reliably distinguished from 14 C formed by irradiation of nitrogen by neutrons from the spontaneous fission of uranium, present in trace quantities almost everywhere.

Radiometric Dating is Flawed!! Really?? How Old IS the Earth?

For older samples, other dating methods must be used. The level of atmospheric 14 C is not constant. Atmospheric 14 C varies over decades due to the sunspot cycle, and over millennia due to changes in the earth's magnetic field. On a shorter timescale, humans also affect the amount of atmospheric 14 C through combustion of fossil fuels and above-ground testing of the largely defensive weapon of the thermonuclear bomb. Therefore dates must be calibrated based on 14 C levels in samples of known ages. Radiometric dating in general, of course, poses a huge problem for people who believe that the universe is odd years old.

A favorite tactic of Young-Earthers involves citing studies which show trace amounts of 14 C in coal or diamond samples, which — being millions of years old — should have no original atmospheric 14 C left. Recent studies, however, show that 14 C can form underground. 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 ". 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.

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? 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.


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  • 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.

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    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.

    This type of decay is electron capture e. Because this type of decay involves a particle outside the nucleus, the decay rate may be affected by variations in the electron density near the nucleus of the atom. For example, the decay constant of Be-7 in different beryllium chemical compounds varies by as much as 0.

    The only isotope of geologic interest that undergoes e. Measurements of the decay rate of K in different substances under various conditions indicate that variations in the chemical and physical environment have no detectable effect on its e. Believe it or not, a number of creationist attacks against radiometric decay rates are aimed at a kind of "decay" called internal conversion IC , which has absolutely nothing to do with the radiometric dating methods Dalrymple, , p.

    Harold Slusher, a prominent member of the Institute for Creation Research, claimed that "Experiments have shown that the decay rates of cesium and iron 57 vary, hence there may be similar variations in other radioactive decay rates. These are both stable isotopes so there is no decay rate to be changed.

    This statement merely reveals Slusher's ignorance of nuclear physics. Gamma decay of an excited state of iron 57 has been studied, but this has nothing to do with the kinds of decays used in radiometric dating. DeYoung [ ] lists 20 isotopes whose decay rates have been changed by environmental conditions, alluding to the possible significance of these changes to geochronology, but the only significant changes are for isotopes that "decay" by internal conversion.

    These changes are irrelevant to radiometric dating methods. Keep an eye on those creationists! They will switch tracks faster than you can say "tiddlywinks. Morris claimed that free neutrons might change the decay rates. However, Henry Morris, that icon of creationism, only demonstrated that he knew no more about radiometric dating than does Dr. Free neutrons might change one element into another, but the decay rates all remain true to their elements. Morris [ ] also suggests that neutrinos might change decay rates, citing a column by Jueneman 72 in Industrial Research.

    The subtitle of Jueneman's columns, which appear regularly, is, appropriately, "Scientific Speculation. Jueneman describes a highly speculative hypothesis that would account for radioactive decay by interaction with neutrinos rather than by spontaneous decay, and he notes that an event that temporarily increased the neutrino flux might "reset" the clocks. Jueneman, however, does not propose that decay rates would be changed, nor does he state how the clocks would be reset; in addition, there is no evidence to support his speculation. There was also an attempt by Slusher and Rybka to invoke neutrinos.

    Those mysterious neutrinos seem to be a hot topic! Slusher and Rybka also propose that neutrinos can change decay rates, citing an hypothesis by Dudley 40 that decay is triggered by neutrinos in a "neutrino sea" and that changes in the neutrino flux might affect decay rates. This argument has been refuted by Brush 20 , who points out that Dudley's hypothesis not only requires rejection of both relativity and quantum mechanics, two of the most spectacularly successful theories in modern science, but is disproved by recent experiments.

    Dudley himself rejects the conclusions drawn from his hypothesis by Slusher and Rybka , noting that the observed changes in decay rates are insufficient to change the age of the Earth by more than a few percent Dudley, personal communication, , quoted in 20, p. Thus, even if Slusher and Rybka were correct--which they are not--the measured age of the Earth would still exceed 4 billion years. Dalrymple goes on to debunk several other creationists attacks on the reliability of the radiometric decay rates used in geochronology.

    Judging from the above, it is easy to see that creationists are indulging in wild fishing expeditions. Compare their flighty arguments to the solid support provided by theoretical work, laboratory testing, and, for the shorter half-lives, actual observation, and add to that the statistical consistency of the dates obtained, including numerous cross-checks between different "clocks," and only one conclusion is left. The radiometric decay rates used in dating are totally reliable. They are one of the safest bets in all of science. With at least one notable exception on the books, plants and animals get their carbon from the atmosphere.

    Plants take it in directly, and animals eat the plants. Thus, it gets passed up the food chain. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the carbon in living plants and animals is in reasonable equilibrium with the atmospheric carbon Some creationists, however, have claimed that certain plants can reject carbon in favor of carbon Because of the chemical similarity of carbon and carbon, it is unlikely that such plants could deviate much from the ratio of C to C found in the atmosphere.

    Neither freak cases nor small deviations pose much of a problem for radiocarbon dating, which, after all, works well with a wide variety of plant and animal species. Hence, we only have to worry about the initial concentration of C in the atmosphere.

    Carbon dating - RationalWiki

    Topic R1 shows that the level of C in the atmosphere has not varied appreciably over tens of thousands of years. Therefore, the initial C content is known for any reasonable sample! The notable exception involves certain mollusks, which get much of their carbon from dissolved limestone. Since limestone is very old it contains very little carbon Thus, in getting some of their carbon from limestone, these mollusks "inherit" some of the limestone's old age! That is, the limestone carbon skews the normal ratio between C and C found in living things.

    If one dates such mollusks, one must be extra careful in interpreting the data. Not every mollusk shell presents such problems, and the dating of other material might yield a cross-check. Further study might even allow correction tables. The discovery has strengthened the carbon method, not weakened it! By the way, shouldn't the creationist be worried over the old, carbon age of the limestone? Why is it that limestone has so little C in it? Partial contamination, say of a block of wood, may affect its different parts to different degrees. Insect burrows, cracks, and partial decay may allow contamination later on to affect those portions of the sample unequally.

    However, there are laboratory techniques, often ingenious, for dealing with such problems. If the sample shows evidence of being hopelessly contaminated it is pitched. Some samples, such as a section of a tree trunk, may well contain material of considerably different ages.

    The interior portion of a tree trunk could easily be several hundred years older than the outer portions. In summing up this point, we do know within good limits what the initial C was for any reasonable sample. A sample will not have different ratios of carbon unless it has been contaminated or reflects a genuine range of ages. In the case of carbon dating, the daughter product is ordinary nitrogen and plays no role in the dating process.

    We are only interested in tallying the original C still present in the sample, the surviving "parent" isotope. The C that is incorporated in the carbon structure of cellulose and the other structural materials of living plants and animals is not going to do much migrating after burial.

    If structural carbon migrated easily there soon wouldn't be any cellulose, lignin, chitin or other structural carbon compounds left in the soil! A piece of wood, for example, would soon turn into a formless cloud of graphite or soot in the soil, with perhaps a little ash marking the original shape! Clearly, that is not something which normally happens. Residues or solutions which do migrate can usually be washed out of the structural matrix of the sample with various chemicals. To put it another way, we might imagine a piece of buried wood as being something like a sponge.

    Any carbon-containing liquid originally possessed by that sponge might well leak over time and be replaced by something else. However, unless the sponge itself disintegrates, the carbon which holds its fibers together must stay put. Thus, by choosing a sample that is structurally intact, one may rule out any significant loss of C If the liquid impurities in our sponge can be washed and squeezed out, or estimated in some way, then we may be able to date the sponge structural component of our sample itself and get a good date even if non-structural carbon had been lost in a manner that would upset the isotope ratio.

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    Carbon dating

    A sample, of course, can be contaminated if organic material rich in fresh atmospheric C soaks or diffuses into it. Such contamination may occur in the ground or during the processing of the sample in the laboratory. However, such contamination will make the sample appear younger than its true age. Consequently, with regards to carbon dating, creationists are barking up the wrong tree on the contamination issue! Laboratories, of course, do have techniques for identifying and correcting contamination. There are various methods of cleaning the material, and the activity of each rinse can be measured.

    Lab contamination and technique can be checked by running blanks. A careful choice of samples will often minimize contamination. Dating various portions of a sample is another kind of check that may be performed. Often there are cross-checks. Samples from top to bottom of a peat bog gave reasonable time intervals Science , vol.