QUESTIONS  #9



How Accurate Is Radiocarbon Dating?

Radiocarbon ages less than 3,500 years old are probably accurate. However, before accepting any radiocarbon date, one should know how the technique works, its limitations, and its assumptions. One limitation is that the radiocarbon technique dates only material that was once part of an animal or plant, such as bones, flesh, or wood. It cannot date rocks directly. To understand the other capabilities and limitations of radiocarbon dating, we must understand how it works and consider the flood.


Most carbon atoms weigh 12 atomic mass units. However, roughly one in a trillion carbon atoms weighs 14 atomic mass units. This carbon is called carbon-14. It is also called radiocarbon because it is radioactive (but not dangerous). Half of it will decay in about 5,730 years to form nitrogen. The other half will decay in another 5,730 years, and so on.


Cosmic radiation striking the upper atmosphere converts about 21 pounds of nitrogen each year into radiocarbon (carbon-14). Most carbon-14 quickly combines with oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which then spreads throughout the atmosphere. Plants take in carbon dioxide, incorporating in their tissues both carbon-14 (unstable) and normal carbon-12 (stable) in the same proportion as they occur in the atmosphere. Carbon-14 then moves up the various food chains to enter animal tissue—again, in about the same ratio carbon-14 has with carbon-12 in the atmosphere.


When a living thing dies, its radiocarbon loss (decay) is no longer balanced by intake, so its radiocarbon steadily decreases with a half-life of 5,730 years. If we knew the amount of carbon-14 in an organism when it died, we could attempt to date the time of death. The key questions then are: "Has the atmospheric ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 changed in the past, and if so, why and how much?" The assumption usually made, but rarely acknowledged, is that the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in the atmosphere before the industrial revolution1 has always been the same—about one in a trillion. Actually, that ratio may have been quite different.


For example, a worldwide flood would uproot and bury preflood forests. Afterward, less carbon would be available to enter the atmosphere from decaying vegetation. With less carbon-12 to dilute the carbon-14 continually forming from nitrogen in the upper atmosphere, the ratio of carbori-14 to carbon-12 in the atmosphere would increase. If the atmosphere's ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 has doubled since the flood and we did not know it, radiocarbon ages of things that lived soon after the flood would appear to be one half-life (or 5,730 years) older than their true ages. If that ratio quadrupled, organic remains would appear 11,460 (2 x 5,730) years older, etc. Therefore, a "radiocarbon year" would not correspond to an actual year.2


As explained in Figure 178, recent measurements show that the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 has been building up in the atmosphere.3 However, for the last 3,500 years, the increase in the ratio has been extremely slight.


Radiocarbon dating of vertical sequences of organic-rich layers at 714 locations worldwide has consistently shown a surprising result.4 Radiocarbon ages do not increase steadily with depth, as one might expect. Instead, they increase at*an accelerating rate. In other words, the concentration of carbon-14 is unexpectedly low in the lower organic layers. As one moves to higher and higher layers, this concentration increases, but at a decreasing rate.


Tree-ring dating allows us to infer how the atmospheric concentration of carbon-14 changed in the past. Some types of trees growing at high elevations with a steady supply of moisture will reliably add only one ring each year. In other environments, multiple rings can be added in a year.5 A tree ring's thickness depends on the tree's growing conditions, which vary from year to year. Some rings may show frost or fire damage. By comparing sequences of ring thicknesses in two different trees, a correspondence can sometimes be shown. Trees of the same species that simultaneously grew within a few hundred miles of each other may have similar patterns. Trees of different species or trees growing in different environments have less similar patterns.


Claims are frequently made that tree-ring thickness patterns of wood growing today can be matched up with those of some scattered pieces of dead wood, so that tree-ring counts can be extended back more than 8,600 years. This may not be correct. These claimed "long chronologies" begin with either living trees or dead wood that can be accurately dated by historical methods.6 This carries the chronology back perhaps 3,500 years. Then, the more questionable links are made based on the judgment of a tree-ring specialist. Sometimes "missing" rings are added.7 Each tree ring's width varies greatly around the tree's circumference. Also, parts of a ring may be dead wood. Standard statistical techniques could show how well the dozen supposedly overlapping tree-ring thickness patterns fit. However, tree-ring specialists have refused to subject their judgments to these statistical tests and would not release their data, so others can do these statistical tests.8 Even less reliable techniques claim to be able to calibrate carbon-14 dating back 26,000 years or more.


Figure 178: Increasing Amounts of Carbon-14. Radiocarbon dating requires knowing the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in the atmosphere when the organic matter being dated was part of a living organism. The assumption (shown in red), which few realize is being made, is that this law has always been what it was before the industrial revolution—about one carbon-14 atom for every trillion carbon-12 atoms. Willard Libby, who received a Nobel Prize for developing this technique, conducted tests ii 1950 that showed more carbon-14 forming than decaying. Therefore, the amount of carbon-14 and the ratio must be increasing. He ignored his test results, because he believed that the earth must be more than 20,000-30,000 years old, in which case the amount of carbon-14 must have had time to reach equilibrium and be constant.3 In 1977, Melvin Cook did similar, but more precis tests, which showed that the ratio was definitely increasing, even faster than Libby's test indicated.


Today, carbon-14 forms in the upper atmosphere at the rate of 21 pounds a year, but in 5,730 years, half of it decays. Therefore, carbon-14 would normally increase from the time of the creation, as shown by the blue line. Before the flood, the blue line gradually rose from some low amount, perhaps zero at the creation.9 Earth's lush forests had so much carbon that the equilibrium level was much lower than today. Those forests, ripped up and buried during the flood, became our coal, oil, and methane deposits.


During the flood, carbon-12, released from the subterranean water chamber, diluted the carbon-14 in the atmosphere and oceans even more. (Carbon-14 could not have formed in this chamber, because it was shielded from the cosmic radiation that produces carbon-14.) If one thought that the C-14/C-12 ratio had always been what it is today, one would incorrectly conclude that small amounts of carbon-14 in fossils meant much time had passed. Instead, less carbon-14 was in those organisms when they died.


Several laboratories in the world are now equipped to perform a much improved radiocarbon dating procedure. Using atomic accelerators, a specimens carbon-14 atoms can now be actually counted, giving a more precise radio-carbon date with even smaller samples. The standard, but less accurate, radiocarbon dating technique counts only the rare disintegrations of carbon-14 atoms, which are sometimes confused with other types of disintegrations.


This new atomic accelerator technique has consistently detected at least small amounts of carbon-14 in every organic specimen—even materials that evolutionists claim are millions of years old, such as coal. This small, consistent amount is found so often among various specimens that contamination can probably be ruled out. Ancient human skeletons, when dated by this new "accelerator mass spectrometer" technique, give surprisingly recent dates. In one study of eleven sets of ancient human bones, all were dated at about 5,000 radiocarbon years or less!10


Radiocarbon dating of supposedly very ancient bones should provide valuable information. Why is such testing rare? Researchers naturally do not waste money on a technique that destroys their specimen and provides no specific age. Therefore, most researchers do not radiocarbon date any organic specimen they think is older than 100,000 years, even if it still contains carbon. All carbon-14 that was once in anything older than 100,000 radiocarbon years would have decayed; its age could not be determined. However, if a bone that an evolutionist thinks is a million years old contains any detectable carbon-14, the bone is probably less than' 100,000 radiocarbon years. (Figure 178, shows why those "radiocarbon years" correspond to a much younger true age.)


PREDICTION 37: Bones or other organic remains that contain enough carbon and are believed by evolutionists to be older than 100,000 years will be shown to be relatively young in blind radiocarbon tests. This prediction, first published in the 6th edition (1995), p. 157, has now been confirmed.11 (Blind tests are explained on page 92.)


Very precise measurements now show that most fossils— regardless of presumed "geologic age"—have roughly the same ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12. (This includes fossil fuels: coal,.oil, and methane.) Therefore, this former life must have been living at about the same time—less than 100,000 years ago. Because almost all fossils are preserved in water deposited sediments, all this former life was probably buried in a fairly recent, gigantic flood.12


Radiocarbon dating is becoming increasingly important in interpreting the past. However, one must understand how it works and especially how a flood affected radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon ages less than 3,500 years are probably accurate. Ages around 40,000 radiocarbon years, which are typical of coal, have much younger true dates— near the time of the flood, roughly 5,000 years ago.

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I  THINK  WE  CAN  SEE  THERE  IS  WAY  TOO  MUCH  INVOLVED  IN  CARBON  DATING,  TO  GET  ANY  ACCURATE  DATES  MORE  THAN  100,000  YEARS  AGO.  ONCE  MORE  IT  DEPENDS  ON  GOD  DOING  WHAT,  AND  HOW,  AS  IN  THE  BEGINNINGS,  OR  PERIODS  OF  TIME,  HE  USED  TO  DO  WHAT  AND  HOW  IN.  SOME  OF  THE  THINGS  FOUND  TODAY  THAT  GIVE  A  CARBON  14  DATING  OF  2,  OR  3,  OF  4,  THOUSANDS  YEARS,  MAY  BE  CORRECT;  BUT  THAT  IS  WELL  WITHIN  THE  CREATION  OF  MANKIND  -  Keith Hunt