Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Truth About Carbon-14 Dating and Its Implications for Christianity

During a conversation three days ago with a neighbor, he made mention that he was a Christian who believed in evolution. When I asked him why, he said that he wasn't really sure, but felt that God created man, but "made us work to become what we are." He went on to ask, "Well, what about carbon dating? It proves the Earth is old!"

With no offense meant to my neighbor, I must politely disagree. We now have two points to correct, but for the sake of this article, I want to focus on the last one. We need to find out if carbon-14 dating, specifically by using accelerator mass spectrometers (a much more accurate measuring tool than previous alternatives), proves that the Earth is indeed, millions or billions of years old.

First, we must know that everything that is or once was living all consumed carbon-14 into their system. It is as much a part of us as anything else. There is nothing that is or once was living that did not have some amount of carbon-14 in it. This is because carbon-14 is created in the Earth's atmosphere and is then consumed by all living things. Through the digestion of vegetation we and the animals we eat ingest, and also through breathing in the air we breathe.

Since we know that carbon-14 is in all things once living, we can use it to measure how old something is. This is possible because scientists know that it decays at a known rate and thereby use it much like a clock. Science knows that carbon-14 decays at a rate of 5,730 years per half-life. A half-life is a term used to determine how long it takes for half of the amount of an element (in this case, carbon-14) to “decay” or change into another element. Carbon-14 decays into Nitrogen-14. So for our example here, it would take 5,730 years for 50% of the carbon-14 in a sample to change into Nitrogen-14.

However, the trick is to know how much carbon-14 any given item started out with. But isn’t this next to impossible to know since nobody was there to take an initial measurement of the sample before it died? The key is based in the fact that along with 14C, we also take in carbon-12 through the same exact means as the carbon-14. The difference is the fact that carbon-12 does not decay. It is what is known as a stable isotope, or version, of the carbon element. Scientists have shown that there is a consistent ratio of the two carbons in the Earth’s atmosphere, therefore giving them the key. Now all we have to do is find out how much carbon-12 is in a sample, then, by using our known ratio, measure the 14C in the same sample. By a mathematical calculation based on the given results, we can then know the age of a sample. The equation looks like this:

t = [ ln (Nf/No) / (-0.693) ] x t1/2

So what does all of this mean, especially in regards to the Christian who is concerned with whether science disproves the Bible according to the age of the Earth? Simply put, it means that science cannot use carbon-14 dating, to date anything past 40,000 years. In fact, according to an Answers in Genesis article entitled, “Doesn’t Carbon-14 Dating Disprove the Bible?” a group of scientists conducted an 8 year study they titled, “RATE: Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth”. During this study, they collected 10 different coal samples from the U.S. Department of Energy Coal Sample Bank. They were very careful to not cross-contaminate the samples with anything that could alter the tests.

The samples collected were representative of different time periods in the geologic column, from the Cenozoic, Mesozoic, and Paleozoic time periods. According to evolutionists, this time period would range from 3 million to 488 million years. The startling discovery came when all 10 samples came back with a traceable amount of carbon-14 in it! How can this be possible when the oldest date carbon-14 measurements can give something is approximately 40,000 years? If you go by the theory of evolution, it can’t. So how can we rectify this? According to Mike Riddle of Answers in Genesis:

“Since the half-life of 14C is relatively short (5,730 years), there should be no detectable 14C left after about 100,000 years. The average 14C estimated age for all the layers from these three time periods was approximately 50,000 years. However, using a more realistic pre-Flood 14C /12C ratio reduces that age to about 5,000 years.”

This is significant news for the Christian who believes in error, that 14C dating has confirmed the theory of evolution. In fact, it is the exact opposite. 14C dating has, once again, proven the Bible to be accurate. Science has once again proven the Bible to be accurate. Someone once asked me if I believed it was possible to be a Biblical literalist and believe in evolution. My answer was no because of the language used in the creation account. Now I am more convinced that you cannot be a scientific literalist and believe in evolution, let alone believe in an idea that contradicts the Bible.


1 comment:

  1. Great article! I appreciate the fact that you're not writing out your "opinions", but instead honestly and wholeheartedly seek the truth. Good luck in ministry; I, too, plan to serve the church in this way. The church of Christ in Belleville, IL salutes you ;-)