Carbon-14 Dating: all viewpoints
Why most religious conservatives
reject the C-14 dating system
"There are many lines of evidence that the radiometric dates are not
the objective evidence for an old earth that many claim, and that the world
is really only thousands of years old. We don't have all the answers, but we
do have the sure testimony of the Word of God to the true history of the
world." Christian Answers web site, referring to the book of
Genesis in the Bible. 1
radiocarbon dating method remains arguably the most dependable and widely
applied dating technique for the late Pleistocene and Holocene periods."
Radiocarbon Web-info web site.
Beliefs of new-earth creationists about origins:
Most individual creation scientists and creation science organizations are
called "new-earth creationists." They believe in a literal interpretation of the
creation story/stories in Genesis -- the first book in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):
From internal biblical information, they have concluded that the earth, its life forms,
and the rest of the universe were created by God, less than 10,000 years ago;
i.e. sometime after 8000 BCE. Many believe in the creation
estimate of 4004 BCE by Bishop James Ussher, a 17th century Irish archbishop
from Armagh, Ireland. Most of them believe that creation took only six days or a
total of 144 hours.
||They further believe that only very minor changes within various
biological species have
happened since creation. No new species have evolved or been created since.
They believe that the world-wide flood of Noah happened circa 2349 BCE
as described in the Bible. 3
It covered the entire earth and
created many of the geological features that we see today, including rock layers with their embedded fossils..
||They believe that people gathered in Babel with the intent of building a
tower that would reach Heaven. God confounded the speech of the people in that
city so that they could not understand each other's language. They then left Babel and radiated in
all directions, forming new civilizations around the world.
creationism is mainly promoted by people who believe that the Bible
authors were inspired by God to write text that is
inerrant -- free of error.
Rejection of the C-14 dating method:
New-earth creationists obviously cannot accept the accuracy of the C-14
dating method. For example:
Scientists have dated a female figurine commonly called the Venus of
Willendorf or the Woman of Willendorf to 24,000 to 22,000
BCE. They were unable to date the object directly
since it is made from oolitic limestone. However, they were able to date
many personal objects found with the object in the same archaeological layer of the Willendorf deposit. 4
||They have dated wooden residue from the remains of bonfires at up to the
limit of the C-14 dating method, which is about 50,000
Creation scientists cannot accept these dates as accurate since they believe
that the world was created sometime between 4000 and 8000 BCE. Since the
accuracy of the Bible cannot be questioned, C-14 dating must contain massive
errors -- by as much as a factor of five. Similarly, other radiometric
measurements which do not use carbon, have dated rocks in northern Quebec,
Canada, at almost four billion years old. 5
They must be in error by a factor of at least 400,000 times.
Reasons for rejection of C-14 dating, with rebuttals:
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Some direct criticisms of the C-14 dating technique are:
ChristianAnswers.net states: "Outside the range of recorded history, calibration of the
14C clock is not possible."
This was true back in the 1950s. A team of researchers, headed by Willard F.
Libby calibrated the C-14 measuring technique by comparing the measured age
of samples from ancient Egypt with their known date. For example, they
tested a piece of wood from Pharaoh Zoser's tomb with the known tomb date,
which was known to be circa 2700 to 2600 BCE. The
agreement was excellent. Since then, extended calibration checks have
been made using U.S. bristlecone pine, German and Irish oak, and other
species of trees. That work pushed the calibration back well beyond recorded
history to 10,000 BP (years before the present.)
Other correlations have extended that
to 26,000 years BP. It may eventually go back as far as 45,000 years, which is
the approximate limit of the C-14 technique. 6
The Earth's magnetic field
has been decreasing. This will increase the level of cosmic rays in the
upper atmosphere, generate more C-14, and upset the C-14 dating process.
The Earth's magnetic field has been decreasing for many decades. However, it is cyclical in nature. Any affect
that the Earth's field may have on the level of C-14
in the atmosphere -- and thus on the dating method -- would be corrected by the calibration procedure.
The flood of Noah, as described in Genesis, Chapter 6 to 8, would have
upset the carbon balance on earth by burying large amounts of carbon
containing plants which became coal, and gas. This would lower the total
C-12 in the atmosphere at that time and upset the C-14 dating process.
The Genesis flood is described in Genesis as occurring circa 2349 BCE.
Samples from Egypt before, during and after the flood whose dates are precisely known
have been C-14 dated without any difficulty. Either the
worldwide flood of Noah did not happen, or it did not create any significant
disturbance in the C-12/C-14 balance at the time. Again, if it did have an
effect, it would be corrected by the calibration process.
Volcanoes emit a great deal of carbon dioxide which contains very
little C-14. Since a massive degree of volcanism occurred during the the
flood of Noah, objects which died shortly after the flood would give
inaccurate C-14 dating results.
Again, C-14 dating results on Egyptian samples before, during and after the flood
were found to be accurate when the data was compared with the actual dates as independently obtained. If there were a great deal of volcanism in the 23rd
century BCE, it does not show up in the C-14 data.
Radiocarbon dating laboratories often ask what is the expected age of
the samples submitted to them. If C-14 dating is really precise, such
information would not be needed. ChristianAnswers.net comments: "Presumably,
the laboratories know that anomalous dates are common, so they need some
check on whether they have obtained a "good" date."
Lab personnel often ask for the approximate age of a specimen in advance of testing,
so they can optimize their instruments in order to maximize the accuracy of the
results. They do not ask in order to "cook" the results.
Other criticisms are based on unusual C-14 test results which
were obtained from samples who lived in very unusual environments:
C-14 testing of a Lake Bonney seal estimated its age as 615 years ~+mn~ 100. Yet, it had been killed only a few weeks
previous to the measurement. A recently killed seal at McMurdo Sound gave an age of 1,300
years. C-14 results are totally unreliable.
This is caused by the well known "reservoir effect." These particular seals
"...off of animals that live in a nutrient-rich upwelling zone. The
water that is upwelling has been traveling along the bottom [of the ocean]
for a few thousand years before surfacing. The carbon dioxide in it came
from the atmosphere before the water sank...Thus the carbon in the sea water
is a couple of thousand years "old" from when it was in the atmosphere." 7
Its C-14 would have decayed significantly. The plants picked up this "old"
carbon; animals eat the plants and pick up "old" carbon; the seals eat the
animals and incorporate this "old" carbon in themselves. The seal is killed.
The sample taken for C-14 measurement contains partly "old" carbon and
partly recent carbon. The instrument reads an apparent year that the seal died,
which is older than the actual year.
A sample of oil, which evolutionists
believe was derived from plants that were living millions of years ago, was
C-14 tested and found to be only 50,000 old. C-14 results are totally
Fifty millennia is at the absolute limit of the capacity of the C-14 test.
The difference in C-14 content between two carbon-containing samples -- one
of which is 50 millennia old and the other is many millions of years old --
is minimal. The sample of oil did indeed come from plants that were alive
millions of years ago. By now, essentially all of the C-14 atoms would have
decayed so that none could be detected. However, very small amount of
contamination could generate an apparent age of 50,000 years for the sample.
Oil is typically "found within a matrix of sand or shale." The rocks
will have some radioactivity which could have created new C-14, contaminated
the sample, and produced the results indicated. 8
Shells of just-killed snails from Nevada
were C-14 tested and found to be 27,000 years old. Again, C-14 results
cannot be trusted.
This is another example of the reservoir effect. These particular snails
lived in artesian springs which were "fed by carbonate aquifers. As this
water percolated through the enclosing carbonates, it dissolved limestone
and dolomite hundreds of millions of years old." 9 Essentially all of its C-14
had decayed; there would be little left. Again, the "old" carbon
dissolved into the water, and was picked up by the snails when they made
their shells. The shells were thus deficient in C-14 and appeared to be
"The problem caused by the reservoir effect is well known
by archaeologists, geologists, and anybody else, who use radiocarbon dates;
they test for it and take it into account when interpreting radiocarbon
Fossilized wood from the Hawkesbury
Sandstone in Australia, believed to have been hundreds of millions of
years old, was dated by C-14 as 33,720 ~+mn~ 430 years BP.
One wonders why a sample which most geologists would date to the middle
Triassic (225 to 230 millions of years ago) would be tested using C-14. At
that age, any C-14 that the wood originally had would have decayed to unmeasurable levels millions of years ago.
This particular sample was porous.
It would probably have absorbed groundwater containing modern carbon. This
slight degree of
contamination could have provided sufficient C-14 to give a 33 millennia age.
Alternatively, there could have been radioactivity in the surrounding rocks
which created some C-14 in the sample.
Finally, unusual readings sometimes appear:
Creation Science organizations have found carbon dating results which
give anomalous results. For example, different samples from the same frozen
musk ox in Alaska gave age estimates of 24 and 17 thousand years BP. 1
No instrumental technique is perfect. The odd flyer value will sometimes be
produced, due to improper sample preparation, contamination, etc. That is
why researchers try to test multiple samples. If you search for flyers, you
will find them.
"How accurate are Carbon 14 and other radioactive dating methods?,"
Radiocarbon WEBinfo site, at:
From the Scofield Reference Edition of the King James Version
of the Bible. This date is accepted by many Fundamentalist and other
Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, "Women in Prehistory : The
Venus of Willendorf," Sweet Briar College, at:
"World's 'oldest' volcanic rocks," BBC News, 2002-DEC-05, at:
"Carbon dating," EvoWiki.org, at:
"A freshly killed seal was C14 dated at 1300 years old,"
"Ancient oil is C14 dated as only 50,000 years old," EvoWiki.org,
"Living snails were C14 dated at 2,300 and 27,000 years old,"
"Triassic wood from Australia was dated at 33K years old,"
Copyright © 2005 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally posted: 2005-FEB-08
Latest update: 2010-DEC-14
Author: B.A. Robinson